Researchers Turning To Algorithms To Combat Phishing

Chris Myers is a field service technician for Tech Experts.

Phishing is a type of social engineering attack used to steal user information such as login credentials, bank account information, or credit card numbers. The most commonly seen phishing attack is when an attacker, posing as a legitimate source, tricks a victim into clicking on a malicious link in an email. Once clicked, the link installs malware on the user’s computer and possibly gives the attacker access to other devices on the same network.

Often, the link opens a website owned by the attacker, specifically designed to look like a normal login or account validation page. However, when users enter their information into this website, all they are doing is giving that information directly to the attacker.

Phishing emails have been around since the dawn of the Internet, even having a paper and presentation discussing their use at the 1987 conference for the International HP Users Group, “Interex.”

While the basic premise hasn’t changed since then, attackers have had decades to improve their technique and automated delivery systems.

A New Defense
Jeremy Richards of the mobile device security company Lookout has been developing a novel solution to this problem. Lookout records the network traffic of over 60 million mobile applications and, as such, has a large amount of real-time data it can analyze.

After manually tracking phishing websites through this network, Richards discovered many telltale digital signs of phishing websites. He started creating tools to assist in this detection, but those quickly evolved into their own automated search engine.

The program now goes through several steps to algorithmically narrow down and positively identify malicious websites. For example, the program will check new domains (website addresses) for misspellings of technology or financial companies, or special characters used in place of normal lettering.

Once it spots a suspicious website, it will take a screenshot of the homepage and then automatically search for the logos of thousands of companies. Phishing websites almost always try to look official by using the actual logos from companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google.

Once a site is confirmed to be malicious, Lookout can report them to the authorities, download the specific phishing code used by the attackers, then look for that code in future scans to find additional websites.

As phishing attacks occur with increasing frequency, these automated solutions will be necessary for us to stand any chance at stemming the tide of cybercrime.

How To Spot Phishing Emails
Here are some common characteristics of phishing emails that you can identify:

Poor grammar – Since most emails aren’t composed by native English speakers, they usually contain many grammar, spelling, and capitalization mistakes, along with unusual phrasing.

Generic or informal greetings – If a message doesn’t address you by name, it’s another sign that it is from an unknown attacker.

Sense of urgency – Most phishing emails want you to rush through the message and click on a link without looking at it too closely.

Hyperlinks – Hover over any links to make sure they go where they say they are going.

Attachments – Many phishing emails will include malware in attachments.

Unusual sender – If it’s from someone you don’t know, pay extra attention to the contents.

Google Study Reveals Phishing Attacks Are The Biggest Threat To Web Security

A recent study by Google and UC Berkeley suggests that cyber thieves are successfully stealing 250,000 valid usernames and passwords every week.

The study, which was based on 12 months of login and account data that was found on criminal websites and forums, aimed to ascertain how the data had been hacked and the actions that can be employed to avoid criminal activity in the future.

Google claims the research is vital for developing an understanding of how people fall victim to scammers and hackers and will help to secure online accounts.

The research found that, over a 12-month period, keyloggers (programs that monitor every keystroke that someone make on a computer) stole 788,000 account credentials, 12 million were harvested via phishing (emails or phone calls that con people into handing over confidential data), and an incredible 1.9 billion were from breaches of company data. The study found the most productive attacks for cyber-thieves came from phishing and keylogging. In fact, in 12%-15% of cases, the fraudsters even obtained users’ passwords.

Malicious hackers had the most success with phishing and were able to pick up about 234,000 valid usernames and passwords every week, followed by keyloggers who managed to steal 15,000 valid account details per week.

Hackers will also look to gather additional data that could be useful in breaching security measures, such as the user’s Internet address (IP), the device being used (Android versus Apple) and the physical location. Gathering this data, however, proved far harder for those with malign intent.

Of the people whose credentials were secured, only 3.8% also had their IP address identified, and less than 0.001% had their detailed device information compromised.

Google said in a follow-up blog post that the research would be used to improve the way it detects and blocks attempts to misappropriate accounts.

Historical data of the physical location where users logged on and the devices they used will increasingly be used as part of a range of resources that users can use to secure their accounts.

The research, however, did acknowledge that the account hacking problem was ‘multi-pronged’ and would require countermeasures across a number of areas including corporate networks.

Education of users is set to become a ‘major initiative’ as the research also revealed that only 3.1% of people whose account had been hijacked subsequently started using enhanced security measures such as two-step authentication (Google authenticator or a similar service) after control of a stolen account was regained.

Gone Phishing! How To Spot A Phishing Scam

If you are a user that has been around for a while, there is a pretty good chance you’ve been targeted with a phishing scam. You may have a long lost relative in another country who left you millions – and all the executor of the estate needs is your banking information to send you your inheritance! Or a prince of a small country is trying to move some of his fortune and escape to America – and if you can help, you will be rewarded!

These are some oldies-but-goodies, however phishing scams have and will continue to get better and smarter.

There was a time when phishing scams almost always came filled with poor grammar, spelling errors, and writing that just seemed a little off. While these still exist, things have become harder to detect.

These scammers are always looking for your personal information. There are a few ways they can do this, but most of them begin with email spoofing, where a sender will mask their actual email address with a familiar one.

If it isn’t a spoofed email, it may come from an address that is very close to that of a known and trusted sender. This could have an extra letter or even just a period to try to trick you into completing whatever task they are using in an attempt to get your information. This could be something as simple as a link to “family photo” or video and it could very well open your system to different vulnerabilities.

Something like a keylogger, a program that tracks your keystrokes, can be almost undetected while also gathering your online banking or credit card information.

Lately, phishers and scammers have pulled out all the stops. There have been cases where phishers will not only spoof an email, but also documents. These can look pretty real, so take a close look.

A new long-shot, big-payoff scam is to spoof an email address of a financial institution to try to intercept money from home purchases. This is done with forged documents and a fake email. While it’s a long shot for something that big to happen, do big business in-person or through trusted secure communications.

What to watch for:

When you have email communication from a known sender that doesn’t quite add up (or doesn’t sound like them), don’t assume they’re just having an off day. One example: if you know your family member shares all of their photos on Facebook, would they really email you a link with little to no writing in the email?

Any “company” asking for any personal information or passwords through email should also raise red flags. While this might seem obvious if the email address doesn’t match, a spoofed email address can make this trick easier to fall victim to.

Also, be wary of anyone asking for your bank account number via email. Even if it is legitimate, there are other ways to send this information. Protect yourself by choosing a more secure method of communication.

What to do:

If something seems off, research it. If you get a weird email requesting something or asking you to click on a link, don’t assume it’s safe. If it’s from someone you know, ask them if they did send it.

If you are the one “sending,” check your Outbox or Sent folder. This is a good indication if the email came from you or someone you know.

Do You Have A Blind Spot In Your Security?

Security is only as good as its weakest link — one blind spot and a company can be compromised. It is important that each aspect of a company’s security is understood and up to date.

With the following best security practices, it can be better understood what to be aware of and how to better advance a company’s security.

From remote hackers, to in-person social engineering, and even your own e-mail, there are different methods of attacks and means of defense to maintain a company’s integrity.

Physical Security
The basic defense that predates IT security is physical security. Locked doors, restricted access, and watch patrol are some of the oldest methods to prevent aggressive physical security breaches.

Technology has only made physical security even better with security cameras, alarm systems, RFID badges, and biometric systems that identify a person from their physical being. Having the appropriate physical security is key to preventing and deterring break-ins and stolen items.

Social Engineering
With the right words and story, some people gain access to compromising areas and information that can give a company a real bad time.

Without a physical break-in or even a computer, social engineering works against human psychology, finding the vulnerabilities of staff and workers to trick and deceive their way past security. The best way to defend from this is to have a strong and easily understood security policy that educates staff and workers not give out credentials and access to unauthorized personnel.

Phishing
Billions of emails are sent out every day — promising a vacation, warning people about their bank accounts, or asking for charity — that are entirely design to steal or compromise a person or company. Phishing targets everybody, asking for credit card numbers, asking a person to sign in to their account on a fake site, or taking something in other ways.

Do not open emails or download email attachments with suspicious or unknown origins. If an email looks odd or is too good to be true, call or check a website directly to confirm if an email is legitimate.

Clicking or falling for phishing could end with a stolen identity, stolen money, or a locked PC or network demanding ransom money. Be smart and wise about checking emails.

Hackers
There are people that spend most of their day trying to break security codes, finding software loop holes, and other abstract means to force their way through digital security to gain illegal access to computers.

There are just as many (if not more) people working together to prevent such people from ever gaining access with new security measures and patches. To protect a PC or a company from hackers, always update your security definitions on Windows and antivirus software. Knowing what software to trust and what updates are needed are important ensuring digital security. We at Tech Experts make it our business to keep digital security online and updated at all times, so that no one has to fall victim to the unseen security threat.

Being aware of these different security risk and knowing how to defend from them can give a strong basis in understanding and learning in what needs to be done to keep a company or person secure.

Security is always evolving and changing, but having a modern understanding with security in place can make the difference between a secure environment and a risky work place that could come to a grinding halt when security is breached. Be safe, be smart, and be productive with good security.

Beware Of These Tax Return Scams

In the online world, it seems that there is always a new threat cropping up on the horizon. There is one, however, that has been returning year after year following the onset of online tax filing.

This is the prime time for tax phishing scams, and it is important to recognize the signs of a cyber-criminal going after your identity and holdings.

Since tax season is often a mystifying time financially with ever-changing laws that directly affect your pocketbook, it isn’t far-fetched to believe the IRS or a related government agency may need to double-check your data or ask for additional information via email or text.

This is a situation that sophisticated thieves are well aware of, and they do not hesitate to exploit citizens’ lack of knowledge of how the revenue service actually conducts its business.

In fact, approximately 25,000 phishing emails (messages asking for personal data like Social Security numbers and the like) and 611 scam websites were shut down during the last tax season. It is probable that far more efforts went unreported.

Fortunately, it is easy to thwart criminals’ efforts to gain access to your personal information and financial holdings when you are on the alert.

First, no government agency will ask for such information through an unsecured email or text. If the tax agency, tax-preparation company, or related organization needs additional sensitive information from you, you will be contacted by mail, phone, or directed to a secure website.

In the case you are suspicious of a particular communication, double check that the email or physical address matches that of the legitimate organization.

Also, beware of messages that do not use your full name with something generic, such as “Dear valued customer,” or warn that there will be dire consequences if you do not reply right away.

If there is any doubt whether an email or text is a scam, report it to the organization in question or law enforcement agencies.

Tips To Protect Your Business PC From Malware

Michael Menor is Vice President of Support Services for Tech Experts.

In today’s online world, technology users are essentially in a state of near-constant attack. Almost every day, there’s a new data breach in the news involving a well-known company and, quite often, fresh rules for protecting personal information are circulated.

Because of malware in email, phishing messages, and malicious websites with URLs that are one letter different from popular sites, employees need to maintain a high level of awareness and diligence to protect themselves and their organizations.

Phishing activities are especially pervasive, including attempts to steal users’ credentials or get them to install malicious software on their system. The astonishing success rate of phishing attacks makes them a favorite.

Why? More than 70% of people will follow the link to a phony website and, of those that followed the link, 30%-50% will routinely give up their usernames and passwords.

Many like to think of the network perimeter with all its firewalls and other fancy technologies as the front line in the cyber war, but the truth is there’s a whole other front.

Every single member of a company’s staff who uses email or the Internet is also on the front line and these people are generally considered a softer target than hardware or software. It’s simple: if the bad guys can get an employee to give up his or her user credentials or download some malware, they can likely waltz right past the technological controls, basically appearing as if they belong there.

When using a computer for personal functions, a user generally has to have the ability to install software and modify the system configurations. Typically, such administrative functions are not available to all users in a corporate environment.

c471994_mAs a result, even if an organization has made an effort to improve a system’s security, a user doing work on a personal computer has the ability to disable and circumvent protections and has the privileges to allow for the installation of malware.

As companies migrate toward a world of bring-your-own-device policies, some companies are developing strategies to help address these risks. But, as a rule, using a work computer for personal reasons or doing work on a personal computer (or tablet or smartphone) can significantly increase the threat level that an employer has to protect itself against.

To help their organization protect systems and data, employees need to implement some smart web browsing habits. Smart web browsing means engaging in the following activities:

Beware of downloads
Malware can be hidden, not just in applications or installation programs, but in what appear to be image and video files also. To limit the likelihood of downloading content that contains malware, only download from reputable sites. With sites that are not a household name, take the time to do a little research and see if other people have had issues.

Additionally, be sure that antivirus software is set up to automatically scan downloads. Or scan downloads manually, even when receiving them from name-brand sites, as it is not unheard of for infected files to make their way onto otherwise legitimate web sites.

This is especially true for file-sharing sites where the site owner cannot control every piece of content a user may place there.

Be wary of deceitful sites
Those running sites already breaking the law by illegally distributing copyrighted materials — like pirated music, movies or software — probably have no qualms about including malicious content in their downloads or stealing information.

Many popular web browsers today have built-in functionality that provides an alert when visiting a website that is known to be dangerous.

And if the browser doesn’t give a notice, the antivirus software may provide that function. Heed the alerts!

Employees need to protect their devices from online and in-person threats. Start by keeping the company’s system patched. Configure it to automatically apply updates or issue notifications when there are updates and then apply them as soon as possible. This doesn’t just apply to the operating system.

Keep all installed applications updated; sometimes this takes a little extra work.

Remember, the challenge of security is that the bad guy needs to find only one hole in a security system to get past it, so fix them all. Think of it as putting dead bolts on doors, but leaving the basement window wide open.

To that end, security professionals like to debate the usefulness of today’s antivirus software. And it’s true that malware continues to become more sophisticated and harder to detect. But it always amazes me how old some of the malware running around is. As a result, use antivirus software and keep it up-to-date.

Also, use a software firewall, either the Windows firewall or one provided in an antivirus package. This is especially true for laptops connected to public wireless access points at hotels or coffee shops, but it also applies to home systems. It just provides that extra layer of defense.

And finally, please, don’t ever give passwords to anyone. Be vigilant and question anything new, especially emails and forms in the web browser that request work credentials, no matter how nicely the request is made.

(Image Source: iCLIPART)

Phishing Schemes Are On The Rise

A phishing e-mail is an e-mail sent by a hacker designed to fool the recipient into downloading a virus, giving up their credit card number, personal information (like a social security number), or account or login information to a particular website.

Often these e-mails are well designed to look exactly like an official notification from the site they are trying to emulate.

For example, a recent phishing e-mail was circulated that appeared to come from Facebook stating that videos or photos of Osama Bin Laden’s death were posted online. These e-mails looked exactly like a legitimate Facebook e-mail and even appeared to come from “Facebookmail.com.”

Once you clicked on the e-mail the phishing site would attempt to install a virus on your machine.

And now due to recent security breaches with Sony and e-mail marketer Epsilion, phishing attacks are going to increase – and they are going to get more sophisticated and harder to distinguish from legitimate e-mails.

That’s because the hackers that were able to access the private databases of the above mentioned companies now have the name, e-mail and interests of the subscribers, and in some cases birthdays, addresses and more. That means a phishing e-mail can be personalized with relevant information that the user provided to Sony, making the e-mail appear to be more legitimate and the user more likely to click on the links provided and take the actions requested. Now more than ever it’s critical that you are wary of e-mail notifications and the actions they request you take. Even having good anti-virus software installed won’t protect you if you give your account information away freely.

 

 

Avoiding Common Email Security Threats

Most companies today rely heavily on the use of email. Emailing is a very fast and cost effective form of communication for many different types of businesses.

Most companies use it as their main source of communication between employees. In fact, most employers do not realize the risk of using email.

Some risks range from viruses, hackers, to someone else just trying to gain a little information.

Here’s an overview of the most common email security threats in today’s Internet world.

Viruses
Viruses cause billions of dollars in damage to businesses every year.

Many corporate email systems are still quite vulnerable to viruses. In fact, in last year alone, an estimated 63 distinct email virus attacks hit the United States. These attacks come quickly and can spread quickly.

They mainly cause slowdowns across the internet. However some have been known to take down major corporation’s entire email systems.

Today’s viruses are very complex and often appear to be harmless such as personal notes, jokes, or promotions. While most viruses require recipients to download attachments in order to initiate infection and spread, some are designed to launch automatically with absolutely no user action required.

Spam
Studies have shown that 20 percent of corporate email is spam. A company that has a thousand employees could receive over two billion spam emails in a full year.

Most do not realize it until a lack of productivity ends up costing the companies billions of dollars each year.

While most spam is just annoying, some of it can be very dangerous. Most trick employees into opening malicious emails to spread faster. Also, many hackers have begun disguising viruses as spam.

Phishing
Phishing is used to trick a person into thinking the email is legit and came from a real website, usually asking the person to verify their password or to change some sort of account information.

Then, taking them to a fake website and stealing what you have typed in. This is the number one way people get their identity and personal information stolen.

Spyware
The main purpose of spyware is to install itself on the victim’s computer. It monitors all key strokes and mouse clicks so that they can later go back and collect usernames, passwords, credit card numbers and bank account numbers.

These infections can stay installed on computers for many months without an antivirus picking them up.  Most are detected and removed instantly if the user keeps their antivirus up to date.

Having a great antivirus that scans files as well as emails can help prevent virus attacks, phishing and spyware.

Users should also have an up to date spam filter that prevents the infection from getting to your inbox to begin with. And most importantly never open an email attachment you didn’t specifically request.

Also, pay attention to links inside emails that appear legitimate. Many times, phishers will send you an email that looks like it came from an official source. After clicking the links, you’re redirected to a site on the hacker’s network. This is often used to collect personal information and passwords.

New Phishing Schemes You Should Know About

I know growing up as a child, I loved to go fishing. I never caught very many fish, but just being out on the water “drowning worms” was good enough for me. As the years have passed, though, a new kind of “phishing” has emerged.

The term phishing refers to luring techniques used by identity thieves to fish for personal information in a lake of unsuspecting Internet users.

Their purpose is to take this information and use it for criminal objectives such as identity theft and fraud.

Phishing is a general term for the creation and use by criminals of emails and websites – designed to look like they come from well-known, legitimate and trusted businesses, financial institutions and government agencies – in an attempt to gather personal, financial and sensitive information.

These criminals deceive Internet users into disclosing their bank and financial account information or other personal data such as usernames and passwords.

Today a new form of phishing appears to be spreading through social websites such as Facebook. This new scam works like this.

As soon as you login to the site, it will steal your email and password and then log you into Facebook. Within a short period of time the system will automatically switch your password and block you from the site. It then begins to send the same URL to all of your Facebook friend’s inboxes.

As this spreads, the criminals gather thousands of email addresses and passwords before Facebook can stop all references to the website.

The scammers have developed a method to duplicate the scam immediately and the next thing you know they have four or five phishing scams going on at the same time all over Facebook. This allows them to gather hundreds of thousands of victims very quickly.

It is not known yet what these people intend to do with all these addresses, but you can almost guarantee that they will result in a malicious worm at some point. The potential to access a user’s financial information and accounts could result in the loss of millions of dollars.

Another form of phishing is called “in session” phishing. This form does not use email nor does it rely on the user having to be tricked into clicking on a link.

It works like this. Let’s say you go to your banking website that is secure. You login and take care of your business, then leaving that browser window open you innocently go to another website that has been compromised. All of a sudden a pop-up asks you to validate your login to continue your banking session.

Remember two things must happen in order for this scam to work. First, a website must be compromised and infected—the higher traffic the better, obviously.

Second, the downloaded malware must be able to identify whether or not the unknowing user is logged into a relevant website.

Most banking institutions have taken steps to prevent this. One step is having a rapid disconnect of an idle session.

But in order to be safe we would recommend closing all browser windows after you have visited a secure banking website.

In addition it is very important to keep your system free of all spyware, malware and viruses.

Tech Experts has certified technicians that clean these types of infections and malware from computers every day. We urge you to take advantage of our system checkup and cleaning service to keep your identity to yourself.