Last updateMon, 21 Jan 2019 12pm

Protecting yourself from cyber attacks

The recent high-profile ransomware attack named Wantacry is the reason I was on the receiving end of quite a few questions concerning virus and malware and what can be done to defend against the threat. 

I am sorry to say that some of the news reporting I have read in the mainstream media is really just nonsense.

The first one to provoke this reaction from me was the article saying that Microsoft Windows is an insecure operating system.  This is a misconception that’s based on faulty logic.  It is true that most hackers target Windows computers and the reason is simply because more than 90 percent of all personal computers run one version or another of Microsoft Windows.  Cyber-criminals simply focus on the 90 percent of the users of Windows over the three percent who use Mac.  That is not to say that Mac is immune from attack -- far from it -- Apple is simply a smaller target.  One thing both Mac and PCs have in common is that they are both as insecure as the carelessness and bad security habits of their users.

Three things about the most recent ransomware attacks point out that there are some simple common-sense things every user can do to minimize their risk of falling victim to criminal extortion.

First is to keep Windows up to date.  When vulnerabilities are discovered in Windows, Microsoft rushes to fix the problem with a Security Update.  Users who decline to install these updates in their systems put themselves at risk, and most of the victims of the recent ransomware attacks fall into this category.

Second is to use antivirus software, any antivirus software, and keep it up to date.  No antivirus program is bulletproof because all rely on virus definitions which means it cannot detect a new infection that is not yet in the database.  For this reason most antivirus ends up being reactive (fixing a problem that has occurred) rather than proactive (preventing the problem in the first place).  And please do not fall into thinking that just because you have an antivirus program that you are safe.  No computer program can protect a user with bad habits who does foolish things such as clicking on links in emails.  Just because you have antivirus doesn’t mean you can ignore safe computing practices.  The easiest one to learn is to never click on links in emails because malicious emails are the most common attack vector for virus/malware.

Third is to have a good up-to-date backup of your important data.  Users who were recently infected by the WantaCry ransomware fell into two groups.  In group one were the users who because they did not have any backups lost their files or were forced to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to get them back.  In group two were those who did have good backups, and were able to simply delete the infection, then restore their files without paying the ransom.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant with more than 20 years IT experience and a Texan with a lifetime love for Mexico.  The opinions expressed are his own.  He may be contacted through his web site at SMAguru.com.

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