Computer Boobytraps

Recently, a friend of mine was "caught", twice, by malicious websites. Under the guise of representing Microsoft, these sites each reported (with alarming audio and text) that my friend had been infected with spyware and viruses, with the advice to call a 1-800 number to obtain a fix. There was no apparent way to escape this notice; all my friends efforts to close or escape the page were ignored, and the system seemed at a standstill

I managed to help this friend get out of these traps, and found that no harm had been done to the computer.

On inquiring as to how the friend had encountered the trap in the first place, I was told that they wound up trapped by clicking on a "news" article in their Facebook feed. Both times, the "news" article was bogus, and titled so as to attract clicks ("clickbait"). I asked the friend to stop clicking on such articles; if they sound outlandish, they probably lead to a trap like this.

Now, I wouldn't bother you with this story unless I had good reason. I expect that you all are web-savvy enough to avoid such clickbait traps.

BUT, something has changed. The crooks are getting smarter.

Now (according to an Ars Technica article), the bad guys have found a way to boobytrap images (such as the images in those "clickbait" faux-news articles) so that they install "ransomware" on your computer. And, they are distributing these images through Facebook and LinkedIn.

For those who don't know about "ransomware", this form of trap encrypts your entire computer, and holds the contents for ransom. In order to get access to your files, you have to pay, anonymously, a fee to the blackmailer. And, you are NOT guaranteed to, once the ransom has been paid, get your files back.

So I ask you all, for whom I freely and gladly provide some amount of computer support, PLEASE

  1. make frequent, regular backups of everything on your computer that you hold of value, and keep these backups on media (thumb drives, hard drives, etc) that are separate and independent of your computer,
  2. install adware and malicious file blockers onto your computers. Antivirus programs can only do so much, so please supplement them with extensions to your browsers that block the sort of garbage that might attract the unwary click and land you in ransomware hell, and
  3. DO NOT click on those "clickbait" articles on Facebook or LinkedIn or any of the other social media sites you frequent. If it sounds fantastic ("Donald Gives Up Wall, Builds Moat" or whatever), then it probably leads to bad things.

Keep safe out there.