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4 Ways the Average Person Can Avoid Ransomware

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The WannaCry ransomware has affected more than 300,000 people around the world and scared many more. While WannaCry may have been halted, incidents of ransomware in general are rising and an average tech user could easily fall victim to it. But there are some things you can do. 

Maintain Good Cyber Hygiene

"You shouldn't fear ransomware; rather, prepare for it by practicing reasonable cyber hygiene," said James Scott, senior fellow at the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology.

Even if ransomware didn't exist, every tech user should be using good cyber practices anyway. Everyone should have strong passwords and use two-factor authentication to make their passwords even stronger.

Don't click on any suspicious links in email or on social media, especially those that use a URL shortener, Scott said.

"This is a common obfuscation tactic by malicious actors to get you to click on a ransomware or malware-infected link," Scott said.

Keep Everything Up to Date

Tech users should update and patch software whenever possible, Scott says. PC users should upgrade to Windows 10 or Windows 10s immediately, while Mac users should download the Sierra operating system as soon as possible.

Scott also recommends users download a good anti-virus software that enlists machine-learning-based artificial intelligence to help keep computers safe.

Back It Up

Ransomware won't be nearly as devastating if a user's data is safely and securely backed up. Unfortunately, many people miss this all-critical step in computer security.

"Back up your data with an external hard drive each day, then unplug it," Scott said. "This will keep the infection from migrating to your external hard drive if you should become infected."

There are also encrypted cloud backup services like Crashplan, Carbonite and Backblaze, which are recommended by Wired.

Be Smart on Mobile

Many mobile devices automatically back up data to the cloud, but smartphones could still fall victim to ransomware. Don’t click on any suspicious links in text messages and stick with only official downloads from app stores.

According to a report from ICIT, many ransomware attempts on smartphones rely on "social engineering panic in victims." So if ransomware does find its way onto your smartphone, keep calm and know your data can likely be restored from the cloud. 

Should You Pay the Ransom? 

This is one of the biggest questions when it comes to ransomware. Many experts advise individuals against paying: It's better to cut your losses.

"If you pay the ransom, you become a willing participant in a crime, after the fact," Scott said. "You may also be funding terrorism. If you look at Boko Haram, they have been changing their 419 scam to ransomware because it enables them to take in bitcoin, which is a currency that is out of reach for most law enforcement."

In the end, paying up may only be an exercise in futility.

"If you pay, you're still only going to have a 50/50 percent chance of getting a decryption key anyway," Scott said.

There are some resources for those affected by ransomware. For example, Kaspersky Labs offers free ransomware decryptors that might work, depending on what has affected your device.

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