"79% of small businesses don’t have a response plan for a cyber attack, and yet 63% have been victims of one." NFIB, the leadering US association for Small Business, shared this startling statistic in their 2016 Tech Trends report. Clearly, there is a very real chance that you could have a breach in the security of your files, and for some, the lifeblood of your business.
But who doesn’t ignore the thought of some threats – especially when you’re not entirely sure how it all works? Your mind starts spiraling at the cost, the inconvenience, and all of the other items on your to-do list. I’m guilty of it too. Even recently, I procrastinated in backing up my personal files. I thought to myself, “What are the chances that anything will happen?” Well actually, the chances are pretty good.
What Computer Threats Exist Today?
As technology continues to evolve, so does our definition of “computer virus”. Unfortunately, the definition grows as new threats surface. We call most computer threats “malware” which means “malicious software”. Several types of malware exist: adware, spyware, rootkits, and ransomware are just a few of the more common ones.
Adware and spyware annoy their victims more than anything. Those types of malware typically push excessive pop-up ads and collect user data to redirect you to specific websites. For example, if you try to visit your favorite website for news, it will keep showing you pop up ads that block the website and try to sell you products based on the data it has collected about you.
Rootkits are more malicious and can harm your computer files. Rootkits hide themselves from the user, making them hard to detect, and often, they hide other malicious malware from being detected.
These threats are nothing new. Whether on your personal or business computer, you likely have anti-malware and anti-virus systems in place like Norton, Kaspersky, or Avast. This is a common practice. Often in my work, I will help businesses set up and maintain their anti-virus and anti-malware software.
Ransomware, is a different beast altogether. With a ransomware attack, you usually receive an email that seems credible (maybe from a bank or other institution) but is actually a fake. If you click on its links or attachments, it will launch an attack that blocks your access to all of your computer files until you pay a ransom. With the other types of computer threats, you can save your important files, wipe your computer back to square one, and then keep working. Inconvenient, but nothing compared to the ransomware attacks. To resolve a ransomware threat, you will need to de-encrypt the infected files. In other words, you have to “unlock” them by paying the ransom. If you don’t want to pay, hopefully your files are backed up somewhere, so you don’t lose all of your information. There are not common software protection packages that you can download to protect against Ransomware attacks. Instead, the actions of you and your employees determine your risk of a ransomware attack, since the program has to be launched manually.
Earlier this year, we wrote an article on things you can do to help prevent against ransomware computer viruses. Things like
- Check to see the email sender
- Don’t click links or attachments in an unexpected email
- Make sure your software is up-to-date
- Backup your files
Most of these actions come down to being aware of the messages you receive, but backing up your files is a proactive step that you can take to protect yourself. There are a couple different options that you have.
Proactively Minimize the Impact of a Computer Attack
When most people think of backups, they only consider data backups where you backup files like documents and pictures. This is fairly easy to do manually with an external hard drive or cloud storage solution like Dropbox or OneDrive. Just save your files to one of these locations. Even easier - you can accomplish this automatically with software such as Acronis or Storagecraft.
If a virus attacks your computer, you can wipe the computer back to its factory settings and reinstall the operating system, settings, and any other programs you use. Then you can download your files from your backup storage. Most businesses use a process like this. They store their files on a server. If an employee’s computer becomes corrupted, they will wipe the computer and reinstall the original applications.
A more robust form of backup, and one that is very useful to the personal user, is a system-state backup. You can save more than your documents and photos. A system state backup saves your programs and settings. Again, this is a more useful step for individual users. A business would require a ton of storage if they were to save the systems of each employee.
Many computers actually have built-in backups. Current Windows and Mac computers have the capability of a system-state backup within the computer. You just need to store the data somewhere. If you back up your systems and you need to wipe your computer, you can reinstate your computer in an hour or two rather than a day or two. To enact a system state backup, you can follow the easy to use backup wizard on your computer.
Access the backup function by clicking on the Control Panel and selecting System and Maintenance. The backup wizard button will prompt storing the backup on an external hard drive or new partition of your current hard drive.
Access the backup function under System Preferences in the Time Machine folder. You will be prompted to select where you will store the information on an external hard drive.
With knowledge of what to avoid and the proper precautions, a computer virus doesn’t have to stop your productivity.