The first case of Covid-19 was reported in December 2019. Soon after, the deadly virus had spread to every corner of the world creating a global crisis. The pandemic has stretched the world’s healthcare systems to their limits and in most parts of the world, the situation is only getting worse.  To add insult to injury, hackers are actively taking advantage of the pandemic by breaching systems, stealing data, and profiting off holding systems and data hostage.

Ransomware attacks threaten to publish a victim’s data or permanently block access to it unless a ransom is paid. Reports show that ransomware attacks increased 25 percent in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the last 3 months of 2019. These attacks have soared during the Covid-19 crisis as cybercriminals prey on the public’s heightened anxiety as a result of the pandemic. Coronavirus has created the ideal environment for fraudsters to thrive in.

New Types of Ransomware Attacks during Covid-19

For cybercriminals, a global pandemic presents a golden opportunity to make money from healthcare targets. The rush to research the disease and develop new treatments places a huge burden on the healthcare system, leaving healthcare facilities at a greater risk of opportunistic ransomware attacks. Attacks targeting healthcare providers are on the rise, especially in Europe and the US. The urgency to get the systems back up and running makes these institutions perfect targets for ransomware activation.

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In March 2020, hospitals in the Czech Republic appeared to be targets of ransomware attacks prompting a response from the US State Department. Attackers are using ransomware attacks to force hospitals and other healthcare institutions to pay up when they can least afford downtime. Attempts to steal private information through fake emails and text messages designed to look like official Covid-19 related information have also increased dramatically over the past several months.

Malware disguised as contact tracing apps and data report websites have also been rising since the beginning of the pandemic. Hackers are deploying a new strain of ransomware disguised as legitimate contact tracing apps. Once installed on a device, these applications will encrypt the files and lock users out of their phones. In Canada, two fraudulent websites offering a fake version of a government-sponsored contact tracing app emerged days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government was working on a contact tracing app.

Defending Against Ransomware Attacks

Over the past few years, ransomware has become a popular way for cybercriminals to extort cash from businesses and individuals alike. Ransomware attacks can be debilitating, often resulting in massive financial loss or perpetual loss of data. Fortunately, there’s a myriad of tools applicable for blocking ransomware tools from being executed on your devices. On top of that, there are additional measures you can put in place to mitigate the risk of a ransomware attack. Read on.

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Use Antivirus Software

Having a reputable security suite that includes a software firewall will help you identify threats or suspicious behaviour. A good anti malware solution can protect your system against different types of malware, including ransomware. It’s essential to have more than one layer of protection as malware authors are constantly sending new variants to avoid detection. If you use a Windows PC, keep the Windows firewall turned on and properly configured at all times.

Use a VPN

A VPN, short for Virtual Private Network, is one of the most secure ways to surf the internet. It provides a secure tunnel for transmitting data over the Internet, guaranteeing privacy and security online. The application encrypts your data thereby making it impossible for hackers and other online adversaries to pry into your activities when using public Wi-Fi networks.

Avoid Opening Suspicious Attachments/ Links

As stated earlier in the article, the vast majority of ransomware is delivered via phishing. These eye-catching emails are designed to look like they originated from a trusted source and contain contagious attachments that infect your system with different ransomware variants. Think twice before clicking on links received via instant messengers and social networks even if they are coming from your friends, colleagues, and other people that you trust.

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Be Careful with Personal Data

Hackers will often try to gain intelligence for attacks by pretending to be from IT or trick employees into installing malware. Don’t share personal or company data unnecessarily when answering emails, unsolicited phone calls, text messages, and instant messages. Scanning mail content will help scan inbound emails for known threats and block suspicious attachments. Businesses should also configure their email servers to block dubious attachments.

Back-Up Your Data

One of the most important steps you can take to defeat ransomware is backing up your data on a regular basis. That way, you can clean your system and restore lost documents in the event of a ransomware attack. Diversify your backup to make sure that a ransomware attack at any single point does not lead to irreversible loss of data. Backup your data locally on HDD and the cloud using services such as Dropbox.

Conclusion

Ransomware is malicious software that cybercriminals can employ to hold your system files for ransom. In a ransomware attack, data can essentially be considered damaged beyond repair whether the payment is made or not. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make sure that your system is prepared to ward off a ransomware attack.

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