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In the good old days(a few years ago), we users of the Internet had to deal with pranksters, vandals and thieves. Software designed to break into other people’s computers was called “malware,” short for “malicious software.”

Computer viruses, adware, Trojan horses, worms, spyware and the like are all forms of malware. They were designed to perform specific jobs. They just use different methods to perform their dirty deeds.

Malware all have one thing in common — they install a small software package in your computer. This package either goes to work immediately infecting your computer and/or network, or it goes to work when commanded to do so.

Some malware is intended to steal passwords and account numbers so that your bank accounts can be emptied.

However, there is a new type of malware that began infecting computers and computer networks in the past few years. One, called Cryptolocker, popped up about two years ago and gets into your computer and very rapidly encrypts all your data. It also spreads to any computers on the same network as yours. It gets into portable hard drives that are attached — a popular way to back up data — and then spreads to other devices attached to the other computers and devices.

Next comes an alarming notice on the screens informing the users that their data is encrypted, and they have 72 hours to pay the ransom. This new type of malware is called, not surprisingly, “Ransomware”.

The encryption is so strong, it is unbreakable. Victims must pay up within the time frame, or the data is gone.

Many readers may think they need not worry because they have security software installed. But all security software has a fatal weakness — users.

Hackers use sophisticated techniques to get users to click on an infected website or to download infectedemails. One click and they have opened the lock on the door. A typical example: One office worker thought she had pulled up PayPal — but it was not PayPal, it just looked like PayPal. That one click was all it took, and she unknowingly opened the door to the company’s network. As employees signed on to their computers the next morning, they were surprised to find the Cryptolocker message on their screens. They soon learned that all the computers in the company were infected. In this case, the company decided to pay the ransom.

The especially bad news is that there is no one answer to hacking of any kind. But there are things you can do that include using strong passwords, making frequent backups, storing backups in multiple places, not leaving backup devices a firewall and purchasing highly rated security software.

But the single most important thing you can do is educate yourself and everyone in the company about hacking techniques. While you do not want to spread paranoia, everyone needs to have a healthy respect for the dangers to the company.

Mike McKay is General Manager and Co-Founder of Keystone IT, mike@keystoneit.com

© 2015 The Gazette

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