Life has been moving increasingly online for decades now, but in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re relying even more on digital technologies to stay in touch, get work done, and just get through the day.
But the internet isn’t safe — far from it, and cyber attacks skyrocketed to unbelievable levels with the onset of the pandemic. Hackers can use malware to steal your personal data and sell it, or take control of your smart devices to spy on your family. And they can use ransomware to take control of your devices and demand a payment in return for restoring access to your machines and the data on them.
You should be taking steps to protect your network and devices from ransomware. If you still get targeted, the last thing you should do is pay the ransom. The hackers are under no obligation to actually restore your system. Here’s what you need to do to protect yourself.
Use a Comprehensive Antivirus Program
Antivirus software is more important than ever. These days, you need a comprehensive anti-malware solution that provides complete virus and ransomware protection. Choose an antivirus program that stops at least 95 percent of malware, with threat definitions updated daily. You need a strong email spam filter, parental controls, and protection from malicious websites. A two-way firewall is also a must.
You should also look for a software suite that offers network monitoring. This enables you to see which devices are connected to your network, so you can spot anything that isn’t familiar and disconnect it as needed. Hackers can take control of every device on your network if they’re able to connect to the network themselves, so monitoring traffic is a good idea.
Backup, Backup, Backup
It’s always a good idea to keep your important data backed up. Equipment failure, left, and accidents can all lead to the loss of your data. You’re not going to be able to prevent every cyberattack by installing an antivirus program — even the most sophisticated products may provide limited protection against zero-day threats that haven’t been discovered yet.
Ransomware hackers are gambling on the idea that you don’t have backups of your data. If you want to make sure your data is always backed up, sync it to the cloud each day (or even set it to sync automatically when a file is updated). If you don’t trust the cloud, or need a more secure storage option for confidential data, use an external hard drive or USB drive to backup what you can’t lose. That way, if you are the victim of a ransomware attack, the hackers won’t actually be able to keep your data away from you. You’ll still have a copy somewhere else.
Beware of Suspicious Emails
Phishing scams are still one of the most common cyber attacks, with most people encountering multiple phishing emails each week. It’s well worth it to make yourself aware of the common signs of a phishing email, and keep those signs in mind each time you open an email that wants you to click on a link or download an attachment.
Phishing emails often rely on users to act out of emotion. Hackers hope you’ll be so worried about the alarmingly large debit from your account to, for example, hastily follow a fake login link to a convincing but malicious mirror site designed to steal login information. You should never click on a link or download an attachment from someone you don’t know, and if you receive an email from a bank, credit card company, or online retailer asking you to change your login information or give up account info, be very careful.
When in doubt, you should check your account status by opening a new window and typing out the URL of your bank or retailer’s customer portal login. That way, you can be sure to avoid malicious mirror sites and instead access the real, legitimate and secure site to obtain accurate account information. Protect yourself even further by using a strong spam filter to keep these types of phishing emails out of your inbox as much as possible.
If you’re not careful, hackers could take control of your system and hold your data for ransom. Don’t let yourself be vulnerable. Know the risks, and take steps to protect yourself, so a ransomware attack can remain someone else’s problem.