The following editorial appeared in the Kokomo (Indiana) Tribune, a CNHI newspaper. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune-Democrat.

The disturbing reports have become ever more common: Computer systems across the globe have been subject to malicious ransomware attacks for a few years now. 

These assaults essentially take your computer hostage and demand payment for the information to be released.

It doesn’t end there, though.

Even if the victim pays said ransom, there’s no guarantee the stolen files will be returned. The hacker might have no intention of honoring his end of the bargain. He might not even have the skills to recover your information, even if he wanted to.

Last month, government officials in Lake City, Florida, paid $500,000 in Bitcoin to hackers after such a ransomware attack. Only a week earlier, officials in Riviera Beach, Florida, shelled out $600,000 after a similar attack locked out government workers from their computers.

But as Howard County officials learned in 2016 after a hack at their system, if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. So, here are some general tips to help keep you safe from this threat:

Keep your computer updated: Your files won’t be safe if you don’t have the latest updates to your software and operating systems installed. Manufacturers offer these updates as new threats are identified to keep security current.

Make a habit of backing up your files externally: This simple step is what saved Howard County from paying to unlock its files, as nearby Madison County officials had to do in 2016. Saving your work is a good habit to cultivate in general. And, if you regularly back up your files, then having the copies on your hard drive taken captive won’t matter.

Don’t click links, attachments or emails you don’t recognize: This is easier said than done. The links that unlock the chaos of a ransomware attack are often specifically designed to look legitimate to that specific victim. Use extra caution if you don’t recognize the sender.

Don’t pay the ransom unless you have to: This should go without saying, but you should never give these cyber criminals what they want if you can help it. Not just for the reasons we’ve already discussed, but also because it basically puts a target on your back for the future. 

If you’re labeled as an easy mark, expect more of the same.

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