Category Archives: Cautionary Tips

These tips are suggestions for staying safe.

Back Up Your Data!

This subject comes up from time to time. I am often asked just how to back up data and how often to do it.

The quick answer is–if you have important data that you don’t wish to lose, back it up.
How often? Depends on how long it will take to replicate it and how much money will it cost to do so.

So, how do you do it? There are a number of ways and I will tell you how I do it and then you can decide for yourself how much work you are willing to do to keep your stuff safe.

I have a backup program that backs up my data to a second hard drive in my computer.
The program runs once a day.
I also have a cloud backup account that backs up my data as it is created.
In addition, I have an external hard drive that I use about once a month to create an image of my hard drive.

Let’s look at these one by one.
Daily backups: Good to have. This way, you can back up everything you have done that day or you can backup everything on the computer. The only down side is that should you have a disaster such as a hard drive crash, you can lose the data that has not been backed up that day.

Cloud backups: These are really slick in that they back up your files as they are created. You can easily access the files on the Internet. Some programs advertise that this is the proper way to manage your data as you can access it from home or work or anywhere in the world.

Creating an image: Your hard drive has the operating system on it (e.g. Windows), your programs, and your data. In the event of a catastrophic event, everything on your hard drive will be lost. You can probably get it back by sending the hard drive out to a data recovery business, but it will cost you at least $1,000.
A better idea is to have an image of your drive (an exact copy) that you can use if needed. You can replace your hard drive, boot the system from a recovery disk, and then restore the image. The operating system, programs, and data will all be there.

The cheapest way to go is to get a flash drive and back up your files to that as needed. There is a slight chance that the flash drive can fail. There is a much greater chance that you will lose it.

The Latest Ransomware Attacks

You all have probably heard of the latest threat–ransomware that hit a number of countries, but hit Russia the hardest.    Are you vulnerable?

You really should have the latest version of your operating system installed.  Remember that Windows 7 is an end-of-life product and is no longer supported.  It is vulnerable.  Windows 10 is the current operating system–but it needs to have all the latest updates installed. As of this writing, the most generally available update is V. 1909. How can you tell what version you have? In the search bar at the bottom of your screen type “winver” and then press the “enter” key.

In addition–you need to have a current version of anti-malware/internet security software installed.  Scan your system regularly.  And, most importantly, you need to have your data backed up.  Ransomware only attacks your data.  If you have a copy of all your date, you can replace the encrypted files.  BUT–that backup needs to be offline.  If you have a system that is constantly backing up your data, it will back up the encrypted data and you’ll be out of luck.  If you have a backup that is offline, your data can’t be overwritten.

We recommend having your data stored on an external drive and plug it in only when you are doing a backup.  If you are using cloud backups, talk to the company’s tech support to be sure they have a second copy of your data archived so it can be retrieved if your data is compromised.

The growth of online extortion

Ransomware first stated getting noticed around 2007. It grew slowly until 2014 and 2015.  Between 2015 and 2016, the growth sharply increased.  Experts predict that it will get worse in 2017 by about 25%.

Personal computers are not the only targets.  It will be immensely more profitable to attack servers and hold them ransom.  This can be very costly by causing business disruptions.

So–what to do?  Install good anti-malware software and keep it updated,  View unusual or unexpected email with suspicion,  When in doubt, delete it. You can always reply to the sender if you think it might be legit.

let them tell you why they sent it.

Data Loss–what can happen

I’m sure you all have heard that people lose data. This could occur for a number of reasons:

  1. You are typing a document and accidentally hit the wrong key.  Oops–you’ve erased the thing you have been working on.
  2. You go to start up your computer in the morning and you get a message such as “no boot device”. Oops–your hard drive is no longer being seen by the computer.
  3. You sit down at your computer one day and try to open a document.  What you get instead is a notice that your document has been encrypted and you need to pay $500 to get the decryption key.
  4. You open your word processing program (or graphics editing program) and try to find your documents or pictures.  You find that the directories are empty.
  5. You come home after being out to dinner and find that someone has broken into your house and your computer is missing.
  6. You have kids or grandkids visiting and they ask to use the computer.  When you again sit down to do some work, you have absolutely no idea it’s your computer.  Everything is changed and your stuff is nowhere to be found.
  7. You have kids, grandkids, siblings, etc. visit you and offer to “help” you with your computer because it’s “too slow”.  So they work on it and “fix” it for you.  Now nothing works.
  8. There is a storm, fire, flood, or other disaster that destroys your office.

Sound familiar?  Yep–it can happen to you.

 

 

Data Loss–prevention

In the last post, I described what can happen to you when you least expect it.  We will now examine some things you can do to prevent the loss of your data (whether it be important legal documents, recipes for your favorite wine, or pictures of your family).

Back up your data–your first line of defense

  1. A simple backup can consist of you copying your data to some form of external media.  This can be a CD, DVD, flash drive, or USB hard drive.  In the case of a USB hard drives, most come with a backup program already installed. The backup should be done on a regular basis.  Oh, yes–remember that your backup needs to be stored somewhere other than next to your computer!  An offsite storage is preferable.
  2. Once you have your data covered, you need to think about your system as a whole.  Unless you have a system disk, in the case of a hard drive failure, you will not be able to reinstall Windows.  Many computers nowadays have a provision to make system recovery DVD’s.  You need to do that.  But that will only guarantee you can put the system back to the way it was when it was new.  Your programs and data are not covered here.
  3. Using a recovery DVD, reinstalling all your programs (apps in Win 10!), and restoring your backed up data will allow you to continue with life.  But at a cost–time!  This whole process takes a bit of time to do it right. Measured in hours.
  4. A system image is a really good tool.  It is a “picture” of your hard drive as it is now.  The operating system, the programs, and the data.  If you have a recent system image and you experience a hard drive failure, all you need to do is replace the drive, run the recovery program which restores the system image and you’re good to go.  Simple.

 

Data Loss prevention–the mechanics

Now you know what can happen.  You also have an idea of what to do.  But what do you need to do the job?

  1. A backup device.  Use a flash drive (careful–these are easy to lose) large enough to hold your data.
  2. A backup program.  As previously stated, if you buy an external USB hard drive (at least 1T in size), it should have a backup program on it.  You will need to install that program on your computer.  If you don’t want to use the program they provide, there are any number of programs out there–both free and paid versions–that will do the job.
  3. An imaging program.  This is the program that is capable of making a system image and then restoring it to a hard drive.  We use Acronis True Image in our business.
  4. A cloud backup solution.  This is also a good idea if you have data you need to access even in the event of some type of disaster.  Online data is usually available from any device using your logon credentials.  We use Carbonite here.  We are also Carbonite resellers for those of you wishing to buy it through us.
  5. Lacking a cloud backup, you need a place to store your data once it’s backed up.  If you have a business office, store the data at home.  If you have a home office, you could possibly store the data in a safe deposit box.  Possibly a fireproof safe.  Or maybe in a relative’s home.  Anywhere but next to your computer!

Need help with all of this?  Give us a call.

Data Loss prevention — some caveats

Now that you have read my recommendations for keeping your data save, you need to be aware of what can go wrong.  Otherwise you will be calling me and asking why you weren’t warned!

  1. When backing up your stuff, it is best to disconnect the backup device when you are not actually using it.  Should you become infected by a ransomware program, it will affect all connected devices.  It will, therefore, corrupt your backup if it can get to it.
  2. If burning a CD or DVD,  be sure to verify the process.  Also, with any backup system, occasionally look at the backup and see if the computer is actually backing up your data.  It does you absolutely no good to tell me you have your data backed up and when I go to look for it I find that your backups have not actually been working!
  3. Remember to store CD’s, DVD’s, and flash drives in a save place.  Don’t lay them in the sun or put them somewhere where they will be subject to extremes in temperature.
  4. If using a cloud backup system, ask the company how many backups they store.  For instance, in the case of ransomware, the corrupt files will be backed up to the cloud and will be useless.  If the company has several offline backups (Carbonite assures me that this is how they operate) then they can put one of good copies online for you to restore your data.

You’ve Won!

This scam is very familiar.  You shouldn’t fall for it.  No one should. But they do.

Sure, everyone wants to win a prize.  I keep waiting for the people from Publishers Clearinghouse to show up at my door!

If you get a call or a letter telling you that you won but you need to send some money to pay for shipping and handling or some other charge, keep your money in your pocket.  You didn’t win anything.

How about if the caller tells you that you must act right now or the offer won’t be any good.  The best thing to do is hang up.

How about when they ask for personal information such as your bank account number (so they can send your money)?  Nah!  Hang up.

Guard against these “opportunities.”  Keep your money and credit card in your pocket.  You’ll be money ahead.

Scams Targeting Senior Citizens

You always see warnings about these scams.  You read about them and tell yourself that you won’t fall for them.  But you do.  How do I know?  You call me and tell me and ask for help getting out of whatever you’ve gotten into.  So–let’s go over some now.\:

1. The Grandparent Scam–there is a description of this listed in another post, but a new twist consists of you getting a call telling you that your grandchild has been kidnapped and you need to pay the ransom.  NEVER send any money to these people until you verify the whereabouts of your grandchild.

2. Medicare Scam–most often Medicare itself is targeted.  But you may also be targeted. A “representative” calls you asking you to verify personal information.  Don’t give out any.  Medicare already has your information.  They will not ask for it.

3. Reverse Mortgage Scams–Do not take out a reverse mortgage without advice from a trusted financial professional.

Along the lines of mortgages, you may receive a call from someone telling you that if your mortgage is paid off, you need a Deed of Reconveyance or you you will have serious legal problems.  They will offer to get you one if you pay for it for somewhere around $175.  This is a document that you get when you pay off your mortgage. It’s a publicly available document that you can get from the county for a small processing charge.

There are many, many more scams including funeral pre-payment scams, lottery scams, scareware (fake virus) scams.   Here is a really useful page that will offer more valuable advice: https://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/fraud.