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PC Cyber Security

Suddenly it takes longer for your software to boot, numerous unwanted pop-ups appear in your browser, your system crashes unexpectedly, programs start automatically or you receive warnings from what appears to be Microsoft or even the FBI. These are all sign of cyber attack.1 Cyber attacks run the gamut from unwanted cookies (minor but inconvenient) to ransomware (full nuclear attack).
  1. Cookies: Also known as browser cookies or tracking cookies, cookies are small, often encrypted text files, located in browser directories. Website servers set cookies to help authenticate the user if the user logs in to a secure area of the website. Login information is stored in a cookie so the user can enter and leave the website without having to re-enter the same authentication information over and over. Session Cookies are also used by the server to store information about user page activities so users can easily pick up where they left off on the server's pages. Cookies CAN be used for malicious purposes though. Since they store information about a user's browsing preferences and history, both on a specific site and browsing among several sites. Cookies can be used to track your browsing and create unwanted ads.2, 3
  2. Malware: "Malware" is a term for any software that gets installed on your machine and performs unwanted tasks, often for some third party's benefit. Malware programs can range from being simple annoyances (pop-up advertising) to causing serious computer invasion and damage (e.g., stealing passwords and data or infecting other machines on the network).4 There are many forms of malware from those we call "viruses" to others we refer to as "worms", "trojans" and "bots".5
  3. Ransomware: Ransomware is computer malware that installs covertly on a victim's computer, executes a cryptovirology attack that adversely affects it, and demands a ransom payment to decrypt it or not publish it. Simple ransomware may lock the system in a way which is not difficult for a knowledgeable person to reverse, and display a message requesting payment to unlock it. More advanced malware encrypts the victim's files, making them inaccessible, and demands a ransom payment to decrypt them.6, 7
As we use our PCs, we continue to run the risk cyber attacks from any one of the above. Therefore, we need to equip our selves with the proper software to both protect us from harm's way and rescue us if they succeed. We will explore recover from malware and ransomware in more detail for both Windows 7 & 10. Mac and Apple computers are much safer for a variety of reason but are not immune to malware.

This is my approach for Windows 7 or Windows 10

(Click here for Appple/Mac Computers)

  1. Keep your system and software up to date. Many of these updates contain patches to protect against vulnerabilities in the software which hackers may exploit.
  2. Use two Malware programs. I utilize both Superantispyware  which is excellent in removing tracking cookies and Malwarebytes  which has a great track record in removing malware (those small unwanted programs that change your browser or create pop-up adds as well as protect against cyber attacks). Both work well, side by side.
  3. Use an Anti-Exploit/Anti-Ransomware programs to prevent ransomware. Many of the anti-exploit programs I've used have given me problems either in load time or interfering with browser use. I am currently beta testing Malwarebytes 3.0  which incorporates anti-malware, anti-exploit and anti-ransomware. I will post feedback over the coming month.
  4. Don't respond to any emails seemingly coming from your Bank, Social Security or even the FBI which are requesting personal information (email address, bank account numbers, social security number, or tell you that your computer has problems and they are willing to log-on and fix them). These institutions would call or USPS-mail you rather then sending an email notice. Call the institution via phone if you have questions.
  5. Don't open email attachments from sources you don't know! Don't, ever.
  6. At the end of each day, run the following:
    • Run each of your malware programs (if they are not already set up to run at specific times). This will catch not only some of those cookies but some of those small unwanted programs or malware that may have slipped by noticed.
    • Run Disk Cleanup (Windows 10: Left click on the Windows Start/Menu on the lower left of the tool bar/scroll to Windows Administrative Tools and you'll see Disk Cleanup - Windows 7: Left Click on the Windows Start Menu and type in the search box Disk Cleanup). Disk Cleanup will remove those temp and junk files that may harbor malware.
    • Pro Tip: I run CCleaner  at the end of the day which I have found to be the most effective in removing unwanted cookies and junk files from my system. This results in adding a minute or so when I startup my PC but gives me great peace of mind.
  7. Defragment you disk weekly (unless you're running a solid state disk were frequent defragmentation will wear down the disk) to create a smoother faster running time.
  8. Create a System Restore Point  weekly and before you download major program update or new programs.
  9. Create a System Image  monthly of your hard drive if you succumb to a "nuclear attack" of ransomware.

This is my approach for Apple/Mac Computers:

  1. Make sure you're running the latest software version.  Check if your system is up-to-date by clicking on the Apple logo in the top left of the menu bar. Then click About This Mac.
    • If you are still running a version older than OS X 10.9.2 (as of this date Dec. 2016) head to the Mac App Store and click on the Updates tab. Wait while your Mac searches for updates. We had a couple of minutes of waiting before the new update showed up.
    • Once the update appears, click Update.
    • You will need to restart your computer once the update has downloaded. Our 460MB download took about 8 minutes (during which time we were still able to work) but then the restart and install took almost 20 minutes, bringing the total install time to about 25 minutes in total.
  2. Apple has installed a security measures including Gatekeeper8, which blocks any software that hasn't been digitally signed and approved by Apple. If you try to open an app by a developer that Apple hasn't verified you will see the message: "[this app] can't be opened because it is from an unidentified developer."
    • Don't try to by-pass Gatekeeper.
    • Gatekeeper does not protect you from malware uploaded from software on a disk or USB drive.
  3. PC firewall: Turn on your built in PC firewall when you are in a public Wi-Fi hotspot. The built-in Application Firewall does not act as a barrier to infection, or prevent malware. It blocks inbound connections to certain network services you're running, such as file sharing. It's disabled by default and you should leave it that way if you're behind a router on a private home or office network. Activate it when you're on an untrusted network, for instance a public Wi-Fi hotspot, where you don't want to provide services.
    • Check to ensure the PC firewall's enabled by opening System Preferences and selecting the Security & Privacy option.
    • Click the Firewall tab and ensure it reads Firewall: On. If not, click the Turn On Firewall button.
    • For fine-grained control over which apps are protected, click the Firewall Options button.
  4. Disable any services you don't use in the Sharing preference pane.
  5. If you download and try to open files contaminated with malware, you may see an explicit warning that the files will “damage your computer”, along with a reference to type of malware. You should delete the file immediately.
  6. Steer clear of Browser Plug-ins. Recent vulnerabilities with the Java and Flash plug-ins have highlighted the fact that there are cross platform threats that even Mac users need to be aware of. A policy of denying all sites plug-in access is a good one, unless they absolutely can’t function without them.
  7. Whether Macs need an antivirus is still open to debate,9, 10, 11 but increasing numbers of Mac owners feel the need to install one - so much so that in 2011 one of the biggest Mac malware infections was via a fake antivirus app called MacDefender.
    • Additional antiviral software is probably not needed seeing that Apple has built in a variety of layers of protection.
    • Commercial (not from Apple App Store) "anti-virus" or "Internet security" products for the Mac, often do more harm than good, if they do any good at all.
    • Even free anti-malware product even from the App Store, such as "ClamXav," may not be s entirely safe. It may report email messages that have "phishing" links in the body, or Windows malware in attachments, as infected files, and offer to delete or move them. Doing so could possibly corrupt the Mail database. The messages should be deleted from within the Mail application.
    • But first read the last 3 references below to make an intelligent decision.

References:
  1. 10 Warning Signs that Your Computer is Malware-Infected  by Andrea Zaharia, Heimdal Security, May 2016
  2. Welcome to All About Cookies.org  from allaboutcookies.org
  3. ARCHIVED: What are cookies?  Indiana University, Knowledge Base, 2016
  4. Viruses, Spyware, and Malware  Information Systems and Technology at MIT
  5. What Is the Difference: Viruses, Worms, Trojans, and Bots?  Cisco Security Research & Operations
  6. Ransomware  From Wikipedia
  7. Ransomware  from TEND Micro, 2016
  8. OS X: About Gatekeeper  from Apple, March 2016
  9. Do Macs get viruses? Do Macs need an antivirus?  Do Macs need an antivirus? by Karen Haslam, MacWorld, Aug 16
  10. How to you know if you have malware  Apple Communities Blog, 2013
  11. Do Apple Macs need antivirus? Do Macs get viruses? Mac security explained - How to secure an Apple Mac  by Matt Egan, from PCadvisor, Nov. 2016

PC Cyber Security
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