Security applications have come so far in terms of dealing with threats. A solid antivirus can stop most malicious programs in their tracks or act against them after they find their way into computers. Unfortunately, things are considerably different for a specific class of malware known as ransomware. If your computer falls victim to a ransomware attack, then the chances are that you will be unable to remove the malicious program and make things right.
Ransomware is simply any form of malware that encrypts files on a compromised computer and then requests that its victims pay some money (ransom) to regain access to their own data. As you might have come to expect with deals proposed by malicious actors, there is no guarantee that the attackers will decrypt the data after they receive the ransom. Therefore, you are left with one course of action: you must do all you can to ensure that your PC never falls victim to ransomware.
How to stay protected from ransomware attacks
Most of the tips here correspond to fairly standard computer hygiene (or security recommendations).
Do not click on unknown or unverified links:
You must never click on links in spam emails or URLs in messages from unknown senders. Even if the website on the link seems familiar, you must ignore it. Your computer can get infected if you click on a malicious link that forces your browser to download or load stuff.
Do not open suspicious email attachments:
If you get an email from an address that you do not know (or recognize), you must discard or ignore the email. You must never click on any attachment in the email. Email attachments are another means through which ransomware finds its way into computers.
Ideally, you must always look at the sender’s address (when you get an email) and check it carefully to confirm that the email address is correct. When in doubt, you will do well to contact the person – who you think sent you the email – and ask him/her about it.
Only download files from trusted sites:
You must avoid downloading software or media files from unknown or shady websites. This way, you get to reduce the chances of ransomware embedded in normal-looking files or applications ending up on your computer.
If you want to download something, then you must go to verified or trusted sites. If you want to download an app, then you are better off getting it from the Microsoft Store, or you can go to the application’s official webpage (after you search for it on Google). You are likely to find markers of trust on most reputable websites.
You can examine the site address to confirm that it uses HTTPS instead of HTTP. A shield or lock symbol (around the address bar) is the standard icon used to show secured websites on web browsers.
Do not give out your personal data:
If you ever get a call, SMS, or email from an untrusted or unrecognizable source that requests personal information, you must decline. Some cybercriminals try to obtain personal data (from potential victims) in advance while they plan their attacks. They then use the provided information in phishing emails to target the people involved.
If you allow attackers to learn enough about you, then you are giving them opportunities to succeed with their plans against you. They might disguise themselves to appear as people you trust while urging you to open infected attachments or links. Basically, the more information cybercriminals have on you, the more convincing their trap is going to be.
If you ever get contacted by an organization – such as a regular business firm or even a government body – asking for information, you will do well to ignore the request. You must then do what’s necessary to contact the organization on your own (and not through websites or numbers or anything in the message body). You must verify if the request for information is genuine and act accordingly.
Avoid using unfamiliar or foreign USBs:
You should not be inserting USB devices from unknown sources into your computer. Otherwise, you will always run the risk of plugging in a storage device that has been infected with ransomware. Some reports indicate that cybercriminals inject malware into flash drives and then leave them in public locations to allow people to find them and use them.
Always install updates for your programs and operating systems:
There are almost always vulnerabilities in applications and operating systems because the software or the code used in them is not perfect. The key to you staying safe lies in you being ahead of the attackers by always installing updates, which typically contain fixes and patches to close security holes.
Cybercriminals will struggle to take advantage of vulnerabilities in your programs or operating systems if those vulnerabilities do not exist. On the other hand, if you refuse to install updates – which means you end up using old or obsolete versions of applications and OS iterations – then you are leaving the door open to malware exploits.
Avoid using public WIFI; Use a VPN – if you must use public WIFI:
Your computer is generally more vulnerable to attacks when you use public WIFI for any reason. Ideally, you should never use public WIFI for sensitive interactions or confidential transactions. If you must use a public WIFI, you are better off connecting your PC to a VPN before you browse the web.
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Install a good protective utility:
There is only so much you can do to ward off threats (on your own) or secure your PC from malicious attacks. You cannot do everything by yourself. You will always need a protective utility specifically designed to keep out all forms of malicious programs – since ransomware is hardly the only form of malware that can cause issues for you.
We recommend you get Auslogics Anti-Malware. You can install this superb security application to improve on your system defenses, no matter their current level. Our previous recommendation on keeping all programs updated applies here too. You will do well to download and install updates for your security app regularly to ensure it has all the latest tools and functions to do its job.
Back up your data:
With a backup in place, if your computer ever falls victim to a ransomware attack, then you will not lose much. The backup must not be connected or linked to your computer in any form.
You can store your backup on an external drive, for example – but you must never leave that external drive connected to your computer when it is not in use. If the external drive remains plugged into your PC when the ransomware takes charge, then the data stored on it will (probably) also be encrypted – and this is one terrible outcome for you.
You might prefer storing your data on a cloud storage system or online drive. Such mediums might allow you to revert to old or previous versions of your files. Therefore, if ransomware ever encrypts your data, you will be able to force a return to the unencrypted versions of the files using the cloud storage service.
Do not pay the ransom:
Our advice here goes without telling. If you become a victim of a ransomware attack, you must never pay the ransom demanded by the cybercriminals who encrypted your own data.
You should consider your experience in a real-life hostage situation where you are better off not negotiating with people who stole from you or seek to do you harm. More importantly, payment of the ransom does not even guarantee that you will get your data back, so why should you pay? You already lost your data. Do you want to lose money too?
If anything, paying the ransom and caving in to the demands made by cybercriminals encourages and enables that sort of crime. In other words, the more people pay ransoms, the more attackers work to carry out ransomware attacks. You must not give in to them.
How to choose an anti-ransomware app for Windows 10
Given the events we examined in this guide, you might be thinking, ‘What is good anti-ransomware software for PCs?’ You are probably looking to protect your computer with some software specifically designed to prevent ransomware. Well, you might not even have to get such a program.
Most antiviruses or antimalware applications already offer relatively solid anti-ransomware protection. However, most of those security solutions tend to employ the same tech found in traditional protective utilities. They typically try to detect the signatures or behaviors of known software to identify malware. Well, this approach has one downside – it leaves your computer open to zero-day attacks.
Zero-day attacks are characterized by vulnerabilities that are known to the software vendors but are yet to be patched or closed. Cybercriminals typically exploit such vulnerabilities to further their means. If there is any significant advantage in you going for a stand-alone ransomware utility, then it will be the ability to detect zero-day infections.
A good number of stand-alone ransomware utilities are capable of detecting malware by their behavior. They do this by monitoring the activities of applications and working to quarantine processes that execute suspicious operations, such as the generation of an encryption key or initiation of a task to encrypt files. Well, perhaps, you now understand why such applications are quite adept at stopping ransomware in their tracks.
You can take advantage of the Controlled Folder access feature, which was recently introduced in Windows. You can enable this function and configure it to protect specific folders – such as Documents and Pictures – from unauthorized changes (ransomware). If your computer refuses to let ransomware access or modify stuff in your Documents folder, for example, then the ransomware will not be able to encrypt files. In other words, your files remain safe in the protected locations.
Well, regardless of the method you choose to protect your computer or data, you will always do well to remember that prevention and preparation are critical things in life – especially when it comes to ransomware attacks.
By the way, your computer is generally more vulnerable to attacks when you use public WIFI for any reason. Ideally, you should never use public WIFI for sensitive interactions or confidential transactions. If you must use a public WIFI, you are better off connecting your PC to a VPN before you browse the web.