posted by Gary Eikenberry 2016-05-26
Whatever your operating system or computing environment, a few simple habits can help protect you from malware and other threats which can transform your computer into a portal to a nightmare of hijacked email, ransomed data, stolen passwords or even stolen identities and other disasters. Just as I tell students in my self-defence and street-proofing classes, I don't intend to make you paranoid, but want to stress the importance of arming yourself with some information and techniques to make you safer. Have a look at
for an overview on safe computing.
It's important to stress that running something other than Windows can no longer (if it ever did) keep you safe. Lately we've been seeing a number of web-based exploits that are what we refer to s operating system agnostic, which is to say that they attempt to do their dastardly deeds regardless of what system you're booting. If you use a browser and are connected to the Internet you are potentially vulnerable. Of course this type of threat generally requires that you visit a compromised website, but without the proper protection you won't necessarily know that the site you're visiting is compromised.
A staff member for a client organisation recently thought she was clicking a link that would take her to eBay. By the time she realized that the "eBay" that the link had sent here to was not the real thing, the damage was already done. Not only had she given up her eBay account access information, but the malicious code that had run in the background had installed a downloader worm on her office workstation.
Take this seriously. Failure to do so can cost time, money and loss of opportunity. Believe me. I'm speaking from experience.
The importance of backups can't be over-emphasized. One of our laptops was hit with ransomware. Probably from opening an email or a website. Fortunately it was discovered before anything got introduced to our server. Even though paying to have the laptop recovered cost less than paying the ransom the most recent backup for the laptop was almost 2 months old so the lost data also represented a cost.
Good point! Ask yourself "How much does a good backup strategy cost?" Then ask yourself "How much would it cost us to recover from a ransomware attack or some idiot unplugging a running server to plug in a hoover?" You can buy anti-malware products but they aren't foolproof. To protect yourself from fools (or machine failure or nasties that slip through the anti-malware gaps) you need backups!
Overheard in a pub: "This whole computer virus thing is just a protection scam perpetrated by the guys that make the software." Malware is indeed a big business but the ones getting rich are not the anti-malware software companies. Ransomware, on-line identity and credit card theft are major revenue streams for organized crime and terrorism. Failure to protect yourself with safe computing habits amounts to aiding and abetting.
And most anti-malware software, especially the free versions that most people use, will not, on its own, protect you from things like phishing exploits and clicking sketchy links or "OK" buttons without understanding what you're accepting or agreeing to.
Today we were hit for the second time in less than a month with "fake" ransomware. Fake because the files on the PC aren't really encrypted but you can't get past the message that says they are. By removing the hard drive and accessing it as an external device Gary was able to save the files and then restore the PC from a cloned image before reloading the files copied from the drive before it was re-done.
Fake or real, ultimately the only solution to these attacks is a good drive clone and/or backup.
Whatever you do, don't pay these idiots to encourage this scourge.
Don't trust Apple to keep you safe! An ill-advised click on a website that was probably bogus in the first place created a real mess.Malware designed for Windows can't harm OS-X, but a Java applet launched by a click doesn't care what your operating system is.
The recent media uproar about the WannaCry exploit has, once again, brought the issue of computer security to the forefront but some clarification is called for. First, this was not a case of hacking as it has been mislabeled. It was, in fact, a particularly virulent example of malware which, by all indications, required user action, such as opening an email attachment or a web link, to launch the code that did the damage.
If anything, the damage done in this case should serve to underscore the basic tenets of safe computing:
1. Regular backups are critical.
2. All systems should be kept up to date. Old and unpatched operating systems and software are as dangerous to computer networks as broken floorboards or windows are to a house.
3. Policies and user training to prevent the user actions which invite malicious code into networks are equally important: the best locks and alarm systems for your home aren't much help if its residents open the doors indiscriminately to anyone and everyone who comes along.
A reccent ransomware crisis we were called upon to help remedy resulted in > 30 billable hours of support time and 2 days of lost productivity. In the end there was minimal data loss because of a solid backup strategy and a fast reaction to shut everything down. But this was far from trivial.
2 days later we received a call from another client who had been hit by the same exploit. They weren't a quick and their latest backup was compromised, resulting in 2+ days of downtime and 6 days of lost data.
Safe computing practices and personnel policies to teach them and make them mandatory are absolutely critical in the current IT environment. If you use email or a web browser (and who doesn't?) you are vulnerable. If you don't take steps to protect yourself your are naive.
Take this seriously! My organisation was hit. 3 users lost a week of email and about 50 documents. Gary's team got us back up and running but at a cost that amounted to more than the demanded ransom. But better that than supporting the criminals who may or may not have coughed up the encryption keys. Only the fact that our file server doesn't run on Windows saved us from more devastating circumstances.
Is your hardware safe? If Meltdown & Spectre and NSA back doors weren't enough now there's the Bloomberg Report of Chinese infiltration of a major server supply chain. What should you fear? https://www.servethehome.com/bloomberg-reports-china-infiltrated-the-supermicro-supply-chain-we-investigate/
In our current political and economic environment it would be naive to assume that any government or large organization (criminal or otherwise) wouldn't be concerned, not only with protecting their own data, but also exploiting the vulnerabilities of their competitors.
We live in an era where the vast majority of individuals seem to be more than willing to trade privacy and data security for connectivity -- or at least what passes for connectivity on social media, all to often leaving themselves easy marks for insidious click-bait.
More and more of the recovery operations we've had to do on clients' devices recently aren't due to hacking but ill-advised clicking. Please think before you click and back up regularly.