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October 28, 2013updated 22 Sep 2016 2:03pm

Top 7 ways to protect yourself from ransomware

Cloud storage, encryption and a reliable anti-virus software program can all help you out in case of a ransomware attack.

By Ben Sullivan

A few months ago, whilst carrying out data entry on my previous employer’s laptop, I was hit with a page that locked my computer and gave me 24 hours to pay up 300 big ones or risk the police being notified of my ‘illegal’ web activities.

Yes, I was hit with ransomware. This particular offspring is known as the UK Police virus, and it managed to get into the laptop’s webcam, snap a photo of me, place it next to a dodgy image of purported ‘child porn’ that I apparently downloaded, and tried to make me pay up.

Of course, it’s all nonsense. What had really happened is that through an email or download that had taken place on the laptop, ‘ransomware’, a type of malware had infested itself on to the laptop and now cyber criminals were trying to squeeze money out of me. It was pretty scary, I’ll tell you.


The spread of ‘ransomware’ throughout recent months has seen a massive rise, with the CryptoLocker malware becoming particularly successful.

It holds all the files on your computer for ‘ransom’, requiring you to pay $300 in bitcoins to release your files. You have 100 hours with this one, and if you don’t pay up, your files are encrypted and there’s pretty much no chance of getting them back.

The ticking clock on the side makes this malware all the more terrifying, and is working in forcing unknowledgable users into paying up.

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A little bit of good news: paying actually works with this one, the perpetrators seem to be more honest that other malware instigators, but that’s not the point. Users should be aware of preventative measures to stop things like this happening, this all goes to highlight the lack of awareness much of the public has on cybersecurity.

Users should be aware of preventative measures to stop things like this happening, this all goes to highlight the lack of awareness much of the public has on cybersecurity.

So, how can you prevent yourself from being hit by ransomware? Follow these tips to keep safe and secure and minimise the risks of your files being encrypted and lost forever.

1. Counter-encryption

Encrypt the files you particularly want to keep private in a kind of counter encryption, such as documents containing your passwords or personal information, to prevent criminals from reading what’s in them. This will go a long way in keeping your data secure.

There is a free program called TrueCrypt that will allow you to do just that. The program is that works for every platform out there and is completely free. It’s also a small program and can install really quickly on your computer.


2. Backup

Back up your files. If you use an external hard drive, don’t leave it connected to your PC unless you are backing up. Alternatively, pay for an online back-up service – but bear in mind you may still be vulnerable if your backed-up files are mapped as a network drive. Check with your provider if you are unsure.


3. Use the Cloud

Create files in the Cloud and upload photos to online accounts like Flickr, Google Drive or Dropbox. This way, even if your computer is compromised, all your important files aren’t on it.



4. Go spam free

Change to a spam and and virus-filtered email service. Google Mail, for example, does not allow you to receive or send executable files (that can install viruses) as email attachments, even if they are hidden in zip files. (It also does not allow you to send them).


5. No porn

Don’t go to online porn sites, which are often the source of malware downloads. Take care when clicking on adverts; never open Twitter links and attachments from people you don’t know or trust.


6. Keep up to date

Make sure your operating system is up-to-date with the latest security. Regularly check for updates from your platform provider, but only downlaod them from a trusted source.


7. Anti-virus

Get reputable anti-virus software and ensure you update it frequently.


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