The unthinkable happened to my business: a vicious virus almost killed my main computer. Not just one virus, but 43 simultaneously wreaking havoc.
When I woke early to print a boarding pass, the computer screen was purple. No software icons, log-ins or files. Just purple. Several reboots later, a screen appeared saying Windows had not reloaded properly and another restart was needed. Half asleep, I hit okay – only to restart the virus and help it spread.
Rushing to the airport, I wondered if the computer could be saved, how much work was lost, and which clients needed the “dog-ate-my-homework” excuse. I guessed the worst-case scenario was a week of lost work, given the previous back-up.
What’s your view?
- Has your business ever had a computer virus?
- If so, how disruptive was it?
- What are your best tips to avoid and recover from a computer virus?
Later that day, the emergency geek who fixed the computer (my new hero) said it was a “code red” – tech speak, I gather – for telling clients their PC is stuffed. Thankfully, killing the virus became his crusade, although at $150 an hour I feared it would cost more than the computer.
Two days later, the PC was clean, healthy and back on my desk. All files recovered. No major damage done. Then the real work started: downloading software, remembering passwords, and resetting email accounts. It took the best part of a day to restore the PC to its pre-virus state.
I know what you’re thinking: where was the seamless, automated, daily computer back-up to the cloud? And the neatly organised drawer of software and other PC tools? It was on the To-Do List, along with 2,000 other things busy home-based owners neglect.
Seven years of virus-free computing and a top-of-the-range virus scanner made me complacent. So complacent that I was still on a manual back-up form of PC recovery, like so many other small businessmen who never think about a virus until it is too late.
A friend who rarely backs up was not so lucky. He lost three months of work this year because of a nasty virus. After multiple PC interventions, fragments of data were recovered – just enough to tease and torment him. It’s no overstatement to say the virus cost his business thousands of dollars in lost work.
As you can tell, I am no computer expert. But perhaps my experience can help small business owners who are not tech savvy, and who think computer viruses happen to other firms, or that viruses have been crushed by all-conquering software.
My biggest lesson was data back-up. No more manual, USB-stick back-ups for me: I need multiple back-ups, including cloud-based ones. I never want that awful feeling again of wondering when I last backed up half the business.
The next lesson was: only use the main work PC for work-related matters. It’s too easy to mix work and life when running a home-based business. Store the music, movies, photos and other entertainment on a separate PC, and avoid websites that are not work-related (even football ones, as hard as that is).
Lesson three: have several back-up devices. Fortunately, I have two laptops that receive my emails and have the same software as the main PC. One is used while travelling; the other stays in the same spot each day, downloading emails and holding files. I was able to move from the damaged PC straight to the laptop without much lost time.
Lesson four is critical: keep a track of software downloads and store passwords securely. The same goes for internet server information and passwords. It seems obvious, but years without a technology problem, and a few house moves, can disorganise your technology records. Dealing with the internet service provider and their call centre in India, to recover an old email account password, was painful.
The fifth lesson is have a recovery plan. Mine was being able to move straight to a PC and access backed-up data via USB devices. Not enough, I know, but it got me through that awful day when the main PC was pulled part.
The sixth lesson is having good technology support. Even a tiny home-based business can build relationships with an IT support services provider and have it on hand in emergencies. Mine came to the business within hours of the virus outbreak, and things were under control within a day. How would your business respond to a deadly computer virus?
The final lesson is paper. Yes, good, old-fashioned paper. Printing important documents, filing them away, and having a paper trail of key information. It’s last century, I know, but so are my computer skills.