Dear Lifehacker, It was recently reported on the ABC that hundreds of Australian computers are being infected with ransomware, which I guess is a form of the cryptlocker virus. It seems that this problem is becoming more widespread. My question is: how can I prevent my computer from being targeted? And is there anything I can do if it's already too late? Yours, Viral Prone
Ransomware picture from Shutterstock
Unfortunately, there's no easy way to circumvent ransomware once your computer has been infected -- if there was, it wouldn't be a particularly viable business for cyber criminals, would it?
After getting into your computer (often via nefarious "free" software downloads for popular titles like Windows 10), it will encrypt all your data files, from your word documents to your photos, videos and PDFs. A demand will then be made for a specific payment with a timer ticking down to the deadline before all the files are destroyed.
In most cases, seizing control of your files without paying the ransom is exceptionally difficult -- especially without assistance from security experts. If you elect to use hired help, the amount you'll pay for their services could be more than the actual ransom. In other words, prevention is definitely the best cure.
Thankfully, this isn't particularly difficult to achieve, even for a computing novice. You just need to exercise due caution and take appropriate steps to ensure your data remains secure. Here are some general security tips that every computer user should follow:
- Always check your browser address bar for any warnings about a non-reputable site’s identity.
- Always install reputable anti-virus software.
- Always uncheck boxes during software installations if you’re offered extra software to download.
- Always keep your browser up-to-date and enable automatic Windows updates.
- Always configure your browser for a high security level in Internet Options.
- Back up EVERYTHING on an eternal hard drive -- and do it regularly.
In addition to the above, there are some things you should never do on the internet. These include:
- Clicking on email attachments from someone you don't know.
- Downloading something you're not 100% sure about.
- Installing freeware from non-reputable sites. (Also check for detailed user reviews first.)
Of course, no security measure is completely foolproof. For this reason, it's imperative to back up your data regularly, as mentioned above. If you have up-to-date backups, the ransom becomes worthless. For advice on backing up your data, check out our in-depth guide. Best of luck!
Have a question you want to put to Ask Lifehacker? Send it using our contact form.