An American Editor

November 13, 2013

Business of Editing: URLs, Authors, & Viruses

Filed under: Computers and Software — americaneditor @ 4:00 am
Tags: , , ,

One of the things I most dislike about editing is the need to check author references. Aside from the mishmash manner in which the references are provided (e.g., it is not unusual to find two journal cites, one following the other, in completely different formats), I find that I am becoming increasingly angry at having to check URLs.

The Internet Age has brought many positive things to our world, but one negative is that authors increasingly cite URLs as a reference. Aside from the transience of URLs, they present a hazard to the editor who has to verify them.

Checking URLs has become expensive for me. Why? Because the links provided have become dangerous.

Twice in the last 3 months, I have inadvertently (i.e., unknown to me) downloaded ransomware (malware) to my computer as a result of clicking an author’s reference URL cite. Each of those incidents cost me several hundred dollars to remedy. In addition, my antivirus/antimalware software has protected me against another half dozen potential threats.

I’m not so angry about the threats against which I was protected by my antivirus software as I am about the ransomware ones that cost me money to cure. Fortunately, I have a local computer expert (the person who built and maintains my computers) who is willing to put me at the top of the list when I have a problem. Of course, it also means I pay for the service — and clients are unwilling to reimburse that expense.

What happened is that I clicked on a URL, found it was not good, and then moments later found that I could not access my computer’s primary screen — instead, I was faced with a demand for $300 to unlock my computer. Apparently, this is a regular scam. Sometimes the demand is labeled as coming from the FBI, sometimes it is from Homeland Security. According to my computer expert, if you pay the $300, you get a code to “unlock” the screen but then, sometime down the road, it locks up again and another demand for payment is made.

At least this bit of malware is less vicious than it could be. It only blocks access to the screen; it doesn’t attack data files.

I would be less angry about this if I thought the authors even cared a little bit, but considering that 75% of the URLs cited in the reference list in the latest project were either invalid (the URLs returned “Error 404: File Not Found” errors) or took me to clearly irrelevant sites, I have little faith in the idea that the author cares that at least one of the listed cites caused major problems for me — and would do the same for the reader who decided to check the cite.

We all know that the Internet can be a dangerous place. For the young, it is a source of never-ending bullying; for the elderly, it is a way to lose life savings; and for editors who have to check the validity of a cited URL, it is a way to infect one’s computer and suffer financial loss.

I am also mad at myself for getting caught by this malware twice. I am very careful about how I use the Internet and I make sure that I use up-to-date protection software. I even use the “pro” versions so that I get hourly updates. I also avoid likely troublesome sites. And for years I never suffered an invasion of malware.

Getting caught twice in 3 months is making me wonder what else I can do. It is hard to avoid the risk exposure when I have to check URLs as part of my job. And there is no way to know (at least not that I am aware of) in advance that a particular URL is going to make me wish I was retiring.

One colleague suggested that I simply not check URLs. Unfortunately, I cannot see an ethical way to do that. Instead, I am thinking of adding a clause to my “contract” that basically says, “client warrants that all URLs cited in the manuscript are virus- and malware-free. In the event that verifying a cited URL causes a virus or malware attack on my computer and/or network, client agrees to pay the cost of expert removal plus for my lost work time.”

I suspect that few clients would be willing to accept such a clause, especially if the client is a publisher or service provider rather than the author. But I need to do something, and the additional clause seems the best option at the moment. It would at least make my client aware of the potential for the problem.

For those of you who are interested in seeing what this particular virus is about, here is a link to Yoo Security. Should you get the virus, getting rid of it is a problem because you can’t easily access your desktop and rebooting doesn’t get around the problem. I suggest that you go now to your antivirus software’s website and search for ransomware under Support. There should be an article that tells you the steps you need to take to rid your computer of this malware. Print it and save it. Even if you can’t do it yourself, it may save you some money when you have someone else do the fix.

Have you experienced virus or malware attacks from client files? How did you deal with it?

20 Comments »

  1. Luckily I haven’t come across this problem, but thanks for the headsup. If I were you, because of your recent bad experiences, I would say to your clients that it is their duty of care to first check all their URL references unless they will guarantee to reimburse you for any tech support you have to engage if attacked by some malware. If you explain your past issues, I am sure they would understand.

    Like

    Comment by Carol — November 13, 2013 @ 4:42 am | Reply

  2. That’s awful! How do such links end up in a piece of work in the first place? Surely the writer will have gone to the site, otherwise it wouldn’t be cited? (I might be sounding naive here…)

    Like

    Comment by Sophie Playle — November 13, 2013 @ 5:19 am | Reply

    • It’s not really the author’s fault, except indirectly for citing using URLs. What happens is that someone “hijacks” the site so when the site is visited, something downloads in the background without revealing that it is being downloaded. When the author saw the site originally, it was probably fine. Today no site is permanently safe (look at how often government sites are hijacked), which means that URL citations should be minimally used, if used at all. I know someone whose computer got infected with ransomware from a visit to LinkedIn (or so they say).

      Like

      Comment by americaneditor — November 13, 2013 @ 8:40 am | Reply

  3. Although I doubt it is a feasible option for you, one suggestion is to switch to using the Macintosh computer. Far fewer malware issues with this operating system.

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    Comment by Mary — November 13, 2013 @ 7:59 am | Reply

    • Unfortunately, the Mac OS is becoming a more popular attack system than ever before. This has come about as Apple more closely integrates Mac OS and iOS. Ransomware is not an unknown issue on the Mac. I agree it affects fewer people, but that is because fewer people use Macs than Windows. But iOS is becoming a major target for hackers.

      Using a Mac isn’t feasible for me in any event, as I rely too much on macros, many of which are Windows only. Besides Macs have other problems. I’m not knocking them. Rather, I’m suggesting that neither Macs nor Windows machines are the perfect answer. Macs are better in some respects but not in others; same is true of Windows computers.

      Even with the cost I incurred for the two removals, I am, for my business and the way I do business, much farther ahead financially than I would be were I using Macs. Every time I have considered buying new systems, I have evaluated Macs versus Windows. For me, Windows remains superior, even with its imperfections.

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      Comment by americaneditor — November 13, 2013 @ 8:47 am | Reply

  4. Oh. My. It had never, ever occurred to me before reading your post that checking URLs in citations could be dangerous. After reading the TechByter post about ransomware last week and this post this week, I’m seriously considering renewing the tinfoil lining in my computer’s hat.😦

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    Comment by R McKee — November 13, 2013 @ 9:27 am | Reply

  5. Cripes. If only the weasels who do such things would apply their creativity and skills to something worthwhile. And if only they could be found and arrested (if not worse; they deserve it).

    I rarely have to check or confirm URLs for my clients, but I have to go to a bunch of websites for one of the newsletters I edit and produce. Now I’m going to be nervous every time I have to do so. Luckily, this client would be understanding about reimbursing for any cost incurred while doing their work, but still.

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    Comment by Ruth E. Thaler-Carter — November 13, 2013 @ 10:09 am | Reply

  6. I knew that every time I had to check an URL, there was some chance of some sort of malware being downloaded, but I never knew about ransomware! I am getting to the point where I want to ask the client how much URL checking they need. In my work, this is mostly for academic articles and engineering books and reports, so I would think (perhaps naively) that the sites would all be safe. Even confirming whether a site still works doesn’t seem to be relevant anymore, because as long as it was once working and contained the source, it’s OK, at least according to the APA style guide. It doesn’t even want a date of retrieval anymore.

    However, when an URL is not just a reference source, but is in the body of the text, it calls for checking, because often the author is saying that this or that site contains some information that the reader can look up now. Oh, well…

    Like

    Comment by Teresa Barensfeld — November 13, 2013 @ 12:48 pm | Reply

  7. Just tell the client to check his or her own links and that you will not do it. Why should you bear the cost of bad links? I think there are plenty of malware and viruses lately, far more than there used to be. Today I could not use the links in your article or other articles–they were dead, but they seem to be OK now. I did two AdBlocks yesterday and I wonder if that affects links. I’ve had my computer guru in a week ago because of trouble on all my sites. There is still one site that shows that annoying Aw Snap screen several times. Thanks for posting this article, Dick.

    Cecilia

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    Comment by Cecilia E. Thurlow — November 13, 2013 @ 5:34 pm | Reply

  8. There’s one born every minute. You have no-one but yourself to blame. A bad URL can come from anywhere. However, nothing can infect your machine unless you run a downloaded item. URLs will only download something if they are a direct link or you allow them to. Either way you have a second step in the process to smell a bad ‘un! The answer here is training (you need some), being aware, being careful, and use common sense. Why on earth would an author’s reference link end up asking if it’s OK to download or run something?

    Like

    Comment by Pete — November 14, 2013 @ 4:15 am | Reply

    • I guess, Pete, you haven’t been hit with the ransommware malware. If you had had the experience, you would know that it doesn’t ask permission to download, so you don’t have to give it permission to access your computer. I’m not a programmer, so I have no idea how they skirt that, but ransomware is fairly sophisticated programming. It blocks access to, for example, the Task Manager (Ctrl+Alt+Del) so you can’t kill the process, and doesn’t let you cycle through programs, among other things. Some of the ransomware programs even prevent rebooting into safe mode.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by americaneditor — November 14, 2013 @ 4:25 am | Reply

    • Somewhere I read that before you speak, you should ask yourself, “Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?” Pete, I don’t know if your comment was technically accurate, but it was not kind. I want to thank Rich Adin for his very helpful and thoughtful columns, on this topic and many others. Thank you, Rich! I’m sorry about your computer, and thank you for warning the rest of us. I’ll be more careful in the future. Thank you!

      Like

      Comment by Christina Cary — November 14, 2013 @ 7:22 pm | Reply

  9. I switched to Webroot Security Anywhere and it has caught up front any malware or virus in URLs or eMails. If it didn’t, there full scan has caught one’s that got through

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    Comment by Alan J. Zell — November 15, 2013 @ 8:07 pm | Reply

  10. Susceptibility to ransomware is a big reason why I visit few websites with my Windows-based laptop. I visit a lot of sites on my iPad 2 (an older model), and have never run into any malware with it. Another option beyond using Windows is to install another operating system on your computer, such as Ubuntu (Linux-based) which isn’t susceptible to ridiculous ransomware. It can run some of the same programs under a Windows emulator (Wine). But, that can take some getting used to. Some people have success with firewall software, such as Outpost Firewall Pro. Just some options to look into, as Windows can literally be costly to use.

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    Comment by mtroutm — November 19, 2013 @ 1:06 pm | Reply

  11. Erk.
    Actually, you CAN _wholly_ protect yourself, and for free.
    But 2 things first:
    1. UPDATE your antivirus software — all the decent (free) ones have been catching/wiping this flavour since last year. This should be no more complicated to do than opening up its Prefs/Options and clicking on the Update Database button.
    2. Run Firefox and/or Chrome as your browser for this sort of work. They have additional safeguards built in, plus are rather more rigorous than most at blocking holes in underlying services (IIRC your particular ransomware hijacks Flash).

    OK, so that’s 2 seconds “work”, to add a little thickness to your armour.
    Now, the 15mins work which will *completely and permanently* *INSULATE you* from any and all current and future attacks.

    3. Install the free VMWare Player and use it to run Virtual Machines, which in turn you will use to actually access the internet for cite-checking etc.
    Best approach is to create 1 VM, then run it and configure it/set it up just the way you like it –adjust any appearance settings, install any software on it, etc. etc. etc. Then, you close it & set it to Read-Only & never run that VM again😉 Instead, take a COPY of that now-nifty VM, and run the copy. Ideally, take one fresh copy for each project/book/cites-checking-work, and then just delete it once you’re finished. Since each VM is just a File, that’s as simple as: click, Copy, Paste, [[work]], click, Delete.
    And if it all gets horribly attacked and gunged up and ransomware’d and EATEN BY iBOOJUMS?
    Lean back in your chair, declaim the magic word: “Hmph”, click on the “Close Virtual Machine” button, delete the VM, take another copy, and continue with your work. So the total additional Full-Recovery keystrokes/mouseclicks required are: click, click + [Del] button, click + ctrl-C ctrl-V, double-click.

    This is very simple in nature but may need some to&fro question-asking initially, based on what your post here implies re your system-administration experience. Do please feel free to email me! I’m at gmail.com, you want the lead male character’s name from Pride & Prejudice, with “.hh” appended. (And if any spambot can work that out, I’ll damn well read what it sends me🙂

    cheers
    D

    Like

    Comment by D — November 20, 2013 @ 9:52 am | Reply

  12. btw:
    That virus-info link you provided… well, re that site/company:

    The “grammar” idiosyncracies alone (very characteristic of a known group) should send warning signals to non-techs.

    For the tech-able, the tech aspects set off big red flashing alarm flares. Re the site/company providing the info, not re the virus.

    Hell, just looking at the DNS info — they never existed before last year, and they still don’t have a physical office address to provide to the internet backbone. Also rather odd that they’re only renewing their company-name-as-URL on an annual basis, rather than locking it up for as many years as possible.

    Just thought I should mention it.

    Like

    Comment by D — November 20, 2013 @ 10:41 am | Reply

  13. […] I wrote about being attacked by ransomware (see Business of Editing: URLs, Authors, & Viruses). It appears that the problem is getting worse. I thought you would be interested in this short Ars […]

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    Pingback by Articles Worth Reading: More on Ransomware | An American Editor — November 22, 2013 @ 5:02 am | Reply

  14. […] In prior articles (see, e.g., Business of Editing: Preparing for Disaster), I talked about how I have gone from fixed internal hard drives to removable internal hard drives as one method of protecting myself. And removable hard drives are really a boon. If you recall, I also wrote about twice getting hit with a ransomware virus that stopped me cold until it was removed at some expense (see Business of Editing: URLs, Authors, & Viruses). […]

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    Pingback by The Business of Editing: Backing Up Is Easy to Do | An American Editor — May 7, 2014 @ 4:03 am | Reply

  15. […] bit more than a year ago, I wrote about my experience with ransomware in “Business of Editing: URLs, Authors, & Viruses.” A week later, I followed it up with “Articles Worth Reading: More […]

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    Pingback by Articles Worth Reading: Inside CryptoWall 2 | An American Editor — January 10, 2015 @ 6:42 am | Reply

  16. […] Rich Adin's An American Editor blog. He'd been paying closer attention to this issue than I because in late 2013 he had been hit twice by ransomware after clicking links sent to him by idiot […]

    Like

    Pingback by The Latest Computer Virus is So Smart That It Won't Even Attack if It Detects Defenses ⋆ The Digital Reader — January 11, 2015 @ 9:56 pm | Reply


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