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How to protect your PC from infection

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

Think of all the valuable data your PC contains (pictures, files, invoices, contacts, etc). Now imagine losing all of that data Virus' are still a thing but you should be more worried about ransomware, worms and all of the other digital creepy crawlies roaming the net looking to make you their next victim.

Go read my article entitled "How to secure Windows 10".

Backup everything, then back it up again

In 2012, I wrote an article entitled "The best way to protect your data - images, music, documents". The main point is that you should always remember the 3-2-1 rule of backups:

  1. Have 3 copies of all of your important data (1 primary and 2 backups)
  2. Make sure your 2 backups are on separate media technologies (e.g.1 on a hard drive and the other in the cloud or 1 on a hard drive and the other on a tape backup)
  3. 1 of your backups should be offsite in a remote location that would not be impacted by a major disaster that hits your area (e.g. in the cloud).

The advantage of most cloud backups is that they support version control which means if you infect your files with ransomware, you can always go back to  a known good version. My backup strategy involves:

  1. 1 primary version of my data and a local hard drive backup
  2. 1 complete synchronization of my files on a fully encrypted trust no one online storage service
  3. 1 complete backup using a remote backup service (like backblaze or carbonite)

Update everything

WannaCry created an incredibly outcry in the tech world with thousands of companies getting infected in hundreds of countries. The truth is that an update published 2 months prior patched that vulnerability. Updating computers in large companies is complicated but your home PC shouldn't be.

You must must must update your operating system and applications regularly to stay protected.

The latest version of the operating systems from Microsoft, Apple and Ubuntu are all configured to auto-update themselves. In addition to the OS, make sure you periodically check for application updates.

If you use an Apple Macintosh computer, you may even want to use something like MacUpdate Desktop to constantly check if any of your installed apps have updates available.

Leave the built-in firewall on

Some "Security" apps turn off the built in firewall but it is critically important to ensure it is always on. On Windows, you can turn if on/off with these instructions. You can find information about the Apple Mac application firewall here

Use an antivirus

The question I get asked the most often is should I buy a third party antivirus for my home computer and my answer is no. Anytime you add a third party tool, you increase the attack vector therefore rely on what Microsoft bundles with Windows 10. You can follow these instructions to change the Windows Defender Antivirus cloud-protection level to 10.

In February I wrote an article entitled "Companies buying bitcoin to prepare for cyber extortion" and in there included this paragraph:

Companies have started to jump on the Ransomware protection bandwagon. An EDR &”next-generation AV” company called Cybereason offers a free product called RansomFree. They claim it protects against 99% of ransomware by monitoring how applications interact with files on your computer. Did I mention RansomFree is free? I haven’t used their product and thus can’t recommend it but it does seem to be useful and could really help the average consumer ensure they don’t end up getting victimized.

You can run something like RansomFree on your home PC in addition to the Windows antivirus. 

Upgrade the fleshware

The truth is that even the best most advanced technology can't prevent an infection if the user does something stupid. Often users are the weakest link the the corporate security chain and you are no different. 

Using good security hygiene will go a long way to protecting you. Basic tips:

  • never open an attachment from a user you do not know well or that you are not expecting
  • never click on a link embedded in an email
  • never install applications from untrusted sources (including torrents or anything pirated)
  • Remember that you can also get infected from a website so use Google Chrome with the the Ublock Origin plug-in

What to do if you get infected?

If a user's PC or Mac does get infected, their first thought is to find someone that can clean it. The truth is that once your PC is infected, it can' really be cleaned properly or trusted. At that point, you must do  a clean re-installation from a known clean source and then recover your files from a known good backup.

Some technical support companies will offer cleanup services but don't do it. Once your PC is infected, you don't know what else could be lurking in the background waiting to strike again. The best course of action is to start fresh.

Hopefully you have backups and everything will work out just fine. If you don't have backups and your files are encrypted by ransomware, you can always check out a free online site called No More Ransom Project and see if they offer a free decryptor for your ransomware. There are no guarantees your infection strain has a decryptor but it doesn't hurt to check.