How often do you backup the files on your computer? If you are anything like me, you have the best of intentions, but somehow life gets in the way and before you know it your most recent backup of your files is over a year old and more or less useless.
Now think about how disastrous it would be if you were to lose all the files on your computer. That’s what almost happened to me the last week when I accidentally went to an infected website that had malware on it. The malware started downloading as soon as the page started loading, and then once it had downloaded, it tried to execute and infect my computer.
The malware was a particularly nasty piece of software called ransomware. How it works is that it looks for files on your computer (like pictures and documents) and encrypts them. Once the encryption process finishes it notifies you that your files are locked and that you need to pay the hackers money to get the unlock code for your files. See the video below for exactly how it operates.
Fortunately for me, I was running my internet browser through a program that puts everything into a virtual directory on my computer and doesn’t allow anything to run that is downloaded (unless I move it out). In this instance the malware tried to install itself and failed because it didn’t have the correct permissions to install that it required.
I got lucky.
Any other day of the week I could have been using my internet browser outside of this window, but on the day this happened I just happened to be using Sandboxie to protect my computer from the world.
If the malware would have infected my machine I would have had 2 main options.
- I could have paid the hackers the money and hoped that they gave me the key needed to unlock my files – not really going to trust them though considering they infected my machine.
- I could remove the virus and then restore from a backup – again, not really a great option because my backup was over a year old, so I would have lost most of my data.
As you can see, neither is very palatable.
What is the lesson learned?
The main thing I learned about this exercise was that I should always have my important files backed up. So immediately after my malware scare, I stored my important files on a USB drive and also in an online storage system. I also made a point of telling others about my story so that they can see just how easily things can go wrong.
Backing up files is important regardless of whether you are trying to prevent a virus or malware getting into your computer. Your computer might have an issue and die on its own, or you might accidentally delete some files like the little girl below.
The main thing you need to remember is that backing up your files doesn’t take too long, and it can save you money in the long run if a problem ever occurs.
What else can you do?
If you are paranoid about this ransomware malware as much as I am now, there are a few ways you can prevent it.
- Use a sandbox program like I do – Sandboxie
- Try Crypto Prevent – Note: I haven’t used this, but apparently it’s good.
- Load up a virtual machine inside of your computer to access the internet with. I do this all the time now as it creates a great buffer between me and the internet. You can make a virtual machine by either downloading VMWare Player or Virtual Box and then installing a free operating system like CentOS. See an example of me using my virtual machine below.
Have you ever lost files or been hit by ransomware?