The bad guys are on the move

In the last few weeks, I’ve heard of a new form of ransomware called Zepto as well as an increase in spoofed emails. As far as the emails go, I get them daily. Sometimes they even come from me! Let’s tackle these subjects separately and include a reminder about staying safe.

Andrew Clarke

Ransomware

What is ransomware? Ransomware refers to the act of a hacker encrypting all the data on your computer or company network and holding it for ransom. You are given instructions on where and how to send the ransom in exchange for the key to unlock your data. This practice continues because there are those who pay, including some police departments. If no one paid, the bad guys would have to find another way to extort money from their victims.

While there are some so-called computer professionals who advocate paying the ransom, my answer is to just say no. Do not negotiate with terrorists, and that’s what these people are. Your computer has no real value, but your data does. They know this. The correct answer is to take precautions by backing up regularly and not opening suspicious email attachments. If you have adequate backups, you can recover most of your data without giving in to extortion. How often you backup is up to your comfort level. How much data can you afford to lose? Backups also protect you against hard drive failures, fire, theft and accidental deletions, so there are plenty of reasons they are a good idea. You should have multiple backups, and one should be off-site.

In addition to having a good backup system, you need to be suspicious of any email attachment. Remember that these attacks can appear to come from people you know as well as people you don’t know, and the bad guys are tricky. Social engineering is the number one way they gain access to your computer. You should not open any attachment you are not expecting.

If you become infected, you need to react quickly. Shut down your computer immediately, physically disconnect from any network you are connected to, and contact your network administrator or IT support immediately. Remember that the infection can spread to other computers on the network if it is not stopped. Share this information with everyone you know, especially the elderly and those who might be more susceptible to falling for this sort of scam.

Spoofed emails

A spoofed email is an email you receive that appears to come from someone you know when it actually doesn’t. Think of it like the return address on a piece of snail mail (aka old fashioned letter). In the upper left-hand corner, you put your return address. In reality, you can put any address there you want. Email is the same way. Even the least sophisticated hacker knows how to make the email look like it comes from a friend, relative or co-worker. They use this tactic to increase the chance of you opening the email and clicking on the attachment. That’s why you need to be cautious even if you think you know who the email is from.

Remember …

  • Be cautious when dealing with email. Do not open attachments you are not expecting.
  • Just because the email appears to come from a known source does not make it so.
  • If you’re infected, react quickly.
  • Share this information with everyone you know.
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