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Sponsor Content: 3 sure steps to beat ransomware

Sponsor Content: 3 sure steps to beat ransomware
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"Ransomware." Just the name alone lets you know it's bad news, but this type of virus is even worse than it sounds. Ransomware gets on your computer like any regular virus, such as through a phishing email or as a download from a sketchy website. However, unlike most modern viruses that stay quiet, you'll know it as soon as you have ransomware.

A ransomware virus immediately encrypts your documents, pictures, videos and any other personal files on your computer so you can't open them. The latest version of the CryptoWall ransomware scrambles file names so you don't know which files are which. The only sure way to get your computer back is to pay the creators a ransom, hence the name. Even the FBI has recommended people pay the ransom if they want their files.

The ransom can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Some viruses will raise the cost of the ransom over time to convince you to pay right away. At least one silver lining, if you want to call it that, is that paying the ransom usually does get you your files back.

Still, ransomware is evolving rapidly and becoming more widespread. CryptoWall, TeslaCrypt, CoinVault and others have all appeared in exploit kits in 2015. Any criminal can buy a kit and launch advanced attacks against thousands or millions of computers.

That's why there's been a huge spike in ransomware infections, and security experts expect that 2016 will be worse. Even with some security companies offering decryption tools for certain types of ransomware like CoinVault and TeslaCrypt, the major players like CryptoWall are advancing too fast.

That's why we're sounding the alarm so you can take steps now to avoid getting ransomware. Kim covered this topic in a recent free podcast, including how to stay safe. In this article, we're going to cover similar ground and tell you how to avoid ransomware in the first place, and what to do if you get it.

1. Stop ransomware at a distance

Your best option to defeat ransomware is to keep it off your computer in the first place. Security software is essential for this as it will block most attempts by hackers to slip viruses on to your system. If a virus does get downloaded, security software can often stop the virus before it causes too much damage.

However, if your system is weak in certain areas then you might still be in trouble. Keeping your operating system and Web browser up to date is also critical. Security holes in these areas can let hackers bypass your security software to slip files on to your system. Learn how to install the latest updates for Windows, and how to make your Web browser hacker-proof.

Even with those areas updated, you still might not be safe. Click here to test your computer security to make sure there are no holes.

Of course, even the walls of Troy can fall if you let a Greek-built horse inside. You need to be on guard against tricky phishing scams that ask you to download unsolicited email attachments or click on unknown links. Again, security software will help, but you don't want to tempt fate. Click here to learn how phishing scams work, and how to avoid them. Also, learn how to spot disguised malicious files you might open without thinking twice.

2. Stop ransomware before it runs

Despite your best efforts, you might end up with a ransomware virus on your computer anyway. That doesn't, however, mean that the game is over. In fact, there's a simple way you can stop the ransomware before it starts.

Before ransomware can activate and encrypt your files, it has to "call home" first. This involves contacting a hacker-controlled server and getting a unique encryption key. This is what lets you decrypt your files after you've paid the ransom.

Just as an aside, it might seem odd that hackers would go to this much trouble to make sure you can get your files back. However, if people couldn't reliably get their files back, then no one would pay the ransom. This is why the hackers behind CryptoLocker, the predecessor of CryptoWall, even set up a legitimate tech support system to help people who paid the ransom recover their files when they had trouble.

The good news is that if you can block the ransomware from phoning home, it won't run. You could do this by pulling the Internet cable as fast as you can, but you might not always make it in time. Fortunately, you can just install the free service OpenDNS.

We've talked about OpenDNS before as a way to speed up your Internet while also blocking adult sites and other objectionable material on an entire network of computers and gadgets. Well, it turns out that OpenDNS is part of a group working to combat ransomware, and it automatically blocks your computer from communicating with all known and suspected ransomware servers.

Still, what happens in a worst-case scenario of a ransomware virus taking over your computer?

3. Have a backup plan

No security is foolproof and a brand-new, malicious ransomware bug might find its way on to your system. Is that the end of the line?

If the ransomware you've gotten is older, such as TeslaCrypt, CoinVault or the original CryptoLocker, most security companies, including Kaspersky Lab, can clean them out and decrypt your files. So, definitely do some research. For a newer type of ransomware, you'll want to have a backup plan in place.

And when we say that, we mean a literal backup plan. In fact, ransomware or not, you should always have a backup; you never know when your computer might decide to crash.

Getting back to ransomware, having copies of your important files means you can wipe your computer, get rid of the virus and start over without losing a bit of your priceless information. Sure it's still a little hassle, but it won't set you back a bundle of money.

Our preferred backup service is our sponsor Carbonite. It automatically backs up your important files to Carbonite's secure servers. That way, they're safe from hackers and you can access your files from any computer while you're getting your system up and running again. And because of the way Carbonite works, it won't back up program files, such as the original ransomware virus.

Restoring files after wiping your drive is a snap, and thanks to Carbonite's advanced file versioning, you'll always have a copy of your files that is free from ransomware. Of course, you can prevent Carbonite from backing up the encrypted files by freezing your backup as soon as the ransomware hits. Simply right-click the Carbonite icon in your taskbar and choose "Freeze Backup."

Carbonite is the easiest way to protect your important files from computer crashes, natural disasters, thieves and killer viruses. Don't leave your information unprotected a minute longer. Click here to start your 15-day risk-free trial of Carbonite today, and get 2 months of free service when you decide to buy.

This post was sponsored by Carbonite. Protect your files with the better backup plan. Get two months free and a 15-day free trial. Use promo code KIM.
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