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A ransomware reality check as US is a top target of attacks

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A ransomware reality check as US is a top target of attacks

While you might think, as many people do, that ransomware attacks are a worldwide problem, a new report reveals hackers are targeting specific countries, and the United States is one of the top targets.

According to critical infrastructure security company Dragos, 44% of ransomware attacks last year targeted North American industrial organizations. Europe was also a top threat, with 32% of attacks targeting organizations there. Industrial ransomware attacks spiked nearly 50% on a global scale, growing to 905 last year compared to 600 in 2022.

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Illustration of ransomware attacker (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

What is ransomware?

In a ransomware attack, hackers will encrypt data on a system and demand a ransom to restore access to the owners. They may also threaten to delete or leak the data if you don’t pay. While these attacks tend to target large organizations, some hacker groups will also target individuals.

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In fact, anyone who uses a computer or a device connected to the internet can be a potential victim of ransomware. This means that your personal files, such as your photos, videos, documents and emails, could be locked by hackers who demand a ransom for their release.

MORE: RANSOMWARE RAMPAGE HITS RECORD HIGH WITH US ITS TOP TARGET

A ransomware reality check as US is a top target of attacks

Person conducting ransomware attack (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

What can I do to protect myself from ransomware?

Ransomware criminals will try to get you to pay money to them to get your files back. However, paying the ransom does not guarantee that you will regain access to anything a criminal takes from you and will only permit them to do it more.

Your best bet is to prevent an attacker from gaining access to your files altogether so that you don’t have to try to fight to get them back. Here are some of my tips for avoiding having your data stolen in a ransomware attack.

MORE: TIPS TO FOLLOW FROM ONE INCREDIBLY COSTLY CONVERSATION WITH CYBERCROOKS

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1) Be careful about opening suspicious links or attachments

If you receive an email from an address you do not recognize, don’t open it. If you open it by mistake, avoid clicking any links or opening any attachments inside the email. Cybercriminals use this to try to trick you into thinking that the message is from someone important.

2) Have good antivirus protection

Good antivirus software is a major help when it comes to keeping hackers out of your devices. It makes sure you don’t click any potentially malicious links or download malware or ransomware. Plus, it’s designed to tell you if there’s already malware on your device so that you can immediately work towards getting rid of it. Get my picks for the best 2024 antivirus protection winners for your Windows, Mac, Android & iOS devices.

3) Back up your files on an external hard drive

You should create backups of your information on an external hard drive and store it securely in a safe location. This process involves regularly making backup copies from your Windows or Mac computer and then disconnecting the external drive from your computer for added safety. You should store the disconnected drive in a secure place like a fireproof safe or a safe deposit box. By keeping the drive unplugged when not in use, you significantly minimize the risk of unauthorized access to your data by hackers. Check out my top recommendations for external hard drives here.

4) Keep software up to date

Regularly update your operating system, antivirus software, web browsers and other applications to make sure you have the latest security patches and protections.

5) Use strong and unique passwords 

Create strong passwords for your accounts and devices, and avoid using the same password for multiple online accounts. This will make it harder for hackers to access your data or infect your devices with ransomware. Consider using a password manager to securely store and generate complex passwords. It will help you to create unique and difficult-to-crack passwords that a hacker could never guess. Second, it also keeps track of all your passwords in one place and fills passwords in for you when you’re logging into an account so that you never have to remember them yourself. The fewer passwords you remember, the less likely you will be to reuse them for your accounts. Get more details about my best expert-reviewed Password Managers of 2024.

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A ransomware reality check as US is a top target of attacks

A crook conducting a ransomware attack (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

MORE: WATCH OUT FOR THIS NEW MALICIOUS RANSOMWARE DISGUISED AS WINDOWS UPDATES

How to respond to a ransomware attack

Do not pay the ransom. Paying the ransom does not guarantee that you will get your data back, and it may encourage the attackers to target you again.

Disconnect your device from the internet and any other networks. This may prevent the ransomware from spreading to other devices or encrypting more data.

Contact law enforcement and report the incident. They may be able to help you recover your data or track down the attackers. You can find a list of law enforcement contacts for ransomware attacks on the CISA website.

Restore your data from backups. If you have backups of your important data, you may be able to restore them to a clean device. Make sure that your backups are not infected by the ransomware and that you scan them for malware before restoring them.

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Use identity theft protection. If you are a victim of a ransomware attack, you may want to consider investing in identity theft protection.If you want a service that will walk you through every step of the reporting and recovery process, one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from this type of fraud is to subscribe to an identity theft service. See my tips and best picks on how to protect yourself from identity theft.

A ransomware reality check as US is a top target of attacks

Illustration of data on computer screen (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

MORE: HOW TO TELL IF YOUR BROWSER HAS BEEN HIJACKED

Kurt’s key takeaways

So, it sounds like even though we might think of ransomware as a global issue, it seems hackers have their favorite targets, with the US and Europe leading the pack. So, you should take ransomware seriously. 

Are you setting yourself up to be a target? Although most hackers target large organizations, some still hone in on individuals like you and me. Keep in mind the ways we mentioned to protect yourself and your precious data.

Have you ever come close to falling victim to a ransomware attack? What did you do and what happened? Let us know by writing us at Cyberguy.com/Contact.

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For more of my tech tips & security alerts, subscribe to my free CyberGuy Report Newsletter by heading to Cyberguy.com/Newsletter.

Ask Kurt a question or let us know what stories you’d like us to cover.

Answers to the most asked CyberGuy questions:

Copyright 2024 CyberGuy.com. All rights reserved.

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The future of AI gadgets is just phones

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The future of AI gadgets is just phones

At any given time, there are between five and eight phones on my desk. And by “my desk,” I mean any combination of tables and countertops throughout my house. So when I watched the Humane AI Pin reviews start pouring in last week, I did what any logical person would do: grab the closest phone and try to turn it into my own AI wearable.

Humane would like you to believe that its AI Pin represents consumer tech at its most cutting edge. The reviews and the guts of the pin say otherwise: it uses a Snapdragon processor from four years ago and seems to run a custom version of Android 12.

“It’s a midrange Android phone!” I declared at our next team meeting, waving around a midrange Android phone for effect. “You could just download Gemini and stick this to your shirt!” Simple. Trivial. Give me 10 minutes, and I’ll have a more powerful AI gadget whipped up, I said.

Hardware is hard, y’all.

Ideally, I wanted an outward-facing camera and a decent voice assistant I could use hands-free. An iPhone in a shirt pocket was an intriguing solution but a nonstarter because a) none of my shirts have pockets, and b) Siri is just not that smart. Thus, my earliest prototype was a Motorola Razr Plus clamped to the neckline of my shirt. This, unsurprisingly, did not work but for reasons I did not anticipate. 

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First off, you can’t download Gemini from the Play Store on a folding phone. That was news to me. But even once I’d sideloaded it and set it as the default assistant, I ran into another barrier: it’s really hard to use a voice assistant from the cover screen of a flip phone. The Razr wants you to flip the phone open before you can do anything aside from get its attention with “Hey Google.” 

The things we do for content.
Photo by Allison Johnson / The Verge

Running Gemini in Chrome on the cover screen actually got me closer to what I was looking for. But trying to tap buttons on the screen to trigger the assistant wasn’t working very well, and neither was operating Google Lens out of the corner of my eye. Also, Gemini misread “recycle” on a tube of toothpaste as “becicle,” which it confidently told me was an old-timey word for eyeglasses. It is not!

Prototype two was the same Razr flip phone running ChatGPT in conversation mode on the cover screen. This meant the app was constantly running and always listening, so it wasn’t practical. But I gave it a shot anyway, and it was a strange experience talking to an AI chatbot that I couldn’t see. 

I want an AI that can do things for me, not just brainstorm stir-fry ingredients

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ChatGPT is a decent conversationalist, but we ran out of things to talk about pretty quickly once I’d exhausted my chatbot go-to’s: dinner recipes and plant care tips. I want an AI that can do things for me, not just brainstorm stir-fry ingredients.

I ditched the foldable concept and picked up a Pixel 8 and a Pixel Watch 2 instead. I set up Gemini as the default assistant on the phone and figured that would somehow apply to the watch, too. Wrong. I had one more card to play, though: a good old pair of wireless earbuds. Life on the cutting edge of technology, baby.

Honestly, earbuds might be the AI wearable of the future.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

You know what, though? It kind of worked. I had to leave Gemini open and running on my phone since Google doesn’t fully support Gemini Assistant on headphones. But I took a picture of a Blue Apron recipe I was making for dinner, told Gemini to remember it, and left my phone on the counter. As I moved around the kitchen, I asked Gemini questions I’d normally have to peek back at the recipe to answer like “How long do I roast the vegetables for?” and “How do I prep the fish?” It gave me the right answers every time.

What was more impressive is that I could ask it tangential questions. It helped me use pantry ingredients to recreate a seasoning mix I didn’t have on hand. I asked why the recipe might have me divide the sauce into two portions, and it gave me a plausible answer. And it did something the Humane pin can’t do yet: set a timer.

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It wasn’t perfect. First, I had to unplug the Google Home puck sitting on the counter because it kept trying to butt in. Gemini also told me that it couldn’t play an album on Spotify, something that that Google Home speaker has been doing for the better part of a decade. The watch came in handy for that, at least.

What started as a goofy stunt has convinced me of two things: I really do think we’re going to use AI to get more things done in the future, and also, the future of AI gadgets is just phones. It’s phones! 

I love a gadget, but guys, I lived through the era of camera companies trying to convince us that we all needed to carry a compact camera and our phones everywhere. Phones won. Phones already come with powerful processors, decent heat dissipation, and sophisticated wireless connectivity. An AI gadget that operates independently from your phone has to figure all of that out.

And you know what looks a lot less doofy than a pin with a laser on your chest? Earbuds. People willingly wear them throughout the day right now. And the doofy factor definitely matters when it comes to wearables. I’m having a hard time seeing how a separate gadget can beat the humble phone plus a pair of earbuds or something like the Meta Ray Bans. Maybe there’s room in our lives and our pockets for dedicated AI hardware — the gadget lover in me is all for it. But I think it’s more likely that we have all of the ingredients we need to make good AI hardware right in front of us.

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Why is Windows 11 so got dang annoying?

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Why is Windows 11 so got dang annoying?

A couple of weeks ago, I ran out of screen on the one external monitor my work-issued MacBook Air can run. So I switched to my five-year-old Windows desktop and plugged in another monitor. Love it. Productivity through the roof. But it means that I’m finally spending significant time in Windows 11, and gosh, is it janky.

There are some things that Windows does very well compared to macOS and Linux. All the games are there, for one thing, and Windows runs on all sorts of hardware without a lot of fiddling. You do not have to spend a thousand dollars minimum on a non-upgradable machine to use it. You also generally do not have to download a bunch of drivers or spend six hours in the command line hand-assembling the goddamn operating system.

But for every headline like “Notepad in Windows 11 is finally getting a spellcheck feature,” there’s a “Microsoft is stuffing pop-up ads into Google Chrome on Windows again.” For every Windows Subsystem for Linux, which rules, there’s a ”Microsoft starts testing ads in the Windows 11 Start menu.” Microsoft seems dead set on stuffing Windows 11 full of “features” that steal your attention or try to convince or trick you into using some Microsoft product instead of the thing you were going to use. I am 30 or 40 years old, and I do not need this.

I grew up on Windows 3.1, NT, and 95. I got through college on a Dell desktop. I worked for MaximumPC magazine for five years, for god’s sake. I have built scores of PCs. I am typing this on my main personal computer, a mini-ITX gaming rig I lovingly hand-assembled in 2019. I stay using Windows.

But for the past few years, I had been spending 40-plus hours a week using the relatively sedate macOS for work and my off-work hours spending as little time as possible at a computer. So, even though I upgraded my desktop to Windows 11 about a year ago, I hadn’t spent that much time with it. When I did use my PC, it was mostly for household admin or (rarely) playing a game and, therefore, not interacting much with the OS itself. I am a frog who’s been out of the pot; I just jumped back in and got scalded.

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I am a frog who’s been out of the pot; I just jumped back in and got scalded

At some point, a button appeared next to my Start menu. Clicking it or even hovering over it covers a full third of my monitor with stuff I never asked for and am not interested in. A firehose of news glurge. Stock prices. The weather. (That one is useful, but I can get that plenty of places.) There is also now a button in the system tray for Copilot, my everyday AI companion, which is present now across Microsoft products in inverse proportion to its utility.

Absolutely love to have this pop up every time I mouse near the Start button.

The Start menu has been mostly garbage since Windows 8, but it’s now almost entirely useless in its default state. Half of it is pinned apps that I did not pin or even install. And I don’t blame the OEM. I am the OEM, and I did not put these here.

Somewhere in the last few versions, Windows seems to have forgotten how to index the files on my computer. So if I try to pull up a program, a file, or a setting in the usual fashion — by hitting Windows and starting to type — it mostly shows me results from the web, which are useless because it’s using Bing to find them.

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Microsoft has done something truly remarkable with support documents, too. That info used to be baked into the OS. Now if you are in the display settings window (for example) and you go to the support section and click “Setting up multiple monitors,” it opens up Microsoft Edge — even if it’s not your default browser — bings the phrase “how to add multiple monitors to your windows 11 pc site:microsoft.com,” and displays a page with a single result: an info box excerpting the relevant support page on Microsoft’s website, plus a link to open the exact Settings screen you just arrived from.

This is a) bonkers and b) still a significant improvement over the last time I tried this when a similar link returned zero results. This is Microsoft’s corporate synergy at work. Why keep all those Windows users to yourself when, with a single click, you can make sure the Bing and Edge teams eat, too?

Edge used to be a slightly improved version of Chrome. Now it’s jammed full of sidebars and bloatware. (It is arguably still an improved version of Chrome.) It keeps asking to change my default search engine back to Bing (I shan’t), and its default homescreen is, yep, full of garbage. 

Just another beautiful day in opt-out synergy land.

Why would one of the world’s biggest tech companies put out an operating system that’s so… janky? Well, part of it is surely the 30-plus years of building each new version of the operating system on top of the old one. That doesn’t really explain why stuff that used to work fine seems to be replaced with new systems that don’t, but something else might.

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Windows is tremendously successful. It makes money. It has over 70 percent of the desktop market worldwide. Edge, which is still a pretty decent browser, and Bing, which is a search engine, have much smaller slices of their respective markets. Every Windows user Microsoft can pester, harangue, or trick into switching to Edge or Bing or Copilot over the competition is great for Microsoft, so it makes some kind of spreadsheet sense to jam in as many opportunities for synergy as possible.

It’s not just Windows, obviously. Every damn app wants to steal your attention a million times a day. And many budget phones and Windows computers come bloated with preinstalled adware and bloatware that companies pay OEMs to jam in there. Ritually banishing bloatware is a time-honored tradition among Windows users.

But used to be, that junk was separate from the OS itself. Samsung’s version of Android has plenty of bloat, but that’s Samsung’s version, not Android itself — there’s a reason the phrase “a clean version of Android” is stock among many phone reviewers and why Pixel phones get praised by reviewers at a much higher rate than they get bought by customers.

Ars Technica already wrote a good, practical guide to turning off most of the crap that Windows 11 includes. And this is not my first rodeo. I can turn off most of this junk. Most people will never bother or won’t know how or won’t realize that it’s optional. They’ll just learn to tune it out, mostly. Once in a while, they might click something, and then some part of Microsoft gets some money.

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The secret meaning of your iPhone clock’s 4 different colors

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The secret meaning of your iPhone clock’s 4 different colors

While casually scrolling on your iPhone, you may have noticed different colors behind the clock in the top left corner. These colors are not random, and you should know what they mean. 

You might see a blue, green, red or purple color as a bubble behind your clock at the top left corner status bar if you own an iPhone X or later, or across the entire status bar if you have an iPhone 8 or earlier. 

Knowing what these different colors mean can improve how you use your phone and enhance your privacy and security. Learn more about what these different colors behind the clock mean for iPhones (X or later) below.

CLICK TO GET KURT’S FREE CYBERGUY NEWSLETTER WITH SECURITY ALERTS, QUICK VIDEO TIPS, TECH REVIEWS AND EASY HOW-TO’S TO MAKE YOU SMARTER

Four colors of bubbles in upper left corner of an iPhone screen  (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

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What does it mean if you see the blue bubble on the top-left of your iPhone?

iPhone clock color 2

A blue bubble in the top-left corner of an iPhone  (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

When a blue bubble appears in the top-left corner of your screen — right behind your time or clock — this means an app is actively using your iPhone’s location or you are using Screen Mirroring.

CHANGE THIS APPLE MUSIC SETTING ASAP TO PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY

What does it mean if you see the green bubble on the top-left of your iPhone?

iPhone clock color 3

The green bubble in the top-left corner of an iPhone  (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

When a green bubble appears in the top-left corner of your screen — right behind your time or clock — this means you’re on a call or your iPhone is being used as a personal hot spot. If you’re not using it and you see the green bubble, another device may be connected to your hot spot and potentially using your data without your knowledge.

How to prevent unauthorized use

To prevent unauthorized access to your personal hot spot, ensure you have a strong password set up.

  • Go to Settings
  • Click Personal hot spot 
  • Tap on Wi-Fi Password to create a secure password. It’s also a good practice to regularly check and change this password.

Identifying who is using your hot spot

You can see how many devices are connected to your hot spot by opening the Control Center. For iPhones with Face ID, swipe down from the top-right corner; for iPhones with a home button, swipe up from the bottom. Press and hold the wireless section to see the number of connected devices.

Kicking off unauthorized users who are using your hot spot 

If you find an unknown device connected to your hot spot, you can disconnect it by changing the hot spot password or turning off the personal hot spot feature.

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  • Go to Settings
  • Click Personal hot spot
  • Toggle off Allow Others to Join.
  • Then, turn it back on and share the new password only with trusted devices. Also, consider using a password manager to generate and store complex passwords.

Remember, monitoring your hot spot connections regularly is important to ensure no unauthorized usage, which can lead to data loss and potential security risks.

MORE: AVOID PUBLIC WIFI BY USING YOUR IPHONE AS A HOT SPOT

What does it mean if you see the red bubble on the top-left of your iPhone?

iPhone clock color 4

A red bubble in the top-left corner of an iPhone  (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

When a red bubble appears in the top-left corner of your screen — right behind your time or clock — this means your iPhone’s recording sound or your screen.

MORE: THE NEW IPHONE SECURITY THREAT THAT ALLOWS HACKERS TO SPY ON YOUR PHONE 

What does it mean if you see the purple bubble on the top-left of your iPhone?

iPhone clock color 5

A purple bubble in the top-left corner of an iPhone  (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

When a purple bubble appears in the top-left corner of your screen — right behind your time or clock — this means your iPhone is using SharePlay, which can be used to share content such as games across iPhones.

Navigating apps, calls and hot spots with a tap

Now that you know what these different colors mean, you can be more aware if your iPhone is doing something you don’t want it to do. 

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Curious to see exactly what app or iPhone function is being used with these different color bubbles? If you tap on the clock when there is a color behind it, it will take you to the app or the control settings for the function that is being utilized.

For example, if you tap the clock when the bubble is green, and you are on a call, it will return you to the main window where you can see who you are speaking with. 

If your iPhone is being used as a personal hot spot, tapping the green bubble will send you to the personal hot spot section of settings, where you can see who is using it and turn it off if you never intended it to be used as a hot spot in the first place.

iPhone hot spot

An iPhone personal hot spot being used  (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

This is where knowing what these color bubbles are comes in handy. On one hand, you can use them to maneuver apps or settings on your iPhone easily. From the security and privacy perspective, you can now be alerted when any apps or other people are utilizing information or functions from your iPhone you don’t want them to.

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Uncover and block unwanted access to your iPhone’s camera and microphone

If you see that your iPhone’s microphone and/or camera are in use even though you don’t have an app opened, it likely means that an app has permission to use those features on your phone even when it isn’t being used or your phone may have been hacked. In our article, “Is your device spying on you?” you will find step-by-step instructions to see which apps have permission to access your microphone or camera and how to turn those features off.

If you’ve gone through your permission settings and your microphone and camera are being accessed without your consent, there is a chance that some malicious spyware may be using your device to spy.  If you’re not sure your phone has been compromised, you can check for these additional signs outlined in our article, “How to tell if your phone has been hacked.”

To avoid this, consider adding good antivirus software to your phone to prevent malware. Also, the best way to protect yourself from clicking malicious links that install malware that may get access to your private information is to have antivirus protection installed on all your devices. This can also alert you of any phishing emails or ransomware scams. Get my picks for the best 2024 antivirus protection winners for your Windows, Mac, Android & iOS devices.

MORE: ‘IN CASE OF EMERGENCY’ IPHONE SHORTCUT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE

Kurt’s key takeaways

The colorful indicators on your iPhone serve as a visual guide to what’s happening behind the scenes. Whether it’s the blue bubble alerting you to location services or screen mirroring, the green bubble indicating an active call or hot spot usage, the red bubble warning of recording in progress or the purple bubble signifying SharePlay activity, each color plays a crucial role in enhancing your awareness and control over your device’s functions.

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By understanding what these colors represent, you can take proactive steps to protect your privacy, manage your connections and optimize your iPhone experience. This subtle yet powerful feature underscores the importance of being informed and vigilant about the digital footprints we leave. So, the next time you notice a colored bubble behind the clock, remember it’s more than just a design choice — it’s a gateway to understanding and managing your iPhone’s diverse capabilities.

How do you think Apple could further improve the color notification feature to assist iPhone users in managing their devices’ functions? Let us know by writing us at Cyberguy.com/Contact

For more of my tech tips and security alerts, subscribe to my free CyberGuy Report Newsletter by heading to Cyberguy.com/Newsletter

Ask Kurt a question or let us know what stories you’d like us to cover

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Answers to the most asked CyberGuy questions:

Copyright 2024 CyberGuy.com.  All rights reserved.

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