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How ransomware can hold you (and your company) hostage – and what you can do about it

Without a doubt, ransomware is one of the biggest digital security threats facing both home and business computing in recent years, and it's likely a term you've heard cropping up in articles and blog posts throughout the internet.

So what is it exactly? Simply put, it's a form of online attack where the attacker, rather than spying on you or trying to get your login information, locks you out from your system and/or files and demands a ransom to allow you to access them again. The threat is that if you don't pay up, your system and files will be lost forever.

So yes - it's a scary sounding attack, made even scarier by the fact that it's becoming more and more common. TrendMicro estimates a 179% growth in the amount of attacks between 2015 and 2016, meaning it's more important than to be prepared. And adopting a "there's no way this could happen to me" attitude won't cut it - getting infected can be as easy as visiting an infected website, viewing malicious ads, opening an unverified email or clicking a suspicious link. And remember, as is the case with most digital security issues, there is no security in being "too small" - in fact, many cyber criminals will specifically target individuals and small businesses knowing that they very likely do not have sophisticated security and backup systems.

But we're not here to fear monger. Rest assured that there are ways to prevent against these attacks! Here's what you should do to product yourself and your business:

  • Have a solid Backup and Disaster Recovery (BDR) plan in place. If you're locked out of your files, it's a non-issue if you can just recover from a backup. Ensure your plan includes frequent integrity testing, so you know your backups will 100% work in the event of catastrophe.

  • Be alert and vigilant - avoid opening unverified emails or clicking suspicious links. Consider implementing a morestringent email security system which can help catch messages like these before they even arrive in your inbox.

  • Regularly update software, programs and applications.Make sure everything is current with the latest patches and protections against new vulnerabilities.

This is all great, but what if you've been hit by an attack and you're suddenly held hostage by a shady internet criminal?

  • DO NOT PAY THE RANSOM. There is no guarantee you'll get your files back, and these bad guys will see you as a free meal ticket the second you fork over the dough.

  • Turn off your computer and immediately disconnect from your wifi and network. You may be able to stop the attack before it's complete and avoid spreading it to your entire network.

  • Go to your backups and see what you recover. Depending on your BDR solution, you may have lost some newer work and may have to revert to older versions of some files, but this is still preferable to losing everything.

  • If your backups are not in place, come to terms with the fact that you might lose your files forever. Unfortunately, this is why these attacks are so brutal, and why #5 is so important.

  • Take steps to avoid future attacks. Use the steps above to stay ahead of these and other security risks that may come up in the future. It's always a worthwhile investment to plan ahead and make sure you're able to quickly recover in the event of an attack.

  • Report the attack to the FBI, which is actively investigating new and emerging threats to help protect us and catch the criminals perpetrating this type of attack.

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