How to not get held hostage

It’s time for the annual mass panic about losing all your data and having your digital life melt away. It seems that about once a year we experience this collective scramble to secure our accounts and change our passwords as a new piece of malicious software scourges the interne. As with all of these mass panics, fears about the WannaCry2.0 ransomwareare well grounded and based in fact, but as is also nearly always true, there are a few very easy steps tot ake that will protect you and your data.

WannaCry works by installing a malicious piece of software which encrypts your files and asks you to pay to access them again. At first the software asked for about $500 in bitcoin to unlock files ( odd given that those who are vulnerable must be using an older version of Windows, and these don’t seem to be the kind of people who are regular bitcoin users) but  now it seems that gift cards are also accepted. Over 200,000 machines have been infected already including those of the National Health Service in the UK. Clearly this is not an idle threat.

 If you are worried about WannaCry it is very easy to protect yourself.  Although the first wave of attacks seem to be over it would be very easy for hackers to quickly relaunch the malware. In order to protect yourself and your data just follow these basic steps.

1.      Back up your data to the cloud. This way, if data on your machine is encrypted you can wipe it and start over with a recent copy of all your files and information. Cloud backup is a good idea for many reasons. Physical damage to your computer, viruses, malware and an accident can all cause the loss of important information. For just a few dollars a month you can have that information stored away safely and as a bonus you can access it from anywhere in the world. This is a no brainer for anyone who works with or uses a computer in their daily life. If you are reading this, that is you!  As a best practice your should log out of these when not using them in order to prevent the virus spreading to your cloud documents.

2.      Keep your software up to date. It’s annoying to see that little update button constantly demanding your attention, and updates and restarts can be time consuming but the loss of all your data is more annoying and time consuming so just go ahead and update as frequently as possible. Microsoft, Adobe and other providers are constantly working to improve their security and by running the latest versions you will be best protected. If you’ve been procrastinating on this for a while, go and do it right now!

3.      Be very wary of emails These aren’t your standard phishing emails, they are designed to make you think they are just for you. Hackers might determine your location and use that to hook you in. Or they may use the time of year, for instance posing as the IRS at tax time or the USPS at Christmas.  Some hackers even pose as the FBI asking people to pay a fine. Double check if this organization should be emailing you and don’t hesitate to pick up the phone before you download anything.

4.      Run a good anti Virus The people behind these programs work day and night to work out where viruses come from and how to block them. By running a current and reliable anti virus software and browser plug in you can often prevent any infection from occurring.

These are all good common sense ways to maintain your internet security and can help with any virus outbreak. So even after this one is gone, you should keep using these best practices. If they should fail it is suggested that, as soon as you see encryption happening on your machine you disconnect it from the internet.  Some software might be able to decrypt your files but this relies on it being compatible with the specific ransomware infecting your machine and is a bit of a gamble.

Above all, don’t pay the ransom. Paying perpetuates and rewards criminality but it is also not in your own best interests. It seems unlikely that someone who hurt you once would not do so again and it is very hard to tell if the hackers will leave some form of malware even after the files are decrypted.

By following these best practices, you can browse away ransom free and ensure that your files never get held hostage.