Quick BackgroundI usually use this blog to address issues facing the Fire-Rescue Service or our experiences as we try to produce a new, one-hour television drama about the Fire-Rescue service. I've never brought up my long time computer experience here before, but I believe it's a necessity today. And that's because there is a dangerous trap waiting for all first responders, as well as the public, in general.
I have 30 years experience in computers. Though I've never taken a single computer course, I can build one from the case up; diagnose about 95% of problems, install modems, networks, Wi-FI systems and extenders, networking, etc. Yet for the past five years or so, my most frequent service call has been for virus and especially, malware or adware incursions.
Almost every computer comes with adware. It is those little "freebie" programs that come included on a brand new computer, be it laptop or desktop. PC's often come loaded with adware. Mac's sometimes have some. Malware, on the other hand, is software that is planted into your computer without your approval or even knowing about it. It happens when you open an email from someone you don't know, or you open an ad-pitch email. Or, you may misspell the address of a website, even by a single letter, and you're taken to a "look-a-like" site. Once you land there, an infection is planted and you're at risk for identity theft, having your bank account(s) cleaned out, etc.
However, there are solutions for you, both through legitimate software and reputable computer techs and consultants, like me. But recently, a new and much more insidious attack is being waged on the average computer user.
"How do THEY Know That?"Over the last year or two a new trap has begun to be sprung. You're sitting at your computer, reading an article, watching a film, reading my blog, when suddenly a pop-up windows appears and says,
"YOUR COMPUTER IS INFECTED!!! DANGER!!! DANGER!!!! Do not shut down your computer! If you do, the worm will destroy all of the data on your hard drive. Please leave your computer on and call us, "PC TECH SOLUTIONS & Bait Shop!" We will help you protect your data!"
Or, it may come as a phone call. "Hello, this is Alex and Windows Support. We've detected a problem in your computer that is very dangerous. But don't worry, we can help you. So how are you today?"
After you've changed your underwear, you start asking yourself, "How do they know I have a problem? Most likely though, they won't even give you the time to make that clothing change. They will attempt to intimidate you, but then assuage you by telling you that they can fix the problem for anywhere from $250-$600.00! They may say that you need a program to detect malware on your computer and get rid of it and they can remotely install it, run it and clean your computer for $200.00! (Hint: You can download a free program to do the same thing!! It's called "MalwareBytes" and it's free at http://www.malwarebytes.org. I've been installing this program on client's machines for over five years and it has saved both their butts and mine, every time!
Remember, their M.O. (modus operandi - mode of working) is to scare the crap out of you so that you'll immediately allow them to do anything they want to your computer.
Wrap-Up and What You Can Do
Most of you reading this are first responders of one kind or another. You probably use a computer, pad, MDT, tablet, etc. of what kind or another every day you're on duty. And, most likely, you have a smartphone and at least one of the items above, at home. However, unless you have a higher level or tech savvy that reading email, buying products on Amazon(R), and watching videos on NetFlix(R), you can easily fall victim to one of these scams. So what can you do?
1. If you receive an unsolicited phone call (and you cannot recognize the Caller ID) and the caller states that he/she is with "Windows Service Support" or "PC Support Center" or something like that, HANG UP on them. Don't even give them the time of day! DO NOT LET THEM FRIGHTEN YOU OR THREATEN YOU!! (You may want to jot down the telephone number, the time and date they called, and report it to your state and Federal consumer protection. The federal website is http://www.donotcall.gov.
2. It a threatening pop-up window appears on your screen (that does not come from your anti-virus or anti-malware software that you know you installed or had installed) ignore it. These windows may also say it's from the FBI and they've caught you with kiddie porn or terrorist information and they are locking your computer unless you immediately wire them $250!! Understand from the start that the message is bogus and called a "ransom bug." For the average computer user, they appear to lock up your computer and will not allow you to clear your screen. If that happens, contact someone you know who is a more advanced user and, using any of the most common (and almost always FREE) anti-malware software, you'll be able to remove the "ransom bug."
3. If you don't have someone to turn to, you can always visit any Tech Center of stores like BestBuy, OfficeDepot, Tiger Direct, HHGregg, etc. While it may cost you a few bucks there, it will restore your peace of mind.
Listen, we've been trained to always be aware of our surroundings. We learn how to perform a blind search of a home or building on fire, by sticking to the right side wall and keeping a hand on our life-rope or hose. We learn how to test a roof, set of stairs, or floor, before we step on and take a chance on falling through. You've invested too much time and effort to waste that training that hopefully will prevent you from falling into a trap. Now, do the same thing online! Don't fall into a trap!