Trends in Malware make backups more important

Ransomware is a new trend in malware. It comes in various forms; but, surviving it or recovering from it usually requires a backup. The best defense is prevention and a bit of basic knowledge on the part of the user. No, Microsoft will not call you under any circumstances; The FBI will not hack into your computer to tell you your machine is doing questionable things, and any time some weird popup tells you that you have viruses or malware on your computer, you do and it includes that popup.  Prevention amounts to keeping your anti-virus up to date and running regular scans combined with keeping your anti-malware similarly up to date and running regular (weekly preferred) scans. If you are using Windows Defender (windows 10) or Security Essentials with Defender (windows 7 and 8) you have the basic tools installed, just keep them up to date. Other vendors (McAfee, Norton, TrendMicro, etc.) have appropriate suites that will similarly protect you (Sophos and Vipre have suites for large businesses that are quite impressive in scope and protection level but usually cost prohibitive for home users).

Even so, any of us can make the fateful mis-click or have the bad luck of going to a hacked website that starts up the infection. If it slips past your anti-virus you could be in a situation where a reboot will correct the issue (lucky you) or where restoring all of your data from backups is necessary, or even restoring the machine to factory fresh state and then restoring all data from backups. My best advice is to call someone experienced before you mess with it; but, if you feel up to the challenge, update all anti-virus & malware products, scan completely, verify that the bug(s) are gone and restore lost data (or all data) from backups.

If I seem like a broken record about backups, that is fine with me; backups are that important. You should have many, starting with previous versions (windows 10), synched with a cloud service, AND detachable hard drive / thumb drive, etc. The detachable part is important because some of the current malware or ransomware will mess up your cloud files also or you’re synched files if the synch is to some place that is available when you get infected. Therefore, if it is important, have a copy on removed media!

As a last note, remember you can’t inherit from a non existent dead relative or win an African lottery that you didn’t enter; delete emails suggesting you have with extreme prejudice and do not open any attachments or visit their websites. I guarantee that bad things will happen if you follow the links or open the attachments.

Hard Drive Reliability

Hard Drives: What we are learning from data centers.
In a recently published study of Microsoft data centers, it was revealed that 89% of component failures are hard drive failures; in an environment where the hard drives represent less than 30% of the components, I take this to be very significant. The study went on to identify the type of failure and concludes that high relative humidity, not heat is the biggest killer. The humidity being in excess of 60% seems to more than double the rate of failure versus less than 60%. Combine this with a few other reports regarding home computers where smokey environments and environments with airborne small particles (kitchens, manufacturing, etc.) double the failure rate over relatively clean dry environments and a picture begins to emerge. The modern hard drive with a sealed chamber for the spinning disk and read / write heads is fairly safe from environmental impact on the disk surfaces; but, the exposed electronics still suffer from a range of issues depending on the environment. Whether it be corrosion or debris build up, doesn’t seem to matter; failures occur in a wide range of exposures to the circuit boards commonly built on the bottom of the drive.

Now hard drive failure is the one thing we, as users, cannot afford; it means data loss, picture loss, document loss, boot failure, all the bad things. CPU failure, video adapter failure, even motherboard failure are all minor inconveniences by comparison to hard drive failure. So, how long should I expect my hard drive to last? Standard hard drives are very reliable for 3 years; enterprise hard drives for 5 years; Solid State Drives (SSD’s) 6 years. These are not equivalent numbers; The 3 and 5 years for spinning hard drives is just that, they age whether they are being used or not. The 6 years for SSD’s is power on years; they appear to not age when not in use.

Now please take note, the tests that lead me to these conclusions took place in data centers, numbers for home computers might be slightly different. I have a machine with a 10 year old drive that still works but I have seen plenty of dead 2 year old drives too; a lot depends on what kind of life the computer has; good care leads to longer life, cleanliness leads to longer life.