Ransomware in 2016: How to Stay Safe

Have you ever had a message appear on your computer screen that accuses you of doing something illegal and urging you to send money to someone (perhaps the government) in order to continue using your computer? If so, you’ve already been a victim of ransomware and my guess is that you either had to pay a hefty fee to have your computer repaired by a professional or you eventually junked the thing and replaced it with a new one.

Of course you may have also seen one of your friends or family members deal with this sort of occurrence on their PC but have yet to come across it yourself. The unfortunate part (besides needing to repair your device) is that you may be tricked into actually sending money to whoever is behind the ransomware you encounter, and it could present itself in a variety of different ways. No matter how it appears on your screen, ransomware always holds you hostage in some way in an attempt to pressure you into sending off your hard earned cash.

ransomeware

Luckily, there are things you can do to prevent your device from acquiring ransomware in the first place. Saving yourself from the stress and headaches of malware can be simple and cost-effective. Here’s how you can stay safe online and keep your PC running as it should!

Anti-Malware Software

The easiest and perhaps most effective way of avoiding ransomware is to use anti-malware software that will not only prevent ransomware from making its way onto your computer, but also help you to remove any threats that do happen to leak through the cracks. Begin with an anti-virus program, such as Avast Free Antivirus. If you prefer additional protection, you can always upgrade to one of Avast’s paid anti-virus programs later on, though their free version should work well enough (even without all the bells and whistles).

An anti-virus program will allow you to scan your computer for threats and remove them, hopefully before they begin to cause any huge problems. Whichever program you choose to use for your anti-virus, be sure to install any updates that become available in the future, as they often provide additional protection. Overall, anti-virus software is something you should never go without, but it unfortunately can’t do everything.

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) will pick up the extra slack by encrypting your internet connection and assisting you in staying safe online. A VPN service offers the ability to connect to a remote server, which has some benefits beyond malware protection (it also unblocks geo-restricted websites) and is very affordable. All of your internet traffic is routed through the remote server and thus becomes encrypted, which allows you to protect your computer from hackers, even when you’re using an unsecured network.

Using a VPN service also masks your IP address, allowing you to hide your actual location online and remain totally anonymous. When it comes to a VPN, there are a lot of different options. Check out this VPN review for more information about what they are and how some of the top VPN services compare to one another.

Scanning Downloads

Downloads are often the culprit when your device begins showing signs of malware infection. It’s easy to mistake downloads as being safe, especially when they are being sent to you by friends and family. However, consider that anyone could have their online accounts hacked at any moment, so even if you receive an email from your closest contacts, it could still really be malware disguised as an innocent download.

Before you download any file, think twice about whether or not it may not be such a good idea. Downloading from unfamiliar websites is almost always a bad choice, especially if there are no reviews provided elsewhere about the site. After downloading anything, open the folder in which it was saved to perform a quick scan on the file.

Right click on the file name, and a context menu will appear on your screen. Select the option that says “Scan,” which will be followed by the file name. (See the image below for an example of what that may look like.) As you can see, the Avast symbol is shown next to the scan option. The symbol will vary depending on the anti-virus program you use.

scanning downloads

By doing this, your anti-virus software can quickly scan any file you download, before you even open the file. A window will appear when the scan is done, letting you know whether any threats were found. This is a simple way to protect your computer, as downloading files isn’t something one can typically avoid, nor should you have to!

Updates and Upgrades

If you have Windows 10, you may have already noticed that updates aren’t really optional. Most software won’t impose their updates on you unless you decide to opt in on automatic updates, but did you know that not updating as soon as possible can actually pose a security risk?

Software updates tend to include patches to vulnerabilities that could put your computer at risk. Unfortunately, hackers are working away at ways to get into peoples’ devices, and the longer a program is on the market, the longer they’ve had to figure out ways to use that program to your detriment. Manually check your software for updates on a regular basis to prevent any issues and allow automatic updates on particularly important programs (such as the ones that actively work toward securing your computer).

Upgrading can be helpful too, but the need for it is largely dependent on your computer use and specific needs. Whatever you do, make sure the website you are downloading the upgrade from is legitimate before you begin. Upgrades can be a good thing, so long as they are provided by a reputable company and not an imposter’s website trying to scam you.

Safe Practices

Though your computer will be armed with some great security software, it’s still a wise idea to know how to safely use the internet. Computers aren’t the only internet-enabled devices that are susceptible to malware after all! Most importantly, understand how to spot scams online.

Illegitimate websites are one of the main risks that you should learn how to avoid. Don’t always be so quick to give away your personal information, even if you are doing so on a seemingly safe website. A search engine such as Google can help a lot, as you can search the name of each website and look for reviews, Wikipedia pages, Better Business Bureau information, etc., to confirm that the website is legitimate.

Be careful about sharing too much on social media websites as well since you really have no idea who might be accessing whatever information you put on there. Some dubious individuals may try to befriend you online in order to convince you to open links or download files they send you. Unfortunately, nearly any aspect of the internet can be used as a way to steal your identity and/or persuade you into opening malicious files and webpages.

Stick to websites that are confirmed to be well-known and trustworthy. Use a VPN whenever you go online, and scan your computer for viruses often. Not everyone or everything you see online is what it says it is, so always be on the lookout for anything suspicious. By doing so, you’ll be on your way to a much safer internet experience overall.

Have you ever encountered ransomware on your computer? Tell us about your experience with it in the comments below.

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