This month I thought I might touch on several short topics before we go into the holiday season.
Windows 11 was released earlier this October. Unlike Windows 10 which was designed to work on most computers, Windows 11 has some very specific hardware requirements. If you have a computer that was built in the last 4 years, chances are you will be able to do the free upgrade to Windows 11. Otherwise, don’t worry about it as Windows 10 will be supported for the next 4 years and by that time you will probably want to upgrade to new hardware. You can also choose replace Windows 10 with Linux instead.
Protecting Yourself from Ransomware
Next let’s revisit a column I wrote about ransomware this past May. In that column I covered what ransomware was but did not cover how to protect yourself. Ransomware protection is essentially the same as disaster recovery for any other computer disaster. First make certain you can recover the operating system, for most that means Windows 10. The best way to do this is to make a bootable USB thumb-drive with a Windows image. A search on Google for “create windows recovery drive” should find the correct page from Microsoft for the instructions to create a recovery drive for Windows 10 or 11. You will need a 16 Gigabyte or larger thumb drive that will only be used for this purpose. You should also make certain that you either have installation media for the applications you need to re-install or that the install is available on the web. The next step involves an external disk or a different thumb drive. The size of this depends on how much data you need to store. In general, most people want to back up their documents, photos, and music folders. For me this is about 128 Gigabytes of data. A backup can be as simple as copying the folders into the external drive periodically. I try to do mine weekly and I use Sync Toy which is free software that can be downloaded from Microsoft. You can use any backup software but a key point is that the media should be removed between each backup. This prevents the media from being damaged by any malware that infects the system.
A best practice is to back up to two or more different devices in case one fails. Another popular alternative is to backup to cloud storage. Be aware that if continuous synchronization is enabled the backup will be destroyed along with the data as the ransomware encrypts the data. Microsoft’s One Drive is supposed to protect against this concern. Windows also supports a feature called “Controlled folder access” which allows you to limit the programs that can access specific folders. This is not easy to setup correctly but does provide another means to protect your data from ransomware.
The most common phone scams I am seeing are auto-warranty, 0% credit card update, and various forms of Medicare/Medicaid fraud. Recently I have been getting calls from cable-company and Amazon scammers.
The cable or satellite company scammer tells you that they need to upgrade the firmware on your set top box. They offer to do this while you are on the phone with them. Then they offer, for a fee of $50 paid now, to lower your cable bill by 50% for the next 12 to 24 months. These scammers are after two things, the $50 and your personal information. Be careful, apparently there have been breaches at several cable companies and the person on the phone may already have your account number, or street address. I have found however that they normally are incapable of answering questions that Comcast and Verizon service representatives should be able to answer. If you get a call like this hang up. If you want to confirm it is fake, call your cable provider directly and ask about the offer.
Amazon scammers normally start with a recording or automated voice stating that an apparently fraudulent order for some amount of money has been placed on your Amazon account. You can and should hang-up right here. This is not Amazon (they never call). If you follow through the operator will want to access your computer to cancel the order. Amazon doesn’t need to access your computer to cancel an order. In reality the scammer wants to control your computer remotely allowing them to add malware to your computer and to order items from Amazon for themselves. Never allow this! They will compromise your Amazon account and with the installed malware may also compromise your banking and other financial accounts.
Don’t Try This at Home
I periodically write about phone scammers and other scams. I have a specialized environment allowing me to interact with these scammers without risking my network or computers. I do this to learn about the scammers so I can tell others how to protect themselves. Please do not try this yourself as the risk is very high. The best option for most people is to simply hang up. If you think the call may be legitimate, hang up and call the number of the organization the caller claims to be from and verify. In general, all incoming calls about reduction of interest, car warranties, medical devices, duct cleaning, Amazon orders, or from the cable company are scams. Unless you previously initiated a call to the company just hang up.
If you think the call may be legitimate, hang up anyway and then call the company back. Do not use a number given to you by the caller, use one that is listed for that company and can be confirmed. If it is a company you have never done business with remember that it is easy to create a fake company on the web. Be safe!