Thursday, December 08, 2016

Managing Security Risks to our Devices

Using a computer, tablet or smartphone means putting the security of that device at risk. Unfortunately there is almost no way to prevent this as we use devices. Whether it is for work, entertainment or simply to communicate with others, there are people who make a living trying to compromise our devices. Malicious attacks can come in the form of viruses and worms, Ransomware, spyware and much more. The purpose of these attacks varies, but the end results are the same: loss of time, data, and system integrity. Luckily there are ways of managing security risks to our devices.

Managing Security Risks to our Devices

There are multiple ways to respond when the security of a device is threatened. It is always better to start with the least invasive response where possible. The situations below provide ways to respond to some of the most common types of attacks.

A web browser is slow to respond
Sometimes navigating the Internet seems slow yet there is nothing wrong with the Internet Service Provider (ISP). Here are some things to try when the issue is not related to the ISP:

  • Use a different web browser as there are many to chose from: Chrome, Edge, IE, Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc.
  • If an issue with a specific website occurs across multiple web browsers yet other websites are fine, it is likely the issue exists with the website itself or its hosting company. Try accessing the site at a later time.
  • If only one web browser is affected, update the browser, clear out the cookies, and check to see if any add-ons can be disabled. NOTE: Each browser is different, but these settings can be found by going to the settings of the browser and selecting history, add-ons or extensions. Available updates are usually visible directly from the settings screen.
  • Uninstall and reinstall the browser.

A single program is slow to respond
If a single program is responding sluggishly, try these things:
  • Make sure the program or application is up to date. Individual programs often have updates addressing program bugs and security issues which could be causing the lack of responsiveness.
  • Try restarting the program.
  • Run an anti-malware or anti-virus scan and remove any offending objects. NOTE: If this software is not installed on the machine, try a program like Malwarebytes which will scan all files and remove infections for free. A paid version will run continuously while the free version is manual.
  • Uninstall and reinstalling the program. NOTE: For your protection, be sure to copy all data associated with this program to another location before uninstalling. Also, if prompted during the uninstall say no to remove all data files associated with this program. Anytime a program is uninstalled data can be lost so use this option with caution.

Computer is slow to respond
If all programs and applications on a device suddenly begin responding much slower, start by asking these things:
  • Was a new program or application recently installed? If yes, try closing the program, stopping its services or removing the program to see if this fixes the issue.
  • Run an anti-malware or anti-virus scan and remove any offending objects.
  • Is the computer slow to repsond to some things but not others? Where applicable, narrow down which programs or applications are in use when response time suffers. If it is a particular program, use the tips above for addressing a single program.
  • Has it been days or longer since the computer was turned on? If so, the delay in reponses could be due to programs, as well as the operating system running updates. Additionally, backup software and anti-malware scans may have spawned processes because they missed their normal schedule. Each of these processes occupies processing power, memory, and network bandwidth. If the device has been off, the best workaround is letting it run and coming back in 15-20 minutes if at all possible.
  • Is the slowness related to a single user on the device? If there are multiple user accounts on the device, try logging on as another user to see if the same issues exist. Sometimes a user profile becomes corrupted which causes it to respond more slowly. Deleting the infected user profile and recreating the account should fix this issue. NOTE: Be sure to copy or backup any important user files and Internet favorites before deleting a user profile.

Computer is completely locked up and will not respond to any input
If the machine appears to be completely locked up and will not respond to the keyboard or mouse try:
  • Pressing control + alt + the delete keys simultaneously.
    • If the device responds, select "Start Task Manager".

    • Close applications one at a time to see if the device will operate normally. If so, reboot the machine.
    • If not, click File, New Task (Run...).

    • In the pop up window, type cmd to open a command prompt window.
    • At the prompt, type "shutdown /p /f" to forcibly close all applications and turn off the machine.

  • If the device does not respond to control + alt + delete, press and hold the power button for 10 seconds to force the device off.
  • Upon restart, run an anti-malware or anti-virus scan and remove any offending objects.

Computer is infected with Ransomware
If a device is infected with Ransomware, all files on the device as well as any attached media or networked drives, will be encrypted. Once encrypted the files are rendered useless. Depending upon the value of what is on the device try:

  • Reinstalling the operating system and restoring all data files from a backup. NOTE: This option is only applicable if a viable backup exists.
  • Reinstall the operating system and start over. Download attachments sent and received in emails where possible to recover files.
  • Pay the ransom. NOTE: This should only be done in a worst case scenario. Remember, if nobody paid the ransom, these scammers would quickly be out of business!
Everyday we use devices to browse the Internet, create files, as entertainment, track financials, communicate, and do our jobs. Unfortunately threats are everywhere even when we are not looking for them. As a result, we can find ourselves in a situation we hoped to never face. When the security of your device is at risk, the situations above and their corresponding tips can help save time and reduce the impact of the threat.

Whatever attacks hit our devices, it is important to know what steps we can take to fight back! Knowing multiple things to try can be the key in staying safe!

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