Monday, October 13, 2014

How To Spot Socially Engineered Emails


For quite some time I wanted to give information about how to spot spam emails. That is quite a sizable field and I wavered too long. This time to my  and I believe to your advantage the wait pays off.

I discovered that KnowBe4.com already had done an excellent job and published the result as a one page fact sheet much better and more concise than I could ever have done it. The paper is called Social Engineering Red Flags. This link should show the information in your browser or in your reader application for PDF files.

I recommend to print it as a handy reference guide.

And here is a real life example; just this morning (10-20-2014) I received an email that looks on first glance like it came from Facebook, optically quite convincing. It is such a "classical" example that I took a screen shot to show it to you:


For me it goes without saying that I do NOT just click on a link in ANY email, no matter who the sender is supposed to be, no matter how "familiar" it looks.

The first clue is the sender address. Bad, simple forgery, not even an attempt to disguise the forgery; maybe that is even the miscreant's real email address. This is one of the times where I regret not to be a security researcher because I would love to mess a bit with this guy.

Then I did what for me by now has become second nature: I rested my mouse on the link (see the cursor). The translation of where the link would have taken my computer to in the status line (bottom left corner of the picture) confirmed my suspicion: The link goes to a web site in Russia. Did you see "http://pemoht-tb.ru/rand..."? ".ru" is the country code for Russia!

If you handle your email with programs or techniques that do not show you all the information from this example then you live dangerously. Imagine a teenager; they would blindly click on the link and voilĂ , the computer is infected and maybe you even loose all your files!

Oh well, more work for me... (tongue in cheek!_).


As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.




Monday, October 6, 2014

Java - Yes or No?


On January 14 2013 I wrote about Java. This artcle should explain what Java is.

There mainly are two opposing views about Java on home computers around.

The first one says that Java is needed so rarely that it should not be on a home computer at all.

The second one just delivers it pre-installed on all computers sold over-the-counter in case you need it.

My personal view about Java is the following:
Have it installed for the (maybe rare) case that you need it.
My reasons are:
  • If we are about to do something and get interrupted we tend to react somewhat frustrated. At this time we are very likely to get directed to the "wrong" web site for the download and we will probably get some sort of "blind passenger" or gunk software that we really neither need nor want.
    You doubt that? See the real life examples in this article.
     
  • Over the years I had several very frustrated customers calling me and asking why Java was not installed. In every single case some well meaning but ill advised relative, friend or computer technician had removed Java.
     
  • The few MB of disk storage space that Java needs are not an argument anymore; we are in  the age of 500GB and 1TB disk drives that a home user never will fill up. It is many years since I have seen a really full disk drive.
The price we have to pay is simple:
Keep Java up-to-date - and use common sense!

In What To Update from September 18 2011 I wrote:
Here is the list of the most important things that have to be kept up to date.
Added for this article:If you don't have any of these programs installed just ignore the entry in this list:
  1. Windows (better: all Microsoft software)
  2. Security programs
  3. ‏Firefox web browser 
  4. Firefox add-ons
  5. Java
  6. Adobe Reader
  7. Adobe Flash
  8. Adobe Shockwave
  9. Thunderbird email client
  10. Thunderbird add-ons
My conclusion:
  • It is very easy to keep Java up-to-date when you do that regularly anyway and are not stressed.
     
  • At a time where you will be frustrated and impatient (you want to get back to what you were doing when you got interrupted!)  you are more likely to get tricked to inadvertently allow some unrelated gunk to get on your computer.
For the non-technical home user I install Java and admonish the user to keep it up-to-date.

Naturally it always is my customer's computer so in the end the customer has to decide if they want to live with or without Java. Uninstalling Java is easy:
Control Panel > Programs and features > Highlight Java > Right Click > Click Uninstall.

Please uninstall all versions of Java that you eventually see. Old out-of-date versions are a HUGE security risk!

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.



Sunday, October 5, 2014

2014-10-06 WTKM Talking Points (October 6 2014)


Windows 10 announced. I am really impressed by the preview that I have running.

PLEASE check your Firefox web browser and Thunderbird email program for updates.
FF
needs to be at least at version 32.1.2 and TB at version 31.1.2
A really serious bug in some common, standard encryption code was updated.


S
hellshock bug in Linux/Unix:
At first I assumed the worst, we’d have to buy new routers. But home routers are not at risk!
We do not have to worry about Android or Apple phones from this - so far at least and if we use common sense.

If you have a cloud-enabled NAS device you are potentially at risk. Switch off remote access until the manufacturer releases updated software.
Mostly enterprise systems running Linux or Unix are at risk.
It is a good idea to check your home router for firmware updates anyway.

For-Pay Windows maintenance tools worthless

Home Depot got stripped of 56 million customers credit card data

  • It ignored security warnings from staff
  • It failed to update Symantec Anti Virus since 2007
  • It did not consistently monitor its network for signs of attack
  • It failed to properly audit its eventually-hacked payment terminals
  • It's executives reportedly told pleading staff that "we sell hammers"
  • Former unnamed HD security staff were so concerned of the poor state of IT systems that they warned friends to 'use cash' instead of credit cards.
JP Morgan (Chase bank plus nine! othe banks) attacked. Chase alone got stripped of 84 million customers personal data but no logins stolen. Personal data? Including SSNs? No word...

Have these banks been as sloppy as Home Depot? See above.

As I repeatedly have said: Management, management, management.


Can your account be pwned? Check on Have I been pwned? Well, HD and Chase cases probably not yet included.


Why do people create virus programs? MONEY!
CryptoWall alone cashed over six months more than $1.1 million

 
Apple Mac security programs: Only three of 18 very good, a few good. Fuhgetabout the rest. 17,000 Macs in just one botnet.

Marriott fined $600k for JAMMING guests' Wi-Fi hotspots
Posh hostel borked guests' networks to sell their pricey WiFi

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.
 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Windows 10


Wow, Microsoft, I am impressed!

I have done my first baby steps on the Windows 10 Technical Preview that was released today.

All I can say is:

         Windows 10 is Windows 8 done right!

I can hardly wait for next year's final release; we do not have an  official release date yet; it will be some time next year.

This is the system I will upgrade my everyday "work" computer to.

EVERYTHING of "old" software I tried so far works flawlessly, even system utilities, Libre Office and Google Earth. And the system is only a "preview" that still has some rough edges..

Running the risk to repeat myself, I am impressed.

Do you still have Windows Vista running on a a well equipped machine or one that could easily be upgraded to at least 4GB of RAM? Windows 10 is the system to upgrade to!

Be warned, do NOT attempt an in-place upgrade, always do a full install! This advice has nothing to do with Windows 10, it comes from experiences with six generations of upgrading Windows to newer versions.

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog. Please no hidden adverts for commercial software and please only language that your little kids could hear.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why Me?


Recently a customers asked me to tell him in short form why he or his friends should prefer my computer services over some other person or company. Thank you Larry P. for the question. Here is my answer:


I sell only my experience, my know-how and my time

I have worked professionally
     with computers since July 1st 1964
     with Microsoft software on CP/M computers since 1977
     with PCs since February 1982
     with Microsoft Windows since version 3.1 in 1992

I neither sell material goods nor any software

No sales tax.
No contractual ties to any product, manufacturer or wholesaler.

I recommend and install only freely available software (with very few exceptions)

No added “hidden” cost for the home user.
Even a proven alternative to Microsoft Office® is officially available free of charge.

I do not get any kickbacks from any dealer, manufacturer or wholesaler

I have absolutely no hidden financial interest or other commercial bias.
I receive absolutely no kickbacks of any kind, no matter where and what you buy.

Generally:

I do not mince words but rather say it as I see it.

I prefer real-life usability and experience over personal opinion.

I can explain technically complex concepts in layman's terms.

I abhor industry shenanigans or trickery and warn my customers.


As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Wipe or Repair


Over time some computers tend to slow down compared to how they worked when they were new; that even can lead to the computer “freezing p” and become totally unresponsive. There are many potential reasons for these effects. Here are a few examples:
  • During regular use temporary files do not get deleted when no longer needed.
  • Too many “background” programs accumulate and run unnecessarily.
  • Unscrupulous companies, programs and web sites literally trick the user into installing unnecessary and often outright pernicious programs, so called PuPs.
When this this gets too bad some people just buy a new computer but in most cases this is not necessary. Other people ask a computer repair shop or technician for help. And here is where it gets tricky for the end user who usually is not a computer geek.

Provided that the hardware of the computer in question is still working correctly these “repairs” can be done in two fundamentally different ways:
  1. The computer can be wiped or reset to factory-new state as it was originally delivered.
  2. Offending files and programs can be removed and eventual damage repaired.
Among computer repair technicians the question “repair or wipe” is one of the most controversially discussed topics of all. More often than not these discussions in online forums are based mostly on beliefs and habit than on facts.

My personal take at this question is this: It very rarely is in my client's best interest (or mine!) to wipe and reload the operating system. I know this in stark contrast to what businesses like Best Buy and others say and do but I write this for my average clients, home users that want their computer “to just work”.

A successful repair is, among others, defined by:
  • All viruses, malware, PuPs and so on have been completely removed.
  • The cleanup is actually accomplished in about 2 hours.
  • After the cleanup the computer runs reliably at normal speed.
  • For a reasonable period of time the computer remains free from malicious software - provided the user cooperates and avoids mistakes that are all too common.
Especially larger support organizations routinely apply the wipe-and-reload method. They usually claim one or more of the following reasons as their justification:
  • It’s the only way to be sure all infections are removed.
  • It’s the fastest way to resolve the problem.
  • This process also gets rid of other clutter.
IMHO much more to the point, this one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t require much skill, training or experience on part of the technician who is doing the work; thus the bigger organization saves money on training and wages for better qualified employees.

Most certainly the wipe-and-reload solution is not in the customer’s best interest; here are some of the reasons:
  • The rarely understands that their computer will look and feel very different after a reload.
  • The customer will have to manually reload drivers, reset the fonts he got used to and now “wants”, select colors, margins, standard folders and file associations; he/she may have to install printer(s) and apat other system settings that have been building up over time since the computer was new.
  • Some programs or data files will get destroyed or lost; if they are infrequently used that may show up only weeks or months after the “repair”.
  • The user will be without the computer for as long as the reload takes which could be several days.
  • Very sophisticated viruses may return after a reload unless very specific measures prevent such reinfection, for example after MBR and/or BIOS infection.
Here are some of the reasons why this approach is not in the technician's best interest, especially if I am the technician doing the cleanup:
  • If I “wipe and reload” then the client doesn’t need me, he/she can do it themselves or,
    worse yet, use the techie kid next-door to do it for the cost of a pizza.
  • Some programs, drivers, settings and user data will get lost.
  • The computer will not “look and feel the same” as it did before the repair.
  • The work involved will require much more time than I can honestly charge.
The only way to resolve issues caused by viruses or malware is to find and remove all such nasty programs, their activation methods and associated files and to repair eventual damage to the operating system.

A good cleanup must include improved preventive measures to avoid future success of another malware attack.

I am fully aware that this sometimes is next to impossible; modern malware almost always relies on social engineering tricks to get on a computer. In the end it depends on the user to always follow my Ten Commandments Of Safe Computing, now more than ever before.

Again opposed to common methods I prefer the on-site visit for a clean up job. Only on-site I can convey to the customer some training, show him/her the time proven tools and methodology I recommend to follow and get a feeling for how well they understand my appeals to use common sense.

There are situations when wipe-and-reload is appropriate, for example and IMHO if all these conditions are met:
  • You have a recent full-image backup of that computer.
  • There are only one or two user(s) set up on the infected computer .
  • There is no (or very little) locally-installed software on the infected computer.
These conditions are hardly ever met in a home environment. Only if these conditions are met I will consider a reload. In eleven years of “fixing” home computers I have had to reload the operating system only on two occasions.

I see no acceptable alternative to intelligently and methodically removing all malware infections and repairing any damage they may have caused. 

And I am well aware of the fact that on rare occasions malware may have done so much damage to the operating system that there may be no other way but to wipe and rebuild; but, as I said, luckily these cases are becoming more and more rare.

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Monday, September 8, 2014

2014-09-08 WTKM Talking Points (September 8 2014)



Linksys and Cisco routers unsafe! Updating does NOT help.
Any other router: Turn WPS off (known since 2011)

Cloud Storage: Another example of lost access and no recourse.

For-Pay Windows maintenance tools worthless

Infectious” USB drives on the horizon. So far only drives with a certain type of controller but that might change.
But they don't tell us what brand controller is affected.


14 antivirus apps have security problems.
    After finding basic boo-boos in security software researcher says vendors just don't care.
Avira, BitDefender, ESET and Panda (
among others) in “hall of shame”.

The skinny: The more a security app does the bigger the attack surface
and
the more it slows down the computer.

Why do people create virus programs? MONEY!
CryptoWall alone cashed over six months more than $1.1 million

Did Home Depot get hacked? Whether yes or no,
currently do not use ANY card at any retail stores.

Firefox enhances security with new version 32. Upgrade!

Mac security programs: Only three of 18 very good, a few good. Fuhgetabout the rest.

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog. 
 
Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Details on CryptoWall


This article assumes that you are familiar with my previous article CryptoLocker - Revisited.

Detailed information was released about CryptoWall, one of the CryptoLocker variants.

Between mid-March and late August CryptoWall infected almost 625,000 systems; on these systems it encrypted more than 5.25 billion files.

The US seems to have the most CryptoWall infections: 253,521 (or about 40 percent), followed by Vietnam with 66,590 infections, the U.K. with 40,258, Canada with 32,579 and India with 22,582.

The US likely got targeted more often because CryptoWall's got distributed through spam emails sent from the Cutwail botnet which targets English language computer users.

Researchers collected data directly from CryptoWall's  payment server such as the exact number of paying victims and the amount of payments. Of nearly 625,000 infections and over about six months 1,683 victims (0.27%) paid the ransom for a total of $1,101,900.

CryptoWall seems to have  a home-made problem by accepting payment of ransom by Bitcoin only. Many average computer users will have problems paying with Bitcoin and reseachers assume that this is part of the reason that only 0.27% of CryptoWall's victims paid compared to 1.3% of CryptoLocker victims; CryptoLocker allowed payment by MoneyPak as well.

As sad as it is, these numbers clearly show that cyber crime pays.


As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.




Tuesday, August 26, 2014

CryptoLocker - Revisited



In December 2012 I wrote for the first time about the back then new relatively virus CryptoLocker.
In October 2013 I wrote again about new variants of this virus. Now I have new information that warrants to visit CryptoLocker again.

This family of viruses is by now one of the most destructive threats I have seen. Much of the news regarding CryptoLocker is rather negative but there is at least a bit of positive news as well.

CryptoLocker has evolved

Very shortly after the original CryptoLocker had appeared the first variant was discovered; on first glance it appeared to be similar to the original version. It almost was a look-alike, the method of infection was the same, the encryption seemed the same and the message on the infected computer's screen was very much like the original's. There were only two obvious differences: The original CryptoLocker demanded $100 for information to decrypt the user's files and it offered two payment methods (MoneyPak or Bitcoin); the “look alike” demanded $300 and accepted Bitcoin only.

Time consuming and detailed analysis uncovered significant internal differences. Specialists found that the second version most likely was written by a different programmer or even programming team. It was written in a different programming language and many other internal differences were discovered as well.

In the meantime we know of at least six other virus programs that work similar to CryptoLocker. They are called “encrypting ransom ware” (in the following ERW), they are actively distributed, modified and improved. Most likely they were created and are being run by different groups of malware creators and distributors. Some names I have run across:
  • CryptoLocker (the original)
  • CryptoLocker 2 (the first imitator referenced above, my naming))
  • Critroni
  • CryptoDefense
  • CryptorBit
  • CryptoWall (see this new article for details)
  • CTB Locker
  • PrisonLocker or PowerLocker
  • TorLocker
The newer versions of ERW viruses have become increasingly sophisticated, hard to detect and difficult to remove.

How these infections spread

Many infections happen when the user attempts to opens an e-mail attachment that then in turn launches the ERW. By now almost any file type can be abused in this way; you just can't trust so called “safe” file types any longer.

Over time I have received many emails about supposedly failed deliveries of goods. Some of these emails were made professionally and looked at first glance almost authentic. It made no difference whether the email seemed to be from DHL, FedEx, UPS or the US Postal Service; there always seemed to be some legitimate sounding reason to open the attachment.

In all cases attention to detail and applied common sense protected my computer better than any security program could have done; I simply avoided that one fatal click to open an attachment.

Another increasingly often encountered way for ERWs to spread are “drive-by downloads”. They come from compromised websites and compromised web servers. These sophisticated attacks take advantage of known vulnerabilities in almost ubiquitous software like Windows, Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, Java and so on. Since these vulnerabilities are known there is only very little excuse to get caught by a drive-by download. To get the computer infected by a drive-by download is very unlikely if the user keeps all software up to date.

Protection?

On the positive side we have to my knowledge three options, some free and some with premium versions for a charge. These programs do not interfere in or conflict with common anti virus or security software. I warn against running any two of these programs concurrently due to the likelihood of conflicts with each other.

1. CryptoPrevent
2. MalwareBytes Anti-Exploit
3. HitmanPro Alert with CryptoGuard

If you are interested to learn more please follow the links.

To make it perfectly clear: I am convinced that the best protection is our own attention to detail, caution and applied common sense. No software in the world can replace our watchfulness!

ERWs on non-Windows computers

To make a bad situation even worse there are reports of ERWs on other, non-Windows platforms like tablets and smart phones with the Android operating system. There was talk about a popular NAS system (Network Attached Storage) being targeted as well. Only Apple systems seem to be not affected, so far at least; as we all know that can change any moment.

A bit of good news

Fairly recently, I believe it was in early August 2014, two software companies announced that they have jointly developed a method to decrypt at least some of the files that were encrypted by the original CryptoLocker. The companies and their web sites are The companies offer their program free of charge to people who still have files encrypted by the original version of CryptoLocker who wants to attempt to recover them.

The companies are FireEye (www.fireeye.com) and Fox-IT (www.fox-it.com). These companies apparently did not crack the encryption, they gained access to some of the command and control servers where some private keys were stored that the original CryptoLocker virus had used.

Much detailed sleuthing, dis-assembling, re-engineering and analysis of the original virus enabled them to write a program called DecryptCryptoLocker that can decrypt affected files when the were encrypted using any of the recovered private keys. At https://www.decryptcryptolocker.com/ you can read how this works. There is a decent chance that this program will recover encrypted files but there is no guarantee.Some so far encountered obstacles that may prevent decryption are:
  • It works only on files encrypted by the original version of CryptoLocker infections; it may or may not work on files encrypted by later versions of ERW.
     
  • Nobody knows if the servers accessed by FireEye and Fox-IT contained all private keys CryptoLocker had used.
     
  • The original CryptoLocker was effectively eliminated late in May, 2014; any later infections will most likely have used different sets of private keys.
Despite these obvious limitations of the procedure FireEye and Fox-IT deserve a lot of credit and big kudos. Anybody who still has files encrypted by the original CryptoLocker should try the procedure and see if it works for them.

My personal conclusion

It is primarily user behavior that protects the computer by always keeping Windows and all other regularly used programs up to date. If all this is accompanied by attention to detail and applied common sense then the computer will most likely remain “healthy” and safe.

In the worst case scenario, that is after your computer got hit by CrypyoLocker or a look-alike having a recent clean backup will be the best medicine against sleepless nights.

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How to Use Malwarebytes Anti-Malware


In my article 2014 Update On Malicious Programs I promised to write about how to correctly use Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (MBAM). Here it is.

Allow me to repeat the short installation instructions:

MBAM is a time proven product and available in a totally sufficient free version. You have to watch during the original install and when you install a program update. The last window of the installer looks like this:



Please pay attention to the marked entry; it's check box is preselected! That means the “trial version” will be activated and after the trial period ends you would have to pay for using the program.

You have to uncheck this check mark.

Eventually the program itself needs to be updated; the installer will run again and again you have to pay attention to this little detail to avoid the for-pay version!

And now to what the title promises.

After you start MBAM you see this window:


I recommend to always click on Update Now; this is where the cursor points in the screen shot. Let the program work until you see that the database has been updated:


Do you see the check mark by Database Version (see the cursor).

Then you click on the big green button labeled Scan Now.

The program window will show the progress:


When MBAM finishes scanning it may either show that no traces of malware were detected:

 

Or it shows this window listing encountered traces of malware (a real life example from a customer's computer):


The free version of MBAM does not allow to select different action(s). Experience has shown that the program's suggested action is appropriate.

My recommendation is to follow MBAM's suggested actions and to click on Apply Actions. When that action has finished you can close MBAM.


As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.