Early this month it was revealed that Android users, the operating system used by most brands of South African smartphones, were vulnerable to a major security flaw.
Check Point, a large Internet security firm, disclosed that around 13,000 Android smartphones per day are being breached by a malware called “Gooligan”.
Like most hacks, this particular threat relies on the you to download apps via unsafe stores that contain malware which is specifically targeting the Google accounts of Android users. It appears that this malware targets the user’s Google accounts by stealing their authentication/passwords and presents an opportunity for criminals to access data on your Gmail, Google Docs, Google drive and other Google services – hence the name “Gooligan”.
If you download your apps from the apps store on your phone or Google Play, you are okay, because Android require app developers to go through a quality assurance process, but if you have installed innocent-looking, albeit booby-trapped software from app stores outside Google’s authorized Play store, then you are at risk.
If you’re unsure as to whether your device has been infected, a free service has been set up by Check Point to check user names.
This Check Point service requests users to enter their email address. A search is then conducted against known compromised accounts.
Google Android is the world’s most popular mobile operating system, but an ‘open’ operating system, which basically means that smartphone manufacturers are free to alter Android to work in any way they want, and anyone can release apps for it.
However, this also means Android is more prone to malware than other mobile operating systems. The logic is simple, if you wouldn’t use a Windows PC without malware protection, then you shouldn’t leave your Android smartphone exposed.
Fortunately, protecting your Android smartphone or tablet is straightforward — and free:
Step 1: Update your version of Android…
It’s important to keep your Android software up to date. As well as new features, each update includes bug fixes to help protect your phone.
Tap the Settings icon, then scroll down to About phone (or About tablet) – Software (or System) update.
You’ll see your update status, including whether your software is up to date.
Step 2: Prevent app installs from unknown sources…
Check that your Android device is set up to only allow app installations from the Google Play store.
To do this, go into the Settings – Security. Scroll down and under Device Administration look for Unknown sources. Make sure this is unchecked.
Step 3: Restrict downloads with a password…
If other people use your Android smartphone then it is essential to enable a password for installation of new apps. This is especially important for parents who don’t want their children installing sometimes expensive apps without their knowledge.
Launch the Google Play store app then tap the menu button at the top right – it looks like three stacked dots. Now tap Settings and look for User Control.
Tap Parental Controls and turn the slider On. You’ll be asked to Create content PIN.
Step 4: Read and understand permissions…
When you tap the Install button in the Google Play store, your Android device will display an App permissions dialogue box.
Scroll down and tap See all to view everything that the app wants to access on your handset.
Some apps have a legitimate need to access certain features of your smartphone. A web browser, for example, will need access to the internet, while a photo app will need access to the device’s storage.
If in doubt, or if you don’t want to share the information, don’t install the app.
Step 5: Install free antivirus software…
You should install antivirus software onto your Android smartphone. Fortunately, this is both easy and free.
There are plenty of good free antivirus products on the Google Play store that will protect against viruses and malware, blocking dangerous links and some even help you find your phone.
Step 6: Finally… Use common sense…
Protection is all well and good, but it pays to be cautious.
First and foremost don’t click on suspicious links and always delete anything that looks suspect. Email hacking is very common – you may receive an email from a trusted source containing a YouTube link with an unusual heading – don’t click on the link and, if your email app allows it, flag the message as spam or junk mail.
Additionally, if you get a spam text message informing you you’ve won a prize, delete it. If you haven’t entered a competition, you’re highly unlikely to have won a prize.
Have you ever received a call from someone with a heavy Indian accent from Microsoft saying your computer had errors or viruses? The purpose of these telephone calls is to get an easy R500 (or whatever amount they choose) by scaring you into thinking there’s something really wrong with your computer and that they can fix it for you.
These tech support phone scams have been going on for many years and scammers keep on defrauding innocent people if their money because their success ratio is still worth their time and effort. Pensioners and non-technical people are most often victims, as these smooth-tongued Indian operators are very good at blinding you with “technospeak”.
Often the caller’s number will not appear on your phone, a sign that they were using some Voice over IP (VoIP) or such technology that both completely hides their identity and costs them nothing for long distance calls.
This scam is a well-oiled machine which starts off with the alleged Microsoft representative asking you to turn on your computer to perform some checks for errors. They essentially make you open different applications which aren’t typically known by regular users.
You will be instructed to press the “Windows” and “R” keys together to get to the Windows Run dialog box and then run a command to open up Window’s Event Viewer:
Conveniently, the Event Viewer will always show some warning or error which the scammer can use to instill fear. Often files legitimate files stored in the Windows Prefetch folder will be called spyware and viruses, but this is a lie, as those Prefetch files are simply used by Windows to launch programs faster. The “System Configuration Utility”, also known as msconfig, will be also used to focus the victim on the status of each Service to count how many “stopped” ones there are.
The next step of the scan consists of allowing a remote person to fix these “issues” for the victim. This involves giving the scammer access to your computer using a remote control program like TeamViewer.
The scammers will then perform questionable tasks to “repair” the system, such as installing trials of other legitimate security software, installing malware (including rogue security software) designed to collect the user’s personal information, and deleting the aforementioned files that were previously claimed to be malware.
They then coax the victim into paying for their services or the software designed to “repair” their computer, and in turn, gain access to the victim’s credit card information, which can be used to make additional fraudulent charges. Afterwards, the scammer may also claim that the victim is eligible for a refund, and request the user’s bank account information—which is instead used to steal more money from the victim rather than providing the promised refund.
For those who have been spared the torture of Flappy Bird, it was the latest mobile gaming craze – until this last weekend. By the standards of smartphone games, it was simple, even primitive. You played as Flappy Bird trying to fly through the gaps between vertical green pipes. Where the game was interesting was in its difficulty. If the bird touched anything, it died immediately and the player would have to start from the beginning.
…And that is absolutely normal for these kinds of games. but unlike another endless runner like Temple Run, Flappy Bird isn’t something you can play by idly swiping your finger to the left or right every time you approach an obstacle. The only way to maintain a proper altitude is to tap the screen feverishly to make the bird flap its wings. If you stop even for a second, the bird plummets immediately to its death. Typically it would take an average player 15 tries just to get past the first pipe, the addiction coming from trying to improve your top score.
The game was removed from Google Play and the Apple iOS store this last weekend by its developer Dong Nguyen, because he maintained it was “an addictive product.”
Since the weekend literally hundreds of fake apps have since sprung up, and scammers have already figured out how to cash in on the game’s demise.
Sophos has already found infected versions of Flappy Bird in alternative Android markets. One such fake app is a “trial version” that demands that you send a text message (to a special premium number, of course) and won’t let you completely quit the app until you do.
Trend Micro also found fake Android apps, which it says are especially common in app stores across Russia and Vietnam. While these behave exactly like the original app (they’re not trial versions), they also connect, unknown to the user, to scammer’s servers to steal the user’s phone number, their carrier, and Gmail email address registered with the device.
Thankfully, these won’t do that much damage to the actual Android phone or tablet, but where the real damage can occur, is with the personal and sensitive information that is now in the criminal’s hands. Imagine if a scammer knew my smartphone number, knew who my cellphone provider was, and what my e-mail address was. They could gleam information about my physical address, where I bank and start a SIM card swap to gain access to my Internet banking account. It all started with FlappyBird and because it was addictive game that I had to play, I opened myself up to be exploited by scammers.
In short, Flappy Bird is dead, but the scams are only beginning. My advice is the same as always when it comes to Android malware: stick to Google Play and only install apps that you know are safe.
Once of the most common questions I get asked by users is: How do these spammers get my e-mail address? There are a number or methods that these spammers use, and I will focus on the third of these methods, in today’s blog post: By using Subscribe/Unsubscribe newsletter services.
In the 21st century it can be said that “Knowledge and not Money is Power”. The two are closely linked. Knowledge or “data” is a hot commodity on the Internet. Facebook, for instance, has over 1.2 billion users. That is a lot of people and a lot of data! Just think of the value of that data if Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of Facebook) decided to sell that information. What would be the value of that data?
Many times you might receive e-mail in the form of a newsletter that sometimes has a button down below that’s marked “Unsubscribe.”, but will the newsletters really stop if you click on it?
There are many unscrupulous newsletter senders that will sell your email address for a commission. A very common unsubscribe tactic is to send millions of people a false “you have joined a newsletter” e-mail. When users click on the “unsubscribe” link, they are not actually unsubscribing but unwittingly confirming that they are a real person with an active email address, and this typically results in getting more spam, and soon the spam flood will spiral out of control. Furthermore the spammers will then sell their database (containing your “confirmed” e-mail address) to other spammers and unscrupulous marketing firms.
Another vector that spammers use to obtain your e-mail address is through legitimate newsletters. You may often subscribe to a legitimate newsletter service and receive newsletters with not problem, but as soon as your personal information and contact details are placed into the care of a third party (the legitimate newsletter service) you are relying on the fact that their system and database security is adequate and is not vulnerable to hacking and identity theft. Hackers could break in and steal the database of e-mail address of the original newsletter service, and very quickly your e-mail address could be in the hands of spammers and scammers throughout the world!
Another sobering fact is that often marketers and newsletter services gather e-mail addresses and then sell this to a third party. Often this is mentioned in the “Terms & Conditions” when you originally subscribe, giving them the rights to give your details to their “partners” so they can contact you.
This way you become the unwitting victim in the business of selling and exchanging data!
Remember these important tips:
Once of the most common questions I get asked by users is: How do these spammers get my e-mail address? There are a number or methods that these spammers use, and I will focus on the second of the methods, in today’s blog post: By using Trojan Horses, Bots and Zombies.
Let us use a familiar example: You regularly exchange emails with your elderly mother who has got a computer. Your mother uses Outlook or Thunderbird and has dozens of emails from you in her inbox. She even added you to her address book. She also has lots of emails from a distant family member – cousin Johan from Australia. You haven’t stayed in touch with Johan that closely over the years, but you definitely know who he is.
Last year, just before the Christmas, Johan downloaded and installed this really pretty Christmas screensaver that showed tranquil tree and candle scenes when he wasn’t using the computer. What he didn’t know was that the screen saver had a sinister hidden payload. While the candles flickered peacefully on his screen, the software went to work combing through his emails and address book, his browser’s cache of past webmail sessions and other files, storing every email address it would find in a separate list.
Then it sent the entire list to a server in Russia, where a criminal combined it with other such submissions to build the ultimate monster spam list that can be sold and resold over and over again.
But as if that wasn’t enough, when the “screensaver” sent the address list to Russia, it received some content in return – messages to be sent to all of Johan’s contacts. Then, unbeknownst to John, his computer started creating hundreds of emails randomly using the harvested email addresses in the To: and From: field along with the content from the Russian server and sent them out using Johan’s Internet connection. One of them used your mother’s email address as sender and yours as recipient.
Now you received some spam from your mother asking you to buy fake watches and you’re ready to speak to her telling her to stop. Well, don’t. Your mother has obviously nothing to do with the whole thing and you’ll never find out that it was actually Johan’s computer.
You just had a look into the really nasty underworld of the Internet where botmasters (the guy in Russia) control botnets (infected computers that all report to the same server) of remote-controlled zombies (Johan’s computer) that were compromised using trojan horses (the screensaver) or similar malware.
And it doesn’t even end there. The botmaster typically doesn’t spam for his own account but hires out his botnet to whoever pays the most. The equally shady factory in China wanting to sell more fake Rolexes can now hire the botmaster to blast their offers all over the internet. The guy in Russia doesn’t even care if you open or click on that email from your mother, he gets paid either way. And when he’s done with the watches, he’ll inform his entire mailing list that they all won the lottery and can pick up the prize if only they pay a small “transfer fee” up front. And after that, he’ll mail a Paypal phish for yet another “client”. And for good measure, he’ll sell his entire email address database, incl. yours, to a friend who is in the same line of “business”.
In other words, once your email address got picked up by a botnet, Pandora’s Box is wide open. The whole scheme is particularly wicked because now you have to depend on others to keep your address safe. Unfortunately, there is little you can do:
Thanks to BustSpammers.com for the material.
Once of the most common questions I get asked by users is: How do these spammers get my e-mail address? There are a number or methods that these spammers use, and I will focus in one of the methods, in today’s blog post: The “Rumplestiltskin” attack.
A dictionary or Rumplestiltskin attack is an attack where the spammer floods e-mail servers with usernames selected from a dictionary.It comes from the old Grimm’s fairy story, Rumplestiltskin.
A couple of decades back, when the university’s e-mail system was still very primitive and e-mail addresses were limited to 8 characters, most personnel at the university had simple names like email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. It is relatively easy to make up a list of common letter combinations and just add @sun.ac.za onto it to create a e-mail list. Add to that common role-based accounts, such as admin, help and support, as well as adding the latest Baby Names list and you have a list that can be used to launch a Rumplestiltskin attack.
If you send E-mail to Unknown Users or address that do not exist, Why bother?
Firstly rather than spammers buying a list from other spammers, they can just spam to any possible name they can generate. It might seem rather inefficient but sending email is cheap.
The second reason – which is far more sinister – is that spammers use these techniques to generate lists of valid email accounts. They first send to a generated list and when they do get a response or the receiving mail server doesn’t answer back and say “unknown e-mail address”. This allows them to either sell these lists of “verified” emails or be more accurate in their other spamming activities.
With this second reason in mind, you should be able to see the danger of replying to these mails or filling in the “opt-out” option, that is commonly included in such mails, or by setting your “Send delivery receipt” to automatic on your e-mail. As soon as these spammers realize that there is a real person at the other end of the e-mail, they will increase their spam. They get paid to send out the mail, not for how many people respond to them.
Since 12 April 2013, the WordPress blog system world-wide is facing its most serious coordinated brute force attack. Some WordPress hosts have reported that they have blocked as many as 60 million requests against their hosted WordPress customers in a single hour.
This attack, which targets administrative accounts, appear to be coming from a sophisticated botnet that may have as many as 100,000 computers, based on the number of unique Internet addresses the attacks are coming from.
…And Internet security experts have estimating that the botnet has the power to test as many as 2 billion passwords in an hour.
WordPress users should always make sure that their passwords, especially for admin accounts, are long and not guessable from a password list. Of course, that’s good advice for just about any password you use, but it’s especially applicable right now.
While it’s difficult to tell what the aggressor is trying to accomplish with this current round of password cracking, the consequences could be disastrous. It has been suggested that the perpetrator could be trying to upgrade a botnet composed of ordinary PCs into one that is made up of servers.
One risk is that personal bloggers that set up WordPress installations might not have thought to set up a highly secure password. However, it’s not just the blogger’s posts that are at stake, as the attacker could potentially use the login to gain access to the hosting server, a more valuable prize that could cause even more damage.
This botnet is going around all of the WordPress blogs it can find trying to login with the “admin” username and a bunch of common passwords.
If you still use “admin” as a username on your blog, change it, use a strong password, and better still change the name of the admin account to something else, which will certain block the botnet attack.
I personally run 7 WordPress blogs, excluding this GERGABlog, and a year or so ago, after a attack crippled 3 of the sites, I removed the default “Admin” account and had set very strong passwords on all of them.
On Friday evening I installed a small plugin, recommended by my hosting company, which blocks an Internet address from making further attempts after a specified limit of retries is reached. I set the plugin to log all Internet Addesses that had been locked out, and after barely 30 minutes, 3 of my 7 blogs had logged more than 5 Internet addresses that has tried to attack my blog and had been locked out. I could see that the attack was underway and was very glad that my paranoia had paid off!
All software has defects (known as bugs) and bad design — which make computers vulnerable to attack. The Windows operating system, Office suites, media players, browsers and browser plug-ins are just a few examples of software that are open to attack.
An Attack vector (or just vector) is a specific computer-system vulnerability, along with the path and method that exploits it. It’s just a particular way to gain access to a computer in order to install malware, gain external control, or extract user data. (You might have a state-of-the-art burglar alarm at home, but if you leave the back door unlocked to let the cat in, you have created an attack vector)
There are other places to attack computer systems besides the software. The human element — the component between the chair and the keyboard — is often the most vulnerable part of a computer system. In humorous terms, this is known to computer geeks as a PEBKAC error. (Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair)
Email attachments have been the classic vector to use against humans. Email messages entice or alarm users, to open malicious attachments. Once opened, these attachment do the dirty work, often with the willing permission and participation of the victim. These attacks rely on deception to get past defense systems.
Along with attachments, email messages, downloaded files, infected webpages, videos, popup windows, instant messages, and social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter) are vehicles for many popular attack vectors.
One Ring to rule them all! This saying comes from the “Lord of the Rings”. Often people become victims of online fraud by using the same password or usernames on multiple sites, including social media sites and Internet banking sites. Your online banking site and Facebook profile should never have the same password. Facebook is easily compromised, opening up a vulnerability to your Internet banking security.
Take a look at your online presence. How much information is out there about you that could be pieced together to scam you? Your name? Email address? Friends’ names? Their email addresses? Are you on, for example, any of the popular social networking sites? Take a look at your posts. Anything there you don’t want a scammer to know? Or have you posted something on a friend’s page that might reveal too much?
Passwords: Do you use just one password or easy-to-figure-out variations on just one? If you do either, you should not. You are making it easy for a phishing scammer to get access to your personal financial information. Every password for every site you visit should be different. Random letters and numbers work best. Change them frequently.
Have you ever received an e-mail message that includes something like the following:
These 6 scenarios account for almost all the virus and e-mail hoaxes you will see, and in almost all cases anything that follows any of these guidelines is a hoax, false, or an outdated petition that is just “floating” around the Internet. Before you consider forwarding any email that asks you to forward it to anyone else you should be able to do the following:
In general it is considered very bad manners to forward a message on to a large number of people.
Why these Hoaxes Cause Problems?
Imagine if someone receives a message that tells them to forward it on to “everyone they know.” If this person forwards the message on to 100 people, (which is not uncommon) and just a few people forward this message onto to another large group, the message will be duplicated thousands of times in a short period of time, often just hours.
A few thousand extra e-mails result in a bunch of wasted disk space, clogging of network bandwidth, and most importantly the complete waste of time for many professionals and, possibly, your friends all over the world. This simple e-mail hoax may cost thousands of dollars in wasted time by everyone involved. Consider the man hours wasted in dealing with these hoaxes and what is costing the organisation.
Furthermore the organisation is employing people to do a job and if these employees waste time sending out mail instead of doing their work, they are essentially robbing the organisation
What is equally disconcerting is that there might be a message that is true, or contains some important information, that is ignored because most of the previous e-mail have been hoaxes. (The old fairy tale of “The boy who cried wolf” is a good example)
How to Tell if a Message is a Hoax?
Below is a message about a supposed screen saver that will wipe out your hard drive and “steal your password.” You can read about this virus hoax at http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/venc/data/buddylst.zip.html
Read after the message for some tips on how you can tell this is obviously a hoax.
Subject: [Fwd: Beware of the Budweiser virus–really!]
This information came from Microsoft yesterday morning. Please pass it on to anyone you know who has access to the Internet. You may receive an apparently harmless Budweiser Screensaver, If you do, DO NOT OPEN IT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, but delete it immediately. Once opened, you will lose EVERYTHING on your PC. Your hard disk will be completely destroyed and the person who sent you the message will have access to your name and password via the Internet.
As far as we know, the virus was circulated yesterday morning. It’s a new virus, and extremely dangerous. Please copy this information and e-mail it to everyone in your address book. We need to do all we can to block his virus. AOL has confirmed how dangerous it is, and there is no Antivirus program as yet which is capable of destroying it.
Please take all the necessary precautions, and pass this information on to your friends, acquaintances and work colleagues.
End of message.
First, take look at the following text:
“This information came from Microsoft yesterday morning.”
The words “yesterday morning” are quite a clue. When was yesterday morning? Obviously not yesterday. What about Microsoft? If they are making some sort of announcement where is the web site address with this announcement? Why would Microsoft make an announcement about some random virus that has nothing to do with their company?
Please pass it on to anyone you know who has access to the Internet.
Anything that asks you to “pass it on to anyone you know who has access to the Internet” is a big flag. Any official group (Microsoft, AOL, etc.) are the last ones to ask you to forward e-mail to everyone you know. This goes against standard Internet policies and good etiquette. It just clogs up disks, networks and wastes everyone’s time.
“AOL has confirmed how dangerous it is…”
If AOL had confirmed anything they would certainly have a URL with this statement. Furthermore, what does AOL have to do with this? Finally, AOL is not an official virus reporting agency. You want to see things like CERT, Symantec (they make Norton AntiVirus), McAfee, F-PROT (they make F-PROT F-Secure), etc.
The following statement is a big sign:
“…and there is no Antivirus program as yet which is capable of destroying it.”
By the time the message gets to anyone, if the virus was for real, all the major antivirus programs would already have a check for this. Generally it takes just one or two days for a big company like Symantec, McAfee, or F-PROT to come up with a check for such a virus.
Finally, we have this:
“…the person who sent you the message will have access to your name and password via the Internet.”
What password? What do they mean by “via the Internet”? If you do store any of your passwords on your machine (e.g. dialup, in Eudora, etc.) it’s encrypted. Furthermore, suppose it’s some super virus and it can decrypt your passwords in certain circumstances, then what? Is it going to mail the password back to its creator? Now the South African Police can track them down easily and arrest them? None of this makes much sense. Many e-mail hoaxes make ridiculous statements such as this.
Where to Check if a Message is a Hoax
Before you consider forwarding a message about a “virus” or a petition, always check your sources, just because your elderly mother sent it from her computer, or the e-mail has a South African Police or SARS logo on it, doesn’t necessarily tell you that it is legitimate or true. Sometime a simple Google search with key terms will immediately give you an answer, often within a couple of seconds.
To check if a message is a hoax you can try out the following sites:
Snopes Urban Legends Reference Pages
Symantec’s AntiVirus Research Center Virus Hoax Page
For example, two masked robbers robbed the wrong home, hours after a teenager posted a photo on Facebook of a large pile of her grandmother’s savings.
Police in New South Wales, Australia, said that the men, armed with a club and a knife, struck at the home of the 17-year-old’s mother in the country town of Bundanoon on Thursday night, but were told the daughter no longer lived there.
The bandits searched the house and took a small amount of cash as well as other property before leaving. No one was injured.
Police said that earlier in the day the girl had posted a picture on her Facebook page of a “large sum of cash” she had helped count at her 72-year-old grandmother’s home in Sydney, 75 miles north-east of Bundanoon.
No matter how “cool” or convenient Facebook is, it is always important to keep a close watch on its security implications. Each of these services comes with its own set of security concerns which can put your information
systems and/or personal data at risk. (the incident above is one such example)
For example, you have posted an update on your Facebook profile say: “Looking forward to the family holiday next week at the beach house.” Although these might seem relatively harmless, the third bullet point could raise some concern. You have just told all your friends, as well as all their friends, that you will be away from home for a full week. This is comparable to putting a sign on the main road that shouts “Empty House” for passers-by to see. Even if you have a burglar alarm or neighbors keeping an occasional eye on the home, you still don’t want to create the temptation for strangers (Friends of Friends) to consider helping themselves to the contents of your house.
This is just one of the risks you might encounter when using Facebook, and this is one to the reasons why I prefer to steer away from social networking services. You rarely know or meet your “friends”, and this exposes you to unacceptable risks to your personal safety! Optimism aside, the world is full of mean-spirited people who would want to exploit and harm you. Be careful!