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Best tips to prevent ransomware attacks

Ransomware is malicious software which utilizes various encryption techniques to hold your data hostage until you pay its creators a ransom. Often, your data will remain encrypted even after paying the requested amount of money, so it is wise to avoid doing that. Of course, things change when the encrypted data is extremely valuable to you.

In fact, most ransomware creators target small and medium-sized businesses, because they can afford to pay the ransom money. Not only that, but business disruptions can be quite costly, and very few chief executive officers will want to lose time and/or access to the precious company data. This explains why almost 75% of CEOs pay the ransom money.

Ransomware has become much more popular within the last few years. WannaCry used a little-known Windows OS vulnerability, infecting hundreds of thousands of computers and making its creators a lot of money. Just like regular malware, ransomware installs in the system by exploiting software and/or operating systems vulnerabilities. And then, since today's computers are so fast, all your data can be encrypted within minutes.

Here are the steps that need to be taken to prevent your computers from getting infected.

Make it a habit to back up company data regularly. Ideally, you should store the data locally and to one of the popular cloud storage services: Dropbox, OneDrive, etc. This way, even if disaster strikes, you will be able to restore all your files without experiencing too much downtime.

Use a combination of hardware and software that makes it harder for cyber villains to infect your computers. Be sure to utilize hardware-based firewalls and top-of-the-line antivirus software if you want to keep the bad guys at bay.

Apply operating system and software applications patches as soon as they become available. If your computer's operating system or a certain application isn't updated anymore, consider replacing it with one that is still being patched.

Don't ever use your computer's admin account! Create a guest account that's got limited privileges and use it instead. This will prevent your computer from getting infected.

Disable Microsoft Office's macros. It is true that they can simplify certain business-related activities by automating some things, but the risk of running infected macros accidentally can be quite big.

Remove unused, unsecure and outdated browser plug-ins. Often, you or your colleagues have installed a plug-in that is no longer used, nor updated. That plug-in is now increasing the risk of getting your computers infected.

Use ad blockers. These useful applications should stop all the unwanted pop-up messages, and will often incorporate a database which contains a list of infected websites. By using an ad blocker, your computers will also be prevented from opening URLs that may include malware.

Install and use software that scans all the incoming messages on your mail server. Set up tight security rules, blocking all the email attachments that could lead to problems. This will prevent employees from accidentally opening and running malware. Most times computers get infected because somebody opens an attachment or clicks a link that leads to an infected website.

Prevent the applications that want to load at startup from doing that. While some services need to be run each time you power on your computer, others don't need that permission. If the computer saves data to a cloud service, for example, you should run its associated application only when you need it, rather than have it loaded at all times.

Only access the company network through a VPN when you are traveling. A virtual private network will create a virtual data tunnel through which your laptop will be able to communicate with the company servers securely.

If your computer has already been infected, here's a list which includes lots of ransomware decryption tools.