Computers

PC Security, Again (or Is It Still?) UPDATED!

Before I get into Facebook and its current issues, I’d like to pass along a portion of an email I received today from KnowBe4.  KnowBe4 is the company I use at work to help test and train our users in email security. If you’d like read more about them click here.

I receive a “Scam Of The Week” email from KnowBe4 every week. Todays was very relevant, at least to me.  The headline is “Fiendishly Clever Gmail Phishing You Need To Know About”. If you’re not sure what a “phish” email is, to sum it up, it’s any email that impersonates someone else. A good example that I bet a lot of folks have received, is one from FedEx claiming that they need you to click on an attachment or follow a link because they couldn’t deliver a package.  The attachment or link is nothing but a malware-laden delivery tool. Either will infect your PC leaving you open to become a victim of a crypto tool (something that encrypts all the files on your PC, then the bad guys make you pay money, usually in bitcoin, to unlock your files. Most of the time they take your money and never decrypt your stuff). Or your PC becomes a “bot” under the control of the same bad guys, causing it do malicious acts without your knowledge.

Here is the quote from today’s scam;

“There is a new scam where hackers send you a text that asks you about a password reset on your Gmail account, and if you did not, text STOP. This is a scam. The bad guys asked for that password reset and now want you to send them the authorization code! Don’t fall for it.

Remember that Gmail or any other web email service will never ask if you *don’t* want to do something with your account. You didn’t ask for a password reset, so you shouldn’t be asked about one.

Do not reply to the text (doing so will tell the scammers that they have reached a valid number). And to prevent losing your account to bad guys, it’s a very good idea to have 2-step verification set up on your Google account.”

So what about Facebook?  If you used an app called “My Digital Life”, you have not only allowed your information on Facebook, but you have also allowed anyone in your contact list to have a limited part of their data shared. Again without your knowledge.

This breach is so bad that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is testifying in front of Congress as I type this. The impact of this event is that 87+ million people have had their information shared.

I cannot stress how important it is to NOT USE ANY FACEBOOK APPS this includes games. I would also strongly recommend that you DO NOT do any of the “surveys”, like What Animal Am I, or the ones that give you a list of months and days to make up a name of some kind. Just think what you just did if you responded to one of those. In the case of the ones that tell you to post your answer and you do, you just publically posted your birth date. So anyone watching these posts (and believe me, they do track this stuff) now not only knows your name but your birthday too. It would only take one or two more little pieces of information and next thing you know your identity has been compromised. It’s scary.

And as you can see at the bottom of this post, I use both Twitter and Facebook. I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy them.  Just be careful, please.

So, a few tips to make things a bit safer;

  • Do not click on any attachments or links in any email where you don’t know the sender or if there is no reason that they would be sending you an email of this type. Going back to my FedEx example above the email claimed the attachment was a shipping label you needed to open and print. So look at the reasoning. They can’t deliver a package to your location. So why do you need to print a shipping label? That would be the responsibility of the shipper, not the recipient.
  • Be suspicious of emails coming from known sources. It is very easy to spoof an email address. Just because a family member or a friend sends an email with an attachment or a link doesn’t mean it’s legit. Ask yourself “Self! Why would so and so be sending me an Excel spreadsheet?” Be wary my friends.
  • When on any social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc..) be very careful of the information you post. The bad guys are monitoring all those sources very closely and will not hesitate to scrape any data they can get their grubby little paws on.
  • And make sure you have a good anti-virus and anti-malware program installed. And keep it updated. AND scan your PC on a regular basis.
  • Finally, NEVER, NEVER, EVER post information such as your phone number, your email address, or your home/work addresses on a public forum such as Facebook. You’re just inviting someone to steal your identity.

These exploits are not limited to Windows PCs (although since Windows has the biggest share of users in the world they get targeted the most). There are exploits for Mac/Apple (including iPhones/iPads/iPods), Android, Linux, you name it. Someone has written an exploit for that operating system.

If you have any questions about PC security, please leave a comment!

So let’s be careful and happy internetting! (Yeah I made that word up)

Peace,
B

EDIT:  This link came across my Twitter this morning. It will give you a tool to see if your data was “shared” in the Cambridge Analytica breach.  Click here for the link (you do need to be logged into your Facebook account for it to work).

 

Twitter  Facebook

Duuu.. Duuu.. Looking Out My Back Door (Or, Oh Hail!)

(With apologies to CCR)

So I have training in Orlando all this week. For the locals, that means I-4 both ways. Prayers and good wishes are accepted.

Today, the first day of spring we had a nasty storm come through. And as usually happens, it hits Orlando before it hits Daytona. So I’m in class and the storm moves through dropping about marble sized hail. But it clears by the time I get out of class. No problems the entire time on I-4.

But as soon as I get off the interstate it starts to rain. But I can deal with rain. I even managed to get home before it started racing hard. Then out of nowhere I hear what sounds like branches falling on the roof. It wasn’t branches, it was good sized hail.

Hard to see through the screen, but I wasn’t going out there!

Peace,

B

Scary Email Phish

(In case you are not aware of what a “phish” is, in broad terms, it is an email designed to make you click on a link, or open an infected attachment. Once the link is clicked or that infected attachment opened, your machine (and this works on Windows, Apple, and Linux) will become a “host” for a variety of nefarious activities.)

This information came from one of the vendors we use at the city, KnowBe4. We use the tools they provide to send simulated phishing attacks to all our employees. It’s one of the fun aspects of my job. Here is a very specific phish threat they sent a notice about. I felt it important enough to pass along.

I was alerted by a customer about a really difficult scenario that’s becoming all the more frequent. While there’s probably little that can be done in terms of tuning your spam filters and endpoint security tools, new-school security awareness training can make a difference. Here is the story:

“Over the past few months, we have been hit with increasing frequency with an attack that follows this 5-step pattern;

  • A known vendor or customer falls victim to a phishing attack. Their email credentials are compromised, and the “bad guy” gets access to their email account.
  • They start by changing the password, so that the victim no longer has control.
  • They then comb through past email correspondence, and using the victim’s account, signature, and logo, send out targeted emails crafted to closely resemble legit correspondence they have had with our company in the past.
  • Depending on the “bad guy’s” dedication to his craft, these could be fairly generic, or extremely specific. We’ve received one with an inquiry that referenced a specific real invoice # for that individual.
  • The email always includes a spreadsheet or PDF. The name can be generic, or can be really specific. We’ve received one titled with a specific real invoice # for that individual.

Because these emails are coming from a real email account for a real business partner, they are very hard to identify, and in some cases they are literally impossible to detect, as they are carefully crafted copies of past legitimate emails. Naturally, there are a few that cast a wide net, so they are more generic and often contain corrupted grammar or spelling, but others are indistinguishable from real emails.”

What To Do About This Threat

Granted, this is a frustrating and dangerous situation, as the majority of the red flags users have been trained to watch for simply aren’t present if the scammer uses a highly targeted approach like this.

However, there is one cardinal rule that you need to stress with your users to protect against a scenario like this: DID THEY ASK FOR THE ATTACHMENT?

If they did not, before the attachment is opened, it’s a very good idea to double check using an out-of-band channel like the phone to call and ask if they sent this and why it was sent . There is little else that can be done.

Yes, that is a little more work. But also, better safe than sorry. You have to constantly work on and reinforce your security culture, anywhere in the world.

As you can see, this is very scary. Especially in a corporate environment. The biggest thing to take away from this is if you get an email with an attachment THAT YOU DIDN’T REQUEST, DO NOT OPEN THE ATTACHMENT! This holds true even if you recognize the sender. The sender field on an email can be spoofed very easily.

So, as I’ve said before, keep your antivirus/antimalware up-to-date, and scan your machine on a regular basis. One of the catchphrases of KnowBe4 is “Think Before You Click”. Wise words to live by.

Happy and safe interneting my friends.

Peace,
B

Twitter  Facebook

Empty Post

No need to like this post, it’s simply a test post. Seems that every time I post something, I will get at least one “like” within seconds with no views recorded. No way someone could have read my entire post that quick. So I’m checking for who has a script running. I figure it’s a ploy to get views on their (probably virus-laden) site.

So here goes nothing… And I’ll throw in a video to make it interesting.

Peace,
B

A Review Of The Google Pixel 2XL And The Google Mini

My old LG5 was having major issues. It wouldn’t charge most of the time requiring me to keep it plugged in both at home and on my desk at work, texting would suddenly just not respond. The keyboard.. well I won’t go into all the problems I had with that.

So I ordered myself a Pixel 2XL directly from Google. I decided to by-pass by cell carrier, Verizon, for two reasons. First, by buying directly from Google I get the monthly security updates AND any OS updates long before big red will send them out. Second, no app bloat. The phone didn’t come loaded with all the usual Verizon apps that I never use anyway. Seriously, has anyone ever used the NFL Mobile app? So this is a much cleaner phone, and therefore runs much smoother.

I also opted for the 128GB model so I could download my Spotify playlists and not burn up data when I don’t have a Wi-Fi connection and want to play my music.

I have had this phone now for about two months, I do not have any case for it yet, nor does it have any screen protection. I really, really hope to have both of those issues remedied this weekend.

But here’s what I’ve learned in the first two months.

  • This screen is extremely sensitive. Since I don’t have a case, I keep it in my pocket most of the time. I’ll take it out and there will be 3 or 4 apps open, the texting app will have picked a random contact and is sending pure gibberish. I’m hoping a case (one that I can clip to my belt) and the “gorilla glass” type of screen protector will help alleviate these problems.
  • The “Google Assistant” isn’t all it’s hyped to be. I understand that this app is still “under development”,  but it still needs lots of work. I primarily use it while driving to be “hands-free”.  Many times (after I use the “catchphrase” either ‘OK Google’ or ‘Hey Google’) nothing happens. Usually, the second time I call it, it answers. All you get is a musical tone to let you know it’s ready. The most common use, for me, is to text someone (usually Wifey®). So it’s “OK Google” (wait for music), “Send a text” (it will then ask “Who do you want to text?”), “Text <contact>” (You can simplify this by saying “Send a text to <contact>”, but that doesn’t always work. Last time I tried to do it that way, it started reading me the news and weather. I couldn’t figure how to stop that, so I had to wait for it to finish. If the contact has more than one phone number, you will be asked to pick which number to send it to.  This is good for folks that may have more than one cell phone, like myself (one business and one personal), but usually, it’s overkill. Let’s face it you can’t send a text message to a fax machine or a landline (who has a landline anymore anyway?). But more than that, when I’m in the middle of dictating a text and a new text come in, the assistant basically stops and the message will be displayed on top of everything, and it erases whatever I had already dictated. Very frustrating. And forget about asking it read incoming text messages. Most times it doesn’t respond at all, or when you can get it read a message and it asks you if you want to “Reply, Ignore, or go to the Next Message”. No matter how quick I say my answer (usually it’s Reply) or how long I wait, all it does it repeat my choices. I finally just have to wait it out and start all over again with the “Send A Text Message”.
  • I do like the GUI. Instead of the usual swiping right or left for screens (although it does have a Google News feed if you swipe to the left, and a user-configurable screen to the right), all apps are available by swiping up. And even more importantly, for me anyway, they are automagically arranged alphabetically. One thing I have hated from the days of my OG Droid was having to manually configure apps so I could find them. I love this feature.
  • This phone has an excellent camera. And not only that, pictures are automagically backed up to Google Photos (if you have an account). I also mine set to back up to my Amazon Prime Photos and even my Verizon Cloud. We’ve lost lots of photos before, don’t want that happening again.
  • I like the fingerprint option for unlocking (you can also set a 6 digit numeric pin). This also allows me to securely log into most of my banking and credit card apps. Saves me a lot of head scratching trying to remember what my damn passwords are.

On to the Google Mini.  I received my mini free.  Google sent it to me as a “gift” for buying the Pixel from them. I can understand why they gave it away, it’s pretty much useless to me.

One of the big things that Google touts for any of its home systems (the mini or Google Home) is the ability to control a “smart home”. Well, my house is more along the lines of a “Flintstone House”. We have absolutely nothing that can be voice controlled. And in all honesty, as an IT professional, I’m not sure I want a house like that. Hacking an IoT (Internet of Things) is pretty easy.

  • So, the main use of this mini is to play my Spotify playlist. Good thing I didn’t pay for it. This is something I can do (and much better) with either my phone or tablet. here’s the problem; As usual, you wake it up with the “Ok Google” or “Hey Google”. No problem there. To play my “combo” playlist (a test list I made on Spotify), you tell it “Play combo playlist”, it responds “playing Spotify playlist combo”. It will always start with the first song that was added to the playlist.  This playlist has just over 1500 songs, from about 30 artists. I would guess an average of 30 songs per artist. So it starts at the top of the list, in the order that the songs/artists were added. According to the instructions on Google to make the mini shuffle the songs, you will next tell the mini (after the required “OK Google”), “Shuffle the playlist”. It will respond, “OK, will shuffle the playlist after this track has finished”. Fair enough. You can next tell it (again after the required “OK Google”) “Skip this song”. This is supposed to make the mini pick a random song from there on out. But it doesn’t appear to work that way.
    • Let me explain it like this. Let’s say I had 5 artists, and each artist has 5 tracks on the playlist. We will call the artists, A, B, C, D, and E. The tracks we’ll call 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Simple enough. So when you start the playlist, it will always start on artist A, track 1. When you get it to skip command it will always go to artist B (which is the next artist added when the list was created) and track 1. Then it goes back to artist A and track 2, followed by artist B, track 2. And so on until it finishes artist A track 5, then it will go to artist C track 1 and so on.
    • So with a playlist of over 1500 songs, I’ve never gotten through the first 3 or 4 artists before I get frustrated and turn it off.
  • And that’s where the mini sits.  On my nightstand, with the mic turned off. Every now and then I hit it and it tells me the mic is turned off and how to turn it back off. I just look at it with contempt and tell it “Shut the hell up!”

Anyone else having issues with a Google Mini?  Leave me some suggestions as to what I’m doing wrong, please!

Peace,
B

PC Security… Again

<rant>

So once again here I am at the hands of Stupid End Users.  I have to keep reminding myself that these fools pay the bills.

I want to make one thing perfectly clear. INSTALL ALL THE SECURITY UPDATES FOR WHICHEVER OS YOU HAVE (Windows, Apple or Linux). Nothing and I mean NOTHING is more critical to the smooth operation of your computer (and even your smartphone – this applies to Android and Apple phones as well) than keeping these up-to-date.

Case in point. I am working on a laptop for one of my co-worker’s son. He claims the screen went blank “while doing school work”. Neither dad nor I buy it. Right now, his screen doesn’t work, the mouse and keyboard are not functioning properly (even with USB versions). I could not do anything (since the screen was black) without plugging in an external monitor and resetting the BIOS (the Basic In and Out System – what controls almost everything on the motherboard) to recognize the second monitor.

I still cannot get any of the usual tools I would use to scan the system for viruses (virui?), check the hard drive for errors, or even check the display properties. All of those options are missing from the system.  Normally I would do a “System restore”. This is a very nice feature that Microsoft added some time ago (in Windows ME – probably the only good thing to come out of that version of Windows). Since this machine belongs to a college student, there is a real good chance he was doing something “he shouldn’t have been doing”.

No matter how good your anti-virus/malware is if you visit “questionable” sites (and I’m not talking strictly porn – many download, or ‘warez’ sites are riddled with viruses) you run an elevated risk of getting an infection. There is an increasing problem of sponsored ads on respectable websites that are pushing viruses without you doing anything. We refer to these as “drive-byes”.

Normally you can access System Restore through the Control Panel and “Advanced Features”. Naturally, that’s missing on this machine as well. The other way to get to System Restore is by booting into “Safe Mode” and running it from a command prompt (the old DOS black & white screen where you have to type everything. Oh how I miss those days.) But for whatever goddamn reason Micro$oft took the “F8” feature out of the boot cycle in Windows 10. In previous versions, you could hit “F8” while the system was booting to be presented with a menu of boot options or just use “F5” to go straight into Safe Mode. Micro$oft, you made a stupid, stupid, stupid decision to remove that.

So now, 3 hours of working on this machine and I tell it to reboot, hoping (beyond hope) that at least the mouse and keyboard will work. What happens? My options are “Apply Updates and Restart or Shutdown”. So now I’ll have to wait for it to apply who knows how many updates before I can go back to troubleshooting. (edit: so far 90 minutes on the “Getting Windows Ready” screen).

There is a very good chance that if these updates had been applied when first available (the last update from Micro$oft was 2 weeks ago), what has crept into this machine may have been prevented. Even though this machine has a reliable Anti-virus installed (I cannot tell if it’s up-to-date though), without these security patches something can get through.

Wifey’s® office will not install any updates for fear it will “break” a program or something. Now, yes, it’s true. M$ updates have been known to cause havoc. But when that happens it’s (usually) easily reversible. A simple “roll back” (sometimes you need to go to safe mode) is all it takes. And M$ is pretty good about fixing those bad patches, either by sending a remote uninstall or an updated patch within 72 hours.

Second example.

Working on another laptop (this one city owned). The user claims the screen “scrolls on its own”. Looking at the machine when he brings it in (interrupting lunch as usual), I see it is doing just that.

Looking a bit deeper I see that there have been no updates applied to this machine since it was issued to the user almost one year ago. Now this machine could be considered “mission critical”. But instead of being out in the field, where it’s needed, and up-to-date, it’s sitting here on my desk slowing applying a years worth of updates. One update at a time. Because that’s how fucked up this machine is.

It not only needs updating to the latest version of Windows 10, it needs every security update since the beginning of time.

Also, keep any Anti-Virus and/or Anti-Malware product you use up-to-date (you do have an Anti-Virus/Malware program installed, Right?? RIGHT???), and scan your machine on a regular basis. There are many excellent free choices out there, pick one, any one. My favorite is Malwarebytes (I do not get any money from them, but I’ve been using their product for over 10 years without a single infection). They have both a free and a paid version, I HIGHLY recommend the paid version. Last I looked, if you download the free version you get a 2 week trial of the paid version, so it’s worth a look. The extra benefits of the paid version make it a good investment for your PC.

Malwarebytes has blocked very many of the “drive-by” ads I mentioned above. I will get either a little notice that says “access to <website name> blocked”, or just a blank spot on the webpage where the ad would have been.  You can also look into an “ad-blocker” for your web browser that can plug into either Chrome or Firefox (I’m not sure about Safari as I don’t have a Mac). IE and Edge users are out luck. Drop those and go with either Chrome or Firefox (I like and use both of those).

</rant>

I apologize for the rant, but it has been Monday all month here at work. My frustration level is quite high for many reasons, just not here at work. (Don’t ask me about yesterday’s useless dentist appointment)….

Peace,
B

Before and After

One of the “joys” of working in IT is how fast the technology changes.  Due to this phenomenon, most IT office seem to get cluttered quickly.  Mine is no exception. Add to that fact that I work for a city it only makes matters worse. We have to submit requests for bids from salvage companies and then have our city council approve a contract which whichever firm they decide on. The process can take months, if not longer.

When I left work last Friday, this is what the front “working” area of my office looked like;

MVIMG_20180112_162815.jpgMVIMG_20180112_162824.jpg

MVIMG_20180112_162833.jpg

This is about a 6-month accumulation of “junk” anything from dead monitors, printers, PC, cameras, mice, keyboards, battery backups, you name it.

Today we finally had a salvage company pick up most of the junk. There are still two more rooms in another building to pick up. Unfortunately, the guy ran out of room in his truck!

So here’s what the office looks like now;

IMG_20180115_134446.jpgMVIMG_20180115_134452.jpg

MVIMG_20180115_134458.jpg

Still some work to do, but much better.  My main concern is how quick will we fill it up again?

Peace,
B

True Stories From The Workbench

In case you don’t know, I have been an IT guy since 1995 when I retired from the Army (but I did get my first experience with computers in 1975 doing Cobol programming using punch cards. That’s when I first realized that not only am I very poor at spelling, my typing is even worse. I quickly left the programming field.)

These are just three true stories I have personally experienced over the years. The names have been left out to protect the stupid end users.

About 1995, helping a law firm with the legal version of Word Perfect. Now, this is just before Windows 95 came out, so we’re still dealing with DOS 6 and Windows 3.11 (if you’ve never heard of those versions go read about them somewhere, things were quite a bit different).

In Word Perfect, several options were accessed by using the function keys. These are the keys on the very top of your keyboard that have the letter F and a number (i.e. F10). Take a look, they’re up there. So in this version of Word Perfect (which is a program like MS Word, and at one time was much more popular. It’s still in use in some specific places such as legal offices), the use of these functions keys did many things, such as insert pre-composed paragraphs. One of the legal assistants would call the shop I worked at on a regular basis, saying her keyboard wasn’t working. We would go through the usual testing procedures and never find a fault. She would show us the “problem”.  When in Word Perfect and you had to use one of the function keys, she instead would type it out. So instead of just hitting the F10 key, she would type the letter F then 1 and 0. Which of course, did nothing but add the “F10” text to her document and not do the desired function.  We would have this call at least 3 times a month until they fired her.

Move to about 1998. This is the time frame when sound cards & CD-ROMS were just becoming standard in the PC world. One of our regular customers brought his PC in to have a sound card and CD player added. Not a tough task for our shop.  The software that came with the package had a GUI (graphical user interface) that looked like a standard stereo system you’d find in your home.

I called the unibomber gentlemen letting him know he can come pick up his PC and I will have it set up on the demo table on the sales floor to show him how everything works.  We go through the demo with no problems. I stress that the software will work “just like your stereo at home”. He claims he understands.

About an hour later he calls in and the call gets routed to me since I was the tech that did the work. First thing I ask is if everything is working correctly, CDs play, sounds are coming from the speakers etc.. No problem there is he says, but I have a question he says.  “How do I rewind the CD?” Well, that made no sense to me, so I ask him to repeat the question so I make sure I didn’t misunderstand him. He asks the question again word for word, “How do I rewind the CD?” In disbelief, I say the question back to him, “You need to know how to rewind a CD?” This immediately gets my fellow techs attention, and they stop what they are doing and gather behind me to hear what’s going on. I again tell him that the system works just like his home system. His reply was “I understand that, but if I stop a CD in the middle of a track, how do I rewind it to start over?” At this point, I had to point him on hold so we could all laugh.

It took about 10 minutes of explaining how things work, but he got it in the end.

Finally, about 1999, working for a telemarketing firm as the “IT Manager” (it was a one-man IT shop, so take the title for what it’s worth).  I get a call from one of the offices upstairs that her monitor wouldn’t power on. When I get to the office the first thing I notice is that’s dark. They usually didn’t turn on all the overhead lights, but this time all of them were off. So I ask, “Why is it so dark in here today?”, thinking maybe someone was hung over (a common occurrence). She tells me “Oh we lost power”. And you wonder why your monitor won’t turn on???  About this time the department manager comes out of his office asking what I needed. When I tell him, he just shakes his head and does the classic facepalm. Took us about 45 minutes to hunt down the breaker box to get power restored.

I have more, but that’s enough for today.  If you’d like to hear more leave me a comment, or if you have some similar experiences, leave a comment or two!

Thanks for reading.

Peace,
B