Halloween is the time of year when you see spooky decorations on houses, ghosts and goblins decorating the candy isles at the supermarket and look forward to seeing kids in scary costumes knocking on your door. But this year I want to tell you about something that is much scarier out there that can infect your computer – a growing class of malware known as
Ransomware is not new but in 2013 the public is becoming much more aware of it and the damage it can cause. Ransomware restricts access to your computer and demands a payment in order for you to regain access. Ransomware is more than just a scam – it is a crime and you need to understand what it is and how to protect yourself.
An article published in the October edition of Consumer Reports describes how some scammers are charging victims to remove viruses that don’t exist, like it isn’t bad enough having to deal with normal computer problems, computer viruses, worms and other forms of malware… The Federal Trade Commission announced two recent settlements with operators accused of tricking people into believing their computers had viruses then charging hundreds to fix these nonexistent problems. Some install fake anti-virus software that after installation look like real thing and scan your system reporting bogus results scaring you into downloading an even more bogus program with some authentic sounding name to remove them. This class of ransomware can indeed disable some of your computer functions but many times it is easy to remove without having to pay the ransome. If you are infected by this class of ransomware you can perform a Google search and look for removal instructions.
If you’re thinking “Well that didn’t sound so scary” then consider this new encrypting ransomware known as CryptoLocker
which appeared in 2013. CryptoLocker is pretty nasty and is distributed as an email attachment or drive-by download and when activated your computer keeps on working but all of your personal files such as documents or photos are encrypted. The criminals retain the only copy of the decryption key on their server. Since it is never stored on your computer you cannot unlock your files without their assistance. You then have a short time, usually 72 hours to pay them, typically $300 or they will delete the decryption key forever rendering your personal files unrecoverable. A fascinating video
by Mark Rickus, of Sophos Support describes what it does and how it works. CryptoLocker is pretty easy to remove – most legitimate anti-virus publishers can remove the malware but the encryption is so absolute that there is no recovery of your files.
How to you protect yourself? Follow these easy and most often free steps to keep your computer safe.
1. Keep regular backups. As I have written before I am a huge fan of backups – more backups is more better! Because of the way CryptoLocker works, it will encrypt any file it finds on your system, or any system that it can reach directly, which means any external USB or network attached drive or server or even your DropBox files! To properly protect from CryptoLocker, your files must be offline or offsite.
2. Make sure you are using credible anti-virus software and keep it up to date. There are free versions of AVG or Avast or you can subscribe to Norton or McAfee. Whether free or paid subscription, make sure your virus protection is up to date.
3. Keep your operating system and application software up to date with critical patches by allowing your software an operating system to make regular updates to the application. Software publishers are constantly patching and modifying their software to introduce new functionality, but most important patching vulnerabilities.
Carezone - A Technology tool to help you care for people
Recently my brother found a great tool to help us coordinate the care for our mother. Carezone
is nothing fancy - it is a simple tool to help coordinate and record relevant details and contacts, such as doctors, prescriptions and other healthcare providers among several people. Carezone was created by the CEO of Sun Microsystems to help care for his own family. We use it to keep track of Mom's meds, her doctors, a calendar of events and to update a running journal so we know what is happening and when. Every time one of us posts something in the journal, we all get an email notice to keep us up to date. There are no ads and there is a strong emphasis on privacy. What's great is that you can keep up to date from anywhere using your computer, Android or iPhone. Keep track of information that you couldn't possibly memorize! Carezone is certainly worth a look!
Right now, Carezone is free but it may not be forever - take advantage of this wonderful tool. We hope to use the tool to coordinate my mother's care for many years to come...
Happy technology - stay safe my friends!
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