Keeping Your Family Safe, Online: Avoiding CryptoLocker is Key


Image courtesy of scottchan /

Brrr… it sure is cold out there! Well, at least for those of us who live in states where this winter has been particularly harsh. For those of us (like me!) who are not snow bunnies, venturing out into these frigid temperatures is not appealing. Whereas there are many worthwhile indoor activities, many people find themselves spending more time watching television, playing video games, or trolling the World Wide Web.

Cybercrime: Online Thieves Hit Target 

Given that computers are such an integral part of our lives, this is a good time to take a look at how secure your computer and its contents really are. Many of us have received exaggerated emails, forwarded by friends or family, warning of the latest computer virus. Although such dramatic occurrences do not happen on a regular basis, viruses and other kinds of cybercrime do indeed happen. In mid-December, Target learned that criminals forced their way into their systems and took guest information, including debit and credit card data; as well as the names, mailing addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of their customers. Some of you may have been affected by this serious breach of security as my family was through our online account.

The Buzz About CryptoLocker

No matter what concern you have about your personal information or data, the time to protect your computer is before it is infiltrated. There is no such thing as too much protection or backup for your computer, documents, and email. Recently, there has been a lot of buzz about a type of “ransom ware” called CryptoLocker Trojan. Yet according to technology experts, CryptoLocker Trojan is only an evolution of “ransom ware,” as this type of crime ware can be traced back as far as 1989. Although CryptoLocker, which first appeared in early 2013, is not a revolutionary new ransom ware, it has generated more attention than any of its predecessors. It has built upon similar previous ransom ware programs, yet used new tactics and techniques to extort money from users.

Ransom ware is a type of malware that encrypts files on the system’s hard drive, or restricts access to an infected computer system – demanding that a “ransom” be paid to the creator of the malware for the restriction to be removed, and files decrypted, so they can once again be opened. Referred to as “scare ware,” sometimes the messages displayed on a user’s computer screen can be quite threatening and are intended to be so – intimidating or scaring the user into paying.

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Ransom Ware: The Dirty Details

Details of how ransom ware typically works to infect a computer system are disturbing. Ransom ware often enters a computer system when a user clicks on a questionable website or email/attachment, downloads an infected file, or has an unprotected network. It then multiplies as a trojan or conventional computer worm and runs a payload such as one that will begin to encrypt personal files on the hard drive. The ransom ware payloads then display notices that appear to have come from legitimate companies or law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. The notices falsely claim that the system has been used for illegal activities or contains illegal content – for example pornography, and pirated software or media. Some ransom ware payloads even imitate Windows XP’s product activation notices, falsely stating that the user’s computer Windows installation is counterfeit or needs to be reactivated to work effectively. In some cases, the virus uses your webcam to take a picture of you and display it back – even more frightening!

Through a complex system called public-key cryptography, only the malware writer knows the needed private decryption key to lift the “restrictions.” In a common scenario, the cyber-criminals tell you your computer will be permanently locked, or you may even be arrested, if you don’t pay a $200 fine. The ransom ware will demand payment and threaten to delete the “private key” if payment is not received within 3 days. Sometimes ransom prices can reach into four figures. Users must pay to obtain the private key and begin decrypting files, which computer analysts have said is very difficult to repair due to the extremely large key size CryptoLocker uses. It may even be impossible to remove if it locks up your PC.

Virus Alert: Green Dot Moneypack 

A frightening example of this form of scare ware was presented in an article by John Matarese, published on the website SearchSecurity as part of the “Don’t Waste Your Money” series. As a woman sat down at her PC early last year, an unknown web page with the FBI logo appeared on her screen – along with an alert stating that she had visited an illegal website. Therefore, she was being locked out of her web access until she paid a $200 fine through a Green Dot Money Pack card.

What aroused her suspicion, though, is the mode by which the “FBI” wanted payment delivered – through a reloadable debit card from a drugstore. It was then that she knew this was online extortion at its worst. Fortunately, the woman and her husband were able to Google search on their smartphones for a way to remove what is being called the “FBI Green Dot Moneypack Virus.”

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Recovering from a Computer Virus

Although this couple was fortunate they were able to conduct a self-clean, system restore on their own, this is not always the case in such ransom ware situations. If this happens to you, do not touch your computer or manipulate it in any way until you have searched on another computer for the fix. Better yet, call a computer repair shop for assistance from a trained expert. It is reported by security experts that removing CryptoLocker now requires a full wipe of your hard drive and, therefore, losing all your files.

Stories such as this one remind us that it is very important to be absolutely sure of the email, attachment, downloadable file, or website source with which you are about to interact. It takes just one wrong click to wipe out scores of valuable personal and business data from your computer system. CryptoLocker can even search for files to encrypt on USB sticks and shared network drives. CryptoLocker’s encryption capabilities are much more sophisticated than previous versions of ransom ware and therefore more difficult, if not impossible, to repair and restore.

Any email or online notice from the government is a scam, especially if it does not include your name in the notice. That is not how government agencies such as the FBI or IRS operate. They will not email you or post notices on your computer screen accusing you of wrongdoing, violating laws, or committing a crime. Rather, they will write – or even show up at your door!

Tips to Share with Your Family and Friends:

• Never wire money or pay by Pay Pal, Green Dot card, or any other payment method to a threat.
• Never open strange, unexpected attachments to any email you receive.
• Put protective measures in place on your computer system to avoid any form of ransom ware or malware in the first place.
• Conduct regular computer system backups.
• Use a reputable technology company to protect your computers through security-based programming.
• Add another layer of authentication to sensitive files, or encrypt and password-protect them.

Businesses usually have protective security measures and defenses in place, including robust spam filters, attachment blocking and multiple layers of security. These type of ransom ware viruses are actually a greater threat to the everyday PC user – to consumers, since often they don’t have those kinds of protection tools. Unfortunately, users facing CryptoLocker likely have few options for successful restoration of their files. While the malware itself can be relatively easily scrubbed from the system, the already-encrypted files will remain encrypted since it is nearly impossible to crack the encryption.

If your computer system does become infected:

• Unplug your computer immediately. On a desktop PC, quick action may limit the damage because it takes time for the malware to encrypt every file it has targeted.
• Do not use the infected computer to search for ways to repair the damage.
• Contact a computer store or technology expert for restoration assistance.

How Do I Know So Much About This Anyway?

Ransomware 6I am thrilled to be a technical writer for Provident Technology, a Philadelphia-based IT company, which also performs computer services remotely. Provident Technology offers solid protection and security through their Managed Services, and is worth looking into for peace of mind. You may think that occasionally backing your computer up on a “zip” drive preserves your data. However, as mentioned above, the files on USB sticks can become encrypted as well. Additionally, zip drives can “go bad” and need replacing.

For my peace of mind, I recently purchased backup and monitoring services for my computer through Provident Technology for a very low monthly fee. With these services in place now, I know that my computer and its data is monitored 24/7, and protected from viruses and cybercrime. I also know that in the unfortunate event that something disastrous should occur, all my data is backed up and I can never lose it. For this writer, having all of the projects I have worked so hard on permanently protected is invaluable!

Have you ever had your computer infected by a virus, or your personal data compromised in another way? If so, what did you do about it? Do you have additional tips for our readers on how to protect your computer system? Please share your thoughts and advice with us!

One Foot on the Merry-Go-Round

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By Karen Hendricks

“Doing it All” (or should I say #DoingItAll) was the theme of a week-long series by Maria Shriver on the “Today” show last week. I identified with many of the women depicted in the stories, as they tried to juggle careers, children, marriages, family, financial concerns, special needs children, and free (me) time. While all of our circumstances are slightly different, the underlying theme is the same for nearly all women… Why do we feel the need to do it all, and do it all well? Do we feel pressured to do it all? Does society expect us to do it all?

By the way, The Merry-Go-Round = DoingItAll.

Along those same lines, The Atlantic recently ran a story titled “Moms who cut back at work are happier.” It’s based upon new statistics from the Pew Research Center, finding that growing numbers of women are making career sacrifices in order to spend more time with their families. Hello?! This is exactly what Off the Merry-Go-Round is about! How wonderful to know we are not alone.

Here are the latest stats:

  • 65% of mothers say they have been motivated by their families to make sacrifices for work—anything from quitting a job to turning down a promotion
  • 46% of the above women who made family-related career sacrifices report they are “very happy” with their lives
  • 53% of married mothers with children under the age of 18 say their ideal career would allow them to work part-time… compared to 23% who said full-time… and 23% who said they’d prefer not to work at all

The article goes on to contrast these findings with the scads of recent news stories about women “leaning in” and making great career strides. I want to say, that I am all for equality in the workplace, and I applaud strong women accomplishing great things and breaking down stereotypes. However as someone who once leaned in, I am happy to now lean back a bit and focus on my family. It was a conscious decision on my part. I love working part time, setting my own hours, selecting projects and clients—the ball is in my court—and it all revolves around my family.

So for me, personally, the stereotype I run into is this: People expect that once you have “done it all” that you should continue DoingItAll. So to hear that 65% of mothers say they too have made sacrifices in their career lives… that is extremely gratifying. Maybe the tide is turning and society will start seeing beyond women’s careers in judging their status in life. Raising wonderful children into productive, kind adults should count among the world’s toughest—and most rewarding—assignments.

Last week, the magazine Working Mother retweeted the following: “I don’t see a problem with women leaving the workforce for family. I see a problem with them being unable to get back in.” (Lauren R. Parker) That may be the next chapter down the road for some of us, as our children grow, leave the nest, and we attempt to re-enter the full-time job market.

Back to The Atlantic… I admire how W. Bradford Wilcox summarizes it all up in his article:

This data suggests that one reason married mothers who make work sacrifices are happier is that they would prefer to scale back at work—at least for some portion of their lives as mothers—and are happier when they can do so.

This reality is often glossed over in the public conversation about work, women, and family, but as Catherine Rampell at The New York Times observed: “Not everyone aspires to be an executive at Facebook, like [Sheryl] Sandberg, or to set foreign policy, like Anne-Marie Slaughter” (author of “Why Women Can’t Have It All”).” Instead, as K.J. Dell’Antonia put it, most women are “striving for flexibility and balance” when it comes to juggling their aspirations for success at home and work.

Again, in the public conversation and the formulation of public policies regarding work and family, let us not forget that the happiest married mothers are those who are able to lean homeward, at least for a season in their lives.

So here’s how it all boils down for me:

I have jumped off the full-time Merry-Go-Round of DoingItAll. Now, having one foot on the merry-go-round, working part-time, still involves a good amount of juggling but it’s manageable and fulfilling. I have no regrets about putting my family first. Good friends truly understand this and are supportive. And if people aren’t supportive then they are missing the point, missing the importance of family, and I truly feel sad for them. DoingItAll is indeed possible, for periods of time—however, some area(s) of your life will suffer. I think the real secret to DoingItAll is to give yourself the gift of grace… because there are times in your life when you simply can’t do it all. And that’s ok.

What’s In a Name: Part Two

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

On January 13, I turned – well, let’s just say another year older. Over the course of my life, I have had many successes. One of them, however, has not been getting people to call me by the name given me at birth – Jennifer. Instead, in many cases, I have been an unwilling participant in being addressed by a name that those around me wish to call me: Jen (most dreaded); Jenny (eh…); Guinevere (not too bad); Glenda (long story).

In Part One of “What’s In a Name,” I lamented about all of this. Then, after taking a big sigh, I provided a list of etiquette tips for addressing people which may be used in social situations and in the business world. In doing so, my hope was to help raise awareness that a person’s name really is important to them; and that to treat it as less than that is not only impolite and disrespectful, it can be hurtful as well.

A social slip-up with a name botch or introduction flounder can be easier to recover from than a serious business blunder that offends a top CEO. So, for those of us involved in careers – whether outside the home or working from home, here in Part Two I offer tips for how to exhibit professional behaviors and employ formalities that will keep you in good favor with your colleagues and supervisors.

But first, an important review of those etiquette tips for addressing people – from Part One:

Address a person using the name by which you are introduced – unless and until they tell you otherwise. For example, a new employee at work is introduced to you as ‘Michael.’ You shake hands and continue to address him as Michael until he says, “Please, call me Mike.” Then, Mike it is!
If you are unsure as to what name a person would like to be addressed, ask.
Don’t make assumptions. Because one person goes by ‘Mike,’ not all Michael’s wish to be addressed as such.
In regular situations, it is best to use both a person’s first and last name when making introductions. To use only a first name is not introducing the total person.
In a professional setting, keep the forms of address equal. If you use Ms. Smith, you must use Mr. Brown. You should not say, “Mary, this is Mr. Brown.”
Mention something about the people you are introducing. This will give them a starting point for their own conversation. “Mary Smith, this is Joe Brown. Joe shares your alma mater.”

A successful introduction requires foresight and using proper etiquette. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

A successful introduction requires foresight and using proper etiquette. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Below are helpful hints for addressing those with whom you work and interact with professionally, as well as making proper business introductions. I left out formalities for introducing dignitaries and other notable people, such as elected officials, though if you know you will be in that situation I suggest you research the styles most often used in diplomatic and international arenas.

The first person’s name you say is always the most important person in terms of rank and status. In business, these are the typical determinants as to who is introduced first; gender and age are usually not factors in a professional situation.
Following this initial introduction, everyone else’s name is introduced to that most important person.

On Advanced Etiquette’s internet site, specific wording for making introductions is addressed ( For a formal introduction, it is strongly emphasized to never use the word “meet” when introducing people because the emphasis will be thrown off the most important person to the wrong person. Readers are asked to identify who is the Chief Financial Officer and who is the newly hired staff member, in the below introduction:

Jane Doe, I would like you to meet John Smith.”

If, by following proper introduction “protocol” in which the most important person introduced is the first one, the CFO is Jane. However, by the way this sentence reads, John is the more important person. To keep things clear, it is suggested that you use the words “this is” as the bridge between saying the most important person’s name first and then introducing the second person as in:

Jane Doe this is John Smith, our new staff member. Jane Doe is our CFO.”

The Advanced Etiquette site also cautions against getting too wordy when using the word “introduce” and suggests that saying, “Jane Doe may I introduce John Smith” is preferable to may I introduce to you (correct, yet wordy); or may I introduce you to (incorrect because switching the words “to you” to “you to” once again directs the emphasis away from the most important person.

Albeit, some might perceive these etiquette rules as “over the top.” At your next opportunity, however, pay close attention to how people meet and greet, talk, and interact in a business setting. Those who are able to do so properly, professionally, and seamlessly really do stand out among those who cannot “hold their own” in this regard. If you also want to appear knowledgeable and well-spoken, it will benefit you to brush up on how to address and introduce those with whom you are involved professionally. Similarly, in a social setting you will make everyone around you feel comfortable, respected, and as though you are truly interested in them!

So ... what IS in a name? Photo credit: Pinterest

So … what IS in a name? Photo credit: Pinterest

These etiquette rules may not always be easy to remember, yet they can become a more natural part of your daily interactions if you just put them into practice. The easiest way to remember a person’s name is simply to use it – and people feel important and valued when you do. There is no better way to connect with others, and be seen as someone who can move about comfortably in professional and social circles, then to truly understand what’s in a name!

  • Do you have any “mind tricks” you use to remember names when introduced to new people at a social event?
  • What do you think about the etiquette tips shared in this two-part blog series – whether for a social or a business setting? Are your colleagues and business associates making proper introductions?
  • Do you believe some of these “rules” of introduction are still relevant in today’s business world? Is this an important part of doing business?
  • Any thoughts and insights you have will be helpful to our readers, and we are interested to know your opinions – please share!

What’s In a Name: Part One

Photo Credit: People Equation

Photo Credit: People Equation

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

I hate my name. Well, parts of it anyway. Let me explain …

Several years ago, I asked my mother why she chose the name Jennifer for me. She responded this way: “Well, I was going to name you Jessica. But then I knew some ‘dumb jerk’ would start calling you ‘Jesse.’” I don’t know about you, but I can’t quite figure out why my mom thought naming me Jennifer would be much better as far as name butchering. That name has given people endless possibilities, and apparently license, to call me whatever version they wish–many of which I don’t like!

When I started school, I was called Jennifer until the first year of middle school in the fifth grade. It was the first day of school our well-meaning homeroom teacher said to let her know if we have a shorter version of our name, or a nickname we prefer to be called. This teacher also lived near my family and knew us well, and she knew the affectionate nickname my family had given me (no chance I’m sharing–sorry!). So when she began roll call and called out the name of another Jennifer in the class, that girl said she liked to be called ‘Jenny.’ So, Jenny it would be. When she called my name, however, I said that Jennifer was fine. Yet it didn’t end here. The teacher then asked me if I was “sure” I didn’t have another name I wanted to be called. And … she didn’t let it go until my nickname was “out there.” I was absolutely mortified. My life was ruined. From that point forward I was called that nickname – and I’m convinced that moment was my social undoing as a tween!

When I switched to a private high school, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be Jennifer again. Yet it was not to be so. My new class was very small–17 of us in all–and coincidentally there ended up being another Jennifer in it. On the first day of school she marched up to me, put her hands on her hips and declared, “My name is Jennifer too. I was here first and go by Jennifer, so you can be Jenny.” Completely intimidated, there I stood once again–my name being imposed on me. So Jenny I was. Over time, I got used to my name and the other Jennifer and I became close friends. I even played with spelling variations of the name–writing it first Jenni, and then Jennie.

Is this the image that comes to mind when you hear the name "Jenna?" It is for me - warm, loving, and lots of fun!

Is this the image that comes to mind when you hear the name “Jenna?” It is for me – warm, loving, and lots of fun!

As I got older, my mother and siblings started calling me Jen, yet I never cared for it. On occasion I have hinted that I don’t like to be called Jen, yet to no avail – that shortened version of my name has already taken hold. Now I am also called Aunt Jen by my nephews. In all correspondence and voicemail messages, however, I refer to myself as ‘Aunt Jennie.’ Has no one picked up on this? Ahhh–that name is now being passed down to younger generations!

When we started dating my husband and I discussed the many variations my name has taken, and I told him I’d never been satisfied with any shortened version. It was then that he came up with Jenna–and I was sold! Soon, his whole family began calling me that and eventually, if I developed a new friendship that became close, I asked my friend to call me Jenna. Whatever “a Jenna” is as opposed to “a Jen,” I’m not sure. What I do know though is that I feel most comfortable being Jenna among those with whom I am closest.

Over the course of my life most people have taken my name Jennifer and chopped it down to ‘Jen’–without my permission. This has happened in my social circles and professionally. In recent email correspondence with a newly introduced colleague, he began addressing me as Jen, even though I never signed my name as such. In my professional life, I go by Jennifer only.

I cannot understand why people take liberty with other’s names and think that’s okay. It’s not–it’s rude. I believe a person is entitled to be addressed how they wish. And, if at some point they ask to be called by another name, I think that effort should be made by others. That’s just basic respect.

A couple of years ago I reconnected with a former high school classmate for whom I now work. For his privacy, I will change his name … In high school, he was introduced to me as ‘Sammy’–the shortened version of his name, and nickname by which he was called. When we got back in touch, I learned he was now going by ‘Sam,’ and figured he just found this change to be more socially mature for his age, or a more professional sounding shortened version. I’m really not sure why the change, and I did find it hard to make after being used to calling him Sammy for so long. However, I made the change out of respect for him. I’m still not quite used to it, but if he wants to be called Sam, then Sam it is. Besides, Sam is now my boss so he can be called whatever he likes!

Many people take liberty and license to call people by any version of their name they like.

Many people take liberty and license to call people by any version of their name they like.

Addressing someone by the name they prefer shows respect for that person. Imposing a name on someone that you choose does not. The following is a list of etiquette tips for addressing people which may be used in social situations, as well as the business world:

  • Address a person using the name by which you are introduced – unless and until they tell you otherwise. For example, a new employee at work is introduced to you as ‘Michael.’ You shake hands and continue to address him as Michael until he says, “Please, call me Mike.” Then, Mike it is!
  • If you are unsure as to what name a person would like to be addressed, ask.
  • Don’t make assumptions. Because one person goes by ‘Mike,’ not all Michael’s wish to be addressed as such.
  • In regular situations, it is best to use both a person’s first and last name when making introductions. To use only a first name is not introducing the total person.
  • In a professional setting, keep the forms of address equal. If you use Ms. Smith, you must use Mr. Brown. You should not say, “Mary, this is Mr. Brown.”
  • Mention something about the people you are introducing. This will give them a starting point for their own conversation. “Mary Smith, this is Joe Brown. Joe shares your alma mater.”

In Part Two of “What’s In a Name?” I will share how to make proper business introductions. In the meantime, feel free to share any name butcher or blunder stories you have and how you’ve handled it! Have your experiences affected name(s) you have chosen for your children?