Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Beware, Ransomware Is Everywhere

Back up your files and photos regularly, somehow or other, please! A cousin of mine just came to me in hopes that I can help him. All of his files have been locked. When trying to open a file, he gets a message that he can only unlock the files by paying a $500 ransom in bitcoin (an untraceable digital currency). This threat is real. It's not just an annoyance that will slow your computer down or splash nasty ads on your screen.

If you back up regularly, you can restore your files and tell these lazy bums to take a hike. If not, you can pay up and hope they actually restore your files (then back them up fast before they hit you again). TechWorld has an article that mentions some tools that *might* help remove some strains of ransomware. The article mentions writing down the bitcoin address and affected files (if possible) for future reference; seems like a good idea.

Macs are generally less susceptible to viruses. But, this threat appears to have made its way to Mac OS. Sadly, my go-to operating system, Linux has also seen it.

The best way to avoid malware altogether is to use Google's ChromeOS. It comes on Chromebooks, such as the Acer Chromebook 14. Beware that you will not be able to install Microsoft Office, Java, and several other apps. Instead, on ChromeOS, you will use editors and spreadsheet software like Google Docs and Sheets.

Using Linux or Mac OS are probably your next best bets. I see no reason to run Microsoft Windows these days. Stay away from spammy sites. Don't open spammy emails; especially don't click on suspicious links in emails. Using online file services like Google Docs will keep your files backed up, often with multiple versions.

Backing up with something like Backblaze would work great. I like the idea of syncing to DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc. *BUT*, those might just sync the hacked/encrypted version of your files, overwriting the good ones. Supposedly, the three aforementioned sync services offer versioning, more akin to a true backup like Backblaze. But, you may be left restoring one file at a time. Backblaze will send you a hard drive in the mail with the restore date of your choice. Of course, if you're disciplined, you can backup to a USB thumb drive or external drive. Beware that most ransomware will try to encrypt all attached drives, probably including those on online backup services that appear as a normal hard drive. Backing up to DVD is a safe option, albeit a big hassle.

Did I mention ChromeOS and not clicking on suspicious email links? :)

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