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GUEST COLUMN: Fighting back against ransomware

By Travers Jordan

       Greetings, Westsiders! Hopefully, you have not been hit by the nasty computer ransomware infection that began its worldwide attack last weekend. Numerous articles have been written about this attack, but they keep leaving out useful information - like how to fight it!
       Ransomware is similar to other scams, such as online pop-ups or callers from Microsoft (they're not) who claim to want to fix your computer (and charge you $200 for it). Scammers like those need access to your computer before they can do anything really terrible. Don't ever let them take remote control! Given sufficient access, they can lock your computer permanently, sometimes requiring the entire operating system to be reinstalled.
       Ransomware is often even worse. Like older viruses, these infections effectively delete your data - meaning your documents, your photos, everything you care about on your computer. The information isn't technically deleted, it is encrypted. But with complex encryption keys, you'd need 20-plus years to get your files back, unless you're willing to pay huge ransom demands (and only encourage these human scum).
       Ransomware isn't new, but the recent “WannaCry” attack has been the most far-reaching. It relies on an infected e-mail attachment to enter a computer. From there, it can spread to all networked computers. All it takes is one. This is how WannaCry spread through various hospitals and other large businesses. So it is very important, as always, to never open strange attachments.
       Even if an e-mail appears to have been sent by a friend, be wary! Hackers can spoof people's names. Look for things like an oddly generic message, or nothing at all in the message body.
       If you don't open the infected attachment, you won't get the ransomware.
       However, infections do evolve with time. One trick scammers love is to buy infected online advertisements, and they can get away with it, thanks to lax monitoring at Google.
       Here are some preventive steps:
       - You probably already know about backing up your computer, but don't keep your backup connected to the computer all the time, Ransomware can affect it that way (as can lightning strikes).
       - Harden your computer against attacks. If you have a Windows 7 or newer computer, it's likely you already got the update patch automatically from Windows Update. If you don't know, It's a good idea to manually install it to make sure. Microsoft has also helpfully released special update patches for Windows XP and Vista computers, which will not have received any automatic fixes. That website link is https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/msrc/2017/05/12/customer-guidance-for-wannacrypt-attacks. The update links are toward the bottom.
       - Many anti-virus programs can also block ransomware (and other infections), with varying degrees of effectiveness. The built-in Windows Defender (still free, but needs to be downloaded and is called Microsoft Security Essentials on Windows 7) is decent, but the premium version of Malwarebytes (malwarebytes.com) is the best that I've come across.
       If you're not sure how to install updates or need help on any of the other items I mentioned, call a reputable computer repair service. As you might guess, my business, Techno Guy Computers, is one of them and I would be happy to help you.

(Posted 5/20/17; Opinion: Guest Columns)

       Travers Jordan owns and runs Techno Guy Computers. He has provided technical support for the Westside Pioneer since 2004.

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