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You have computer files you want to keep, so read on

February 7, 2015

Last night, my data professional, security conscious husband got a trojan virus on his computer that permanently encrypted (locked) all his files away from him. This particular trojan (called CryptoWall) demands hundreds of dollars to unlock the files again. We may end up paying.

I wrote a more technical blog about this over on my database blog, but for those of you who might need a civilian’s guide to what’s up, there’s this blog.

Main Points

  1. This trojan virus is for realz, and it can affect you. Like I said, we’re security conscious; Sean doesn’t open email attachments, download weird suff, all that. He still got it. There is literally no way to get the files back – no software, no company, no trick – unless he ponies up and they happen to provide the encryption key. We have security expert friends who say the exact same thing.
  2. Some of the usual safety mechanisms won’t protect you. Sean had antivirus, up to date. He had offsite backups of his files, in the form of Microsoft OneDrive. OneDrive keeps a constantly updated copy of files up in The Cloud, which in this case was bad, because it updated all the files with the encrypted versions. Yes, you can lose all your files.
  3. The solution is ridiculously simple, but you have to do it now. BEFORE you get the damn trojan.

Easy solution: Save off your files now

This is super easy.

  1. Buy an external hard drive.  It almost doesn’t matter which one. Get one with halfway decent reviews, and don’t feel the need to spend $500 on it. Mine was something like $80, I think, and it’s got a huge amount of space.
  2. Plug it into your computer. Hard drives these days come with USB cords, and are (usually) immediately recognized by your computer. It will show up as a new drive in your “My Computer” screen.
  3. Copy files to it.* This can be as complex as using the script I provided over on my tech blog, or just copy and pasting your “My Documents” folder to the external drive. Do this every month or two, and if your computer catches the trojan, you can give the hackers responsible the finger, get your computer wiped and reinstalled, and stick your files back on it.

Seriously, that’s all.

Please do this now. For you.

-Jen

P.S. Feel free to ask me any questions you like about this.

P.P.S. This is by no means a complete discussion of security practices. It’s just one aspect, and it will go a long way toward helping you out. Obviously keep complex passwords, keep your antivirus up to date, don’t download strange files with candy, etc. etc.

*Never hook anything up to a computer that’s been infected. In fact, take that computer offline once it’s infected. You do NOT want to pass the trojan on to your external hard drive, or a USB thumb drive, or (thereby) to another computer. Trojan viruses are contagious, you know.

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