It may have been April Fools Day on Sunday, but it was actually Saturday March 31 that held all the ironic humour for me this year. That’s because it was ‘World BackUp Day’ (unfortunately the site appears to be down right now!), designed to promote safe and secure second copies of all of your data, and I was spending it reinstalling my operating system due to a malware infection.
Malware can get you, even when you’re careful:
I tend to be reasonably careful, particularly on the laptop I primarily use for my business. I have antivirus software installed (McAfee for the record), I run some browser add-ons for extra safety and I try not to visit any websites which I know or suspect could be dangerous.
I also don’t click on links in emails offering Nigerian lottery winnings or direct messages on Twitter which suggest there’s a ‘really bad picture of me’ with a link obscured with a shortened link.
And yet on Friday afternoon I was hit by a spoof version of a legitimate program which not only then covered my desktop in pop-up windows, but also proved a complete pain to remove as it edited the computer’s registry and made sure it reappeared every time I thought I’d successfully eradicated it.
The one good thing is that there are now plenty of websites giving detailed instructions on curing more problems as soon as they appear – unfortunately it took a couple of attempts to find one to deal with the current version of the malware, but it’s worth having a look around to find trusted and reliable sites before you need to Google them in a hurry.
And incidentally, a new piece of research just published shows how easy it is to fall foul of a widespread problem – on average 2 of the top 25,000 websites in the world (ranked via Alexa) serve malware to visitors each day on average. Or problems can occur installing apps – even from ‘official’ sources such as the Chrome Web Store. This doesn’t mean you need to be paranoid, but does mean doing some research and thinking before clicking on links, installing apps, and putting some effort into protecting yourself and your data, including if the worst happens.
The importance of backups:
The good news is that I finally managed to remove it successfully, using a couple of anti-spyware programs I hadn’t tried before. Having finally killed the process and restarted my machine to ensure it wouldn’t reappear, I was left with one further problem – the malware had also been created to remove all desktop icons, links and to stop anyone searching from programs which would interfere with it.
So a Restore/Re-Install was needed. But trying the automatic Windows Restore didn’t work – it was only the proprietary manufacturer backup which worked, sending my laptop back in time to the first day of 2011.
I always ensure I have two copies of all data relating to work – one copy is stored on a removable hard drive which is kept in a different part of the house to the laptop when not in use, and the other is stored ‘in the cloud’ on an online storage system which automatically saves any changes made to any files.
Pictures are always backed up on the hard drive, and also uploaded to Flickr on a weekly basis, as are most videos. But I did lose all my (legally) downloaded music as unfortunately I’d cleared all the albums from my hard drive backup whilst I sorted through them and put them into some sort of order.
And even worse, I have a nagging feeling that some images and videos of my son appear to be missing, and it was pre-upload/backup, which means they’re gone forever.
Going back so far also means I’ve spent about a week receiving updates every time I fire up my laptop, which then install on Shutdown and leave me stood around for ages when everyone else is going home.
Re-install, Rebuild, Update,Protect:
So what have I done since? Well, seeing as I’m fully paid up for McAfee for a while longer I’ve made sure it’s completely up-to-date and double-checked the set-up. I’ve also started testing one of the new programs which seems to have killed the malware on this occasion, and one other anti-virus solution which is available for free download. No single program is lightly to always cover everything 100%, but having 2 or 3 available means I should be able to cover most options.
But on balance I think I’ve done a reasonable amount, as well as double and triple-checking all backups are running correctly both for the laptop OS and Software, and for the Files and Data. I’ve reinstalled the programs I use on a regular basis, and set them all back up to work properly, and I’m working at full speed again. You can never be 100% safe, but with the right processes in place the occasional problem isn’t as much of a hassle, and a clean install can be quite a refreshing spring clean of all the old junk you’ve got on your PC which isn’t actually used.
It’s also reminded me to audit my accounts and passwords on my sites, remove unused WordPress plugins, and update everything on social networks etc.