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Critcal Alerts

Commercial and residential users should be aware of the following critical alerts.

1. On April 8, 2014, support and updates for Windows XP will no longer be available.

Microsoft is ending support for Windows XP and Office 2003 on April 8, 2014. The most important point here is that without ongoing security updates, newly discovered vulnerabilities will remain un-patched. According to Microsoft, "If you continue to use Windows XP after support ends, your computer will still work but it might become more vulnerable to security risks and viruses". It is highly recommended that commercial businesses replace any XP computer with a new computer using Windows 7 Pro 64-bit by the end of March 2014. Residential customers should plan on replacing their XP computers no later than the end of 2014. Additional information can be reviewed at How Windows end of life will affect your desktop applications; Microsoft is about to take Windows XP off life support; and The risk of running Windows XP after support ends April 2014.

2. CryptoLocker Malware Program.

There is a malicious criminal program called CryptoLocker, a very dangerous ransomware program, which was released around the beginning of September 2013 and targets all versions of Windows including Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8. In the last few weeks, reported attacks by this program have been increasing. CryptoLocker can do serious damage to your business by potentially destroying data forever or at the least putting your computer network out of action for a week or more. The Department of Homeland Security's United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team US-CERT) office has issued a revised alert on this matter on November 13, 2013. This alert can be accessed at Alert (TA13-309A). There are numerous other references to online articles on our Tech News page.

CryptoLocker encrypts certain files, such as documents, spreadsheets, photos, databases and many other types on your computer and network devices secretly in the background using sophisticated encryption methods. When it has finished encrypting your files, it prompts you to send a ransom either payable in the virtual Bitcoin currency or in Money Pak vouchers for a decryption key in order to decrypt your files. This payment, depending on the fluctuating market value for Bitcoin currency, can currently be from $300 to $4,000. The encryption used by CryptoLocker is essentially unbreakable in any reasonable time frame and cost without the key. There is also no guarantee, since you are dealing with criminals, that all of your files will be decrypted successfully even if you pay the ransom. The CryptoLocker malware not only affects a particular computer but also all network devices and associated files it has access to. Thus, one user on your corporate network could potentially take down the entirety of the corporate data across all other computers, servers, backup drives, USB flash drives and even cloud-based backup files. At the moment, the infection is spread through emails sent to company email addresses that pretend to be concerning customer support related issues from Fedex, UPS, DHS, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Amazon, etc. These emails contain a zip attachment that when opened infects the computer. These zip files contain executables that are disguised as PDF files as they have a PDF icon. Earlier versions were not encrypted, but newer versions come with an encryption key which you use to open the attachment. (This key has nothing to do with the key you have to purchase as the ransom.) This methodology assists in circumventing anti-virus security. Most disturbingly, there are also reports of CryptoLocker attacks from website links and infected websites. Based on other types of malware attacks, it will not be surprising to see CryptoLocker use legitimate but infected websites as an attack vector. Despite claims by anti-virus software vendors, there is no assurance that the attack can be prevented once the email attachment is opened, a web page is opened or a web-link is clicked-on. It is clear that while anti-virus software companies are trying to catch up with the criminals, the criminals are attempting to stay ahead of them. Many businesses in the United States have already been impacted and they were supposedly protected by a variety of anti-virus products. Beyond losing your data, cleaning off the infection is very difficult and generally requires a computer to be reformatted.