The news has been a buzz lately with stories of “ransomware” infecting thousands of Windows PCs throughout the world. While the Mac operating system is generally more secure and less prone to these type of attacks, it is still nonetheless important to follow a few simple rules to make sure to keep your Mac running smoothly and to keep your data safe and secure.
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The news has been abuzz lately with stories of “ransomware” infecting thousands of Windows PCs throughout the world. While the Mac operating system is generally more secure and less prone to these type of attacks, it is still nonetheless important to follow a few simple rules to make sure to keep your Mac running smoothly and to keep your data safe and secure.
Backup your data
This is the most basic and simple recommendation, but it’s astonishing how many people don’t follow it. Exactly how to back up your data would be a whole separate article in itself, but the simplest would be using an external hard drive to create a Time Machine backup. Those that are a little more Mac savvy can use a program like Carbon Copy Cloner by Bombich Software (bombich.com) to have more control over exactly what data gets backed up and how frequently. Having an off site backup service such as BackBlaze is also a valuable backup method. In a worst case scenario, computers can typically be wiped back to their original factory settings and having a current backup can save you thousands of dollars and/or hours of valuable time.
Keep your Mac OS up to data
Another simple practice is to ensure that you are running all of the security updates for your Mac operating system. Malware and viruses typically take advantage of flaws in the OS. When these flaws are discovered, Apple is extremely efficient at closing these security loopholes quickly, but that will only protect you if those security updates are installed. In fact, your Mac will ask you if you want to install these updates automatically and you should definitely say yes. Any Windows PC whose OS was up to date was not affected by the recent ransomware attack.
Don’t trust any Internet pop-ups
We’ve all gotten these. You’re navigating your way through the Internet when a window pops up warning you that something on your computer is out of date. Most commonly the target is Adobe Flash, as Adobe does tend to update their web based media player quite frequently. However, because of this, this is a common way nefarious programmers will try to trick you into installing malicious software on to your computer. You should ignore this warning and close the window. To check if Flash needs to be updated, you can navigate directly to Adobe’s web site (http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/about/) to confirm if there is a new version of Adobe Flash available.
Beware of malware mascarading as virus protection
Another popular pop up warning you’ll often receive is a message that your computer is vulnerable to attack. This warning will be followed with a link to some kind of “protect your Mac” software. One of the more popular ones is called MacKeeper. These messages can often seem very legitimate, but don’t trust them. In my 15+ years of experience using and servicing Macs, I have yet to come across any of these protection software that have any real value. While most aren’t malicious and won’t much harm to your computer, they won’t offer any benefit either. At best they’ll just try to convince you to pay for upgrades to unlock even more useless features you don’t need and at worst it will be a virus in disguise.
The exception to the above rule
There is one piece of software that’s good to have in your Applications folder and launched on a regular basis. The software is called MalwareBytes (www.malwarebytes.com). Unlike MacKeeper-type applications, MalwareBytes does not constantly run in the background. It will only run when you launch it. This software is updated frequently, so if it tells you there’s an update when you launch it be sure to install the update to make sure MalwareBytes finds the most current threats. When it runs, it will scan your computer for any currently known malware and remove it.
We got a hold of one of the first Glyph Atom SSD drives when it came out. The first thing I noticed was that all my techs loved it. Drives are one of their tools so techs are very particular. If they liked the drive, I knew our customers would. The Atom is a single solid-state drive (SSD) with very fast throughput. It does 420 MB/s writing and 270 MB/s reading, making it one of the fastest single drives available. It is housed in a handsome metal case with a rubber bumper for extra protection. CNET drop tested it at 6 feet and it still worked fine. The best part: the price. At $159 for 275GB, it has the best price for any SSD we’d seen. We use them, we love them; we think you will too.
I had a customer come in recently with a hard drive that was not working. It had all of his wedding videos on it. Before he came to us, he went to the IT guy in his office and the IT guy had tried to fix the drive. When that failed, he came to us. My heart sank. I knew that although his IT guy was trying to help, he may have permanently destroyed the irreplaceable wedding videos.
The most important thing to know about hard drives in distress is: Do not leave them running, do not try to run software to repair them. Hard drives that are experiencing problems will often make themselves worse and even destroy themselves if left running; about 15% of the time you will permanently destroy the drive so that even labs like DriveSavers cannot recover the data.
Here’s why. Spinning hard disk drives perform a variety of routine maintenance functions whenever they have time. They re-write bad sectors to new good sectors, they write logs, they scan themselves for problems. These are all good things when a drive is functioning normally. These are all dangerous things when a drive is in distress. When a drive begins to fail it can start to lose track of where things are on itself. It can begin to make mistakes. When a drive is in distress and it goes to perform its routine maintenance, it can cause even more damage. It may re-write bad sectors onto good sectors thereby destroying the data that was there and possibly breaking links to other data. The logs can be mistakenly written over good data thereby destroying it.
When you run software tools like DiskWarrior, you can cause the same problems. First of all the drive is running and can do the damage outlined above. Beyond that, when you go to fix the drive, if it is badly damaged enough it might write the fix, like a new directory on top of good data, thereby destroying it.
As it turned out, we were able to save the wedding videos. The drive had not been permanently bricked when the IT guy tried to help. This customer was lucky.
When your data is vital the only safe thing to do is to take your drive to a recovery specialist who will disable the drive’s automatic functions, make an exact bit-by-bit replica of every recoverable sector and then repair and extract the data.
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