Avoid Ransomware Attacks

laptop with a red lock image on screen


Earlier this year, a local community college district paid nearly $30,000 in ransom to hackers who had gained control of a campus email and computer network. As bizarre as that sounds, this is not an unusual scenario: ransomware—a type of malware that encrypts users’ files or locks their operating systems until a ransom is paid—has become an expensive security issue for institutions and individuals.

Ransomware attacks trick users into clicking on an infected link or e-mail attachment. In some cases, the website you visit will contain exploit kits that will scan your browser for vulnerabilities or distribute ransomware via a downloaded file. You might not even know that it’s happening until it’s too late.

According to security firm Symantec, the average ransom demand in 2016 was just over $1,000, and this value continues to increase. The security firm found that “individual consumers are the most likely victims of ransomware, accounting for 57 percent of all infections between January 2015 and April 2016.” People are often willing to pay a lot of money to have their ransomed files “hopefully” decrypted, if they are unable to recover them by any other means.

How can you avoid being a victim of ransomware?

  • Delete suspicious e-mails. Deals that sound too good to be true are probably malicious. If in doubt, contact the alleged source by phone or by using a known, public e-mail address to verify the message’s authenticity.
  • Avoid clicking on unverified e-mail links or attachments. Links might carry ransomware.
  • Use e-mail filtering options whenever possible. E-mail or spam filtering can stop a malicious message from reaching your inbox.
  • Install and maintain up-to-date antivirus software. Keep your operating system updated with the latest virus definitions.
  • Update all devices, software, and plug-ins on a regular basis. Check for operating system, software, and plug-in updates often — or better yet, set up automatic updates — to minimize the likelihood of someone holding your computer or files for ransom.
  • Understand that some modern ransomware related malware is not detectable via traditional antivirus programs.  There are next generation endpoint protection solutions that can prevent ransomware based on behavioral analysis.  There are a number of free and paid software options that will supplement your existing antivirus to protect against ransomware attacks specifically.
  • Adobe products continue to be one of the most commonly exploited products, be certain that products such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, Adobe Flash, etc. are patched current.  Don’t forget their associated browser plug-ins.
  • Always back up your files. All UCLA faculty, staff, and students are eligible for a free Box account with secure, unlimited cloud storage. Use it to back up the files on your computer, laptop, and mobile devices so you don’t have to pay the ransom to access locked files.

Check out our “Phish Bowl” to see which suspicious emails have been circulating recently. And follow us on Twitter for the latest security news.