Just when you think the whole virus / trojan / malware “thing” can’t get any worse, it does.

Recently one of our clients discovered that his critical database files were unreadable, so he called us. It didn’t take us very long to discover that his computer had been infected with a new form of Malware called Ransomware.

In a Ransomware attack, critical files are encrypted and you are directed to a web site where you have to pay a hacker an exorbitant fee to get your files unlocked. Or, in some cases, your entire computer is locked until you pay the ransom.

And that’s assuming that you’re actually lucky enough to get a working unlock code. The hackers who created these programs are often located in other countries and it’s just as likely that they’ll steal your credit card information and try to run up huge charges.

It’s an infuriating violation of your privacy. So what can you do to protect yourself against these malicious attacks? Here’s a short primer:

  1. Make sure you have effective AntiVirus software: Far too often we see computers with out-of-date AntiVirus software, or maybe the license is expired, or possibly it’s a very basic, free AntiVirus software package. Any of these situations can put your computer at risk. The cost of a high-quality AntiVirus program is around $60 a year or less. Isn’t your data worth that much?
  2. Consider Anti-Malware Software: Programs like Malwarebytes Professional can protect your computer against infections that traditional AntiVirus programs might miss. Again, the annual cost is around $30 - well worth the investment. There’s even a free version; you just have to make sure that you run it once a week - the paid version will run automatically.
  3. Use a high-quality Firewall: Consumer-grade routers that cost $80 at a “big box” store just don’t offer the protection of a device that’s specifically designed to protect against sophisticated attacks. Devices like those made by Dell SonicWALL, CheckPoint, Juniper and others offer a significantly higher degree of protection. Or, if you’re looking for a less expensive alternative, the Open Source pfSense Firewall is a great option.
  4. Make sure you do regular backups: And finally, if you’re unlucky enough to get infected, your best defense is make sure that you always have a current backup of all your important data. That way, in the very worst case, you can always reload your computer and restore your data. And the best way to ensure that your data is always protected is to use a Cloud-based backup solution. You never have to worry about changing tapes or disks.

The old adage says that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When it comes to computer Malware, it’s more like 100 pounds of cure!