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  • Writer's pictureTim Castle

What You Need to Know About Ransomware

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

There have been several outbreaks of “ransomware” over the past few months. This type of malware will encrypt all of your files, and then prompt you to send payment electronically to get your files back — holding them for ransom. The sources of these attacks are hard to track down, so if someone can successfully get their attack out there, they stand to make a fair amount of money. For that reason, I don’t expect that we’ll see an end to ransomware anytime soon.

The systems that are most vulnerable to these attacks are running older versions of Windows that haven’t been updated with all the security updates that Microsoft has sent out. There are a surprising number of these systems out there, in organizations that have chosen not to update, primarily because of the cost of maintenance.

Even though newer versions of Windows (Windows 8 and 10, specifically) are less likely to get infected by the recent ransomware, it’s extremely likely that someone out there is trying to find a new weakness in all the popular computer operating systems — both Windows and Mac — to exploit for this purpose.  If there’s money to be made, someone is going to try.

With that in mind, I’d like to suggest three things that can help protect your computers from these kinds of attacks. They’re not new ideas, and they’re not just related to ransomware protection, but if you haven’t given them some attention in a while, it’s time to do so.

System updates

Microsoft sends out regular updates to Windows via Windows Update, and it’s important that you make sure your system is set to download them, and either automatically install them, or notify you that it is ready to install them. Here is a short “how-to” on setting up Windows update.

Apple also updates macOS (or Mac OS X, prior to the “Sierra” version), and your computer can automatically download it, but it will always notify you when updates are available, so you can plan when to install them. Here’s a quick cheat-sheet on how to set it up.

Protect your system with antivirus/antimalware software

Built in to Windows 8 and 10 is Windows Defender, and while it’s nice to have a good free solution from the folks who make the operating system, I don’t think it’s good enough to be used by itself. But for that matter, I don’t think any antivirus program is. You need one antivirus program that is running all the time, watching your system for problems. Then you need a second one that you will use periodically to catch anything that might have gotten by the first one.

If you need to save money, get the free version of AVG antivirus; if you want great antivirus software, I recommend ESET Antivirus. And in either case, get the free MalwareBytes, and use it to scan your computer every week or so.

While Macs are far less likely to get viruses (for several reasons I won’t go into here), it’s not true that they never get infected by malware of various kinds. It’s worth your time to at the VERY LEAST, get the Mac version of MalwareBytes and use it on a weekly basis to make sure your system isn’t compromised. To make sure you have full-time protection, there is a free version of AVG for Mac, and ESET Antivirus is also available, for a great product, with excellent support.

Get your backups in order

Backups are insurance against the failure of your computers or their storage devices. Computers DO crash, and hard drives DO fail. Backing up your data makes copies in more than one location, so that when a crash happens, you can get your data back.

For Windows computers, use File History to actively back up files as they change. You connect an external drive or a network drive, and then set Windows File History to use a folder on that drive to keep your backups.

On Mac computers, use Time Machine to backup to an external drive or network location. Time Machine takes periodic snapshots of your files, keeping track of changed files as you go.

If you have several computers in an office, you can use a Network-Attached Storage device, or NAS, to create a location where everyone keeps their data files. Then you attach a large external drive to the NAS for local backups of that data. Synology makes their DiskStation line of NAS devices, and they work great as office file servers and as destinations for both File History and Time Machine, as well.

So that takes care of backing up locally, but you really need to have another copy of all of your files in another physical location, so that if your home or office has a disaster, your data is still safe. This is where “the cloud” comes into play. There are several great ways to back everything up to the cloud, whether your data is on a Mac, a Windows PC, or a NAS. Backblaze is one of the leading cloud backup services, and their technology can’t be beat.

It’s also important to know how to get your data back when you need to. Whatever system you use, get familiar with the process of restoring your data. And then periodically restore some data, so you can make sure the backups are doing what they’re supposed to.

What’s your strategy?

Do you have other ways that you protect your data, and keep your technology safe? Whether it’s for business or individual use, feel free to share it with me, or ask questions about any tech-related issue. Use the “Contact Me” link on this page to let me know.

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