Tag Archives: credit card

Cloud Storage – Great Idea or Security Risk?

This guest post is contributed by my Aussie mate, Jim Hillier. Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at Dave’s Computer Tips. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele… as well as writing for DCT, of course.


“On no, we’ve lost all of little Johnny’s birthday snaps”, the woman cries as she holds her smashed smartphone aloft. With a knowing smile, her husband responds, “Don’t fret dear, they’re all in the cloud”. All is well, peace and harmony reign again.

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Even less than a decade ago, any mention of “cloud storage” or “data in the cloud” would have almost certainly elicited a puzzled response. Today though, I’d imagine just about everyone would be familiar with the concept. “The cloud”, it’s a rather exotic term which simply means your data is uploaded to and stored on somebody else’s server, essentially on an internet connected hard disk owned and operated by the cloud service provider.

There is no doubt that the advantage of being able to access data from anywhere on any device creates a massive appeal factor, especially for multiple device users. Not to mention the automatic backup element which is clearly demonstrated in the opening paragraph.

It all sounds like a great idea, that is until you start considering what might and can go wrong. Of course, cloud storage providers take the utmost care with your data, at least according to them. They apply top notch security measures including encrypted data transfers. Trouble is, the encryption key is also stored on their machines, which means any of their staff can access those files as can any hacker who manages to break into the system.

I realize every method is susceptible to hackers, whether the data is stored locally or in the cloud. However, which do you think would represent the most desirable target – a local disk containing only your own personal data or a mega database containing data uploaded from thousands (if not millions) of users, all in one place?

Another concern involves the future viability of a chosen cloud storage provider – just ask those who entrusted their data to Kim Dotcom’s Megaupload. What happens to your data if the company is sold, goes bankrupt, or just closes down? Then there’s the scenario where cloud storage providers can simply change the terms of their plans, exactly as Microsoft did recently when the company drastically reduced the amount of data storage available under its free OneDrive plan.

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I guess though, when it comes to data in the cloud, the greatest concern for most people is privacy. While Microsoft OneDrive openly scans all your files – for illegal content of course, most providers will collect data to share with “trusted third parties”. Naturally, many of these providers need to process sensitive information, such as your name, email address, phone number, credit card details and mailing address, in order to “improve their services”. And Santa Claus visits once a year around Christmas.

Despite the cynicism, I do believe that cloud storage can be decidedly useful and I’m certainly not dismissing the practice out of hand. However, as is the case with many situations… everything within reason.

I would not, for example, store any sensitive data in the cloud, whether encrypted locally beforehand or not. Family photos, life-memories, items which are valuable only to the user and serve no purpose for anyone else… sure, no problem.

Regardless, the important thing to remember is that any backup is preferable to no backup at all. If you don’t fancy storing your data in the cloud, dust off that external drive and use that instead. Works for me.

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Filed under cloud storage, cybercrime, Don't Get Hacked, Internet Safety, Privacy, Technicians Advise, Windows Tips and Tools

PC Tools Predicts New Breeds of Social Media Cyber Scams

imagePC Tools, the company which brings you PC Tools Firewall Plus (free), ThreatFire (free), and of course a complete line of award-winning commercial grade security offerings, is issuing this consumer alert advising the rollout of new social media sites and features, are leading to a fresh crop of online scams and threats.

PC Tools Top Three Social Network Threat Predictions

Email alerts for “tagged” photos where YOU might appear online.

Social networks are developing increased intelligence for facial recognition to assist with tagging photos. When you’re tagged in a photo or at a location in your photo album, you can often expect an email or notification letting you know where to view it online. Watch out!

Cybercriminals may be using this as a tactic to get you to click on malicious links asking for information – possibly even prompting you to click on a link leading to a fake login and password entry form posing as your social network.

Online robots or “bots” on social networking sites will be more sophisticated

We believe within the next few months that social media “bots” will become more advanced, effectively creating human-looking profiles and personalities. Cybercriminals rely on bots because they are the fastest and most cost-effective way to spread malware, spyware and scams through social network sites.

Through these bots, criminals can auto-create bogus personalities on social networks, which can in turn link to fake companies that sell phony products – all to trick users into buying merchandise that isn’t real or spreading news that doesn’t actually exist.

An increase in fake invites to join “new” or “exclusive” social networks or social groups

New social networks are popping up every day, some of which are “invite only” making them more appealing. Cybercriminals could use this appeal as a method to lure users into clicking on fake invites for exclusive networks. Upon clicking on these invites, users could be asked to provide personal details such as name, login, password or birthdates which should not be released.

“If you’re looking to join the hottest new social network, be careful where you click – your personal life may be at risk,” said Mike Chen, Product Marketing Manager at PC Tools. “Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the buzz surrounding these new social networks and features by tricking unsuspecting users to divulge personal information or download malware.”

Chen added that today’s malware looks legitimate, but what may seem like a harmless email or link can actually result in a person’s stolen identity or credit card data theft. And according to Pew Research, 46% of internet users agree that “most people can be trusted” – a prime reason why cybercriminals are so successful at duping consumers.

About PC Tools:

With offices located in Australia, Ireland, United States, United Kingdom and the Ukraine. PC Tools is a fast-growing brand with dedicated Research and Development teams that ensure PC Tools maintains a competitive edge. With registered customers in over 180 countries and millions of downloads to date, PC Tools’ products continue to win awards and gain recommendations from respected reviewers and independent testing labs around the world.

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Filed under Cyber Crime, Cyber Criminals, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, Freeware, Internet Security Alerts, PC Tools, Safe Surfing, social networking, Windows Tips and Tools

McDonalds “Fillet O’ Phishing” Survey Scam

image Would you fill out an email survey, sponsored by McDonalds – if they paid you 250 dollars for completing it? I’ll go out on a limb here and say – yes you would. Just like most offers that sound overly attractive though – this offer is a scam.

This scam is not only plausible, but in appearance, it could easily pass for the real thing. Jump into this one though, and you’ll stand a good chance of losing your credit card information. So, no 250 dollars; just a real messy credit cleanup to look forward to.

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Filling out the survey form really isn’t the hook – that comes later.

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Clicking on the “proceed” link (this is where you supposedly get the 250 bucks), opens the following screen. All you have to do is provide your credit card details and additional personal information.

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If, at this point, you don’t hear a loud warning bell resonating in your head – you’re about to become a cyber crime victim.

To add credibility (and reduce suspicion), victims of this scam are automatically redirected to the official McDonalds site – once the victim’s credit card details have been scooped by the crooks.

In August of 2010, when I first reported on this scam, which was then being “test marketed” by the cyber crooks in New Zealand and Australia, I made the following point –

The rest of us (non Australian or New Zealanders), shouldn’t be complacent because, for the moment, this scam is appearing only in that part of the world. If this scam works there, and I suspect it will work very well, there’s little doubt it will soon be on it’s way to you’re inbox.

Well, here it is in North America and according to the chat on the Net, this time out, the graphics on the survey and phishing pages are loaded directly from McDonald’s own website. You can rightfully accuse cyber crooks of being the lowest form of pond scum imaginable – but you can’t accuse them of not being technically sophisticated.

It’s the same old, same old, though – the first time I came across this scam was in 2006. This type of scam is recycled repeatedly – because it works. Reasonably intelligent people do get trapped by sophisticated scams. Due, in large part, to their failure to take minimum common sense security precautions. Don’t be one of them.

Advice worth repeating:

If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of any email message, or its attachment, delete it.

Better yet, take a look at the email’s headers. Check the initial “Received from” field in the header, since this field is difficult to forge. Additionally, the mail headers indicate the mail servers involved in transmitting the email – by name and by IP address.

It may take a little practice to realize the benefits in adding this precaution to your SOP, but it’s worth the extra effort if you have any concerns.

f you found this article useful, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.

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Filed under cybercrime, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, email scams, Malware Reports, Phishing, Windows Tips and Tools

Think You’re Immune From Online Fraud? Maybe Not!

Guest writer Dave Brooks, a vastly experienced computer Tech from New Hampshire, who is an expert at online safety, shares this chilling story on why even exercising proper security measures won’t guarantee your online financial safety.

image Bill is constantly trying to pound security into his reader’s heads, and with good reason, but unfortunately, no matter how careful you are, there are things that are beyond your control when buying stuff online.

Case in point: at Bill’s request I’m going to relay a recent unnerving personal experience, if only to show that even the most security conscious are still at risk.

I’m very online safety/security conscious and I buy online only from reputable, well known stores. My online bank account password looks like an alien language, my ATM pin is 8 digits long (compared to 4 or so many people use), and I monitor my account closely.

Even so my ATM card number was recently used, in the middle of the night, in Georgia, while I was sound asleep in New Hampshire. Luckily Bank of America has decent monitoring, and I have a ton of alerts set up to email me when certain things happen with my account.

I woke up in the morning to find an alert that my card was used while I was asleep, and an email from Bank of America that they had detected suspicious activity on my account, had frozen the transaction, and placed a lock on my account to prevent further activity.

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The charge was for the amount of $1.22; it’s apparently common practice by those that use stolen card numbers to make a small charge such as this to confirm that the number is good before using it to make larger purchases.

Thanks in part to my diligent monitoring, and Bank of America’s account monitoring system, the thieves were never able to get to step two and spend my hard earned cash on god knows what.

A call to the number provided in the alert email I got from the bank (after confirming it was in fact their number by matching it up on the Bank of America website; phishing emails are pretty convincing nowadays!), confirmed the illegal activity. Bank of America cancelled my ATM card, and cancelled the charge, and a trip to my local bank branch netted me a new ATM card.

image My number was likely stolen from a hacked online database of a company that I had made an online purchase from in the past, but there’s no way to confirm this – it could have just as easily been a dishonest employee from a local store where I used my card.

I have since opened a second account with an ATM card, and use only that account for online purchases, (I had been contemplating doing this for a year or more or more, but never did),

I keep a balance of about 5 bucks in it, and when I want to buy something online, I transfer the purchase amount from my main account to the “internet” account to cover it. At least that way, my main account is less exposed, and if it happens again I’ll be able to determine if it was the “internet” or “local purchase” that led to the compromise.

Bottom line here is, even though you think you’re safe, if you purchase stuff online, your bank or credit card info is out there for the taking. The best you can do is keep a close eye on your accounts for suspicious activity, and try to minimize possible damage that might be done if your card number is stolen.

Guest Writer: This is a guest post by Dave Brooks a professional computer technician from New Hampshire, USA. Dave has become a regular guest writer, who’s articles are always a huge hit.

Pay a visit to Dave’s site at Tech-N-Go, and checkout the Security Alerts.

If you found this article useful, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.

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Filed under cybercrime, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, Guest Writers, internet scams, Online Banking, Windows Tips and Tools

Online Dangers – Even a Tech Can Get Taken

Think you’re immune from online fraud? Do you believe – “It could never happen to me”? Read what guest writer Dave Brooks, a vastly experienced computer tech from New Hampshire, has to say about what happened to him.

image Bill is constantly trying to pound security into his reader’s heads, and with good reason, but unfortunately no matter how careful you are, there are things that are beyond your control when buying stuff online.

Case in point: at Bill’s request I’m going to relay a recent unnerving personal experience, if only to show that even the most security conscious are still at risk.

I’m very online safety/security conscious and I buy online only from reputable, well known stores. My online bank account password looks like an alien language, my ATM pin is 8 digits long (compared to 4 or so many people use), and I monitor my account closely.

Even so my ATM card number was recently used, in the middle of the night, in Georgia, while I was sound asleep in New Hampshire. Luckily Bank of America has decent monitoring, and I have a ton of alerts set up to email me when certain things happen with my account.

I woke up in the morning to find an alert that my card was used while I was asleep, and an email from Bank of America that they had detected suspicious activity on my account, had frozen the transaction, and placed a lock on my account to prevent further activity.

The charge was for the amount of $1.22; it’s apparently common practice by those that use stolen card numbers to make a small charge such as this to confirm that the number is good before using it to make larger purchases.

Thanks in part to my diligent monitoring, and Bank of America’s account monitoring system, the thieves were never able to get to step two and spend my hard earned cash on god knows what.

A call to the number provided in the alert email I got from the bank (after confirming it was in fact their number by matching it up on the Bank of America website; phishing emails are pretty convincing nowadays!), confirmed the illegal activity. Bank of America cancelled my ATM card, and cancelled the charge, and a trip to my local bank branch netted me a new ATM card.

My number was likely stolen from a hacked online database of a company that I had made an online purchase from in the past, but there’s no way to confirm this – it could have just as easily been a dishonest employee from a local store where I used my card.

I have since opened a second account with an ATM card, and use only that account for online purchases, (I had been contemplating doing this for a year or more or more, but never did),

I keep a balance of about 5 bucks in it, and when I want to buy something online, I transfer the purchase amount from my main account to the “internet” account to cover it. At least that way, my main account is less exposed, and if it happens again I’ll be able to determine if it was the “internet” or “local purchase” that led to the compromise.

Bottom line here is, even though you think you’re safe, if you purchase stuff online, your bank or credit card info is out there for the taking. The best you can do is keep a close eye on your accounts for suspicious activity, and try to minimize possible damage that might be done if your card number is stolen.

Guest Writer: This is a guest post by Dave Brooks a professional computer technician from New Hampshire, USA. Dave has become a regular guest writer, who’s articles are always a huge hit.

This article is Dave’s response to today’s article “How to Conduct Online Banking Safely”.

Thank you Dave for such a quick response – a great article, crafted quickly.

Pay a visit to Dave’s site at Tech-N-Go, and checkout the Security Alerts.

If you enjoyed this article, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.

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Filed under Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety, Internet Security Alerts, Online Banking, Online Safety, Tech Net News, Windows Tips and Tools

Panda Security’s August 7, 2009 Report on Viruses and Intruders

Courtesy of Panda Security. Panda Security’s weekly report on viruses and intruders.

This week’s PandaLabs report looks at the Lineage.LAS worm and the SecretService fake antivirus.

The Lineage.LAS worm spreads through mapped drives. It copies itself to several folders and downloads a malicious file. It also creates a file called Autorun.inf which allows it to run every time the user opens a folder.

Additionally, it modifies the Windows registry to run on every system restart. One of the malicious actions the worm carries out on infected computers is to prevent users from viewing hidden files and folders.

SecretService is yet another example of the now widely spread fake antiviruses. This malicious code tries to trick users into believing their computer is infected. To do this, it generates numerous junk files, and offers users the possibility of buying an antivirus solution through an online transaction to remove them. This way, it steals users’ credit card details.

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SecretService carries out a fake computer scan, displaying an undetermined number of problems, and offers users the possibility of installing security software.

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Once installed, SecretService’s interface looks very similar to that of traditional antiviruses, even displaying the Windows Security Center page.

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SecretService can also display fake warnings reporting malicious files, registry errors, etc.

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These warnings are accompanied by a very characteristic sound. Other actions it carries out to make users believe they are infected include modifying the computer wallpaper.

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To make the program look more authentic, it inserts an icon in the browser taskbar.

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Finally, it displays a screen which requires the software to be upgraded to its paid version in order to eliminate all threats. Then, if users enter their banking details, they will be stolen.

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This fake antivirus reaches computers when users access a malicious web page and agree to install the program.

More information about these and other malicious codes is available in the Panda Security Encyclopedia. You can also follow Panda Security’s online activity on Twitter, and PandaLabs blog.

If you enjoyed this article, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.

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Filed under Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, Interconnectivity, internet scams, Internet Security Alerts, Malware Advisories, Online Safety, Panda Security, PandaLabs, Rogue Software, scareware, Spyware - Adware Protection, trojans, Viruses, Windows Tips and Tools, worms

IRS Tax Notification Refund Scam – Don’t be Victimized!

After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $939.40. – Fraudulent IRS email

Now who wouldn’t be thrilled to receive an email informing them that U.S. Internal Revenue Service is going to play Santa Clause and give them $939.40? Well I wouldn’t object, and I suspect you wouldn’t either. Like you, I can think of a few places where this unexpected windfall could be put to good use.

Despite the fact that I am a Canadian, and I reside in Canada, it seems the U.S. Government is eager, and determined, to give me money for the third time in just a few months. Yes, this is the third such scam email I have received in just the last few months.

Since I am a Canadian I do not file U.S. income tax returns and I do not qualify for a refund from the IRS. Despite this, the cyber-criminals responsible for this fraudulent email were optimistic that I would click on the enclosed email link.

Clicking on the link would have redirected me to a spoof IRS page, comparable to the original site, and I would then have begun a process in which the scammers would have stripped me of all the confidential information I was willing to provide.

Information requested on the spoof IRS page includes; social security number, credit card and debit card numbers, postal address, and date of birth. The financial and personal details entered into this fraudulent web site are harvested by cyber-crooks who would have used this information to commit identity and financial theft.

The reality is of course, the IRS doesn’t send out unsolicited emails asking for personal or financial information. Credit card numbers, ATM PIN numbers and additional financial information would never be required to enable you to discover the current status of your tax return, or your tax refund.

According to the IRS there are over 1600 IRS phishing sites operating, or online, at any given time in search of potential victims willing to hand over sensitive financial data. It’s easy to see that the emails I received are not isolated incidents. The IRS confirms that by their estimates, 1% of all spam email is an IRS phishing scam.

What makes this particular type of scam so potent is, the average person on receiving an email from an authoritative source, generally lowers their defenses. As well, giving the time of year, the timing is right. Be warned, IRS scam emails always ramp up before tax day and continue for some time afterwards.

You know what to do right? Follow the tips below to protect yourself against these threats:

  • Your bank, the IRS, or any other legitimate organization will never ask you to divulge account information or passwords via email. Never give out this information, especially via email.
  • Don’t open emails that come from un-trusted sources.
  • Don’t run files that you receive via email without making sure of their origin.
  • Don’t click links in emails. If they come from a known source, type them in the browser’s address bar. If they come from an un-trusted source, simply ignore them.
  • Keep your computer protected. Install a security solution and keep it up-to-date. Also, before carrying out any kind of financial transaction on the Web, I recommend that you scan your computer with a second-opinion security solution, such as NanoScan.

Be kind to your friends, relatives, and associates and let them know that these types of scams are now epidemic on the Internet. In that way, it raises the level of protection for all of us.

To help you fight back, the following information has been taken from the official IRS web site and provides instructions on how to assist the IRS in shutting down these schemes.

The good news is that you can help shut down these schemes and prevent others from being victimized. If you receive a suspicious e-mail that claims to come from the IRS, you can relay that e-mail to a new IRS mailbox, phishing@irs.gov.

Follow instructions in the link below for sending the bogus e-mail to ensure that it retains critical elements found in the original e-mail. The IRS can use the information, URLs and links in the suspicious e-mails you send to trace the hosting Web site and alert authorities to help shut down the fraudulent sites. Unfortunately, due to the expected volume, the IRS will not be able to acknowledge receipt or respond to you.

IRS reporting site

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Filed under Email, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety, internet scams, Malware Advisories, Online Banking, Online Safety, Phishing, Windows Tips and Tools