PC Security

The Trouble With Spam

(And no, I’m not talking about that bouncy, pink, pseudo-meat stuff..)

I’m talking about unsolicited, junk, probably virus & malware-laden, email. You get them, I get them, and to paraphrase Oprah, “everybody gets them!!”.

Combating SPAM, and it’s more evil cousin PHISH, emails is a major part of my job. I’ve talked about Phish emails before, so this time I want to concentrate on Spam.  I’ve given you a basic definition of just what Spam is in the opening of this post. So let’s talk a bit more about what the differences are between Spam and a Phish.

Spam may be benign. It doesn’t always have a malicious intent. It usually does, but not always. Phish emails, on the other hand, will always be malicious. The main job of a Phish email is to get you to click on a link or open an attachment with the express intent of infecting your PC (doesn’t matter if you have Windows, Mac, ChromeOS, or even Linux – you can be infected).

Most Spam you see are nothing more than advertisements trying to get you buy something. Consider an email from the retail giant Amazon. Now I do buy a lot, and I do mean A LOT, of stuff from Amazon. But, unless you specifically set your preferences not to send you marketing emails, you will get email after email from them with something similar to whatever you just bought or even just browsed. While this is not considered “Spam” outright, it very well could be. Did you ask Amazon to send you recommendations? Probably not. But if you didn’t opt-out of their marketing emails when you created an account, they are legitimate emails. However, any commercial emails that you didn’t ask for are completely Spam. Unfortunately, you cannot claim emails from your Grandmother with her award-winning Tuna Casserole recipe, that you didn’t ask for as Spam.  Or in my case, emails from family members asking computer questions. I’m usually the one sending them recipes. But not for Tuna Casserole. That stuff is vile, and if it’s not already outlawed by the Geneva Convention, it should be!

Now here’s a sticking point. Emails that you have not signed up for (Spam), but come from a “reputable” source, a store you frequent, or a website you visit regularly. Do you use the “unsubscribe” link or button in the email?  NO!  If you’ve never given this entity your email address NEVER click the unsubscribe link or button.  This only tells the scammer behind the Spam that this is a valid email address. Plus, since this is a directed email (it has now become a Phish, or even a SpearPhish, email), the link to unsubscribe most likely will take you to a malicious website or even go so far as to download something to your PC without your knowledge or permission!

Here’s an example for you. Last summer my family spent a week at Disney World. Since we did all the reservations and set up stuff via their website, I was added to many, many of Disney’s email lists. I expected it (although not quite as many as I ended up with – the sheer volume of unsolicited emails was staggering!). For those emails, it was safe to unsubscribe.

Now here’s a more troubling example. For this, I will use my work email. As I mentioned before, one of my main duties is PC Security. For this task, I have several tools at my disposal. I can Phish my end users with templates that are very realistic. But for the purpose of this post, let’s talk about the Spam I receive.

Every day I receive, on average, about 5 Spam emails. These are not any mailing lists that I’ve signed up for, nor are they any company I’ve ever had any dealings with (I think my email address was sold to some advertising/marketing company, sadly). It appears that the rest of the world seems to think that I am the compliance manager for the city I work for. Or at the very least, they hope I will forward on the constant emails about software and/or websites that can make my compliance work so much easier. Add to that, the emails from “LinkedIn” that somebody wants me to join their network (Hint: my work email, nor my personal email is not on LinkedIn!) and I could spend much of my day just adding folks to my junk sender list. Thankfully Outlook takes care of most of it for me. The ones that are not already added to my list just take a simple right click and blocked!

So, how can you avoid Spam emails? The easy answer is, you can’t. But you can cut out a lot of it. Think about all the emails you get every day. How many are from stores you visit? Do you really need to know what is on sale every damn day? They all have websites you can visit when you need or want a specific item. All these emails are trying to do is entice you to buy something you probably don’t need or really want, but they have too many in stock.  Mainly because nobody needs or wants it in the first place! Save your money and go buy a good book or go to the movies!

When you create an account on a website, hopefully for something important, look at each step of the creation.  There will be (or at least there will be IF the site is legitimate) boxes to check to either opt-in or opt-out of various offers, email lists, etc. This also is important if you ever download and install a program from the web. One great example of this is the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. This is a very good legitimate program, considered the “standard” for reading PDF (Portable Document Format) files. But, on the install page, there is always a bonus free program. Sometimes it’s Google Chrome (my favorite web browser), and sometimes it’s an anti-virus program (McAfee seems to be the favorite). While both of those examples are basically fine to download, there are somewhat more nefarious downloads that hide malicious programs, masquerading as something else, hoping to infect your system.  So, “Think Before You Click”!  That’s good advice for anything internet related.

And just so you know, Spam is not a new thing. This image shows a capture of a letter-to-the-editor from the May 30th, 1864 edition of The Times of London.

Victorian_Spam

Sir,—On my arrival home late yesterday evening a “telegram,” by “London District Telegraph,” addressed in full to me, was put into my hands. It was as follows:—”Messrs. Gabriel, dentists, 27, Harley-street, Cavendish-square. Until October Messrs. Gabriel’s professional attendance at 27, Harley-street, will be 10 till 5.” I have never had any dealings with Messrs. Gabriel, and beg to ask by what right do they disturb me by a telegram which is evidently simply the medium of advertisement? A word from you would, I feel sure, put a stop to this intolerable nuisance. I enclose the telegram, and am,  Your faithful servant, M.P.  Upper Grosvenor-street, May 30.
~ The Times Of London, 30 May 1864
Source: Stu Sjouwerman (@StuAllard) CEO KnowBe4 (@Knowbe4)

I think I’ve taken enough of your time with this post.  Please ask any questions or leave a comment below (not on the various social media sites this will be linked to). I will be happy to give any resources I have to help you be safe.

Thanks, and happy (and safe) interneting!!

 

Peace,
B

Twitter  FaceBook

Apologies

Seems the Russian Cialis bots have found this blog. To the tune of about 500 spam comments over the last week or so. Luckily the WordPress hosts blocked them all. But it has taken me about 3 days to adjust settings and clear them all out. But I didn’t want any of readers to inadvertently click on a link in a bogus comment and infect their PC/Smart Phone/what have you.

So if you left a comment in the last week or so, and it’s not posted, sorry, it probably got caught up in the mass deletions I’ve had to do.  Please repost your comment if you desire.

In the meantime, here’s a wonderful video for you to enjoy!

Peace,
B

Twitter  FaceBook

Conference Time

Last week I had the great pleasure of attending the KnowBe4 conference in Orlando. (Official hashtag: #KB4Con18). This was without a doubt the best tech conference I have ever attended. Not only were there absolutely dynamic speakers, all attendees were treated to the best food!  I’m talking some of the healthiest stuff I have ever seen at any conference.

I’ve mentioned KnowBe4 before. This is the vendor we use at the city to train, test and generally harass our end-users (OK, maybe not harass). (KnowBe4 website) With just a small part of their product, I can train my co-workers on the latest ways the “bad guys” try to use social engineering to do well, bad stuff. I will admit that I enjoy sending out simulated phish emails. Why? Because it shows me where are weak links are. And this gives me the means to do targeted training to make our city network, and by association everyone’s home PC/Network, that much more secure. I don’t do it to shame someone or hold it over anyone’s head. Since I have been an instructor of some sort for very many years, I use this primarily as a training tool. But on to the conference itself.

Other than the hour plus, each way, drive on I4 (A.K.A. the devil’s highway), and being in Orlando (way too big and crazy for me), everything else went beautifully. The folks at KnowBe4 went above and beyond in this, their first ever conference.

The opening keynote speaker was Kevin Mitnick, or as he likes to call himself “The World’s Most Famous Hacker”, a title he lives up to. If you don’t know who he is, take a moment to read his Wikipedia page, even if it a bit light on his history. Kevin gave us many demonstrations of current hacks, all of which arrive via an inconspicuous email. And all of which are very nasty. But the one hack that scared me the most was when he showed how Google’s two-factor authentication (2FA) could be hacked. Google has always been one of the toughest to crack since they stay on the cutting edge of all technologies. As a big user of many Google services, this is troublesome.

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Me and Kevin Mitnick

The keynote speaker for the next day was Frank Abangale. I have to admit that I did not recognize his name. But once I heard his story I knew how he was. Here is his Wikipedia page for you to educate yourself. Frank is considered one of the foremost experts on imposters and forgery. Steven Spielberg made a movie “Catch Me If You Can” starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank and Tom Hanks as FBI Agent Carl Hanratty. I have not seen this movie, but I see it available on Amazon Prime so I will correct that error very soon. And if I caught his reference, he was also the inspiration for the TV show “White Collar”.  His family story and subsequent talk on how to keep safe with online financial sources was very eye-opening.

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Myself and Frank Abangale

Another fantastic speaker was Roger A. Grimes (he wants you to know he is not related to the Canadian political figure with the same name), the best-selling author of several tech books. KnowBe4 even included a copy of his “A Data-Driven Computer Security Defense” in the big ol’ backpack they gave every attendee. The big takeaway from his two talks was the point that you have to determine what your biggest exploitable problem is, and fix that first. Common sense, which as we all know, is always in short supply.

One thing that I really was happy to see was the inclusion of women speakers. KnowBe4 has several women in executive roles throughout the company, and that makes me very happy. Since I have two granddaughters, one of which is very interested in the sciences, I fully support women (and really anybody) in STEM (Science – Technology – Engineering – Mathematics). One of the first questions Wifey® asked me was if there were women presenters. I was so very happy to say yes!

There was one thing missing though. No vendor room. Every other conference I’ve been to there is always a room for vendors. Not only can one make some great contacts with products and services that one doesn’t know about, vendors always have cool swag (freebie gifts). I’ll have to check with my manager, but I think a conference is how we found out about KnowBe4. It may not have been in the vendor area, it may have been word of mouth from another attendee (word of mouth is ALWAYS the best advertisement).

Sorry, this is such a broad overview, but I could write about ten pages if I covered the entire 3 days. All I can say is “I’m ready for KB4Con19!”

Peace,
B

Twitter  FaceBook

I Call Shenanigans

Floriduh is supposed to be “The Sunshine State”.  Not this week.  And I really need it to be. I have a PC Security conference in Orlando starting this evening and running through Friday evening. To save my employer a bit of money, I picked a cheaper (by half price) hotel, just down the street from the hotel where the conference will be held. The plan was to park my truck and walk back and forth. I did this for two reasons, one, I don’t want to have to pay the parking fees at both hotels, and second, the walk will replace at least some of the missed elliptical time.  Not to mention, I doubt an Uber driver will want to pick up that short of a trip (0.3 miles according to Google Maps).

But no… There is a big low-pressure system off our west coast and big high-pressure system off the east coast. And between the two of them, we got nothing but rain.  As one of the weather guys on a local channel posted:

 

thisweek

Thanks to Brian Shields of WFTV for the image (and no I didn’t ask permission)

 

So I guess I’ll be paying double parking fees…

Sheesh!

Peace,
B

Twitter  FaceBook

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

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