Texas made headlines around the world as news broke of ransomware attacks on 22 municipalities across the state. The attacks happened on the morning of August 16 and seemed to target the local governments of mostly rural towns. What does this mean? Ransomware allows hackers to remotely encrypt computers, locking out the primary users. Then, they are able to demand payment (usually bitcoin or another type of cryptocurrency) before they will release the computers or files that are being held hostage. The mayor of one city said the attackers are asking $2.5 million in ransom.
Ransomware attacks don’t just happen to local governments; they can target small businesses and individuals as well. Cybersecurity authorities said damage could have been much worse, but because Texas has worked hard on incident response, everyone knew exactly whom to call when the attack happened. If consumers and small business owners know how to protect themselves from ransomware and how to respond if they find themselves hacked, they can minimize damage as well.
BBB has these tips on preventing and responding to ransomware attacks:
• Stay updated. Keeping your software updated will ensure you have the latest and strongest security measures on your devices. The weaker your system, the easier it is for hackers to get in.
• Have a backup. Routine backups ensure you have access to your data in the event of a ransomware attack.
• Use stronger logins. While a strong password can help keep unwanted attackers out of your accounts, you may also want to consider two-factor authentication. This would allow you to use your fingerprint, security keys or one-time codes sent to your cell phone in addition to your password. You can go to the settings of your email, banking or social media accounts to activate two-factor authentication.
• Install antivirus software. Anti-virus software is another protective measure you can take against hackers. Do research on the software you want before you download it to your computer and search the company’s business profile at bbb.org. You should also check that it includes a ransomware removal tool before buying.
• Be cautious with attachments. Ransomware and other vicious softwares can be sent to you through links or attachments in emails and phishing scams. It is best never to open anything from an unknown sender. You can also enable your system to show file extensions, which makes it easier for you to spot potentially harmful files. Look for file extensions like “.exe,” “.vbs,” and “.scr.”
• Disconnect from the network. If you discover you’ve been affected by ransomware, disconnect from your internet connection immediately. Disabling that connection may cut off the hacker’s access to your data. You should also disconnect from internal networks, because it can spread to multiple computers from the same system.
• Keep your money. Ransomware attackers will demand payment to release your computer, but there is no guarantee they will do so. Keeping your data backed up will prevent you from needing to pay hackers.