PROTECTING YOUR PRIVATE INFO IN THE NET AGE
Beverly Hills and West Hollywood are pretty low-crime areas. Most all that happens are burglaries (unless Zsa Zsa Gabor slaps another cop). But how many homes have computers with spyware on them that could be "burgling" their owners right now? Plenty. And our neighborhood contains some of the wealthiest people in the world making them prime targets for that lucky bit of spyware that finds itself in the right place at the right time.
By my unscientific estimate over the past ten years about 75% of all the computers I look at have some kind of virus or spyware in them. Many are mild enough the user doesn't notice anything wrong or they are so used to their computer getting slower and slower that they think nothing of it. Symptoms include:
1. Changed home pages or search providers
2. Weird ads popping up in places and websites that did not have them before
3. Sudden crashes
4. Slow internet connections
5. Obvious takeovers of a locked computer
I've watched as infected computers did things like lock up, shoot out hundreds of spam emails a minute or destroy a client's files one by one in a matter of minutes. Gone are the days when computer viruses written by jerk teen-agers just wanted to trash your computer. Now the game has changed and virus writers are far more professional and far more interested in stealing data or intellectual property. Or extorting the computer's owner into sending them a credit card number just to go away. Unfortunately all this does is ruin your credit card. The hackers rarely "go away."
I myself accidentally got a virus earlier this year that encrypted some of my data files and broke my windows backup before I had a chance to stop it. In minutes my files (some of which I was working on at the time) got encrypted with a special code that is unbreakable. The hackers demanded I send them money or they would not "un-hack" my data. Fortunately I removed the virus manually very easily but it's damage was done. Luckily I back up everything religiously on multiple other devices and restored 99% of my stuff no problem. Not everyone is so lucky and, if you are a doctor or lawyer, you could be legally liable for loss of client/patient records. To say nothing of the professional embarrassment of having to tell all your customers what happened and beg them for their bookkeeping records.
And how was I, the guy who is supposed to know better, get infected? I didn't have a virus checker running because I rarely go to "the wrong side of the web" and almost never get viruses. Yes I would check for them sometimes but didn't run a virus checker all the time because it slows my computer down. Ooops. I was infected probably by a "drive by infection" which you don't even know how you get.
By far the meanest malware is the "FBI Virus." Variations of it look like this:
In 2014 people began calling me terrified that they had child pornography on their computers. They had been infected with early versions of the FBI virus which totally locks up your computer and shows a screen similar to one of the ones above. You are told to send money to this account in an untraceable way and they (the government) will unlock your computer. Some variations even use a laptop's camera to take your photo and stick it on a wanted poster which, the virus claims, will be sent to the FBI. It must have worked because, over the next few months, I watched the amount of money it demanded rise from $100 to $300 and then $400. Plus the charges didn't stop at you having kiddie porn on your computer. Later versions claimed you were also a terrorist. Anything to fool people into thinking they should send money to somebody to "get the government off our backs."
This virus was so successful that other hackers re-wrote it for their countries. So in Russia you got the "KGB virus" and thought Vladmir Putin was going to kill you. Although the virus was good at locking the computer, once I managed to get in it was easy to remove. But not before scaring the computer's owner and forcing them to pay me to come get rid of it.