Network World has an article on Cryptolocker, an example of a new trend in malware called “ransomware”. The idea is that the malware loads on to your computer and starts encrypting your data files. The malware then gives you instructions on where to submit your payment to get the decryption key. These guys aren’t dumb; details on the malware are contradictory, but it looks like the ransomers are leveraging public-key cryptography, ensuring that the decryption key is not in the malware executable, so it can’t be reverse engineered. Worse yet the malware doesn’t just encrypt files on the local drive; it actively seeks out files on network shared drives to encrypt too. Nasty.
Paying the ransom is certainly an option and is a route taken by some infected entities. But the best way to recover is…backups. Since I was talking about antibiotic resistance recently, a hygiene analogy is apt. Backups are like washing your hands; you know you should do it, Mom always told you to do it, but sometimes it’s just inconvenient…maybe I don’t have to do it every time. The problem is that we always remember these good habits as “things we should do”, and not necessarily as being important for any particular reason.
Handwashing is the best tool we have to fight harmful bacteria and prevent the spread of disease. Regular backups are the best tool we have in the IT tool box to recover from a large variety of errors:
- Malicious encryption
- Hardware errors
- Mistaken or deliberate deletion
- Losing encryption keys
- Hardware crashes causing data corruption
I could probably keep going, but have already crossed over to pedantry. I do think from time to time it bears thinking about the reasons we do backups, not just thinking “oh yeah, I should probably run a backup”.
This is mostly an individual problem, since enterprises tend to have good backup hygiene. The good news is it’s never been easier to back up your data at modest cost. Personally I have a Synology NAS, and run an application on it that automatically backs up this data to Amazon’s Glacier service. The Synology NAS was expensive because I nerded out and got the rackmount version, but a suitable version for most users is available for less than $200. My Amazon charges are about $3 per month; it will be expensive to get data out, but I view it as archival storage for data I never want to lose, like family movies and stuff like that. This doesn’t even mention the free archival storage the Red Army is probably providing for my data, but the recovery costs there are very high. Just kidding. Kinda.
This brings up the security risks with backup solutions, particularly off-site providers. But given the benefits of backups, again particularly off-site backups, I would be hard pressed to think of any personal data I have that is so sensitive that it’s not worth the risk.