Probably you've read about ransomware, malware that encrypts all of the data on your computer, followed by demands for payment to restore your files.
An article in the Guardian estimated that 40% of businesses have been affected by it.
Paying up is no guarantee that you'll actually get your files back and may make you the target of further attacks. Law enforcement has been relatively ineffective in catching the attackers, who often are thousands of miles away.
The other day I thought it was my turn. A window popped up saying that unless I called the phone number in the window, all my data would be destroyed. I wasn't able to close that window nor to close the browser.
FAKE RANSOMEWARE--AND THE SOLUTION
Panic, especially since I thought I was protected by using a program called Bitdefender (which I recommend).
However, before doing anything, I looked up ransomware on my iPad and discovered that in some cases the demand is a fake and the information on the computer has not been affected. It's just a pop-up window and while you can't close it in the normal way, if you use the "force quit" command to close the browser and then open it again but without restoring the tabs you had open, you're back in business.
That, fortunately, is exactly what happened.
I have been using both Safari and Chrome; it seems to me that lately a lot of unwanted material is coming up when I use Chrome. I don't know whether others have had the same experience.
HACKED TWICE THIS YEAR
My sites have been the target of hackers twice in the past year. The first time, they took over my sites and posted weird images and a "tag" similar to the signage favoured by gangs. I don't think they targeted me specifically, my sites just happened to be among the many they took over.
I changed servers and had an expert increase the security settings, but several of the sites were hacked again, this time by criminals who used them to create home pages that looked like the home pages of banks and credit card companies and tried to get people to give up their banking details.
I've had the expert install even more security, but it seems that it's difficult, if not impossible, to be totally safe. Such attacks mean the sites are unavailable, and restoring them can be expensive. There's also a feeling of violation not unlike coming home and finding that someone has broken in.
TIP 1: CHECK THE ORIGIN OF EMAILS
By the way, if you get any emails that might not be genuine, check the full address from which the message was sent. Often a message that supposedly is from your bank turns out to have originated from an address like "odie1barclays." A fake message I got recently about a book not being delivered was from somebody at "Amazn.com".
The more sophisticated con artists are more clever than that, but quite a few depend on us being too busy to make even rudimentary checks.
TIP 2: USE AN ALTERNATIVE BROWSER FOR IMPROVED PRIVACY
If you don't like the idea of your browser tracking your every move, consider DuckDuckGo. Unlike most others, they don't keep a record of your internet activity. You can find out more at DuckDuckGo.com.
TIP 3: DO ONLINE AND OFFLINE BACK-UPS
Of course you should be backing up all of your files, and to be extra secure it makes sense to back up onto the cloud and also onto a storage device.
External hard drives have become very small and cheap now or you can still back up onto DVDs. However, to be totally safe you'd need to disconnect the drives when not actually backing up. Otherwise, apparently hackers can target connected external drives as well.
THE NEW REALITY
It seems that whether it's the US presidential election or our modest little websites, the internet is another front that requires us to be alert. I'm not an expert on any of this, just sharing what's happened to me in case you might find something useful in it. If in doubt, do a detailed internet search for fuller information and advice.
Apologies to my US readers, for whom the parody cover below won't ring a bell. I shall explain: Here in England there's a railway operated by a company called Southern. The people who run the company and the people who work for it don't get along well, which means there are lots of strikes. Which means lots of trains don't run when they're supposed to (or sometimes at all).
During commute times they pack people in like sardines, while charging very high rates...partly because eventually they give in to the strikers and that means paying more or hiring more people or both.
There's just enough of the "stiff upper lip" tendency left over in the UK for companies and unions to get away with situations like this. "Mustn't grumble," they say, grumbling. Perhaps one day a hero will arise to lead the downtrodden commuting masses. Me, I work at home.