Minimize being victimized by malware

Recently I came across a Wired article titled “20 People Who Are Creating the Future.” In a piece on Parisa Tabriz, the head of security for Google’s Chrome browser, a line caught my eye: “[Tabriz] has spent four years focusing on a vulnerability so widespread, most engineers act as if it doesn’t exist: humanity." In other words, accepting the reality of human error and designing technology to help overcome it, rather than ignore it. Browsers such as Chrome, Firefox and Safari allow you to explore the internet (aka the cloud), but can also be a vehicle for scams and viruses to enter your devices.

The digital world is abuzz with cautionary tales about the proliferation of “ransomware” which is a type of “malware.” Just like the etymology of the word malware comes from the concatenation of the words “malicious software,” ransomware also has malicious intent.

Simply put, ransomware takes your data, such as your documents and photos, hostage until the ransom is paid in untraceable digital currency (“bitcoins”) to the perpetrator of the ransomware.

Ransomware encrypts your data, and make it useless to you until it is decrypted with the key held by the nefarious entity. I often use the following analogy to explain the effects of encryption and decryption:

Let’s say you just finished putting together an one-of-a-kind Lego model. Overnight a thief enters your home and decides to take the model apart – all 5,000 pieces – and puts them back in the box. However the one thing the thief does not put in the box is the 80-page instruction booklet. You wake up the next morning to discover the disassembled Lego model and the ransom note instructing you to deposit money into a Swiss bank account in exchange for the instruction booklet. That instruction booklet is the only chance you have to putting the model back together again.

The thief disassembling the model is akin to the ransomware encrypting your data, rendering it useless to you unless you pay up.

Back to that article where “humanity” is mentioned as a widespread vulnerability in technology. As I always remind my readers, malware in most cases do not start victimizing you unless you first invite them onto your device (computer, tablet or smartphone). How does that happen? Being too click-happy (i.e. opening every email regardless of origination and clicking on every link in such email) or visiting questionable websites are examples of habits that increase vulnerability.

Practicing good digital-world habits, aka building internet street smarts, and having backups of your data stored away, are just as important as having security software, and updated software and operating systems on your devices. These increase your chance to recover from disasters and to minimize the chance of being victimized.

Tak Sato

Strategist with over 25 years of experience. Holds Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Science and Executive MBA from Cleveland State University.

As co-founder and strategist for the Center for Aging in the Digital World, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit empowering seniors through technology, and founder of geek with a heart with the service mark "Hand-holding You in the Digital World", Tak helps people utilize appropriate technology in their personal and professional lives.

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Volume 9, Issue 11, Posted 10:14 AM, 06.06.2017