Q: Your article about people being shut out of their Microsoft e-mail while traveling hit home recently. I was at a hotel for a West Point graduation and another hotel in Columbus, Ohio, and couldn’t access my Outlook.com e-mail from either place. Is there an easy way around this problem?
Dot Callaghan, Rochester, N.H.
A: Yes, there is a practical way around Microsoft’s new security procedures, which are designed to protect Outlook.com accounts from hackers (see my previous column at tinyurl.com/mjecfwo), but also tend to shut out the e-mail account holders. If you aren’t logging in from your usual location, Microsoft says you must prove who you are by entering a special security code in order to access your e-mail account. But what if you can’t receive the code via an alternate e-mail address or a smartphone text message while out of the country?
You could abandon Outlook.com and use a free e-mail account from Gmail or Yahoo Mail. But, if you don’t want to lose your Microsoft e-mail address (which could be Hotmail.com, Live.com or Outlook.com), have your Microsoft messages forwarded to a more user-friendly e-mail account from another company. You can do this in Outlook.com by going to Settings (the gear wheel at the upper right of the screen), then clicking options and choosing “E-mail Forwarding.”
Then specify a non-Microsoft e-mail address to which you’d like your Outlook.com e-mail forwarded. (Note that it must be a different e-mail account from the “alternate e-mail address” you gave when you set up your Microsoft e-mail account.) Because Microsoft is forwarding your messages to another company’s server, you won’t have to deal with Microsoft’s security hurdles when you retrieve your e-mail.
Q: My daughter’s computer recently quit working. A security company, which for a fee tapped into her PC to see what was wrong, said European criminals had hijacked all her documents and photos and were holding them for ransom for hundreds of dollars worth of the online currency Bitcoin. She paid the ransom through the security firm, and a few days later her files were released. She is now copying the files onto a flash drive, and then plans to trash the PC. Are you familiar with this scheme?
Kathleen Varner, Minneapolis
A: Your daughter is the victim of a well-known scheme: Hackers encrypt PC files (making them impossible to read) and demand a ransom to return the files to normal (see my previous column at tinyurl.com/msrrbdz.) Your security firm was right; the only way to get the files back was to pay the ransom. You don’t need to tell the FBI because they’re well aware of this scam.
Get the security firm to clean the PC; then you don’t need to discard it. Your daughter probably let the hackers’ malicious software into her PC by clicking on a bogus website link she received in an e-mail. Never click on any links in an e-mail, no matter how legitimate they appear to be.
E-mail tech questions to steve.j.alexander@ gmail.com or write to Tech Q & A, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Include name, city and telephone number.