Recent Ransomware attacks and how to protect yourself

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Security

Recent Ransomware attacks and how to protect yourself

You may have seen recently in the media that the NHS was struck by ransomware across some of it’s hospitals and surgeries along with organisations across 99 countries.

Ransomware is a piece of software that when run on your computer can encrypt your important files; important documents, family photos and videos, music or other important files are scrambled so they can’t be used usually without paying a ransom fee, usually within a limited amount of time, after which either the ransom will increase or your files will be lost forever.

There are many different versions of ransomware out in the wild.  Traditionally ransomware was spread by e-mail, usually an e-mail purporting to be from a legitimate sender such as Royal Mail or Court service.  However as seen with the recent NHS infection, ransomware such as WannaCry can infect other computers using a vulnerability found in Windows which unless your computer is set to install automatic updates, could be potentially not protected against.

So what can I do to protect myself?

Well, there are some basic steps you can use to help protect your computer and important documents.

Install software updates

Programmers who write software occasionally make mistakes.  Computer programs are very complicated and often have millions of lines of code, and while programmers take steps to ensure their code doesn’t contain bugs they can and do slip through the net.

Fixing Problems

Fixing Problems – Image courtesy of XKCD – https://xkcd.com/1739/

Microsoft, Apple, Google and other software developers often release monthly updates for their software.  If these updates aren’t installed your computer could be vulnerable to attacks which could cause your computer to become infected.

Run anti-virus software

Running anti-virus software on your computer is very important.  Anti-Virus software can detect and stop known viruses and malware from infecting your computer and is often updated daily (sometimes even multiple times a day).  While it’s still possible for new malware to slip past your anti-virus software, it’s usually detected and blocked.  Even Macs and Android phones and tablets have been targeted by malware so for peace of mind it’s recommended that you have some anti-virus protection.  Examples of anti-virus vendors include Avast, Sophos or even Microsoft with their Windows Defender which is built into Windows 8.1 and Windows 10.

Have a backup of your important data or documents

Your data such as your documents, pictures, home videos, homework/coursework, accounts files are important.  You should keep a regular backup of important data and make sure that you test the backups to make sure they work.  Backups should be kept separate to your computer.  They could be on an external USB hard disk, memory stick (which should be disconnected when not being used) or even an online cloud storage service such as Google Drive or Apple iCloud or on to a blank CD or DVD.

Beware of opening e-mail attachments

If you receive an e-mail from someone you don’t know or if someone has sent you an e-mail with an attachment that you’re not expecting beware of opening the attachment.  Some malware can infect e-mail programs such as Outlook and send itself to everyone in the e-mail address book, so if someone you know becomes infected you may receive an e-mail purporting to be them containing the same malware.  If you do receive an e-mail with an attachment from someone you don’t know it’s usually a good idea to delete it.  If you receive an e-mail attachment from someone you don’t know, but wasn’t expecting it, perhaps contact them and check if they did send you something before opening it.

Beware of Facebook or social media scam applications

You’ve probably seen before posts on Facebook or other social media of an interesting looking or shocking video, or something that can tell you who viewed your profile.  These are examples of scam apps on Facebook which when clicked on can ask you to give permissions to post on your Facebook timeline or access your personal information such as name or e-mail address.  Once they’ve been given permission they can start posting things to your timeline without your knowledge.  They may also lead you to external websites and ask you to install software to view content which could potentially be malware.

While there’s always a risk of getting caught out, these tips could potentially help protect your computer or important documents.

Run an up to date supported version of your operating system

If your computer is still running Windows XP or Windows Vista you won’t receive any future security fixes for your computer apart from in extremely limited circumstances.  Microsoft provide updates for their products usually for a few years after they’re released.  Support for Windows XP ended in April 2014 and support for Windows Vista ended in April 2017.

Microsoft do recommend that anyone running Windows upgrades to Windows 10, although users of Windows 7 and 8 are supported until January 2020 and January 2023 respectively.

If you have a Mac, things are a little more complex, but Apple provide a list of computers that are still supported on their website.

If you’re a business with a server then it’s worth finding out if it’s still supported.  Servers running Windows Server 2003 stopped receiving support in January 2015, so if your server is running an unsupported operating system then it’s advisable to upgrade.

If you’d like to talk to us about upgrading your computer or server then please give us a call on 01803 500199 or e-mail us.

What if I get infected?

First of all, if you get infected, don’t panic.  In some cases, there are programs available from anti-virus vendors which can decrypt the encrypted files, although unfortunately this isn’t the case with every piece of ransomware out in the wild.

If you have a backup of your data, make sure you don’t plug this into your computer while it’s infected.

Give us a call at ProudGeek and we can advise further what your options are.  We can offer assistance.


1 Comment

Mummy bear

May 15, 2017 at 9:56 pm

Useful advice, thank you.