Good news and bad news
By Charles Miller
At one time or another everyone has heard a tale that begins with “There’s good news, and there’s bad news…” Somehow that seems an appropriate framework for this week’s column.
The good news is that in recent decades computer software writers and cryptologists have created absolutely impregnable encryption software. Used properly, it simply cannot be broken and so it is now possible to secure your personal information in a way that nobody, not even the National Security Agency can snoop it.
The bad news is that if you forget your password nobody, not even the NSA will ever be able to decrypt it. If proper procedures are followed, modern encryption software is impossible to decrypt without the keys.
The good news is that recent revelations concerning governmental snooping into phone records, email and other personal data have led to an increased public awareness for the need to protect private data. More people than ever are now using encryption software and are learning how to do so correctly.
The bad news is that some of those learning how to use encryption software correctly are bad guys. The latest trend in virus/malware is CryptoLocker, which infects your computer then encrypts all your personal files preventing you from accessing them until a ransom has been paid. The crooks have absolutely done their encryption right, and there is simply no possibility of defeating their system.
The good news is that if you have a backup of your documents, pictures, and other important files, you need not be concerned because you can simply remove the virus and restore your files from the backup.
The bad news is that if you do not have a backup of your files you either lose everything or will have to pay dearly to get your data back. All you need to do is pay the crooks a ransom of between several hundred to several thousand dollars.
The good news is that they make it easy to pay your ransom online, or maybe that is not good news because an anonymous payment system is used making it impossible for law-enforcement to track down the location of these extortionists.
The really good news is that most anti-virus software is now able to detect and remove the various forms of CryptoLocker from your computer if it is infected.
The bad news is that removing the virus does not decrypt your files. If you do not have a backup of your files and you removed the virus, then you have no way to recover your data. Your computer needs to be infected with a working copy of CryptoLocker in order to be able to pay the ransom and regain access to your files.
The good news is that if you ran an antivirus program and removed the CryptoLocker virus from your infected computer, you can usually re-infect your computer with the virus so that you will be able to pay the ransom then decrypt your files. The ransom amount will be now much higher than if you had not tried to defeat the virus; sorry, that was probably bad news. After that, you may clean the virus from your system again.
The good news is that anyone can be completely protected against CryptoLocker and all the copy-cat extortion schemes to come simply by following good computer practices and having a reliable, tested, backup regimen in use.
The really bad news is that ransomware schemes like CryptoLocker are now the new reality and everyone who uses a computer needs to get used to it. There is too much money to be made by the crooks for them to ignore this. State of the art in encryption technology together with anonymous online payment methods mean that now the crooks will continue to extort more and more victims who have no backups.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044-415-101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.