Ransomware is all the rage these days with cyber-crooks – causing an equal amount of rage among their unlucky victims. The WannaCry ransomware attack has been the most publicly known, but far from the only threat – Cryptolocker, Bad Rabbit, and Petya are just a few of the other ransomware outbreaks causing mass heartache and frustration for users across the globe, both at the personal computing and enterprise levels.
The threats are very real, but so are the precautions. The old medical adage says that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – and the same is true of your data security. ComputerWorld.com has published a good primer for Windows 10 users on how to proactively guard yourself against ransomware through the following 5 tips:
1. Enable Controlled Folder Access.
Microsoft is concerned enough about ransomware that it built an easy-to-configure anti-ransomware tool directly into the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. Controlled Folder Access protects you by letting only safe and fully vetted applications access your files. Unknown applications or known malware threats aren’t allowed through.
This helps guard against unknown (specifically malicious) software from accessing your sensitive files. In addition, it prevents known software which might be hijacked or infected from meddling with your files should that software not normally need the access. It’s the principle of least privilege at work – applications that don’t need access to sensitive files, shouldn’t have it.
By default, this protects your Windows program files and your profile libraries – My Documents, for example – but you can manually specify any folders you deem necessary to fall under the Controlled Access umbrella.
As the excerpt above notes, this is part of the Fall Creator’s update – so you won’t be able to use this feature if you haven’t updated to the newest version. More on this to be discussed below.
2. Back-Up Your Files Regularly.
The whole point of ransomware is to hold your files hostage until you pay to unlock them. So one of the best protections from ransomware is to back up your files. That way, there’s no need to pay the ransom, because you can easily restore your files from the backup.
In order to back up effectively, make sure that your backup is not on media connected directly to your computer. If you plug an external hard drive to your PC to back up files, you run the risk of having an infection spread from your computer to the hard drive, encrypting your backup and rendering it useless.
Instead of a physical backup, consider using a cloud-based option: Microsoft OneDrive, Carbonite, and Google Drive are a few examples. These services take regular backups of your sensitive files without exposing them to any infections that may be on your computer.
3. Use Ransomware Protection Tools.
There are a large number of free tools offered by reputable antivirus companies which can help prevent ransomware infections and counteract those in progress. The ComputerWorld article specifically notes 3 powerful tools from BitDefender, MalwareBytes, and CyberReason’s Ransomfree. Taking just a few minutes to download and deploy these tools can save you a whole lotta hurt.
4. Update your Computer Regularly
When WannaCry hit the scene in early 2017, it caught a lot of professional organizations off-guard. Thing is, the vulnerabilities exploited by WannaCry had been patched in Windows updates released only a month or two prior – which goes to show why not updating regularly is usually a bad idea.
Don’t know how to update? Follow this simple process:
…Go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update and click the “Check for updates” button. (If updates are already waiting for you, you’ll see them listed instead of the “Check for updates” button.) If Windows finds updates, it installs them. If it requires a reboot, it will tell you.
If you have a PC provided to you by your organization’s IT department, they may have update restrictions in place which prevent you from updating on your own. If this concerns you, reach out to them on the issue – it never hurts to ask.
5. Turn off MS Office Macros.
Macros in Microsoft Office are basically bits of code that can perform various functions, like organize data in an Excel or Word document. Macros can be incredibly useful tools, but also present an enormous liability when used for malicious purposes. Office should be set to never run a macro without your express permission:
…Select File > Options > Trust Center > Trust Center Settings and select either “Disable all macros with notification” or “Disable all macros without notification.” If you disable them with notification, when you open the file you’ll get a message warning that the macros were disabled and letting you turn them on. Only turn them on if you’re absolutely sure they’re from a safe, trusted source.
…and there you have it. Consider putting these five techniques into practice and take a proactive stance against ransomware. Your sensitive files will thank you for it.