Tag Archive | ransomware

I.T. Vendors, Do Your Jobs

I woke this morning to a series of panicked emails and text messages. A client has been hit with Crysis Ransomware. After orienting myself to the day, I got a handle on the situation and began restoring the client’s files, swept the infected server with malwarebytes, and am well on the way to having everything back up and running. Some people may remember that I was on Fox News a few years ago speaking about ransomware as an I.T. specialist, warning everyone then to back up their stuff, a sentiment mirrored by an FBI agent who participated in the same special. We are now something like four years later, and the link I provided a moment ago contains many people stating that their clients have been infected, and they want to know how they can go about finding decryption software.

Fucking ridiculous.

If you’re an I.T. vendor, it’s your job to know about ransomware. It’s literally your job to know about it, and to protect against it. For at least five years now, the only foolproof prevention is to have current backups. That’s why I don’t sweat it. A client panics and tells me they’ve been encrypted? No problem. Connect to the infected machine, identify the ransomware, google it, scan to remove it, restore files, done. This one might be more complex since it also encrypted programs and possibly some Windows features that no sane I.T. vendor would back up, but there’s absolutely no chance that the client is going to a) lose their files, or b) pay the ransom (currently $5100).

And just in the past 30 days, we’ve seen several “professional” I.T. vendors amateurishly asking about decryption utilities. I can’t blame them for not having found my website, to read my discussions about ransomware and the value of backups, or to read about my general indictment of I.T. people and their tendency to view security as an afterthought at best, but no professional should be caught with their pants down these days. As for decryption, no. It’s not happening. You have two options: pay the ransom, or lose the files. New variants are constantly being released–it’s a multi-billion dollar industry–do you really think that there’s any chance they’re going to let their encryption software be reverse engineered?

I know the hopeful feeling, the denial, of a first-time ransom attack. I was sure that I was always just a step away from the magical solution that would undo everything. Of course, through this I was also using Western Union to send $547 to Tel Aviv, Israel to buy Bitcoin and pay the ransom. Since the typical ransom is still “one bitcoin” and Bitcoin is currently at $5100, I’m not sure that the same client would go for it today. If they did, we’d be fired. That would be appropriate, I think, given that any I.T. vendor, at this point, should be aware of ransomware.

This is your job. This is what you do for a living. You’re supposed to be the experts. Your clients pay you to keep them protected from stuff like this.

Do your jobs.

If you’re hit with ransomware and you don’t have current backups for your clients, then you can go ahead and fire yourself. I’d fire you, especially if I, the client, googled things and found that ransomware has been around for several years, and that the solution is simply to back stuff up, and you couldn’t be bothered to do that. Make peace with it–your only options are to pay the ransom and hope that the people on the other end are honorable (they were in the case of CryptoWall, but that was a long time ago), or to say goodbye to all the files. They’re not recoverable and chances are that they never will be.

Just check out the full list of decryption tools that Kaspersky has available. Six. They have decryption tools for six (out of probably six thousand) variants of ransomware. CryptoWall 2.0, which released in 2014, still isn’t on there. Holding your breath for a decryption utility is like hoping to win the lottery. It requires tons of people to pay the ransom and receive the decryption utility, and for those people to provide those tools to Kaspersky, Bleeping Computer, or someone else, and for those people to laboriously reverse engineer the encryption algorithm. It’s called encryption for a reason, dude. That’s not easy to do.

To give you an idea of the task, start with your public key of “100.” Now, figure out the algorithm (the calculation) that I used to turn “100” into the private key of “2,114.” As you can immediately say, there are infinite ways to turn 100 into 2114. The larger your sample size–if you know that 300 also becomes 900, 52 becomes 1,433, and 91 becomes 30–the better your chances of finding the algorithm that will produce all of these results, but even if you have all of these public and private keys, the task is monumental. And that’s what you’re asking of Bleeping Computers because you can’t be bothered to do your job.

I have no sympathy for such I.T. people.

There’s a War For Your Technology

With Congress recently giving the FBI permission to hack any phone or computer without a warrant, we the people need to begin serious discussions about protecting ourselves (regardless of whether we have anything to hide). With the approach of the Internet of Things and the extra vulnerability that will create, this conversation is long overdue, and it isn’t one that most people are interested in.

Recently, something like a million phones were used in the Mirai Botnet, and I would venture the guess that 99% of those phones are still infected, their owners blissfully unaware. This week I removed nine–yes, NINE–password stealers at a client’s business, which I found simply because of that spidey sense I.T. people develop that tells us when something is wrong.

Then, of course, there’s Standard Confused Reply #1: “I don’t understand. Don’t we have an anti-virus?”

I’ve been clear about antiviruses for years. They’re garbage. They are pacifiers and nothing else, which is, funnily enough, exactly why I install them for clients: to pacify them. They don’t do anything of any use or value to anyone. I’ve not run an AV on my personal computer in more than a decade, and it’s fine–it’s always been fine. Meanwhile, I watch porn, browse Tor, download torrents…

Whatever pacification value they have, antiviruses certainly become useless when you’re running unsupported operating systems, defunct software, and have legitimately disabled your firewall. And if the password for your business Wi-Fi is simple enough that I can guess it in ten tries, any single one of your customers could have strolled in and accessed everything on your network they wanted.

I didn’t set up this hacker’s dream. I’d never do such a thing. But they won’t pay me to do it right, and the guy who set it up isn’t as security-minded as I am. Most people aren’t, honestly. Security is almost never a point of contention, as even other I.T. people take it for granted that the SonicWall will protect the client, Windows will protect the client, an anti-virus will protect the client…

But that’s not why I’m writing this. The point of the above is to say that if you think those tools are protecting you, then you’re in a blissful state of ignorance. They protect you only as far as you’ve never needed to be protected. They’re more like smoke alarms than anything else; they won’t put out a fire, but they’ll probably let you know that you have one.

Well. Sometimes.

The more important consideration isn’t even your computer. It’s your phone. Whatever information your computer has about you, it is nothing to what your phone knows about you, and Gooligan just infected 1.5 million devices to gain access to a ton of people’s information. As I mentioned before, the Internet of Things is on its way, and we couldn’t possibly be less equipped and ready to deal with such a momentous undertaking.

Ready or not, here I come.

And oh yes. It’s coming.

It’s largely already here.

Do you have any idea how absolutely critical your smartphone has become to your life? If you’re anything like the average American,

  • it is how you check Facebook.
  • It is how you check Twitter.
  • It is how you check your email addresses.
  • It is how you text message.
  • It is how you Facetime or Skype.
  • It is how you read the news.
  • It is even how you make calls. lol

Odds are that your smartphone is critical to your life and that you would be almost helpless without it. If you really want to see how much it affects you, have a friend of yours take your phone away from you for one day, and let me know how long you last before you’re begging and on the edge of tears, asking for your phone back. Now that–that device we’re talking about, the one critical to your mental well-being and your connectivity to the world–that device that is the critical linchpin of your world–is also the most insecure device in your world.

First things first–Apple or Android?

For the I.T. professional, there’s no question. Android. However, there’s a caveat to that. When I say “Android” I don’t mean the stock rom that your Galaxy S7 came with. No, I mean a custom rom, something like CyanogenMod or SlimROM.

Slimroms, is back, baby!

Now, let’s be clear here–installing a custom rom to your device is no easy feat. We can discuss the legality of it, if that’s your thing, but I don’t care to. For the sake of your privacy and security, it is necessary. However, you should be technologically adept enough to be comfortable finding and following a guide on how to do it. If you’re not, then congratulations–you are part of the 1.5 million people infected by Gooligan, almost certainly.

These things are critical to our lives, and they know almost everything there is to know about us. They know our pictures, our email addresses, our friends, our ex-girlfriends–even if the device itself is too dumb to know what all that information is, the fact remains that, unless you wipe your phone every six months, then all that information is right there, ready for anyone who can make sense of it to access it and make sense of it. Your phone is the ultimate Trojan Horse–brought into your life because of its awesomeness, its convenience, and its wonderful features, where it then learned almost everything there is to know about you, and where it functioned as a tunnel directly into your “city” from the outside world, because you don’t understand enough engineering to recognize that large tunnel under the horse that happens to lead right back to the encampment of enemy soldiers.

Okay, that… got away from me a bit.

Are you familiar with the show King of the Hill? In one episode, hyper-paranoid Dale Gribble is given a fish from the tobacco company that he is suing and stupidly takes it into his home. Being the paranoid that he is, he notices the wires and realizes that he is being bugged.

Well, if you have a smartphone, you are being bugged. The only question is whether someone is listening on the other end.

There is no “ten steps to ensure you’re protected” guide that I can write, and if anyone presents you with such a guide, you can be sure of two things: they either overestimate their own skills or they’re trying to sell you something, with item #10 being “install our totally awesome software that will do all this for you!!!!”

Months ago, I wrote about Windows 10, how I love it, how I hate what it stands for, and simple steps that you can take to ensure that your computer isn’t sending all of your information back to Microsoft. What, you think Microsoft suddenly gave away an operating system out of the goodness of their hearts? No, the operating system itself is spyware, just as Google Chrome is. What, you think Google just gave you a free search engine and web browser out of the kindness of their hearts? No. They’re collecting information on you, and selling that information to advertisers. Well–sort of. Since they are the advertising platform, they aren’t actually selling the information but using it as leverage to get advertisers to buy adspace with them. It’s complicated, but I’ve gone into it too many times to do it again.

Microsoft, having failed with Bing to chip into Google’s Search engine, and having lost the browser wars with the trashy IE getting stomped by Firefox and then Chrome, saw one last opportunity and went for the operating system itself. By default, they win. That’s what it’s all about–these companies, including Apple–are competing with one another for you, because they want that information on you, and they want that information on you because it gives them leverage to make more money from advertisers. Seeing their web browser bite the dust, Microsoft tried Bing. Seeing their search engine bite the dust, Microsoft went one step deeper, and so far they’ve been successful. Why do you think Windows 10 was practically forced onto people?

For fuck’s sake, if you had a pirated copy of Windows 7 or 8, they made your copy of Windows legitimate.

Anyone who knew anything about Microsoft knew the whole thing smelled fishy.

But even those steps I gave won’t help you protect yourself. They’ll just help you keep your data from going to Microsoft. They won’t do a damned bit of good to keep your info out of Google’s hands, and, if you’re using Google Chrome, then nothing can keep your info out of Google’s hands–you’re agreeing to give them that information when you click “Yes” to all those terms. You may or may not think this is a problem, but when the FBI gets permission to hack anyone they want, we can safely assume that the NSA either already has that permission under the table or, more likely, is doing it without explicit permission.

Did you know that your monitor’s heat signatures and radiation can be detected up to one and a half miles away, and that the NSA has developed equipment that can read that radiation and use it to determine what your screen is displaying? Did you know that recently developed malware can change your CPU fan’s speed, and detection equipment can use those speed changes to steal data directly off your computer? And if you’re using a WEP password on your access point, may God bless your soul. Even a WPA2-PSK isn’t going to do you a lot of good.

This is the reality of the world you’re living in.

All it takes to hack into your wifi and gain LAN-access to all of your devices–built-in vulnerabilities in most versions of Windows–is a bit of time and expertise. Hell, you can probably find a youtube video showing you exactly how to hack your neighbor’s wifi. You are living in a soup of digital communications, and almost none of them are protected or secure.

Do you even know why it’s important to check to make sure that the website you’re visiting has “https://” rather than “http://”? The “s,” of course, stands for secure, and of course you’ll find it here at www.anarchistshemale.com. It took me about an extra two hours to set up and verify, but http://anarchistshemale.com won’t even work. It will automatically redirect you to https://anarchistshemale.com. That’s right. I won’t LET you visit my page unsecurely.

In effect, what this means is that your web browser and my website have agreed on a huge character string that will act as the “proof” that each one is who they claim to be, and communications between your browser and my website will be encrypted with that character string. Anyone who intercepts the data between my website and your browser won’t have that string, and–generally–your browser will immediately alert you that something is wrong. Additionally, whoever intercepts the data will have encrypted garbage that realistically can’t be brute-forced. With something like some anarchist shemale ranting, that’s not a big deal, but we can see how important that really is for things like log-in sites–Facebook, Twitter, Gmail. Someone who has hacked your wifi–which, again, is ridiculously easy to do–can be sniffing out all the traffic on your network, intercepting all the data sent back and forth, but because you’re browsing an https:// site, the information they intercept will be encrypted and useless to them.

I have full confidence that my phone cannot be hacked. I welcome the FBI to give it their best effort. The only way they can get information from my device is to go through my mobile carrier with subpoenas; they can’t get directly into my phone. It’s not just because I’m running a custom rom. It’s because I know exactly what that custom rom entails. I know exactly what .com processes are critical to my phone’s function, which ones are suspicious, and which ones shouldn’t be there. Of course, it’s possible that they could hijack a legitimate process–a Trojan–and rewrite it. In fact, we know the NSA is capable of doing exactly that, up to and including rewriting the firmware of hardware itself. But short of John McAfee, I doubt there are many people who have devices more secure than my own.

And I know that my computer can’t be hacked, because I don’t use an always-on Internet connection. My computer is connected to the Internet when I’m using it, and the moment something odd starts happening indicative of a hack, I will pull the plug. But given the hoops people would have to jump through to even get that far, it’s unlikely it could happen in the first place. Besides which, I’ve got nothing they’d be interested in seeing. Really, I don’t. And they know that, because they once sent goons to entrap me. Yes, really. The simplest explanation is by far the most likely, and here the simplest explanation is that I was visited by goons. It was the strangest morning of my life.

Actually, the strangest moment of my life would be a “glitch in the matrix” moment that I’ve never talked about publicly because it’s just so freaking weird, and remains totally unexplained, but that’s not on the table today.

Why Android over Apple? Honestly? Because Apple is more popular and that is less you can do to protect yourself. You know how people say that Macs don’t get viruses? It’s true–primarily because almost no one uses Macs. The opposite is true with phones. Windows phones don’t get viruses because no one uses them; people use Apple or Android, so those are the ones that get hacked. If you’re someone who needs to be protected from being able to do anything because you don’t know what is and isn’t safe to do, then Apple is the device for you, hands down.

But stack my phone against the average iPhone, and I’d bet my company that your phone gets hacked before mine does.

So what’s the point? What’s my point?

Nothing can protect you. Windows Firewall won’t protect you, a $1500 SonicWall won’t protect you, AVG/SAS/MBAM/McAfee/Norton won’t protect you. A non-rooted phone won’t protect you. A stock rom won’t protect you. What can protect you?

Only you.

What’s the difference, you know? How is it that I can run without a firewall, without an antivirus, and without all that other crap for a decade and never get a virus, while other people end up with tons of viruses? The difference is knowledge. Being technologically ignorant in the modern world is, frankly, irresponsible. It’s like driving a vehicle without knowing what “D” means, or without knowing even the basics of how a combustion engine works. Sure, it’s only a danger to you–you’ll be the one broken down on the side of the road asking, “Why isn’t it working?” But, believe it or not, I care about you and don’t want you to be broken down on the freeway.

Where should you start educating yourself? Fuck, man, I don’t know. But I do know that only you can keep your devices from being hacked. Microsoft can’t, Malwarebytes can’t, Google can’t, and Apple can’t. As I said in my last article on the subject, hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear about some massive hack, some massive leak, or some massive botnet. This is the world we live in now, and nothing can protect you. The same things you’re relying on to protect you–your “mostly default” ROM, your “mostly default” Windows, your antiviruses–they are the same things that caused these enormous botnets to spring up.

The only person who can protect you is you.

 

 

Dyn’s Fire

In case you didn't get the title.

In case you didn’t get the title.

Already, the Dyn attack has fallen from the memory of most Americans–a phenomenon for which they can’t really be blamed. Realistically, we’re simply bombarded with too many things happening of too much significance at too high a frequency to possibly keep track of all of it. Just a few weeks ago, I read about China’s expansion into the South China Sea and how it made the American Government butthurt, and that’s a pretty major issue, since we’re sending more of our Navy to the region to “make sure China doesn’t expand too far” (let’s forget that we’re talking about the South China Sea), and I’ll be honest with you: I’ve given that issue almost no thought. In fact, through the last week I’ve not really given any thought to the harsh reality that Hillary and the Democrats seem to want war with Russia, or that the Russians are preparing for nuclear war, or that we’ve got more troops on Russia’s borders now than we ever did during the Cold War…

So on the surface, even if we did have memories synthetic enough to perfectly recall every bit of important news, something like Netflix and Reddit being knocked off the Internet for a while is of no consequence to most people. “Oh, no, you couldn’t watch The Walking Dead or whatever for a few hours? Excuse me while I try to avert World War 3.”

There has been a lot of speculation about who was responsible for the Dyn attack. John McAfee–who has my deepest support–spent some time on the Tor network and heard that actors in North Korea were responsible. I attempted to do this myself, a few days before the attack (there were whispers here and there before the attack took place, but details were sparse), but found everything of any interest to anyone has been moved behind a BTC paywall, and I didn’t care enough to pay to enter a forum that might be full of people blustering and not really knowing what they’re talking about, so I’m glad he was able to succeed where I failed.

However, the fact that we don’t know who is responsible points to a bigger problem.

For example, have you heard of the Equation Group? “Equation Group” is the name that Kaspersky Labs has for a hacker/malware group whose sophistication is so advanced that they are wholly unlike any other threat generator in the world. Most people agree that the Equation Group is, in fact, the NSA. It is either the NSA or an equivalent Israeli agency, but given that their actions largely take place within the United States, it is most likely that it is the NSA, and their level of sophistication is terrifying. For example, they have intercepted hardware shipments in the United States and rewritten firmware that contains malware that is both invisible and practically impossible to remove.

This was actually a matter of some curiosity, as a colleague orders from Newegg constantly. Via email, we agreed that he would order some components that I needed for my personal PC: a new motherboard, new CPU, and more, better memory. Having used Newegg for years, the colleague was certain the shipment would arrive expediently. In fact, the shipment disappeared for ten days–the first and only time this has ever happened to the colleague. Now that we know the reach of the NSA and how they absolutely can identify someone in my position–especially since I had just been learning Arabic, though I dropped that quickly when I realized the implications–it remains entirely possible that my hardware was intercepted. There was, after all, a trail via email that made it clear the hardware was for me, and we know the NSA snoops email. Disregarding the fact that I was certainly visited by goons of some agency several years ago who wanted me to help them hack a mayor’s email address and break into a government PC.

Large cloud vendors, social networking sites, and other media platforms are being hacked with an almost weekly regularity now, and it doesn’t seem that Americans are really taking note of the world we live in. This is one of the reasons I’m working on a series of short stories involving a sort of modern Sherlock Holmes who does I.T. work in a world some 10-15 years in the future. The first such story deals with a woman who is driving down the Interstate when a hacker infects her vehicle with ransomware.

“Your vehicle has been protected with AGI Encrypt 3.0. This has been done for your protection. We cannot guarantee the service works for you unless you pay 2 BTC to Bitcoin Address… In the event that you do not, then your vehicle will be susceptible to hackers, who would hijack your system and pilot your vehicle into a tree at high speeds.”

Sound bad?

That’s the world we’re heading toward. Blithely.

No one takes security seriously. I own an I.T. firm, and this firm does 99% of its work through contracting for another firm, and I can tell you from experience that most I.T. people don’t take security seriously. What’s wrong with leaving RDP enabled on its default port? lol. What’s wrong with turning off the firewall on the server? No, we’re not talking “Oh my god, you’re not running an anti-virus?!” kind of crap. Anti-viruses are useless, and I haven’t used one in nearly a decade. Anti-viruses are pacifiers for the gullible, and nothing more. Back in the day–in the mid- and late-90s–they were more important. In modern times, though, they’re useless–the only anti-virus you need is a reasonably knowledgeable user. Don’t click to install that fucking plugin from ultraporn.xxx. Don’t download Ultra Pro Super Registry Fixer and Driver Updater Plus.

One of the key features of my stories is that the I.T. world has become increasingly analogous to a free market police solution. This shouldn’t be a surprise–I’m an anarchist, after all. So if I’m envisioning the future, I’m going to come up with solutions that don’t rely on the state. In actuality, though, I.T. firms are already very similar to police departments–instead of arresting people, we sinkhole servers.

For some background, I was interviewed as an expert by Fox News to discuss ransomware:

That… was obviously a few years ago.

I was berated heavily for that video, wherein I said that it’s pointless to contact the FBI. So the next time a client was hit with ransomware, I contacted the FBI. It went down like this:

  • Client contacted me with problems using PeachTree Accounting Software.
  • Connected remotely to the server–the server is in South Carolina, and I’m in Mississippi.
  • Found immediate signs of ransomware.
  • Removed malware and restored backed-up documents to undo the damage.
  • Discovered it was the result of a targeted attack. It was an intense experience, as I was literally working on the server at the exact moment someone else was. It wasn’t as intense as Hollywood would make it out to be, but it was fun.
  • Contacted the FBI.
  • All of the above happened over the course of 2 days.
  • Six months later, the FBI replied to my report.

As far as comparisons between the free market and the state go, they don’t get more obvious than that. Within minutes of learning of the problem, I was on the server, running it down and handling it. It took the state six months to respond. So let’s be clear about this. We’re heading toward a future where private I.T. firms will cease to exist–much as private police forces have ceased to exist–with the role being turned over to the state, where it becomes inefficient, wasteful, and ineffective; or where…

American Tech Suppliers–or something like that, because I don’t remember what I called them–instituted a national database of I.T. firms. If you owned an I.T. firm, you could apply to be Listed for your city. Only one firm per 30 mile radius could be listed, though, which encouraged competition, efficiency, and excellence. If BITS and MNS both in Memphis wanted to be listed, then whichever one of them was better would get that coveted spot. Why was it coveted? Because, no matter where you were in the country, you could call 510, and it would automatically direct your call to the nearest Listed tech firm.

This became necessary because malware infections started becoming matters of emergencies, though, at the time the story takes place, vehicles are only just now beginning to be infected with ransomware. And it’s going to happen. Have no illusions or delusions about it. We’re heading toward the Internet of Things in a society where technological security is an afterthought at best. Despite reports abounding about ransomware, how many Americans are regularly backing up their data? I’d bet less than 3%. So when they get hit with ransomware, they’ll be caught with their pants down, faced with paying $500 or losing 12 years of pictures and videos.

Now look forward, to the days of self-driving cars with always-on Internet connections. There’s a quandary there, isn’t there? Should the human driver’s input always override the computer navigation? “Yes!” laypeople would say without giving it any thought, because already this isn’t the case. If you’re attempting to back up, and your van detects that there is a little kid on a bicycle behind you, it will not let you back up. While people would say this is a good thing, the implications are obvious: human input does not automatically trump the computer. We want the computer there to keep us from making mistakes and having accidents, after all, so we’re okay with our vehicle automatically stopping even if we’re telling it to go.

But how difficult would it be for someone to plant a virus that spoofs the sensors and tells your computer that there is a child behind your vehicle? You’ll get in your car, crank it to leave, and find you can’t reverse out of your driveway because it thinks there is a child behind you. No matter how hard you floor it, your vehicle isn’t going anywhere. Then the message plays over your radio, “Your vehicle’s system has been upgraded with Cyber Protect for your protection. To unlock your vehicle for use with its upgraded system, you must pay $500 in BTC to this address…”

That’s the best that we could face–and we will face it, because it will happen, and auto manufacturers are treating security like it’s not very important. But even if they did consider it as important as Microsoft considers Windows security to be [let’s not get into that], they can’t be very effective. Decades of dealing with malware have taught us that no amount of top-down security can protect you from malware. There are always people looking for code to exploit. When they find it, it is patched, and then they go on to find new exploits. It’s a constant battle, and even staying updated will not protect you from zero day exploits. So if a hacking group finds a zero day exploit that will allow them to take control over every Chevrolet on the road, then you’re simply fucked if you drive a Chevy.

Far more alarming will be the people who put your life at ransom. Why shouldn’t they? Can you imagine driving the road, only to have your vehicle tell you that it’s going to continue driving around for the next hour, you have that time to pay a certain amount of BTC to a specific address, and, if you don’t, you will be driven into a wall at high speed? Oh, of course your doors would lock and not let you out. You could try breaking a window and jumping out of the window while cruising down the Interstate at 70 miles per hour, but your odds there aren’t much better than they are with the wall. In short, you’ll pay.

It only took 6,000 cell phones that were infected to bring down an entire state’s 911 service. It’s hard to even imagine how vulnerable our technological systems really are, but just process that. 6,000 infected cell phones brought down an entire state’s emergency services. Imagine what state-sponsored hackers in another country could do with 300,000 infected devices.

Meanwhile, someone is probing and testing the waters for taking down major websites by crippling DNS providers. How many devices would it take to tear down Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Ymail, etc.? How difficult would it be to time that so that it coincides with a major military assault? Suddenly the Internet would just… go down… for everyone… and when it came back up we’d learn Washington, D.C. has been nuked by the Chinese and Russians, and that a coalition of these forces has already landed in California. Now, I don’t think either of these countries have any interest attacking us. My point is how vulnerable we are, not how threatened we are.

I’ve been unable to find the actual news item–Google makes it impossible to find older news items, which is scary in its own right–but we’ve long been aware that the Chinese are actually capable of crippling 17 key defense systems. How technological are our military systems? Could NORAD even be effective without the Internet? Who knows? And though I don’t think there is any reason to believe that someone wants to be aggressive toward us–except North Korea, who is incapable of doing much harm anyway–the unfortunate truth remains that we are exceedingly vulnerable, and we have no idea how vulnerable we really are.

Some years ago while I was at work, suddenly everything in the city was down. No one had Internet, and no one’s phones worked. For about 45 minutes, the entire city was completely disconnected from the rest of the world. The problem was never identified, but it was terrifying. Suddenly, there was absolutely no contact with the outside world. For all I knew, I could get on the Interstate and would find myself blocked by military vehicles telling us that the entire area was under quarantine and no one was allowed to leave–I had just watched The Andromeda Strain, it’s worth mentioning.

Imagine the effect that a few hours of zero Internet access would have on the United States, and imagine what could happen in those hours.

This is why I sneer at people who insist that, even if Hillary does want war with Russia, it doesn’t matter because Russia can’t possibly do us any harm. It’s like someone sneering that it doesn’t matter if they lick a petri dish that allegedly contains salmonella, because they can look and see the dish is clear and empty. “I can’t see it, so there must be nothing there! It’s totally safe!”

No… Take the biochemist’s word for it–there’s salmonella on that dish.

And take my word for it: our technological infrastructure is far more vulnerable than you think.

That a group of people was able to take down tremendously popular sites like Netflix and Reddit should make that obvious. That there are multiple groups who could be the ones responsible for it should make it abundantly clear. Was the Dyn attack a very big deal? Not really. But it should have been a warning of what’s to come. If they can take down Netflix, then they can take down Facebook and Twitter. I don’t know how the American people would react if they had to go without social media for more than a few minutes–the insane reactions of people when Facebook goes down for a few minutes of maintenance should be an indicator–but it wouldn’t be good.

Worse yet, the Dyn attack was carried out by devices in the United States, by unwilling and unknowing ordinary people whose phones were weaponized. Maybe your phone. You know? There is every possibility that your phone–the one you’re probably using to read this–was part of the DDoS. How would you know? You wouldn’t. And you probably didn’t even think to look into it.

“The Internet of Things!” people proclaim, excited and eager.

But I can only shake my head. No people have ever been less ready to take on such an enormous vulnerability.

Ransomware: Let’s Get Serious For a Moment

Ransomware.

If you’re not familiar with it, then you should keep up with the I.T. world more. It’s a new type of malware that basically takes your files away, and then charges a ransom to restore them. They don’t really take your files away–they encrypt them, typically. But don’t worry–they might as well be gone. Reverse engineering the encryption algorithms would take forever, and they are too numerous for it to work in the long run. Besides, ransomware is going to become more and more common. It’s just too lucrative.

And yes, paying the ransom will typically get your files back.

It’s also worth mentioning that this can only be done with Bitcoin, and it can be kind of a pain in the ass to buy bitcoin if you’ve never done it and aren’t particularly tech-savvy. And if you do pay it, then you’re kinda encouraging them to continue to do it. But I won’t blame you for it–you might need your stuff back, and letting go of it simply may not be an option.

There’s only one way to defeat ransomware.

Backups.

Backup your stuff.

It’s not hard.

Google Drive offers a quick and easy way for you to do it, as long as you don’t need to back up more than 25 GB of stuff. Or you can just pop in a flash drive every month or two and copy all your shit onto it, then set it off to the side. It doesn’t matter, and there are countless options. Just do it, one way or another. Most of the big dogs in the ransomware world are now going after hospitals, because they can easily charge $3m to a hospital to unlock their stuff (this just happened), and since hospitals have lives on the line, they will always pay if they have to.

But there are still plenty of little people out there who will gladly take the home users and ransom their files for .25 BTC ($125~). At the moment, they’ve generally been asking about $500, which the average home user won’t be willing to pay, but they’ll figure it out sooner or later and lower their prices substantially. If you only have to pay $75, after all, to get all your stuff back that day, it suddenly becomes a lot more tempting.

Oh, it’s coming. Ransomware is coming. It’s going to be very big, and very popular.

But it’s easy to defeat.

Just make backups every so often. Voila, done. They will never be able to write software that encrypts the flash drive that you set in your desk drawer after you’ve backed up your pictures to it.

So there’s a jolly good PSA for everyone. Don’t be a douche. Backup now, before you get hit with it.

Oh, yeah–your McAfee Antivirus, Norton 360, Spybot, and AVG won’t protect you from it, either. These programs are pacifiers for the gullible, and they do very little good as far as protecting you. They sometimes function as pretty good smoke alarms, but they aren’t sprinkler systems, they aren’t the fire department, and they aren’t fire extinguishers.