Michaeline: Cyber Attacks: Bad News and Good News for Writers

I woke up this morning to news of ransomware attacks on computers in more than 70 countries (The Telegraph (UK) reports 99 countries as of this writing), and my first thought was: BACK UP MY COMPUTER!

Woman from the 1950s with a giant old computer

Update your security and back-up your data. Jean F. Hall would tell you how quick and easy it is today! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve been thinking about a major back-up of my data for a few months now, but I’ve always come up with an excuse: I don’t want to spend three or four hours babysitting my computer. There must be an easy fix to keep my computer awake, but I didn’t want to spend five minutes looking that up, either. (UPDATE: Yeah, it took less than five minutes to find out how to do that. No excuses now! Your system may be different, so let me just encourage you to find out if you don’t already know.)

But now, thousands of computers across the world have been invaded by this virus that puts all the files into gobbledy-gook, then threatens to delete everything unless the owner pays up. The Guardian (UK) says the ransom is $300 (233 pounds/34,000 yen). I’m worried. This relatively low ransom, and the scattershot targeting of victims suggests that the criminals in charge don’t care what havoc they wreak. They are interested in hitting a lot of people and making their money on volume and pure fear.

So, the message of the day is make sure your anti-virus programs are up-to-date, and back up your data, especially your writing. Sure, it’s no use locking the barn door after the horse is stolen. But I think there’s a great deal of value in locking the barn door after your neighbor’s Maserati has been stolen from his garage. We should be practicing Safe Computing, we know we should be doing it, and it’s just a matter of setting aside an afternoon and/or evening to just do it.

For writing, I would suggest at least two back-ups: one in the cloud and one on a physical device that you keep near your home. This will ensure that you have a back-up in case of ransomware, and also in several other computer-destroying scenarios.

When we ladies file-share our stories for critique purposes, we use Dropbox (they have free storage plans for 2 GB, and I keep hearing satisfied murmurs from people who have the paid plans).

You could use the free Google Docs, too. Google gives you 15 GB of free storage on Google Drive (some catches, like your Gmail accounts and everything you save across Google services seems to be part of this 15 GB).

You can find a comparison of online storage options here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_online_backup_services Please remember that Wikipedia is a good start to your research process, not the end. Double-check and make sure you have accurate information.

So, what’s the good news about this whole mess? Well, it will get lots of people up to date with their security and their back-ups. And for writers, this scenario just gets the imagination going, doesn’t it? Gloom and doom is great for writers! Just imagine the consequences and where our future as a computing society is headed. Then, find some characters to act out that new world. This is the kind of writing prompt that will get your heart pumping and your head pounding, so take advantage of it while you can.

UPDATE: The Guardian reports that the WannaCry virus has been stopped! Hooray! So, now if you want to write about cybersecurity heroes, you have some real-life models to work from! On paper with pen, while your files are backing up (-:.

10 thoughts on “Michaeline: Cyber Attacks: Bad News and Good News for Writers

  1. Thanks for this post, Michaeline–I was going to post about it tomorrow if you didn’t pick it up today. A few things to add: the bad guys are always finding newer, smarter ways to hit us. Frex, a couple of months ago I read about a new virus that works even if you do not open the dodgy email or its infected attachment (it’s activated when the virus checker or other software scans the contents). There’s a patch for that now, but many people remain vulnerable because they have not updated their systems. So keep your security fixes up to date, and also make sure you back up to a location that’s not connected to your network, because some of these nasties can spread. And finally, if you have something that represents hours and days and months of work–say, like a manuscript–why not print a dead tree copy every so often, just because you can?

    In story terms, the thing on my mind is how dependent (and therefore how vulnerable) this growing interconnectedness makes us. The way things are going, we need a backup for our lives, as well as our computers. So the kind of story my Girls are dreaming up is quite dark. Not exactly dystopian, but sort-of survivalist–a system wipeout in a totally connected world that leaves people without all the things we take for granted–heat, light, security, clean water, food, clothes or medical services. Our plucky characters would have to re-learn simple manual skills and techniques that would have been second nature to their ancestors. We’d still have our modern know-how though, so it would be interesting to see how we’d reinvent ourselves. And bad guys will always try to take advantage of chaos. So many ways that story could go…though **spoilers** there would, of course, be a Happy Ever After 🙂

  2. I’ve been using a one terrabyte DropBox paid plan for more than ten years. It’s cheap insurance in my book. The fact I work with Linux, Android, iOS, and Windows systems at various times, means I never have to worry about losing data in a system failure.

    • The cloud (if one is with a trusted company) really can be a lifesaver. Not only can you work on your work from any device that has access, but the servers are safe even if your house burns down or something terrible happens. I think it’s good to have a backup in the house, as well, just in case one can’t get on the internet (it happened for a few days after the 2011 earthquake in Japan for me) or . . . horrors of horrors, the facility with the servers burns down!

      I’ve read of some people putting USB sticks of valuable documents in their safety deposit boxes. I’m not sure that’s so viable as a writing backup, but for copies of important docs, it probably isn’t a bad idea.

    • The only caution I would issue regarding Dropbox (and quite honestly, this may have been fixed) is that if you share any of the folders with another individual who gets infected with something, there exists the possibility for your computer to be infected, as well. This happened to my husband’s employee. He had shared a folder with another colleague, the colleague’s computer got ransomed, and they quickly found their way into the employee’s computer through the Dropbox link, ransoming his computer. At least that’s how the IT guy said it went down.

      As I said, that may all be fixed, but if not, just something to be wary of (if you share your Dropbox with anyone).

      • Oh, no! Thank you, Justine, for the heads up on the Dropbox linkage. I didn’t even think about it. I did notice that when someone tried to share a Google Doc with me this week, I needed to get approved to see it for the first time! We should experiment.

        I think there must be a way to turn off Dropbox, and just come and check it when one wants to — which diminishes its real-time usefulness.

        Something we should definitely discuss.

    • It sounds like a lot of the NHS computers are back online, too.

      (-: We definitely couldn’t get away with such a happy ending in one of our books. Talk about your Deus ex Machina! But as real-life people, it was a relief.

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