Hardly a day goes by without a news story reporting that yet another business has fallen foul of a trojan or virus, and either been scammed for lots of money or lost data due to malicious links. Hackers aren’t fussy who they target – businesses of all sizes across the world, home users, social media users – everyone is susceptible to malware. So, be prepared and know what to do in the event of falling prey to an attack.
It can take as little as 10 minutes from opening a malicious attachment for a trojan to infect, corrupt or encrypt all your documents. Within 45 minutes you could lose the lot: photos, music – basically everything on your computer.
What To Look Out For
Hackers can be very clever, but there can be tell-tale signs in an email that it may not be what it seems. Are there any obvious spelling errors, is a program trying to install itself on your machine, is there a “pop-up” asking you to click on something? Most people who have been infected knew immediately that something wasn’t right. At times like this, it can be good to trust in your own instincts. Note: opening an email to read it will not infect your computer. Malware is generally activated by opening attachments or clicking on links within the body of the email.
What To Do
If something doesn’t seem right and alarm bells start to ring, SWITCH OFF YOUR COMPUTER IMMEDIATELY using the on/off button, NOT via the usual shutdown method. Many trojans will block a shutdown to allow them to continue infecting your machine while you’re waiting for the computer to turn off. Every second the program is allowed to run means another file is potentially encrypted, therefore it is much better to over-react than to sit thinking about what to do next. Once you’ve switched your computer off, you will now have plenty of time to think about what happened. If it was an email, is there a way you can view it on another device, without actually opening any attachments? Maybe you know who the sender was. If this is the case, contact them to make sure that they sent the email in the first place. If you’re still worried that something has happened to your computer, do not turn it back on. Your computer may need to be subjected to diagnostics to ensure the safe removal of the Trojan and, if necessary, restore any files that have been encrypted/corrupted. Speak to your Office Manager (or whoever looks after your IT) for further advice – two heads are better than one! Do not attempt to fix the issue yourself, unless you are 100% confident that you know what you’re doing.
Food For Thought
- Trojans are capable of infecting devices attached to your computer, including external hard-drives, USB keys, network drives and even Cloud storage, such as Dropbox and OneDrive. Never rely on these for back-up purposes unless they are actually disconnected when a back-up is not taking place.
- Many companies will actually pay the ransom demanded, but keep in mind that there are no guarantees you will get the information necessary to decrypt your files afterwards.
- There are tools available that allow you to decrypt files without paying a ransom, however these only work with the old style encryption algorithms. All newer trojans are written to combat this loophole so don’t be fooled into thinking that if you get caught, it will be easy to recover everything.
- Trojans do not discriminate. They are sent to everyone, regardless of size of business or location. They work on the basis that if they target enough computers they’ll find ones that are able and willing to pay. Just because you run a small business on a small computer, it doesn’t make you immune from receiving a ransom note for $6,000.
- The majority of anti-virus packages do not protect from trojans. A trojan is a program or script that you have given permission to run, intentionally or otherwise. A virus is something that runs without your permission. An anti-virus package will rarely know if you wanted the program to run or not. They may recognise a few of the mainstream ones, but you should never rely on this as a form of protection.
Although vigilance is critical, the only real protection is to make sure your files are regularly backed up to a location that cannot be infected.