Did you get your flu shot yet? It’s that time of year when nasty little microscopic critters try to invade your body and assault you with aches, pains, and mucus. It’s not fun writing when your sick but somehow writers push through to meet deadlines. But what about your computer?
For your computer the cold and flu season is 24/7/365. That’s right, every second that ticks by could be the last healthy one your computer experiences. Even seasoned computer professionals can fall victim to an unwanted infection. I know of two technical professionals who experienced a virus in the last month. Even with corporate firewalls, restrictive Window policies, and some of the most expensive antivirus software money can buy, they were still infected.
For the purposes of brevity I am not going to get into the definitions of worms, Trojan horses, virus, root kits, bots…and the list goes one. If you are interested in the differences, please visit www.us-cert.gov/reading_room/virus.html or read this white paper at the www.sans.org website.
Now do not think since you own a MAC product or use Linux, or have an Android device, or a Blackberry, or Windows Mobile, or a phone using Symbian OS, you are safe. Oh no. Some individuals are so bored they will hack into anything they can access. For you mobile users, this means never leave Bluetooth or WiFi connection running when you are not using it. Nasty things can happen. Just this year I was at a tradeshow and my Android phone started spontaneously dialing numbers. After I turned off WiFi and Bluetooth, it stopped.
You must remember that your technology is always under assault. Always. People earn a living by finding illegal ways to infiltrate your devices. However, there is a lot you can do to prevent and limit a breach.
Let’s cover the no-tech required rules first. Here are some guidelines:
If you receive an email or IM out of the blue stating you have won money or a valuable prize, delete it immediately. At best it’s a scam to steal your identity. At worst clicking on the link will install a virus, bot, or some other nasty program you don’t want.
- If the email is from someone you’ve never heard of and has the phrase “Check this out” or some other wording to get you to click on a link. Delete it immediately. Do not click on any links.
- Official looking emails from your bank or credit card company asking you to verify your information are bogus. No exceptions to this rule. Never, never, and I say never click on a link to update our account information. Financial institutions will send you a postal letter. These sites may look identical to what you are used to seeing by they are not legit.
- You receive an email from a person you know with an odd-looking link embedded. Such as http://10.97.203.58/AdfiEfU5.zz7.php. Delete it immediately and contact your friend. Chances are they have been infected. On the odd chance that it was a legitimate email, they can send it again. Remember, virus can infect a computer and then email itself to everyone included in the local contact list.
- Do not insert a CD, DVD, or USB drive of unknown origin into your computer. Older versions of Windows and even Windows 7 can be set to automatically run programs stored on media. There was a case where a product sold in retail stores, that had software preloaded on it, installed a virus on customer’ computers. The PC used to create the software image was infected, thereby infecting the software stored on the product. Always scan the contents of these media types before running applications.
- If you get a pop up on your screen, read it. What did I say? That’s right, read it. All of it. Do not just automatically click OK. These pop ups can install bad mojo. They can also install Adware, advertising software that doesn’t do any harm, but can slow down your PC. These pop ups can also install a custom toolbar for your web browsers. Again, no harm, but it impacts your performance. Always read the text. If you don’t understand what it’s saying write it down and click the little ‘X’ in the upper right corner or cancel. If something goes wrong you have a record to give to your computer guru. Believe me when I say, a record of the exact text displayed can be a huge help in diagnosing a problem.
To illustrate the points above, here is a copy of an email that was sent to a group distribution list at my day job. This is a type of email is called phishing. The instigators of this type of attack are betting on your ignorance. The embedded link could be used to install software on your computer or display a form that asks for personal information.
Here is the email in its original form. However I replaced the To: address with a fictitious group name.
From: William Rowe [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, December 15, 2011 9:05 AM
To: One Gullible Group
Subject: Bank of America: Bill payment issue
To: Dear Bank of America customer
The most recent ALERTS for your account are now available to
Please follow the link to read URGENT ALERT message here:
Set up Alerts to be notified 5 days before your payment is due
to help avoid late payments. Sign in to Online Banking and select
the Alerts tab to activate the Credit Card Payment Due Alert.
Want to confirm this email is from Bank of America? Sign in to
Online Banking and go to Alerts. The Alerts History lists the
Alerts sent to you in the past 60 days.
This is a service email from Bank of America. Please note that
you may receive service email in accordance with your Bank of
America service agreements, whether or not you elect to receive
Contact us about this email
Please do not reply to this email with sensitive information,
such as an account number, PIN, password, or Online ID. The security
and confidentiality of your personal information is important
to us. If you have any questions, please either call the toll-free
customer service phone number on your account statement or visit
the Bank of America website to access the Contact Us page, so
we can properly verify your identity.
Privacy and security
Keeping your financial information secure is one of our most
important responsibilities. For an explanation of how we manage
customer information, please visit the Bank of America website
keeps your personal information secure and how you can help protect
Bank of America Email, 8th Floor-NC1-002-08-25, 101 South Tryon
St., Charlotte, NC 28255-0001
Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender
A¿ 2011 Bank of America Corporation. All rights reserved.
Now lets dissect it.
At first glance it looks very official, even has a company disclaimer at the end. However I know it’s fake because:
- I do not have a Bank of America account. Surprisingly, some people will click on the link anyway.
- The link displayed is not the BoA’s website, www.bankofamerica.com. Even if it did show the correct address that does not mean it will take you there. The real link can be hidden, much like you do when embedding a link in a blog post. Just click on the BoA link and see where it takes you.
- The email was sent to a group distribution. What if it was sent to a single email address? Remember the guidelines above? Banks do not and out these types of emails. If you still have doubt then call the customer service number listed on your monthly statement.
- The From: address is not from BoA’s registered web domain. In other words does not end with @bankofamerica.com.
- At the end of the disclaimer, on the last line, there is a funky upside down question mark. This means they scrapped the disclaimer off a website or this was drafted in a foreign language and translated to English using translation software.
In the next post we’ll look at various types of software you can use to protect your computer.
Do you have a favorite anti-virus software suite? Please leave a comment listing the name and why you like it.