Service and Support
When we first heard about the CryptoLocker malware a year ago or so, I thought, as cybercrime goes, that’s about as bad as you can get.
CryptoLocker is a very malicious form of malware: unlike a virus infection, it totally blocks access to your data but leaves your computer and your software running just fine.
Then the demand, “Pay us $300 within three days, and you’ll get your data back. Otherwise… it’s gone forever.” The $300 payment buys you the 2048-bit RSA private key needed to unscramble your encrypted data.
But, as malicious as CryptoLocker and now CryptoWall 2.0 are, there is another contender in this game of hacker warfare.
Fake support calls
Fake support scammers are the people who phone you out of the blue (whether you are on the Do Not Call register or not) and, not to mince words, scare you heck out of you spouting lies about malware on your computer.
For $200 – $300 or so, the same price point as CryptoLocker, the scammers will fix your computer, but any “fix” you get is as bad or worse then the “problem” you didn’t have in the first place.
Many people have reported that these guys don’t just call once if you fail to cough up the $300. They often call again and again, with the calls getting more insistent – outright threatening, by many reports – and with no real hope that they will stop.
Dealing with the scam
It’s easy for us to say, “But all you have to do is hang up, so this scam could never work.” But it’s also easy to see how a well-meaning but not very technically savvy user, especially someone without a network of family or friends to ask for IT help, could be scared into paying up.
Imagine the questions that worried users might ask themselves:
- Didn’t the caller say he was from Microsoft?
- Didn’t he say that a virus on my computer was attacking his company’s servers?
- Didn’t he find evidence of it in my system log, just as he predicted?
- Isn’t most computer support done over the phone and online these days?
- Isn’t this the third time he’s called, with the symptoms getting worse every time?
- Can’t you get sued for a cyberattack because you didn’t have a virus scanner?
- Won’t it end up costing $300 anyway, or even more, if I go to my local shop instead?
Demanding money with threats is what it sounds like to me, amounting to extortion or blackmail. And these guys have your phone number!
With that in mind, it’s always a good thing when fake support callers get bagged and thanks to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Uttam Saha and Tiya Bhattacharya, who ran a company called Pairsys in Albany, New York, have been shut down by court order.
That may not sound like much, as I’m convinced that there are still MANY other individuals and groups perpetrating this scam but in this case, the settlement with the FTC will see the scammers’ operation shuttered and their assets frozen.
Indeed, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said: ”We are pleased that the court has shut down the company for now, and we look forward to getting consumers’ money back in their pockets.”
There’s a lot of money to recover: the FTC claims that the pair have pulled in about $2,500,000 in the past two-and-a-half years.
Is it real punishment?
Of course, just giving the money back isn’t really a punishment for these 2 crooks, because they weren’t supposed to have it in the first place. It’s still a direct result for the FTC’s internet crime fighting efforts, so, “Well done, Bureau of Consumer Protection.”
The next question should be – how do you think the courts should punish fake support scammers?
Dealing with fake support calls
So if you have friends or family who have been pestered to the point of worry by fake support callers, here’s a short podcast you can tell them about. The podcast makes it clear that these guys are scammers (and why), and offers some practical advice on how to deal with them.
Avoiding fake support calls
The Antivirus industry has a dirty little secret that they really don’t want anyone to know. Despite their claims, their products are not all that effective. Many of them are only protecting against at best 80% or 90% of the threats out there in the wild at any time.
Let’s look at that a bit more in detail. AV products need to protect against two general types of threats: ones that are known and threats that are unknown. The ones that are known have an identified signature so that anti-virus programs can detect the threat and get rid of it. This is called reactive detection. Then, there are threats that are still unknown, usually new threats created by the bad guys. AV products need to protect against those in a proactive way, and antivirus software can be scored looking at how many of those new threats they block.
This type of scoring on both reactive and proactive detection is actually being done by the antivirus industry’s premier site for insiders: Virus Bulletin. They have created so called RAP averages. RAP stands for “Reactive And Proactive”. They test all antivirus products every few months, and measure how each product does in both reactive and proactive detections of a large amount of threats. And they create a graph where these scores are plotted for all tested products. The proactive score is on the X-axis, and the reactive score is on the Y-axis.
The results are not pretty. One major antivirus industry player is routinely scoring no better than 75% reactive combined with a 70% proactive. And people wonder how come PCs still get infected by malware. Check out the test results. Click here to see the most recent graph at Virus Bulletin: You can check there how your antivirus vendor is doing also. https://www.virusbtn.com/vb100/rap-index.xml
The bad guys know this and count on it. Simply having anti-virus protection alone creates a false sense of security. It’s just as important for all employees undergo regular Internet Security Awareness Training and to enforce compliance. Just one employee in a weak moment, clicking on a phishing email, can cause untold grief, losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and potentially massive legal bills. Businesses and consumers definitely need both an endpoint security software solution AND education on the perils of using the internet. We use and recommend Threat Tracks VIPRE Antivirus business edition as it scores very well in the RAP tests and isn’t a resource hog negatively affecting computer performance.
Whatever Antivirus product you ultimately use to protect your computer – remember, the protection is only as good as the updated virus definitions. ALWAYS check and verify that your AV has the most up-to-date definitions to maximize your protection.
Later today, Microsoft is holding an event in San Francisco to unveil the new Windows operating system and most likely launch some sort of technical preview. We don’t yet know if it will be called Windows 9, Windows Threshold, or simply Windows, but no matter what the official name of the new OS, the price for upgrading to it should be free.
You can thank mobile devices in general, and Apple specifically, for the shift in OS pricing. When the latest greatest version of iOS or Android is released, the issue of cost never comes up. It’s simply expected that the upgrade will be free.
The culture of free upgrades on mobile devices was driven in large part by Apple, and Apple is also the company that extended that model to its desktop OS. Apple was already providing new versions of Mac OS X at a fraction of what Microsoft was charging customers to upgrade to the latest Windows release, but last year, when Apple launched Mac OS X “Mavericks,” it also made the upgrade available for free. I expect the same with the upcoming release of OS X “Yosemite” this fall.
That’s a tough act to follow. Mac OS X is certainly not a threat to Windows, but it has gained much more mainstream relevance and has been chipping away at Microsoft’s share of the desktop OS market. Microsoft can’t really just ignore the fact that Apple is offering Mac OS X upgrades for free and then continue charging hundreds of dollars for the latest version of Windows.
Multiple Windows 9 reports have suggested that Microsoft is considering releasing the upcoming platform as a free download to certain existing Windows users. The Windows 9 upgrade will be available free of charge to all existing Windows 8 users once it’s released. Apparently, users will be able to easily install the Windows 9 update after downloading it from Microsoft, which is how Apple’s OS X updates have been rolled out to Macs for a few years now. For what it’s worth, some of the recent Windows 9 leaks did say that Microsoft already has a tool in place that will allow users to easily perform software updates.
It’s not clear whether other Windows users who are on older versions of the OS will get any other special offers, and actual prices for Windows 9 have yet to be revealed. Microsoft is reportedly interested in moving many people from the older, and no longer supported, Windows XP and offering Windows 9 as a free download might be a great incentive for some.
Recent leaks, including many online videos, have revealed some of the major features coming to Windows 9, including the return of the Start menu, the Cortana voice-based search assistant that’s currently available only on Windows Phone, the Notification Center, support for multiple desktops, and several other user interface enhancements.
Providing a free OS upgrade takes the wind out of the sails of most complaints. One of the biggest protests users have about upgrading isn’t the operating system itself, it’s the idea that they’re being “forced” to upgrade just to line Microsoft’s pockets with cash. There will always be challenging issues with any new operating system — you can’t please everyone — but the backlash would be greatly reduced if no money exchanged hands. Customers would give Microsoft a lot more leeway and be much more forgiving if the latest, greatest version is free.
Operating system adoption is also subject to inertia. When a new version of an operating system is launched, the more people download and install it and the greater market share it wins, the more likely it is that more people will continue to download and install it. If the OS upgrade is available for free, it’s much more likely that demand will be higher, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that drives adoption.
Microsoft doesn’t need to charge for Windows upgrades. Technology changes over time. Hardware crashes and dies. There will be customers who will cling to their 10-year old hardware, but many will still buy new PCs to replace broken hardware, get a faster processor, or take advantage of the latest USB or Wi-Fi components. Microsoft could provide free upgrades to the latest version of Windows for existing owners of licensed copies of Windows but still continue to charge OEM manufacturers for installing the OS in new PCs (Microsoft does give the Windows OS away for free for devices with screens smaller than nine inches).
The latest versions of iOS and Android are free for those with existing iOS and Android devices, but they aren’t available for all existing iOS or Android devices. iOS 8 is only compatible with the iPhone 4s and newer, the iPod Touch 5th generation and newer, and the iPad 2 and newer. Anyone with an older iOS device must now replace their hardware in order to get the benefits of the latest OS.
Microsoft is a corporation that exists to bring in revenue and provide value to its shareholders. It’s not operating as a non-profit. As such, Microsoft has a vested interest in ensuring that as many businesses and consumers around the world continue to depend on the Windows OS so that it can sell its other products and services — and it could help that cause by providing Windows upgrades for free.
Do you agree? Share your thoughts with me….
Five Reasons Why Clicking “Unsubscribe” May Be A Bad Idea!
When you get on a mailing list you don’t want to be on, it’s easy to get off – just click on the “unsubscribe” link. But should you? Maybe not. When you unsubscribe, you’re giving the organization that sent you the message information about yourself that you may not want them to have:
1. You have confirmed to the sender that your email address is both valid and in active use.
If the sender is unscrupulous then the volume of email you receive will most likely go up, not down. Worse, now that you have validated your address the spammer can sell it to his friends. So you are probably going to get phishing attacks from them too.
2. By responding to the email, you have positively confirmed that you have opened and read it and may be slightly interested in the subject matter, whether it’s getting money from a foreign prince, a penny stock tip or a diet supplement. That’s very valuable information for the mailer and his pals.
3. If your response goes back via email – perhaps the process requires you to reply with the words “unsubscribe,” or the unsubscribe link in the message opens up an email window – then not only have you confirmed that your address is active, but your return email will leak information about your email software too. Emails contain meta information, known as email headers, and you can tell what kind of email software somebody is using (and imply something about their computer) from the contents and arrangement of the headers.
4. If your response opens up a browser window then you’re giving away even more about yourself. By visiting the spammer’s website you’re giving them information about your geographic location (calculated based on your IP address), your computer operating system and your browser. The sender can also give you a cookie which means that if you visit any other websites they own (perhaps by clicking unsubscribe links in other emails) they’ll be able to identify you personally.
5. The most scary of all: if you visit a website owned by a spammer you’re giving them a chance to install malware on your computer, even if you don’t click anything. These types of attacks, known as drive-by downloads, can be tailored to use exploits the spammer knows you are vulnerable to thanks to the information you’ve shared unwittingly about your operating system and browser.
So how do you avoid unwanted email without unsubscribing?
If the message is unsolicited then mark it as spam.
Marking something as spam not only deletes the message (or puts it into your trash) it also teaches your email software about what you consider spam so that it can better detect and block questionable messages in the future and adapt as the spammers change their tricks.
Disgruntled Windows 8 users: there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel. ZDNet reports that Microsoft is planning to release a Windows 9 “technology preview” sometime between the end of September and the beginning of October. In order to install the preview, you’ll have to agree to receive automatic monthly updates, but the preview will be publicly available for anyone interested in testing out the Threshold operating system.
No information was revealed regarding what the technology preview will consist of, but we know that Windows 9 will feature a host of updates and improvements over Windows 8. The return of the Start menu is certainly at the top of the list, but Microsoft is also expected to bring Cortana to the new OS. The voice-activated digital assistant was met with excitement when it was announced earlier in the year and could be a major attribute for Windows going forward.
Microsoft released several previews for Windows 8 before the official launch, but the company was working on a very different release schedule at the time. In fact, it was more than a year after the first Windows 8 developer preview was released that the OS went on sale. On the other hand, Microsoft is expected to release Windows 9 in the spring of 2015.
For additional information check out the following links or simply Google Windows 9:
How to safely dispose of computers and other technology devices
When you get rid of sensitive paper documents, it’s a good idea to shred or burn them to help protect your privacy and prevent identity theft. Similarly, it’s important to erase your personal information from computers (desktop, laptop, or tablet) and other devices (smartphone, gaming consoles) before you dispose of or donate them.
If your device was provided to you by your employer, or if you own a small business, you may also risk loss of intellectual property, legal penalties, and potential damage to your corporate reputation.
So, what should you do?
1: First you should back up the files or data you want to keep
Start the process by making a copy of your information somewhere else like a portable USB drive. To create a backup of the files on a computer running Windows, you can use the Backup and Restore feature that’s built into Windows Vista and Windows 7, or File History in Windows 8. If you’re moving your files to a new computer, you can use Windows Easy Transfer to transfer your files from one computer running Windows to another.
2: Choose the best option for removing your data
Simply reformatting a disk or reinstalling the operating system does not guarantee the old data is unreadable. Your two best options for data removal are to use a certified refurbisher (this is the preferred course of action for business computers) or you can do it yourself. The following information will help you choose what is most suitable for your situation.
Microsoft has a listing of authorized technology refurbishers that can help you with data destruction and proper disposal practices. You can see them at this website: http://www.microsoft.com/refurbishedpcs/Disposal.aspx
If this high end disposal service is beyond your needs, you do have a couple FREE download options to Do-It-Yourself:
1: Softpedia’s DP Wiper:
2: Active @ KillDisk:
The 2 FREE applications mentioned above are tried and true and their websites are not infected with any drive by Trojan attacks. I DO NOT recommend simply opening up Google or any other search engine and searching for Disk Wipe utilities. In testing this, I found that more than ½ of the links I checked were in fact infected with some type of Trojan trying to infect my system. REMEMBER – anytime you search for something “FREE” you’re apt to get more trouble than you bargain for…
Microsoft’s cybercrime-related seizure of 23 domains from No-IP.com, a Reno, Nev.-based company that provides a popular free dynamic DNS service, is causing outages for millions of legitimate users of the service — and at least one security vendor.
The No-IP.com outages are having an impact on some customers with SonicWall firewalls. SonicWall, which Dell acquired in 2012, supports No-IP.com and other dynamic DNS services in its products.
Hundreds of his SonicWall customers began experiencing outages on Monday. Some of these customers are apartment complexes that run security surveillance cameras behind SonicWall firewalls, using No-IP.com’s dynamic DNS service to relay the video feeds.
No-IP.com and other dynamic DNS services are commonly used by remote workers to connect VoIP phones and video cameras to the Internet. Their popularity stems in large part from the fact that purchasing static IP addresses are expensive.
Microsoft has justified its actions by claiming that No-IP.com’s domains have been regularly used in malware attacks against millions of Windows users. And in Microsoft’s view, No-IP.com hasn’t done enough to stop this activity.
Microsoft filed a restraining order against No-IP.com in the U.S. District Court for Nevada on June 19. The court transferred DNS authority over the domains to Microsoft a week later.
Microsoft, which has a well-established track record of using legal means to break up botnets, said No-IP.com bears the brunt of the blame for allowing criminals to use its service for nefarious purposes.
As malware authors continue to pollute the Internet, domain owners must act responsibly by monitoring for and defending against cybercrime on their infrastructure,” Richard Domingues Boscovich, assistant general counsel in Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit, said in a blog post Monday.
If free Dynamic DNS providers like No-IP exercise care and follow industry best practices, it will be more difficult for cybercriminals to operate anonymously and harder to victimize people online.
However, in seizing the domains, Microsoft has disrupted service for a large chunk of the dynamic DNS service’s users, No-IP.com said in a statement Monday. The company also claims that Microsoft never reached out to it first before going to the courts. “Millions of innocent users are experiencing outages to their services because of Microsoft’s attempt to remediate hostnames associated with a few bad actors,” No-IP.com said in the statement.
Security experts applaud Microsoft’s malware-fighting tactics. Big DNS take-downs are very effective. They can quickly nullify huge botnets in a single move. With DNS names black-holed, the botnet essentially becomes useless since it cannot communicate back to its command infrastructure.
Unfortunately, it’s unclear how much of a long-term benefit Microsoft’s latest antimalware actions will have. Malware creators are always developing new strategies around this, including the use of multiple DNS names, resolvers, or fail-safe measures to reconnect to their command-and-control systems.
Was Microsoft right in taking this action? Even though they had a court order, did they overstep their bounds? Let us know what you think.
Surface Pro 3 – the tablet that can replace your laptop or even a MacBook Pro? That’s the new tagline for the Surface Pro 3 and the theme of the new television commercials.
Microsoft released their new Surface Pro 3 last Friday. After less-than-stellar sales and rumored to have lost over $1.2 BILLION dollars on the Surface 1 and 2 they’re hoping that the 3rd time is a charm.
Its obvious Microsoft got off to a rocky start with its first two Surface Pros, but I still think there’s a lot to like in the laptop/tablet hybrids. With their aggressive update schedule, we’re finally seeing the third Surface Pro just a year and a half after the first one hit store shelves.
It’s thinner and lighter even though it has a larger 12”display.
New kickstand design with more angle flexibility
New keyboard/cover design with backlit keys and improved trackpad.
Comes bundled with a battery powered stylus/pen.
The top button on the stylus opens OneNote.
Writing or drawing on the screen is much like drawing on a piece of paper.
No built-in storage for the bundled stylus.
The keyboard is not included ($129.00 additional)
Battery life has not improved over the Pro 2. Microsoft claims up to 9 hours browsing websites.
To sweeten the pot even more – if you bought a Macbook Air only to find it doesn’t quite fill your “laptop” needs, Microsoft is offering up to a $650 trade-in allowance through July 31st.
When it comes to price, the Surface Pro 3 is basically on par with the MacBook Air. The Surface Pro 3 starts out cheaper at $799 — but that’s for a Core i3 model with only 64 GB of storage. The Core i5 Surface Pro 3 with a 128 GB SSD has both the same basic hardware and the same $999 price tag as the base 13-inch MacBook Air. The Core i7 will hit the streets at $1,949 with 512GB of storage. There’s also a $199.00 docking station and an Ethernet adapter available.
If you want to take a Surface Pro 3 for a test drive just visit your local Best Buy or Staples. They have the entry level units in stock and ready for sale. I’ll have a more thorough review once the higher end units are shipping and in use here at ACTSmart.
If you’re a Comcast cable customer, your home’s private Wi-Fi router is being turned into a public hotspot.
It’s been one year since Comcast started its monster project to blanket residential and commercial areas with continuous Wi-Fi coverage. Imagine waves of wireless Internet access emitting from every home, business and public waiting area.
Comcast has been swapping out customers’ old routers with new ones capable of doubling as public hotspots. So far, the company has turned 3 million home devices into public ones. By year’s end it plans to activate that feature on the other 5 million already installed.
Anyone with an Xfinity account can register their devices (laptop, tablet, phone) and the public network will always keep them registered — at a friend’s home, coffee shop or bus stop. No more asking for your cousin’s Wi-Fi network password.
What about privacy?
It seems like Comcast did this the right way. Outsiders never get access to your private, password-protected home network. Each box has two separate antennae, Comcast explained. That means criminals can’t jump from the public channel into your network and spy on you.
And don’t expect every passing stranger to get access. The Wi-Fi signal is no stronger than it is now, so anyone camped in your front yard will have a difficult time tapping into the public network. This system was meant for guests at home, not on the street.
As for strangers tapping your router for illegal activity: Comcast said you’ll be guilt-free if the FBI comes knocking. Anyone hooking up to the “Xfinity Wi-Fi” public network must sign in with their own traceable, Comcast customer credentials.
Still, no system is foolproof, and this could be unnecessary exposure to potential harm. Simply opening up another access point increases the likelihood that someone could tamper with your router.
What about connection speed?
Having several people connecting to a single router tends to clog up the Wi-Fi. Comcast says it found a way to make this work.
With two separate networks, each antenna has its own data speed cap. Comcast said the private channel provides whatever speed customers already pay to get (most have 25 Megabits per second). The public hotspot channel is given 15 Mbps and allows up to five people to connect at a time.
That means having your data-hungry friends over shouldn’t slow down your Netflix streaming if they are logged into the “public” side of your router.
Comcast also says you shouldn’t experience any conflict between the two networks. It’s something Comcast engineers thought about carefully. Obviously, the last thing they want to do is to create a bad user experience.
Before this project, there was no value in having a home Internet subscription when you’re not at home. Every time you left the house you walked away from your subscription. But with all these new hotspot locations, you can now connect to the Internet remotely using your home or business account. Everyone’s devices are a lot more mobile.
But what if you hate the idea of your private Comcast boxes being turned into public hotspots? You can turn it off by calling Comcast or logging into your account online. The company says fewer than 1% of customers have done that so far.
We’ve started seeing yet another version of CryptoLocker .
It begins as a very simple plain text email pretending to be an email delivered fax. I’d like to point out that in an effort to evade filters or at least make blocking these a bit harder, the cyber thief has been utilizing DropBox links to give to potential victims. Much like many campaigns in the past, other virus campaigns have attempted to utilize legitimate, especially free, services to hide their malware. GoogleDocs was a favorite of spammers to peddle their pharma campaigns, but Google was usually pretty quick to clean those up. In this instance it would appear that DropBox does not scan their stored files for malware and CryptoLocker is taking full advantage of this.
This variation also appears to work a little differently in a few ways. Once the victim machine is infected, a few new pages pop up to inform the victim that they have been infected. One is a webpage explaining what just happened. Another is a text file that explains what you must do in order to decrypt your files entitled “DECRYPT_INSTRUCTION”. An interesting note in the decryption instructions his time is that they include Tor links that are supposed to be “your personal home page”. If you follow them though, you will just end up at a page that looks like the original instruction page that pops up when you are first notified of your new infection. DO NOT click on these links!
The third page that pops up is reminiscent of the original CryptoLocker providing a little countdown timer. Originally the timer represented the time you had left before they would destroy your personal encryption key, this time it states that when it runs out you will be charged double for their not so friendly decryption services. This go around i’s $500 – $600 and then $1000 – $1200 after the timer expires which appears to begin the countdown at 120 hours. With previous attacks, the payments were accepted through Western Union or Moneygram, this time they’re back to Bitcoin, and Bitcoin only.
This is a very nasty bug. Not only does it encrypt local files, but it also seeks out and encrypts attached storage as well as network shares and encrypts everything on those as well. If you have a cloud based storage system like DropBox open and logged in on your system it attempts to encrypt those files as well. It is not recommended that anyone pay these criminals the ransom they demand. We have not heard that anyone has paid and gotten their files back – the criminals just continue to bleed the user dry until the user stops paying additional money then they just stop responding.
This particular variation requires the recipient of the email to click on the DropBox link to retrieve a Zip file. The Zip file must then be opened. Inside that reveals a file by the name of Fax-932971.scr, note the screensaver .scr extension. Once the file is removed from the Zip it then appears as a pdf icon.
The ONLY way to combat this challenge is to remain HYPER ALERT AND VIGILANT to any and all emails that contain attachments. DO NOT CLICK ON ANY email attachments, faxes, bank transfers, PDF files, ZIP files.
This Trojan employs a very complex encryption algorithm and its removal has evaded everyone so far. There is currently no antivirus or anti-malware program that can protect you from this nor can it remove and fix the problem afterwards. The ONLY RECOURSE available for anyone that gets infected is to isolate the compromised machines from their networks, format and re-install the affected systems and servers and then restore them from backups. In many cases, unless you have a comprehensive offsite backup solution, your critical data is encrypted and unable to be restored. We have found that even paying the ransom will not get your data back as the criminals do not respond even after you’ve sent the money.