Insidious CryptoLocker Virus – Back up your files NOW!

Cryptolocker is the nastiest virus I’ve seen in my computer repair career. It ups the ransomware stakes by encrypting your files and holding them hostage until you pay the ‘ransom’. Understand that your files can be lost forever. The virus is most commonly spread through email attachments. Phishing attacks have also been used against companies.

You might be thinking that someone will certainly break the encryption and put an end to the problem. However, the encryption is an asymmetric RSA that requires both a public and a private key. The public key is used to encrypt the files and the private key is used to decrypt the files.

Keep in mind that this is the same type of encryption that the US government uses, and by most accounts, the NSA is unable to break this style and level of encryption! Without the private key, there is no way to unlock your files. The types of files that are encrypted vary with the particular variant of the virus. But the virus appears to target businesses, based on the targeted file types but also affects many non-business users as well.

The current cost to release your files is $300 but I’ve seen some variants of the virus seeking up to $500. Paying the ransom might or might not be successful in releasing your files. Many times it is NOT. I would not suggest paying the ransom. The success rate of recovering files this way is not high. The lesson here? Back up your files. Period. The virus infection, like other virus and malware infections can easily be removed by a qualified computer repair shop for around $125. The problem here is the encrypted data. If you data is backed up – although you’re not perfectly protected against the infection – you’re protected against data loss. See my blog for more articles on how to back up your data.

A new version of the virus, referred to as Cryptolocker 2.0 was recently discovered at the end of 2013, though the original version is still in full-force. Both versions asymmetrically encrypt files with particular file extensions and then request a ransom.

There are a few differences:

1. The earlier version uses RSA-2048, while 2.0 uses RSA-1024. However, the latter claims to use RSA-4096.

2. 2.0 only accepts Bitcoins for the ransom payment. The previous version accepts Ukash, MoneyPak, cashU vouchers, or BitCoin.

3. 2.0 was programmed in C#. The original Cryptolocker was programmed in Visual C++. This strongly suggests that the original programmers were not part of the new version.

4. Cryptolocker didn’t attack video and music files; the latter version does.

Experts are uncertain whether the same programmers created the 2.0 version or if it is merely a copycat. Though most believe it is was not created by the original programmers. There is one certainty; both can be detrimental to your files. Avoid opening email attachments unnecessarily, back up your files at regular intervals, learn good web-browsing habits — and run an effective and up to date anti-virus program.

5 Simple Data Backup Methods to Avoid a Data Loss Catastrophe

Of all the important computer tasks that people regularly ignore, backing up their data and important files must be at the top of the list. At my computer repair shop in Louisville, KY at least once a week I deal with a customer in a panic because their computer or laptop won’t start and it is the only device that contains all their data. With computers, things can go very wrong, quickly. Hard drive failure is a very common occurrence and now there is computer virus going around that destroys data.

Backing up your computer and keeping your files safe should be a regular part of your computer maintenance routine. The frequency will depend on the importance of your files – the value you place on them. It’s advisable to backup immediately after uploading anything you consider important. A common sense test would be to ask yourself how you would feel and how would it affect you if the file was gone. For most users, once a week, bi monthly, monthly or even quarterly is a reasonable schedule. Again, depends on the value you place on the newly created files.

Perhaps, part of the problem lies with the fact that people aren’t sure how to start or what tools and software to use. If I have any advice along these lines it is one thing: keep it simple. I recommend keeping your data on two devices. Your machine and one other device. If it’s at your home or facility or at someone else’s (meaning the cloud – which simply means your data is transferred to someone else’s facility via the internet not into outer space) makes little difference really unless you’re concerned against protecting against a flood or fire. In which case you do need a copy at another facility – but you still don’t have to use the cloud. You can give a copy to friend, or put a copy in your bank box for example. No need to send it via the cloud to someone stranger’s facility.

I do not use a cloud back-up. The only solid, logical reason to do a cloud back up that I can think of is to protect against fire. Rather than losing control of my data and sending it to ”who knows where” I simply have a third copy of my data on a flash drive in the bank box. This is simple and logical to me and makes me feel happy. 

I also keep the backup itself simple and logical (by my way of thinking, anyway). I transfer (copy and paste) five folders and my accounting file to an external hard drive about once a month. That’s it! The folders are: My Documents, Business Documents, My Pictures, My Videos, and Favorites. I use QuickBooks accounting software for my businesses and each business has one file that I save to the external.

My backup method is very simple as I think it should be. I am in control of my data and my back-up and quite frankly I don’t think this needs to be automated process. Automated back-ups can fail and drain system resources I’d rather use for actual creation and production. But as my grandmother, who lived to be 100 always said “to each their own.” Here are some more back-up options for you to consider.
1. External Hard Drive: The most common method for backing up computers at home is the use of an external hard drive. These devices come with software to make backups automated but you don’t have to use it. You do have to option of using the backup software, or just dragging and dropping your data or if you prefer – cut and paste. This is a very inexpensive option a 500GB external Hard Drive is about $59 bucks now.

2. USB Flash Drive: You’re not likely to be able to fit all the contents of your hard drive on a flash drive but this isn’t the way you should be doing a back-up anyway, in my option. The capacity of these little drives is impressive. You can get a 64 GB or 128 GB flash drive which is enough to back up all of my important, irreplaceable data. It’s a great way to go, frankly.

3. Online Storage: Dropbox is one such option. This software also allows file sharing with other people. The first 2 GB of space is free. There are other comparable solutions — Cabronite and others. I don’t use cloud back-up so I can’t give you many options here but Google it and I’m sure you’ll get a Google-zillion results. Search criteria: “best online back-up” –read some third party reviews and articles about your options.

4. Windows Backup and Restore: While previous versions of Windows had backup utilities that left a lot to be desired, the back and restore utilities in Windows 7 and 8 are actually OK but this my least favorite way to back up data. I would pass on it.

5. NAS – Network Attached Storage: NAS is a good option sometimes for business users and it wouldn’t be entirely incorrect to think of this as an external hard drive for a network of computers. Unless you enjoy complicating your life more than it already is I would stay away from this for home use.

9 Things to Know About Windows 8.1

When Windows 8 was released, it was immediately obvious that a drastic change was upon us. Windows 8.1 has changed things even more, but does ease some of the issues that users disliked about Windows 8.0. The Windows 8.1 update is free for those with Windows 8.0.

Here are some of the more significant changes to be found:

1. It’s less awkward for desktop fans than Windows 8. The good news is that the Start button is back! It’s not exactly the same Start button we all love, but it’s a good start. It’s also relatively easy to get your system to boot to the desktop instead of the tiles than many users dislike. This can be done from the desktop. Right-click on the taskbar -> Properties -> Navigations and check the box that states “Go to the desktop instead of Start when I sign in”

2. Apps can be organized into groups and the groups can be named. It’s much easier to stay organized. You could group all your apps together by certain task and keep your work more organized. No more hunting around for apps.

3. The tiles can be resized. Windows 8 had two options: large and small. There are a few more choices now. It’s a little easier to customize and organize your workspace.

4. Bing is integrated into Windows 8.1. This might be a great thing, if you love Bing. This can be disabled from the Settings app.

5. Hot corners can be altered. Windows 8 required a third-party solution to turn off or change those pesky corners. However, Windows 8.1 includes the option to disable these corners. From the Charms menu -> Change PC Settings -> PC & Devices -> Corners and Edges. If you like to operate out of the desktop mode, disabling the corners can save a lot of frustration.

6. Default apps can be set from the Charms menu. Simply click on the lower right corner of the screen and go to Settings->Change PC Options->Search & Apps->Defaults. Defaults can be set for email client, music player, photo viewer, web browser, etc. While it was possible to set defaults before, now it can be accomplished in one location.

7. Your apps can automatically update. It baffles the mind why this wasn’t included in Windows 8. Automatic updating is the default setting.

8. There are privacy options associated with the Apps. It’s possible to set controls that limit the data that is used by the Apps. It’s possible to prevent you name, account information, picture, etc., from being accessed.

9. Libraries are hidden in File Explorer. This isn’t an issue if you don’t use or care for the library concept. If you use libraries to organize your files, it might be helpful to be able to find them. Open file explorer -> View -> Options -> Folder Options -> General -> click the “show libraries” box.

Microsoft has made the effort to respond the various criticisms that were generated by Windows 8.0. There is a lot that can be done with Microsoft’s latest operating system. Take the time to realize its full potential.

Computer Repair Topic: What Does The “Blue Screen of Death” Actually Mean?

If you’ve ever booted up your computer and faced a blue screen, you know the feeling that results. Most computer users at some point have experienced the sweaty palms and feelings of dread that seem to go hand-in-hand with the occurrence of a blue screen error. Will your computer ever boot up properly again? Is it dead? Will you lose your files? How did this happen? These panicked thoughts are all too common. In fact, not too long ago MY computer blue-screened.

The dreaded blue screen has been a feature of all Windows-based operating systems since Windows 3.1. Software developers invented the term ‘blue screen of death’ to accommodate the color of the screen and the finality of the situation . . . but only the situation, not the computer. It refers to the “death of your computer processes” not the “death of your computer.” And, this is almost always the case. Your computer is still alive. The processes are dead, is all.

The Blue Screen of Death is more formally and accurately referred to as a STOP error. It’s an error serious enough to ‘stop’ the computer’s processes. Troubleshooting is challenging, since a STOP error requires a restart. It is often necessary to seek out the help of a qualified computer repair shop to assist you in troubleshooting the error. File issues can cause these errors, but hardware problems are also common. These can include a faulty power supply, physical memory issues, and overheating. The causes can be wide-ranging. This is part of the challenge to finding a solution.

In most cases, a STOP error provides an error code. This is the key to rectifying the issue. Unfortunately, some error codes are more difficult to manage than others.

Three of the most common blue screen error codes:

1. UNMOUNTABLE_BOOT_DEVICE: A corrupt of missing low-level system file is the most common cause for this error message. The issue can be related to a physical failure in the drive, though the problem is most commonly associated with file corruption.

2. PAGE_FAULT_IN_NON_PAGE_AREA: This is one of the less descript error messages. This category of error is very general and can be related to numerous types of errors. The full error code can be useful to narrowing down the problem. Troubleshooting this type error can be especially challenging. Chasing down these error codes can be analogous to going down a rabbit hole.

3. DRIVER_IRQ_NOT_LESS_THAN_OR_EQUAL_TO: A device driver is the cause. The name of the file should be indicated in the error messages. A common solution is to boot the computer in safe mode, remove the offending driver, and then download the latest version of the file. The driver should be found on the manufacture’s website. A simple solution can usually be found.

Depending on the operating system, a blue screen error consists of a hexadecimal error number, the name of the error in CAPS, and four parameters that can assist the computer technician in identifying and fixing the error. It might also include the address where the error occurred. Be sure to record the error messages; they can be instrumental in finding the right solution.

In most cases, a blue screen error code is not the end of your computer or your data. An experienced error code troubleshooter can, in most cases, solve the problem without a loss of data or computer functionality.

If you find yourself faced with a blue screen, there’s probably no reason to panic. Your local computer expert can probably find the solution quickly and effectively.

For more information on computer repair related topics or information on computer repair in Louisville, Kentucky visit the company website at

9 Creative Ideas For Your Old Computers and Printers

At some point, all computers become obsolete. The situation with printers isn’t much different. Printers have a finite life and aren’t supported indefinitely. What can be done with old printers and computers? There must be something better than throwing them in the trash. Here are a few ideas to consider.

1. Donate it: Many local schools, daycares, charities, and churches would like to have your old computer or printer. The local school computer lab might like to have it for parts. It’s possible to get a tax write-off, too. Perhaps a friend would like it. There are also international organizations that take donations of computers and some even attempt to rebuild them for underprivileged children. See PC United and Computers for a Cause to read about two of these organizations.

2. Experiment with it. If you’ve ever been interested in an alternative operating system, like Linux, your old computer might be the perfect testing ground. You might want to take your old computer apart and learn about how it works. There might be something interesting inside of that old printer, too. If you’re interested in computer electronics this is a good opportunity to study them a bit. What do you have to lose?

3. Sell them. They might only be worth a few dollars, but something is better than nothing. Try ebay or craigslist. Someone is likely to want your old stuff, for the right price.

4. There are buy-back programs for printers. Hewlett-Packard will buy back printers from any manufacturer. Staples will recycle Dell printers for free and others for a small fee. From time to time, they offer rebate incentives toward a new printer purchase.

5. Dedicate it to a single task. You might want to use that computer only for word processing, or multiplayer gaming, or as a multi-media station. You might want to use it to play older games that only run on DOS on Windows 98. Maybe you do graphics work part-time. It can be handy to have a dedicated computer.

6. Create a home network. An old computer isn’t the best server, but for a small home network, it can be entirely usable. It’s good experience, and the whole family can benefit.

7. Use it as the ‘family’ computer or printer. It can be nice to have a light-duty computer that’s used in front of the TV for simple gaming or Internet surfing. You probably don’t want your 5-year old on your brand new laptop anyway.

8. Use it for parts. If you like to build computers, the old computer can be used for parts. Maybe you only want the case and power supply. Or perhaps the hard drive is relatively new, and you’d like to salvage it. Printer parts are bit more challenging to salvage, but it can be done.

9. Recycle it. Almost every community has a recycling center that takes computers. You can do a Google Search for “computer recycling” and probably get some good results. These organizations will make sure nothing is wasted on the computer or laptop. This might be the best option for the environment.

If another person/organization will be getting your computer, be sure to remove all traces of personal programs/data before it leaves your possession. There is feature in Windows 8 called ‘Remove Everything’ and will remove everything from the hard drive and install a fresh copy of Windows. Other versions of Windows will require other means. If you are not very computer saavy you might need to contact your local computer repair shop and ask if they do secure data destruction before you release your old machine to another person or organization. You don’t want your personal data in the wrong hands. For more information on computer repair in Louisville, KY or related articles you can visit our blog called PC News.

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