Help! My computer has been hijacked

Have you got a few minutes to talk about security? Computer Security that is.

I hope you have as it’s an important subject that could cost you a lot should you ignore it.

I want to talk to you about two aspects of email and online security that are most prevalent, namely Ransomware and Phishing.

Now, hang on in there. I’m not going to get too technical. I’ll explain what these two terms are, how you spot them and what to do about them.

RANSOMWARE – in short is a virus (or “malware” to be more accurate) that hijacks your computer to the point of that you can’t use it until you pay “a fine” to a fictitious authority.

There are a few varieties of this malicious code, some are relatively easy to delete but others are virtually impossible and require deletion of ALL of your data and reloading of your whole system. Nasty!

Unfortunately you might not notice you’re a victim of Ransomware until it’s too late when you’ll be faced with a screen that looks something like this:

ransomware metropolitan

Or if you’re really unlucky, this:

cryptolocker ransomware

If you get the first image you’ll “probably” be OK. Running a few malware removal tools should get you up and running within a few hours.

The second image however indicates that you have a strain of Ransomware called Cryptolocker. That’s a particular nasty one and unless you pay the ransom to the thieves you’re best advised to wipe your hard drive and start again!

PHISHING – We’re talking emails here, ones that are disguised to look like they’re from your bank, your doctor or a friend etc. They will ordinarily have an attachment that, if opened, will run malicious code – most likely these days to be Ransomware so the result would be as above.

Phishing emails used to be easy to spot; poor grammar, your name was misspelled or poorly formatted. Nowadays the quality of phishing emails is a lot better and as a result a lot harder to spot but a little common sense goes a long way. Would Aunty Betty REALLY send you an attached photo saying, “Gee, you just gotta look at this!”? If in doubt, ring Betty to find out.

Banks rarely send emails and even when they do NEVER click a link from within the email. Go to your browser, log in using your regular method and check out the authenticity of their message. The same advice goes for most emails from companies. DON’T click the links within the email. Visit the site via your bookmarks or known, reputable links in your browser – you’re much less likely to fall foul of these scams if you follow this advice.

“I’M OK though, I use an iPad”

The days when Apple devices were not affected are no more. Whilst it’s true that they are less susceptible to viruses and malware they are no longer immune. It’s the same for phones too, whether Apple or Android.

What Can You Do?

Use common sense but then I’m aware of the phrase, common sense isn’t always common practice.

So, firstly do the stuff you know you should do but maybe haven’t. Decent backups of all your data, emails, address books is an absolute must. The heartache of losing everything off your hard drive should you have to do a full reinstall is not something I’d wish you to experience.

Be smart with your online activity. Most reputable sites are OK but if you’ve found yourself down a rabbit hole, searching for something then be careful where you visit. The further you stray off the beaten track of regular websites, the more likely it is you’ll fall victim to a compromised site.

If an unfamiliar pop up message appears while you’re browsing saying you need to scan your PC or offers a way to speed it up, close your browser immediately.

Follow the advice I gave earlier about not following links in emails.

Have decent quality virus protection on your computers. I have long recommended Avast and will continue to do so. Avast is also the A/V I use on my Android phone.

And continuing with phones – be very wary of apps direct from websites. Stick to iTunes or Google Play and even then make sure you go for the apps that have lots of decent feedback. This advice obviously applies to tablets as well.

Facebook and Twitter are awash with folk sharing links – be smart and be wary. Also, most compromised Facebook accounts are caused by the user allowing a new game, quiz or survey access to their data. I’ll leave you to decide how best to cope with that!

The above advice is not meant to scare you, I’d actually hope it will serve to make you feel more secure when using your computer or phone.

The sad fact is that the likelihood of getting caught by Ransomware is quite high. Their methods are getting more sophisticated. We can but do our best. Avoiding succumbing to these scams can be, as I said, simply common sense and I advise you work towards it becoming second nature to you.

Links for useful tools in fighting the effects of Ransomware:

Avast – for your PC and your Android devices

SuperAntiSpyware – a decent anti-malware scanner (the free version is more than adequate)

ADWCleaner – a great little free tool that cleans your browser

There are other tools that I may use when cleaning a PC but I’m always wary of sharing tools as they can cause as much damage to your system as doing good when in the wrong hands. All tools are run at your own risk and I take no responsibility for any damage caused in their use.

This post was inspired by an email from Paul Myers.

If you find the information on this blog useful and you want me to help you with your computer, get in touch here
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