You've probably seen the news today about the Montgomery County government being hit with ransomware. Local news has this article about it.
But what is ransomware?
Ransomware is a form of malicious software that locks up the files on your computer, encrypts them, and demands that you pay to get your files back. Wanna Decryptor, or WannaCry, is a form of ransomware that affects Microsoft’s Windows operating system. The variant that hit Montgomery County is known as the SamSam ransomware. When a system is infected, a pop up window appears, prompting you to pay to recover all your files within three to seven days, with a countdown timer on the left of the window. It adds that if you fail to pay within that time, the fee will be doubled, and if you don’t pay within seven days, you will lose the files forever. Payment is accepted only with Bitcoin.
How does it spread?
According to the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (USCRT), under the Department of Homeland Security, ransomware spreads easily when it encounters unpatched or outdated software. Experts say that WannaCry is spread by an internet worm -- software that spreads copies of itself by hacking into other computers on a network, rather than the usual case of prompting unsuspecting users to open attachments. It is believe that the cyber attack was carried out with the help of tools stolen from the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States.
Some forms of malware can lock the computer entirely, or set off a series of pop-ups that are nearly impossible to close, thereby hindering your work.
What can be done to prevent this?
The best way to protect your computer is to create regular backups of your files. The malware only affects files that exist in the computer. If you have created a thorough backup and your machine is infected with ransomware, you can reset your machine to begin on a clean slate, reinstall the software and restore your files from the backup. According to Microsoft’s Malware Protection Center, other precautions include regularly updating your anti-virus program; enabling pop-up blockers; updating all software periodically; ensure the smart screen (in Internet Explorer) is turned on, which helps identify reported phishing and malware websites; avoid opening attachments that may appear suspicious.
If you are not sure if you're protected, I offer services that can help you determine your risk. My ProActive Care Services can help prevent ransomware from getting into your system. Contact me to discuss your concerns and let me help you protect your files.
You’re probably familiar with Equifax. As one of the three major US credit bureaus, the company exerts an outsized influence on millions of lives, because their record of your credit score plays a big role in determining if or whether you can get loans, and what your terms will be.
Unfortunately, Equifax was hacked, and the data breach is massive in scope and scale, impacting nearly 150 million people.
In a company press release about the breach, Rick Smith, the Chairman and CEO of the company reported that they discovered an unauthorized access of their systems on July 29, and immediately contracted with a third-party forensics firm to lead the investigation.
That investigation is ongoing, but thus far, the company can say with confidence that some 209,000 credit card numbers were exposed, along with personally identifiable information for approximately 182,000 US consumers.
Mr. Smith also reported that limited information was exposed for British and Canadian residents, although exact numbers were not available for those countries.
In a video message to the public, Mr. Smith had this to say:
“This is clearly a disappointing event for our company, and one that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do. I apologize to consumers and our business customers for the concern and frustration this causes. We pride ourselves on being a leader in managing and protecting data, and we are conducting a thorough review of our overall security operations.”
As part of their overall response to the breach, the company has set up a website that consumers can visit to query whether they’ve been impacted. But unfortunately, the server is seeing such strong demand in the immediate wake of the breach that if you visit, you may simply get a “system unavailable” message until the surge of demand begins to die down.
In any case, this latest breach serves as a stark reminder that no company is truly safe from the world’s increasingly sophisticated hackers.
If you need any assistance with your computer or if you have become infected with a virus or have any computer question, don't hesitate to contact me.
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