How To Prevent Ransomware Attacks: An Essential Guide
The Internet has changed the world by giving unlimited access to information and global connections. The government, educational institutions, and businesses depend on the web to carry out their daily functions.
Unfortunately, the web is not entirely safe. Security threats are the dangerous side of the Internet. They can lower productivity and damage the reputation of affected organizations. While some cyberattacks are subtle attempts to steal data, there are ransomware attacks that take money from an organization or an individual.
What is ransomware?
There are several types of ransomware, but the pattern is the same. Attackers manage to install a malicious program onto a computer or network server. In most cases, this program encrypts some or all of the data on the system. With encrypted data, the organization cannot carry out essential functions. The attackers then demand a ransom, usually in cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, to ensure anonymity. If the organization pays the ransom, the criminals send a decryption key that frees the data.
A newer variation on this theme includes the threat of wiping away the data. Another variation involves threatening to release sensitive data. These tactics put time pressure on the organization or individual so that they are more likely to pay the fee.
How does ransomware get into your system?
Successful attacks are often the result of human error. A system user clicks on a link or downloads the malicious program in another way. Once a system is infected, the malware goes to work and encrypts the data. With that, it is critical to understand and look for the most common ransomware strategies to promote data safety.
As security measures have improved, phishing expeditions have become more advanced. Nonspecific attacks often end up in your spam folder without you ever knowing you received them. Today, cybercriminals do more research to seek out specific victims in an organization. They will look at a school’s website to include familiar names. Criminals might check your public social media information to seek details that make an email seem legitimate. If it sounds like it comes from someone you know, you are more likely to click a link or download a file.
Most users will be slow to download an unsolicited program. However, they may not understand that simply viewing a malicious website can lead to problems. In this case, the malware attackers set up a fake website that may mirror a legitimate page. When the user hits the link and arrives at the site, the malicious program can download in the background.
Weak and Repeated Passwords
When a business works with several different platforms, it can be inconvenient to remember a separate password for each one. It is tempting to use the same password for every device and program. However, this practice leaves you vulnerable. If cybercriminals obtain one password, they suddenly have access to every device and program on your network.
Password strength is another issue. If you use birth dates or family names as part of your password, a criminal may be able to find this information online. These attackers may also have access to lists of common passwords that they can run through quickly with a password-cracking program.
Poor Device Protection
More businesses are offering flexibility by allowing remote work. This practice means that more employees may be connecting to your network on a remote device. If someone steals a tablet or laptop with an active connection, the criminal will have open access to your network. Without safeguards in place, this can lead to serious trouble.
Unaddressed Software Vulnerabilities
Many small businesses will use older software to keep their costs low. If the program is still performing well for the business, they see no reason to upgrade. However, software companies stop supporting older versions of software after some time. When hackers find a vulnerability in an unsupported program, they can exploit it to plant ransomware on your system.
How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks
Once hackers have access to your system or server, it is difficult to stop them. The best strategies for preventing a ransomware attack are standard and up-to-date cyber safety practices that protect your system. Ransomware attacks evolve year by year, especially in 2021, so you need to know more ways to upgrade your protection. If you can maintain the integrity of your network, you will keep malware at a distance.
Here are our proposed solutions to avoid a ransomware attack, as well as the best practices you can do on your own to eliminate these threats:
Getting a Basic Cybersecurity Training
The first step in preventing ransomware is addressing your network users. More than likely, a careless individual will be the cause of a successful attack. Creating a culture of cyber safety will protect your business from the inconvenience and expense of handling a ransomware attack.
Security education must be a regular part of your training process. Your employees should know how to recognize a potential phishing attack and how to respond. If they are not entirely sure about the origins of a file or link, they should not click it. If it seems to come from a coworker, they should reach out to the person who supposedly sent it to verify it is safe.
You should also establish clear device-handling and password policies. Your employees should understand the principles of a strong password. If someone steals their device, they must report it as soon as possible.
You may also want to set up protocols for remote connections to your network. Using a Virtual Private Network when on the road can prevent illicit connections from one user to another, blocking hackers from accessing a device.
Although it can limit flexibility, whitelisting programs and webpages can keep your system safe. When your network automatically blocks unapproved sites, you do not have to worry about an employee accidentally stumbling onto a malicious website. However, the challenge of whitelisting is the inconvenience of seeking approval whenever a user wants to install a new program or visit a new site.
Staying Current with Patches and Updates
Programs and applications release periodic updates and patches when manufacturers become aware of security vulnerabilities. Many software programs will install these updates automatically. It is best to set your organization’s devices to receive these essential upgrades without any extra work.
Acquiring DNS Security
The Domain Name System is the way that computers navigate the web. When you type a website name into your browser, the DNS system translates it into a numerical IP address. A DNS firewall is another way you can prevent users from reaching out to malicious sites. Before the browser makes the connection, the security system will compare the IP address against a known malicious site database.
Remote Browser Isolation
At McAfee, we are constantly working to provide security solutions. Remote browser isolation through our McAfee WebAdvisor and Total Protection is one of the tools we offer to protect our customers. This technology provides one of the safest browsing experiences possible. When your system works with RBI, it is not making a direct connection with a website. Instead, the browser connects to our RBI server, and the server connects to the desired website. Then, it sends a visual stream back to the user. The user can browse freely without worrying about downloading ransomware from malicious sites.
Backing Up Data
If a ransomware attack is successful, there is little you can do without the encryption key. Cybercriminals depend on a lack of preparation for these efforts. Businesses and schools may be willing to pay the fee it gets them back to work. However, safely backing up mission-critical data can save you from the need to pay the criminals. You can use a cloud-based storage solution or a server without a direct network connection to keep data safe. Restoring your data may be an inconvenience, but it will be less expensive than paying the ransom.
Installing Antivirus Software
Robust virus protection and other malware-related tools are key elements to maintaining the overall safety of your system. Malware is a constant issue, and you need a security solution that works in real-time. A well-designed anti-malware product will stop many problems before they start.
Learning From Others’ Past Mistakes
Many organizations and individuals have experienced ransomware attacks. Some survived, some didn’t. If you want to avoid ransomware attacks, learn from their mistakes. Learn about what happened before, during, and after the attack. You can access this information on online news media or social media channels, such as Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter.
How To Prevent Ransomware Attacks From Locking Your PC
Now, if you think you’re already experiencing a ransomware attack, you can try preventing it from locking your PC and preventing hackers from accessing your data. The best course of action is to upgrade your antivirus software, move your sensitive files, and reformat your PC completely.
What to Do After a Ransomware Attack
Don’t panic. Don’t pay the ransom. Instead, follow the most critical steps that may still save your device. First, turn off and disconnect your device from the network and try to find the source of the virus or malware. If you’re running an organization, alert all your staff, customers, and other connections. Next, try to recover all the critical data that are still accessible, then restore your backup. Contain the damage as much as you can. If it’s a severe ransomware attack, make sure to alert the authorities near you.
How To Recover From A Ransomware Attack
Paying the ransom or even saving your sensitive data won’t fix the security problem completely. To recover from a ransomware attack, improve your device’s security and clean your storage from top to bottom. It’s also advisable to be aware of the latest cybersecurity threats and trends today, so you’ll know how to prevent ransomware attacks in the future.
Final Thoughts on Avoiding Ransomware
There will always be threats to your network like ransomware, but you can avoid many of them through safe online practices, such as the following:
- User Education: Train your staff members so that they recognize the hallmarks of a phishing attack. If they are uncertain about an email, they should never click a link or download a file.
- Hardware Devices Protection: Maintain the integrity of your devices by using strong passwords and keeping software up-to-date.
- Safe Browsing: You can protect your employees from themselves by whitelisting approved sites. Employing safe browsing and connection technologies like RBI and VPNs can prevent malicious attacks.
By developing robust security strategies, you can minimize the threat that ransomware poses to your computer and smartphone devices. When you set up your system to keep hackers out, you will enjoy the benefits of a secured and protected device. Knowing how to prevent ransomware attacks should still be the first and only step you need to take to avoid them and their consequences at all costs.
If you need more resources, tools, and software to protect you against ransomware attacks and other cybercrimes, seek help from McAfee. We are updated with the latest malware and ransomware attacks that not only infect computers, but mobiles too. As such, we know how to properly respond to attacks and help users. We aim to promote a safe and secure online environment for everyone and ultimately stop ransomware attacks from happening.