Everyone and their brother in the IT industry is writing blog posts and press releases about how terrible and frightening Ransomware is these days. And they’re not entirely wrong – it is really scary and something to be avoided at all costs. But I don’t think it’s newsworthy, and here’s why: The practices and habits you need to have to avoid Ransomware have not changed in 15+ years. You should already be practicing good habits to avoid old-fashioned viruses, worms and scams since the first time you created your MySpace site or checked your shiny new AOL email account 15 years ago (if you’re still using that AOL email address, we need to talk!).
The reason I hate talking about Ransomware is because it’s just the latest type of threat that computer users are facing these days. 15 years ago it was ILOVEYOU, in 2010 it was Stuxnet, and next week it’ll be something new. News organizations love to grab onto one type of threat and will spend a lot of time doing their best to scare you about it. If we keep telling everyone they need to reinvent the wheel on IT security every time someone writes a new type of virus we’ll just wear people out on the subject and they’ll continue to just ‘hope for the best’. I know – these old principles are incredibly boring and you’ve heard them at least a hundred times. But wouldn’t you rather be calmly confident in your ability to keep yourself safe while online and find some other part of your life to be scared\excited\concerned about?
Don’t get over-confident after spending $99 on a good Antivirus app for all of your PCs and think you can stop being cautious. This is like buying a good football helmet and assuming it will keep you safe no matter what building you jump off. Antivirus software is designed for a specific type of threat but actually does a terrible job at preventing threats like Ransomware. Only good security habits will really keep you safe online. Should you have it? Absolutely. Should it be your only safety measure? Absolutely not.
- Email safety – Don’t open any email attachment or click any link unless you already know what it is and where it goes. Even if it’s from someone you communicate with often, don’t trust it. Most threats arrive via email so if you only take one thing away from this post, remember to be immensely suspicious of every email you receive from now on. I’m not going to give you a list of the most common things to look out for in an email because then you’ll forget to be suspicious of every single email!
- Advertisements – Even running your mouse pointer over an ad on an infected webpage can be enough to expose you to a threat. Use an ad blocker such as AdBlock for FireFox, Chrome, Opera or Brave Browser if you use Internet Explorer. For smartphones try AdBlock Mobile for Android\iOS or 1Blocker for iOS only. These will prevent ads from appearing at all which has the added benefit of speeding up your web browsing.
- Get a good Antivirus application and keep it updated. By this I mean please don’t buy a paid antivirus one year and then ignore its warnings about needing to be renewed for 5 years. Many paid Antivirus apps work very well, but I’d rather you installed a free one such as AVG or Avast than allow a paid version to expire and go dormant. Many paid Antivirus apps also tend to try to do more than you need them to, which can slow things down. There’s nothing wrong with a simple, free AV product.
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