Locked laptop symbolizes ransomware attack.

Ransomware 101: Your 4-part guide to kidnapped data

Ransomware infected businesses every 40 seconds in the third quarter of 2017 — a sobering statistic for companies that rely on IT systems to facilitate day-to-day tasks. This type of malicious software disables a computer until the user pays a ransom, which could set them back hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Thankfully, there are a number of steps you can take to prevent a ransomware attack at work. Here are four you need to know about.

1. Don’t download email attachments — unless you know where they come from

You probably receive documents from customers and clients via email — it’s one of the most convenient ways to share information. Unfortunately, phishing attacks contain email attachments that come with dangerous malware that could jeopardize your computer systems.

“Just because an email message looks like it came from your mom, grandma or boss doesn’t mean that it did,” says the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT). “Many viruses can ‘spoof’ the return address, making it look like the message came from someone else. If you can, check with the person who supposedly sent the message to make sure it’s legitimate before opening any attachments.”

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2. Use antivirus software and download the latest security updates

Antivirus software is imperative for any business. These programs safeguard your computer systems and prevent unauthorized persons from accessing your valuable data.

Antivirus software isn’t enough, though. You need to download the latest security patches for your system on a regular basis.

“Do make sure that all systems and software are up-to-date with relevant patches,” says anti-malware software company Norton AntiVirus. “Exploit kits hosted on compromised websites are commonly used to spread malware. Regular patching of vulnerable software is necessary to help prevent infection.”

If you don’t have time to manage security within your business, a managed security provider can optimize your IT security management processes and protect your data from cybercriminals.

Related Content: Your 5-part guide to everyday data disasters

3. Back up your data

Backing up your data is really important. Why? In the event of a cyber attack, you can still access your data and continue to run your business. Keeping your data in the cloud lets you access information from almost any device, wherever you are in the world, even if malware has disabled the computers in your office.

Research shows that small companies, on average, lose more than $100,000 for every ransomware incident due to downtime. Moreover, one in five organizations endures 25 hours or more in downtime after a ransomware attack. Backing up your data in the cloud can prevent this from happening.

4. Only install software from trusted vendors

Malware often lurks in new software, and your systems might become infected when you download and install these programs. This is why it’s important to install software only from trusted vendors.

“Some programs attempt to install malware as a part of their own installation process,” says PC World. “When installing software, pay close attention to the message boxes before clicking Next, OK, or I Agree.”

Final thoughts

A new malware specimen emerged every 4.2 seconds in the first quarter of 2017, and cybercriminals are creating more malicious programs than ever before. Enhance your computer security by only downloading email attachments from trusted sources, installing the latest security updates, backing up your data, and installing software from trusted vendors.