How to avoid ransomware

Imagine getting locked out of your computer and losing access to your most important business or personal data. This is a scary scenario, but one that happens to businesses and individuals around the world each day. In fact, the City of Atlanta was recently victim of such an attack and found itself locked out of critical systems as criminals demanded $51,000 in Bitcoin in exchange for the safe return of its data.1

By taking steps to protect yourself, knowing what to look out for and putting a backup plan in place, you can mitigate much of the risk of ransomware, if not avoid it completely.

Below, learn how ransomware works and what you can do to keep your digital assets safe.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of computer virus—or malware—that can lock users out of their computer unless they pay a ransom fee and input a code to unlock the computer. While this seems like a relatively simple and straightforward issue, there are many layers of complexity around ransomware.

Where does ransomware come from?

Ninety-one percent of cyber attacks start with a phishing email, according to a 2016 report by cybersecurity firm Cofense.2 Jamie Howard, UBS Deputy Head of Fraud Risk Management and Investigations, shared that it is important to stay vigilant against emails with suspicious links. “Don't click on links in emails from organizations you don't recognize," Howard says.

The best course of action: “Don't open the suspicious emails at all," but if you do open an email that clearly looks off, don't click on the link. Cyber criminals use sophisticated techniques to make it look like an email came from a bank, online merchant or other trusted company.

Cyberattacks like the one in Atlanta are becoming more frequent and increasingly complex. Ransomware is just one weapon cyber criminals use in the pursuit of an ill-earned dollar. "The continued success of cyberattacks, even as spending ramped aggressively, caused a re-evaluation of security philosophy, architecture and processes," notes Kevin Dennean, UBS Technology Equity Sector Strategist.

You can heed the following lessons and take steps today to protect your digital assets from ransomware and other malware threats.

Protecting yourself and your business

Protecting yourself from ransomware requires preventative measures. Howard emphasizes the importance of avoiding clicking on bad links in bad emails, but it isn't always that simple. “It's easy to say this, but people continue to click on links from emails."

If you run a small business, it is important to train your team on how to avoid malicious emails. "Have really good firewalls in place" and use a well-known antivirus software program, Howard explains. It is also vital to keep your antivirus and all other software up to date.

Many cybersecurity experts suggest maintaining a 3-2-1 backup model for your digital data, which means you should keep at least three backups of your data: two local on different types of storage and one in the cloud.

Dennean says that "as more devices are connected, the so-called 'attack surface' for cyberattacks increases exponentially."

Post ransomware: minimizing the damage

Because some of the risk of ransomware is out of your hands, it is important to maintain regular, secure backups of all critical data. If any computer on your network is infected, immediately disconnect it from your network (wireless and physical connections) to keep it from spreading to other systems.

Also consider that it is likely the malware stole confidential data and act swiftly in your response. “There's no reason to think a criminal won't steal data from your computer to use it somewhere else," says Howard.

Take charge of your digital security

We can't eliminate cyber threats completely, like the recent attack in Atlanta proves, but by taking these steps you can minimize the risk both at work and at home. “I back up to my hard drive, I do my level best to teach my children the importance of threats out there, not just on social media," says Howard.

Are you doing all you can to protect and grow your family’s wealth for years to come? Together we can find an answer. Connect with your UBS Financial Advisor or find one.

Disclosures