Tools To Protect Your Smartphone From Malware

Do you run antivirus on your smartphone? This month in The Northwest Herald, I talk about the exponential increase in malware on smartphones and what you can do to protect yourself. From the article:

Yet if I were to ask if you run antivirus on your phone, you would probably say no. Nobody mentions malware when you buy a phone, they’re too busy extolling the fancy features. All those cool apps are fine until you realize some virus has been silently snooping on your activities.

Here are links to the latest options for mobile antivirus. The available options are changing all the time as new devices and systems are introduced. I’ve also included links to some of my previous Tech Tips articles which can help you secure your smartphone.

Tech Tips articles on smartphone security

 Mobile Antivirus Options

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Stop Integrating My Computer With Social Media!

Tech companies need to remember that consumers are people with brains and don’t need to be force-fed technology through the virtual equivalent of a baby spoon. Mountain Lion, Apple’s latest operating system for Mac (OS X 10.8), boasts improved Facebook integration. In my mind that’s not a feature, it’s a reason to stay away.

I DON’T want my operating system to be integrated with social media. The operating system is the brains of my computer. It doesn’t need to check into Facebook or Twitter. I may run apps on top of it that do need to check into Facebook or Twitter, but that’s my decision. I don’t want my system software making that decision for me.

I want my system software stupid. I don’t want it to know a damn thing about the Internet except how to connect to it. To put it in IT terms, I don’t want my OS thinking past the lowest layers of the OSI model. I certainly don’t want it making decisions at the presentation and application layers. Let it merrily chat away via TCP/IP without bothering to look inside those data packets, and let the programs I choose do that work.

I could say the same for my iDevices. I don’t want to use iCloud. I don’t want to use FourSquare. I don’t want to check in every five seconds. As I said in a previous rant er… post, I certainly don’t want all my data syncing to some unknown datacenter when all it needs to do is go two inches from device to computer.

There’s such a thing as too much integration. Everything doesn’t need to work seamlessly with everything else. If I wanted an operating system based on Facebook I would do all my work with Facebook apps. If I wanted to use cloud computing I would sign up for cloud computing. But if all I want is to work locally on my own computer, I should be able to do that too.

What I want is an operating system I can secure with third party tools (sayonara, Windows RT!), upon which I can run the programs of my choosing.

Of course, I could always run Mountain Lion and simply not give it my Facebook credentials, but that’s not the point. The point is that the capability of integration is there. The point is that if something happens – if I input my password in the wrong dialog box, if a virus presents me with a malicious login, if one of Apple’s preferences “accidentally” gets switched on – then suddenly I am sharing a whole lot of data with the world that really shouldn’t be shared.

As a computer expert, I know the best ways to avoid that. But most people don’t. The average person, right now, is streaming data to Facebook, Twitter, iCloud, and who knows what else, without even being aware of it. And that’s BEFORE the latest integrations between social media and our system software.

Stop sacrificing security for convenience, because it’s not the tech companies that pay the price, it’s the consumers. We’re the ones who get our bank accounts hacked, our email hijacked, our identities stolen, our lives ruined. That’s not exaggeration, that’s the result of a multi-billion-dollar cybercrime industry.

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Ten Ways To Tell If Your Computer Is Infected With A Virus

Ever get that sinking feeling that something’s wrong with your computer? Here are ten ways to tell if your computer is infected with a virus.

Run a virus scan
A bit obvious, isn’t it? While you’re at it, make sure your antivirus program has been updated recently. If you haven’t bought a new version in a few years, now’s the time.

Run a second virus scan with a different program
Antivirus programs sometimes come up with different results. It’s a good idea to scan with a second program to pick up anything the first one left behind. However, you shouldn’t try to run two antivirus programs concurrently; they’ll conflict with each other. I like free programs Malwarebytes for PC and Sophos Antivirus for Mac.

Watch your computer’s behavior
Is it slower than usual, crashing, having a hard time redrawing the screen? These can all be signs that viruses are running in the background.

Monitor active programs
If a virus is running in the background, it may show up in the list of active programs. You can then click on it and End Task (Windows) or Force Quit (Mac). Bear in mind, though, most viruses will restart on reboot, and some will even regenerate on the spot no matter how many times you quit them.

  • Windows XP
    Ctrl-Alt-Delete, then click Task Manager
  • Windows Vista/7
    Ctrl-Shift-Esc
    or right-click the taskbar and click Start Task Manager
  • Mac OS X
    Option-Cmd-Escape (the Force Quit menu)
    or open a Terminal window and type ps -aef

Check your Web browser extensions
Browser extensions provide additional functionality on the Web. Some are terrific tools while others are sneaky little devils that serve you ads, slurp your data, and otherwise spy on you. Here’s how you can check your browser extensions.

Check your Sent folder
If your email is spewing spam, it may show up in your Sent Items folder. Viruses often commandeer email accounts to send spam.

Check your Facebook and Twitter
If there are all sorts of weird links on your Facebook wall that you didn’t post, your account may have been hijacked. And if that’s the case, it may have happened through a virus infection on your computer.

Start in Safe Mode
If your computer is so confused it won’t work properly, you can boot into Safe Mode which may allow you to diagnose the problem.

  • Windows XP, Vista, 7
    Hold down F8 at reboot (before the Windows logo)
  • Mac OS X
    Hold down Shift at reboot

Ask the Internet
Fortunately we don’t have to compute in a vacuum. If you think you’re infected with a particular virus, do a Web search on it. You’ll often find removal instructions and links to tools (just make sure those tools are legit and not themselves viruses in disguise).

Inspect your other computers
If one is infected, it’s likely the others are, too. You need to keep all your computers secure, even if they’re old or you don’t use them often.

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How To Delete Your Old Email Accounts

Did you know your old email account may be spewing spam and malware? In today’s The Northwest Herald I talk about the importance of deleting old accounts:

It happens all the time. You move to a new email address but leave the old one intact; you set up a Yahoo! or Gmail account but never get around to using it. We assume these accounts wait patiently for us. On the contrary, they cower, helpless, waiting for the first hacker who can figure out the passwords.

Unfortunately many people use weak passwords, especially for throwaway accounts. We’ve seen examples of this with a rash of recent security breaches at Yahoo!, LinkedIn, and eHarmony, among others.

These breaches reveal that many people use simple, plain-text phrases like “linkedin”, “mypassword”, and “123456″. People also use the same two or three passwords in rotation. What are the chances some old account of yours uses a password you’ve reused elsewhere?

Here are the additional resources I mentioned in the article. You might find these related Tech Tips articles helpful:

Here are links from some of the more common email providers about how to delete accounts. Note that these links may change without notice, and that account deletion policies vary by provider. Consult the individual site for more information. I’m providing the exact URLs so you can see where you’re going.

And, some social media ones:

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The DNSChanger Virus Wasn’t Hype, It Was Success

Yesterday the media was freaking out about the DNSChanger virus. Today they’re saying it was a big bust. But the fact that DNSChanger was a whimper instead of a bang doesn’t mean it was all hype, it means we succeeded in averting the problem.

While some are comparing this to the Y2K fizzle, both are examples of good IT at work. As IT professionals, it’s our job to explain technical topics to the average person. More specifically, it’s our job to explain to the average person why they should care.

With DNSChanger, the IT industry explained that it was a particularly icky virus, and that necessary public safety measures meant people could lose Internet access if infected. The DNS Changer Working Group (DCWG) was set up with an easy test for infection. Word spread. The news media picked it up and, although their coverage sometimes tended towards hysteria, at least the facts were there.

Obviously this doesn’t happen for every virus. It doesn’t necessarily happen even for the important ones. Some viruses get news coverage because they infected a lot of large organizations, or were particularly widespread. Some get coverage solely because they sound scary and it’s a slow news day.

As I said in my post about the Mac virus Flashback, I worry less about the viruses we hear about than the ones we don’t. And I don’t worry at all about the hype, because it means people are talking computer security and that is a good thing.

What would have happened if we hadn’t been warned about DNSChanger? Maybe nothing. Maybe chaos. I certainly don’t think it would have TAKEN THE WHOLE INTERNET DOWN!!! as some news outlets were claiming. (Which can happen, but the honor’s reserved for nasty things like attacks against the DNS infrastructure itself.)  If nothing else, without notification DNSChanger probably would have made life unhappy for a lot more people.

The thing that concerns me about assuming it was all hype is that people might not pay attention the next time. And there will be a next time. The impact will largely depend on whether people use good security practices in between the big virus scares. That’s one story you’re not as likely to see in the news.

What did you think of the DNSChanger coverage? Share in the comments!

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Basics About DNSChanger, The Virus That Could Knock You Off The Internet

Everyone’s talking about this virus that’s going to hit on Monday, July 9, 2012, but a lot of the articles are too technical. Here are the bare-bones basics you need to know.

What is DNSChanger?
A particularly obnoxious virus that affects Windows and Mac computers, and can be transmitted by other types of computers and mobile devices. It can also affect routers.

What does it do?
Changes your Internet settings so cybercriminals can serve you ads, steal your login information, and monitor everything you do online.

Gruesome technical details (optional)
DNSChanger alters your computer’s DNS settings. DNS servers translate ugly network numbers like 127.0.0.1 into nice human-friendly addresses like www.sophos.com. Normally your computer looks to your Internet provider’s DNS servers for these translations. DNSChanger redirects your computer to cybercriminal DNS servers, so everything you do on the Internet silently passes through their servers en route to its actual destination.

What could happen on July 9, 2012?
If your computer is infected with the DNSChanger virus, as of Monday, July 9, 2012, you may not be able to access the Internet. Because of the severity of DNSChanger, Internet providers worldwide decreed that July 9, 2012 was the last day the hacker servers would be allowed to stay online. After that, they pull the plug. If you’re infected and can’t get online, it’s probably because your Internet provider is blocking your computer as a public safety measure.

What do I need to do?

1. Check to see if you are infected.
Visit the DNSChanger Working Group (DCWG) website to see if you are infected. If you are, continue below.

2. Remove the virus from your computer
Most popular antivirus programs will remove DNSChanger. Be sure you are using legitimate antivirus and not lookalike scamwareDCWG has tips on what to do if you are infected.

These Tech Tips articles may also help:

Additional Resources

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How To Recognize An Email Scam

Email scams are inundating our inboxes. From fake Facebook links to phony software programs, cybercriminals use email as the bait for their hooks. And many people fall for it.

Rule #1: Never click on email links. You should always go to your Web browser and type the site name directly. Links are easily forged, and clicking bad links allows viruses to bypass your security and silently install themselves on your computer. Remember our motto: Think Before You Click.

We’re going to dissect three of the most common email scams: fake social-media messages, phony antivirus warnings, and counterfeit account statements. But first, let’s talk about how these scams work. All of them bear similarities: use of real logos, colors, and addresses; realistic-sounding language; and links that look like they lead one place when they actually go somewhere else.

Don’t rely on poor grammar or punctuation to tell a scam from the real deal. Some scams may be amateur efforts, but others are so convincing that it’s almost impossible to detect them. It’s best to err on the side of caution and never click links in any email messages.

(Click the screenshots below to enlarge them and see how these email scams try to trick you.)

The Facebook Fake-Out
What It Is: False messages from popular social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are a popular way to harvest passwords and sneak viruses onto your computer. People are used to getting email from these sites, so they will click without a second thought. As a result, social media has become the top method of computer virus infection.

How To Avoid It: Never click on links in email. Go directly to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media sites by typing the site addresses into your Web browser. Don’t try to reset your password via instructions or links in email – and shame on LinkedIn for encouraging people to do exactly that in their recent password breach. See, even real companies get security wrong sometimes, so don’t listen to bad advice no matter who it’s from.

The Phony Antivirus Program
What It Is: Rogue antivirus is fake software that tricks you into installing it, usually by displaying phony infection warnings or upgrade notices. I’ve discussed rogue antivirus before; you can read about it here and here. Once a rogue antivirus program commandeers your computer it will disable legitimate antivirus, regenerate itself if deleted, and even hold your data for ransom.

How To Avoid It: Don’t install software on your computer unless you know where it’s from. When in doubt buy a packaged program from a store. Go directly to security software makers’ sites to buy and download software rather than relying on links in email.

The False Billing Statement
What It Is: Counterfeit billing statements attempt to harvest your password and account credentials. This information can be used to gain access to other accounts including your bank accounts and credit cards.

How To Avoid It: If you receive electronic statements, don’t click links in them. Visit the site directly to enter your account information. Never believe a password reset email or instructions to “verify” your account.

These are not the only scams in town. Fake package delivery notices, marketing surveys, and other scams abound on the Internet. It’s up to you to learn how to recognize and avoid them, but hopefully this has given you a head start.

How To Avoid Malware On Mobile Devices

Android malware rose 1,200% last year. Android represents 59% of smartphones shipped in 2012 Q1. This does not bode well.

Mobile device security is not on the average person’s radar, yet we’re toting these devices everywhere and using them for just about everything. Clearly we can’t afford to be lax.

Here is an easy primer on how you can protect your mobile devices from malware, whether you use an Android, iPhone, iPad, or other device.

Only buy apps from approved stores
Android users in particular are getting kicked in the butt over installing apps from non-Google marketplaces. Perhaps you think you’d never do that, but poisoned search engine results and malicious web pages can trick you into thinking you’re using Google’s marketplace when you’re not. Be careful when installing apps.

Don’t jailbreak your phone
Jailbreaking means working around the manufacturer’s lockouts so you can have more freedom to play with the configuration. It also can brick your phone – as in, turn it into a useless brick – and opens a greater possibility of malware infection. So unless you are a professional geek, don’t do it.

Install antivirus
Mobile antivirus may be rudimentary, but you still want it. Here are some choices:

Apply computer security to mobile devices
You know all those things I keep saying about not clicking links in email, avoiding Facebook scams, and so forth? They apply to your mobile devices, too. That’s the other way mobile malware is spreading, via social media and drive-by download.

Tell your friends
Let the people around you know about the importance of securing their mobile devices. Why not start by forwarding them a link to this article?

How are you protecting your mobile devices? Share in the comments!

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What You Need To Know About Mac Viruses

In today’s The Northwest Herald article “What You Need To Know About Mac Viruses“, I talk a bit more about the Flashback virus and how Mac users can protect themselves. From the article:

First, it helps to understand the history behind Mac security. Contrary to popular belief, Macs have never lacked for viruses. The myth that Macs are invulnerable has made it harder to convince Mac users that security is a necessary and vital part of computer ownership. Every once in a while we get a virus like Flashback that catches peopleʼs attention, but eventually we fall back into old patterns. Complacency is a Mac userʼs greatest danger.

Here are several of my Tech Tips articles that will help you get up to speed on Mac security.

Besides installing antivirus, the best thing you can do for your Mac is to keep its software updated. Run Software Updates under the Apple menu on a regular basis, but remember your other software needs to be updated too. Just this week I sent out several warnings via Twitter about emergency Microsoft and Adobe updates that need to be installed ASAP. Don’t forget that security warnings often apply to Mac users as well as Windows ones.

Want more on Mac security? Subscribe to Tech Tips free by email, and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @trionaguidry for breaking computer news and other geeky stuff.

How To Remove A Virus From Your Mac

With the Flashback virus and its variants on the loose, there’s been a welcome focus on Mac security. But most of the instructions you’ll find for removing a virus are written for Windows. Here is how to remove a virus from a Mac.

First, you’ll want to read this article I wrote on What To Do If Your Computer Is Hacked, because much of the same advice applies here. Then…

Step 0: Install Mac Antivirus
The best protection is prevention, and antivirus software is as mandatory for Macs as it is for PCs. Apple’s built-in defenses are not enough. Here are my recommendations on Mac antivirus. My two favorites are Sophos and Intego. The freebies are fine but honestly, a solid security software suite is one of the best investments you can make for your computer.

Freebies:

Paid:

Step 1: Scan For Viruses
Use your antivirus program to scan your Mac for viruses. Be sure to include any external hard drives or other volumes. If you are sharing drives from other Macs, it’s much faster to scan on the local Mac than scanning across the network.

Remember, it’s not just Mac viruses you’re worried about. Macs can’t be infected by PC viruses, but they can and will transmit them, to the displeasure of your Windows friends. Please be a kind neighbor and make sure your own house is tidy.

Step 2: Do A Second Scan
It’s always a good idea to get a second opinion by scanning with a different program. Select an alternate from above, but don’t try to run both at the same time or they’ll step on each other’s toes.

Step 3: Remove Viruses
In What To Do If Your Computer Is Hacked I wrote:

Your computer could have been infiltrated by a virus, a worm, a Trojan horse, a keylogger, a rootkit, scareware, malware, adware… These are all different types of attacks with different purposes, meaning there are greater and lesser degrees of infection.

Same thing applies to your Mac. Some viruses are just junky adware and easily removed. Others are nefarious keyloggers that embed themselves deep down in your system where no one will find them. Of course you don’t want any viruses on your computer, but some are worse than others.

Use your antivirus tool(s) for removal. Macs tend to clean up quite a bit better than PCs after infection, so in my experience reinstall isn’t required nearly as often. But be careful if you do a Web search for removal tools for specific viruses. Thanks to poisoned search engine results, a search for “Flashback removal tool” returns links to the virus itself!

Step 4: Secure Your Mac
If you’ve gotten this far, in all likelihood the viruses are gone. However, there’s no way to guarantee that. As I wrote in the same article

There is no way to confirm if a computer is free of viruses. I don’t care what any virus removal tool says. You can be 99% confident, but not 100%. When in doubt, reformat. It’s a pain but better than having a computer that keeps reinfecting itself. Remember, a virus can regenerate if even the tiniest portion of itself is left behind.

Assuming you’d rather not go through all that again, go back to Step 0 and make sure your Mac has proper antivirus installed. Then move on to Step 5…

Step 5: Follow Good Security Rules
The best software in the world won’t protect you if a wily cybercriminal can trick you into clicking something you shouldn’t. All that good advice about Windows security applies just as much to you, so watch out for Facebook scams, phishing emails, phony login pages and all the rest of it. If the idea of that daunts you, don’t worry. Just follow Tech Tips via email, Web and Twitter, and I’ll keep you in the know.

Some related Tech Tips articles you might find useful:

Questions about Mac security? Ask in the comments!