Today's Technology: The Cryptovirus and Ransomware

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If you’re anything like 99.3297 percent of driven professionals out there, you can function off of seven cups of coffee, a Mountain Dew, Honey Bun and Slim Jim for 14 hours at a time if need be. (All numbers are rough guesstimates. Food items are based on extensive research and aren’t part of a balanced diet.)

Traditionally, successful business owners and senior management hold themselves to a superior standard of productivity and self-reliance. You’re the ones who take on the responsibility of fixing the problems that others cannot or did not want to mess with. When you wake up in the morning, your to-do list is the first thing that vies for your attention. After you’ve let everyone else head home to their families, you’re left to finish what didn’t get done during regular work hours.

Hopefully, you’re not burning the midnight oil too often. But when you do, your body can retaliate. Before too long, you’re under the weather but over committed. The junk food and caffeine diet didn’t help your body protect itself from impending virus attacks, either.

Just like viruses take advantage of the cells in your body when it’s had one too many cups of coffee and hardly any sleep, computer viruses can easily infiltrate their way into unsuspecting computer systems. Again, like viruses in the human body, most computer viruses are self-propagating. They can wreak havoc on important files and information in seconds. For this reason, it’s important to stay updated on today’s technology so you can know how to best protect your systems from potential invaders.

A relatively new type of malware has been in the news lately. It’s called cryptovirus. In the event you’re just now hearing about cryptovirus or wondering what it does and how to protect yourself from it and similar viruses, you’ve come to the right place.

“The claim to fame (if you could call it that) of the cryptovirus is its ability to encrypt the information on your computer into something that’s useless to you without the password to unlock it,” said vice president of development for Integrated Services, Inc. Wayne Allen. “If the virus is a ransomware/cryptovirus combination, it will demand you pay money to have the files unencrypted. However, after the creators of the virus get your money, they usually don’t fix the files.”

Individuals and smaller businesses are prime targets for this type of virus attack, reported senior software engineer for Core Security, Jonathan Rudolph, because they may not have great backup and restore programs or information technology (IT) specialists at their immediate disposal.

Take small steps to protect your computers, and it could save you from an unwarranted expense and headache. While computer viruses can be transmitted through things like CDs and USB thumb drives, the most common way to get a computer virus (including cryptovirus) is through email attachments. Follow a few of Allen’s dos and don’ts for email safety to help keep your computer safe:

1.            Do watch out for strange emails from people you know. The first thing a virus does is go through someone’s address book who’s been infected and then send emails out to those addresses.

2.            Don’t click on attachments or links to websites from places you don’t know or senders you don’t recognize. Most of the time, infected attachments may look somewhat normal but the subject matter is obscure. If you hold your mouse over a link it will tell you where it is going to go before you click on it.

3.            Do look for things that appear unusually urgent. If you have to take action right now for things to be OK, it should be a red flag. Just like when you purchase something, if the price is only good for right now, you probably shouldn’t buy it.

 

After reading the above list you may be thinking, “Well of course, I would never do any of those.” While you normally may not, the creators of viruses often use a tactic called social engineering that appeals to social norms and expectations hoping to guide you into taking actions that you normally wouldn’t.

“A good example would be getting a letter from the FBI or IRS. Normally, after getting a letter like that your heart rate would go up, you might not read it quite as carefully and you would want to take care of it right away,” Allen said. “Now, let’s say you get a similar, fake email, claiming to be from one of those agencies. The creators of the virus are hoping to take advantage of your normal human response to get you to click on the attached file.”

In addition to being a prudent computer user, you should install anti-virus and anti-malware software on your system. Be careful a hacker isn’t using that sneaky social engineering scheme on you.

“Attackers have been known to use fear that you already have combined with deception or lack of information to infiltrate your computer. When you run a program thinking you’re installing security software, you’re actually unwittingly granting hackers permission to begin encrypting files,” Rudolph said.

Installing a reputable virus protection program is the first step. Keeping it updated is the second.

“It costs money to keep these things up to date, but they act as insurance. Just like you wouldn’t drive a car without insurance, it’s silly to be on the Internet without updated software,” Allen said.

Unfortunately, computer hackers stay hard at work and viruses change everyday. Software engineers work diligently to create new ways to protect technology. If your computer system should fall victim to the cryptovirus or similar types of ransomware, there are a few steps you can take.

“A great first step (for this and many other reasons) is to have a backup and restore system that you know you can trust. Fortunately, the technology for this is getting better and better. This way, if someone encrypts your files, you can use your backups,” Rudolph said. “If you think you may have a compromised computer, you can also take it to an IT professional and see what they can do to help you recover the files.”

Advocating for your health has become a buzz term in today’s medical community. When it comes to doctors’ offices, those in the medical community recommend being your own advocate, doing your research and getting a second opinion. Do the same thing when it comes to your computer’s health. Learn about the computer system you own and the software you use. Different operating systems have shown to be susceptible to different things. While you may think your system is completely safe, in the volatile cyber world we now live in, you can never be too careful.

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