Cyber Attacks, Ransomware & Wipers, Oh My

In the aftermath of back-to-back global cyber attacks like WannaCry and Petya writers (among others) should be more concerned than ever about protecting their data. In this case, I’m talking about your books and works in progress.Ransomware is a type of malicious software (“malware”) that locks up your files until you pay an attacker for a code to unlock them. WannaCry is an example of this. This week, we saw the Petya malware disguise itself as ransomware but it’s more insidious. It permanently locks up the entire hard drive. In spite of the fact that many people paid the attackers, the “unlock code” doesn’t work. This is called a “wiper” because what it actually does is block the computer from booting properly ever again, effectively wiping the contents irretrievably. Writers work on computers. So should you worry? Yes and no. Yes, because malware is constantly evolving. While WannaCry and Petya target Windows, there are similar attacks ongoing against Macs and it’s only going to get worse. One way or another, your computer is at risk. No, because there are precautions you can take. First and foremost, back up your work early and often. I’m obsessive about this. I not only back up my full disk, I save my books and WIPs to no fewer than 3 thumb drives (also known as USB flash drives or jump drives). I’ve been around technology long enough to see all kinds of hardware failures, including thumb drives that went through the wash when I forgot I was carrying one in a pocket. Thumb drives are cheap – as little as $6. It’s a simple investment for peace of mind. Wait, I hear you ask, what about Google Drive, Dropbox or other “cloud” methods to store and backup? These are options but I don’t like relying on someone else to keep my work safe. Things may happen that are beyond my control (did I mention I’m a control freak when it comes to technology?). So, yes, cloud storage is an option but not one of my personal favorites. Second, keep your computer up to date. The easiest way to do this is to enable automatic updates. Both Microsoft and Apple issue regular and emergency updates as the threat landscape requires. Limit your risk by keeping current. Finally, and I’m talking to you Mac users, install anti-malware. Windows users have known this one for years. There’s a pervasive misunderstanding that Macs are immune to malware. This isn’t now nor has it ever been true. In fact, my first computer was a Mac. The first computer virus I saw was also on a Mac, 20 years ago. What is true is Macs were less interesting to bad guys for a long time but not anymore. Over the last 5 years, attacks against Macs have grown exponentially as the popularity of Apple products has increased. The good news is there are more options now to protect Macs for free. Products like Sophos and Malwarebytes are a couple of my favorites. Let’s all stay safe out there.              

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