malware protection

Malware Attacks… The More You Know, The Better Off You Will Be!

Everyone has heard about the malware attack that interrupted the Colonial Pipeline that was perpetuated by Russian hackers. (It cost nearly $5 million in ransom to get operations back after only a week!) But things like that only happens to big companies and not small businesses or individuals, right? Actually, no! Only a small amount of the malware attacks actually happens to large businesses.  The vast majority happen to individuals and small business across the country that do not protect themselves and end up paying thousands of dollars to get their data back or for entirely new software.

So, how does it work? Basically the malware that infests your computer or mobile device encrypts all of your files making them inaccessible to you.  You are then ransomed your software and files back to you and are forced to pay the hackers their required fees to get the key to unlock your own data.

In 2020 there were over 10 billion (yes, billion!) malware attack reports around the world with over $20 billion (yes, billion!) in losses. Again, this does not just happen to big business, but also affects thousands of small businesses and individuals across the world.

So what do you do, short of spending a fortunate for IT consultants to protect yourself and your business?  Actually, there is a lot you can do and it costs nothing to do! Listed below are some of the basic things you can do, right now, to help reduce the chance of you suffering a malware or hacker attack.

Things To Do That Does Not Cost You Anything:

1. Change passwords frequently. It is recommended that you change your passwords to your key systems (banks, credit cards, computers, etc.) at least every six months and use a phase for your password. Looking for password inspiration? Check out our 6 Tips & Tricks On How To Create And Remember Passwords!

2. Enable basic computer anti-virus software. Most computers on the market these days already have basic anti-virus software installed and its free!  For example, on computers that use Windows, you have the “Windows Security” with “Microsoft Defender Antivirus” that provides really good antivirus and firewall protection… all you have to do is enable it!

3. Update your computer Operating System regularly or automatically. For example, Microsoft Windows has an automated update system that will update your system with security patches when they are released.  You don’t have to do anything!

4. Use only secure (HTTPS) sites. When you go to a website that you need to enter any of your personal information or credit card information, make sure it is secure with the HTTPS:// as the initial part of the website address.  This ensures you have an encrypted connection to the website and that none of your information can be intercepted by hackers & data thieves.

5. Back up your ] critical files. Any pictures or documents you may want or need in the future should be backed up to a portable USB drive.  (If you leave the USB drive in the computer, the hacker can attack the installed drive as well.) That way if you did suffer a malware ransom attack, you have everything you need to access your important files on a refreshed system or an alternate computer.

6. Use MFA (Multi-factor Authorization)! Most financial and credit card websites and Paypal, eBay, etc, offers MFA. This is where they send you a verification code to your cell phone or an email with a verification code that you then enter into the website, ensuring that you are actually accessing the website.

7. Use basic encryption on documents. With Microsoft products (EXCEL and WORD), you can easily add a password to open the document.  If you email the document to someone, send them the password in a separate email or call them with the password to allow them access.

8. Do not send credit card info or PHI (like your banking info, social security number, or Medicare number) via unprotected documents. (See item 7!)

9. Do not click on links or download files that you are not expecting. This is the number-one way malware and viruses can get on your computer.

10. Be Aware!  Remember, security is not a product… it is a process.  You need to think about being “secure”.

Malware Protection… It’s Never Too Late!

Just remember, hackers like criminals everywhere, go after the easiest targets.  Don’t be one of them!

Up next: Types of Malware and what to look for to identify & avoid!

Peter J Schaub is the President and CEO of NeoCertified Secure Email, one of the nation’s leading software providers of secure email.