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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

Nate app: $38M Series A fintech startup you should keep an eye on

(TECHNOLOGY) The nate app combines the best of social media and shopping into one platform, streamlining the check-out process for hassle-free purchases.

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African American woman holding iPhone scrolling through the Nate App homepage.

No one likes to hop around from store to store searching aimlessly in aisles for all of their necessary items. That’s why the big guys win, like Walmart, Amazon, and Target – they have all you need in one swoop! Users choosing to shop online feel the same way. Having to reenter payment, billing, and shipping information over and over again becomes a pain – or worse, a deterrent to purchase, resulting in cart abandonment- that’s where the nate app comes in.

Nate combines the best of social media and shopping into one platform.

The well-funded, series A startup utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) to complete purchases seamlessly without all of the fluff a user discovers when checking out at various online retailers. Once a user inputs shipping and payment information into the app during sign-up, nate keeps the data on file for subsequent purchases, virtually eliminating the time-consuming check out process. If a user sees a product they like from an online merchant, they simply have to “share” the item to the nate app, and it will take care of the rest.

Unicorner’s startup analysis states, “In essence, nate is bringing the benefits of shopping on a centralized platform like Amazon to a decentralized shopping ecosystem.”

Brown leather wallet with tip of credit card sticking out next to a iPhone showing a shoe purchase on the Nate App.

With a nod to Pinterest and LikeToKnowIt, the platform allows for users to create visual product lists on a personal account that can be shared with followers. If a follower likes an item they see, they can purchase the item in-app in just a click or two.

In contrast to the big wigs of the social media world, the nate app hopes that users will purchase based on true inspiration and not a targeted algorithm suggesting what they should buy. Instead, the app runs its business model on a $1 fee for each transaction which covers the ability to issue virtual cards, protect online privacy, and apply available discounts.

The nate app simplifies gift giving as well. Users are able to select a gift item and enter the recipients phone number – if the recipient is a nate app user, it can be shipped directly – otherwise, they will receive a text asking them where to send their new gift! This makes it a perfect choice for the upcoming holidays (yes, 2021 is almost over…whew).

To stay up to date on everything nate, download it now on the App Store.

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Facebook deletes developer over ironic browser extension invention

(TECHNOLOGY) Think a muted week for a nipple shadow is bad? Facebook just permabanned this inventor for…helping others to use the platform less.

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African American hand holding iphone on Facebook's login page.

It must be true that corporations are people because Facebook is pulling some seriously petulant moves.

In a stunt that goes beyond 24hr bans for harmless hyperbole, and chopping away at organic reach (still bitter from my stint in social media management), Facebook straight up permanently banned one of their users for the high crime of…aiming to get people to use the platform a little less.

Developer Louis Barclay came up with Unfollow Everything, an extension that basically instantly deleted your feed without having you unfriend anyone or unlike anything. Rather than have users manually go through and opt out of seeing posts, they’d now opt IN to keeping who they wanted front and center.

In his own words on Slate: “I still remember the feeling of unfollowing everything for the first time. It was near-miraculous. I had lost nothing, since I could still see my favorite friends and groups by going to them directly. But I had gained a staggering amount of control. I was no longer tempted to scroll down an infinite feed of content. The time I spent on Facebook decreased dramatically. Overnight, my Facebook addiction became manageable.”

Since more time spent on Facebook means more ads that you’re exposed to, means more you spend, the add-on started slowly making headway. I myself pretend to be a ranch owner to keep ads as irrelevant to me as possible (though my new addiction to hoof trimming videos is all too real), and Unfollow Everything probably would have been a great find for me if it hadn’t been killed by a cease and desist.

Law firm Perkins Coie, representing the internet giant, let Barclay know in their notice that Unfollow Everything violated the site’s rules on automated collection of user content, and was muscling in on Facebook trademarked IP.

They also added, in what I can only assume was a grade-school narc voice, that the add-on was “encouraging others to break Facebook’s rules.”

Barclay, not having the resources to fight a company with the finances of a small country, promptly ceased and desisted. Practical.

Officially speaking, Facebook might have actually have some ground to stand on vis-à-vis its Terms Of Service. The letter and legal team may have been warranted, not that we’ll ever truly know, since who’s taking Facebook to court? But then they followed up with a ‘neener neener’ deletion of Barclay’s 15 year old account – which was still very much in use.

Look, Facebook is the only way I connect with some of my friends. I don’t take enough pictures to make full use of Instagram, I fully hate Twitter, my Tumblr is inundated with R-rated fanfiction, and any other social media platform I’m happy to admit I’m too haggish and calcified to learn to use. So a complete WIPE of everything there with no notice would be pretty devastating to me. I can only imagine how Barclay felt.

And in light of the fact that the browser extension wasn’t hurting anyone, taking money, or spewing hateful rhetoric, there’s really only one thing to say about Facebook’s actions…they’re petty.

Sure, they may have the legal right to do what they did. It’s just that when you notice every fifth post is an unvetted advertisement, their high ground starts to sink a little. I mean nothing says ‘We’re being totally responsible with user information’ like the number of add ons and user tactics popping up to avoid seeing the unnecessary. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Facebook put up a fight against losing ad traffic.

We all know all those stores with amazing deals aren’t actually going out of business, or even using their own photos right? Right?

Barclay added in his article, “Facebook’s behavior isn’t just anti-competitive; it’s anti-consumer. We are being locked into platforms by virtue of their undeniable usefulness, and then prevented from making legitimate choices over how we use them—not just through the squashing of tools like Unfollow Everything, but through the highly manipulative designs and features platforms adopt in the first place. The loser here is the user, and the cost is counted in billions of wasted hours spent on Facebook.”

Agreed, Mr. Barclay.

Now I’m off to refresh my feed. Again.

 

Graffiti wall with image of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, with the saying "You've been Zucked."

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Tech News

Glowbom: Create a website, using just your voice

(TECH NEWS) Talk about futuristic! This app allows you to create quizzes, surveys, an online store, and even a website in minutes–without typing.

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Colleagues looking at Glowbom website homepage

In the past, we’ve discussed things like simplified coding and no-code app creation. Now, a San Francisco startup has taken the process a step further with no-type app creation.

Glowbom is a voice app that allows you to dictate steps to an AI – from adding information all the way to exporting code–in order to create a simple app, survey, or game. While the built-in options for now are limited to four simple categories, the power of the app itself is impressive: By asking the Glowbom AI to complete tasks, one is able to dictate an entire (if small) program.

It’s an impressive idea, and an even more impressive product. Glowbom founder and CEO Jacob Ilin showcases the power of Glowbom in a short demonstration video, and while he only uses it to create a simple survey, the entire process–up to and including the exportation of the API–is accomplished via voice commands.

Furthermore, Glowbom appears to process natural inputs–such as phrases like “Let’s get started”–in the context of an actual command rather than the colloquial disconnect one tends to expect in AI. This means that users won’t need to read a 700-page manual on phrases and buzzwords to use before jumping on board–something the Glowbom user base was probably hoping to avoid anyway.

As of now, the options one can use Glowbom to create include a quiz, a survey, an online store, and a website. It seems reasonable to expect that, as support for the app grows, those categories will expand to comprise a larger library.

Glowbom certainly opens a few doors for people looking to take their businesses or ideas from an offline medium into the digital marketplace. As coding becomes less centralized in computer language and more contingent on processes such as this, we can expect to see more products from folks who may have missed the coding boat.

Perhaps more importantly, Glowbom and products like it make coding more accessible to a wider base of disabled users, thus taking a notable step toward evening the playing field for a marginalized demographic. It’s not true equality, but it’s a start.

This story was first published here in October 2020.

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