Whether you are a business or an individual, you need to protect your data and computers against the ever-growing threat of malware. The greatest of these threats is ransomware, which attacks and spreads on all networked systems after activation, encrypting and locking all data and files out of service. Hackers then demand a fee that can range up to thousands of pounds. Payment will ostensibly earn the victim the encryption codes that will enable data recovery.

Employees are the usual targets of ransomware attacks and usually introduce the infection through email phishing schemes, clicking dangerous links, or visiting fraudulent websites that have not been safe-listed. There are several common sense, proactive measures that help prevent a ransomware attack.

Use Anti-Malware Detection Software

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Image via Flickr by Katy Levinson

Good, effective anti-malware software works across entire networks or with individuals. It integrates protection with all other applications and updates often in response to new threats. With email being a particularly serious threat, anti-malware helps filter spam and detect embedded malicious code. Safe email addresses and legitimate online domains are available on whitelists that frequently update. Continuous scanning can eliminate many threats before they take root.

Conduct Employee Awareness Training

Good training programs improve employee awareness of threats they may encounter and how to avoid them. Proper email and online browsing hygiene are crucial to preventing ransomware attacks. Employees should know what clues to look for in identifying potential phishing emails that may bypass filters. All employees should know how to participate in an emergency recovery plan in the event of a ransomware attack.

Anti-malware software usually protects against threats of cross-contamination. As an added measure, all employees should have their personal devices approved for use before joining any company network.

Back Up Data and Update Programs

Businesses and individuals should frequently back up data using redundant systems such as cloud storage. There are numerous services that offer free or reasonably priced cloud storage that is safe and secure. Backups should be in different locations if possible and with redundancy. Additionally, a hard backup to external hard drives is a great added precaution.

Programs such as Office and Windows require frequent updates to patch security flaws. An IT department can set these up but they can also occur on an automated basis.

Ransomware has proven to be an ongoing, evolving threat with costs to UK businesses estimated to be in the billions of pounds annually. Businesses that elect to pay the ransoms often find out that the encryption codes don’t work and that they’ve increased the likelihood of additional attacks. The threats are daunting. Malware developers and hackers often don’t act alone, but work in highly trained groups, often sponsored by rogue states or shady criminal organizations.If you, as an individual or business, are subject to an attack, you should immediately notify law enforcement. Work with your in-house IT staff or seek outside professional help to assist with implementing a recovery plan and restoring systems.