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You need to protect your computer from ransomware

By Eric Geier (Our Founder & Owner)

Originally published by Cox Media Group on 6/14/21

Ransomware has been around for a long time, and, unfortunately, it’s making the news again with the Colonial Pipeline attack that caused oil and gas shortages for millions on the East Coast. If you’re not aware, this is a type of malware or virus that locks computers or data until a ransom is paid. Sometimes the malware can be removed and data saved without paying, but it’s nearly impossible to do that when the data is truly encrypted. Nevertheless, I don’t suggest paying the ransom.

Of course, the attackers and cybercriminals certainly like to target large corporations and organizations for a bigger potential payday, but they do attack small businesses and home users as well. If you think you ever get a ransomware attack, right away I suggest calling a trusted computer pro and the police. If they’ve locked your computer or data, they could have extracted any saved passwords and other sensitive information.

Your best bet to recover from a ransomware attack or to avoid the attacks altogether is to be proactive with your computer and tech security:

Ensure your antivirus and firewall are active: Windows 10 comes with a basic antivirus and firewall, which I think is OK for most users, but I highly suggest using extra malware protection as discussed next. Some people choose to use a third-party antivirus and/ or firewall like Norton or McAfee instead of the Windows 10 protection.

Get extra malware protection: You should already have antivirus that’s protecting your computer, but many of those don’t stop other junk like scams, adware or PUPs (potentially unwanted programs) that can be annoyances or lead to bigger issues. Malwarebytes is my favorite extra protection scanner. It also serves as another level of protection from the bad viruses too, like ransomware. Malwarebytes has a free edition that you can use to manually run scans, but for active protection you have to buy it, which I suggest for most users.

Setup automatic backups: Though tech pros like myself can sometimes recover your data after a computer crash or virus, there are certainly times when we cannot, like with ransomware that has really encrypted your data. If you have photos, documents, and other files you don’t want to lose, you should back them up.

On the computer, I suggest both an automatic backup to a local drive and also an automatic cloud-based backup that saves your data online, which then should be recoverable if you get a ransomware attack. The cloud-based backup is crucial to protect the data from ransomware attacks, as back-ups stored on a local hard drive can certainly be encrypted along with your computer. But for online backups, nearly all the solutions allow you to restore data based upon a date so you can restore your data as it was prior to the attack.

IDrive is my favorite online backup solution. For smartphones, I suggest using the built-in Google or Apple backup solution to ensure your photos are backed up online.

Enable two-factor authentication: If you get any type of virus or scammer on your computer, most will seek out any saved passwords on your computer. In case that happens, I highly suggest enabling two-factor authentication for your sensitive online accounts like email, banks and online stores. This would require an extra step to login to your account after entering the password, such as entering a one-time code sent to you via email, text message or phone call. You can usually make this happen with every login or just logins from new/other computers.

I suggest at least the latter on your important accounts. That way if your passwords are ever captured by a scammer or virus, the two-factor authentication can stop them from logging in even though they might have your correct password.

Get a yearly professional checkup and cleanup: Even if you don’t seem to have issues, I strongly recommend getting a full computer checkup each year at home, and for businesses I suggest even more often. A computer tech can check many security, safety and reliability aspects. Sometimes they can spot and fix potential problems before they become a huge headache.

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