• The invention of the internet has made it possible for the globalization of many companies. However, while big brands reap the benefits, they also become easy targets for cybercriminals across the globe. If you’re a small business owner or freelancer, you may think you’re exempt from their crosshairs.

    But did you know that ransomware attacks are now targeting small businesses and individuals? Ransomware removal can be incredibly difficult, so don’t make the mistake of thinking this kind of attack only happens to bigger companies.

    This article describes what a ransomware attack is and how to prevent one.

    What Is Ransomware?

    Ransomware is a type of malware that extorts you into paying the attacker. There are a few different types of ransomware; one of the more popular variants involves encrypting the contents of your hard drive.

    Once your files have been encrypted, you’ll be shown a message telling you what’s happened to your files. The malware will then instruct you to send a certain amount of Bitcoin to a Bitcoin address. Sometimes, the price of decrypting the files will go up if you take too long to pay.

    Other forms of ransomware take sensitive information from your computer and threaten to release it if you don’t pay a bribe. Other ransomware programs might prevent you from accessing your device unless you pay the ransom.

    The unfortunate thing about ransomware is that sometimes, paying the ransom doesn’t even get you your files or device back. While paying the attackers will lead to them keeping their word at times, they won’t even bother in some cases.

    How Common Is Ransomware?

    Ransomware is now thought to be one of the three most common cyber attacks you could find yourself up against. In recent years, many people’s computers were infected with the WannaCry virus, which encrypted their files. The virus affected thousands of computer systems from around the world; this included vital computer systems from the UK’s NHS.

    How to Protect Yourself

    The best way to deal with ransomware is to not let yourself get infected in the first place. With regards to the WannaCry virus, most of the people who were infected were on an outdated operating system. Statistics have shown that over 98% of WannaCry victims were using Windows 7 as their operating system.

    The security flaw that WannaCry exploited had actually been detected and patched by Microsoft months before the virus started to hit. Most people who were infected hadn’t allowed their computers to update.

    There’s a lesson to be learned here: always make sure you’re running the latest version of your operating system. If the computer needs to update, you should always make sure you do it as soon as possible.

    System updates always contain critical security fixes; when you delay the installation of an update, you’re putting your security at risk. Of course, just because you’re running an updated operating system doesn’t necessarily mean you’re completely safe from ransomware either. You need to also take some other security measures to make sure your data is safeguarded.

    Don’t Use an Out-Of-Date OS

    Some companies like to use operating systems well beyond their intended operational capacity. For example, many companies are still using Windows XP on certain computer systems.

    You want to avoid using any operating system that isn’t still getting regular security updates. When an operating system stops being supported by the developers, there won’t be any more progress to keep you safe from emerging threats.

    Virus developers love these outdated operating systems because they make their life easier. If you’re using an outdated OS such as Windows XP, consider doing all you can to upgrade to a more modern version of Windows.

    Back up Your Files

    The key thing you need to do to protect yourself from ransomware is to have a comprehensive backup system for your files. If the contents of your computer are encrypted by ransomware, you can restore your computer from the backups and it’ll be like the attack never happened.

    A surprising number of people don’t have any kind of backup system in place, and this is what the ransomware attackers count on. If everyone properly backed up their files, there would be no money in programming this type of virus.

    So what kind of backups can you run? There are many ways to run automated backups these days, so there’s no excuse not to do it.

    If you use a program such as Dropbox or OneDrive, you can upload files to a specific folder on your computer and they’ll automatically be synced to the cloud. This is a great backup option because once you have set it up, you can just forget about it.

    Have Contingency Plans

    A good backup system should have multiple points of failure. If you back up exclusively with OneDrive, for example, you open yourself up to potential issues. Maybe the internet isn’t always connected properly, or maybe there’s a problem with the OneDrive servers.

    When you back up your files in multiple locations, you can create a “foolproof system." Backups not only help you against malware, but also against accidents, like spilling water on your computer.

    Ransomware Removal

    If you’ve backed up all your files, ransomware removal is a straightforward procedure. You can restore your computer to the factory settings and then add all your files back to the computer.

    You might not need to actually go this far; sometimes, you might have a chance of successfully removing the virus with antivirus software. If you can successfully boot your computer in safe mode, you can try using antivirus software to remove the malware.

    You’ll find ransomware is fairly stubborn, and you won’t be able to remove it so easily. If you’re having trouble booting in safe mode, you could try running your antivirus software on an external drive or on a bootable disk. You can also try running a system restore to restore your computer back to a time before the virus was installed.

    Run Antivirus Software

    If you’re unfortunate enough to run a file containing a ransomware virus, you’ll often be saved by your antivirus software. The software may instantly detect the file contains a virus and prevent it from running on your system.

    For this reason, you should make sure you’re always running the latest version of your antivirus software. If you prevent this software from updating, you prevent it from being able to recognize new threats.

    For many users, the Windows Defender software that comes bundled with your Windows 10 operating system is more than enough to protect you from most viruses. If you need to be a bit more serious about security since you’re running a large company with a lot of important data, you could consider getting a paid antivirus program such as ESET Smart Security.

    Make Sure Your Staff Members Are Educated

    If you’re running a business, you need to make sure your staff members are educated about these kinds of security threats. Often, a ransomware attack occurs because someone ran a file on their computer which they never should have even downloaded.

    Make sure your staff is up-to-date on all the latest security threats. They should be able to identify strange links.

    If a member of staff notices something suspicious (for example, they receive an email that tries to make you run a .exe file), they should be able to report it to someone immediately. Once a security threat like this has been identified, word should be sent around the company to make sure everyone is aware of the threat. Having the best antivirus software isn’t always going to help you if people aren’t aware of the different kinds of security risks they might face.

    Mitigate the Damage

    There’s more you can do to mitigate the damage of a ransomware attack than just back up your files. You can also do things like partitioning your servers. This means if one section of your server is locked down by a ransomware virus, you’ll still have access to the rest of your server.

    You might also consider setting up a “honey pot" server that contains only useless files. If you can bait a ransomware attack on such a server, you don’t lose anything except useless “dummy" files.

    Consider Managed IT Services

    When you’re trying to run a company, keeping all of your IT structure up and running, plus making sure it’s secure is a difficult job. Enlisting the help of managed IT services is a great way to keep your network secure.

    When you employ an IT management company, they’ll do things like make sure every computer is running the latest security updates. They can also ensure you have a robust backup system with multiple points of failure.

    In the unlikely event that you’re infected with ransomware, an IT management company might be able to successfully perform ransomware removal. By investing in such a service, you’ll not only protect your data, but also prevent large amounts of downtime in the event of a ransomware attack.

    Do you need some help with your computer now? Then get in touch with us!