How to protect yourself in the twenty first century.
I have worked in the computer antivirus and computer security field for a number of years. I know rather a lot about the variety and value of various solutions to your security and privacy problems. I have tried to present you with an overview of the various threats, and how the various solutions to these threats might work. But I want for once to hold the mirror up to the blog and take a look at you (and at me, the end-user is all of us, after all) How does your behavior add to the problem? How can your awareness make you act differently and make your life more secure, more private.
In the computer software industry, you, the customer, are assumed to be stupid. This is almost universally true. End users are DREADED in the software and hardware industries, because you want the computer to be something that it just isn’t. What a computer isn’t is simple. It’s a collection of hardware, firmware, operating system, drivers, applications. utility software, web and cloud based applications and networking protocols. I would guess that the average computing device (and this includes all phones and tablets) are only about a billion times as complicated as a car. (Cars with computers of course have now developed similar reality shifts) These days even SMART computer users are blind to the multiplicity of agents and actors they face every day. And even the smuggest of computer techs can easily get caught out of their comfort zone when leaving familiar territory, so don’t feel bad. But heed this advice. I am about to lay it on the line.
Are you doing it all wrong? Are you failing to face the very real threats posed by loss of online privacy? Are you childishly refusing to take even the most basic steps to save what you have and cherish on your system? Are you aware that the consequences of not facing reality will be real and possibly permanent? I am going to let you know, in no uncertain terms, what it is that you need to know. We are going to start with the most important lesson any computer user will ever learn.
1. Your Data is Your Responsibility
Back up your computer. Right now. Get up go to the store buy a back up system and plug it in and use it. Do it. Right now. Back it up.
Yesterday a woman of my acquaintance told me that something weird was going on with her computer. She brought it over here and it was infected with some variant of Crypt-locker. This is malware that encrypts all the data on your hard drive and holds it ransom. It wanted SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS (in this case) in order to unlock her data. This is the act of a criminal. In most cases you will not get your data back, even if you pay the money. The money is handled in BitCoin and is untraceable. The criminals making the claim are not the same as the ones who write the software. The criminals are not located in this country and no law enforcement agency will ever even assist in getting back either your money or your data. The criminals actually buy the malware from malware writers who provide such frequent and numerous updates that it gets past most AV software. This particular version had cleaned out her AV software folder leaving it unable to help in any case. I asked her, first thing, “Did you back up your system?” The answer was no. The general solution for crypt-locker is to reformat your system, reinstall the operating system and everything else and restore the data from your backup. (no backup means you never see your college term paper, your unfinished novel, your daughter’s baby pictures or anything else on your system ever again in your life)
Anti virus software, in some cases, can detect and even remove the malware–but it just cannot get back your data. AV software generally cannot undo the damage caused by malware. This same thing is true for a thousand other things that can happen to your data. In case you are hazy on this point–data includes everything you have ever written and saved–all your photos, all your music–everything on your system. The reason I keep repeating myself is that I have taught these lessons to many many thousands of people. Back it up or lose it all.
Don’t pay the money–back up your data. Do it. Stop being an idiot. In the ‘biz’ we all shake our heads because we tell you this every day. Don’t lose your data, back it up.
If you are incapable of learning how to back up your data, buy a Mac. Plug in a mac formatted backup drive and time machine backs up everything continuously, with no further thought needed by the end user. (challenge to Microsoft—make it even easier than this and I will stand up and applaud)
Now for lesson two: Back up your backup. I literally fell victim to this myself. I own a very nice NAS drive that failed, and took away all my backups. Lesson learned. Two different backups in two different formats in two different places. Hint: if you stop paying for your cloud based backup you lose all the data that is there. Really and Truly, just like it was stolen by crooks. You are only renting the space on that cloud drive. Read the fine print, in many cases any data deleted from your hard drive is also deleted from the cloud. It is pretty much always deleted soon after your paid contract expires. If you want a comprehensive backup plan it has to be bigger than a cloud system.
This is a photo of my 1TB Buffalo Box. It blew up a couple of years ago (one of the internal drives crapped out) I kept it in the vain wish that someday I will pay for data recover or will disassemble it and fix it and get that data back. That’s ME—I lost a lot of data (almost one terabyte, that’s decades of email, contracts, tax forms, other stuff. Back up your backup.
So…always back up your iPhone and iPad and Android devices and Kindles and everything the heck else to a computer, and then back up that computer. Redundant backup systems in all cases, all the time, forever.
By the way, arrogance is no substitute for a backup. If you think you are too good to lose your data, when you do I will smile and shake my head. I have been teaching this lesson since the mid 1980’s. So do it, already.
Now most of us who work with computers do a number of crazy things with important data. We might put it on a second computer, or on a USB drive or in an email to ourselves. This things help to ensure the safety of data, but are very bad for it’s security. Next we will talk about something that will scare you. But that’s for another day.
To recap, BACK UP YOUR DATA!!!
David Perry, independent computing guru
Huntington Beach, California, April 2015