In the famous words of Joni Mitchell, you don't know what you've got until it's gone. Unfortunately for many home computer customers, not having a reliable data backup solution is a painful lesson to learn. As we all become increasingly dependent on our digital files, having a copy, or multiple copies, of those files is a crucial element of keeping your data safe. The data on your computer or mobile device can disappear in an instant - succumbing to accidental deletion, corruption, malware encryption or theft. The best way to prepare for a data disaster event is to make sure that you have a workable, reliable and verifiable backup solution in place.
A Workable Backup Solution
The first thing that you need to do when considering backing up your data is to find a solution which works for you. People use their computing devices differently, and therefore a backup solution should work with your computing experience. Are you the type of person who prefers to control exactly when you backup your data or would you rather "set it and forget it"? Do you prefer having your data close by, say on an external hard drive, or would you rather have it available 24x7 via the Internet? Does your data reside on just one computer or on multiple devices? Answers to these questions will help you decide on the best backup solution for your situation.
4 Key Elements that Every Backup Scheme Should Have
Your backup needs to be automatic. Life is too busy for most of us to consistently remember to start backing up our data. Most backup software and services, though, can be scheduled to start automatically. Some programs even backup instantly every time a file is added or changed. Don't let it be your job to remember to plug in a storage device or to kick off a backup routine. Let your chosen solution take care of that work for you. Your backup should be verifiable. Many people have a backup plan in place, but unfortunately not many have a restore plan in place. If you are not sure whether or not you can successfully recover the files that you have supposedly backed up, then you don't have a backup plan! Part of your backup routine needs to be periodic testing to make sure your backups are valid. This may be doing something as simple as restoring one of your files or folders to an alternate location on your computer. If you can regularly successfully restore files from your backup when you don't necessarily need them, then chances are better that you will be able to restore them when you do need them.Your backup should Include versioning. It may not be enough to have just one copy of each of your files. As many who have been hit by the Cryptolocker infection have discovered, backup solutions which don't keep multiple copies of files as they are changed are susceptible to being overwritten by malware. Therefore, it is important that your backup solution allows you to restore copies of your files from various points in time in the past.Your backup should be secure. Do you keep thousands of dollars under your mattress because you feel it's more secure than keeping your money in a bank? Many people follow a similar strategy when it comes to protecting their data. Don't assume that your data is secure just because you have a copy of it on an external hard drive attached to your computer. Hard drives can fail at any moment, can be stolen or can fall victim to a virus or a power surge. However, cloud-based backup solutions are, for the most part, much more secure than onsite backups. Most offsite backup solution providers keep their customers' data in tier 1 data facilities with multiple levels of security controls, encryption, environmental protection and co-location. It is safe to say that your data is better protected in one of these "data banks" than under the proverbial mattress in your home.
Backup Solutions that We Recommend
Sarasota Home Computers as two different backup solutions that we recommend. We offer two solutions because each of them is able to cater to the different backup needs of our customers. The first solution that we offer is Carbonite. This backup company has been in the business longer than most of the others, and it has a reputation for simple, affordable backup services for residential customers. Carbonite's user interface is very easy to understand, and customers are able to determine whether or not their data is secure just by looking at the file names on their computers. Carbonite offers unlimited backup for your home computer for just $60.00 per year, which breaks down to $5.00 per month.
The second backup solution that we offer is based on SOS Online Backup and is a Managed Backup Solution. While the cost per gigabyte is more than Carbonite, our Managed Backup allows you to protect an unlimited number of devices (PC's, Macs, Smartphones, tablet devices) under the same plan. Therefore, if you are a household with multiple computers and mobile devices, this backup solution would probably work better for you and would be cheaper in the long run than Carbonite. Furthermore, Managed Backup is monitored and tested regularly. That is, we will take on the responsibility of making sure that your devices are being backed up and that your data is able to be restored when needed. The cost for Managed Backup is $10.00 per month for 20 gigabytes. Additional storage is available for just 50 cents per gigabyte.
Both of these backup solutions provide automatic, scheduled backups to a secured data center, easy restoration procedures, versioning (Managed Backup includes unlimited versioning) and 24x7 access to your files from anywhere via the internet.
Making sure that your data is backed up securely is not a difficult task in today's world. However, it does take a bit of planning and initiative on the front end. However, when a data disaster strikes, you will be glad and grateful that you have a solution in place.
There is a new malware infection making the rounds on the internet called Cryptolocker which is posing a serious security risk to thousands users' data around the world.
The program behaves in a very similar manner to many ransomware programs. That is, it installs itself on a computer and then locks the system down so that the user cannot do anything but pay the proposed fee, usually $100 or $300. The payment method demanded is usually a some type of debit card, such as Moneypak, which cannot be traced to the recipient. This particular infection, however, is more insidious, as it encrypts many common files on the user's computer, such as Microsoft Word and Excel documents, picture and database files. The malware encrypts not only files on the local computer, but also any files on attached external hard drives, mapped network drives and cloud-based storage services (Dropbox, Skydrive, etc.) Although the infection is fairly easy to remove, at this point there is no way to unencrypt the files.
How Do Computers become infected by Cryptolocker?
Currently, most computers become infected by users who open emails which pretend to be notices about customer support related issues from UPS, Fedex or DHC. The emails contain an attachment which, when opened, infects the computer. Systems are also infected by clicking on a link on a website which has been compromised or via Trojans that pretend to be programs required to view online videos.
Is There Any Way to Restore Encrypted Files After They Have Been Encrypted?
As mentioned above, there is no way to decrypt the files once they have been compromised by the malware infection. The best course of action is to restore the affected files from a recent backup AFTER removing the virus infection. There is free a tool available online called ListCrilock which can generate a list of files which have been encrypted. This can be used as a guide for deciding which files need to be restored.
If you do not have a backup of your files, then it may be impossible to recover them. However, if you have a Windows Vista or Windows 7 system, you may be able to restore previous versions of your files through through the Windows Shadow copy tool. However, if a computer system had not been configured to properly save previous file versions, this may not provide previous copies of the files.
What Can Users Do to Protect Themselves from Infections Like Cryptolocker?
- As always, it is imperative for users to have a solid antivirus/antimalware program installed and updated on their computers. While even the best security programs will not stop or block every infection, the good programs will prevent most infections.
- Users must keep all Microsoft software and third-party software up-to-date. Infections such as this often take advantage of exposed security flaws in these software programs. However, the security patches which are released by the software companies can mitigate most of these vulnerabilities. Updating software, though, can be a difficult and frustrating task for many home users. Our Computer Watchdog Service, however, handles all of the software patching automatically and is quite affordable for our home computer customers.
- Users MUST HAVE a backup strategy in place which supports versioning. With infections like Cryptolocker, it is not enough just to keep another copy of important files on an external hard drive or flash drive. If that particular device is attached when this infection hits, then those backup files will become encrypted, too. However, many backup programs offer a feature called versioning. What this means is that when a change is made to a file, the backup program will keep the older version (or versions) of the files for a certain period of time or for a certain number of versions. If this is the case, then it is fairly easy to recover files which have been infected by Cryptolocker or similar malware. Carbonite Online Backup currently keeps up to 30 versions or 30-days worth of previous files. Sarasota Home Computers' Managed Online Backup Service keeps an unlimited number of previous versions of backed up files.
- There are some additional tools and strategies available which will prevent unauthorized programs from running on your computer. Some of these tools, such as software restriction polices (for users running Windows Vista/7/8 professional) and Parental Controls (Windows Vista/7 Home, Windows 8) are included in Windows at no charge, but must be properly configured in order to protect your system. This is something with which we would be happy to help.
Should You Pay the Ransom Demanded in order to Recover Your Files?
The conventional wisdom among IT technicians and security professionals is that users should NEVER pay the ransom demanded by these infections. By paying the amount demanded, users are not only supporting cybercriminals, but they also have no guarantee that their computers (and, in this case, their files) will be free from infection and/or decrypted. Furthermore, once a ransom is paid, that user would likely be "marked" as a target for similar future attacks, as the criminals know that the user is willing to pay. That being said, it has been reported on some security forums that users, who had no other recourse to recover their files, who paid the ransom for Cryptolocker did have their files decrypted by the program, though it often took several hours. However, other users who paid did not have such a good result and found themselves with files which were still unusable. The idea of paying the ransom amount is a risky and expensive endeavor, and we don't recommend it.
Unfortunately, infections like Cryptolocker have historically been very lucrative ventures for their creators. The attackers are almost always based outside of the United States and, as such, they cannot be pursued or prosecuted by US-based law enforcement. These types of attacks will likely not be going away anytime soon. Your best bet is to have a strategy in place for protecting your data before you are attacked. Sarasota Home Computers offers two backup services, one with unlimited versioning, which will make it possible for your important data to survive this kind of attack. Please give us a call today if you would like us to evaluate your current security and backup situation and help you prepare to weather this cyber storm.
Your life is on your computer. Well, not really. However, much of your most important data: family photos, music collections, important documents are stored on one or more computers in your home. It is therefore becoming increasingly important to be aware of how to protect yourself from the many things which may threaten the security of your data. Over the next few articles we will look at several facets of home computer data security and what you can do to decrease the amount of risk to your important data.One of the biggest threats to your data, of course, is malicious software (otherwise known as malware) being inadvertently installed on your computer. "Malware" is a catch-all description of any software running on your computer that threatens to corrupt your data, steal your data, slow down your system or even completely disable access to your system. It has become so easy to infect a computer these days that a quality security product - one that includes both antivirus and antispyware protection - is essential.
Most users know that having a good antivirus program installed and running on their computers is a necessity. However, it can be difficult to determine what constitutes a "good" program. Is the software made by one of the big vendors, such as McAfee or Norton better simply because it's more recognizable? Is the software better just because you paid an annual subscription fee? Here are a few things to note about antivirus products on the market today:
The Next Level of Security: Managed AntivirusSarasota Home Computers recently began offering a Managed Antivirus solution to our customers When a software vendor sells you an antivirus product, they are doing just that: selling you a product. They have little concern or control over whether or not the product is installed correctly, is working correctly, is regularly updating or is preventing infection. They may provide limited support during the period of your product subscription, but this may or may not be helpful to you. What makes a Managed Antivirus offering different is that it is a service, not simply a product. While we use a quality antivirus product to provide this service, we are not simply selling you another piece of software. Our Managed Antivirus solution includes:
- There is no one product which will make your computer bulletproof and totally unsusceptible to malware infection. The amount of malicious software being created on a daily basis is too great for any one program to conceivably catch everything.
- All of the major antivirus software vendors share information with each other. If one company discovers a new infection in the wild and creates a signature to detect it and/or a process to remove it, they will share that with other companies, fully expecting that those other companies will do the same. This is the only way for these companies to keep up with the flood of malware which exists on the internet today.
- An antivirus product should be used as one element in a layered security plan. There are many things that you can and must do to protect your data. Running a decent antivirus program on your computer is just one of them.
We are able to do all of the above remotely, in the background on customer computers without affecting your productivity. It's like having a set of professional eyes watching your computer for you, making sure that your system is protected. Our Managed Antivirus solution is also affordable - just $5.00 per month per computer, or $50 per year. Please contact us, if you would be interested in protecting your computer or computers with our Managed Antivirus.
- Quality antivirus and antimalware software which will work to prevent malicious software from being introduced into your computing environment.
- 24/7 Monitoring to ensure that virus definitions are up to date and that the software is running properly.
- Mitigation if the software does detect anything on your system, including examination of results in quarantine, deletion of malware and initiating additional scanning when necessary.
One of the common frustrations among home computer users is that their computers tend to gradually slow down over time. For some computer owners, it is this frustration which eventually drives them to go out and buy a newer, presumably faster computer and set their old one aside. The assumption is that computers just slow down over time and that there is little that you can do to prevent it or deal with the problem. What many people fail to acknowledge, however, is that computers are machines. Like all machines, they require maintenance in order to run optimally. We will explore some of the common reasons that computers run slowly and hopefully clear up some misconceptions. "It MUST be a virus"While viruses, adware and spyware can account for a computer running slowly, it is not the case with all systems. If you are not seeing any other signs of an infection (e.g. popups, advertisements, data corruption, data disappearing, etc.) don't be overly concerned that this is the cause of latency on your system. As part of our PC Maintenance Package, we do a basic scan for malware, but if there is nothing obvious which points us in this direction, we will look at other causes.What's Going on Under the SurfaceThere are a lot of programs and processes which run in the background on the average PC. Many of these are normal and good - Windows services which help your computer to run correctly, antivirus software which scans files before you open them, software which monitors your computer's health, etc. However, there can be several other programs and services which are running that do not provide a great benefit to you and that tax your computer's hardware resources. Many of these are add-ons for legitimate software that you installed at one time or another. For example, the software that you installed with your computer's printer includes not only the basic device driver which allows you to print, but also a lot of "bloatware" that you don't necessarily need, such as ink monitors, photo-editing sofware, software updaters and customer improvement programs. You won't see any of these background programs running, though many are configured to start when your computer starts. Though each individual program doesn't use much memory or processor resources, cumulatively they can slow your computer to a crawl. Another class of big offenders in this catagory is "me-too-ware", which are programs, such as browser toolbars or security software, which get installed along with legitimate software updates, such as Java and Adobe Flashplayer. Another area which often needs attention, from a software standpoint, when a system is running slowly is the Windows registry. This is essentially the operating system's DNA, instructing it how to run. Every time a program is installed or a system change is made, modifications are written into the registry. Unfortunately, when programs are uninstalled or changed, the registry entries are not always deleted. Over time, the registry often becomes bloated with all of these junk, leftover entries. The net effect is that this can cause some system slowness. The problem, though, is that most users do not know how to modify the registry or even what to look for. If an incorrect change is made to the registry, it can render the computer unstable or inoperable. Therefore, it is wise to leave registry changes to those who have expertise in such areas. Beware of Silver Bullets and Snake OilMany home computer users who are frustrated with their slow systems resort to great-sounding solutions that they heard about on the radio or saw on an internet banner ad which claim to speed up their computers or restore them to the condition that they were in when they first came out of the box. Many, such as DoubleMySpeed.com , offer "free analysis" of your system. Of course, no matter how great your system is running, it's going to find problems & issues which can only be fixed by paying a fee for a software solution which claims to fix all of the said issues. The problem is that, while a particular software program may be able to identifiy some potential issues which may be slowing down your computer, they cannot determine or resolve hardware issues which may be the underlying cause and they usually cannot eradicate any malware infections which may be present. A customer's money would be better spent on a trained technician who can perform a full system diagnosis and recommend a lasting solution. It is our goal at Sarasota Home Computers to help you to have the best experience possible with your technology. There is no need to tolerate an unduly slow machine just because you are not sure what is wrong with it. Allow us to evaluate your system and recommend a solution for you which will allow you to work on your computer without having to bring along a book to ready while you wait for your computer to catch up to your busy life. Don't Let Your Computer Slow You Down One great way to deal with a slow computer is to avoid letting it get to a sluggish point. Just as your car benefits greatly from regular preventative maintenance, your computer will run much more smoothly if it receives regular updates, is scanned on an ongoing maintenance for problematic software and is monitored for systemic issues which could cause bigger headaches later. Our new Computer Watchdog Service can help you to keep your computer running in tip top shape by providing all of these services and more. Also, with our remote support option (available in the Silver & Gold plans), if you have a question or a problem your computer, we can help you with this at no extra cost.
As if the current upheaval in the healthcare system in America was not enough, many medical practices which are running Windows XP are at risk of falling out of HIPAA compliance in less than 9 months unless they replace or upgrade their systems. On April 8, 2014 Microsoft will end support for the aging Windows XP operating system and for Microsoft Office 2003. While many consumers have already upgraded to Windows 7 or 8, there are still many hospitals, doctors offices and other entities which are covered under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act which have not. In April of next year, however, Microsoft will no longer release security updates for these systems which would prevent malicious software infections and possible data breaches. As Marion K. Jenkins explains in his article, Growing HIPAA Threat – Ignore Windows XP at Your Own Peril, because the software can no longer be secured, it will be impossible to comply with the HIPAA Security Rule section 164.308(a)(5)(ii)(B), which mandates that systems must be guarded against malicious software. Replacing these aging systems is the most obvious answer for many medical practices. However, businesses are reluctant to move to Windows 8, the most current operating system, at this time because of the user interface changes or because of software compatibility issues. The next option will be to purchase Windows 7 systems, which have had a track record of stability and reliability in the business environment for almost 4 years. Windows 7 systems, however, will become increasingly hard to find in many retail channels, as Microsoft will encourage vendors to push its latest operating system.
A viable alternative for businesses will be to purchase professionally refurbished business grade desktops and laptops which come pre-installed with Windows 7 Professional. At this point, this operating system will be supported with security updates by Microsoft until January of 2020. Although the majority of our refurbished desktops and laptops are offered with Windows 7 Home Premium for our residential customers, any of these systems can be upgraded to Windows 7 Professional for approximately $20 more.
It can be challenging for medical practices to keep up with many of the security regulations which govern their industry. However, upgrading systems and securing Protected Health Information should not be one of them, as long as businesses take prompt action well in advance of the April deadline.
One of the common frustrations among home computer users is that their computers tend to gradually slow down over time. For some computer owners, it is this frustration which eventually drives them to go out and buy a newer, presumably faster computer and set their old one aside. The assumption is that computers just slow down over time and that there is little that you can do to prevent it or deal with the problem. What many people fail to acknowledge, however, is that computers are machines. Like all machines, they require maintenance in order to run optimally. We will explore some of the common reasons that computers run slowly and hopefully clear up some misconceptions.
Hardware or Software?
When troubleshooting the reason that your computer has slowed to a crawl, there are two major areas to explore: hardware, or physical components of your computer (including the hard drive, memory, power systems, etc.) as well as software, including the operating system and all programs installed on your computer. Either of these two major areas, or both, could be contributing to system latency. In this article, we will explore the hardware issues which can cause computer system problems. The hard drive on a desktop or laptop computer is the primary storage location for all software programs as well as user data (pictures, documents, videos, etc.). The older style hard drives have a platter which spins at a very fast rate (either 5400 or 7200 revolutions per minute) and a magnetic medium on which your data is stored. Like any machine with moving parts, the magnetic heads can come into contact with the platter, causing data loss or catastrophic failure of the hard drive. These failures can theoretically occur at any time, whether the hard drive is new or old. Sometimes the hard drive fails without warning, and sometimes it begins to accumulate bad sectors, parts of the hard drive which cannot be read. If this happens, the computer may begin to slow to a crawl because it is attempting to read (and perform data correction routines) from these bad sectors. Though some disk utilities can buy you time, when these symptoms occur, it is best to back up your data to another location and replace the hard drive. The computer's RAM or Random Access Memory, is another potential point of failure on a home computer. Though these types of faults occur less often than hard drive failures, the Windows Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) can sometimes be caused by faulty RAM. This type of failure, though, is relatively cheap to replace. Also, because there is no data permanently stored on the RAM modules, no software will have to be re-installed when replacing RAM. While there are some basic diagnostic tests which a home computer can use to check on these two hardware components, hardware diagnosis is often best left to professional computer technicians who have a full slate of tools and skills to determine the source of the problem. If your computer is running significantly slower than it did when you bought it, you may want to consider making an appointment to have us take a look at your system to help you understand what the underlying issue is.In our next article, we will explore the common software issues which can slow down a computer.
One question that we receive often from customers is some variant of the question, "what kind of computer should I buy?" There is no simple answer, as the variables to consider in a computer purchase are as many as the options available to consumers. In fact, consumers have never had as many options as they do now when it comes to purchasing a computing device. Not only can you choose between a desktop and a laptop, but you can also consider a tablet device or even a mobile phone. In the next couple of articles, we will attempt to lay out for you the things which are important to consider when making your next computer purchase.
What's Most Important to You?
Before you begin to look at all of the options which are out there, you need to answer a few questions for yourself which will help to guide your purchase. What are the three or four things that you need or want to be able to do on your "computer" (in the broad sense of the term, including all of the device types listed above)? Do you mainly want or need to browse on the internet? send and receive email?
Do you want to view & edit photos and/or video? Do you have software programs which have specific hardware or operating system requirements? Do you want to be able to play certain games which will need hardware resources to support it? As you prepare to go shopping, jot down the top 4 things you will be doing on your new device.
To Go Mobile or Not to Go Mobile?
That is the question of our age! Today's laptops and ultrabooks are lighter, faster and hold much more data than ever before. These features make them ideal for folks who need computing power on the go. Likewise, many people are finding that much of what they do online (such as web surfing, email, sending pictures & texts & reading eBooks) can be accomplished from a tablet device. Wireless hotspots are now becoming so widespread that you can get online virtually anywhere. Another question that you need to consider is how important is it for you to be able to take your computer with you.
When it comes to your browser, toolbars are almost always a bad idea. Sometimes you just
open your web browser for the day and there they are--and no idea where they came from.
They are often snuck in with other software installations, updates, or via a
malware/spyware attack. Some toolbars are just annoying and take up room in your
browser. Others do that AND facilitate browser hijacks that compromise your whole
system’s security. How can you tell if a toolbar is bad? Well, I don’t think ANY toolbars are
necessarily good (or even useful)--but if you’re seeing websites and search engines get
redirected, that definitely needs to be fixed.
The reason it needs to be dealt with is that sometimes this is just the foot in the door to enable even worse malware to cause more problems in your computer later. Also, if it’s forcing you to use a search engine other than Google, you’re not going to get very good search results. In fact, a recent web report by Sophos revealed that Bing (Microsoft’s search engine) has twice as many “poisoned links” in their results as Google. ("Poisoned" links are links that will give your computer malware—i.e., search for one thing and get another!). Another reason I recommend Google for search instead of Bing:
http://www.neowin.net/news/searcher-beware-bing-has-twice-as-many-poison-links-as-googleSo, how do you get rid of all of those toolbars? For more "legitimate" toolbars, such as Ask, Google, Yahoo, etc., you should be able to remove them through the normal sottware removal process (Control Panel - Uninstall a program). Other toolbars, espeically those which redirect your search results (e.g. Babylon toolbar, Yontoo, etc.) can only be totally removed by using specialized software and/or registry editing. If you are noticing that toolbars seem to be slowing down your browsing experience or are directing you to web sites that you were not expecting, please give us a call. We can help you get your computer cleaned up and freed up from the tyranny of the toolbars!
There are many phone and internet scams in existence today which are designed to trick mainly home computer users into thinking that there is something wrong with their computers and then cleverly working to extort money from the victims in order to "fix" the problem which wasn't there in the first place. In a twist on this ruse, computer repair technician and podcaster Scott Johnson records one such call and blogs about the results:
My troll call with a tech support scammer
This is a current popular scam that unfortunately snags a lot of unsuspecting computer users. It’s the Fake Tech Support scam.
You get a call from someone claiming to be with “Microsoft” or from “Windows” and they tell you that your computer has been reporting some problems and viruses, so they need to just log in and check it for you. The reality is that they are probably calling from an internet cafe like the one pictured above, just trying to “reel in” their next victim.
Of course, the end goal for the “tech” is to get the victim to pull out their credit card and pay for this “service”. They will find all kinds of viruses and infections on the computer (that aren’t really there) in order to instill fear in the mind of the owner, and unfortunately a lot of people fall for it.
Recently I found one of these scam companies and contacted them, posing as a customer whose computer was running too slowly (probably the most common complaint any tech hears). I was told I would get a call back in about 10 minutes, and that is what happened.
I was ready for that call – I recorded the audio of the call, as well as what was happening on my computer screen when I allowed the scammer to log in.
One thing to keep in mind, as you hear the “tech” talk about all the infections in my computer – this was a computer that is completely clean. There were no infections in it whatsoever.
Here are some things to notice in the video:
:10 – He identifies himself as being from the Technical Department from Windows Service Center from Microtech (lots of official-sounding names, signifying nothing).
:44 – He tells me my computer has infections before he even connects to it.
1:46 – For some reason he wanted to show me the Wikipedia entry for “Koobface”, the virus he claimed was infecting my computer. Apparently this was supposed to be proof of some sort.
2:05 – This is where he wants to show me the infected files. So he clicks Start – Run and then does a search for inf infection. All this does is bring up files and folders that contain either of those terms. This is a clever misdirect because it is a totally meaningless search. Lots of files will match that search. For example, any file that has the word “information” will come up as a match, because it contains “inf”. So of course lots of files and folders come up when he does this.
When the search results came up, here is how he described them:
“These are the files and folders with the help of which your Windows 7 works and runs. If one of the files has been highly corrupted, then on a chain basis all the files will be corrupted. And for that reason the computer might can stop working. Or it might can crash at any point of time.”
At this point, I’m wondering – if all my Windows files are corrupted, how is the computer running right now?
3:05 – He says he will try to open one of the files, and if Windows cannot open the file then that means it is corrupted. This is another clever ruse. The file he tries to open is “acpi.PNF”. This is a Windows system file (that’s why it is in the Windows folder). It is not meant to be opened and viewed because there is no program associated with the .PNF extension. In other words, if the file was “acpi.doc”, the computer knows that all .DOC files get opened with Word. For a file that ends with .PNF, there is no program to open it. So of course it doesn’t open, and he points to that as “proof” that the file is corrupted.
4:05 – I asked him what is the difference between a “virus” and an “infection”. His response:
“A virus is a very common thing. It always pops up right in front of your desktop screen stating that you have a virus in your computer. Now the online infections are always in a hidden format, corrupting your system, which you know your computer might suddenly stop working or suddenly might crash. And this cannot be defended by any kind of antivirus in your computer, like Norton, AVG, McAfee, or CyberDefender, whatever you use. They cannot go ahead and protect you and save your computer.”
The guy was a smooth talker, but his words were utter nonsense.
4:50 – Now he will try to open that same file, but he will force it to open in Notepad (Windows plain text editor). Since the file is not designed to be opened or viewed, what shows on the screen looks like random gibberish:
I of course, playing the unknowing newbie, expressed shock at that. He told me these were “the infections that are on each and every file on my computer in a hidden format”. It really was laughable what he was asking me to believe. Unfortunately, a lot of people do fall for it.
6:10 – For his final proof that my computer is fully infected, he claims he is about to do a “Windows internal scan”. This is another move that I have to give him a little bit of credit for – it’s pretty clever.
He types Run – then CMD and Enter. This brings up what is called the Command Prompt. It is just something that looks like the old DOS windows on older machines. He says this is where he will do the “scan”. On HIS computer (which I cannot see), he has a large text file which he COPIES (to his clipboard). Then on MY screen, he quickly does a right-click and PASTE – so that large text file starts scrolling up the screen. It does look like a scan, but it is nothing more than just the text he pasted.
When the “scan” is done, guess what – the text all turned RED. I guess that was to make it look infected, and it really did look scary! Of course, if you look near the bottom of the window, there is a command: “color c“. Whenever that command is entered at a command prompt, it turns the text red. Obviously not something the average person would know, so the scammer doesn’t even care that it is sitting right there in front of me in plain sight.
The last line of that window stated that my system damage was 80%, and that my “security warranty” had expired. Apparently this was how all those nasty infections invaded my poor computer. Funny thing is, “security warranty” is just a vague mumbo-jumbo term and there really is no such thing that needs to be “renewed” in Windows. But that is what he wants me to buy.
11:15 – Finally he goes for the close. He quotes me the pricing for renewing this imaginary security license:
For 2 years: $299
For 3 years: $374
For my lifetime: $549 (Note: this is not the lifetime of the computer. It is for the rest of MY life. And this covers any computer I might buy in the future, and any other computer in my house. Any computer problems will be repaired at no cost. Obviously he wants to make the most expensive option also appear to be the best value. But this proposal is about as far-fetched as anything he has told me so far.)
14:00 – The call came to an end in a way that you would never guess. You just have to listen to it.
These guys obviously have things down to a science with this scam. There is one big factor that makes this scam different from a lot of other ones. With most online scams, at some point the victim figures out that he’s been scammed, then there’s no way to get the money back because you usually pay cash or Western Union which is never recoverable. In this case, you pay with a credit card. So wouldn’t you think the scammers would have a problem with their victims complaining and contesting the charge when they find out they got scammed? But it’s not a problem for them for this one reason: the victim never realizes he was scammed. He pays his money, the scammer “fixes” the computer and does another fake scan, and this time the text all comes up white instead of red. So that must mean it got fixed! So since the victim doesn’t know any better, he thinks he just bought something of value, and does not complain. Gotta hand it to these guys, they have figured out a way to part people from their money.
Have you had a call like this? How was it different? I would love to hear what your experience was.
It's no secret that one of the most important elements of computer security is to keep the software on your machine up to date. The people who write malicious software such as viruses, spyware, keyloggers and ransomeware are constantly seeking to exploit security flaws which are discovered and publicized in the various pieces of software which are used in today's computing environment. In previous years, Microsoft Windows and the software which was a part of it (Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, etc.) were perhaps the biggest targets. While security flaws continue to be exploited in Windows, though, the bigger targets recently have been third-party software applications such as Java and Adobe Flash player, which are installed on virtually all computers. Even Apple employees were hacked in a recent attack which took advantage of a security vulnerability in Java. (Please don't believe the lie that Apple computers and devices are inherently more secure than Windows, especially as their vulnerability to attacks will likely increase proportionality with their market share.
What's one of the best way to keep your computer secure? Keep it up to date! Turn on Windows Updates and allow them to be installed automatically. However, this will only update the Windows software on your computer. What about all of the other software which is the target of malware, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, Flash Player, Java, iTunes, etc.? Thankfully, there is a free tool available which will patch all of these pieces of software in one fell swoop. Patch My PC is a small piece of software which can be either downloaded and run one time or (better) can be saved and run by computer users at regular intervals (e.g. once a week). The program will scan your computer for 12 commonly installed programs and will determine whether or not they are up to date. If they are not, it will highlight which programs need updates and, upon your approval, will download and install those updates automatically. No longer will you have to go to each vendor's website and manually download updates for particular products. Optionally, Patch My PC can also scan for approximately 85 other pieces of software and can install updates for those as well. The tool can also help you disable startup programs which could be slowing down your computer and uninstall unwanted software applications.
While Patch My PC is currently designed as a tool for computer technicians, it is simple an intuitive enough for most home users to incorporate into an overall computer security strategy. A version of the program is supposedly forthcoming. However, with the recent highly publicized security exploits, it would be wise to add this tool to your arsenal now. Click here
to download PatchMyPC.