Since my last blog post on the ransomware threat that has become so pervasive across the Internet was published last month (read “Ransomware (Part One): The Internet’s Latest Threat”), several more high-profile attacks have made headlines and disrupted systems around the world. This blog outlines some of the ways that you can limit the chances of becoming the victim of a serious ransomware attack.
The Truth About Windows XP
If you are still running a PC or laptop with Windows XP, you are at an extremely high risk of some sort of serious malware/ransomware attack. The last official release of XP was in 2008, and support ended in 2009, so it is no longer receiving any support or updates from Microsoft. Windows XP was an extremely popular operating system for Microsoft, loaded on countless machines over seven years starting in 2001.
The scary thing is that a lot of devices in banks and hospitals are still running XP, which is why a number of those institutions were affected by these recent attacks. Outside of the United States, where software piracy is more endemic than in the U.S., there are still tons of machines running pirated copies, which is why the recent attacks have been more widely felt overseas.
Here’s the deal: if you have a PC that’s still running XP, it’s over nine years old. That’s ancient history in computer time. That machine is an easy target for attack every time it’s on the Internet. Plan to replace that PC or laptop as soon as possible.
Update, Update, Update
You know all of those updates your PC keeps prompting you to do? Windows updates, Flash updates, browser updates, java updates, and so on? They’re actually important, and very often they are patching security holes found in those products.
Windows Updates are especially important. In the online underworld, there is big business in selling bugs in Windows that aren’t widely known. When criminals can write malware that can take advantage of these bugs, that’s when the biggest attacks and infections occur.
Microsoft is very good about fixing those flaws when they are discovered. That’s part of the reason there are so many darn updates all the time. If you’re running a more recent version of Windows (7, 8 or 10), be sure to allow updates to run. Also watch the area on the bottom right near the clock. If you see prompts to run updates to other applications, allows those to run as well. A PC that is current with all pending updates has a lower risk than one that is out of date.
Backup Your Data
It’s very rare that a ransomware attack would do actual damage to the hardware of your computer. The goal of these attacks is to get you to pay to recover what’s really important, the data that’s on the machine.
There are a number of ways to make backups of your data. If your PC is infected, a tech person could wipe the PC clean, reinstall Windows, and put your data back, good as new.
One option is to use a cloud backup service that makes a copy of your data to the Internet, away from your PC. Services such as Google Drive, Carbonite, Microsoft OneDrive, and Dropbox, all offer ways to backup your data in the cloud.
Another option is to copy that data to an external drive, or write them to CDs/DVDs and save those copies.
The advantage of the cloud option is that you don’t have to think about it once it’s set up. If you have data that’s really important to you, having at least two backup copies is preferred. Have family photos that you never want to lose? Put a copy of them on an external hard drive and put it in a bank safe. Then have a second copy stored online.
The more you backup, the less you have to worry about being attacked.
The Internet is an increasingly dangerous place. Being aware of the risks, keeping your devices up-to-date, and ensuring that your important information is protected, can decrease the risk. In future blogs, we’ll talk about ways to browse safely, and how to detect attempts to steal your data. You can protect yourself and use the ‘net safely.