Beware ransomware

Ransomware has been around since 1989, but it’s getting worse and spreading faster. Learn how to protect your data.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that sneaks into a computer, locks the owner out of the system or encrypts the files, and then demands payment to reverse the process.

If you pay, you may or may not regain access to your system or your files.

You may already know about one type of ransomware. A fake FBI or fake RCMP or fake Interpol warning page opens when you start up your computer.

You are accused of violating a scary law. Some form of online payment is demanded. You can’t dismiss the page and you can’t get into the computer.

This lock screen ransomware can usually be defeated, although it takes some doing.

Another type of ransomware encrypts your data and demands payment for the key to decrypt them.

Sometimes you’ll see a screen similar to the lock screen ransomware, but usually you just find text files on the Desktop and in the directories with the encrypted files.

The text files inform you your files are encrypted and provide information on how to pay.

It was, for a time, impossible to recover from this, but one website, NoMoreRansom.org  provides a way to upload two of your encrypted files for analysis.

If they are encrypted by ransomware for which there is a solution, NoMoreRansom.org will provide you with a link to download the solution.

There is no charge for this; these are the good guys. It’s still impossible to decrypt most files, but it’s worth a try.

The site is also a good resource to learn more about ransomware and how to prevent your computer from being infected.

How can I protect my computer?

Ransomware often infects a computer through an email link that takes you to a website that then infects the computer.

Sometimes an email attachment will infect your computer as soon as you open it.

Then, the encryption ransomware works quietly in the background encrypting your files. You don’t even know it’s there until suddenly you can’t open any of your files and you find those ransom notes.

The most basic thing you can do to protect yourself is not to click on any links in any emails. Don’t open email attachments unless you are 100 per cent sure it’s not a trick.

Next, have a current backup of your files. I say again: Have a current backup of your files.

In fact, if your files are critical to either your business or your well being, have more than one current backup of your files.

It is much better to protect a computer than it is to clean up a computer and try to decrypt files.

Use a reputable antivirus program, supplement it with a robust antimalware program, and keep them both up to date.

Not all antivirus programs are capable of finding and killing ransomware, but many now include modules that look for ransomware-like behaviour and prevent you from doing something silly.

Antimalware programs often provide that as well.

If you don’t want to protect yourself that way, you can use a standalone ransomware protection program like CryptoPrevent from FoolishIT, Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit,  or Bitdefender Crypto-Ransomware Vaccine.

A more extensive list is here.   

Finally, ransomware exploits security vulnerabilities in other programs on computers.

It is critical to keep your computer’s software up to date or to uninstall it if you’re not going to use it.

Especially keep Windows, Java, every browser you have, Adobe FlashPlayer and your antivirus and antimalware programs current.

I am using the built-in anti-ransomware protection in Bitdefender Total Protection. It protects the heck out of things, but can be a little fiddly to set up properly.

I use the paid version of CryptoPrevent on another machine and like how its installation is more “Set it and forget it.”

What anti-ransomware protection are you using, and what do you like or dislike about it?

Send comments to [email protected] and I’ll share in a future column.

Do you need help with your computer? I'm here to help you and your home or business computer get along.


2016: The Year of Ransomware 



Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit 

Bitdefender Crypto-Ransomware Vaccine

Windows Club list of free anti-ransomware tools 

Computer Care Kelowna


Good and bad utilities

This week: Use a good utility to regain easy access to the Control Panel, and avoid bad utilities purporting to be driver updaters.

Where the heck is Control Panel in Windows 10?

Microsoft started making some strange choices when they introduced Windows 8.

In Windows 10, they walked back some of the most outrageous ones. But they do want us to get used to the Settings App and abandon the familiar Control Panel, so they made it easier to find Settings than Control Panel.

We can fix this.

Right-click on the Start button and then click on Control Panel to open it. That’s all there is to it, but hey, that’s two clicks instead of one click and sometimes it’s hard to remember the right-click on Start thing.

If you want to put Control Panel someplace easy to find, download the Ultimate Windows Tweaker 4.2 from the Windows Club. A safe link is here.

Once open:

  • Click on Customization on the left side of the Tweaker
  • Click on the tab called This PC on the top right
  • Place a check in the box for Control Panel
  • Click on Apply

Close the Tweaker, and have a look at This PC in File Explorer. You should now see a link to All Control Panel items.

There are more than 200 tweaks available in that tool. If you’d like to see a list rather than poking around and trying to count them, have a look at the documentation here. Great little utility.

Have you tried a tweaking tool? What was it, and was it helpful? Send an email and I’ll share in a future column.

What’s the best way update my drivers?

Quite a few people who read the recent Smart Upgrades columns wrote to ask how to update their drivers in preparation for the Anniversary Upgrade. Thank you all for that excellent question.

The best way to do this if you have a name brand PC is to use the built-in support application from your PC manufacturer. HP, Acer, Toshiba, and all computer manufacturers have a program you can easily access to check for upgrades.

If you don’t see it running all the time in the notification area, check your Start Menu for something under your computer’s brand name.

On the HP computer I’m using at the moment, I clicked on Start, then navigated to the HP menu items, and found the Support Assistant there.

There were two driver upgrades waiting for me. Find the corresponding program for your own computer and explore!

If you’re running Windows 10, you’ll also get drivers through Windows Update, and you’re not going to have a lot of choice about it. If you’re running an earlier version of Windows, check Windows Update to see if there are any optional driver updates waiting for you.

If you’re not using a brand name PC, you will have to rely on Windows Update or visit the manufacturer’s site for each component you want to update.

That is a pain in the neck. You are *probably* better off getting updates from Windows Update and then just track down drivers for anything that complains.

What you should never, ever do is use a driver update utility tool from a website. They are all bad. None of them are effective and most of them are malicious software, as noted here

Cate Eales runs Computer Care Kelowna a mobile service helping home users and businesses get along with their computers. To arrange an appointment, phone her at 250-764-7043. Cate also welcomes your comments and suggestions. Send email to [email protected].


Ultimate Windows Tweaker 4 for Windows 10

List of tweaks available in the Ultimate Windows Tweaker 4 for Windows 10 

Never Download a Driver-Updating Utility; They’re Worse Than Useless 

Smart Upgrades – Part 1 

Smart Upgrades – Part 2 

What could go wrong?

I asked how your Windows 10 Anniversary Edition upgrade went, and my mailbox filled up pretty quickly.

Half of you didn’t get it yet, but want it. Half of you got it and wonder what’s happened.


Use the Upgrade Assistant to get the Windows 10 Anniversary Update

If you haven’t received the Windows 10 Anniversary Upgrade to Version 1607 and you wonder why, here are the probably causes:

  • Your computer does not meet criteria (not enough RAM, not enough processing power, out of date drivers...)
  • You haven't, for some reason, applied the updates that are prerequisites for the Anniversary Upgrade
  • It's less than 30 days since you upgraded to Windows 10 (You'll get it after 31 days)
  • You have Windows Update set to defer upgrades (Change the setting in Windows Update)
  • There is some problem with Windows Update (Run the troubleshooting tool to try to resolve that)

If you’re sure none of those answers apply to you and you want to get the upgrade, the most straightforward way to do that is with the Windows Upgrade Assistant from Microsoft. Visit the Windows 10 Update History page. Click on the blue box that says Get the Anniversary Update now, and download the file.

When you run it, the Upgrade Assistant will check for compatibility issues and finding none will download the upgrade and begin installing it. Please make sure you’ve backed up your files before you do this upgrade.

Turn off or uninstall your antivirus program. (See this column for more prep information.)

This is going to take some time. You can continue using the computer for the first part of this process, but eventually it’s going to need to reboot several times as the files are installed.

Plan on not using the computer for awhile. One computer here took over two hours. Another was brand new and took about an hour and a half. This isn’t a regular update.

This is an upgrade to the Windows 10 operating system. It takes a long time.

If the upgrade is successful, you need to check a few things, as I noted in this column.

There are still some problems with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update

People who have upgraded in the normal way through Windows Update report that Version 1607 isn’t all rainbows and unicorns.

Problems we had here:

  • An older Microsoft mouse that worked fine with the previous version of Windows 10 lagged like crazy after the upgrade. Updating the Microsoft Mouse software and drivers did not help. Replacing the mouse with a Logitech mouse and installing the Logitech Setpoint software solved the problem. Does the AU break older Microsoft mice? That’s hilarious.
  • Although I updated all my drivers via the HP site for my HP laptop before the upgrade, the upgrade broke the audio. It would work for a couple of days, then complain there were no audio devices present. I would reinstall the drivers and it would work for another couple of days. HP --- finally --- released a new driver last week (!which appears to have fixed the problem.

Problems reported by readers of this column:

  • Upgrade took all night and then failed.
  • Lagging Microsoft keyboard. (Did the upgrade break older Microsoft keyboards, too?)
  • Windows Update stuck at 32 per cent. (This is almost always a driver issue, but the reader says Microsoft couldn’t resolve the issue. Currently he is running Ubuntu Linux on the computer instead of Windows. Wow.)

Problems reported in other tech sources I read:

Hundreds of users reported freezing and crashing. Yikes.  Microsoft eventually issued a patch, which fixed the problem for most of the affected computers. Prior to that the only way out was to roll back to your previous version.
The AU broke a bunch of webcams. No fix till later this month.

We are back

We had our website overhauled, moved it to a different hosting company and moved our email hosting too.

If you tried to reach me the first part of last week and didn’t hear back, your email is still in limbo. Everything is up and running now; please try again.

Hope you like the new site.

Cate Eales runs Computer Care Kelowna (http://computercarekelowna.com/) a mobile service helping home users and businesses get along with their computers. To arrange an appointment phone her at 250-764-7043. Cate also welcomes your comments and suggestions. Send email to [email protected].


Windows 10 Update History 

Smart Upgrades — Part 1

Smart Upgrades – Part 2 

Windows 10 Anniversary Update freezing on you? Microsoft's looking into it. 

Microsoft fixes Windows 10's Anniversary Update freezing.

I didn't know that

I found out some interesting things last week.

Maybe I’m the last to know, but on the small chance I’m not, I’m passing them on to you.

There is an easy way to shut down your computer without applying Windows Updates

In general, we should apply Windows Updates when they show up.

But why do they always seem to show up just when you’re heading out the door…with your laptop? You click on that Start button to shut down your computer, the only shutdown choice you see is Update and Shutdown.

There’s a way around this and it’s beautiful.

  • Press the Windows Key and the D key at the same time. This returns you to your Desktop.
  • Press the ALT and F4 keys at the same time. This brings up the old style Windows Shutdown dialog box
  • Click on the down arrow to display your options
  • Click on Shut Down

This works in every modern version of Windows, including Windows 10.

You can hide your email address on the Windows 10 logon screen

Speaking of taking your laptop along with you, if you take have your laptop with you in a coffee shop or a business meeting, you might not want it to display your personal information on the login screen.

By default, the login information of the last person to use a computer is displayed on the Windows 10 login screen.

That’s the name and email address you use for your Microsoft Account if you’re logging in that way. (And you should be.)

No big thing if this is your home computer and you’re the only one there.

But if you take your computer to coffee shops or libraries or business meetings, or if you login to a public computer at a library or hotel, you might not want all the world to see your name and email address.

Windows 10 Anniversary Upgrade gives us an easy way to hide this information.

  • Click on Start | Settings | Accounts | Sign-in options
  • On the right side of the window, find Privacy (You might have to scroll down)
  • Move the slider to Off

The name associated with your account will still be there, but not the email address.

Google’s I’m Feeling Lucky button has other choices

If you use Google’s search page, you’ll notice there are just two buttons underneath the Search box.

Clicking on Google Search does the obvious thing — it searches Google and returns a list of results that match your search terms.

Clicking on the I’m Feeling Lucky button takes you directly to the page Google thinks you want.

But if you leave the Search box blank and hover your cursor over that button, you’ll see that it changes from Lucky to Playful or Generous or Artistic or Hungry. Click on that and enjoy the ride.

Look for some changes in the near future

If you’re reading this column on Castanet, please keep doing that!

If you read the column on the Computer Care Kelowna website, stand by for some changes. In the next couple of weeks we’ll be overhauling the site to bring it up to date, make it easier to read, and — finally! At last! -— searchable.

I’m excited, and I think you’re going to like the new site.

There will be a brief interruption in service while the site transitions, and there will be a delay in email. Don’t worry. We’ll be back up and running and better-looking than ever. Thank you for your patience.

Cate Eales runs Computer Care Kelowna, a mobile service helping home users and businesses get along with their computers. To arrange an appointment phone her at 250-764-7043. Cate also welcomes your comments and suggestions

More Getting Along With Your Computer articles

About the Author

The Technology Shaman, Cate Eales, has been helping people make online computing safe, accessible, and fun for over 30 years.

Cate lives in Kelowna with her husband, Eric. She owns and operates Computer Care Kelowna, a mobile computer business providing on-site service for home and small business customers.

Cate is here to help you and your home or business computer get along.

E-mail Cate at [email protected] with comments, suggestions, or questions.

Computer Care Kelowna

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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