These days, one of the biggest security threats to everyone, from individuals to businesses to government organizations, is ransomware. Over the last five years attacks of this kind have skyrocketed and affected millions around the world, not to mention cost millions of dollars. As a result, even if the topic of online security is one you don’t want to think about often, you really do have to take action to ensure you don’t get stung by an attack.

There’s nothing more frustrating than ending up severely out of pocket and dealing with stress, lost information, and wasted time when you know you could have done something to prevent it. Thankfully, though, by educating yourself on ransomware and taking steps to protect yourself, you can reduce the likelihood that you’ll ever find yourself in a compromised position.

Defining Ransomware

ransomwareSo, what is ransomware, exactly? Ransomware is the name for a particular type of tactic hackers use to obtain money from victims. Basically, hackers blackmail and threaten individuals and organizations over information. The cybercriminals break into systems and lock owners out, make a copy and then delete original information, threaten to crash systems, or say they will publicly expose something if they don’t get their way.

Hackers tell owners they’ll return access or information, or keep data a secret, so long as they receive the ransom they ask for. The problem, apart from the obvious stress and lost time and money that comes from this, is that cybercriminals don’t always honor their promises.

How Ransomware Works

To hold information to ransom, hackers find a way to get malicious computer malware onto a victim’s system. People don’t realize this is happening because cybercriminals insert the code when an email is open, a link is clicked on, or when they somehow otherwise break into a computer or network.

Once the malware is in place, this enables hackers to take over the information and lock owners out. They contact victims and demand to be paid a ransom digitally. People are typically instructed to deposits funds into an online account.

How to Stay Safe

Install Security Software and Firewalls

product safetyInstall security software onto your devices to help keep hackers at bay. Look for a product specifically designed to protect against ransomware. There are free security software options on the market, but these usually aren’t comprehensive enough, or targeted to ransomware.

Better products don’t end up being too expensive over a year, and usually protect two or more devices at once. Make sure that whichever one you go for, it features the latest ransomware removal, too. That way, if you have any ransomware sitting on your devices the tech will get rid of it ASAP.

Firewalls are necessary, too. These help stop hackers from breaking into your systems via your internet connection. They add an extra layer of difficulty for cybercriminals to get through, so hopefully they give up before they access any of your information.

Check the settings on your computers to see if you already have a firewall. Most manufacturers pre-install firewalls on devices now. This doesn’t mean the firewall will be activated, though, so you may need to change the settings to get it working.

Use Passwords Hackers Won’t Easily Crack

Stop hackers from gaining access by using passwords on devices and logins (e.g. those for bank accounts and social media accounts) that can’t be easily cracked. Password protect your Wi-Fi router and smart-home gadgets too, as these may also be vulnerable and give hackers a way in.

Passwords should be created from a mixture of letters, numbers, and symbols, and at least eight or more characters in length. Don’t base your codes around information hackers might find online, either. For example, steer clear of passwords related to your children or pets’ names, important birthdates, lucky numbers or favorite colors, etc.

Update Often

Don’t let yourself become vulnerable by avoiding updates. New versions of software become available often, as developers discover flaws in security and plug the gap with a fix. To stay safe, always run the latest version of software so hackers can’t find and exploit a weakness.

As they’re released, run updates for security software, firewalls, operating systems, browsers, applications, games, plugins, and related products. To save you from having to check for updates, utilize the automatic update function featured on most software programs.

Back Up Your Data to an External Source

The above-mentioned steps will help to deny hackers access to your data, but for you to truly be safe, you should also back up all your information daily to an external source, such as the cloud. Taking this action means that if you ever do get a ransom demand from a cybercriminal, you shouldn’t have to capitulate. Instead, you’ll have access to another copy of your data.

You might feel like you’re too busy to put strategies in place to protect yourself from a ransomware attack, but as you can see, the steps involved are affordable, straightforward, and don’t take up too much time.

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