How to Prevent a Ransomware Attack (11 actionable tips)

Last Updated by Unyime Etim on Sept. 13, 2020, 10 p.m.

How to prevent a ransomware attack

Is your computer safe from ransomware? What do you do to keep it safe? How do you respond to an infection? These are the questions we'll provide answers to in this guide. At the end of the post, you will have the tools you need to successfully prevent a ransomware attack, clean infection and recover your files.

So, what is ransomware?

Ransomware is a form of malicious software that infects your system to encrypt your files and thereafter requests a payment (ransom) for the decryption key you need to get your files back.

Well, nasty isn't it?  It's actually a very common malware that costs individuals and corporations billions of dollars each year, with the Windows operating system being the most affected. According to a report by Cybercrime magazine, the global costs of ransomware attacks are going to reach 20 billion dollars by 2021!

However, the good news is that these threats are 100% preventable if you exercise care, and learn the simple tips you need to stay safe. 


How to Prevent your Device from Ransomware Attacks

  1. Use a supported version of the Windows operating system: Every Windows operating system has a lifecycle, however, the unfortunate reality is that a whole lot of users still make use of operating systems that have reached the end of its life cycle which is terrible news from a security standpoint. An outdated version of your operating system won't get security updates, leaving you at the mercy of ransomware authors when they come calling. To ensure maximum protection, the first thing you desperately need to implement is to make sure you are running a supported version of Windows 10. An operating system that hasn't reached the end of its life cycle will receive security updates whenever they are available, ensuring that those nasty loopholes that could have been taken advantage of by ransomware authors are fixed nice and tidy.

  2. Enable Automatic Updates: Speaking of security updates, what's their use when you have not had them installed? Yeah, you guessed it right, they are pretty much useless. It's important you regularly check to make sure that the security patches released are promptly installed on your computer. However, Microsoft has made this easier with the automatic updates feature which, like the name suggests, checks for updates, downloads, and performs the installation automatically. I must add that this feature is enabled by default, so please don't turn it off. 

  3. Install good antivirus software: Our third tip today is to ensure you have decent antivirus software on your computer. In this fight against ransomware, antivirus software is crucial. It ensures that you have a solid fall back option just in case your caution fails and a nasty malware gets into your system. Fortunately, Windows 10 comes bundled with its own antivirus software, but I would recommend getting something else to back it up. This article from Pcmag is a perfect resource for some good free and paid options available for you to choose from.

  4. Keep your Virus Definition up-to-date: The frequency at which new types of malware are created all over the world is astonishing, which means antivirus software companies must work harder if they're to be on top of the game. In part, this involves keeping an up-to-date database of virus signatures, also called virus definitions, that the antivirus software references when scanning files. To ensure that your antivirus software can detect the most recent threats, and you as a matter of priority should have the latest version of these databases. Thankfully, most of the antivirus software will do that automatically for you. 

  5. Exercise caution with email links and attachments: A recent survey published on Statistica showed that in 2019, by far the most frequent source of ransomware attacks was email. Year by year, email accounts for over 50 percent of ransomware attacks. So, what can you do to protect yourself? Obviously, the first thing you should do is to be very cautious of unexpected and spam emails. If you need to open it up, never click on any attachments or links embedded in the mails as it could get your system infected. This tip isn't for spam and unexpected mails only, because your contact could be hacked and the address used to send a booby-trapped mail. The point here is that you should be very careful of email attachments.  Run an antivirus scan before you open any, and generally avoid email links.

  6. Only download files and software from trusted sites: The danger posed by file and software hosting sites has been common knowledge for some time now. Generally, do your best to avoid installing software from third party sources as it could contain malicious scripts that'll damage your computer. If you need to download software, go to your Windows store or the software creator's website.

  7. Exercise care with links: Some malware authors distribute their ransomware through links embedded in text messages and social media messenger apps. Be wary of links you receive through these sources unless you're certain of their destination. 

  8. Be wary of pop-ups: Pop-ups are common sights on the net, but it's vital that you exercise caution by not clicking on them. Next time a site throws a pop-up telling you to download or update any software or plugin, close the pop-up and navigate to the app's official website for such downloads.

  9. Avoid giving out personal information: Targeted ransomware attacks, while not very common, are often the most successful. Cybercriminals need information about you to successfully stage such attacks, but you shouldn't let them have it. Be careful of requests for personal information. Exercise care with what you post on your social media accounts as this will likely be the first place your attacker will go to for information.

  10. Never use unfamiliar USB: The USB drive has proven to be a prolific career of malware. As in the case of the Stuxnet virus, ransomware can get into your computer through an infected one, so you need to exercise care. As a rule of thumb, run a virus scan on all USB you connect to your computer before you open and transfer any data.

  11. Have a solid Backups plan: When all else fails, the presence of a solid backup plan won't fail you. In the event of a successful ransomware attack, having multiple backups of your valuable files will help reduce the potential impact on you, making it less likely you'll pay the ransom. It is the single most important ransomware protection tip. Therefore, as a matter of priority, pause whatever you're doing right now and backup your data. 


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What to do if your computer is Infected with Ransomware

What to do if your computer is infected with ransomware

My computer is already infected! What should I do? 

No system is 100% secure, so no matter what you do, there's always a slight tendency that you could be infected. I know this is scary, but at this time, you really need to remain calm, consider your options, and get to work. 

  1. Isolate the infected system: So, the very first response to a ransomware attack is to isolate the computer from any networks you are connected to. This will ensure that the malware doesn't spread to other devices in the network.

  2. Run an antivirus scan to remove the ransomware: The next thing you need to do is to stop the active malware executable. Update your antivirus and run a full system scan to remove the ransomware, and if this doesn't work, boot your Windows 10 into safe mode and rerun the antivirus scan. The ransomware needs to be deactivated before you attempt the next step. Note: Only remove the ransomware executable. Leave the ransom note, your key files, and other important data in place.

  3. Recover your files: After you have successfully deactivated the malware,  you should check if there's a tool available for you to decrypt your files with. To do that, go to id-ransomware, an amazing site that allows you to check the kind of ransomware you're infected with, if it is decryptable, and the link to the decryption tool. Another great site that serves the same purpose is Crypto Sheriff. You can also try antivirus virus companies’ decryption pages for available tools. If you're lucky enough and your ransomware is decryptable, download the decryption tool and recover your files.

  4. Restore from backup: So, what do you do if there's no tool online for you to decrypt your files? That's where your backup comes in. Reset your computer, reinstall your OS before you backup. Though you can still backup directly, it's something I would not recommend since you aren't very sure if there are still traces of the ransomware on your computer. So, go the safest route. 

  5. Check if you can restore deleted files: So, now the worst-case scenario. Your computer is infected, there's no decryptor online, you didn't back up or your backup was encrypted too. What do you do? Ransomware generally copies your files, encrypt the copies and then delete the originals. So, there's still a chance you can get your files back if you can recover the deleted data. Some software like shadow explorer, Recuva, or disk drill can do the trick for you.

Alright, so what if your deleted files cannot be recovered, and you never had a backup? Well, that's a complicated situation to be in. You have to decide whether to pay the ransom or not. It's a decision you alone must make. 

All you need to know is that the law enforcement does not recommend it, and there's no guarantee that you'll get your files back after paying.


Closing Thoughts:

Remember to stay safe, and most importantly, have a solid backup plan. 


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If you have any questions, tips, or contributions, use the comment form below. I'd very much like to hear from you. Also, which of the prevention tips are you implementing this week? Let me know in the comment section.

Read also: How to configure Controlled Folder Access on your Windows 10 Device