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Your Ransomware Response: Prepare for the Worst

A ransomware attack is when your computer gets locked down or your files become inaccessible, and you are informed that in order to regain use of your computer or to receive a cyber key to unlock your files, you must pay a ransom. Typically, cybercriminals request you pay them in bitcoins.

binaryThe attack begins when you’re lured, by a cybercriminal, into clicking a malicious link that downloads malware, such as CDT-Locker. Hackers are skilled at getting potential victims to click on these links, such as a phony e-mail, apparently from a company you do business with, luring you into clicking on a link or opening its attachment.

And if you find your computer is being held hostage:

  • Report it to law enforcement, although it’s unlikely they can provide help. It’s just good to have it recorded.
  • Disconnect your computer from its network to prevent the infection from spreading to other shared networks.
  • You need to remove the ransomware from your computer. Remember, removal of the ransomware won’t restore access to your files; they will still be encrypted. To remove ransomware from your computer, follow the steps provided here.
  • If you already had your data backed up offline, there’s no need to even consider paying the ransom. Still, you will want to remove the ransomware and make sure your backup solution was working.
  • But what if very important files were not backed up? Prepare to pay in bitcoins. The first step is to find out what the experts say about making payments in bitcoin.
  • The crook will be essentially impossible to trace. You’ll be required to make the payment over the Tor network (anonymous browsing).
  • Finally, don’t be shocked if the crook actually provides you the decryption key—essentially a password; ransomware thieves often follow through to maintain being taken seriously. Otherwise, nobody would ever pay them. But it would not be unprecedented to not receive the key. It’s a gamble.
  • The best course of action is to prevent a ransomware attack, and that means looking for all the clues to malware and phishing scams. Don’t let threatening e-mails, saying you owe back taxes or bank fees, jolt you into hastily clicking a suspicious link or attachment. If you regularly back up your data online and to an external drive, then you’ll never feel you must pay the ransom.

Robert is a security analyst, author and media personality who specializes in personal security and identity theft and appears regularly on Good Morning America, ABC News and The TODAY Show.

Viruses as Cyberweapons for sale

It’s all about code—the building blocks of the Internet. Software code is full of unintentional defects. Governments are paying heavy prices to skilled hackers who can unearth these vulnerabilities, says an article at nytimes.com.

6DIn fact, the FBI director, James B. Comey, recommended that the FBI pay hackers a whopping $1.3 million to figure out how to circumvent Apple’s iPhone security.

So driven is this “bug-and-exploit trade market,” that a bug-and-exploit hacking company, Hacking Team, ended up being hacked last summer.

The software companies that create code don’t get to learn what the vulnerabilities are that the richly paid hackers discover. This has been going on for two decades-plus.

Here are some sizzling facts from nytimes.com:

  • Over a hundred governments have reported they have an offensive cyberwar program.
  • Iran boasts being in the No. 3 spot in the world for digital army size (trailing the U.S. and China), though this can’t be confirmed.
  • However, Iranian hackers have demonstrated their skill more than once, and it’s not pretty. For instance, they were responsible for the rash of U.S. bank hacking incidents in 2013.
  • Though Iran’s cyber power lags behind that of the U.S.’s, they’re steadily closing the big gap.
  • Most nations keep details of their cyberwar programs classified.

It has been surmised by many a security expert that WWIII will be largely digital. Imagine how crippling it would be if a nation’s grid was dismantled—affecting major networks across that country—such as healthcare, shipping and banking and other critical infrastructures such as food and water supply.

There’s not a whole ton you can do about this battle. However, you should, at a minimum, prepare your physical life for any digital disasters. Prepare the same way you would if you knew there was a severe storm coming. Store dry foods, water, extra climate appropriate clothing, and cash, preferably lots of small bills. This is just a short list. Seek out numerous resources on ready.gov to learn more.

Robert Siciliano CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

Anonymous Begins a 30 Day Assault Against Central Banks

“Anonymous” is an activist hacking group that has recently boasted that it will engage in 30 days of cyber assaults against “all central banks,” reports an article on cnbc.com.

2DAnd their bite is as big as their bark, as this announcement came soon after several major banks around the world were struck—and Anonymous proudly claimed credit. The banks that were apparently breached by Anonymous include:

  • Bangladesh Central Bank
  • National Bank of Greece
  • Qatar National Bank

Anonymous put up their plans on a YouTube video: a “30-day campaign against central banks around the world.” The hacking group calls their endeavor Operation Icarus, bragging about how they crumbled the Bank of Greece with a denial of service attack.

Anonymous has stated that it will target the following financial institutions:

  • Visa
  • MasterCard
  • Bank for International Settlements
  • London Stock Exchange
  • And of course, “all central banks” and “every major banking system”

Anonymous has a real gripe against banks, because they further state, “We will not let the banks win,” continues the report at cnbc.com. The hacking group wants everyone to know that their operation will be “one of the most massive attacks” ever committed in Anonymous’s history.

The article adds that another media outlet, Gulf News, reports that the hackers who infiltrated Qatar National Bank attacked yet another bank and intend on making the stolen data public for this second attack—very soon. It’s possible that this leaked data will be used for ransom.

For you, every day bank customer, don’t worry about any of this, BUT, always pay close attention to bank activity and make sure all transactions have been authorized by you. Sign up for alerts and notifications via text and email so you see every transaction in real-time.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to TheBestCompanys.com discussing  identity theft prevention.

Child Predator screws up, gets caught

If you’re a pedophile, you’d be wise not to keep any prescription containers in view of a webcam with your lewd pictures. The information on such a bottle is what helped pedophile Stephen Keating get 110 years in the slammer says a CNN article.

4HBut the amazing thing is that the bottle’s information was extracted from a blurry image of it in the background of a photo that Keating took of one of his 14 victims. Keating posted the photo online, not knowing that that innocent little prescription bottle would get him busted—along with the fingerprints that were extracted off his fingertips in the image.

Yes, this is what forensic technology can do these days. Only some of Keating’s name and the prescription number were actually extracted in a photo lab, but it was enough information for a record check of the pharmacy to get his identity.

Homeland Security Investigations Cyber Crimes Center specialist Jim Cole says his Project Vic teamviews half a million images every week.

How does this technology work?

  • Computers use “Photo DNA” to speedily sift through hundreds of thousands of photos, separating previously viewed ones from new ones, sparing investigators from having to see disturbing images more than necessary.
  • Cole says that what used to take nine months now takes one month.

In another case, an image showed a woman and her victim holding a fish at a campground. The woman was a known offender…but where was this campsite?

The image of the fish was sent to Cornell University for analysis of the species: Where is this type of fish found? The location was narrowed down to a specific area, and then the campsite image, minus the offender and young victim, was sent to all the campsite advertisers in that region. They got a hit, and in fact, the reception room of the particular camping grounds had the same image on display. All of this took place in under four hours.

Even a blurry company logo on a shirt can be extracted for identification. In one case this led to a plumbing business where an offender used to work.

Where are all these images coming from in the first place? The public sends in tips to the CyberTipline. So do giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter. Cole says that the advanced technology has caused an exponential increase in the number of victims rescued.

Good guys 1. Predators ZERO.

Robert Siciliano personal and home security specialist to BestHomeSecurityCompanys.com discussing burglar proofing your home on Fox Boston. Disclosures.

Don’t pick up that USB Drive!

What a very interesting experiment: Researches randomly deposited 297 USB drives (aka USB stick, flash drive, thumb drive) around the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. They wanted to see just how many, and how soon after dropping them off, they’d be collected by people.

2DTurns out that 48 percent of the drives were taken and inserted into computers. The report at theregister.co.uk says that in some cases, this was done minutes after the drives were left in the public spots.

Picking up a USB drive off the streets and plugging it into your computer is akin to picking up discarded food off a sidewalk and eating it. You just never know what kind of infection you’re going to get.

And what you might get is a virus crashing your computer or stealing your data. That USB stick could contain malware—either left in public as a prank, or innocently lost or discarded without the original owner knowing it’s infected.

Or…it might have been left in a public spot by a hacker with full intent of gaining control of your computer to collect your personal data and committing fraud, such as opening lines of credit in your name or emptying out your bank account.

The USB sticks for the study contained HTML files with embedded img tags. The tags allowed the researchers to track the USB activity, which is how they new that, for instance, one of them was plugged into a computer only six minutes after it was left to be “found.”

Only 16 percent of the people who picked up the sticks actually scanned them to check for viruses before plugging them into their computers. And 68 percent simply inserted them without any regards to what they could get transferred into their computers.

  • Some users trusted that there was no harm.
  • Some plugged in the drive to seek out the owner.
  • Some intended to keep the stick.
  • Conclusion: A cybercriminal could easily take control of a business’s system by leaving a rigged USB drive in the parking lot, let alone get control of a personal computer by leaving the stick in any public place frequented by lots of people.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.com discussing identity theft prevention.

Businesses Struggling to Keep Up with Latest Wave of Malware Attacks

Companies have been struggling for years to keep cyber-attacks at bay. Cyberthieves are working faster than ever before to send out their malicious attacks, and it’s become increasingly difficult for companies to keep up.

CNN reports that almost one million malware strains are released every day. In 2014, more than 300 million new types of malicious software were created. In addition to new forms of malware, hackers continue to rely on tried and true bugs because many companies simply haven’t found a fix or haven’t updated their systems to mitigate the threats.

In almost 90% of these cases, the bugs have been around since the early 2000s, and some go back to the late 1990s. The irony here is that companies can protect themselves and create patches for these bugs, but there tends to be a lack of effort and resources when it comes to getting the job done.

Some industries are targeted more than others. After hackers get information from these companies, such as proprietary data, they attempt to sell the information on the black market.

Cyberattacks are spreading quickly, and it takes almost no time after an email is sent for a victim to fall for the scheme. When a hacker is successful at breaking into a certain type of company, such as a bank or insurance firm, they will typically use the same exact method to quickly attack another company in the same industry.

New and improved cyber attacks

While old methods of cyber-attack can still be effective, it is the new scams that users should be nervous about. Here are some examples:

  • Social media scams
    Social media scams work and cybercriminals just love them because the people being scammed do most of the work. Cybercriminals release links, videos or stories that lead to viruses, and people share them with their friends because they are cute, funny or eye-raising. These tend to spread quickly because people feel as if they are safe.
  • Likejacking
    Hackers may also use a practice known as “likejacking” to scam people on social media. In this case, they will use a fake “like” button that tricks people into installing malware. The programs then post updates on the user’s wall or newsfeed to spread the attack.
  • Software update attacks
    Hackers are also focusing on more selective attacks. For example, a hacker may hide malware inside of a software update. When a user downloads and installs the update, the virus is set free.
  • Ransomware
    These attacks, where thieves steal or lock files on a person’s computer and then demand a ransom for access, climbed more than 110% in the last year alone. Once infected, the only way to regain access to the files is to pay a fee, usually between $300 and $500, for a decryption key.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

Scareware Scam almost snags Victim

Cybercriminals know that the best way to get their claws on the next victim is to appeal to their emotions, not logic.

4DThere’s lots of scary things in life, and one is learning that your computer has been infected with a virus. If this happens, you’re now vulnerable to spending money on getting rid of the malware. The tactic of scaring users is called scareware.

  • A pop up tells you “Warning! Your Computer Has Been Infected with Malware!”
  • The pop-up can be triggered by visiting an infected website or by making a bad click.
  • The pop-up can’t be closed out, or if it can, another appears.
  • Additional information in the pop-up lures you into clicking a link inside it, such as buy some downloadable security software that will destroy the virus.
  • Once the alleged security software is downloaded/installed, it crashes your computer—even if you already have a legitimate security software program in place.
  • You’re screwed at this point. (Hope you had all your data backed up before this happened!)

Here’s another way the scam can unfold, from someone who wrote to me:

I was notified by a notice supposedly from Windows Security that my PC has been attacked.  They claim that all my PC ID numbers were stolen and that Russia had got about 8-12 other IDs.  They took control of my computer and said they scanned it to find this out. They claimed the only way that I could clear this problem was to have them clear it for $199.99 and security for 1year (sic) for $149.99.  They said the only way to accomplish this was by check.  They said it couldn’t be done by credit card because them (sic) numbers would be stolen too.  I refused to go along with that plan and closed them out.  

P.S. I checked my account and it is paid thru 6/2016.  How do I know if I get a notice from Windows that it is legit? 

All windows notifications come via Windows Update. That “pop-up” emanates via your notifications area on your taskbar and NOT a popup via your browser. What a mess.

Protect Yourself

  • Use security software only from a name-brand company.
  • Keep it updated.
  • See a pop-up? Close it out. Never click inside it—which you can’t do if you close it out immediately.
  • Exit the site you think triggered it.
  • Play it safe and run a scan using your legitimate security software.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.com discussing identity theft prevention.

Bitdefender’s BOX: All-in-one Cybersecurity from one App

Gee, if your home is connected to lots of different devices, doesn’t it make sense that your cybersecurity integrates all your connected devices? Meet the Bitdefender BOX, a network bulletproofing hardware cybersecurity tool for the home that embraces smart home protection focusing on the Internet of Things with remote device management offering next generation privacy protection.

boxBOX description:

  • One complete security solution for connected homes
  • Sets up to a router
  • Is controlled by the user’s mobile device and hence, can be controlled anywhere
  • Everything is protected: not just your computer, but all of your connected devices, like your baby monitor, TV, thermostat, garage door opener and house alarm system. You name it; it’s protected from hackers.
  • BOX works with an annual subscription much like most cyber security “security as a service” technologies.

Features:

  • Easy Setup. Just plug and play.
  • Advanced Threat Protection. In and outside your home network. You’re safe on the go as well!
  • Management and Control. All available in one app, at your fingertips, anywhere you are.

So, protection from hackers means that you can have peace of mind knowing that BOX is warding off attempts at ID theft, fraudulent activities, cyber snooping and other threats.

All you need to do is connect BOX to your router via one of its ethernet ports. Then get the BOX application going. Its user friendly and you just follow its easy instruction: all of a few minutes’ worth. BOX then goes to work to intercept cyber threats at the network level. And all from just one app.

So yes, you need a smartphone (Android or iOS) to take advantage of BOX. If you’ve been on the fence about getting a mobile device, move out of your cave, junk your Pinto, cut your mullet, and get the BOX.

Think of how great it would be to be alerted of network events through this does-it-all application that you can control no matter where you’re located. This means you can control all of your connected devices.

One of BOX’s features is the Private Line. This protects your Internet browsing experience, including making you anonymous. Other features:

  • Protection against hacking attempts including lures to malicious sites.
  • Protection against viruses, malware including downloads, phishing, etc.
  • Protection against anyone wanting to pry open your files and see what’s in them or steal them.
  • Protection occurs even when you’re using public Wi-Fi, such as at a hotel, airport or coffee house!

Who needs BOX?

Everyone who has connected devices at home and uses the Internet. This is like asking, who needs a lock on their home’s door? Anyone who lives in a home.

Think about a home and home security as an example. If you’re going to have a lock, it should be a good lock, right? But the lock is only effective if you actually lock it. You also need to lock up your windows and consider a home security system. These are all “layers of protection. Well, the BOX is multiple layers of protection for protecting your online experience as well as computer files.

BOX is designed for non-techy users, so if you’re one of those people who is “not good with computers,” you’ll still find BOX’s setup and navigation quite friendly. It also helps set up password-protected Wi-Fi network does for you and you can even let guests use a secured Wi-Fi network. This post is brought to you by Bitdefender BOX.

Why Are Cyber Hucksters so successful?

Often, hucksters prey on the consumer’s desperation, which is why it’s no surprise that the No. 1 rip-off (at least between 2011 and 2012)) was bogus products promising weight loss.

6DVICE (vice.com) interviewed psychologist Maria Konnikova about how cyber cons are so successful—even with the most ridiculous sounding bait (Nigerian prince, anyone?).

The bait becomes more attractive when the target is receiving an influx of cyber attention. Sad to say, this trips up a person’s rationale, making them susceptible to the huckster’s plan.

Konnikova is quoted as stating, “Few things throw us off our game as much as so-called cognitive load: how taxed our mental capacities are at any given moment.” She explains that people are vulnerable when the con artist hits them up with their scheme while the victim is distracted with Twitter, texting, etc. In short, it’s cognitive overload.

Konnikova is the author of the book, “The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It, Every Time.” In the book, she mentions that victims such as the U.S. Navy were too humiliated to prosecute the crooks who conned them. She tells vice.com: “Because admitting it [getting rooked] would mean admitting you’re a sap.”

And in this day of rapidly evolving cyber technology, the huckster’s job is becoming easier, what with all sorts of pathways he can snag a victim, such as dating sites and pop-up ads warning your computer has been infected. But something else is on the crook’s side: the false sense of security that all this techy mumbo jumbo gives the common user—who hence lets down their guard.

And despite all the parodies and mockeries surrounding the so-called Nigerian prince scam (aka 419 scam), it’s still out there in full force and effect. Look how technology has made it swell. And it will continue evolving as long as people want something for nothing. Why else would the Powerball swell to over 1.3 billon. “The basic contours of the story won’t change,” Konnikova tells vice.com.

Another factor is that some people equate online with credibility: “It’s online so it must be legitimate,” is the mindset. According to this mindset, the Loch Ness Monster must really exist, since there are many stories about it online. Despite how irrational this mindset is, scammers know that many people think this way and will design their ploys to look even more legitimate (with creative layouts, slogans, links, etc.).

Though it takes skill to be a successful huckster, they can’t get the job done without the victim being “vulnerablized” by cognitive overload.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.com discussing identity theft prevention.

How to shop securely with a Mobile Phone

“You can buy things with your phone!” No kidding! But imagine what the response would have been had you made this statement in 1984: “Off your meds, eh?”

7WPurchasing via the smartphone may very well eclipse the popularity of shopping via laptop. And cyber thieves know this. They’re counting on you to slip up.

  • Never click a link inside an e-mail, even if the subject line is a warning or alert to a fabulous sale. Cyber crooks know that the small screens on mobiles can easily hide tell-tale signs of scam e-mails, people are especially vulnerable to subject lines blaring great deals.
  • If you’re too tempted to ignore the great deal, then visit the merchant’s site by typing their name into the search engine rather than clicking the link inside the e-mail! That link could lead to a virus download.
  • Never use public Wi-Fi (e.g., at the airport or hotel) to shop. Stick to your phone’s mobile broadband network or at a minimum use a virtual private network (VPN).
  • When shopping with your phone, use a credit card, never a debit.
  • When using your phone, make sure nobody is spying. This really happens; it’s called visual hacking. It can even be done with the crook’s phone—capturing on video the sensitive information you’re entering on your phone.
  • You accidentally mis-type the URL of a major retailer (but don’t know it), and you end up on their site. It’s called typo squatting. How is this possible? The site is the crook’s. He knows people will commit typos and he takes advantage of this: owning a website that mocks the real one, and you’re lured into “buying” off of it—entering your credit card or PayPal information—which he then has. And he knows you won’t pick up that the site is an imposter because your phone’s screen is so small.
  • Keep the phone’s software updated.
  • Deactivate autosave logins.
  • Your phone contains so much sensitive information about you and your family, financial data, maybe medical history, etc. What if a crook gets ahold of it? Set up a personal identification number (PIN) for login.

Download only from official app stores: Apple App Store, Google Play and Amazon. Don’t download from third-party vendors.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to TheBestCompanys.com discussing  identity theft prevention.