That ransomware problem

Earlier this month, a widely-reported ransomware outbreak scared the living daylights out of people all over the world.

What happened, and how can you keep it from happening to you?

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a form of malware, which is short for malicious software. Malware takes many forms, but for now, let’s concentrate on ransomware.

Ransomware enters a computer system, encrypts the files, and demands payment to decrypt them. Without the decryption key, your files remain scrambled and therefore useless to you.

Because the bad guys demand payment for the key, your files are being held for ransom, and that’s where the name comes from.

What happened?

Until recently, ransomware typically infected a computer when a user clicked on a malicious email link or attachment. A file would run in the background, resulting eventually in your files being encrypted.

This wouldn’t even be apparent until a page popped up telling you about the encryption and saying how to pay.

On May 12, however, computers became infected not from email attachments, but because the bad guys were able to exploit a flaw in unpatched versions of Windows. People didn’t have to do anything to get clobbered.

Vulnerable systems got hit, and once infected, they spread the infection to other vulnerable computers on their own networks. This ransomware is called Wannacry or WannaCrypt, or just wcrypt.

How can I protect my computers?

Apply your Windows Updates. Microsoft released a patch for supported operating systems to correct this vulnerability last March. Computers that are current on Windows Updates are protected from Wannacry. But not ALL ransomware. Keep your updates current.

Computers running unsupported versions of Windows (XP, Vista, 8.0) are … unsupported!

That means they don’t get Windows Updates and this makes them vectors for this kind of attack. This problem was widespread that Microsoft issued patches for those unsupported operating systems May 12-13.

If those systems were patched before they become infected, they’re fine. Patching after the fact doesn’t get those files back.

You can further protect your computers by making sure your anti-virus program is up to date and configured to run daily scans. You can supplement your anti-virus with anti-ransomware protection, which has become widely available in the last couple of years.

CryptoPrevent is an excellent choice, and is available here. You can choose the free or a paid version. Read the comparisons on that page.

Paid versions of Bitdefender anti-virus contain antiransomware protection. I used this for a year and a half and found it worked well. But it was a challenge to set it up.

The most “set-it-and-forget-it” way to go is with Malwarebytes Premium Version 3. It's a paid product (currently about CA$50 per year) that is an antivirus/antimalware/antiexploit/antiransomware program. Yes, that's expensive.

Ask yourself if protecting your information is worth $50 a year.

Malwarebytes runs well on a decent computer (powerful processor, adequate RAM). It’s easy to set up. There's lots of information, and a link to buy it here.

Be aware that Malwarebytes Premium Version 3 takes the place of antivirus software. If you’re running any other anti-virus program, you need to uninstall that completely before you activate the paid (or even trial) version of Malwarebytes Premium 3.

(If you stay with the free version, it’s just an anti-malware tool. If you stay with the free protection, you shouldn’t ditch your current antivirus protection, BUT you won’t get the antiransomware component.)

Always have at least one backup of your important files. Never, ever click on a link in an email from someone you don’t know, and remain skeptical of links in email from people you do!

What if my computer is infected?

If it’s really infected with this ransomware, you’re probably out of luck unless you pay to recover your files. It’s worth checking here to see if there’s a solution for a ransomware problem you are having.

Also, be aware there are fake ransomware programs that don’t encrypt your files, but say they do just to get you to pay.

When in doubt, call in a professional.

Gosh, that's annoying

Here's how you can stop two annoying Windows features:

  • Bypass the Word templates and go straight to a new document
  • Stop your computer from dropping your Internet connection.

Why can’t I just open a blank Word document?

There’s a lot to like about Office 2016, but that doggone start screen can be annoying.

By default, when you open Word, you’re shown a screen with your recently opened documents listed down the left side and an array of templates on the right. Clicking on the template labelled Blank Document opens … a blank document.

When I open a Word document, 99 per cent of the time I just want to get to work. I don’t need to see every conceivable template.

It’s easy to disable all that and go straight to your Word document or Excel spreadsheet, just like we did in previous versions of Office.

Start by opening a Word document, either an existing one or a new one; it doesn’t matter.

  • Click on File | Options
  • Click on the General tab if you’re not there already
  • Near the bottom of that tab, clear the check mark next to Show the Start screen when this application starts
  • Click on OK

That’s it! Now repeat the process for Excel and PowerPoint if you want to get right into those programs, too. Next time you open one of them, you’ll go right to your document, spreadsheet, or presentation.

If ever you need the templates again, click on File |New and you’ll be right back there at the start screen.

Why does my Internet connection drop every 10 minutes?

A long-time customer told me her Internet provider had two technicians out there, each for a good part of the day, trying to get her new connection working.

What was wrong with the connection? “It would drop after 10 minutes if I wasn’t using the computer.”

The connection was still dropping when I got there, but the fix was straightforward.

Your wireless network adapter and your Ethernet adapter (which is where the cable between your router/modem and your PC connects to your PC) require a small amount of electrical current to work.

Many computers are set to power down those adapters after 10 minutes of inactivity.

Sometimes they don’t wake back up promptly or at all. Your service provider thinks your connection is fine, but your computer doesn’t come back online.

To fix this, go to Device Manager and change a setting:

  • In any modern version of Windows, type device manager in the Search box
  • Click on Device Manager in the search results to open it
  • (Or go to Control Panel | View by Large Icons | Device Manager)
  • Click on the > next to Network adapters to expand that section
  • Right-click on your Ethernet or Wi-Fi adapter
  • Click on Properties | Power Management
  • Clear the check mark in the box called “Allow the computer to turn off this device…”
  • Click on OK

Sometimes you need to restart the computer for the change to take effect, but that should do it.

What annoying features have you fixed? What annoying features do you wish you could fix? Send email to [email protected] and we’ll discuss in future columns!

Computer distractions

This column could have been entitled “Why I almost didn’t get my column written on time this week.”

I’m usually pretty disciplined, but sometimes I just have too much fun. Here’s what distracted me. I hope you have some fun, too.

Radio Garden

When I was a kid, I used to stay up late with the lights off in my bedroom and listen to Jean Shepherd telling stories on WOR-AM. 

When I left the area, I would stay up late slowly turning the dial on my AM radio, tuning in stations from far away, listening to different music, listening to people with different accents.

I loved radio when it wasn’t all the same.

I was delighted to find Radio Garden, a website where you can spin a globe and listen to radio stations from all around the world. Point your browser here.

 "The main idea is to help radio makers and listeners connect with distant cultures and re-connect with people from home and thousands of miles away," according to Jonathan Puckey, one of the people behind the site

You can do that by clicking on Live near the top of the window. That will play a station in your area. Move the globe and put your cursor on a green dot to hear something farther away. You’ll see the country of origin, a station identifier and local time. 

Play around a little with the History, Jingles, and Stories choices if you’d like to time travel.


Google Autodraw makes it ridiculously easy for people like me, who can’t draw, to draw simple, recognizable objects.

Visit the website on your computer, tablet or phone. Start drawing, and look at the top of the screen.

Autodraw is good at guessing what you’re trying to draw. Scroll sideways through the choices and click on the one you want. Boom. You have a bicycle or a dog, or a chicken. Change the colour or size. Add some text. Share or save your image. Or throw it away. That works too.

Google Search Games

Want to play a quick game of Solitaire or Tic-Tac-Toe?

Open a browser to the Google Search page, and search the game you want to play. Play! You can do this on your phone in line at the supermarket checkout! You can do this while you’re on hold for Shaw Cable. 

These aren’t full-featured, beautiful games but they will get you through 10 minutes of waiting around.

The best Google Search Game I’ve found so far is Atari Breakout. It’s a classic, and I remember it from 1972. Read about it here.

Breakout was a huge upgrade from Pong, which you had to go to a bar to play for a quarter a game, sitting at a gigantic table.

You can play it in your browser. This time, go to Google Image Search, and type in Atari breakout.

You’ll soon find yourself in the game, trying to break through a wall of blocks. And the blocks are made of images. This is so awesome. And, yes, you can turn off the sound. Click on the speaker icon near the top of the window.

You’re welcome.

What do you play to pass the time? What music or radio do you listen to online? Send an email to [email protected] and I’ll share your tips in a future column.

Microsoft control Issues

Creators Update hid the Control Panel … again. Seize control of your Microsoft account.

Playing hide and seek with Control Panel in Windows 10 Creators Update

Microsoft wants us to get used to the Settings app.

Since Windows 8, it’s been a challenge to find the familiar old Control Panel we’re relied on for years. In Windows 10 Creators Update, the Settings app was overhauled again, this time to include a section for Apps.

That’s fine, but there are still times when we need the Control Panel. In this update, Microsoft removed the Control Panel link from the right-click Start menu, where it’s been since Windows 8.

That’s an annoyance, not an improvement. 

I wanted to repair an installed program last week when I was at a customer, couldn’t find Control Panel, and the App app doesn’t offer that choice.

The quickest way to open Control Panel is:

  • Press the WindowsKey and the R key at the same time
  • Type Control Panel
  • Click OK

Great till you need it next time! If you want to create a shortcut:

  • Click on Start | Settings | Personalization | Themes | Desktop Icon Settings
  • Check the box for Control Panel
  • Click on OK

That places the Control Panel icon on your Desktop.

There are other ways to get to Control Panel, and we will cover them in a future column. Have you found a good way to do this in Creators Update?

Manage your Microsoft account

A Microsoft account is an email address and password you use to sign in to your computer, and to access other Microsoft products like Office Online, Office 365, OneDrive, Skype, and even to access the Microsoft Store. It’s the Microsoft version of an Apple ID!

If you’re using Windows 10 or Windows 8, you are probably signing into your computer with a Microsoft Account.

While it’s true that Windows 10 is more lenient about what you can do without a Microsoft account than Windows 8 was, it’s also true that you will not be able to take advantage of all Windows 10 features without a Microsoft account.

If you’re not sure what kind of account you’re using, open Settings and click on Accounts. If you see an email address there, you’re using a Microsoft account.

If you’re not, you’ll see Local Account there.

Click on the Manage my Microsoft Account link to make changes.

A browser page will open and might prompt you to sign into your account. Click on Your Info to change how your name appears when you sign in and to upload a nice profile picture instead of the grey head thing.

And if you click on Manage how you sign in to Microsoft, you can add another email address and remove ones you do not use. Why would you do that?

If you originally used a Telus email and then switched your service to Shaw, you won’t have access to that Telus email if something goes wrong. Or, if you just started using a different email for any reason, you want to keep that Microsoft account up to date.

This page will step you through the things you can do. Whatever you do, please be sure to write down the email and password for your Microsoft account.

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.

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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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