After what happened to my local school district’s computers, I’m terrified of getting hit with a ransomware attack. How can I defend myself in Windows 10?
It’s smart and logical to be concerned about being hit by a ransomware attack. Who wouldn’t be horrified to find that all their files, movies, photos and documents were suddenly encrypted and it was going to cost a few thousand dollars – or more! – to get them all back? There are a number of things you can do to protect your computer, but the old advice of “don’t go to bad Web sites” seems to no longer protect you from these sort of infections.
Still, I always recommend reliable backups of all your critical files and documents: even if you never get a ransomware attack, you can still lose your device, have your laptop stolen or just have your computer crash and destroy the hard disk. Local backup or cloud-based backup gives you a smart safety net for a very most monthly investment.
You should also – and always! – be running at least some sort of anti-virus software. You could advance to a higher level of paid protection, like with PC Matic, from PC Pitstop, or if you want to stick with a free solution, Windows Defender just added a layer of ransomware protection. Windows Defender, I hope you already know, offers antivirus protection direct from Microsoft itself and is already included with all modern releases of Windows 10. What most people don’t realize, however, is that since the Fall Creator’s Update of Win10, there’s ransomware protection too.
Even though it defaults to being disabled and useless.
The basic question, then, is how do you turn it on? And that’s what we’re going to step through in this tutorial article. Follow along and you’ll have a whole lot more protection than you did when you started reading!
To get started, use Win10 Cortana search to look for “Windows Defender Security Center“. As you type this it should show you the matching app:
Launch Windows Defender Security Center and you’ll be at the home screen of the Windows Defender program…
You can see that on this computer everything’s in good shape. If you don’t see similar green checkmarks, you’ll want to ensure that the program’s enabled. Once it’s all running, click on “Virus & threat protection” to perform a quick virus scan:
You can see that my last scan was about 10 days ago and that the program zipped through over 36,000 files. No viruses. Phew!
Notice the last section “Ransomwar protection“. We’ll come back to that in a second. First, though, click on “Scan now” to have the program do its magic…
Don’t be surprised if it takes 5-10 minutes and that the estimated time remaining keeps getting longer and longer. Not sure what that’s about, but it’s pretty consistent behavior.
Finally, when it’s done and you hopefully have no matching viruses or malware, click on the “Ransomware protection” link at the bottom of the window.
Here you’ll learn what I find quite confusing: by default, this feature is disabled.
So let’s enable the darn thing. That’s done by clicking on the slider switch adjacent to the word “Off”. Since it then goes into the file system to insert the protection feature, you’ll then have the screen grey out and this permissions window pop up:
You can grant this permission. Generally, though, be super cautious when you see this particular sort of dialog box pop up and if you don’t know what’s going on, click “No” and stop the madness! 🙂
That’s it. You now have ransomware protection enabled. if you bump into this safety feature because a program is trying to do something and it’s failing, remember the link above “Allow an app through Controlled folder access”. That’s how you’ll grant permission as needed.
And for completeness, here’s the default list of folders and directories that are protected by the ransomware protection in Windows Defender, which you get to by clicking on “Protected folders”:
That’s it. Pretty nicely done Microsoft, and about time the company jumped in to protect us users from the scourge of malware and badguys in the digital universe!
Pro Tip: While you’re here, do check out our extensive Microsoft Windows help area too!
Disclosure: The PCMatic link above is an affiliate link. You pay the same price but we get a few bucks to help keep the power on at our offices. Thanks.