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Originally published Friday, February 14, 2014 at 4:44 PM

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CryptoLocker is one piece of Internet trouble to avoid

Technology columnist Patrick Marshall offers tips for avoiding an encounter with the nasty malware.


Special to The Seattle Times

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Q: I’ve heard a lot about CryptoLocker. It sounds like one of the nastiest of nasties you can pick up on the Internet. What advice do you have to avoid it — apart from having anti-virus and anti-malware software installed? Is there any way to recover from it? Are my files stored in the cloud at risk, too?

— A. Carr, Seattle

A: CryptoLocker is, indeed, one of the worst pieces of malware to emerge.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, CryptoLocker is a “ransomware” program that encrypts data on your hard drive and holds it hostage until you pay a fee, generally $300, to a specified Bitcoin account.

And it’s not something that anti-virus or anti-malware packages can stop.

CryptoLocker is most often spread as an attachment to email, though it can also be acquired by clicking on a website link.

And, to answer your question about cloud storage, yes, it will encrypt anything you’re storing in the cloud. If your cloud service is automatically updating files as you change them, that data will be affected by CryptoLocker.

Cloud storage or any other backup service that keeps past versions of files, however, will offer some protection, since you could download and restore pre-infection versions of files.

With that in mind, here are the three steps I recommend:

1. Don’t open email attachments unless you know where they are coming from, and be very careful about what websites you visit.

2. Use some sort of versioning backup on a regular basis and disconnect it from your computer between backups.

3. Turn on System Restore in Windows. You’ll find that feature by launching the System applet in the Control Panel and clicking on the System Protection menu item and then on the System Protection tab in the dialog box that appears.

By the way, you can find a good FAQ on CryptoLocker at www.bleepingcomputer.com/virus-removal/cryptolocker-ransomware-information.

Q: I have been happily using Windows XP for years and just built a new computer with Windows 7. I’m no beginner as far as handling computer parts, tinkering with them and installing programs. I built my own computer and installed Windows 7 and everything went well. I had a Western Digital external hard drive I used for backup of my old computer.

When I rebooted the computer after installing Windows updates and whatnot, I got this screen full of red letters, starting “X64 exception.”

After some tinkering, I realized that any USB-attached device caused the system to crash when rebooting. I rebooted the computer several times without any USB device attached and the computer worked just fine. Then I attached a USB device and restart, boom, the computer crashed.

I did hours of Web search and tried methods that other people recommended: disabling legacy USB support on CMOS, changing boot sequence, deleting INFCACHE.1 file, etc. with no luck. I suspect if there is a driver or hardware conflict but I’m clueless. Can you help me please?

— Hyunsoo Park

A: Most likely, your new computer is configured to check USB ports for a bootable device before it checks the installed hard drive. When it encounters your old external drive, it’s getting hung up.

Try this: When your computer is booting, look for a message telling you how to access the computer’s BIOS. When you get into the BIOS configuration program, find the section for setting boot order and make sure USB drives are listed after the primary hard drive. After saving, reboot the computer.

If that doesn’t solve the problem, I suspect the culprit is an incompatible driver for the external hard drive. It’s not that uncommon for older devices to have conflicts with newer operating systems.

First, make sure you’ve installed all available updates by launching Windows Update in the Control Panel. If the problem remains, contact the maker of the external drive.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by email to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.



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