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November 2013


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I mentioned in my last tip (Computer Myths) that viruses will seldom wipe out your data. There is, however, a new class of malware that will encrypt your files and then demand money to get them unencrypted. The big one out now is called CryptoLocker. (See CryptoPrevent at http://www.foolishit.com/vb6-projects/cryptoprevent/ which claims to inoculate your computer against malware similar to CryptoLocker.) As always, be very careful with email attachments & follow safe browsing practices. If you pay the ransom, you might get your data back.  Remember that you’re dealing with criminals. The new twist is that if you delay paying the ransom, the price goes up – a lot. A good data backup (before the fact) is really the only way to get your data back for sure.

“But I have a backup.”
These viruses do not limit themselves to files on your primary hard drive. They will encrypt files on external (e.g. backup) hard drives as well. They also attack shared network storage and some types of cloud storage. If you happen to run a backup after infection (or if the backup runs automatically), then your backup will now include encrypted versions of your files. It’s pretty nasty. Anyway, it’s best to disconnect any backup drive when you’re not backing up. Similarly, staggered backups (i.e. keeping multiple past versions of files) is always good idea.

“Why don’t they find these scum and lock them up?”
As is usually the case with these guys, they operate internationally in places where US law doesn’t reach. They use money-laundering schemes so that tracking the money trail becomes difficult, if not impossible. Security agencies tell people not to pay. It’s a big business. They want your money. When they get it, they grow bigger, stronger, and more confident. They’ll go after others. You can bet that they’ll try to get more from you too. Repeat business is great.

“Can’t I get this virus off my computer.”
The ransomware software can usually be gotten rid of, but the damage will already have been done. Your files will have been replaced with encrypted versions. Even the ransomware software can only do the decryption if it has access to the encryption key – which only the criminals have. The only answer is to not be infected to begin with, or to have good backups of everything that you’d rather not lose.

“Is it really possible that my data is just gone – just like that?”
Not only with ransomware, but with data loss in general (e.g. hard drive crash, theft, etc.), the answer, unfortunately, is yes.

The Rise of the Tablets

I have yet to hear from somebody that doesn’t like their tablet computer. By the same token, I haven’t heard from anyone that it’s a good replacement for their computer. Tablets fill an important capability niche. They tend to be compact, portable, fast (for what they do), easy to use, and feature high-definition displays. For reading, audio, video, the web, email (reading it, anyway), they provide a lot in a small package. Their prices are significantly less than those of mainstream laptops. On the flip side, I’ve heard them described as nothing more than smart phones with big screens. Watching somebody taking a photo with a tablet is always good for a laugh.

Tablets are prized for their mobility. As such, there’s a constant tug-of-war between screen-size, capability, and battery life on one side – with the demand for lighter weight, smaller size, and more sturdiness on the other – all mediated by price and the state of technology. What could well be the best-of-both-worlds solution for one may be the worst-of-both-worlds for another. As a new and growing market - with lots of tech companies competing, there’s a real lack of standards, making it difficult for many people to decide what to get, and how to use it once they do.

Many are surprised to learn that you can’t plug in a keyboard, mouse, printer, network cable (wireless networks only), USB devices, etc. and then come to appreciate only later how limiting this can be. How to download files and applications usually requires some research, experimentation, and/or technical assistance. Many are puzzled by the same questions that arise in Windows 8 (small wonder): how do I turn it off?, how do I switch between applications?, how do I run two applications side-by-side?, how do I view a photo?

Still, it’s hard not to be amazed by these small wonders. It’s easy to see their appeal for use on airplanes, on vacation, waiting in line, or when it’s just too hard to get up off the couch. Just be careful not to drop them or splash them.

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