Tag Archive for security

Do you have a strong password? Do you use it a lot?

Here’s the reality of our digital lives: We have lots of online accounts and they need passwords. Many people use ones that are easy for them to remember, and tend to use sometimes only one.

How does that affect you? Well, think about this: Once “they” get the one, then you’re life can be laid wide open to those interested in digging further. Since it’s not uncommon for sign ins to be your email address….someone (or a programmed crawling robot) could just travel the known email universe and common places like FaceBook and give it a whirl with your email and a common, made once, used always password of yours.

That’s bad enough, if you are in this category, but even if not, there is now an article that brings to light the technology that allows gamers to get really life like graphics, and for scientists to explore climatology, cancer, and signal from space, is also being exploited by hackers.

I invite you to take this introduction, and read as much of the ARS Technica “Why passwords have never been weaker—and crackers have never been stronger” and read it until you are sufficiently convinced you need to take action to protect yourself by putting some effort into your password selections.

Yes, this will take some mental energy, and changes to your daily digital operations, but….I’m sure you wouldn’t want to wake up to a screen full of mail, indicating your email has been exploited and your bank accounts have been emptied, etc, etc, etc.

Please help protect yourself!

“Flame” – a new virus, but it’s not after your credit card information

Quite often I’m asked why do people write viruses and malware. The bottom line: because it makes them money.

Today, there’s another reason. The recent news indicates a virus by the name of “Flame” is running amok in the Middle East, specifically Iran. From the New York Times – “Researchers Find Clues in Malware:’

Security experts have only begun examining the thousands of lines of code that make up Flame, an extensive, data-mining computer virus that has been designed to steal information from computers across the Middle East, but already digital clues point to its creators and capabilities.
[…]

There you have it. Governments are now in the business of writing PC based malware for the specific purpose to conduct espionage. Which government? We can all speculate, but most likely one’s threatened by the prospect of a nuclear arsenal being built by an unfriendly neighboring nation.

There have been two other reported viruses used to work inside the computers of other nations, but one, Stuxnet, wasn’t designed to go after computer users, but the systems used to run machinery, in that case centrifuges. Duqu, the other known one, was like Flame, to collect information and email it out, but not nearly as sophisticated as Flame.

And this quote is a keeper for the NYT article linked above:

“This is the third such virus we’ve seen in the past three years,” Vikram Thakur, a Symantec researcher, said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s larger than all of them. The question we should be asking now is: How many more such campaigns are going on that we don’t know about?”

It’s Flu Season….for computers, too!

I’ve mentioned it lately, but I’m keeping busy chasing smarter viruses. Now I’ve seen “repeaters,” meaning the anti-malware/virus software did it’s job, but something in the background was watching over the process and did the ET “Phone home” thing, and in one case, within seconds, the malware was coming right back up as being detected. End result? I took a long look at the history in Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) and then went chasing the indications on the net. The thing that caught my eye was a infection/hijacking of an add-in to FireFox, the main browser they used.

Response: Control panel>Uninstall FireFox. Then I went to the (windows Vista settings) user/application data> local and roaming directories and deleted the FieFox folders completely. Then downloading and installing a new copy of FireFox solved the problem. That was three days ago, and I’ve not been called back for subsequent fixes.

I have been chasing the Windows XP Anti-Virus 2012 and Firewall malware for about a week now, in a home with three computers, that don’t share data, but the malware seems to get taken off, then shows up on one of the other (or both) computer(s). a day later. The computers are all being used for separate uses, so common websites/files aren’t a condition. Best guess I can come to right now is the Internet Explorer * is compromised on one of the systems, since we can scan with several products, block with firewalls, and at some point, it’s either hammering to get in with great rapidity, or it reappears on the screen. Today I had them shift that computer to FireFox as the default browser and it’s been quiet on the phone since this morning. Haven’t gotten an email or call, so I suspect that’s the case. In a few days, barring a reinfection, I’ll have to figure out how to uninstall IE 8 and put it back in again.

Between all of these, I can’t figure a common thread of how it’s happening, but the result is not so good for the users. I have a suspicion one of the flash game websites, frequented by one user may be injecting scripts, but that’s still just speculation right now.

Be careful out there! Make sure any links you click are really good ones…..that will be the topic of another full featured post soon: How to validate links.

Tuesday Tech Tips

Today: Firewalls…What’s up with that?

I had an interesting discussion the other day with a client who just wanted “error messages” to go away. I, using my experience, figured they were having hardware problems. I asked “what ones?” figuring there is a great possibility of doing just that. “Here…I wrote them down.” I was shown a list of “errors” that were obviously some attacks from web based sources. I then began to explain the good news was the firewall was stopping bad things from getting into the system. BAd news: Bad stuff is out there. Still insisting that the “error messages” go away, I explained the firewall and ended with this: “I noticed you keep your front door locked. Could that be in case someone tries to get in? The firewall is the same type of function, because that are things trying to get in.”

Firewall: A component used to manage the flow of traffic to and from your computer and also within your system. Some firewalls, the ones commonly used in home and small office systems are software based. Windows XP and above have a built in firewall, but it provides only very basic levels of protection. Otherwise, you most likely will have them on your system within the Internet security suite, if you have one installed. If you don’t have an internet security suite installed, you can still get standalone firewalls to help you keep your system safe from intrusion, which, is a necessity now.

There are also hardware based firewalls. They range from large multi-user capability for use in a large networked environment, but they also are around in the form of the commonly used routers in your home or small offices. The best part of these systems are the ability to perform the security checks of information flowing at the single point of entry/exit from the network, without having the specifically cover each and every machine in the home/office. In addition, they are less likely to be able to be hacked past than a purely software firewall.

What does this mean for the single/few computer user? You still need the protection on your home/small office network, no matter who you are. There are “bots” (short for “robots” and are actually software programs) seacrhing the net for active computers. When they find one, then they will begin running a series of small programs, looking for know bypasses of commonly installed hardware and software protections. If they fail…they “move along.” If not, they then imbed themselves in your system and go about their assigned tasks of stealing your data, using your machine to pump out thousands upon thousands of “Get Rich QUICK!” emails, or other nefarious acts.

The use of the firewall requires some self-education about what is happening in your computer world. Since the firewall is the watchdog on what is coming and going between your computer and the rest of the attached parts (to include the internet), it needs you to “train” it as to what you say is ok to let operate. Computer programs, from Word to spyware are all “executable” programs. The firewall will see one of them starting up, either as the computer boots up, or as you start the program and will then alert you and provide you with a “block” or “allow” option. In most cases you will see the “Allow XXXXX to run?” with the XXXX relating to what you just started and know it’s ok to say “allow.” While you’re on that warning window, look for a “remember this answer” check box. Check it if the program you are starting is one you commonly use, so the firewall will know this is allowed in all future events. Generally the “cause” (starting a program) and “effect” (the “Is this OK?” firewall question) are easy to relate.

The firewall will also manage “ports,” which is the term for connections between such things are other computers and printers in your networks, or standard data paths between computers, in the local network, as well as on the internet. You’re less likely to deal with that type of firewall setting, but this sometimes affects sharing files and printers in a networked environment.

That being said, if you are just reading your emails, surfing the web and watching a few YouTube videos and the firewall pops up to alert you to a program trying to run, that is cause for reading very closely what’s on the screen. In many of those (but not all) cases, the warning needs to be heeded and the “block” option used. Exception: You had to install a add on like Flash or Java to make some of the web page content run, but, even this can be dangerous. Note: If you block it and need it, you can dig about in the settings (or have someone help you) and then allow something. Conversely, if you allow something and it should have been blocked, it will run amok and damage your system until you stop it. The “fail safe” solution, if you’re not sure what the response should be to the Allow/Block question, choose “Block.” The net result of blocking something OK is inconvenient, but not a possible complete loss of your pictures, music and data files, when the entire hard drive has to be redone.

I know it’s asking you to do some more self-education, but, unless you enjoy leaving your home and business doors unlocked, this is necessary. Take the time to make sure you have a firewall installed. Take the time to “train” it (that usually takes a few days before you’ve probably used most of your programs at least once). Trust me, that’s easier frustration to deal with than losing your system for maybe a few days of time, while someone fixes the damage caused.

There are several free, and widely used software firewalls available, if your budget is a little short, so cost is not an excuse.

Let’s be safe computing out there!