If you’ve ever thrown away or recycled an old computer, there’s a good chance you have unwittingly put your personal information at risk.
Unfortunately, in this age of digital credentials and identity theft, criminals are always on the prowl searching for more convenient ways of obtaining the information on their next victim. This problem has worsened over time, of course, as a result of the more numerous and diverse methods of spending money and saving information, especially financial information, online. From online banking to online shopping, birthdays to credit card numbers, the computers of today store more of, well, you, than ever before.
In many cases, the threat of identity theft comes from online, in the form of phishing websites, trojan horses, or company breaches. However, what many don’t seem to realize is that the computer itself often saves information to its hard drive over the course of its life, some of which can be used for nefarious purposes if discovered. Many such perpetrators will actually go digging through dumps, scrap yards, or take-it-or-leave-it areas looking for old computers and their hard drives to try and acquire this information, and an alarming number of these types are quite successful at accomplishing this goal.
So, when recycling or disposing of a computer, one of the most important steps you can take to make sure you don’t fall victim to this type of scheme is to make sure that there is nothing left to retrieve. Contrary to popular belief, files are not actually deleted when they are “deleted”. Most are still perfectly retrievable with the right tools, and only through more advanced methods can data be permanently erased. However, most perfect drive wipes take a while, and involve steps that would not be so simple. As a result, the best way is usually a more direct approach.
Damaging the drive physically can be much more effective than deleting the files virtually. Anyone who has ever lost data from dropping a laptop can vouch for just how complicated or expensive it can be to try and retrieve data from a drive that suffered a thud or ding. Ergo, something like a sledgehammer impact would obliterate the disk inside, making the data completely irretrievable. In fact, damaging the disk in any way can have the same result. Most of the time, a less messy alternative can be to drill a hole through the drive.
Whatever the case may be, so long as the drive is no longer functioning when you’re through, it should be safe to dispose of.
If you’re unsure of how to do this, or would feel more comfortable, contact us at RGB Computer Solutions or your local IT.
We’ve spoken on the subject of data backups and how important they are in the past, but we’ve never really explored the different options available in some of the categories of backup methods.
In recent years especially, one of those backup methods has gone from trendy idea to industry standard, and many users find that, for better or for worse, their data is always kept safe in the cloud.
Now, as mentioned before, there are different options available for cloud storage intended for different purposes and users. In fact, with how trendy this type of service has become, every other tech company under the sun wants to get in on the business. At this point, there are probably more clouds on the internet than clouds in the sky!
We’ll be going over some of the most prevalent and popular platforms, as well as the more specialized file hosters, especially those for photos.
Thanks to their significant marketing power, and their advantages when it comes to tying into their other products and services, the most widely used cloud storage providers tend to be, unsuprisingly, the largest players in the tech community already. However, despite the unlevel playing field, alot of smaller services have cropped up over time and, through either unique features, value, or persistence, have managed to grow considerably since their creations.
First off, we have Dropbox. Dropbox is one of the more independent ones here, and was one of the first cloud services to really make it big in the industry. They give users 2 GB of storage for free, and basic plans start at $10 per month for 1 Terabyte of storage. This amount of space is typically more than enough for the average user, and they offer more advanced features like file sharing with special links, recovery of deleted files, viewing of older versions of modified documents, among others. They have even higher plans for business and enterprise customers with more storage and features available.
Next, there’s Google Drive. To be frank, if you’re on the internet frequently, you probably use at least one Google service or another. Between Gmail, Youtube, Google Chrome, Google Earth, Google Search and so many others, it’s kind of hard to avoid at least part of their reach. Also, most of the smartphones in the world run Google’s Android OS. To tie a lot of it together, google provides Google Drive users with 15 GB of free space, which is shared between Gmail, Google Photos, and Google Docs (Google’s free online office productivity suite) as well. Plans start at $2 a month for 100 GB of storage and $10 a month for 1 TB of storage. Storage options extend to a whopping 30 TB if desired, and several amounts in between.
If you own any iDevices or Mac computers from Apple’s venerable lines, there’s a good chance you have run into or had experience with Apple’s own cloud storage, aptly named “iCloud”. iCloud is very well integrated into Apple’s devices, and allows you to store complete backups of said devices online, which can then be accessed from other apps or even used to migrate seamlessly to a newer device if, for example, you were to upgrade to the next iPhone. Larger storage options are available, and to a degree, necessary if you wish to make use of this function, however. Apple starts users off with 5 GB of free storage, and for only $0.99 a month, will give you 50 GB of storage. Plenty for the average iPhone or iPad user. Plans also come in 200 GB and 1 TB flavors for those wishing to back up their Macs or multiple iOS devices for $2.99 and $9.99, respectively.
On the subject of large companies and their cloud storage, Windows 8 and Windows 10 users have probably noticed over the past couple of years an increasing involvement in Microsoft’s productivity tools and, indeed, Windows itself’s affairs by Onedrive, Microsoft’s latest evolution of its cloud service. Fueled by its specialties in productivity, especially in educational and business fields, Microsoft has always understood the importance of the data their software is used to create, and has had cloud service for years now. Onedrive, however, takes things a step further beyond its predecessors such as skydrive et cetera, and, as mentioned before, has become a major component in the Office suite. Users start off with 5 GB of storage for free, with a 50 GB plan for $2 a month, and a 1 TB plan for $6.99 a month which includes Skype minutes and a subscription to Office 365, providing constant access to the latest version of Microsoft Office and all of its components, with updates and upgrades to newer versions as long as the subscription is active. There is also a premium plan for $9.99 a month that includes 1 TB in addition to Microsoft Office per person for up to 5 users, and further business options are available.
Whereas most of our previous entries have been focused on productivity specifically, with the one exception potentially being iCloud, it’s definitely worth mentioning that there are some Cloud service companies that take a more broad and automatic approach. Whereas services like Dropbox, Onedrive, and Google Drive require you to be manually placing files into their folders in order for them to be backed up and synchronized, a service like Carbonite automatically backs up the folders and files that you select without any further intervention required. Like some of the others on this list, it also provides a sort of “backup of previous backups”, in which you can see older versions of files and folders from previous backups, just in case you delete something you didn’t want to, or if you make a change that you want to revert. Carbonite’s encryption is also rock-solid, so any files saved through their service are very secure, which can be very important for business owners. However, as mentioned before, Carbonite is not as focused as other Cloud services, and lacks a lot of the file sharing and collaboration features that others on this list provide. However, in the interest of security alone, Carbonite is one of the best. Carbonite bills yearly instead of monthly. For unlimited storage for one user, it charges $59.99 per year, with a $99.99 option for backing up external drives and devices, should you require more than one storage device backed up.
As many people would agree, the most important files for most are photos. Especially with the proliferation of smartphones and relatively low-cost cameras, it seems that everyone has their own digital photo album, filled with memories they would like to protect. As a result, a good number of file hosting services similar to the previously mentioned cloud storage drives have begun cropping up. These, however, are specialized almost entirely in picture and video media. Storage amounts and features vary. While a host like Yahoo’s Flickr offers up to 1 TB of space for free and focuses on the professional and amateur photography communities, that’s what they’re most focused in. On the other hand. services like Photobucket, Shutterfly, and Snapfish have focuses ranging anywhere from custom designs to photo printing and creative use. In the sense of creative use, these companies may offer anything from custom calendars to coffee mugs and greeting cards, from canvas tote bags to mouse pads, and that’s only to name some of the possibilities that can be worked with the photos of your choosing. Of course, while the safekeeping of their users’ photos is still paramount, providing the ability to express some creativity while doing so is a convenient option for many looking to back up.
The advent of cloud storage and file hosting services has really changed the ways in which we can keep our files with us, and keep our files safe. However, cloud storage is not always the best option for long-term backups, and, like any backup method for important files, should never be counted on alone. Subscription costs can really stack up over the course of the year, and while most services provide the capability to retrieve deleted files within a time period, if you end up needing anything that you deleted to free up space later down the line, recovery will be impossible.
Too often I encounter people who have lost important files or pictures that they will never be able to replace, and even more often I hear the reasoning that there’s “never been a need for a backup”, or that “nothing’s ever gone wrong in the past”. Remember, folks: it only needs to happen once, and that once is too many. Statistically speaking, it’s unlikely that you won’t be afflicted with some form of data loss in your life; from dead hard drives and scratched disks, to dropped laptops or smashed phones, technology can be a delicate thing, so why play that game of Russian Roulette? Backing up your data is something that you will never regret until you don’t do it.
Were there a ranking for the most dangerous and show-stopping malware, the various types of Ransomware, and especially Cryptoviruses, would top the list. Imagine this scenario:
You’re browsing the internet, maybe watching a Youtube video, checking Facebook, playing a game, or maybe even reading some Emails, when a program pops up telling you that it’s time to update an innocuous program such as Adobe Flash Player. You think to yourself, “Sure, Flash is pretty important, I’ll update it.”
You continue going about your business when suddenly, your computer locks up and a window like this appears.
Now, to most people, this will be pretty jarring. As if the accusations were not startling enough, the page also turns on the user’s webcam and displays a live video feed, as if collecting video evidence. However, the page is a clever ruse designed to convince users that the FBI (or some other government organization) believes that they are guilty of a crime and requires them to pay a fine to avoid criminal charges or jail time. Rebooting the computer does not solve the problem, as the virus starts with the afflicted computer. The computer remains locked until the “fine” is paid, and in some cases paying might not even unlock the computer. Now, this type of virus is much more invasive and troublesome to defeat than most, and even harder to avoid. However, in most cases, an experienced technician can find a way around it, so that it can be removed.
CryptoLocker, CryptoWall, and other Encryption Viruses
On the by and large, Ransomware can usually be defeated in relative brevity by technicians with the proper set of knowledge and tools at their disposal. But what happens if the virus does more than just lock up your computer?
A Cryptovirus is one type of Ransomware that not only locks up the user’s computer, but encrypts all the user’s data as well. When the data (which can range from pictures to Word documents to AutoCAD work files) is encrypted, it becomes unreadable and inaccessible unless the person trying to open the files has the decryption key. This can be pretty problematic, as even if the virus is removed, the data will remain encrypted.
What Can Be Done?
Most of these dangerous programs encrypt the files of the victim’s computer with a heavier encryption than the average bank, so trying to crack it is not only unfeasible, but practically impossible.
If the files are of little consequence or not worth the effort, then your technician can remove the virus and get the computer working again, but the data could be lost forever. Occasionally, the good men and women of the various cybercrimes divisions in agencies such as the FBI, Interpol, or alternatively, the employees of various companies specializing in data security, expose a vulnerability in the encryption or manage to obtain a set of decryption keys with which previously encrypted files could be returned to normal.
The first version of CryptoLocker was shut down in a joint effort in such a way, and one of the parties managed to obtain the decryption keys so that victims of this attack were able to unlock their data. As such, if you would appreciate the possibility of eventually getting your data back, speak with your technician about saving the encrypted data somewhere long-term, as the potential for this to happen again exists.
There is also the option of paying the ransom, however such a prospect is usually expensive (in the order of several hundred dollars) and is not guaranteed to work. In addition to this, if one chooses to pay, it can be difficult even to execute such a payment as often the virus maker will request Bitcoin, or some other form of anonymous cryptocurrency, which can be difficult to acquire and transfer. There is also the distinct possibility that any ransom paid could go to the funding of either terrorist organizations, or at the very least, supporting such cyberattacks in the future.
Prevention and Safeguards
Unfortunately, at the present time, the best way to deal with this type of threat is not to run into it at all. Keeping an up to date antivirus, maintaining good browsing habits, and always reading the screen before you click “accept” should improve your chances.
Preferably, an antivirus providing real time protection should be considered, since these types of viruses are the types that need to be stopped at the gate. Once they get in, it could very well be too late.
Besides this, data backup is paramount. There is no such thing as a perfect defense, and when something does get through and wreak havoc, you will want to know that your data is safe. In some cases, even data backups can be affected, so it’s good to use your local technicians as resources to finding the best strategy for your situation.
If you are like most people, you’ve probably already given up on your New Year’s resolutions of going to the gym every day and ending your addiction to snack foods. Why not replace these resolutions with something more practical and less exhausting? Resolve to back up your data.
Only a few years ago, it was common to have countless dusty boxes of snap shots from family vacations, graduations and first steps or if you ran a business invoices, contracts and expense reports. Those days are essentially over. Our priceless moments in time, music, favorite recipes and financial details have all gone digital. Storing these things in zeroes and ones instead of in countless boxes seems better. However, there are risks – hard drives fail, viruses and other malware can slip in and wreak havoc of data and files can be accidentally deleted. However, it is possible to minimize the risk of some important piece of personal or professional information being destroyed – consistently back up your data.
Creating a data backup does not have to be a complex, time consuming endeavor. It’s definitely far less time consuming, frustrating, complex and costly than trying to recover a file. There are also multiple storage options, which allows you to pick the solution that best fits your unique needs.
External hard drive – External hard drives, as the name suggests, are external storage device for your computer. External hard drives tend to have large storage capacities and can connect to a computer via USB or Firewire, but can be bulkier to transport than other external storage choices. If you use Windows, you can configure the operating to system automatically backup your files at regular interval to an external hard drive. A similar feature, Time Machine, exists for Apple users.
Flash drive – Flash drives are small, inexpensive storage devices that come in a variety of shapes and storage capacities. They typically connect to a computer via USB and are excellent option for backing up or transporting small to medium amounts of data among machines.
SD card – Secure digital (SD) cards are small, hot swappable storage device typically used in cameras and mobile devices. Although SD cards were not originally intended as a mechanism for general computing storage, many modern laptops and desktops include an SD slot, which makes the cards an option for backing up data. SD cards have theoretical storage limit of 2TB, but cards above 32GB are rarely commonly available. In additional to traditional SD cards, you can also use an EyeFi SD card, which have built in Wi-Fi.
Cloud storage – In the last few years, several personal cloud services have emerged. From Apple to DropBox, multiple options exists for storing your data without keeping up with another device. In addition to multi-purpose cloud storage, specific backup solutions like Handy Backup, Carbonite and SugarSync can automate the backup of your data to the cloud.
Given the multitude of options of available, you should be backing up your data. If you’ve already experienced the nightmare of losing valuable data or need additional help RBG Computer Solutions has deep expertise in data recovery. We have 97% success rate in recovering data lost from operating system crashes, damaged hard drives, deleted files, reformatted drives, corruption from power surges and other catastrophic events.