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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

Quickly learn the basics of UX and UI (for free!)

(TECHNOLOGY) 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.

It may not be the best 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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How to safeguard your small company’s data without distrusting staff

(TECHNOLOGY) Even a tiny company has valuable data that can be stolen from inside – without adopting a policy of distrust, you can take preventative action

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data theft

Data breaches are scarily common in today’s digital world, and even gargantuan businesses can easily be brought to their knees should a wayward phishing attempt (or a disgruntled former employee) succeed in making off with valuable information.

While your small business probably doesn’t have all of the same calibre of worries as your more monolithic counterparts, don’t make the mistake of thinking that your data can’t be stolen to devastating effect, even if you think the data you have is irrelevant and not worthy of being stolen (you’re wrong).

Cloud storage and increased collaborative tool use means that things like sensitive documents and files are at increased risk of theft. Small businesses are especially susceptible to this due to a lower likelihood of advanced security usage, so it pays to know what kinds of things you might be at risk of losing.

According to MUO, employees are most likely to steal collaborative documents, consumer databases, and any resources devoted to research and development.

Safeguarding these items can be tricky due to their relatively high-traffic use, so a preventive strategy is your best defense.

It should be noted that trust in your employees is crucial, and treating them like they’re poised to steal from you at any moment is not a particularly effective management strategy.

However, it’s important to be aware of the following reasons – and possible preventive measures – for employee theft of data.

Firstly, corporate espionage (as dramatic as it sounds) is still something you have to worry about as a small business owner. It isn’t uncommon for competitors to bribe (or even simply persuade) current employees to share data, even if your competitors are relatively small themselves.

Your employees should know that data is sacred (and confidential), but employing things like intrusion systems and holding trainings for recognition of espionage can help prevent this problem.

Those competitors might also try to snag some of your employees, and not just for their work ethic. Employees may save their own copies of documents that they think will be helpful in their new workspace; in doing so, they can unwittingly aid your competitor with much more than their skillset. Again, reminding your employees that all work documents are both confidential and property of your brand can cut down on accidental data theft in this category.

Non-Compete agreements and NDAs can also prevent this kind of theft, intentional or otherwise; if an employee chooses to leave your business, making sure they are aware of their contractual obligations is key. Perhaps the worst competitor you can have is a former employee who launches their own business in your field, though, and this is a situation in which data theft can be intellectual. Once again, Non-Competes and NDAs are helpful in mitigating damage in this context.

Finally, angry employees can find themselves doing a myriad of dumb (and harmful) things, up to and including data theft.

As mentioned earlier, early prevention is the best way to keep your data on your servers and out of your departing employees’ hands. Restricting employee access to files and folders can limit the number of possible breaches, and the aforementioned Non-Compete and Nondisclosure agreements are absolutely crucial in any business that deals in data–just make sure you’re discussing the terms of those agreements with employees as they come and go.

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Twitter bid on hold, Tesla stock plummets: What’s next for Musk?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) The surprising bid of $44B coming in for Twitter from none other than Elon Musk is now on hold and Tesla stock is down. Is Musk in hot water?

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elon musk offers to buy twitter

In the largest corporate privatization deal in U.S. history, Twitter has accepted Elon Musk’s offer to buy 100% of Twitter for 44 billion.

Musk plans to privatize the company and do away with ads, a nearly 5-billion-dollar revenue source for Twitter, which accounts for 90% of their total income. Musk’s plan to do away with ads was nothing short of strategic. Musk is a free speech absolutist – or someone who believes that free speech should be unrestricted at all costs.

Advertisers are the main reason speech is restricted on social media platforms. For social media giants like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter who rely on advertisers buying space on their platforms, as well as sponsored content, to make most of their profits eliminating this revenue stream is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Without these restrictions or community guidelines, advertisers would not advertise on social media, and the sites could not generate much of their revenue.

But, when your pockets run as deep as Musk’s, I suppose revenue doesn’t particularly matter.

Some changes Musk plans on making are as follows: He claims, that despite the lack of advertisements, he will quintuple Twitter revenue by 2028. He plans on doing this while cutting Twitter’s reliance on ads to less than 50% of the total revenue. He also plans on growing the platform’s user base. He claims by 2025 there will be 69 million users on Twitter (however, considering 69 is his favorite number I’m not sure if this is accurate or another one of his famous trolling stunts). He also plans on offering a paid service, Twitter Blue, which will allow users to customize their Twitter experience for only $3 a month.

However, advertising is not the only hurdle to free speech on a social media platform.

Now Musk will face a barrage of questions and restrictions from government watchdogs, regulators, and activists. Twitter could even end up being banned in other countries if Musk attempts to skirt regulations. Musk wants to strip back content moderation rules and stop the censorship of new organizations; he has also not answered questions about how he plans to go about this, only stating that he’d only allow free speech that “matches the law”.

However, several European countries are changing their laws. New laws in the United Kingdom and The European Union (which comprises 27 European countries). The EU, for example, has enacted the Digital Services Act and The Digital Markets Act which aims to create a safer digital space, while protecting the rights of users and leveling the playing field for businesses. These acts extend to social media. The acts, in part, heavily fine companies that refuse to curtail illegal content on their platforms. However, as of May 9th, 2022, EU Industry Chief, Thierry Brighton, met with Elon Musk in Texas and they have reached an agreement regarding free speech and The Digital Services Act. Yet, the pair has not gone into detail about what exactly their agreement entails. When asked, Musk simply stated that it “totally aligned with his thinking”.

Musk may have circumvented the largest spanning cyber laws, but that does not mean he’s out of the woods regarding governmental regulation of Twitter around the world.

Now, the decision for Musk to purchase Twitter, and go public was a polarizing one and was met with mixed reactions. People did not hold back, and many roasted Musk for his decisions.

Some of my favorite reaction tweets are:

Elon Musk Twitter Tweet

Okay, but they make a good point. He’s been heralded as a “Real-life Tony Stark” and there’s nothing technically stopping him from being Iron Man.

Elon Musk Twitter Tweet

Live your dreams I guess, Elon.

Disgruntled Tweet about Musk Bid.

Disgruntled Tweet about Musk Bid.

Sure some people are disgruntled by the whole ordeal, but there’s really not a way to boycott this. In fact, the user base is only projected to grow for Twitter, with Elon at the helm.

Elon Musk Meme

And, in true Musk fashion he trolled Twitter users, critics and fans by tweeting a series of Tweets detailing which companies he was going to buy next.

Elon Musk Twitter Tweet

Musk then said would buy America’s most popular fast-food chain, and fix the most common complaint. I have to admit, I kind of want him to follow through on this one.

First, he threatened to buy Coca-Cola and put the cocaine back in, referring to the inception of the popular soft drink, when it first contained cocaine.

Elon Musk Twitter Tweet

Lastly, the new Twitter CEO threatened to shut down the entire platform altogether, so that all the users go outside.

Elon Musk Twitter Tweet

UPDATE:

As of Friday the 13th (spooky), Musk announced his Twitter bid of 44 billion dollars is currently on hold.

He claims he still plans on following through with the acquisition, and he will owe Twitter a one-billion-dollar breakup fee if he does not follow through. However, if he can afford to spend 44 billion on a social media website, I have to assume one billion dollars isn’t much of a deterrent for him. The bid could be on hold for multiple reasons.

He could be trying to negotiate a better price for Twitter, the deal could be falling apart or he could simply be walking away. One issue is that he was going to borrow against his smart car company, Tesla, but Tesla stock has been plummeting as of late. A part of me wonders if this is some kind of bizarre stunt in order to get media coverage and attention prior to unveiling a new concept at either Tesla or SpaceX. After the frenzy the news of Musk purchasing Twitter has caused, the deal may not even go through, and once again, the future of Twitter remains uncertain.

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