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How to prevent e-cards from becoming e-nightmares

Donovan Hoggan
By Donovan Hoggan
December 5th, 2010

Christmastime is coming soon!!!  Everyone knows it and, while most of us will just enjoy it, there are a few bad people out there who will exploit it.  Viruses and spyware peddlers are always looking for new & exciting ways to convince you to download their software and Christmas is no exception.  In addition to the usual “use your computer to send spam” campaigns going on Random-ware is making a comeback.  In these scams, the bad guys encrypt your files and the offer to sell you the password, usually for $100-150.

The trouble is trust.  If they’re crooked enough to extort a hundred bucks out of you, what makes you think that they’re not crooked enough to charge your credit card more than they promised?  Or to sell your credit card info on the black market?

The up-side of this, as with most computer security issues, is that it’s fairly easy to reduce it to an annoying inconvenience.  First, and most important, keep your back-ups up-to-date.  If you’re using an online service like Mozy (http://tinyurl.com/2dluf50) then this is being taken care of for you.  If you use an external back-up or DVDs, be sure that they’re stored somewhere else.  To keep them right beside the computer is an invitation to disaster.

Have a good anti-virus running and up-to-date.  My personal favorites are Kaspersky for home users and Sophos for business.  Be sure it’s updating automatically and that scans are getting run periodically (I do them weekly).

Be careful what you click on.  If weird Uncle Bob sent you an e-card, think carefully before clicking on it.  Your safest bet is to have a Mac or Linux computer for checking it.  If you can’t use a Mac, I’d limit my e-cards to Hallmark or an equally credible company.  It doesn’t eliminate the risk but it reduces it considerably.

If you’ve followed this advice and you get a virus or extortion threat, you’re in a pretty good position.  Step one is the phone the police. Once they give you the go-ahead, do a thorough virus cleaning and then restore your data from the back-up.

And, as always, if you have any questions, please leave a comment or drop me a line at donovan@castlegarsource.com.

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