Ransomware is increasingly common malware that infects computers and holds them hostage. Once a computer is infected the malware will encrypt every file it can find including your Documents, Desktop, and Download folders, shared network drives, and portable thumb drives. All of your work that you have created could be instantly encrypted and inaccessible with the click of a mouse. Once infected your computer will start displaying messages warning that your files have been encrypted and demanding payment online for the decryption key.
The United States Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) has issued an advisory on protecting your organization (and yourself) from the threat of Ransomware.
WHY IS IT SO EFFECTIVE?
The authors of ransomware instill fear and panic into their victims, causing them to click on a link or pay a ransom, and users systems can become infected with additional malware. Ransomware displays intimidating messages similar to those below:
- “Your computer has been infected with a virus. Click here to resolve the issue.”
- “Your computer was used to visit websites with illegal content. To unlock your computer, you must pay a $100 fine.”
- “All files on your computer have been encrypted. You must pay this ransom within 72 hours to regain access to your data.”
Imagine if you suddenly lost all of the work you have created on your personal or work computer. If you have a file server in your Church office, it could be encrypted as well. Can you afford to lose all of your sermons, bulletins, worship records, and financial documents? What steps can you take to avoid losing your data?
Here’s how to defend yourself from Ransomware (and many other vulnerabilities):
- Budget for security – If you operate a car you must pay taxes, have the car inspected, etc. It is the same with connecting computers to the internet. Skipping this critical step is easy. To safeguard your critical data, you must budget for backup and antivirus software.
- Backup up your data – You should budget for backup software. Copying your files to an external hard drive is never considered a good backup. Never depend on one external device as your only source of backups! When an external hard drive fails, it will take your critical data with it. If you are using an Apple laptop or desktop you should run Time Machine. Crashplan and Carbonite are excellent off-site backup programs for Windows users. If you have an off-site copy of your files, you can quickly restore to the last unencrypted version.
- Run an up-to-date Antivirus program – You should budget for antivirus software as the first line of defense against online threats. Symantec Endpoint Protection is an excellent software product for your church computers. It can be installed on every computer and centrally managed from one website. AVG Antivirus is a free solution. Once a month you should check all of the antivirus installations and make sure they are not showing any error conditions. They should also show virus definitions less than a week old.
- Update your computers every month – Patch Tuesday is the day Microsoft releases their security updates (second Tuesday of each month). The second Wednesday of each month is an excellent time to check all of your computers and make sure they have downloaded the latest updates.
- Do not click links in unsolicited email – This cannot be stressed enough. You will receive email messages that try to trick you into clicking bad links. If you don’t recognize an email (or aren’t expecting it), don’t click anything in the message. Your bank, Google, Microsoft, the IRS, etc. will never ask you to click a link to log into a website. If you need something from your bank, browse directly to their website and log in. If you don’t recognize the email don’t click the link.
Following these steps are a good first start to protecting yourself and your church from disruptions caused by Ransomware. If you have never thought about computer security, you should start with these suggestions. This list presents concrete measures that all of us should take right away. Following these steps will significantly increase your online security.
Reference: US-CERT Alert (TA16-091A)
Russell Stott says
You state “If you are using an Apple laptop or desktop you should run Time Machine. Crashplan and Carbonite are excellent off-site backup programs. If you have an off-site copy of your files, you can quickly restore to the last unencrypted version.”
What to use if you are PC?
Douglas Ward says
Great question! Time Machine is only available for Apple computers. Both Crashplan and Carbonite are available for either Windows or Apple users. I’ll edit the article to make that more clear. Thanks for the feedback!