The Rise of Ransomware

Halloween is upon us! This year, however, there is something much more sinister afoot than the usual hordes of zombies, vampires, and cavities. I’m talking about ransomware, a particularly malevolent form of computer virus that can hold your personal files or your whole operating system hostage.

Ransomware is especially malicious because there is a chance you may lose all of your personal data once you’ve been infected with no options to recover unless you have an online or physical backup.

The newest and most harmful type of ransomware, known as CryptoLocker, uses a process called public-key cryptography to encrypt important files on your computer. This prevents you from accessing them in any way. Once the virus has fully installed, it locks down your computer and demands that you pay around $300 USD in order to get your files back. However, there is no guarantee you will get your computer unlocked. It is possible to remove the virus, but if you haven’t backed-up your information, there’s a good chance your files are gone.

Scams and viruses like CryptoLocker are becoming increasingly common and are further proof that the best tactic is proactive prevention. Reduce your chances of infection by being vigilant and taking the following steps:

  1. Never open emails from suspiciously named contacts.
  2. Avoid opening email attachments unless you are positive they are from a trusted source.
  3. If an email contains nothing but an attachment or a link, report it as spam and do not open or download it.
  4. Consider switching to a safer email service like Gmail.
  5. Keep your Antivirus program up-to-date and run scans routinely.
  6. Make sure to keep your operating system, Java, and Flash regularly updated.
  7. Never trust cold calls from supposed Microsoft affiliates that are trying to sell you software, service packs, or anything involving remote desktop control. Microsoft and its affiliates never make unsolicited phone calls.

Last but certainly not least, now is the perfect time to backup all of your files to prevent any worst case scenarios. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

For more information on common tactics to avoid malware and ransomware, consult my article Five Steps You Can Take to Keep Your Computer Safe and Healthy.

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Backups!

Creating backups of your data is arguably one of the most important tasks any computer owner can do, especially when working with older desktop and laptop computers. Widely overlooked by many, backups can save you significant amounts of time, money, and hassle. Anyone who has been there knows losing all your files can be devastating for both financial reasons and the sentimental value that your data may have to you.

Online cloud storage is a great way to store your files and easy enough that basic computer users should have no trouble setting up either automatic or manual backups through easy-to-use interfaces.

Most of these services will come at a small, long-term cost, but are well worth it come crunch time. For those interested in this option, check out Livedrive, CRASHPLAN, or Google Drive, depending on your needs and the number of users and computers you have.

Many people also choose to backup their data with an external hard drive that can be physically moved at your will. The initial cost will be more expensive than cloud storage, but it’s only a one time fee as opposed to the subscription services that cloud-based companies will more than likely charge you.

External drives can be especially useful for those with small amounts of storage on their computer as they will come with a significant portion of space that can be accessed as you please. From personal experience, I’ve always found the best deals and the most information/reviews on external drives on Amazon.

I’d highly recommend looking into which option works for you as recovery of data (if possible at all) is an expensive, reactive measure that can be easily taken care of before problems arise!

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