Ransomware Returns: What It Is and How to Protect Yourself

Way back in 2013, malicious software known as ransomware entered into the mainstream as a new threat for businesses and consumers to worry about. While it faded from the mainstream for a little while after that, it’s coming back with a vengeance in 2016, but things are different now. This isn’t an unprecedented threat.

In this article we’ll discuss the best ways to prepare and protect yourself from ransomware infections.

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If you aren’t already familiar, Ransomware earns its name because it typically acts as software that locks up your system and encrypts your data. In many of these cases the only way to move forward is to pay the ransom or replace the drive and lose access to your data forever if you didn’t have it backed up.

While earlier forms of ransomware (such as CryptoLocker) were known for honoring the terms and unlocking the data once the ransom was paid, it should be noted that they can just as easily not do that. The only way to really be safe from ransomware is to prevent it from occurring at all.

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In an ideal world you won’t suffer from a ransomware infection at all. Here’s our best tips for avoiding it.

1. Avoid suspicious emails and links. While curiosity may tempt you, it isn’t worth losing access to your most valuable data or the workings of your computer. Stay far away from spam emails especially, as most modern ransomware uses email as a delivery method.

2. Use Adblockers on untrusted sites. Use ABP or uBlock Origin on your browser of choice. In addition to avoiding being bogged down by ads, you’re closing up another avenue of infection. Definitely consider whitelisting trusted sites, though, like us!

3. Keep plugins updated or stop using them entirely. Flash and Java are notorious at this point for being performance hogs and for having security vulnerabilities. There’s a reason so many tech companies are trying to phase them out. Stop using these plugins if at all possible, but if you must keep them up to date at all times.

4. Install security programs. While antiviruses might help protect you against ransomware in some cases, I recommend Malwarebytes Anti-Ransomware. At the time of writing, it’s in a free beta, and it seems to be the most effective at blocking ransomware threats.

Even if you never come across ransomware, you should still be prepared for the worst in case it (or something else) strikes you and your system.

1. Make regular backups. Since most ransomware encrypts your files, you might need to start all over with a new hard drive or SSD. Having safe external backups of your files will do it, too. Cloud solutions like Dropbox can work as well but only if you’re quick about restoring the files.

2. Don’t rely on a single system. My writing on MakeTechEasier and other outlets is what gets me by. Relying on a single computer is dangerous for me as well as other people who rely on technology to do their work or stay in touch with their loved ones. Having a backup machine in case of an emergency is always a good idea, regardless of ransomware concerns.

While it’s true that ransomware can sometimes be removed or unlocked, this isn’t always reliable. It’s a constant cat-and-mouse game between black hat criminals and white hat hackers/tech companies who want to help. Ultimately, the best way to protect yourself is by preparing for the worst case scenario and preventing an infection from occurring in the first place.

But what do you think? Have you had experience with ransomware, or do you know someone who has? Tell us about it in the comments!

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