Think You “Don’t Need No Stinkin” Backups? Think Again!

Today’s guest blog post is written by Erin Madden Ramirez, Project Manager, Patron Technology. 

In mid-May, 2017, a massive cyberattack hit more than 150 countries (source: NPR). This attack exploited a flaw in Microsoft’s Windows operating system (OS) allowing the hackers to hold victims’ data hostage. Literally. As in, the hackers don’t allow you to have access to your data unless you pay them the ransom they demand (hence the term “ransomware”).

Europe and Asia took the brunt of the May attack. Hopefully, your home and business computers were unaffected, but you should always be prepared. It’s just a matter of time until the bad guys find a new vulnerability and try, once again, again to ruin things for the rest of us. Fortunately, there are three key steps you can take to minimize your chances of falling victim to such attacks:

Step 1: Backup Your Data!

When asked for advice, NPR’s tech reporter Aarti Shahani said, “Have a way to have your data backed up in a trusted cloud provider or an external drive because the fact is if you backup your data, this kind of attack loses its fangs” (source: NPR). I would add the word “regularly” to the quote above. Backup your data regularly (and by regularly, I mean at minimum once a week). That way, if something goes wrong, you lose at most a few days of data, not weeks or months.

Note: You should even plan on backing up data that lives in the cloud in the first place. Search your provider’s help documentation or speak with their support team for recommendations.

Whether you’re backing up your personal pictures and documents or your business’ critical files, the best place to save your backup is in the cloud. Why? Firstly, keeping your backup in your home or at your office means that backup is vulnerable to flooding, fire, etc. Secondly, reputable cloud-based storage providers have more resources available to them than you as an individual or as a small-to-medium business has to put the latest security and encryption measures into place. That means your data is safe yet still accessible to you.

Set it and forget it! Check the settings for your backup tool. You’ll likely be able to create a schedule for backups

Resources:

Step 2: Always Install Your OS Updates and Patches!

Nadia Kovacs, an employee at Norton Security, explains in a blog post how “Performing… updates will deliver a multitude of revisions to your computer, such as adding new features, removing outdated features, updating drivers, delivering bug fixes, and most importantly, fixing security holes that have been discovered.” The fact that so many organizations fell victim to this latest ransomware attack took many by surprise as Microsoft released the patch for this particular Windows vulnerability back in March 2017. Matt Tait, the CEO and founder of Capital Alpha Security in the UK, told NPR’s Scott Simon, “People who’ve been using their modern operating system – so Windows 7 and so on… should have been completely secure against this vulnerability” (source: NPR). While the May 2017 attack targeted a flaw in Windows, any OS, whether Windows, Mac, Android, Google Chrome, etc… could at some point in time become vulnerable.

Regardless of the OS you use, be sure to install updates regularly and keep a special eye out for any critical or security-related releases.

Set it and forget it! Check your OS to see if you can turn on automatic downloads and updates.

Note: Businesses utilizing business-critical, specialized software packages installed on their servers or local computers may want to check with their software providers to make sure they’ve tested and approved the update.

Step 3: Anti-virus Up!

In the same interview with Scott Simon, Mr. Tait also advised listeners to “keep your anti-virus up to date,” though it may be necessary to remind folks they should have antivirus software installed in the first place. PC Magazine explains, “Antivirus utilities protect against all kinds of malware, not just viruses. You really, really need antivirus protection.” Even if you only use your computer to surf the web, a certain amount of data is saved to your hard drive such as cookies, email addresses, passwords and other personal information.

This info can be grabbed by a Trojan which could, for example, try to “insert itself into financial transactions and drain your bank account.” A botnet can make your computer do “just about anything including spewing spam [or] participating in a denial of service attack.” And any malware that can grab your personal information and passwords could lead to full blown identity theft.

Set it and forget it! Schedule your antivirus program to check for updates to virus and other malware definitions regularly and to scan your computer daily.

Resources

The bottom line is, using the three steps outlined above, you can protect yourself with relatively little effort. And while there may be costs involved depending on the cloud-based storage solution you use and the antivirus package you choose, such an investment is well worth your while to render anything those bad guys try ineffective!

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