We all do our best to keep our computers secure. In fact, I woke up this morning to a useful link to a very handy guide on computer safety. But in my case it was like shutting the door after the horse had bolted.
Yesterday afternoon, out of the blue, a strange screen popped up on my husband’s PC. He is a self-employed surveyor, and his computer holds over 30 years of work, plus all our personal data. He keeps up to date with upgrades, buys the most recent anti-virus packages, and also pays for Dropbox storage. Everything combined to keep us safe, or so we thought.
This strange message seemed to have frozen the PC, so we did what we always do, turned the computer off, had a cup of tea and turned it back on. We expected all to be well.
But no, it was still not working. We called in our computer friend who immediately identified the problem. We had been hacked by Ransomware. This meant all our data had been encrypted and in order to unlock it we were instructed to pay a fee. This fee was quoted in Bit Coins, a virtual currency that is apparently legal, but totally untraceable. We were asked for 3 bit coins, which worked out at around £1,500.
Our first reaction was, pay up and get our computer back. But with more consideration, we realised this was blackmail. Our computer advisor explained that even if we went ahead and paid, there was no guarantee the criminals behind the scam would actually unlock our machine. Or maybe they would just unlock some of it and then demand more money.
Also, he said the whole payment process was very long winded and full of pitfalls. Never forgetting that by paying we would be fueling the crime.
After a sleepless night, we decided to ignore the demands. It appears our Dropbox back up has also been affected so we really do have nothing. Although we are going to contact them and hope they may store the files on their own server.
In retrospect, we now know that the only safe way to back up is on an external device, and that was our mistake.
So what do we do now? We have accepted the loss of personal photos and feel relieved that our family have copies of the most important pictures.
Our personal data can be re-built, albeit with weeks of work.
The problem is my husband’s business. Ironically, he is just a few years away from retirement, and I must say, that is an attractive option. But he has ongoing commitments and will have to work with his clients to rebuild his database. He will just muddle through. Being self-employed, his time is money, so we expect to lose out financially in quite a big way.
The whole thing is extremely stressful, neither of us is sleeping well, and we just keep asking ourselves how this can have happened.
Looking online, it appears that Ransomware is becoming more prevalent. It can be activated by clicking on an email attachment, through social media, or websites.
My husband doesn’t have anything to do with social media, and is very careful with what attachments he opens, so I guess we are just unlucky. We have been told that the malware could have been sitting on the PC for quite a long time and only just been activated. So it is not necessarily something he did recently.
He is trying to be philosophical and uses his favourite stress relieving phrase, “No one has died,” which is true, but even so it makes us both feel sick and violated.
We will bounce back, but my plea to all my online friends is back up to a memory stick or similar, something that can be physically removed from your computer and stored elsewhere. Then at least you haven’t lost everything, even though you will still need to pay to have your PC wiped clean.
Has your computer ever been hacked? Do you back up your files to an external hard drive? Please share your experience and let’s start a conversation.