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Maybe I’m a cyber-security nerd, but once a month I like to back up my computer — on an external hard drive and in the cloud. While a brisk walk or listening to music might help my neighbors unwind, nothing helps me sleep better at night than a good hard-drive backup.

Why? Because backing up the contents of computers may be one of the best ways to protect against the growing threat of ransomware.

Ransomware attacks were up more than 150% in the third quarter of 2017 compared to just a year earlier. The recent breaches at Equifax, Sonic, etc., highlight the risk to businesses and individuals from these types of scams.

How attacks happen

In a ransomware attack, criminals install malware on a device or network that uses encryption to lock files. The criminals then demand payment — frequently through Bitcoin — in order for the victim to regain access to the files being held hostage. Criminals prefer Bitcoin because it’s easy to use, fast, publicly available, decentralized, and provides a sense of heightened anonymity.

Attacks usually begin when an employee or individual visits an infected website or clicks on an infected popup ad, email, or email attachment.

Beyond the ransom, which is usually $200 to $10,000, victims may also face costs of network mitigation, network countermeasures, loss of productivity, legal fees, IT services, and the purchase of credit monitoring services for employees or customers.

Routinely backing up the contents of computers is not only a best practice for computer security, it also helps reduce the effectiveness of a ransomware attack. If you have access to copies of your entire computer’s content on an external hard drive and in the cloud, then there is no need to pay a ransom to an attacker.

4 additional tips

In addition to frequently backing up computer content on an external hard drive and in the cloud, here are four other ways to help protect you and your business against ransomware:

  • Install antivirus software and a firewall from a reputable company.
  • Use automatic updates to help ensure you business’s antivirus software and firewall are protecting you against the most current threats.
  • Enable popup blockers on your web browser to help avoid accidental clicks on popups, which are used routinely by criminals to spread malicious software.
  • Educate employees about the risks and train them to be suspicious of unsolicited emails and avoid clicking on links or attachments in emails.