7 fixes to protect your computer against malware attacks

24th May 2017


May’s massive ransomware cyber attack went far wider than the NHS, hitting organisations all over the world, knocking out entire systems and holding their owners to ransom, demanding payment to restore affected files.

Known as WannaCry (or WannaCrypt if you’re Microsoft), this malware program is a type of trojan virus which infects computers by encrypting the folders and files stored on them, making the information they contain impossible to access. Victims are subsequently required to pay a 0 release fee which doubles after 6 days. Failure to pay within a week results in all infected files being deleted and the data lost forever.

Despite the sheer scale of this attack and the apparent strength of the virus, it’s actually not that hard to protect your company’s network, individual machines and all the data stored on them, against hackers, malware, ransomware or virus attacks.

If you’re using Windows for your operating system these 7 simple steps will help keep your machines and business safe against future cyber attack.

  1. Install patches and keep your system up to date

Windows users should always keep their machines up to date. XP and Windows 8 owners were especially vulnerable to the Wannacry attack. But Microsoft actually released a patch for the problem exposed by WannaCry back in March.

Windows machines are notorious for wanting to update at just the wrong time and it’s easy to put off restarting your machine. But unless you make a point of regularly updating at your own convenience, it’s probably the best idea to let Microsoft do their thing and leave your settings as they are.

  1. Backup your important data

Do make regular backups of your most important data. This applies equally to large companies and private individuals, to family photos or million dollar contracts. The best way to avoid losing important data – and being held to ransom for the content on your computer – is to keep secure copies stored on an external hard drive or in the cloud, or both.

Backing up your data isn’t as hard as it sounds. Sites like Carbonite and Apple’s TimeMachine will automatically make backups of your information, while Dropbox allows you to store files and share documents, as will Google’s own suite of cloud storage tools including GoogleDocs and GooglePhotos.

  1. App permissions and location-specific requests

With so many apps and online tools requesting permission to access our geographical location or social media accounts, it’s important to keep a track on who knows what about you.

Only grant access to programs you trust, and remember it’s a decision that can be reversed. If you do have reason to be suspicious, or simply stop using an app or program, don’t hesitate to disengage, either by deleting or ‘un-linking’ your accounts.

  1. Install anti-virus software

Despite hackers constantly exposing fresh vulnerabilities in anti-virus programs, the companies making the software are usually only hours behind, adding fixes and patching exposed areas quickly and efficiently.

So while no anti-virus software can offer complete 100% protection, they will safeguard users against almost all known issues and they’ll do it quickly. If you don’t have it already, Microsoft’s own anti-virus protection is a good place to start,

  1. Educate yourself and your workforce

Whether we’re at home or work it’s never a good idea to click on questionable links or open suspicious email attachments.

This is by far the most common way viruses are spread and it’s a problem for individuals and companies alike. The solution is to educate yourself and your staff about the possible risks and use a degree of common sense before trusting links to unknown websites or files.

  1. Encrypt your files

It’s much harder to block, control or damage a file if it’s been encrypted, or locked behind a password. While this method of protecting your valuable information takes time, effort and possibly a few dollars to set up, encrypting your files makes it much harder for hackers (or anyone else for that matter) to access them.

Users of Windows pro suite already have the option to encrypt their folders and files in the advanced editing features of any document. If all you need is to protect your photos and banking details there are plenty of free tools that will do the job – such as VeraCrypt and FolderLock – while businesses in need of a bit more functionality may prefer paid solutions like CertainSafe or AxCrypt.

  1. Hit the off switch ASAP

Shutting down a computer or network the moment you suspect there’s an issue can prevent or at least reduce the damage. It’s a last ditch resort, but if you do suspect your machine has been infected, or is falling victim to an attack, the very first thing you should do is switch it off completely.

Don’t use on-screen options, which could already be affected by the malware. Rather just hit the physical power button as quickly as you can, disconnect any internet cables and ensure all power lights are off.

Like we say, this is very much an emergency measure. But malware may take several minutes to infect your machine and prompt action could save valuable data. Once disconnected from the web, restart your device and proceed with extreme caution.

Obviously, you can never completely protect yourself against a cyber attack, but making sure you follow these tips, will go a long way towards preventing one and limit the damage if you are attacked.

Online security is something we all need to take seriously. At Secret Source we spend a lot of time on the security of all the websites and apps we build and are constantly updating our processes to block the next attack. If you are worried or have any questions about the safety of your website or business feel free to get in touch.