Ransomware – Serious For Everyone

What is ransomware? Ironically, as October was Cyber Security Awareness Month, a record number of attacks, hacks, and phishing attempts were unleashed. Below is an excellent list of cyber security tips from a national financial institution, reproduced in its entirety.

“Security Update – Protecting Yourself From Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware) that freezes your computer or mobile device until money is paid to release the contents back to you. The most common type of ransomware, known as crypto-ransomware, encrypts files on infected systems and tries to force users to pay a ransom through online payment methods, in order to get a decrypt key.

Ransomware targets individuals by using a link or attachment that infects your computer or mobile device, or leads you to an infected website. Ransomware is most easily spread through:

  • Phishing emails
  • Advertisements or pop-up windows
  • Downloadable software

The FBI estimates that more than $5 billion in losses came from ransomware attacks in 2017. Ransom fees can vary from $100 – $10,000 or more, with no guarantee that your system will be restored if the ransom is paid.

How to Protect Yourself

To help protect yourself from ransomware:

  • Always use antivirus software and a firewall. Be sure both are set up to update automatically. Enable pop-up blockers. Pop-ups are regularly used by criminals to spread malware. To avoid accidentally clicking a pop-up, using a popup blocker will help prevent them from opening in the first place. Never open attachments, or click on a URL contained in unsolicited emails. This holds true even if it comes from someone in your contact list. Only download software from sites you know and trust. Malware can come in downloadable games, videos, music, and file-sharing programs. Keep your software updated. Using old versions of your browser, operating system, or plugins can allow malware through open security holes. Regularly back up the content on your computer and mobile device. Be sure to back up the content to a location where it can’t be written or erased, like an external hard drive or to the cloud. Use strong passwords and change them regularly. Strong passwords contain a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Never create passwords that contain birth dates, anniversary dates or other easily obtainable personal information. Use the same precautions on your mobile device as you would on your computer when using the internet. About 80 percent of those who use the internet, access it through their mobile device, leaving your smartphone and tablet open to the same issues as your computer. If you do fall victim to a ransomware attack, DO NOT pay the ransom. Paying the ransom does not guarantee that you will receive your data back. It also makes you a target for future ransomware attacks.

By following these tips, you can help protect yourself from a ransomware attack. If your system does become infected with ransomware, taking the above steps will help reduce the impact. Instead of paying the ransom, you can simply have your system wiped clean and then restore it using your back up copy.”

In 2020, we’ve all heard the mantra, “Stay safe.” Not only does it apply to our health; it applies to our computers too.

Holly Donaldson

Holly Donaldson, CFP® runs an hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice virtually from her Tampa Bay, Florida office. She also works with clients throughout the U.S. (except Texas) interested in retirement and tax planning advice without product sales or investment management. Holly is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch."

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