Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

February 23, 2017
Encrypted viruses and certificate issues for web email access

I have noticed another activity that hackers are using more and more to keep viruses and malware undetected and active on your computer, whether you use a Mac or PC, that involves encrypting files. Even though this may not be as prevalent on a Mac, the day is coming that it will be. Yes, Macs do get viruses and as Apple’s market share continues to increase, so will the virus and malware activity. Please continue to read and see how you can better protect your machine, whether you use a PC or a Mac.

I want to tell you about an issue I found out about by experience. If your computer becomes infected with viruses, you can clean out the viruses, but do you ever wonder if you got them all? Do you wonder if there might be some that you cannot find and remove? It’s a very big gamble to clean viruses from a computer and believe you have it completely cleaned. There is only one way to be certain that your computer is clean and that is to reload Windows or macOS Sierra (OS X) and start all over. Rolling your computer back to the factory settings is essentially the same thing. This procedure is the only sure way to know.

Now, there is something that I have found that many other people haven’t noticed yet. In the past several weeks, I have come across a few machines that have some files that are encrypted. Keep in mind, if a person wants to encrypt files on their computer, they must go through a specific process to do so. It doesn’t just happen. This encryption process gives files a whole new level of protection and they become very difficult to locate, open or delete. Knowing the customers I have helped, they don’t even know what encrypting a file means, let alone how to do it.

What I am proposing, is that some hackers have learned how to install viruses or malware and encrypt them making it difficult for you and your antivirus to find them and remove them. There is ransomware that encrypts your files and holds them hostage, but this is a little different in that you don’t even know the encrypted files are present, allowing them to run on your system without detection.

How I discovered these encrypted files is when I have been restoring a computer back to the factory settings and a message appears asking me if I want to keep the encrypted files on the computer or to erase them. If you ever receive this message and you know you haven’t encrypted them yourself, you should opt to erase them so they are removed from your machine.

This is disturbing because after using several antivirus and malware detection processes which did not find these files, it appeared that the computer was clean. However, I still felt the machine wasn’t running quite right which prompted me to restore it back to the factory settings and that’s when I discovered the encrypted files. Had I not done this process, I would have assumed the machine was clean and the viruses would have been able to continue to run undetected.

Even though Macs are not as susceptible to viruses and malware, every week I have customers that have infected Macs that must be cleaned. Remember, in 2012, Apple removed from their website that Macs don’t get viruses and malware, because they do.

For this reason, I recommend both Mac and PC users, if you suspect virus or malware activity on your machine, I would clean them and if you still suspect that viruses or malware still exist, reload your operating system. I know this is a huge process, but it is easier than ever before and one of the biggest advantages to doing this, aside from having peace of mind that your machine is clean, is that it will run like it is brand new, straight from the store. If you are unfamiliar with this process, I recommend you have your computer gal or guy perform it for you.

One other issue I should speak about, is that I have noticed some of you are getting a certificate warning when trying to access your web email. If you have your email saved in your favorites or favorites bar, try accessing your web email by entering it directly into the address bar. This applies for both Macs and PCs.

For example, if you use Outlook.com for your web email, in the address bar, type in Outlook.com or Live.com. Once the website opens, sign into your email. Once you have access to your email, you can save it again in your favorites or favorites bar and delete the old listing. This seems to take care of any certificate issues, whether you use a Microsoft email, Gmail, iCloud email or other.

For 15 years, Scott Lindsay has helped tens of thousands of people better their skills, publishing more than 400 articles about Apple and Microsoft software, the computer and the Internet. You can reach Scott for comments or questions at ScottLindsay@live.com.

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