Monthly Archives: January 2008

Vishing – The New Scam on the Block!

internet-crime-center.jpgAccording to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. National White Collar Crime Center, Vishing attacks are on the increase.

Yes, you’ve heard of Phishing, but what’s this Vishing you ask?

The IC³ (Internet Crime Complaint Center) describes Vishing as an attempt to persuade consumers either by email, text message, or a telephone call, purportedly from their credit card/debit card company, to divulge their Personally Identifiable Information (PII), claiming their account was suspended, deactivated, or terminated.

In one scenario, recipients are asked to contact their bank by calling a telephone number provided in the e-mail, or alternatively, by an automated telephone recording. When the potential victim calls the telephone number, they’re greeted with “Welcome to the bank of …” and then requested to enter their card number in order to resolve a pending security issue.

In the email scam attempt, in order to persuade the recipient that it is not a scam, the fraudulent e-mail sets out all the caveats the potential victim should be aware of in dealing with this type of email. Who would consider that a scam artist would warn you that a bank would not contact customers to obtain their PII by e-mail, mail, and instant messenger?

To further convince the recipient of the validity of the email, it goes on to state that the recipients should not provide sensitive information when requested in an e-mail, and not to click on embedded links, claiming they could contain “malicious software aimed at capturing login credentials.”

Would this convince you that this email was genuine? It just might.

A new version of this scam recently reported to IC³ involves the sending of text messages to cell phones claiming the recipient’s on-line bank account has expired. The message instructs the recipient to renew their on-line bank account by using the link provided.

These types of attacks against financial institutions, and consumers, are occurring with such frequency that IC³ has called the situation “alarming”.

Minimum safety precautions you should take.

·        Consider every email, telephone call, or text message requesting your PII as a scam

·        Never click on embedded email or cell phone links

·        When contacting your bank; use a telephone number from your statement, a telephone book, or another independent source

You can read more on this issue at www.ic3.gov.

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Filed under Internet Safety, Living Life, Malware Advisories, Online Banking, Online Safety, Privacy, Safe Surfing, Windows Tips and Tools

Are You Being Tracked? – Get Snoop Free Privacy Shield

snoopfree.jpgWith the more powerful computing systems many of us have today it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to tell if a computer is infected with malware, based on system slow down alone. Back in the days of less powerful systems, when 128 Meg of RAM and a Pentium 3 running at 665 MHz was considered the height of computing power, system slow down or a slow Internet experience, was suggestive of a malware infection.

Today, the most dangerous and most finely crafted malware, will not generally impact your system resources in such a way as to cause noticeable slow down. This type of malware is designed to remain undetected and to be as stealthy as possible, so that it can get on with its designated task, which most often results in identity theft and the compromising of your financial data.

One of the most insidious of this type of malware, one I have always made sure to guard against, is the keylogger.

A keylogger, or system monitor, is a small program (not always malware) that monitors every keystroke a user types on a computer’s keyboard. A keylogger program does not require physical access to the user’s computer. It can be downloaded on purpose by someone who wants to monitor activity on a particular computer, or it can be downloaded unwittingly as spyware and executed as part of a rootkit or remote administration (RAT) Trojan horse.

A malware keylogger typically consists of two files: a dynamic link library (DLL) file (which does all the recording) and an executable file (.EXE) that installs the DLL file and triggers it to work. The keylogger program records each keystroke and uploads the information over the Internet.

Luckily, there is a remedy for this type of malware threat.

SnoopFree Privacy Shield is a powerful application that guards your keyboard, screen and open windows from all spy software. It makes it  virtually impossible for any spy program to work on your computer; since SnoopFree Privacy Shield’s  unique protection works against spy software in real time.

I have been using this application for quite some time, and I have been amazed at the number of programs that have requested access to my keyboard and screen, particularly programs that I was in the process of installing. Since I test a lot of applications, I see this type of program behavior frequently. Unless there are valid reasons for this type of access, I don’t allow it. Surprisingly, in most cases the application installs correctly. Curious!

If you’re serious about privacy, then this free application is a must have addition to your security toolbox.

Download at:   SnoopFree Privacy Shield

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Filed under Anti-Keyloggers, Anti-Malware Tools, Freeware, Internet Safety Tools, Malware Advisories, Online Safety, Privacy, Safe Surfing, Software, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools

Why You’re Not a Savvy Computer User! – Another View

typical-user-2.jpgCoauthored by Wendell Dryden

I’m often critical, on this Blog, of the typical computer user’s lessez faire attitude toward security, particularly on the Internet. 

For example, I recently wrote an article entitled “FaceBook – A Scam/Spam/Phishing Factory?”   which included  the following quote from an earlier article, “The Unsecured Internet Super Highway – Are You Licensed to Drive? – Get Up to Speed Here!

“Being involved in computer security, I am amazed at the lack of knowledge exhibited by typical computer users, and most importantly, the lack of knowledge concerning the need to secure their machines against the ever increasing risks, previously noted, on the Internet. I’m not talking about unintelligent people here. I am talking about people who are intelligent in every other aspect of life, but who view computers like cavemen who saw fire for the first time.” 

Wendell Dryden, http://wendell-communitylit.blogspot.com/ a fellow Blogger from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, whose quality and style of writing I admire, commented on the FaceBook article and it certainly gave me food for thought. 

Those of us who have a high level of knowledge in various aspects of technology, including computer security, often forget that issues surrounding technology are rarely as simple as they sometimes appear to us. 

Wendell raised some challenges for me in my thinking patterns surrounding the typical computer user and security. 

See what you think.

My perception is that most people still see the computer as a kind of entertainment device, with an attached cell-phone like feature.  Computers are for playing, chatting, watching short clips, listening to tunes…. 

If people don’t take internet security (or pc maintenance) seriously, it’s because they don’t think of the computer as a serious device. 

Some of this is related to our cultural laziness around safety and prevention.  People are routinely reckless with automobiles, decline to clean out the lint catch, and mishandle loaded guns. 

But, mostly, I think computers are thought of like television or boom boxes… fun while they work. 

My frustration is with government, health and educational institutions that push people to use the internet as though it were as secure and straight forward as a hard-line telephone.  I also think an extra burden of responsibility should be placed on any company or organization that promotes, and then facilitates, monetary transactions. 

In short, an outfit like FaceBook has no business asking – or even allowing a place for – things like street addresses, date of birth or credit card numbers on its hyper-connective site.  If people choose to post those things on their wall… well, that’s a different matter.  But otherwise, there ought to be a legal responsibility to not ask for certain kinds of private information. 

Idealistic, or what! 

I tend to think that Wendell has a good grasp of some of the real issues surrounding the lack of concern for computer security that a typical user exhibits. 

What’s your view?

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Filed under FaceBook, Internet Safety, Living Life, Online Safety, Personal Perspective, Privacy, Safe Surfing, Windows Tips and Tools

Warning! – Valentine’s Day Storm Worm – Be Prepared

valentines-day-2.jpgI remember last February thinking the whole world had suddenly fallen in love with me. I use 5 different email services, all for different purposes, and each of my mailboxes was overflowing with Valentine’s Day greeting cards. 

Now I’m a nice guy, (I think), but nice enough to have my inboxes stuffed with Valentines? I don’t think so now, and I didn’t think so then. I mean, how many emails are you likely to get stating, “Falling in love with you”, “Sending you my love”, “Memories of you” or “I Love You Soo Much”? 

Of course what was really happening was we were faced with an avalanche of “romantic” emails seeded with the Storm Worm. The worm delivers rootkits which, if downloaded, takes control of a system via peer-to-peer communications, potentially making compromised systems a tool in identity theft and financial loss. 

The body of the email contains a link to an IP address-based website, which is actually one of the many PCs in the storm network of compromised computers. The website displays a large red heart, while installing malware onto your computer. It’s estimated that this year, 8 per cent of “romantic” emails, or one in every 12 emails, is likely to contain malware. 

To further complicate matters, according to PandaLabs, Panda Security’s laboratory for detecting and analyzing malware, it has detected two new worms, Nuwar.OL and Valentin.E, which use Valentine’s Day email messages to spread. Basically, these two new worms mimic the behavior of the Storm Worm. 

You know what to do, right?

  • Don’t open emails that come from unknown sources. 
  • Don’t click on any links included in email messages, even though they may come from reliable sources. Instead, type link in the address bar.
  • Don’t run attached files that come from unknown sources; especially these days.
  • Stay alert for files that claim to be Valentine’s greeting cards, romantic videos, etc.
  • Make sure you have an effective security solution installed, capable of detecting both known and new malware strains.

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Filed under Email, Internet Safety, Living Life, Malware Advisories, Online Safety, Privacy, Safe Surfing, Windows Tips and Tools

So You Think You Need a New Computer – But Do You?

If you’re considering buying a new computer it’s probable that it’s due to one of the following.

Your computer takes a long time to boot and operates slowly.

Your Hard Drive is full.

Your Internet experience is slow.

 

 

Let me start by saying, I test new software on an almost daily basis, and I do the majority of that testing on a Dell OptiPlex 110 with 512 Meg of memory, running Windows XP Professional. Surprisingly, this is a 6 year old computer and 90%+ of the software and Internet testing that I perform, runs smoothly and adequately on this platform.

So keep in mind that for everyday work, word processing, spreadsheets, e-mail, and general Internet surfing you don’t need the latest, greatest, and most expensive computer.

If your current operating system is Windows XP (and 93% of us run XP), read the requirements that Microsoft set out as the minimum requirements for a computer to run Windows XP when the operating system was released.

These requirements were taken directly from the Microsoft website.

Here’s What You Need to Use Windows XP Home Edition

 

· PC with 300 megahertz (MHz) or higher processor clock speed recommended; 233-MHz minimum required;* Intel Pentium/Celeron family, AMD K6/Athlon/Duron family, or compatible processor recommended

· 128 megabytes (MB) of RAM or higher recommended (64 MB minimum supported; may limit performance and some features)

· 1.5 gigabyte (GB) of available hard disk space.

· Super VGA (800 × 600) or higher resolution video adapter and monitor

· CD-ROM or DVD drive

· Keyboard and Microsoft Mouse or compatible pointing device

I have seen, even quite recently, machines which meet only these minimum requirements satisfy the needs of their users.

This article is not all encompassing, but let’s take a look at some of the alternatives you have before you replace what may be a perfectly functional computer which meets your current needs. If you do decide however, that upgrades to the system are required, a good rule of thumb is to purchase a new system if the upgrades total 50% or more of the cost of a new computer.

Your computer takes a long time to boot and operates slowly.

PCs don’t slow down without a reason. All computers have characteristic operating patterns that lead to predictable, but preventable issues. Simple maintenance, practiced regularly, which is easy even for a non-expert, can keep an older PC running smoothly at peak performance for years.

  • Disk fragmentation, especially on intensively used systems, will degrade performance over time. This is a good task to automate by using a third-party tool like Auslogics Disk Defrag. This application is free and it does a great job. Download:
  • Keep your computer clean and dust free and perform a periodic full system cleaning. Elsewhere on this Blog there is a comprehensive article on cleaning your computer.

 

Your Hard Drive is full.

A full Hard Drive will not function efficiently.

  • You require at least 2 – 3MB of free space for programs to run smoothly. If you lack this much free space, you should uninstall unused programs on your primary drive. A superior program to uninstall programs from your computer is Revo Uninstaller. This free program with its advanced and fast algorithm scans before, and after you uninstall an application.After the program’s regular uninstaller runs, you can remove additional unnecessary files, folders and registry keys that are usually left over on your computer. This feature is a definite plus since it recaptures additional space. Download
  • Running Disk Cleanup will optimize systems by emptying the Recycle Bin, Temporary Setup Files, Downloaded Program Files, Temporary Internet Files, Old Chkdsk Files, Temporary Files, Temporary Offline Files, Offline Files, and so on.
  • For a full and through cleanup, I highly recommend Glary Utilities. Download
  • As well, you should consider copying archived files such as pictures and music, to CD’s or DVD’s to free space on the Hard Drive.

 

Your Internet is slow.

Even the fastest Internet connection is a lot slower than any relatively modern PC, so make sure your Internet settings are properly optimized.

  • An excellent free Internet connection optimizer (Ashampoo Internet Accelerator 2) is available for download at CNET
  • Open the system and verify that all connections feel solid and are placed correctly. Double-check any accessory cards for a snug setting and good connections. Make sure cable tensions are appropriate. Having too much strain on a cable or connection can damage the cable, device, jack/node, or the computer. Be sure that there is plenty of slack in the cables on the device and computer ends. Excess strain may cause intermittent performance issues.

 

It’s possible of course, that the performance of your computer has been adversely affected by malware infections. If you believe that’s the case read my article on this Blog, The top 10 best free security applications your security toolbox can’t be without!

Once you have removed system-clogging clutter, ensured your Internet settings are properly optimized, are satisfied your system is not infected with malware, and performed the other simple maintenance, your old PC should satisfy you with its capabilities.

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Filed under Do you need a new computer, Living Life, Personal Perspective, Software, Web Development, Windows Tips and Tools

Hazard Shield – Another Contender for Best Anti-malware Application?

hazard-shield.jpgIn the already overcrowded anti-malware application market, we have yet another free anti-malware contender. On the other hand, it’s always a plus to have another free and effective security application to choose from. 

Orbitech, the developer of Hazard Shield describes this application as “a fast anti-malware program that scans for any and every threat we can get our hands on. These include malicious items such as malware, viruses, spyware, Trojans, backdoors, dialers and much more. Hazard Shield also comes with Real-time protection! Hazard Shield’s Real-time monitor can protect your computer by removing threats before they can do damage. Hazard Shield’s Real-time monitor is free and uses very little system resources.” 

There’s no question that Hazard Shield is fast. In testing, I found it completed scanning approximately 20GB in just over 6 minutes. It did not find any malware on my machines. However, I have heard from other users who have tested this application, that it has detected and removed a number of infections missed by other anti-malware programs including Norton and Webroot Spy Sweeper. 

A definite plus, particularly for less experienced users, is the interface which is simple and straightforward. There’s no learning curve involved here. With a couple of simple clicks you can scan for threats, and remove them from both local and network drives. 

Included in the application are a number of integrated tools including a file killer. This can be particularly important in removing locked or in-use files. Additional tools include an uninstall manager, a process manager, and a scheduled task manager. 

If you’re looking to strengthen your anti-malware resources, this application might be one that’s worth taking a look at. 

Operating Systems: Windows XP

Requirements: NET framework 2.0 

Download at: Orbitech

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Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Freeware, Internet Safety Tools, Privacy, Software, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools

FaceBook – A Scam/Spam/Phishing Factory?

facebook-3.jpg

Recently I received the following two messages in my email, and they certainly got me thinking. Curiously enough, I was at the time actively considering that perhaps the time had come to close my own FaceBook page; for the same reasons as noted in these emails.

 

 Take a look. 

Hey Bill, 

I’m just wondering about FaceBook. I’m starting to think it’s very dangerous and I’m thinking about deleting my account. There’s some weird stuff happening on there. 

Hey Bill, 

I got this message from FaceBook. I don’t know this person and I don’t have a pic; it’s a question mark. 

Sic

            Jessie sent you a message. 

            Subject: hey, cool name.  i’m Jessie 

“hey *****, nice pic.  you seem like you’re pretty cool.  i’m trying to chat with you, but i dont think you can here on facebook, so could you come over to the other site i go to, http://snipurl.com/1sjqn my username’s spice_gal.” 

You’ll notice that in this case, the URL has been modified by using snipurl, a redirection service that turns long URLs into ones that are much shorter. Another URL snipper, tinyurl, is aware their service has been abused in redirecting people to malicious links and now has a section on their site, TinyURL Preview, which will disclose the real URL. 

According to the web site Best Security Tips, FaceBook is currently dealing with phishing scam attacks which gather users’ login information and passwords. Best Security Tips goes on to say, users have been tricked into logging onto fake FaceBook links which then captured their personal data.

If you’re a regular reader of this Blog, you are probably aware that just last week I wrote an article about the knowledge level of typical computer users “The Unsecured Internet Super Highway – Are You Licensed to Drive? – Get Up to Speed Here!”

If you haven’t had a chance to read it, here are a couple of snippets from that article:

“Would requiring a license from the “Department of Computer Literacy”, protect us from the ever increasing exposure we all face to Trojans, Spyware, Virus’, Phishing Scams, Identity Theft, ….. the list goes on.” 

The article goes on to say: 

“Being involved in computer security, I am amazed at the lack of knowledge exhibited by typical computer users, and most importantly, the lack of knowledge concerning the need to secure their machines against the ever increasing risks, previously noted, on the Internet. I’m not talking about unintelligent people here. I am talking about people who are intelligent in every other aspect of life, but who view computers like cavemen who saw fire for the first time.”

Here we come to the crux of the problem. Typical computer users make assumptions that sites like FaceBook and other social networking sites are essentially safe and harmless. That FaceBook, and others, are looking out for their users interests. The old expression, slightly modified, covers it “they simple don’t know what they don’t know.” 

John Dvorak, one of the better techno journalists on the Internet, has written an excellent article, It’s Time for Universal Computer Education, on PCMagazine, in which he states “There’s a huge knowledge gap in this country when it comes to computers and technology in general. How many normal people out there know how hackable everything is? You know it. I know it. Does Aunt Tina know it? I doubt it”. 

“Get it straight, people: Everything is hackable. Genuine universal computer literacy—for everyone, not just the geeks—should be a top priority in the U.S.” 

Given the state of the current, and increasing malware dangers on the Internet, it’s difficult to argue with this view. It’s almost certain that exposures to malware on the Internet will continue to escalate, and with it, the dangers that this presents. 

It’s my view that FaceBook has an obligation to ensure its users are protected. If this means that the company has to undertake, as well as implementing other security safeguards, to educate users in the safe and prudent use of its product, then they need to get on with it. FaceBook’s continued success, and its future longevity, lies in a sound foundation and not in its continuing hype. 

FaceBook has a window of opportunity, right now, to increase value added to its users, by educating them in the safe and prudent way to utilize the services offered by the company. Otherwise, it is only a matter of time before FaceBook’s lack of security and questionable content policy, will be rejected by the very market they wish to cultivate. 

What will happen to its fifteen billon dollar valuation then?

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Filed under FaceBook, Internet Safety, Living Life, Malware Advisories, Online Safety, Personal Perspective, Privacy, Safe Surfing, Windows Tips and Tools