You might have seen recently on the news a story about hospitals in the United Kingdom falling victim to computer viruses demanding money. This type of situation is very unsettling, and often it’s hard to know what the best course of action is. The reality however is that anyone, not just hospitals, can fall victim to these attacks. This post is going to talk a bit more about these viruses, and what you can do to lower your risk of falling victim to one.
These types of viruses are known as Ransom-ware. Typically they work like this; they load onto your computer, typically from a website you have visited or a file you have downloaded, encrypt your computer data, and display a message demanding money for the release of your information. Payment is always the ultimate goal and upon payment the attacker sends the victim either an unlock program or code to release the computer’s data from encryption. Some viruses simply prevent the boot drive from loading the OS, while others will encrypt your drive, completely locking down your computer’s data. The malware which attacked hospitals in the United Kingdom was known as WannaCry, and has since been cracked.
So what can you do to prevent these attacks? There are some things you might want to consider to prevent falling victim to an attack:
- Use anti-virus software. While anti-virus software isn’t 100% guaranteed to prevent these complex viruses from attacking your PC, it certainly lowers your risk of an infected Trojan virus attacking your computer.
- Use anti-malware software. There is a difference! Viruses are considered to be a type of malware, and most anti-virus programs don’t pay attention to other types of malware such as spyware, adware and worms. Using a dedicated anti-malware solution is a highly recommended addition. Running a scan once in a while will ensure your computer is secured.
- Pay attention to your browsing. What websites are you browsing? Some types of websites are more likely to be infected than others. Additionally, some websites use phishing marketing ploys which appear to be buttons for downloads or free product offers. Ensuring you stay away from these attempts is key to preventing malware from entering your machine.
- Watch out for strange looking links. This falls under the last bullet point, but another thing to look out for when browsing the web are links that look suspiciously out of place. Typically these are links that show up in strange places on lesser known websites, including within text sections of a website without any sort of cues.
- Keep your computer updated. Your computer manufacturer includes software fixes to close security loopholes where malware can enter your PC. This is considered to be one of the reasons why British hospitals fell victim to the attack; the computers were not updated to their latest available software versions.
Ultimately, the combination of these points constitutes smart web browsing, which is the best and safest way to prevent becoming a victim of not just ransom-ware, but other types of malware as well. There are some more considerations you may want to make in the event that you do fall victim to an attack.
- Should you pay? Usually it’s very difficult to determine who is on the sending side of these attacks. The real concern is that they are being instigated by terrorist organizations. Additionally, succumbing to an attack by paying may put you at a greater risk of being attacked again, since you now become a known paying target.
- Back up your data. This is another very compelling reason to keep your data backed up onto an external hard drive that is not physically or wirelessly connected to your computer. Having an external drive that you can back your data onto by connecting it to the computer once in awhile, will allow you to walk away from a ransom-ware attack without losing any of your information. This won’t alleviate the problem; however, it may help to minimize the overall damage.
To learn more about Ransom-ware and what you can do to protect yourself, check out this Berkely University web portal.