Like me, you may be low-tech and sentimentally attached to an old but familiar and easy-to-use computer operating system and device. You know which shortcuts buy you an extra few minutes per day and which keys require a firm tap.
Even as I upgraded to a newer device and operating system, I couldn’t bring myself to ditch my venerable desktop computer with Windows XP. Why? I liked XP and the oldie-but-goodie version of Word that ran on it. It was ideal for first drafts, letters to friends, and lesson plans.
In life, there’s a place for sentimentality. When it comes to the Internet, reserve mushy thoughts for photos of kittens opening their eyes for the first time. Don’t let nostalgia for an operating system blind you to the fact it may put out the welcome mat for hackers. Use outdated devices as word processors if you want, but detach/cut/unhook them from the Internet.
On April 8, 2014, Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP with the patches and safeguards necessary to keep the system free of malware. That’s when I should have cut my desktop’s Internet connection. I didn’t. Why? Laziness, overconfidence in the anti-malware program I used on the device, and the certainty no one in the universe cared about me, my writing, vacation photos, or the quizzes and tests I’d created over the years.
Low-tech, sentimental types are easy pickings for hackers. One morning, my husband and I found this message on our old computer’s screen:
Wait? What? Hackers encrypted our data and are holding it for ransom? They want us to buy a “key” to decrypt it? Oh, and we must purchase this key via bitcoins within three days or our data would be lost forever?
With my newer device, I Googled “hackers holding computer data for ransom” and discovered we were far from alone. Police departments, lawyers, and small companies have fallen prey to these faceless, voiceless thieves. Read this and this.
Hackers may gain access to up-to-date computer operating systems via seemingly innocuous emails advising users to update software. Click on the embedded link, and the hacker’s in. My outdated Windows XP system would have been even easier to penetrate.
Hubs checked with computer-savvy friends who advised us to cut our losses and put our chances of receiving the “key” from the hackers at less than fifty percent. What’s more, even if we paid and obtained a key, there’s no guarantee the same thing wouldn’t happen again. After all, people who pay a ransom once are likely to pay it twice.
Fortunately, I had back-up copies of my writing and Hubs had back-ups of our photos. I wonder how many people buy bitcoins in hope of retrieving baby photos and kids’ school pictures?
The hackers gave us a deadline, and we watched it pass. Once it did, we removed the hard drive from our desktop computer and smashed it.
Learn from our experience. Use old devices and old software at your risk and sans Internet connection. Back up everything and store your backed up data on a stick, on another device, and in the cloud.
Let’s be careful out there.