Expert Urges Frequent Backups to Thwart Ransomware

The warning comes as authorities in Indiana caution residents about increased cyberattack activity.

by Lisa Trigg, The Tribune-Star / August 24, 2018
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(TNS) — Ransomware attacks are real, and people should pay attention to security warnings, an Indiana computer expert said Wednesday.

One of the best practices is to be proactive: Back up your computer or computers onto an external device.

The Vigo County Sheriff's Office earlier this week issued a warning this week after receiving reports of ransomware attacks.

Ransomware is a malicious software that locks files and attempts to extort money from users with a promise to unlock machines and restore data.

Sometimes, it comes with a threat to reveal private information.

Further, the hackers often have no intention of delivering even if paid.

“The best way to protect against this is to make sure you have your computer files backed up,” said Sid Stamm, associate professor of computer science and software engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. “Plug in a backup drive and back up the files.”

Doing that regularly, such as once a week, will save important records on a device not connected to a computer network or to another device that can be corrupted.

Having a separate backup drive allows a person to essentially "erase your computer and use the backup to reinstall data,” Stamm said. “It's a little annoying, but that's about it.”

The most common and easiest way for ransomware to infect a computer is as a “Trojan horse” hidden in an email attachment, he said.

When the receiver clicks on the attachment, he explained, the hidden ransomware is launched and encrypts the data on the computer.

To unlock the data, a “key” is needed. And that key, or code, is what the attackers try to sell to the person or business whose data is locked.

Ransomware attacks have been known to take over computer systems in high-profile targets such as hospitals, public schools and police departments.

There's no complete, guaranteed or surefire safety online, he said, but there are common and effective protections that help fend off problems.

First, do regular backups.

Also, it's best not to open attachments from unfamiliar sources.

Further, installing security software is important. And equally important is updating that software when prompted. Don't wait or ignore warnings or update notices, he said.

©2018 The Tribune-Star (Terre Haute, Ind.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.