You’re concerned about ransomware, but don’t know how to protect yourself. Don’t worry, just follow these five steps to avoid your data being hijacked and put to ransom.

Just in case you’ve somehow ignored (or are unaware of) the threat from ransomware, it’s time to get up to speed.

Ransomware is a form of malicious software, more commonly known as malware, that encrypts your data. The key to decrypting that data is hidden from you until you fork over a ransom, which usually starts at an unreasonable price and increases the longer it takes you to pay.

Ransomware Prevention Cryptolocker
Christiaan Colen via Flickr

Various ransomware threats have been identified over the past few years, with the TorrentLocker infection among the most common. CryptoLocker is also a well-known ransomware scam, although it is possible to find a decryption tool for this now.

More recently, we’ve had the arrival of JavaScript ransomware, while the infamous FBI Ransomware is capable of hitting Android devices just as easily as it can infect Windows PCs. Ransomware is even affecting more and more Mac users, making it one of the key threats to Apple users.

So, it’s time to find a strategy to block ransomware. After all, prevention is better than a cure.

5 Steps to Defend Against Ransomware

You don’t want to be affected by ransomware. Your data is yours, not a toy for some faceless scammer to take off you until you pay up, usually in Bitcoin or some other cryptocurrency. Fortunately, we have some steps you can take — and behaviors you can adopt — to keep your data out of the hands of the scammers.

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1. Make regular backups.

This is Ransomware Defense 101. The scammers want to restrict access to your data, but if you have a recent backup copy of it, they’ve already lost. Organize your vital data so that it is stored in a single location, and regularly back it all up. Your backup schedule should be based on how often your files are updated. Daily user? Backup daily.

Ransomware Windows 10 Update Schedule

2. Keep your computer updated.

Whatever platform you’re using, desktop, tablet, or smartphone, stay up-to-date with your operating system updates and upgrades. Did you disable Windows Update? Switch it back on, and make sure you’re running the latest version.

3. Spot suspicious files, enable file extensions.

One way of combating ransomware (and other malware) is to use your eyes. Many malicious tools have multiple file extensions (such as, for example, .PDF.EXE which immediately identifies them as dangerous, if you know what you’re looking for. By enabling file extensions in Windows, you can spot and delete them (or let your anti-virus software destroy them).

4. Use mail filtering.

In 2016 there is no way that you should be using a desktop email client that doesn’t scan the incoming messages for malware and phishing attempts. If you don’t, at least set up a rule that filters out, and deletes, email-bound EXE files. These should never be sent via email and never be opened when received.

5. Employ an internet security suite.

As with all data security challenges, the best protection you’ll get from ransomware is with a competent internet security suite. While the free internet security tools are good enough for live scanning and as firewalls, you’ll need to consider a paid alternative.

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Ransomware Security Suite BitDefender 2016When it comes to ransomware protection, premium internet security suites offer tools that protect your personal folders. By blocking permission to these directories, your data should remain safe. Various suites offer this feature, including BitDefender.

Tactics That Won’t Stop Ransomware

You may have read or heard about other strategies you can use to defend against, or undo the encryption caused by ransomware. Unfortunately, many of these are now out of date. We’ll take a look at them below.

You already encrypted your data — This will not stop further encryption. Just as an envelope can be placed in another envelope, or a ZIP file zipped up again, so an encrypted directory or entire hard disk drive can be encrypted a second time.

Using system restore — In the early days of ransomware, you would have a good chance at recovery by simply employing Windows system restore to wind back the clock. These days, however, ransomware is usually programmed to delete the system restore files.

Ransomware Windows 10 System Restore Ineffective

Set the BIOS clock back — Another time-related fix that no longer works. Adjusting the BIOS clock to an earlier period can help increase the time you have remaining to pay a ransomware demand. However, if you’ve kept backups of your data, there should be no need to do this. Paying criminals doesn’t make the problem go away. They’ll just target you again and again.

Generally speaking, if you’ve looked up a tactic for circumventing ransomware, and the article is three or more years old, you can be reasonably confident that it won’t work. These scammers are no fools when it comes to encrypting your data and holding it to ransom. But if you follow our five steps above, you can at least be confident that you can deal with a ransomware attack without paying in untraceable Bitcoin to get your data back.

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We want to know if you’ve been hit by ransomware. Did you pay the demand? Perhaps you overcame the infection by other means. Tell us about it in the comments.

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