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Ransomware, malware are evolving – what to do if you become a victim

Ransomware and malware are evolving, creating new threats. This means what worked last year may not work this year, so here is what you can do (besides panic) if you become a victim.

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New threats mean brushing up on new protections

Malware can be nasty for many reasons, the most obvious is that it can slow down your computer or make it vulnerable for other tools to infect your system.

At its worst it’s nothing more than a heavy spam tool, but at its best you end up with something a little closer to ransomware.

Ransomware – if you’re not already familiar – is a type of malware that holds your computer hostage. It restricts access to certain apps, system tools, or websites and then demands the user pay a fee (ransom) to have the malware removed.

For advanced users, ransomware is a nuisance and requires an hour or two – and special tools – to remove.

For casual users, ransomware can be downright horrifying. Especially, since some of the tactics used by these infections are intimidating.

For example, many forms of ransomware will lock you out of your computer, or the add/remove programs panel so that you cannot remove it the easy way. The most dangerous ransomware can encrypt your personal files – or hide them – so you cannot access the content until you pay the ransom.

Personal files affected can be anything from important business or tax documents to personal photos and videos.

As you’ve no doubt realized by now, ransomware is not something you want to encounter, but it happens – even to the most tech literate of folks. And it doesn’t help that it’s on the rise either.

There’s a lot you can do to prevent it, but in the event your computer is seized by ransomware, there are steps you can take to remove it, as well. If you do find yourself face to face with an infected computer, it’s important not to panic, and be sure to review the resources we have provided below.

How do computers get infected?

Because ransomware is a form of malware, it can infect computers in the same way.

  • Download: Most people think they are safe if they don’t download files or content often but that’s not necessarily true. One of the most common ways for malware and ransomware to get onto a computer is that it’s downloaded by one of the users. This can even be done unknowingly, after you click a malicious advertisement, link, or even interact with a pop-up.
  • Exploits: This type of infection is less common, but it does happen. Some malware can infect machines by getting past security vulnerabilities in apps, virus software, or the operating system. The most common form of exploit infection comes from web browsers and web applications such as Flash.
  • Email: With email infections, you still need to click on a link or download a file. That is why you should always be careful when opening emails – especially from people you don’t know. Regardless, hackers can embed an infected file or link in an email that attacks as soon as you interact with it.
  • Phishing: Phishing is when hackers create a web form or site that looks identical to an official one. You access the site by accident by following an email or web link and are tricked into submitting your login details and personal info. These types of sites can also be used to trick you into downloading ransomware after you let your guard down thinking they are safe to browse.

How to protect yourself and your computer

One the best ways to protect yourself from malware and ransomware is preventative maintenance. That is, you should be carrying out these tasks on a regular basis before something happens.

  1. Create Data Backups: Whether you backup your personal or business related content to a cloud account or another local drive matters little. Heck, if you have the opportunity do both. What matters is that you are making frequent backups, especially of your important documents. In the event your computer is infected by ransomware, you will likely lose some amount of data so it’s best to have everything backed up. This also protects you from the occasional hardware failure too, which is known to happen.
  2. Keep Everything Up-to-Date: You’ll want to keep all your applications, operating systems, security tools, and anything else you use up-to-date (especially your web browser). Not only does this take care of bugs and performance issues, but also security problems that developers patch out.
  3. Secure Your Computer: Use anti-virus and malware software to protect your computer from harm. As mentioned in the step above, always keep your security tools up-to-date, as well.
  4. Avoid Suspicious Links, Ads, and Attachments: Sometimes, you make a mistake and click on the wrong page element or open an attachment you didn’t mean to. It happens to the best of us. Still, you should always do what you can to avoid anything suspicious. Avoid emails with attachments from people you don’t know. Double check emails for phishing links even if it’s a company you trust. Avoid suspicious websites, especially ones that use pop-up ads. Most importantly, just use common sense to avoid bad areas of the internet.

Under no circumstances should you ever pay money to remove ransomware or malware. If you don’t know what to do, enlist help from a professional.

There is no guarantee the malware author will restore your computer, files, or apps even after you pay. They may even try to extort more money out of you if you do so.

What to do when you get infected

If your computer has been infected, do the following immediately:

  1. Disconnect your computer from the network or disable internet access. This will prevent the infection from spreading. It will also prevent the ransomware from making things worse in some cases.
  2. If you have a recent system restore point – from before the malware appeared, obviously – then give that a try. If you have recent backups of your data, then just format your operating system and conduct a clean reinstall of Windows. Many people choose not to do this, but it’s really the best – and safest – option.
  3. Boot into safe mode and run your anti-virus software to remove the infection. Most virus tools include an option to conduct a boot scan, which will remove infected content before booting into Windows. Use this option if it’s available.
  4. Download the EMSIsoft Emergency Kit scanner on another computer and move it to a portable flash drive. Important:Before using the tool on the infected computer, run it on a computer that has internet accessso it can update the database.
  5. If your files were encrypted or hidden by the ransomware – use this site to identify what type of malware you encountered. Once you identify the malware, you can find a decrypting tool to restore your files or locked data.

Are there any other tools I can use?

Alternate tools to fight off a computer infection include:

#FightRansomware

Megan Ray Nichols is an editorialist at The American Genius, and is a technical writer who's passionate about technology and the science. She also regularly writes at Smart Data Collective, IoT Times, and ReadWrite. Megan publishes easy to understand articles on her blog, Schooled By Science - subscribe today for weekly updates!

Tech News

New Apple Watch is awesome, but past watches could be just as good for cheaper

(TECH NEWS) The Apple Watch Series 6 is a ridiculous display of self-flattery—but that doesn’t mean people won’t line up to buy it in droves.

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Apple Watch being worn on wrist showing weather for Montreal.

The Apple Watch has been the subject of everything from speculation to ridicule during its relatively short tenure on this planet. While most have nothing but praise for the most recent iteration, that praise comes at a cost: The Apple Watch’s ghost of Christmas past.

Or, to put it more literally, the fact that the Apple Watch’s prior version and accompanying variations are too good—and, at this point, too comparatively cheap—to warrant buying the most recent (and expensive) option.

Sure, the Apple Watch Series 6 has a bevy of health features—a sensor that can take an ECG and a blood oxygen test, to name a couple—but the Series 5 has almost everything else that makes the Apple Watch Series 6 “notable.” According to Gear Patrol, even the Series 4 is comparable if you don’t mind forgoing the option to have the Apple Watch’s screen on all of the time.

More pressingly, Gear Patrol points out, is the availability of discount options from Apple. The Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE are, at this point, budget options that still do the job for smart watch enthusiasts.

Not to mention any Apple Watch can run updates can utilize Apple’s Fitness Plus subscription—another selling point that, despite its lucrative potential, doesn’t justify buying a $400 watch when a cheaper option is present.

It’s worth noting that Apple is no stranger to outdoing themselves retroactively. Every year, Apple’s “new” MacBook, iPhone, and iPad models are subjected to extensive benchmarking by every tech goatee around. And the conclusion is usually that buying a generation or two behind is fine—and, from a financial perspective, smart.

And yet, as the holidays roll around or the initial drop date of a new product arrives, Apple invariably goes through inventory like a tabby cat through unattended butter.

The Apple Watch is already a parody of itself, yet its immense popularity and subtle innovation has promoted it through several generations and a few spin-off iterations. And that’s not even including the massive Apple-specific watch band market that appears to have popped up as a result.

Say what you will about the Series 6; when the chips are on the table, my money’s on the consumers making the same decisions they always make.

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Tech News

Microsoft acquires powerful AI language processor GPT-3, to what end?

(TECH NEWS) This powerful AI language processor sounds surprisingly human, and Microsoft has acquired rights to the code. How much should we worry?

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Code on screen, powering AI technology

The newly-released GPT-3 is the most insane language model in the NLP (natural language processor) field of machine learning. Developed by OpenAI, GPT-3 can generate strikingly human-like text for a vast range of purposes like bots and advertising, to poetry and creative writing.

While GPT-3 is accessible to everyone, OpenAI has expressed concerns over using this AI tech for insidious purposes. For this reason, Microsoft’s new exclusive license on the GPT-3 language model may be a tad worrisome.

First of all, for those unfamiliar with the NPL field, software engineer, and Youtuber, Aaron Jack, provides a detailed overview of GPT-3’s capabilities and why everyone should be paying attention.

Microsoft’s deal with OpenAI should come as little surprise since OpenAI uses the Azure cloud platform to access enough information to train their models.

Microsoft chief technology officer Kevin Scott announced the deal on the company blog this week: “We see this as an incredible opportunity to expand our Azure-powered AI platform in a way that democratizes AI technology, enables new products, services and experiences, and increases the positive impact of AI at Scale,” said Scott.

“Our mission at Microsoft is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, so we want to make sure that this AI platform is available to everyone – researchers, entrepreneurs, hobbyists, businesses – to empower their ambitions to create something new and interesting.”

OpenAI has assured that Microsoft’s exclusive license does not affect the general public’s access to the GPT-3 model. The difference is Microsoft will be able to use the source code to combine with their products.

While OpenAI needs Azure to train these models, handing over the source code to another party is, to put it mildly, tricky. With the earlier GPT-2 model, OpenAI initially refused publishing the research out of fear it could be used to generate fake news and propaganda.

Though the company found there was no evidence to suggest the GPT-2 was utilized this way and later released the information, handing the key of the exponentially more powerful iteration to one company will undoubtedly hold ramifications in the tech world.

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Tech News

What is UI/UX? Take a little time to learn for free!

(TECH NEWS) For the all-time low price of—well, free—Invise gives you the option of learning a few basic UI and UX design techniques.

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Woman browsing web, made easy with UI/UX

There’s no denying the strong impact UI and UX design has on the success of a website, app, or service—and, thanks to some timely altruism, you can add basic design understanding to your résumé for free.

Invise is a self-described beginner’s guide to the UI/UX field, and while they do not purport to deliver expert knowledge or “paid courses”, the introduction overview alone is pretty hefty.

The best part—aside from the “free” aspect—is how simple it is to get a copy of the guide: You enter your email address on the Invise website, click the appropriate button, and the guide is yours after a quick email verification.

According to Invise, their beginner’s guide to UI and UX covers everything from color theory and typography to layout, research principles, and prototyping. They even include a segment on tools and resources to use for optimal UI/UX work so that you don’t have to take any risks on dicey software.

UI—short for “user interface”—and UX, or “user experience”, are two critical design aspects found in everything from websites to app and video game menus. As anyone who has ever picked up an outdated smartphone knows, a janky presentation of options or—worse yet—a lack of intuitive menus can break a user’s experience far faster than slow hardware.

Similarly, if you’re looking to retain customers who visit your website or blog, presenting their options to them in a jarring or unfamiliar way—or selecting colors that clash for your landing page—can be just as fatal as not having a website to begin with.

The overarching problem, then, becomes one of cost. Hiring a design expert is expensive and can be time-consuming, so Invise is a welcome alternative—and, as a bonus, you don’t have to dictate your company’s vision to a stranger and hope that they “get it” if you’re doing your own design work.

2020 probably isn’t the year to break the bank on design choices, but the importance of UI and UX in your business can’t be overstated. If you have time to read up on some design basics and a small budget for a few of the bare-bones tools, you can take a relatively educated shot at putting together a modern, desirable interface.

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