A Parent’s Guide To Protecting Your Kids Online

kidsIt’s hard to protect kids online, because parents and educators often have a hard time finding resources that can help them understand the latest risks and recommendations. I’ve gathered a variety of information in one place so you can learn about antivirus, parental controls, and protecting your kids while using mobile devices and video games.

Kids’ computers are among the most vulnerable to security threats. That’s not to say your kids are doing anything wrong. On the contrary, they’re the victims. Not only do virus-writers like to booby-trap kids with malicious web sites, they also like to infiltrate legitimate ones. Kids are also at much at risk of identity theft as any Internet user. More so, because cyberbullying has become such a deadly and devastating menace.

These are resources every parent needs to know about how computer viruses and Internet threats work. If you have questions, please feel free to comment. You can also subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

Antivirus And Security

Mobile Devices

Video Games

Cyberbullying And Harassment

 

How To Avoid Keyloggers, Ransomware, And Rootkits

keyThe most advanced threats to your computer – keyloggers, ransomware, and rootkits – are also the most insidious. The best way to deal with them is to avoid them entirely.

Keyloggers come in hardware form, but are usually software viruses that secretly record everything you type. Ransomware holds your computer and its data hostage until you pay. Rootkits allow hackers to remote-control your computer, and are often used to introduce other types of malware.

Related article: Advanced Threats Target Your Computer (The Northwest Herald)

So why should you fear these threats?

  • They bypass your security.
  • They steal your money and your identity.
  • They force your computer to infect still more computers.
  • They turn your computer into a spam-generating cog in the hackers’ profit-driven machine.

In the tech industry we say you’re rooted or pwned (like owned with a p – “powned”). In other words, the hackers own you. They own your accounts, your passwords, your address, your finances… your life.

Related Tech Tips article: What To Do If You Get A Computer Virus

Fake Antivirus Software
In particular, watch out for fake software scams. I’ve spoken of these before. Fake antivirus software tricks you into installing it, then bypasses your protections and invites its malware friends in to play. It’s devilishly hard to get rid of, as anyone who’s been infected can tell you. Usually you’re looking at a reinstall. And the darn stuff actually makes you pay to be infected! Talk about a scam.

This is why you don’t want to do a web search for “Windows antivirus” and start clicking on random links – many of them are poisoned results that lead you straight to the lookalike fakes.

Related Tech Tips articles: Is Your Security Software Real Or Rogue?How To Spot Bad Web Links

Rootkits And Remote Admin
Concerning rootkits – those backdoor programs that allow hackers remote control of your computer – I’d like to point out that these are not the same as the built-in remote admin tools on your computer. A rootkit, by its nature, is designed to be stealthy. Remote admin programs are supposed to be used to maintain computers for legitimate purposes (say, if you are performing tech support on machines in a remote office). But it can also be exploited just like a rootkit if a hacker convinces you to turn it on. Check out this article on telephone tech support scams for an example.

Related articles: Tech Support Phone Scams Hit HomeHow To Kill Computer Keyloggers

Drive Imagers
Fortunately, you can make it easier to recover your computer if you do have to reinstall it – by imaging the drive while it’s still clean. This, combined with regular backups of your everyday data, will let you restore your computer quickly.

Windows Drive Imagers

Mac Drive Imagers

Have you encountered keyloggers, ransomware, or rootkits? Share in the comments, and don’t forget to subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / 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.

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.

What To Do If Your Computer Is Hacked

A hacked computer is an IT nightmare come to life. What would you do if your computer was hacked? What should you do?

Step 0: Is Your Computer Really Hacked?
This article describes what to do if your computer is hacked – infiltrated by a virus or overcome by scam software. But it might not be your computer that was hacked.

  • If people are getting weird emails from you, then your email is hacked. Here’s what to do if your email account is hijacked.
  • If you can’t get into a certain account (email, Facebook, Twitter) then either there’s something wrong with your password, or possibly that account has been hacked – see above.
  • If your computer is misbehaving, it may simply be having a temper tantrum. (They do. Trust me.) That’s not a hack attempt, it’s a tech support problem. Here are some suggestions.

Let’s assume it really is your computer that’s been hacked. Now what?

Step 1: How Badly Were You Hacked?
Define “hacked.” 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.

When I see a computer that has a couple of pieces of adware on it, I don’t worry. I clean it up, make sure there’s decent antivirus installed and all the software is current, and call it a good day.

When I see a computer infected by a program that is monitoring every single keystroke, I back up the data, reformat the computer, and start from scratch. I don’t like keyloggers. I don’t like viruses that stealth around in the background. I don’t like unwanted programs that call home with MY data.

Step 2: Damage Control
Run scans, starting with your usual antivirus program. Windows users also want to run free Malwarebytes which can catch anything your antivirus misses. Mac users, give the free Sophos Mac Antivirus a try.

What you do in Step 4 will depend on what your scans find. In the meantime…

Step 3: Find Your Backups
I didn’t say make a backup. It’s too late for that; the backup will be infected. Don’t bother unless you have live data on the infected computer that you absolutely can’t afford to lose. (And if you’re in this unfortunate position, you’ll never fail to have a current backup again.)

Step 4: Removal
By now your scans from Step 2 are done and you have an idea what’s happening. From a UNinfected device, do a Web search on some of the viruses that have been identified. This will tell you where they rank on a scale from minor inconvenience to major calamity.

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.

You can do a Web search if you need a removal tool for a particular virus – but remember, viruses often hide behind malicious links to fake removal tools for those same viruses. Sneaky, huh?

Step 5: Keep Watch
By now you should be relatively confident that your computer isn’t hacked anymore – but you have to keep watch to make sure.

Sometimes computers have problems after being infected, even if the viruses have been removed. Viruses can cause legitimate programs on your computer to crash – after all, it’s not like the virus-writers care if their software is compatible. Viruses often corrupt your system software, another reason why reformatting is often the best option.

If you didn’t reformat but your computer won’t behave, you may have to go through with the refomat after all. It’s the only way to get a clean copy of your operating system.

This same process applies to any hacked device, from servers to iPads: assess the threat, then either choose cleanup or start from scratch.

Ever had your computer hacked? What’s the one thing you wish you had known? Share in the comments!

 

Why The Flashback Virus Doesn’t Worry Me – But Every Other Mac Virus Does

By now you’ve heard of the Flashback virus, which has infiltrated hundreds of thousands of Macs worldwide. There’s a lot of talk about whether the Mac’s reputation for invulnerability is shot and what Flashback might mean for Apple’s business.

I have some news for you. Don’t worry about Flashback.

This happens every few years – a major virus outbreak combined with widespread media coverage. That’s why Flashback doesn’t worry me. It’s gotten enough coverage that there are ample removal tools and instructions on what to do if you’re infected:

It’s all the other Mac viruses out there that worry me.

I’ve been in Mac security a long time – over twenty years. And I see the furor rise now and then over one Mac virus or another. The truth is we need to be thinking about Mac security continuously and not just when one particular virus runs rampant.

Macs have never been invulnerable. They don’t suffer the same problems as Windows, but they definitely have their own issues. One, unfortunately, is user complacency. Most people don’t even run antivirus on their Macs. Look through my Tech Tips archives and see how many times I’ve begged folks to do that. It’s a blind spot in the Macintosh mentality, one that needs to change.

Apple tends to encourage rather than counter this complacency, probably because it works to their marketing advantage. Not that they ignore security, but it typically takes a back seat. In that respect Flashback is helping by bringing the problem to the foreground.

Mac users need to take matters into their own hands. Here are my best recommendations on Mac security:

(Like this? Subscribe to my Tech Tips email list to get my latest Mac security news and more – no spam, no jargon, just a little computer help from yours truly.)

Five Essentials Every Computer Needs

Whether you use your computer at home or work, some essentials are universal. Here are resources for your PC or Mac that can help you out of a crisis.

Related article: Five Essentials Every Computer Needs (The Northwest Herald)

Security

Alternate Web Browser

Easy Backups

Microsoft Office Files

PDF Creation

Don’t forget to subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

How To Protect Your Mac From Viruses

The words “Mac” and “virus” in the same sentence? Yes, folks, Macs get viruses. In fact, Mac malware attacks are escalating to a level I haven’t seen in over a decade. Let’s talk about what you can do to protect yourself.

First, don’t assume that you can’t get a virus just because you have a Mac. All computers can get viruses, and threats like phishing scams and password harvesting affect everyone regardless of the type of computer they use. Pay attention to the advice Windows users receive on how to deal with viruses and Internet threats, because much of the same information applies to you.

Every Mac should be running antivirus software. My personal favorite is Intego VirusBarrier, but a good free alternative is ClamX AV. You also need to make sure your Mac has the latest software patches. Use Software Updates under the Apple menu, but don’t neglect to update your other software, especially Acrobat, Flash, and Microsoft Office.

Be aware that fake antivirus software has infiltrated the Mac universe just as it has the world of Windows. If your Mac displays a message saying that you are infected and need to buy some super-special software, assume it’s snakeoil. Run a bona fide tool like the ones mentioned above, and never, ever click on anything you are not certain is legitimate. When in doubt, use Force-Quit (option-command-escape) instead of the red X to quit.

The world of Internet threats is ever-evolving, so stay tuned to Tech Tips for the latest Mac security help.

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You Need More Than Microsoft Security Essentials

Microsoft provides free antivirus by way of its Security Essentials program (MSE). But MSE is no substitute for a third-party security software suite.

MSE includes basic antivirus and antispyware tools plus a firewall. It was originally designed for consumer use in the USA and as a way to cut down on rampant virus problems overseas. As such, while it’s better than nothing, it doesn’t provide the features or functionality of a genuine security suite.

One of the problems with MSE is that too many fake security programs try to emulate it. Just because something looks vaguely Microsoft-y doesn’t necessarily mean it’s genuine. Also, Microsoft is primarily an operating system and productivity software company that does not specialize in security. They may have inadvertent blinders on when it comes to securing their own products, whereas the third party vendors may have more innovation in that area because they are thinking outside the Redmond box.

There is also the danger of homogeneity. When everything on your network uses the same software, you are more susceptible to viruses and malware that exploit the vulnerabilities of that software. In other words, if you live in an XYZ Brand world protected by XYZ Brand tools and along comes a virus that exploits XYZ Brand weaknesses, you’re a sitting duck. That’s true whether XYZ Brand is Microsoft, Apple, or anyone else. Diversifying affords you more protection.

Therefore, I’m sticking with my usual recommendations: AVG, Trend Micro, Avast, Kapersky, and many of the other great security programs out there.

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Recording Of Webinar On Top Computer Security Risk For Businesses

Thanks to everyone who attended my webinar on Top Computer Security Risks For Businesses. If you missed the webinar, you can find it online here:
Here are links to some of the resources I mentioned in the webinar. I hope you find this information helpful.
Related Triona’s Tech Tips Articles:
If you’d like a seminar for your business or organization, please let me know.
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