Four Tips to Protect Your Data from Ransomware

Written by Teri Milner.

If you haven’t experienced ransomware either personally or professionally, there has been enough press in recent months regarding major institutions getting hacked (think Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center) that it should be top of mind. Ransomware is a type of malware that prevents users from accessing files and data on their system, and forces users to pay a ransom in order to regain access. The insidious nature of these attacks is that you often don’t know you are being exposed to them: ads filled with malicious JavaScript-based software can be plugged into ad networks used by major news websites[1], so simply reading your electronic daily paper can make your system vulnerable.

What can make these attacks even worse is that cyber criminals can also hack into your local backups and ransom that data along with server data. Simply backing up local files is not enough to protect your data. So, what can be done to protect yourself from this newest cyber threat?  Here are some recommendations:

  1. Backup your data frequently, and be sure the files are saved elsewhere (preferably on an external hard drive) so that cyber criminals can’t easily access them. An IT company had a client who refused to do daily, offsite backups (too expensive in their opinion) so when the client was hacked, both their network and their local onsite backup was held for ransom. There was nothing they could do but pony up the cash, and then fix the holes in their systems the IT professionals had recommended plugging up in the first place.
  2. Do not pay the ransom. According to Symantec a leader in cyber security, if you do get encrypted by a cyber-attack, you should not pay the ransom. Instead, remove the impacted system from the network and remove the threat. Then, restore from a known good backup[2] (see #1 above!).
  3. Keep your staff, colleagues and friends mindful of the risks: clicking on an invoice you weren’t expecting, an ad pop-up or some other seemingly innocuous thing, can be the back door into your systems that the cyber criminals are looking for.
  4. Perform regular software updates, use antivirus software and firewalls. While some claim that antivirus software is obsolete because malware changes too rapidly, for every new malware item, there are hundreds of old malware still active.[3] The FBI claims that Windows 10 has the best security, so if you haven’t updated your systems yet, think about doing so while it is still free (June 2016 is the deadline for the free Windows 10 upgrade).

While there are many more precautions you can take for your personal or professional cyber security, these four tips rank the highest of all the information I have found. Invest in an IT service that can monitor your systems and security, helping to keep your information safe and secure. Some ransoms can demand as much as tens of thousands of dollars, making the monthly fee of a trusted IT service seem minimal. What is your data worth?


[1] Article by Ernie Smith (03/22/2016) in the Associations Now Illustration weekly newsletter by ASAE: “How to Prevent Ransomware: Follow These Four Tips”

[2] Symantec Official Blog: “Ransomware Do’s and Don’ts: Protecting Critical Data” by Matt Sherman. Created 02/18/2015

[3] Computerworld, “Ransomware: 7 tips for recovery and prevention” by Robert C Covington. January 21, 2016

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