Viruses and Trojans that wreak havoc with your data have been around for a long time. These bits of destructive software have been, for the most part, like nails thrown out on the highway by a miscreant who never looked back – getting perverse satisfaction by simply knowing that he has caused misery for someone. But these days we are seeing more and more malware that is put out there to profit off of you, the user. Such malware runs the gamut from ad-ware (advertising embedded in your computer) to spy-ware that reports back your bank usernames and passwords in order to drain your accounts.
Recently there has been an increase in ransom-ware which demands payment from you in order for you to use your own computer. Some operate as fake anti-virus software that slows your computer down and declares that you have a multitude of viruses that can be removed by buying their “full” or “professional” version. The most insidious of this genre are the ones that encrypt your files and demand two or three hundred dollars by a certain date (usually within a few days) or your files will be lost forever. This is no idle claim. Many of these programs encrypt your data in such a way that you will never be able to un-encrypt your files and photos without the encryption key these criminals hold.
So what can you do if this happens to you? Well, your options are:
- Pay the criminals and let them get away with it, and hope they will actually send you the key.
- Say goodby to your data and start over – losing photos and documents rather than encourage them to do it to you again at a later date.
- Get the malware removed from your computer and install your most-recent back-up (the one you made the previous day). What? No back-up??! Then return to the above choices. However, if you would rather NOT pay the criminals and NOT lose your data, then start backing it up! Now!
The easiest and cheapest back-up is to the “cloud” – storing it on someone else’s server ‘online’. There are many services out there to choose from – just do a search for “cloud-based back-up” or “online data back-up”. Personally I think you should also use an external hard drive back-up. Some experts suggest doing both AND having another back-up off-site (not in the same building as your computer) as well.
OK, yes, this is more time and more work, but the alternative is to either pay criminals or lose data, not to mention losing your data to fire, flood, and theft. So, instead of paying the pirates, buy an external back-up drive and an internet-based back-up service.