I have a Mac. I thought I was safe. I wanted to see Smokey the orphaned lamb. I clicked the link in my newsreader.
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The next thing I knew a horn was blaring and a woman’s voice was telling me that my computer had a virus and I needed to call a number NOW to get rid of it. My screen filled with pop-up windows. The horn kept blaring and the woman’s voice became more insistent. When I tried to close my browser, more pop-up windows appeared instead.
I handled it the best way I knew how. I screamed, “These things shouldn’t be happening to me!” and clicked randomly and wildly. (It is at this point I feel I should inform you that I have a degree in Information Systems.) My husband, who has a cooler head, advised me to disconnect from the Internet, close my browser, and reboot. That worked.
As it turns out, having a Mac did protect me to an extent, but I was not quite as bulletproof as I believed. I clicked on a legitimate link, but it appears that I was dealing with a browser redirect issue which can have numerous causes. I was redirected to a site that attempted to install the Tech Support Scam pop-up adware infection into my browser. If I had a PC, I would have continued to see the pop-up message over and over again until I had finally found some way to remove it. The pop-up message was trying to get me to buy a useless piece of virus removal software when it was the software itself, of course, was the actual virus. I find that particularly evil and twisted.
However, even more evil and twisted is something we all need to be aware of and guard against, particularly if you have files that you cannot afford to lose on your computer: Ransomware.
Ransomware is also a form of malware, but it’s especially malicious. One day, you turn on your computer and find a message that all of your files have been encrypted and if you want the decryption key, you’ll need to pay a ransom, often in bitcoins. The price can be anywhere from $500 on up. There’s no way to decrypt your files; if you want your files back, you really and truly must pay.
However, even if you pay the ransom, you still might not get your files back. Many of the companies affected by the WannaCry virus of 2017 never received a decryption code even after they paid the ransom.
And if you think this is a problem that only big companies need to worry about; well, unfortunately, you’re wrong. Alina Simone’s story of how her mom got hacked at the New York Times would be funny if it wasn’t heartbreaking and disturbing: her mom finally decides to pay, using the handy guide to paying in Bitcoin her criminals have provided but due to fluctuation in Bitcoin valuation her payment is not enough so her daughter tries to add money using the one Bitcoin ATM in Brooklyn, but it’s broken! It all ends happily though after her Mom pays out a ton of money. Hooray!
So how can you protect yourself? Here are some helpful tips you can follow to protect your computer (both PC and Macs) from malicious attacks.
How to Protect Your Computer From Malicious Attacks
- Back up your files! That won’t stop an attack but it will help you recover from one with minimum damage. External 2TB hard drives are under $100 on Amazon and tiny now. Definitely get one and use the software included to schedule regular backups.
- Detach your backup drive from your computer when you’re not actively backing up your files. That minimizes the risk of your backup drive becoming infected or encrypted.
- If you have files that you really, really care about, consider getting a Dropbox account or using Google Drive storage and copying important files there in addition to your external hard drive. I used to use Dropbox exclusively but since Apple introduced the ability to store important documents in the cloud automatically, I’ve switched to Apple for my files and I automatically back up my photos to Google Drive.
- If you have a PC, get a reputable virus checker and use it. I used to use AVG products and I paid for the full suite, but I’m not qualified to tell you what to get. If you have wisdom to share in this regard, please let us know in the comments. A good resource for Mac security information is The Safe Mac.
- If you get an email that seems a bit off, check the email address it came from. I recently got an email from Apple asking me to verify my account. Hmmm, why would I need to do that? A quick check of the email address revealed the truth: this email wasn’t from Apple at all. If your email program doesn’t show the email address automatically, there is usually a tiny arrow you can click on to see the actual email address.
- Be careful about what you click on, including warnings that say “Click on me to fix your problem”, unfortunately. You can typically right click on a link and see where it will take you. If it doesn’t look right – don’t click it!
- If you think bad things are happening disconnect from the Internet immediately. If you’re connected with an Ethernet cable, pull it out. If you’re connected wirelessly, and you have a PC laptop, you have a wireless switch somewhere that can easily switch off. The easiest way to find it is to google that model of your laptop plus the phrase “wireless switch”. Do that now!
- And lastly, if it happens, don’t beat yourself up if it happens to you. You’ll live. It can happen to just anybody.
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