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Cryptolocker and Cryptowall Ransomware

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

It can happen in an instant. You click on an attachment from Granny and the next thing you know you are watching your files getting locked up before your eyes. Then an important-looking message pops up on your desktop demanding you pay a substantial fee to a group you’ve never heard of using a online payment method. They make it clear – pay now or you’ll never see the precious photos of your Chihuahuas again.

 

You sit in shocked silence. You then do everything you can think of to get a look at your data. No luck. There don’t seem to be many options. Cryptolocker is holding your data ransom.

Crytptolocker, and it’s cousin CryptoWall, are malicious Trojan virus programs, also called “ransomware”, that take your data files hostage by encrypting the data stored in the file. The encryption process rewrites your files in a way that prevents them from being opened normally. In order to open an encrypted file, the file must be opened or unlocked using a type of encryption that is virtually impossible to break if you don’t know or have the “secret key”— which in the case of Cryptolocker and CryptoWall will only be provided by the malware’s operators, if you pay a ransom for your data.

These viruses usually target Microsoft Windows computers and were first seen in the wild in September 2013. There have been instances in which these kind of phishing scams have targeted Android phones and Mac users, so no one is totally safe. Always remember to follow safe browsing practices to protect your identity.

The most common way we see computers become infected is when our clients open infected files attached to an email they receive. The virus itself can be removed, but the files will remain encrypted. There is no simple solution to un-encrypting those files. A user may choose to:

  1. Pay the ransom [which does not always lead to the files being decrypted],
  2. Restore the files from good backups, [if you have them], or
  3. Try data-recovery options [generally very expensive and also not guaranteed].

Recently, the CryptoLocker 1 virus was isolated and, in late May 2014, Operation Tovar took down the Gameover ZeuS botnet that had been used to distribute the malware. In addition, security firms FireEye and Fox-IT have managed to recover the encryption keys used by CryptoLocker’s authors. These groups have set up a private website that will allow victims to test an encrypted file to see if the security outfits have isolated a key that will let victims decrypt their files. Unfortunately, experts have identified at least 3 versions of CryptoLocker and 2 versions of CryptoWall in circulation. Fireeye warns that some data may not be recoverable using their portal, especially if a victim’s machine is infected with a variant of the virus and not the CryptoLocker virus itself.

We recommend develop a strong anti-malware strategy to prevent contracting the Cryptolocker or similar virus. The strategy should include all of the following steps:

  • Use safe browsing practices,
  • Buy and install a quality triple protection antivirus/antispyware/antiphishing program (covering Windows, Mac and Android machines) to help prevent infection, and
  • Make regular backups of your files so you can restore your data from backup should you become a victim of this kind of malware infection.

If any of your machines have been infected by Cryptolocker or similar malware, we’re here to help. We have Agents standing by available to chat if you need help immediately, or look into our Tech Support service plan so your are ready if the worst happens.

Agent Kate B is a 3-year veteran of Geek Squad, currently on assignment at Geek Squad City. Follow Agent Kate on Twitter @AgentKateB.

Phishing Scams Target Android Phones

Friday, January 9th, 2015

According to a New York Times article from last fall, Android devices are a new target for “ransomware”. These malicious software apps act similarly to the fake FBI virus scams that have been attacking Windows PCs for years. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to help protect your Android smartphone or device from these scammers and their malware apps.

 

Stick With Trusted App Sources

Android devices generally come setup for downloading apps from a trusted app store, like the Google Play Store. For extra security, don’t change the settings on your device that allow 3rd party apps to be downloaded from the official app stores. Sometimes called “sideloading”, allowing apps to be installed from less trustworthy places on the Internet increases your chances of accidentally loading malware onto your device.

Stay Updated

Just like your computer, your smartphone’s operating system and apps need to be updated periodically. It’s important to keep an eye out for system update notifications on your device. You can also check for system updates by visiting “Settings,” then “About” (or “About Phone”), followed by “System Updates.”

For app updates, visit the Google Play Store app, then the “Play Store” icon. Select “My Apps” to view your downloaded apps and any available updates. You can also touch the Menu button to check the “Auto-update” option to keep that app automatically up to date.

Practice Safe Internet Habits

A common attack method, known as “phishing” on the Internet, isn’t technical, it’s psychological. Scammers will create fake websites, pretending to be your bank or shopping site. They’ll send you emails asking you to sign in and provide your account information, which they’ll then use to access your account on the real sites.

For more information on how to protect yourself, check out this article on how to avoid getting hooked by a phishing scam.

Some malware attacks come in the form of banner ads designed to look like a security warning telling you viruses have been detected. The error will ask you to download and run what it claims is an antivirus app, but is really the scammer’s software waiting to load onto your device.

The same safe Internet habits you follow on your computer work on your mobile devices as well. If you do find yourself falling victim to one of these attempts, here is what to do if you are scammed.

Security Software

The rapid growth in the number of Android devices being used worldwide has made the platfom a growing target for malicious software makers. Keeping your settings in check, your system updated and avoiding unsafe behavior will often be the most powerful ways to protect your device. To help take your protection further, security software makers have made a range of protection products for the Android platform.

The good news is that many of the major security software suites, like Webroot’s SecureAnywhere Internet Security or Trend Micro’s Titanium Internet Security, include Android security apps that you can install on your device in addition to their Windows PC or Mac coverage.

If you still have questions on how to best protect your Android device, or need help with a potential malware issue like viruses or spyware, chat with an Agent or or stop by the Precinct at your local Best Buy store.

Agent Derek has been removing techno-stress from the lives of his Geek Squad clients since 2005. When not providing remote help as an Online Support Agent, he likes to take to the road on a vintage motorcycle for adventures through Ohio country highways.

Resolution Time Again…

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

Still making your resolutions for the New Year? Consider adding “Back It Up Once a Week” to your list. That’s the message that the FTC is passing along in a new blog post and video as we begin 2015.

In our highly technical world of laptops, tablets, smartphones, it’s easy to forget that the most valuable thing on our devices is our personal data. Whether it’s cherished family photos, important financial documents or your favorite songs and movies, losing data can be inconvenient, costly and potentially devastating.

You can protect your data by making a resolution to back your data up at least once a week. There are plenty of options for where to back up your data, from DVDs, external hard drives, flash drives, even online cloud storage.

Which is better, local or online back-ups? We have a breakdown of the advantages on our website. Of course, you don’t want to just stop at backing you data up, so here’s six steps to keeping your data safe.

Remember, a consistent data backup plan is crucial to saving you time and money, as well as protecting your important memories and irreplaceable files. If you need more help, explore our Data Backup or Transfer Services or Chat with an Agent for more help.

Agent Derek has been removing techno-stress from the lives of his Geek Squad clients since 2005. When not providing remote help as an Online Support Agent, he likes to take to the road on a vintage motorcycle for adventures through Ohio country highways.

Microsoft Intensifies Efforts to Fight Fraudsters

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

You’re online, watching a compilation video of cute kittens, and your home phone rings. A person claiming to be a representative from Microsoft tells you they detectsed a threat to your computer. The caller tries to frighten you into allowing a remote connection to your computer, showing you a bunch of warnings, maybe even some red error messages on your computer. The caller pressures you to take immediate action and buy their service because you are in imminent danger!

In a video published on Microsoft’s blog on Thursday, December 18, Kirsten Kliphouse, VP of Customer Service & Support for Microsoft, reported more than 3 million of their customers have been victimized by scammers. Courtney Gregorie, senior attorney for Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit, said that Microsoft has identified more than 50 enterprises in the US alone that allegedly engage in this type of deceptive behavior. Microsoft is partnering with investigators and law enforcement to aggressively crack down on companies that are trying to scam clients using Microsoft’s name and reputation.

If you receive a call from a person identifying him or herself as a representative of Microsoft and telling you there is a problem on your computer, remember two things:

  1. STOP! – neither Microsoft nor any of its partners will ever reach out to you directly. That is not Microsoft calling. Hang up now.
  2. GO! – Go to www.microsoft.com/answerdesk and report the situation.

Some additional resources to learn more about phone phishing scams of this type:

Agent Kate B is a 3-year veteran of Geek Squad, currently on assignment at Geek Squad City. Follow Agent Kate on Twitter @AgentKateB.

Pop-up Geek Squad Precinct at Main Chicago Airport

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

With the holidays nearly upon us, many of our Agents and clients will be travelling sometime during the next ten days. And it’s a good bet that at least some of those travelers will be going through Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, the third busiest airport in the US in terms of total passengers.

Anyone who has traveled by air lately is aware of the spotty or non-existent airport Wi-Fi and the clusters of people charging their cellphones at the random open outlets between gates. This year, we are trying to de-stress the holiday travel experience for people flying through O’Hare in Chicago.

From Dec. 15 through Dec. 23, we will be operating a pop-up Geek Squad Precinct in Terminal 3, Concourse H at O’Hare. Our temporary presence will be staffed by full-fledged Agents who will be available to help travelers charge their phones and mobile devices, provide reliable Internet access and help relieve travel-related tech troubles. Our site will feature phone charging stations as well as a number of tablets and a desktop machine available to travelers so they can go online and take care of a bit of business before they board. The booth will even have two photo cutouts so all the ‘wannabes’ can get photographs of themselves in full Agent regalia.

image of the Precinct in the terminal

“O’Hare is one of the busiest airports in the U.S. It’s an ideal venue to give the gift of Geek Squad during what is always a hectic and intense holiday travel season,” said Chris Askew, president of Geek Squad Services. “That’s the idea behind it — to surprise and delight holiday travelers who may need some advice and guidance. If we can be helpful to people during this period, then we’ve achieved our objective.”

Agents will not only help travelers at the booth, but will also wander the concourses of O’Hare, charging mobile devices and dispensing tech fixes and advice to the clients and potential clients as they wing their way to their holiday festivities. If you happen to be passing through O’Hare over the next few days, take a minute and stop by to say “Hi.” We’d love to see you.

If you are planning to travel over the holidays, we have put together a couple blog posts focused on things to think about when you travel with tech. You may want to take a spin through these before you finish packing your suitcase.

Travelling with Your Tech

Americans Abroad: Taking Your Technology With You

Agent Gavin C. has been fighting the proverbial good fight and bringing technological enlightenment to clients since 2006. When not analyzing the series of tubes that is Geeksquad.com, he enjoys the simple things in life: rock music, football, and freedom. From his perch at the Magic Castle, he ensures that Geek Squad remains a shining light for truth and justice.

It Was Here a Minute Ago: Tips on Finding Lost Files

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

For many, the most important thing on their computer is their data. Whether it’s photos of family events, small business financial records or a music library, your data is usually more valuable than any other files or software on your computer.

So what should you do if you suddenly can’t find an important file? The first, take a deep breath – it is rare for a file to simply disappear. To keep from overwriting the missing file with any work you currently have open, go ahead and save your current work and close all the programs you have open.

Next, check to make sure the file or files haven’t just been accidentally moved out of their usual directories. Make sure to check the Windows Recycle Bin or Mac Trash folder. If the file is there, you can either drag it out to the desktop, or right-click on the file and click “Restore” in Windows or “Put Back” in OS X.

It is possible that the missing file or files may have been accidentally renamed. Take a moment to check the folder where the files normally live and look for files that were created or modified around the same time the files went missing. An easy way to do this is to sort the files in the directory by “Date Modified” and check those most recently changed. Take a close look at those recently modified ones with unusual or unfamiliar names. You’d be surprised how easy it is to mistakenly rename a file when you are in the midst of your work.

Search the drive

Another option is to do a search of your system for the missing file or files. If you are not sure of the exact name, try using unique words that might appear in the file name or the content of the file itself. Activating a search of your files will vary according to your computer’s operating system. Here’s a breakdown of searching the most popular operating systems.

Windows 8
When Windows 8 and 8.1 were released about a year ago, we made a series of videos about using the new operating system and posted them on our main website. One of the videos is about using search. Take a look to refine your Windows search skills.

Mac OS X
You can use the Spotlight feature in OS X to locate files and folders. To access Spotlight, click the Spotlight icon that looks like a small magnifying glass in the upper-right corner of your screen or in any Finder window. You can also press the Command and Space bar on your keyboard to bring the Spotlight search box up. For more help with Spotlight, visit the Mac Basic: Spotlight tutorial.

Windows 7/Vista
In Windows 7 or Vista, you can use the search box on the Start Menu or any Windows Explorer to locate files or folders. To begin, click the “Start” button on your Windows taskbar to bring the Start Menu up.

At the bottom-left of the Start Menu (or in the upper-right corner of any open Windows Explorer window) you will find a search box that says, “Search programs and files” with a magnifying glass at the end. Enter the terms you want to search for, and a list of items that match will be displayed. The list is dynamic, changing as you add letters or words to your search. For more information about searches in Windows 7 or Vista, visit the Find a File or Folder tutorial on the Microsoft website.

Windows XP
To search for files or folders in Windows XP, click the “Start” button, then click on “Search” in the menu on the right side. When the Search Companion box comes up, click the “All files and folders” option. Type in your search term and select “Search.”

Please note, if you are still using Windows XP you should consider moving to another operating system, as Microsoft has stopped supporting it. Agent Devin put together a video about what this means to XP users for your YouTube channel. We also published a summary of the salient facts on our main website.

If you still can’t locate your missing files, all is not lost. Our dedicated team of Data Recovery Agents specialize in retrieving material from malfunctioning or damaged computer hard drives or storage media (flash drives, memory cards, etc.). They are standing by waiting to help. Stop into a Geek Squad Precinct at your local Best Buy store, or give us a call at 1-866-438-3338. An Agent will work with you to create a data recovery plan customized for your data storage challenge.

Agent Derek has been removing techno-stress from the lives of his Geek Squad clients since 2005. When not providing remote help as an Online Support Agent, he likes to take to the road on a vintage motorcycle for adventures through Ohio country highways.

Managing Money Madness: A Guide to Surviving College, Part 2

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Many parents of college kids have experienced the dread of having their child message, call or write to say that they need money. Technology now allows us many options to send our cash-strapped kids a little loot.

 

Bank Account Transfer
Before your child goes away to school, you may want to add your name to their bank account. That way, in case of emergency, you can transfer funds from your account directly into your child’s account. This will let you quickly get her the funds she needs while avoiding fund transfer fees. Some banks will even let you use your computer and scanner, or a smartphone to create and make deposits into accounts using electronic images of checks.

Bank-to-Bank Wire Transfer
If you and your child use different banks, you can get her money using a bank-to bank-transfer. You will be required to know the name of the account holder, her bank’s routing number, and the account number into which the money will be transferred. Be aware that most bank-to-bank transfers involve transaction fees. In the past, these transfers had to be performed during business hours, or required you to call into the bank’s phone support. Many banks now let you to arrange a wire transfer anytime through their websites.

Email or Mobile Phone Money Transfers
Did you know you can send money to your child’s email address or mobile phone? Many banks offer this fairly-new service as part of their online banking package. This service is also available from e-commerce payment processors like PayPal, Alert Pay and Money Booker. You will need to set up an account with the payment processor and connect that account to the bank account that will be the source of the funds. You will then be able direct the payment processor to take a specified amount from your bank account and send it to your child’s email address. Your child will receive an email with instructions of how to access the funds you sent. Seems almost too easy. But it works.

Western Union or MoneyGram
You can also send money online through Western Union or MoneyGram to any Walmart location. When transferring money out of a credit or debit card, the money will be available to the recipient in 10 minutes. Funds transferred from a checking account will be available in four hours. There are fees and restrictions involved in this type of transfer and the person picking up the money will need to present an ID, know the name of the sender, and provide an answer to a secret question before they will be given the money. This is an excellent option if your child needs funds immediately and it is after your bank’s business hours.

Prepaid/ Reloadable Visa/MasterCard
Many banks now offer reloadable pre-paid credit/debit cards that feature Visa/ MasterCard logos. These cards are usable anywhere that Visa or MasterCard are accepted, and can be reloaded by calling your bank or visiting its website. Reloadable cards are accepted in locations world-wide and usually can be replaced if lost or stolen. If you do not have a bank account, you can still get these cards at Walmart and other major retailers. They can usually be reloaded by the retailer who provided the card originally as long as you have the account or card number available.

Be Careful
If you are using an online service, be sure the website or location you are working with is reputable and secure. If you stop by a physical location such as a bank or Western Union teller, be sure to request and keep a copy of the transfer receipt. Finally, be sure to follow up with your child by phone (if possible) to verify that she understands how, when, and where to pick up her funds.

Covert Defender Kate B. reports from a super-secret location as part of the Geek Squad Online Remote Support Quality Assurance Team and leads Geek Squad’s Yahoo! Answers Partnership.

Staying Connected to Your Kids : A Guide To Surviving College, Part 1

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

It’s been happening all over the country the last couple of weeks – parents wondering how to stay in touch with their kids now that they have left home for school or a job. Although it can feel scary at times, here are some tips on using tech to stay connected.

 

Phone
If you don’t know how to use your cell phone to send a text or receive a picture, you might want to sit down with a phone specialist and learn how. Short texts and pictures can be sent through the cellular phone network even when no internet connection is available. These brief messages, pictures of a loved one or favorite pet from home can do a lot to brighten the spirit of a kid who might be a little homesick.

Video Conferencing
If you’re not close enough to visit, you can use your computer and webcam to video-chat with your child using video conferencing applications like Google+ (pronounced Google Plus) hangouts, Skype or Facetime. Most of the video-chat applications allow users to chat using mobile devices like a smartphone or tablet, making them even more convenient for family get-togethers. You could even set up your own video conference so that grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, siblings and others can join in and have a big group meeting on special occasions. Using this connectivity, your child won’t miss Grandma’s birthday celebration even though she won’t be able to make it back home for the event.

Emails
The great things about email is its versatility – messages can be short or long, include pictures or other attachments, and are often transmitted free to an Internet connection anywhere in the world. You can even send email from apps on your phone. Have a talk with your child before she goes off to school to find out what email address she wants you use and how often she plans to check that account. It is likely that she has a number of email accounts and having some understanding of how she uses them will help you understand what to expect in terms of return mail from her. One of the greatest benefits of communicating through email as opposed to regular mail is that it is fast and it is free.

Letters and Care Packages
Technology is great for helping keep us connected to our children who have gone out into the world, but nothing beats the excitement of opening up a package from home. There’s also something to be said about opening an envelope to find a hand written note from mom or dad with a drawing from a little brother. If you like, you can even use online retailers to send picture post cards, or themed care baskets and packages to your child for exams, holidays or special occasions. Throwing in a gift card for groceries or gas never hurts either. Including a self-addressed, stamped envelope, could be just the hint needed to get her to write you back.

Social Media
If your child is old enough to be leaving home, it is likely she has a social media account through Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Google+, StumbleUpon, or Pinterest. “Following” or “friending” your child can help you stay up-to-date on what your child is doing and the things that interest her. Following your child on social media can open up avenues for conversation and help you stay connected. But don’t be surprised if your child chooses not to accept your friend request or blocks you from seeing some activities. Some young people might not be comfortable with Mom liking or commenting on every post on Facebook, or Dad being able to sift through a photo blog of activities and online life on Instragram. If your child does allow you to follow or friend, be conscious that the responses you make to pictures, comments, or posts are often visible to others as well. If you want to stay connected in this way, it’s usually a good idea to keep most of your comments to yourself.

Letting go of your child who is growing up and moving out may be hard, but technology allows you to stay in touch easier than ever before. If possible, communicate with your child beforehand to determine what methods each of you is most comfortable with. Send a text message each day for encouragement, or set up times to face-to-face chat through Skype on a set day and time each week.

And try to send a care package occasionally via snail mail. Don’t forget that no technology replaces a real life, in-person visit and hug!

Covert Defender Kate B. reports from a super-secret location as part of the Geek Squad Online Remote Support Quality Assurance Team and leads Geek Squad’s Yahoo! Answers Partnership.

How to Prep Your Smartphone for Trade-In

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Looking to upgrade your old smartphone by exchanging it with your service provider, trading it in at a local retailer, or handing it down to a friend or family member? You probably don’t want to hand over your data, pics, music or apps with it. Here are three steps you’ll want to take before giving your phone to someone else.

 

1. Back Up Your Data – You may already have your phone setup to automatically sync to an online service like iCloud or your Google account. We have learned you can never be too careful with data and think it’s a good idea to make a manual backup of the data on your phone as well. You can create a backup using the tools provided by your phone’s manufacturer, such as Apple’s iTunes, Samsung’s Kies, or the Windows Phone Desktop App.

2. Perform a Factory Reset – The reset will wipe the phone, deleting your personal data and any apps you’ve installed. It will also reset the phone back to its default state. Each operating system handles this a little differently:

  • Android – Before resetting your phone, it’s a good idea to encrypt your data if you haven’t already. To do this, go to “Settings,” select “Security,” then “Encrypt phone.” Once the process is complete, go back to “Settings”, select “Backup & Reset,” then “Factory data reset.”
  • iPhone – For iOS devices, go to “Settings,” select “General,” then “Reset.” From there, select “Erase All Content and Settings.”
  • Windows Phone – Go to the App list and select “Settings.” Next, you will select “About,” then “Reset your phone.” You’ll then select “Yes” in answer to the warnings about data loss (you did back your data up, right?). This will reset your phone to the settings it had when it came from the factory.

3. Change Account Passwords – For extra protection, change important passwords (e.g., your Apple or Google account) that you may have saved to your smartphone. The factory reset of the phone should remove any saved passwords along with your data, but we recommend clients take this extra precaution. You may also want to ensure that your phone is removed from any services, like Find My iPhone via icloud.com, or as part of the two-factor authorization in your Google Account if you set it up.

Once you complete these three steps, your phone will be ready to safely leave your possession.

For more help with this, see the Tech Tip titled>Backing Up Mobile Devices on our main site.

Agent Derek has been removing techno-stress from the lives of his Geek Squad clients since 2005. When not providing remote help as an Online Support Agent, he likes to take to the road on a vintage motorcycle for adventures through Ohio country highways.

Our Birthday Celebration Continues at the NY Stock Exchange

Monday, July 14th, 2014

In honor of Geek Squad’s 20th birthday, Commissioner Chris Askew, a number of Agents from across the country and a couple of Best Buy Blueshirts rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on Monday, July 14.

 

The Agents and Blueshirts were invited to join Chris at the NYSE in recognition of their outstanding customer service and commitment to maintain the highest standards of Geek Squad’s brand and culture. Chief Inspector Michael Sherwood and Deputy Commissioner Ronnie Hill also made the trip out to Wall Street with the crew to ring in the new trading day. Chris and team had a great time and were honored to oversee the beginning of a new week at the most important financial center in the free world.


Front row, left to right: Double Agent Lindsey Schnase from Bismarck, ND, Agent Rebecca Waller from Minneapolis, MN,Blue Shirt Milana Shakhnazaryan from New York City, Chris Askew, Precinct Agent Cody Halvorson from Reno, NV, Blue Shirt Regina Barresi from New York City, Covert Agent Cheryl Dorgan from Long Island, NY. Back row: Agent Shawn Hinton from Chino, CA, Ronnie Hill, New York Stock Exchange official, Agent Kaleb Pfaff from Olathe, KS, Michael Sherwood, Agent Cody Parker from Minneapolis, MN.

Check out the video of Monday’s Geek Squad ringing the opening bell on the NYSE YouTube channel.

Agent Tanya B. has been a woman of technology since 2009. When she steps away from her role maintaining the Geeksquad.com website, Tanya is either at the gym, walking her dog, or gaming with the other Agent B. Having moved to corporate from Florida last spring, she’s trying really hard to not complain about the cold too much.

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