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

Donation Scams Another Tool In Hacker Arsenal

When disasters strike, we want to help. But before you click to donate to charity, ask yourself – is it a scam?

Hackers use natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes to scam unsuspecting donors. In The Northwest Herald I talk about donation scams:

What’s behind these fake links? Many of them lead to phony lookalike sites that steal your donation and compromise your credit card number. Others silently install malware on your computer or steal your passwords for Facebook and email. Sometimes they do all of these things, a veritable smorgasbord of hacker delight.

As I said in the article, you should never click on links but instead type the address of the charity into your browser. The Red Cross, for example, is www.redcross.org.

A real charity will never ask for your password, your Social Security number, or other personal information. Most charities also don’t solicit via email unless you’ve specifically signed up for their list.

How can you tell if a charity is legit? Here are some places to start.

If you’ve already been scammed, here are resources that can help:

Do you have questions about donation scams? Ask in the comments! You can also subscribe free to Tech Tips by email for more computer news, security tips and social media advice.

 

Five Ways To Make Sure No One EVER Subscribes To Your Email Newsletter

No one’s signing up for your email newsletter? Maybe you’re not doing it right. Here are the top five ways for you to beat customers over the head with your marketing message.

5. Give them a hard sell.
There’s nothing like receiving an email that screams, “BUY MY PRODUCT!” Forget about drawing them in with valuable content they will find useful and want to share.

4. Use bright colors and funky fonts
The brighter, the better. If Curiosity can’t see it from Mars, it’s not worth sending.

3. Spam your newsletter to every single person in your professional organization. (chamber of commerce, networking group, book club)
After all, you joined these groups to network, right? So that gives you permission to bombard them with your nifty newsletter about widgets. Never mind that most of them aren’t in the market for widgets. Those who are will surely love your unsolicited spam, and those who aren’t couldn’t possibly offer you anything useful, like qualified referrals.

2. Spam your newsletter to every single person… again.
They didn’t sign up the first time. Maybe they didn’t get the newsletter and would like another one? This one’s different… it says BUY MY PRODUCT NOW instead of BUY MY PRODUCT. Also, the colors are even brighter!

And the number one way to guarantee people will despise your email newsletter:

1. Subscribe people instead of inviting them.
Because everyone loves getting inundated with junk they didn’t ask for, particularly when it’s blatantly obvious you’re doing exactly what your professional organization told you not to do: mass-subscribing everyone from the Excel spreadsheet they provided.  Inviting people and asking them to verify their subscription by replying to a confirmation email – waste of time! Yours, anyway.

This post is dedicated to the most recent company to add me to their list without my permission. They managed to make every single one of these mistakes, and they will never get an ounce of business from me.

If you don’t want potential customers to react the same way, have some respect for them and their inboxes. Email marketing is an exceptional way to build your business, but it can also be an exceptional way to stifle it.

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

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.

Cybercrime Will Force You To Upgrade Your Computer

In my column in today’s Northwest Herald I talk about the risks of using older systems like Windows XP:

Now, think about poor Windows XP. Itʼs 10 years old, so the criminals have had ample opportunity to discover and exploit its weaknesses. Antivirus programs arenʼt as effective as their counterparts for Windows Vista and 7 because Windows XP canʼt run the newer features.

Vital new versions of programs such as Internet Explorer arenʼt available for Windows XP, and to make matters worse, just having the old version of the program on your computer renders you even more vulnerable to viruses.

Yet weʼre using this ancient, bug-riddled system to share all sorts of personal information. Itʼs like leaving your brand-new iPhone on the seat of a beat-up car with broken locks. The forced upgrade cycle is true for any computer system, including Macs, tablets, smart phones and other devices. Technological advances result in new security risks, which in turn result in eventual obsolescence.

When you don’t plan your computer expenses, you end up buying whatever’s on the shelf and paying more than you might have otherwise. Usually it’s because your existing computer has crashed and you’re in a crisis, which is not the best time to be making decisions about big expenditures. What if you watched the sales, waiting for the right computer at the right price? What if you planned your computer upgrade instead of having it forced on you when you least expect it? We all get into firefighting mode when it comes to our computers and sometimes it doesn’t occur to us that there might be an easier, less stressful way.

I think the best time to do an upgrade is during your least busy season. If it’s a big upgrade you might even want to consider telling your customers your office is closed for a short time. It’s far easier to focus on your computer infrastructure if you’re not fielding calls, and the time saved in reduced computer problems will more than make up for any lost productivity.

If you’re a consumer, the most important message to take home is this: An old computer is a dangerous computer. Don’t let cybercriminals ruin your life by stealing your identity, and make it harder for them to hurt others by keeping your own computer protections in place.

 

Another Recent Email Hijack: “I Would Like To Introduce A New Company…”

I’ve gotten an increasing number of reports from people who either received messages similar to the following, or discovered that such messages had been sent from their email accounts:

Subject: Hello

Dear friend,

i would like to introduce a good company who trades mainly in electronic products, They provide the best service to customers,they provide you with original products of good quality,and what is more,the price is a surprising happiness to you!

The web address: (removed for safety)

If you check online you’ll find reports of this coming from users of Hotmail, Gmail and other email services. There are variations in the scam. Some may cite a different web site, or may have a different subject or message in the email.

If you receive a message like this, the important thing is NOT to click on any links because it will infect your computer with viruses. The same goes for messages you may receive via instant messaging (IM), Facebook, Twitter, or other means. Inform the person who sent it to you by another means (like the good old fashioned telephone) to let them know they have been hijacked.

How can you tell if a message is real or not? If it seems generic, contains no subject or a bland subject like “hi” or “hello,” doesn’t mention you by name, contains spelling, grammar or punctuation errors, or has been sent en masse to a large number of people, those are indications it may be a scam. Ask yourself: Is this the sort of message I would expect this person to send?

If your account has been hijacked, it’s vital to change your password immediately. Here’s some information on how to create strong passwords:

And here is some more information on what to do if your email account is hijacked:

Be sure to scan your computer with your security software. If you’re using free software you should consider purchasing a security software suite. You should also check your email signature and any autoresponders you may have set, as they may have been modified to send malicious links to your contacts. Inform your contacts that your account was hacked and that they should not respond to any scam messages they have received. And you should report the incident to your provider.

These hacks are becoming more and more prevalent. It is absolutely vital that you protect yourself by using strong passwords that are unique for every account, and that you stay vigilant about your computer’s security.

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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.
Subscribe free to Tech Tips and receive bonus tips, tricks and product reviews. Click here to subscribe or send email to techtips-request-at-guidryconsulting-dot-com, subject “subscribe”.