Tag Archives: cyber criminals

Twitter, Tweets, Cyber-Criminals And You

imageI like the idea that technology makes it easier to stay “connected”, but Facebook , Twitter and the like, take that connected feeling well past my comfort zone. While I do have several Twitter accounts, those accounts are dedicated to professional tweets only.

Despite my personal reluctance to be “hard connected”, I can certainly understand the attraction of social networking – particularly for the “wired” generation. I have no problem accepting that the social relevancy of Twitter and Facebook, is substantial.

Although, I must admit, I fail to see the social relevancy of the inane “look at me” tweets, posted to Twitter by celebrities like Demi Moore, or Ashton Kutcher. I’m just not driven by the paparazzi mentality, I guess.

Despite the obvious benefits of social networking, these sites are not without risk. Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites, are now a veritable snake pit of nasty socially engineered malware attacks.

The “wired” generation, who are anything but “wired”, in my view, when it comes to good security practices, have taken their inadequate security habits over to Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere. As a result, social networking sites have proven to be a gold mine for cyber-criminals.

Not a day goes by, where I don’t report in my Tech Net News column, on another virus, worm, or Trojan, targeting Twitter and Facebook users. Despite constant warnings NOT to click on embedded links, or respond to social network generated emails, a considerable number of users blithely ignore this critical advice. Go figure!

On balance, social networking is a good thing – it’s opened new doorways of opportunity to stay connected. But, with those positive opportunities, comes a new set of opportunities for cyber-criminals. Now, more than ever, if you are a social network aficionado, you need to be aware of the risks.

Minimum social networking safe practices:

Don’t let your guard down – assume every link in Twitter is potentially unsafe – including links from friends.

Be particularly cautious of shortened URLs.

Don’t trust social network e-mails – including emails that are purportedly from Twitter support.

Be aware that a single wrong click can lead to a drive-by-download infection.

It should go without saying that you must keep all applications (including your operating system) patched.

Install anti-virus/anti-spyware software and ensure it is configured to automatically update when you are connected to the Internet.

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Filed under cybercrime, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, Email, FaceBook, Interconnectivity, internet scams, Malware Protection, social networking, Social Networks, Twitter, Windows Tips and Tools

Depending On Your Antimalware Applications For Internet Security? An Infection Is On The Way!

Let me begin this article by defining the word “responsibility”, a concept which appears to me, to be losing its place in modern culture.

Definition – a duty or obligation to satisfactorily perform or complete a task (assigned by someone, or created by one’s own promise or circumstances) that one must fulfill, and which has a consequent penalty for failure.

Virtually every computer user, at both the home user level and at the corporate level, whom I come into contact with, fails to take personal responsibility for their security on the Internet.

After all, the reasoning seems to be, I’ve got ABC anti-virus and ABC anti-spyware. Or, my employer takes care of that. But, as the above definition makes crystal clear, there is a penalty for failure to personally assume the burden of responsibility.

Look, the indisputable facts are:

As an Internet user you are engaged in a battle, yes a battle, against highly sophisticated and highly organized cyber-criminals who are relentless in their pursuit of your money and make no mistake – it’s all about the money; your money.

In the worst case scenario, your identity and your financial security can be severely compromised by these cyber-criminals.

It’s no accident that cyber crime is now a 100+ BILLION dollar industry. Make no mistake, this IS an industry. An industry which incorporates all of the strategic planning, and best practices, required to maximize profit.

Today’s cyber-crooks are smart; very smart. They are not, as many people believe, teenage hackers sitting at their computers playing at hacking.

Looking at recent estimates provided by a large number of Internet security providers, the consensus seems to be that there are over 20,000,000 malware programs currently circulating on the Internet. This is not the work of teenage hackers.

Many Internet security companies report having to deal with up to 20,000 new versions of malware – every single day! Here’s the math; one new malware program every four seconds!

Being involved in computer security, I am amazed, and frustrated, at the lack of personal responsibly exhibited by most typical computer users, and most importantly, the lack of commitment to acquiring the knowledge necessary to ensure personal safety on the Internet. In a word, becoming “educated”.

Users need to stop depending on their security applications alone to ensure their safety. They need to become proactive, which means becoming educated and personally responsible, rather than continuing to be reactive to threats to their safety.

Depending on security applications to provide the ultimate in protection, is an absolute “non-starter”. Security applications do not, and never have had the ability to this, despite the commonly held belief to the contrary.

If you’re struggling with the reality of this statement, take a look at “Testing of antiviruses for the treatment of active infections” from Anti-malware Test Lab. I guarantee you, you’ll be unpleasantly surprised.

Enhance your security on the Internet by:

Choosing to become educated on the realities of cyber crime.

Taking personal responsibility for your own security.

A major step you can take to in prevent yourself from becoming a victim of cyber-criminals is to overcome the instinctive response to just “click” while surfing the Internet.

That instinctive response poses one of the biggest risks to your online safety and security.

Stop – consider where you’re action might lead.

Think – consider the consequences to your security.

Click – only after making an educated decision to proceed.

Consider this from Robert Brault:

“The ultimate folly is to think that something crucial to your welfare is being taken care of for you”.

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Filed under cybercrime, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety, Personal Perspective, Spyware - Adware Protection, Windows Tips and Tools

Malware Attacks – How Much Disclosure Are You Entitled To?

image I’m an advocate of full disclosure. I demand transparency (not always successfully), in every area that has the potential to impact my life at any level. Period.

Since cyber crime has the potential to affect me at a fundamental level, I expect that every aspect of all security vulnerabilities will be released by those you have access to this information. I’d be surprised if you felt differently.

As a reputable Blogger, I’m regularly updated by many of the leading security developers on recently discovered or pending security issues, so that my readers can stay current with changing malware conditions.

In fact, the objective of my Tech Thoughts Daily Net News column, is to do just that – notify readers of a seemingly never ending list of new security issues, as quickly as possible.

From time to time though, a security issue needs to be explained more fully. As an example, last week, BitDefender let me know of a so called Kiddie Script – Facebook Hacker, which can be used by amateur cyber crooks to construct malware designed to steal login credentials.

Based on the available information, I wrote an article “BitDefender Says Facebook Hacker: A Do-It-Yourself Kiddie Script Is On The Loose!” Not the first time, I might add, that I’ve reported on the availability of Kiddie Scripts, and the impact such freely available hacking tools can have on unwary Internet users.

I was not alone in reporting on this issue. Other tech sites that reported on Facebook Hacker included; hackinthebox, softpedia, itbusinessedge and techworld. As well, scores of prominent tech news aggregators, linked back to BitDefender’s original Blog post on this issue.

Imagine my surprise then, when I received a series of emails from a security developer executive, who argued that BitDefender, and by extension, me, had broken some sort of hidden rule – that it’s better to keep computer users in the dark with respect to certain security threats.

I must admit, I was taken aback by the implication that by reporting on Facebook Hacker, I was now part of the malware problem, and not part of the solution.

I’m on the far side of 50, and I’ve been at this game a very long time, so an insinuation that suddenly I’m part of the malware problem, definitely provoked a slow burn. Nevertheless, I was prepared to let this go. But, a security developer who can’t allow an alternative opinion, suggests a deeper issue exists.

Keeping computer users in the dark, at least in this security developer’s opinion, is less harmful than letting computer users know what they’re really facing in their increasingly difficult battle to stay safe against cyber criminals.

The gist of his argument was this – BitDefender, and again by extension, me, by reporting on Facebook Hacker, had told “every dickhead in the world where to find it.” So, I should have kept you in the dark.

Conveniently, the fact that  a Google search on “Facebook Hacker”, returns 24,900,000 results was not mentioned.

Curiously, in one email the following observation was made –

Until a couple of days ago Facebook Hacker was a low key (almost unknown, in fact) problem because very few people knew it existed….

Thanks to recent publicity there are now 34 anti-malware programs detecting the original … up from 20 a couple of days ago … up from a mere handful a couple of months ago.

So, you’d think that would be the end of the argument – that reporting on this issue was the right thing to do, since more antimalware applications are now  detecting malware produced by this kit – but no.

There was a further point that had to be made. One which negated the value of shining the light on this security threat.

If the grubs stay true to form there will almost certainly be more “upgrades” in the pipeline, and unlike the original which had limited distribution, a relatively minor payload, and little chance of success because most people aren’t silly enough to run an unsolicited email attachment, some of those “upgrades” might hit the mainstream as undetectable autorunners carrying vicious payloads.

Irresponsible “disclosures” telling perps where to download live malware ALWAYS do more harm than good!

Two questions need to be answered here:

First: What’s the point in paying for antimalware software unless there’s an implied agreement that the security vendor will do all that is necessary to seek out, and identify harmful threats, and develop an appropriate defense against these threats?

In this particular instance, that doesn’t seem to have been the case. Why did it take “recent publicity” before additional antimalware programs began detecting this malware?

Second: Why would cyber criminals need me, or anyone else for that matter, to point them to malware creation tools? The fact is, the Internet is awash in hacker sites. Pointing out that fact, was part of the purpose in writing the article.

I’ll restate my view, as I expressed it, in replying to these emails –

Being aware of danger is a prerequisite to preparing a defense against the danger. No, I’m definitely on the other side of the fence on this one. I expect full disclosure and access to information, not only in this type of situation, but in all areas where the information is required for me to adequately assess an issue.

I have a problem with anyone who sets themselves up as a arbitrator of what’s in my best interest. I don’t think I’m alone in recognizing that withholding information is rarely, if ever, in the public interest.

Do you see the value in full disclosure? Do you agree that antimalware vendors have an obligation to release information on threats that potentially can impact your Internet safety?

Or, would you rather remain unaware of existing, or impending security threats, and just take your chances with remaining malware free?

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Filed under Bill's Rants, blogging, cybercrime, Internet Security Alerts, Point of View, Tech Net News

Cloud Computing: Easy Target for Cyber Criminals?

Guest writer Paul E. Lubic, Jr., has some definite ideas on the US government’s decision to employ Google’s cloud based computing model. Paul explains why, in his view, this risky venture will play into the hands of cyber criminals.

Here’s Paul’s report:

clip_image002The use of cloud computing by organizations to rent office productivity applications such as word processing, databases, spreadsheets, and presentations is less expensive than the current method of purchasing application packages/licenses.

However, any money saved by renting cloud-based applications rather than purchasing applications for use on local servers will, in my opinion, be lost and more, because of a much higher probability of having the data stored in the cloud hacked and stolen.

This opinion is based on the fact that the documents stored in the cloud are, for all intents and purposes, stored in one virtual location that is a big fat target for cyber criminals.

Consider that with the current method of using office productivity tools to create and store an organization’s documents, they’re stored on various servers owned by the organization.

Depending on the size of the organization, these documents will be spread across many different servers and storage devices, possibly on a common network. The advantage in protecting the data is that a cyber criminal will have a more difficult time gaining access to the many locations than if there were only one location to attack.

Here’s the really scary part. The US Government has recently awarded Google a security clearance for their cloud computing applications; indicating that they are clearing the way to begin using cloud computing, states a recent Los Angeles Times article: Google, Good enough for government work.

This is the same government that this past year was the victim of advanced persistent threat attacks that resulted in the loss of extremely sensitive national security-related data across numerous agencies.

Since cloud computing-based applications are also vulnerable to advanced persistent threat attacks…it seems to me we’ve just made the cyber criminals’ job a lot easier because once the crooks have gained access to one agency’s cloud-based applications, a huge advantage in itself, they’re smart enough to be able to access those of other agencies as well. Yep, one big fat target; the bad guys are salivating on their tee shirts as we speak.

Advanced Persistent Threat: Targeting an organization’s specific individuals who have elevated access in order to gain long-term, clandestine entry to applications and data.

If you’re wondering why the US Government would allow this to happen in the first place…I can hear the bureaucrats [defined: an official who works by fixed routine without exercising intelligent judgment] saying “We changed to cloud computing because it saved us lots of money. We didn’t know it was unsafe.” ‘Nuff said…they’re gonna to do it.

Let Paul know your opinion on this issue by commenting on this article; we all learn from each other when our views and opinions are shared.

Guest writer Paul E. Lubic, Jr. is a long time IT professional who has held the positions of programmer, IT Security Manager and Chief Information Officer.  His interests lie in the IT security area, but he writes on all categories of technology.

Paul is a mature and seasoned writer, with a rare ability to break down complex issues into an easy to understand format. Check him out at his Blog – Paul’s Home Computing.

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Filed under Cloud Computing Applications, cybercrime, Google, Guest Writers

I’ve Got 10 Kilos Of GOLD I Want To Share With You!

image My Australian friend Rod, a security developer executive, regularly forwards copies of scam emails that his company detects, through their various Internet  resources.

I’m very appreciative that Rod takes the time to do this, since it keeps me in the loop at the company level on email scams and malware threats. And,  it gives me a chance to LMAO – some of these emails are outrageously funny.

Every get one of those emails? Sure you have. In fact, you probably get a lot of emails similar to the one below, recently forwarded by Rod – this one is particularly ridiculous. But, that’s the point in using it as an illustrative example.

Anyone with an email address is bound to be bombarded with this type of scam email (including the misspellings, lack of punctuation, incorrect grammatical usage, etc.).

How are you doing sir/madam? My name is Mr. Twum a 25 year old man, please dont be surprise i got your email from yahoo. i have 10kilogram of AU RAW GOLD, i got this Gold as a beneficiary from my parent as their only son . i dont know much about Gold so i am here looking for someone who can lecture me on how i can sell the Gold and how much it worth at the market.

please note that i have all legal documentation from my late dad before he passed away and on one of the documents, It is said the specification of the gold is,

QUALITY : 22+Carat with a minimum

PURITY : 96% Or Better

Origin : Ghana.

And i am ready to send sample to you to test and see if it is Gold as i can read clearly.

if you so interested. have a nice day and enjoy your day

hope to hear from you soon

Opening this type of email is definitely not recommended (despite the humor), since, at a minimum, opening one lets the spammers/scammers know that your email address is “live”. Generally not a good idea, since this virtually guarantees you will receive a lot more spam.

We’ re all pretty curious, and spammers/scammers, being experts at social engineering – “the act of manipulating people into performing actions or divulging confidential information, for the purpose of fraud, or computer system access”, rely on this to manipulate victims into opening this type of email.

While there may be some dispute as to whether “curiosity killed the cat”, there is no dispute as to the likely outcome of following the instructions contained in emails of this type because of curiosity.

For those who are swept away by an overriding curiosity  – go ahead and click and then follow the instructions. But before you do, make sure you have:

A current backup CD/DVD or other media containing your irreplaceable files – you’re going to need it.

Your original operating system install disk – you’ll need this too.

Your system and peripherals driver disks. Without these you’re going to spend hours on the Internet locating (if your lucky), drivers that were written specifically for your hardware and peripherals.

You can save yourself all this trouble, and heartache, just by one simple action, or more properly; by a single inaction. Don’t click!

Scam emails like this are designed, and crafted, to seek out financial information from you, or from your computer, that can be used to steal your money and your identity. As well, they can be designed to install various types of malware  that can have drastic consequences for your system’s stability.

You may well be curious when it comes to emails like this, but don’t let your curiosity override your common sense. Security experts argue (none too successfully it seems), that a significant number of malware infections could be avoided if users stopped “just clicking haphazardly”, or opening the type of files that are clearly dangerous.

You may be lucky, and you may be able to recover control of your computer if your anti-malware applications are up to date, and the malware signature recognize the intruder as malware.

But I wouldn’t count on it. Often, anti-malware programs that rely on a definition database can be behind the curve in recognizing the newest threats.

It is beyond dispute that the Internet now fits the criteria of a world that is not just perceived to be, but is in fact, personally threatening to uninformed or casual Internet users. I could go on, but I think the message here is clear. Think carefully before you click.

Despite every warning under the sun, there are people who will open this type of email. And, in that group, there will be people who will respond. If you’re having trouble believing this – believe it. If this type of scam didn’t show results, we wouldn’t have to deal with them on a constant basis.

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Filed under cybercrime, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, Email, email scams, internet scams, Online Safety, spam, Windows Tips and Tools

If Your Bank Doesn’t Know Your Name – Maybe That’s A Clue The Email Is Fraud – Huh?

image I can’t imagine receiving an email from my bank that didn’t include my name and other pertinent personal details. After all, how difficult would it be for my bank to personally address an email to me, given the size and complexity of their database?

So receiving an email like the one below, instantly raises my fraud antenna – as I’m sure it does yours. Right?

“Dear Chase member,

You were qualified to participate in $50.00 credit reward surwey. – (When are these people going to learn to spell?)

Just take part in our quick 5 question survey:


Chase Fraud

Who couldn’t use an extra $50 – especially these days, with the economy in the tank? Unfortunately, there is no $50. This email is a phishing attempt.

If you’re unfamiliar with phishing, it is defined as the act of tricking unsuspecting Internet users into revealing sensitive or private information. It relies for its success on the principle that asking a large number of people for this information, will always deceive at least some of those people.

Most of this activity is automated, so phishing is considered an opportunistic attack, rather than the targeting of a specific person. You can relax – they’re not after you personally.

In a phishing attack, the attacker creates a set of circumstances where the potential victims are convinced that they are dealing with an authorized party; in this case, Chase. 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.

Although it may be true that the Internet has the potential for safe, and secure transactions, staying safe online relies on you making good choices and decisions that will help you avoid costly surprises, or carefully crafted scams and phishing schemes such as the one just described.

The type of attack described above, is occurring with such frequency that the IC³ (the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance, has called the situation “alarming”, so you need to be extremely vigilant.

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.

Minimum safety precautions you should take:

Don’t click links in emails. If they come from a known source, type them on the browser’s address bar. If they come from an untrusted source, simply ignore them.

Consider every email, telephone call, or text message requesting confirmation of your personal and financial information as a scam.

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

Don’t open emails that come from untrusted sources.

Don’t run files that you receive via email without making sure of their origin.

Keep your computer protected. Install a security solution and keep it up-to-date.

An additional key point offered by my Internet friend Georg L. – Do not use any e-mail client like Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, or others. Instead, rely exclusively on the webmail facility of your service provider, even if this is less comfortable. In this way, e-mail cannot be misused as a vector for malware, because nothing is downloaded to your computer in the first place. By going without an e-mail client, you also save computer resources.

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Filed under cybercrime, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, Email, email scams, Internet Safety, internet scams, Phishing

Should You Forget About Password Safes and Write Down Your Passwords?

image There are days when Surfing the Internet, it seems to me,  is like skating on thin ice – one wrong move and you’re in trouble. I know – this past weekend I got hacked. After 20+ years – BAM!

There are any number of possibilities as to what happened, but one of those possibilities is not unauthorized access to my online saved Passwords. I don’t save passwords online. I never have, and I never will.

Instead, I write my passwords down, and record them in a special book; a book which I keep ultra secure.

There are some who disagree, for many reasons, with this method of password control, but I’m not about to change my mind on this issue, and here’s why –

The world is full of advice that on the face of it seems reasonable, responsible and accurate. You know how it is – if you hear it often enough then it must be true.

One piece of computer security advice that you’ve probably heard over and over again is – don’t write down your password/s. The problem is; this piece of advice couldn’t be more wrong, despite the fact it seems reasonable, responsible and accurate.

Here’s the dilemma we face. Complicated, in other words, safe passwords are hard to remember, whereas easy passwords, in other words unsafe passwords, are easy to remember. No surprise then that most computer users’ employ easy to remember, and unsafe passwords.

You know the kind of passwords I’m talking about – obvious passwords, like your first name, or your wife’s name, child’s name, date of birth date, etc. – passwords you’re not likely to forget. And that’s the problem – there’s no point in having a password at all if cyber-criminals will have no difficulty in figuring it out.

Cyber-criminals use simple processes, all the way to highly sophisticated techniques, to capture online passwords as evidenced by the Hotmail fiasco last year, in which an anonymous user posted usernames, and passwords, for over 10,000 Windows Live Hotmail accounts to a web site. Some reports indicate that Google’s Gmail, and Yahoo Mail, were also targeted. This specific targeting is one possibility that might explain how my Gmail account got hacked.

Not surprisingly, 123456 was the most common password captured, followed by (are you ready for this?), 123456789. Some truly brilliant users used reverse numbers, with 654321 being very common. Pretty tricky, huh? I’m being a little cynical, but..

I know that on the face of it, writing down your password seems counter intuitive and flies in the face of conventional wisdom, since the issue here is one of security and safety.

But, ask yourself this question – is your home, office, wallet etc., more secure than your computer? If the answer isn’t “yes”, then you have additional issues that need to be addressed.

While it may be true that you don’t want your wife, lover, room mate, or the guy in the next office, to gain access to your written list of passwords – and writing down your passwords will always present this risk; the real risk lies in the cyber-criminal, who is perhaps, thousands of miles away.

image Computer security involves a series of trade-offs – that’s just the reality of today’s Internet. And that brings us to the inescapable conclusion, that strong passwords, despite the fact that they may be impossible to remember – which means they must be written down – are considerably more secure than those that are easy to remember.

Here are some guidelines on choosing a strong password:

Make sure your password contains a minimum of 8 characters.

Use upper and lower case, punctuation marks and numbers.

Use a pass phrase (a sentence), if possible. However, not all sites allow pass phrases.

Since brute force dictionary attacks are common, keep away from single word passwords that are words in a dictionary.

Use a different password for each sign-in site. This should be easy since you are now going to write down your passwords. Right?

You are entitled, of course to disregard the advice in this article, and look at alternatives to writing down your passwords, including Password Safe, a popular free application. As well, a number of premium security applications include password managers.

Guest writer, Glenn Taggart’s article from yesterday – LastPass Password Manager – Secure Your Passwords and User Names, offers a terrific review of another free password application.

If you have difficulty in devising a strong password/s, take a look at Random.org’s, Random Password Generator – a very cool free password tool.

As an additional form of protection, you should consider the Firefox add-on KeyScrambler, which will protect you from both known and unknown keyloggers.

For additional info on password management, checkout Rick Robinette’s “PASS-the-WORD”… Basic password management tips” Many regular readers will remember that Rick is a very popular guest writer on this site.

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Filed under cybercrime, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Email, Freeware, Gmail, Google, Internet Safety, Online Safety, Personal Perspective, Software, System Security, Windows 7, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Yahoo