Grab your coffee and take notes. Today you’re going to learn how to outsmart ransomware attacks.

“This operating system has been locked for security reasons.” Decades after this kind of scam started, many users are being confronted with similar messages to this — and malware called ransomware is to blame. Ransomware is a multi-million-dollar crime operation that strikes everyone from hospitals to police departments to online casinos. It’s such a profitable scheme that experts say traditional cyberthieves are abandoning their old ways of making money — stealing credit card numbers and bank account credentials — in favor of ransomware.

Unfortunately, when it comes to ransomware, once your files are encrypted, there’s not much you can do — besides cut your losses or pay up. And even if you do pay up, there’s a chance you won’t get your files back, so you’re out the files and your cash.

The best defense against ransomware is to outwit attackers by not being vulnerable to their threats in the first place. This means backing up important data daily, so that even if your computers and servers get locked, you won’t be forced to pay to see your data again. No Knowledge tools such as SpiderOak ONE allow you to protect your most important files with real-time sync across all of your devises. Products such as Semaphor allow for encrypted chat and file sharing so privacy and security are ensured.

  1. Don’t enable macros: A lot of ransomware is distributed in Office documents that trick users into enabling macros. Microsoft has just released a new tool in Office 2016 that can limit the functionality of macros by preventing you from enabling them on documents downloaded from the internet.
  2. Use antivirus software: Using antivirus software will protect you from the most basic, well-known viruses by scanning your system against their known “fingerprints.” Low-end criminals take advantage of less-savvy users with these viruses, even though malware is constantly changing and antivirus is frequently days behind detecting it.
  3. Patch and patch again: Malware that doesn’t come in via document macros often relies on bugs in software and applications. When you apply security patches, you give the cybercriminals fewer options for infecting you with ransomware.
  4. Show hidden file-extensions: One way that Cryptolocker frequently arrives is in a file that is named with the extension “.PDF.EXE,” counting on Windows’ default behavior of hiding known file-extensions. If you re-enable the ability to see the full file-extension, it can be easier to spot suspicious files.
  5. Say no to suspicious emails and links: The primary method of infecting victims with ransomware involves every hacker’s favorite bait — the “spray-‘n’-pray” phishing attack, which involves spamming you with emails that carry a malicious attachment or instruct you to click on a URL where malware surreptitiously crawls into your machine. Keep these quick tips in mind:
  6. Never open spam emails or emails from unknown senders.
  7. Never download attachments from spam emails or suspicious emails.
  8. Never click links in spam emails or suspicious emails.
  9. Make sure everything is up to date: This includes the operating system, the browser and all of the plug-ins that a modern browser typically uses. One of the most common infection vectors is a malicious exploit that leverage a software vulnerability. Keeping software up to date helps minimize the likelihood that your system has an exposed vulnerability on it.

Overall, be careful about what you download and make sure everyone on your team or in your household is also trained on these measures. Your users can be your weakest link if you don’t train them how to avoid booby-trapped documents and malicious emails. Never click on a file or link in a suspicious email. Don’t download anything from a suspicious website. For more security recommendations and strategies, check out our Infosec guide.