How to protect yourself from ransomware attacks

What can businesses and individuals do to protect themselves from ransomware? Here are some tips from security experts.

A decade-old form of malicious software known as ransomware has been making headlines after cybercriminals hijacked hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide.

Ransomware, which is often transmitted by email or web pop-ups, involves locking up people’s data and threatening to destroy it if a ransom is not paid. The global cyberattack has affected 200,000 Windows computers in more than 150 countries, including China, Japan, South Korea, Germany and Britain.

The cybercriminals have generally targeted hospitals, academic institutions, blue-chip companies and businesses like movie-theater chains. The attacks highlight the challenges that organizations face with consistently applying security safeguards on a large scale.

“Not only individuals, but even governments and big companies with so much to lose fail to secure their systems and train their employees about necessary security practices,” said Marty P. Kamden, a marketing executive for the private network service provider NordVPN. “Cautious online behavior would probably have prevented the malware from infecting the network in the first place.”

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What can businesses and individuals do to protect themselves from ransomware? Here are some tips from security experts.

Update your software

Security experts believe the malware that spurred this global attack, called WannaCry, may have initially infected machines by getting people to download it through email. After that, the malicious code was able to easily travel to a broader network of computers that were linked together through the Windows file-sharing system. (Users of Macs or other non-Windows computers were not affected.)

The most disheartening revelation from the cyberattack was that there was a fix available for the ransomware before the attack. Microsoft, which makes Windows, released a patch for the WannaCry vulnerability eight weeks ago, said Chris Wysopal, the chief technology officer of Veracode, an application security company.

In other words, if people had simply stayed on top of security updates, their machines would not have been infected. “People kind of got complacent and not vigilant about updating their machines,” Wysopal said.

Consumers can remedy this by configuring their Windows machines to automatically install the latest software updates.

Even though WannaCry specifically targeted Windows machines, that does not mean Mac or Linux users are off the hook in the future. Other breeds of malware may infect various operating systems, so no matter which device you are using, you should regularly update your software to install the latest security enhancements.

Install anti-virus software

In addition to keeping Windows up-to-date with the latest security enhancements, anti-virus software can prevent…

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