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Your money or your life

A DEVASTATING GLOBAL cyberattack called WannaCry has alerted millions of people to the dangers of ransomware. Hospitals, utilities, businesses, and more were locked out of their computers, facing payment demands from anonymous hackers.

What is ransomware?
Ransomware is malware that holds the victim’s computer to ransom, either by restricting access to the computer by locking the desktop or by encrypting the user’s files. The malware then displays a ransom note, often claiming to be from the police, the FBI, or some other type of law enforcement agency. Ransomware can even tell what country you’re in and display a ransom note that looks like it’s from your local police force. The ransom note may claim that the computer was used to look at illegal websites, videos, or images and will try to frighten the victim into paying up by threatening to bring them to court. Victims are often too embarrassed to ask for help because the ransom note may say they were viewing pornographic content.

How does ransomware get onto your computer?
One way ransomware can arrive on your computer is through opening attachments in spam emails. These malicious emails may have what looks like regular documents attached, but once you open them, your computer is at risk of becoming infected with malware. Another way ransomware can infect computers is through certain websites. These may be malicious websites, set up by criminals for the sole purpose of infecting anyone who visits the site, or they may be legitimate websites that have been compromised by the criminals and used to spread malware.

How to Stay Safe Against Ransomware Attacks?
Being vigilant at all times while clicking links sent to your email or social media is the key to staying safe from ransomware, which are easy to dodge if you’re aware.
Emails with attachments that look suspicious — especially if they’re Microsoft Office files which might contain malicious macros — should be deleted instantly upon receipt.
Keeping the software of your PC/smartphone and the antivirus you’re running on it updated ensures that you’re safe from any newly discovered security vulnerabilities.
According to Symantec, users should ‘never use links in an email to connect to a website unless you are sure they are genuine’.
It’s always a good idea to use the address bar in case you feel the link in the email is suspicious to ensure that you land up on the authentic site and not a lookalike one — which has been geared up to burn a big hole in your pocket.
Paying up is an option too, but beware that only 47 percent of the victims who pay up received their files back.

Key ways to stay safe:
- Ensure your Operating System is up-to-date with all the latest updates and patches. Most operating systems have an option to do this automatically, you should enable this option.
- Update your antivirus software to get the best protection for your device(s). Most also have an option to do this automatically.
- Never open emails and certainly never open attachments from unknown senders
- Periodically back-up your important/personal files to an external drive and/or cloud storage service.

Use your common sense and if you do receive any emails, attachments, files or popup windows when browsing the web that seem suspicious then don’t accept and delete them immediately.

Here are some free antivirus software you can use to keep yourself safe:
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
Avast Free Antivirus
Sophos Home
Avira Free Antivirus
AVG Antivirus Free
360 Total Security

Certain operating systems such as Windows 10 have good antivirus built in and you should enable this if you can.

Stay safe.