Ransomware attacks are growing more frequent every day. The cybersecurity experts at McAfee reported that these attacks rose 118% in just the first half of 2019.

And hackers surely don’t discriminate against their targets. McAfee found that the governments, businesses, hospitals, and even private individuals all likely suffer from this threat.

What is a ransomware attack? How can you prevent it? And what should you do if one happens to you? Find out everything you need to know about this massive threat and how to stay safe online below.

What Is Ransomware?

Ransomware applies to a class of malware that locks users out of their files until they pay a ransom to receive the access code to open them again.

Nowadays, we often hear news stories about major attacks on local governments around the world. That’s because places like cities and towns tend to not have the same security protocols in place as large corporations or the federal government.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t have valuable resources that hackers want to target. From streetlights and electricity to essential networks, so much makes a city or town run.

City officials learned this the hard way in Baltimore when they initially wouldn’t give in to hackers’ demands to pay $75,000 for the file access code. After several months, Baltimore gave in and ended up paying $6 million instead!

It is just one of the countless examples. But fraudsters don’t stop there. Jigsaw malware, created in 2016, was the perfect example of taking ransomware attacks and making them personal. After clicking on fake Dropbox or Firefox links, a user’s files would be locked down until they paid the ransom fee. Worse yet, Jigsaw featured a timer that would begin deleting files after a certain time allotment. You can watch this demonstration video if you want to see what happens if your computer is infected with Jigsaw ransomware.  

How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks?

  1. The best way to stop a ransomware attack is to prevent one in the first place. Since they so often begin in malicious links and files, you need to practice “safe clicking.” That means you should also scan the contents of any link or file before you click on it. Likewise, scan all files before downloading them.
  2. Most often, hackers target individuals by tracking their IP addresses. So, one of the most effective ways to prevent ransomware or other cyber-attacks is by using a VPN. What is a VPN? A VPN or virtual private network both hides your real IP address and encrypts your network connection. It makes everything you do online much more private and secure. It’s not only effective for blocking hackers but all kinds of privacy threats—from nosy ISPs to advertisers and more.
  3. Finally, backups are essential. By having encrypted backups, you have access to all your core files should hackers ever get their hands on them.

How to Remove Ransomware?

Once devices are infected, you likely will know very quickly. That’s because, unlike most types of cyber-attacks that rely on deception, cybercriminals want you to understand the attack has occurred because they want you to pay and do it quickly. So you will be unable to access something of crucial value to use, including core system resources.

Resist the urge to pay hackers. While it may seem like the easiest approach, especially if they’re not demanding much, there’s never a guarantee they’ll give you access back to your files. By paying, you also fund future criminal activity, which is not worth it.

Instead, disconnect your computer from the internet asap. Ransomware thrives on remote access to your computer. At the same time, change all account passwords, especially those saved on the computer on a separate secure device.

Use a virus scan to detect and remove malware. If you succeed, you can restore stolen files with a clean backup.

If unsuccessful, do a fresh install of your operating system and restore files from the backup. Finally, run virus scans to make sure there are no lingering malware files.

If you ever have any doubts throughout this process, then take your computer to an IT professional as soon as possible. It’s better to be a professional than run the risk of the malware still being on your computer.

The threat of ransomware will only grow over the next few years. Do yourself a favor and start preparing for them now. Use cybersecurity software, scan your files and links, and keep a watchful eye out. Because when it comes to ransomware, prevention is truly the best medicine.