Living With Technology / The ransomware dilemma
For years, computers have had problems with viruses and other software that does bad things, generally called “malware.”
Most recently, a lot of attention has been given to “ransomware” which encrypts files on your computer and requires you to pay a fee to unlock the files.
The most recent public outcry has been over a ransomware called WannaCry.
Accurate numbers are difficult to know, but WannaCry has been reported in most countries around the world and has apparently had negative impacts on large institutions such as hospitals.
While WannaCry affects only Windows computers, Microsoft already issued a fix to this known vulnerability months ago. If a user’s auto-update feature was enabled, their computer should have been protected from WannaCry.
However, there are hundreds of thousands of computers around the world that do not automatically receive updates from Microsoft. These are typically computers running Windows XP, a version of Windows that is no longer supported. Another reported situation is that unlicensed versions of Windows may not be receiving updates from Microsoft.
Hopefully for all people who read this story, neither of those above situations is the case.
Even if you don’t get hit with WannaCry, how do you protect yourself from ransomware? There are three main ways to do so:
First, ensure you have a backup of your hard drive. I personally prefer cloud backups because I don’t have to manage an extra hard drive in my home. Plus an in home backup drive can be stolen, become burnt or be damaged if my home has a fire, is flooded or experiences some other disaster.
Second, ensure you have automatic updates enabled on your computer. This ensures that all of the known fixes will be on your computer as soon as they’re released to the public.
Third, help prevent malware from getting on your computer in the first place. When you received unexpected emails from people, especially ones where they’re trying to send you money or an invoice or are wanting you to log into their Web site, be very wary and don’t click on a link or attachment.
In each of these cases, it’s good to have someone knowledgeable about computers that you can reach out to and ask questions about what you should do. Some of the scams are easy to spot, while many of them are becoming so sophisticated that they’re hard for the professionals to identify. Luckily, between security software (Norton, McAfee, Microsoft and others), they catch the bulk of malware.
Mark Mathias is a 35+ year information technology executive and a resident of Westport, Connecticut. His columns can be read on the Internet at http://blog.mathias.org. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.