Concerned about ransomware?

handcuffsA recent NY Times article sheds light on a potent new virus development: pay money to get your stuff back.

Viruses and other malware were often more of a nuisance, causing slowness and other mischief (typically just on Windows PCs). Now that’s changing. Savvy methods of extortion are gaining a foothold — and, as per this story, “there is no technological barrier that prevents the virus from infiltrating Macs.”

Five Security Essentials for 2016

Let the hacked mother of that NYT reporter be a wake-up call: Time and effort to protecting yourself pales in comparison to cleaning up an infection (or paying a Russian crime syndicate to retrieve personal or business documents). So with that in mind, here are four basic things you can do to avoid being a victim:

❶ If it’s free and unsolicited, chances are it’s a scam

Use only software from places you completely trust — companies that you recognize and those that are widely used and reviewed. Get them from the manufacturer or major online retailers. Programs like MacKeeper that purport to clean up your computer often do nothing at best, and actually make things worse by weighing down your system with useless background tasks.

❷ It’s time to get serious with passwords

That means using a password manager, unless you’re highly disciplined and use a manual process such as an encrypted Word doc. The bad guys use powerful and sophisticated methods to crack passwords, and following the requisite password rules of (long, complex, unique) become too time-consuming to be feasible if you’re like most folks and need logins to dozens and dozens of sites across the web.

❸ Use good anti-virus software and back up

Mac owners actually do need to consider an anti-virus program these days, and our top choice is the free Sophos AV. Here are a few others reviewed. For PCs, here’s CNet’s top 3 choices to keep the nasties off your PC. And last but not least, having a well configured, offline backup is the best defense against ransomware.

❹ Update, update, update

We get this question a lot: why so many updates? More often than not, it’s because a security hole has been found, and patched. The ones you really should not ignore are updates to your Mac or Windows operating system, Adobe Acrobat or Flash, Microsoft Office, or Oracle’s Java (if you need it.)

❺ Email is the least secure part of the web

In two big ways: Firstly, emails are sent and stored in plain text over the internet, which is very different than the way you send passwords and credit card data to secure websites (test them here). Secondly, emails are the primary vectors of hacking; the source of the big data breaches making headlines. Google and other big email providers do some checking for you, but always be careful clicking links to emails, be they commercial or from friends (who might’ve just been hacked).

We’re here if you need a helping hand. Whether it’s implementing a password manager, sorting out security concerns, or just a bunch of advice we’ve collected over the years.

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