Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware) that cyber criminals use to lock you out of your files until you pay the bad guys to release them. It’s a growing online threat and a growing source of cash for the criminals. The most recent numbers from the Department of Homeland Security, pre-COVID-19, show that there are over 4,000 ransomware attacks each day—and many analysts say they’ve seen an increase in these since the start of the 2020 pandemic.

Nearly all ransomware is delivered to unsuspecting victims via an infected email or a link in an email that takes you to an infected website. This is a double-edged sword: it means that those who do not practice common cyber-safe email habits could easily become targets, but it also means that you are in complete control of a few simple defense steps that will help keep you ransomware free. Let’s look at what some of those are:

  • Think before you click. Never click unsolicited links or open unsolicited attachments in emails or text messages. If a message seems too good to be true, creates a strong sense of urgency or somehow plays strongly to your emotions, it could be a phishing email that could lead to a ransomware infection.
  • Update your system. Ransomware often works by taking advantage of unfixed bugs (or vulnerabilities) in your computer’s apps or operating system. The more current your software, the fewer known bugs there are for ransomware to exploit. Turn on automatic updates whenever possible.
  • Backup your files before something bad happens. It’s impractical to assume that from now until forever, nothing bad will happen to your computer—whether it’s a virus or just a broken hard drive. You’ll rest easier knowing that no matter what happens to your device, your files are backed up and safe somewhere else.

For more information on ransomware and staying cyber safe, visit StaySafeOnline.org. Businesses and information technology  administrators can learn more about recommended ransomware preventive measures for their networks from the Department of Homeland Security’s Computer and Infrastructure Security Agency.