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. Ransomware

Five Steps You Can Take to Keep Your Computer Safe

One of the most common questions any computer repair technician receives is, “How do I keep my computer from slowing down and getting viruses?” It’s a simple question but one with many different answers that will certainly vary depending on who you ask. But overall, there are five steps you can take to keep your computer safe from viruses, bloated Spyware, and programs that will generally slow down your computer.

  1. Be aware of what you’re downloading:

It’s an unfortunate fact of life, but many software distributors now prepackage their products with additional toolbars, bloated programs, or even Spyware. Be sure to pay very careful attention when downloading any program off the internet and read through every page of the installation process to see what is being downloaded. Familiarize yourself with common toolbar names and suspicious search engine schemes.

Check out this page for more information on which toolbars you may or may not want. For updated listings on how to remove malicious search engine software, have a look at the Malwarebytes’ blog.

  1. Be aware of where you’re downloading from:

Generally speaking, if you’re downloading something straight from the developer then concerns about viruses are far less prevalent. However, many third party distribution sites that make a wide variety of software available in one place will package their downloads with other content you may not want. There are also websites that try to imitate the look of reputable software distributors and they will try to trick you into downloading malicious software. If you’re trying out a new software, always Google search for the proper website and independent reviews of the content creator.

A huge warning sign for disreputable websites is when the link to your download is completely surrounded in advertisements and has multiple other suspicious “download” links around it. My suggestion: navigate away from this website and possibly even the software. To avoid this, I usually download my software straight from the creator (after thoroughly checking their reputation) or from websites like FileHippo.

  1. Keep your computer up to date:

Believe me, I know how annoying it is to constantly have to update Windows, Java, Flash, etc. Even with automatic update options, it seems as though new updates are always popping up. With that being said, always do them! Nothing leads to viruses and Spyware quicker than an out of date system with old software. I can’t tell you how many systems I have seen with outdated Java and Flash components, despite both of them being highly exploited by virus creators. If you’re running Windows XP, be particularly rigorous about updating as viruses on this operating system can be extremely malicious and hard to remove.

  1. Be prepared with antivirus software:

Every modern Windows and Macintosh system should have some sort of antivirus software to prevent worst case scenarios. There are many excellent, free antivirus programs out there that are easy to use and require very little setup. Personally, my computers with Windows have Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. MSE is an always-on Antivirus program that Windows provides for absolutely no charge. It’s very effective for the everyday computer user and runs in the background with almost no interaction required. On the extremely rare occasion I feel something may have gotten past MSE, I run a scan with Malwarebytes just to keep my peace of mind.

Mac OS X users have one of the absolutely best and free antivirus utilities at their disposal, known as ClamXav. Based on the open source ClamAV software popularized on UNIX distributions, ClamXav is a powerful piece of software that will ensure total system protection.

  1. Last but certainly not least, take the time to maintain your computer:

Although the price of computers has steadily decreased over the years, they are still an expensive investment that need constant attention and maintenance. I highly recommend that every computer owner take at least 30 minutes a week to sit down and take care of their system so they can not only get the most out of their investment, but also so they can fully appreciate these awesome pieces of machinery and the power they possess.

Run a virus scan, run CCleaner (the absolute best utility for cleaning out all the temporary data that clogs up your computer and slows your system down), and take some time to explore the operating system that you work with. You’ll be amazed at all the useful that things computers can do for you! Computer Safe



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! Back Up