Backup; the panacea for computer viruses and ransomware.

It’s getting a little scary out there with computer viruses and ransomware.

Ransomware, for those lucky enough to not have experienced it, is when a virus encrypts all the data on your computer effectively locking you out of your computer and unable to access any of your data.

This means that you can no longer use your computer nor get to any of your data. Period.

Think you’re protected because you have anti-virus? Or you have a firewall? Or you have a really good IT guy? Aren’t you adorable.

No, really, it’s great that you have up-to-date anti-virus, a firewall, and a really good IT guy. It really is. But that’s not enough. In fact, you can have all of that and more, but at the end of the day there’s still you. You’re the weak link. It’s nothing personal, it’s just you, it’s me, it’s everyone. We’re human and humans don’t always have the best judgement. We do silly things. Things that look innocent enough, but lead to disastrous results.

Imagine that you get an email from a friend, a family member, or your boss that looks legitimate and important. You’re going to be at home, work, or somewhere in-between. You’re going to be tired, or it will be late, or you will be working at home with a beer or a glass of wine and casually open that email. You’ll innocently click on the link or attachment that was in the email and before you know it, you’ll be infected. Your computer will be encrypted and locked and you’ll be stuck. More than 60% of ransomware attacks come via email and can spread throughout an entire organizations computers from there.

But all is not lost, the helpful criminals who locked you out of your computer included a way for you to pay them a ransom to unlock it with a special decryption key.

It’s fairly affordable for companies, with the average cost being about $680 to get your computer unlocked and decrypted. All you have to do is to pay the ransom in bitcoins. Don’t know what a bitcoin is? Don’t worry, almost no one does, you’re not alone and the criminals that locked your computer make it easy for you to purchase the bitcoins to pay them, with step by step instructions for you to be able to get on with your day.

Ransomware is big business and it’s on the rise with 600% growth and people paying out $1 Billion dollars in ransom last year alone.

Don’t feel bad if this happened to you. Nearly 50% of all organizations have had a ransomware attack and the attackers are getting better and more sophisticated in their methods.

The sooner we all realize that 100% secure systems are a fantasy, the sooner we can get on with preparing for being able to recover from the inevitable.

The one sure fire way to be able to recover from ransomware, is to restore from a backup. Believe it or not, it’s possible to suffer from a ransomware attack first thing in the morning, and without paying the ransom, be fully recovered and running by lunch. All you need is a good backup and recovery strategy.

Backup is your super-sexy insurance policy that will pull your ass out of a jam when you-know-what hits the fan.

If you work for a big company, odds are that they have a good backup and recovery strategy for your computer. Hopefully. If not, have them call me.

If you’re part of a small company or just want to make sure your personal computer is protected, there are a zillion ways to backup your computer and keep it safe and I’m going to give you just a few pointers on what you absolutely must do in order to be able to recover from a ransomware attack. But keep in mind, while the following will be extremely helpful, it’s not fool-proof. It’s a starting point that will most likely get you to recover from 99% of all virus attacks.

  • Automate your backup. Whether you use TimeMachine for your Mac or some other solution, make sure it runs as often as is necessary to lose the least amount of work. Daily, weekly, or every hour. Whatever method you choose, make sure to automate it because, as I’ve said before, we’re human and we do silly things, like forget to backup our computer for months.
  • Have a copy that is off-line and disconnected from your computer. This does not mean the cloud (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.) this means a hard drive that’s physically connected to your computer that you can unplug from your computer when done. I use several removable/external hard drives that I plug in at night and my backup software automatically backs up my computer while I’m working or while I’m sleeping. The next day, I unplug the hard drive and put it away and plug in another hard drive for the next automatic backup. I do this because if I get infected on Wednesday and the virus infects my computer and external hard drive that I plugged in Wednesday morning, my hard drives that I used for my backup on Tuesday, Monday, and Sunday are unplugged and in the closet, safe from infection. I can restore my entire computer on Wednesday afternoon from my good backup on Tuesday that doesn’t have the virus. The more external hard drives I have, the safer I am. I can use some for weekly backup, some for monthly, some for daily.
  • Use multiple methods of backup. In addition to using the external hard drives in the prior bullet, use a cloud backup solution like CrashPlan that continually runs in the background. Make sure your backup and account is encrypted with a good password. Additionally, use a cloud storage solution such as Dropbox, or Google Drive. Using several methods helps reduce the chance of lost data and provides you with backup for your backup; and essential part of any good backup and recovery plan.

Good luck!

Do you have some tips or a story to share? Did you or a friend have this experience? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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About Brian Greenberg

Brian Greenberg is a senior strategy consultant specializing in whole systems design and leveraging technologies to advance the goals of organizations in the public, private, academic and not-for-profit sectors. An information systems and technology leader, Brian has 20 years experience in information systems design, architecture and business operations.  Brian holds a B.S. in Philosophy & Applied Computer Science and a M.A. in Whole Systems Design – Systems Theory. As a frequent industry speaker, Mr. Greenberg addresses how organizations can better align legal and business requirements with IT and has presented several papers and participated at conferences. Brian also sits on the Board of Directors of EcoMyths Alliance, a consortium of environmental education partners.