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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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
Each day, almost 3,000 laptop computers are stolen. Many of these thefts could be prevented. Here are some practical steps you can take to prevent your portable notebook computer from becoming a police statistic.
Several effective laptop and data security options are available to protect your equipment from theft:
Jerry Bryan immediately knew there was something wrong at his church. He knew it the second he opened up the email from the pastor. As a highly respected member of his church and a known technophile, Jerry was often consulted by the pastor concerning technical matters. In this case, however, the pastor was passing along a serious warning.
A secretary at his church had received an email from a friend that scared her:
I have some bad news. I was just informed that my address book has been infected with a virus. As a result, so has yours because your address is in my book. The virus is called jdbgmgr.exe. It cannot be detected by Norton or McAfee anti-virus programs. It sits quietly for about 14 days before damaging the system. It is sent automatically by messenger and address book, whether or not you send email. The good news is that it is easy to get rid of!
Just follow these simple steps and you should have no problem.
IF YOU FIND THE VIRUS, YOU MUST CONTACT EVERYONE IN YOUR ADDRESS BOOK
Sorry for the trouble, but this is something I had no control over. I received it from someone else’s address book.
After receiving the email, the secretary looked, and sure enough, jdbgmgr.exe was sitting on her hard drive! She had a virus! She put in a call for the church’s tech people and then began to check other computers in the building. They all had the virus! jdbgmgr.exe was everywhere! A mass program of cleansing was about to begin, but Jerry got back to the pastor just in time with some good news. The church was not the victim of a virus. It was the victim of a hoax: the jdbgmgr.exe virus hoax.
After arising among Spanish-speaking Net users in early April 2002, the hoax quickly spread to English-speakers by mid-April. No one knows how many people fell for it, but it continues to this day, as the story above proves. Unfortunately, when people delete jdbgmgr.exe, they are not deleting a malicious virus; instead, they are deleting a system file placed on their computer by Microsoft.
Microsoft explains in its Knowledge Base article that jdbgmgr.exe is the “Microsoft Debugger Registrar for Java”. Fortunately, if you delete the file, you’re not really affected unless you use Microsoft Visual J++ 1.1 to develop programs written in the Java programming language. If you are such a developer, then you need to follow the instructions Microsoft gives on its Web page.
The jdbgmgr.exe virus hoax is by no means an isolated incident. Indeed, there has been a rash of virus hoaxes in recent years. For instance, there was the “Budweiser Frogs screensaver” hoax in 1997. This email warned folks that a “creepoid scam-artist” was sending “a very desirable screen-saver (the Bud frogs)” that would, if downloaded, cause you to “lose everything!!!!”, while at the same time, “someone from the Internet will get your screen name and password!”. Of course, nothing of the sort would occur if you loaded the screensaver. Granted, you might find yourself thinking about enjoying a cold one, but you certainly wouldn’t find your computer affected. The logical impossibility of hard drive failure at the same time your username and password are not only saved but sent to “someone from the Internet” never seemed to cross the minds of this hoax’s victims.
Another hoax that frightened people was the so-called ” Virtual Card for You” virus of 2000. Victims were warned, via email, that a “new virus has just been discovered that has been classified by Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) and by McAfee (www.mcafee.com) as the most destructive ever!”. Details continued:
This virus acts in the following manner: It sends itself automatically to all contacts on your list with the title “A Virtual Card for You”.
As soon as the supposed virtual card is opened, the computer freezes so that the user has to reboot. When the ctrl+alt+del keys or the reset button are pressed, the virus destroys Sector Zero, thus permanently destroying the hard disk.
Please distribute this message to the greatest number of people possible. Yesterday in just a few hours this virus caused panic in New York, according to news broadcast by CNN (www.cnn.com).
There was no truth to the statements in this email. There was no virus, CNN didn’t broadcast a warning, and there was certainly no panic in New York (Like a little computer virus would panic New Yorkers! It takes something serious to get New Yorkers to panic — like a shortage of cream cheese at Zabar’s, or a gigantic gorilla on top of the Empire State Building.). Nonetheless, thousands of people fell for it, and the email continues to make the rounds.
Although virus hoaxes have been circulating since 1988, the granddaddy of them all is the supposed Good Times virus, the first really successful virus hoax. It started life on AOL in 1994, and it still pops up today. Its descendants are legion, as many other virus hoaxes have copied some aspect of Good Times. In that sense, it can be said to be the most influential virus hoax of all. The virus read as follows:
Some miscreant is sending email under the title “Good Times” nationwide, if you get anything like this, DON’T DOWN LOAD THE FILE!
It has a virus that rewrites your hard drive, obliterating anything on it. Please be careful and forward this mail to anyone you care about. The FCC released a warning last Wednesday concerning a matter of major importance to any regular user of the Internet. Apparently a new computer virus has been engineered by a user of AMERICA ON LINE that is unparalleled in its destructive capability. … What makes this virus so terrifying, said the FCC, is the fact that no program needs to be exchanged for a new computer to be infected. It can be spread through the existing email systems of the Internet.
Once a Computer is infected, one of several things can happen. If the computer contains a hard drive, that will most likely be destroyed. If the program is not stopped, the computer’s processor will be placed in an nth-complexity infinite binary loop – which can severely damage the processor if left running that way too long. Unfortunately, most novice computer users will not realize what is happening until it is far too late. Luckily, there is one sure means of detecting what is now known as the “Good Times” virus. It always travels to new computers the same way in a text email message with the subject line reading “Good Times”. Avoiding infection is easy once the file has been received simply by NOT READING IT! The act of loading the file into the mail server’s ASCII buffer causes the “Good Times” mainline program to initialize and execute.
The program is highly intelligent – it will send copies of itself to everyone whose email address is contained in a receive-mail file or a sent-mail file, if it can find one. It will then proceed to trash the computer it is running on.
The bottom line is: – if you receive a file with the subject line “Good Times”, delete it immediately! Do not read it. Rest assured that whoever’s name was on the “From” line was surely struck by the virus. Warn your friends and local system users of this newest threat to the Internet! It could save them a lot of time and money.
********IMPORTANT******* PLEASE SEND TO PEOPLE YOU CARE ABOUT OR JUST PEOPLE ONLINE
As with the other hoaxes we have looked at, this “warning” was full of lies and misconceptions. There is no way that simply viewing a plain-text email could infect someone’s machine with a virus (unfortunately, the same is not true for folks that use Outlook to view HTML-formatted email, as my SecurityFocus articles on Outlook security discussed). It used fancy-sounding “techie” words that sound impressive to non-technical people, but actually mean nothing at all, like the “nth-complexity infinite binary loop”, whatever that is. And finally, do you really think that a user of America OnLine could create anything like a virus this technically complex?
The Good Times hoax was fairly ironic. Often, system administrators would get the email and immediately forward it to everyone in their companies, warning employees not to open any email with “Good Times” in the subject. Of course, the email warning people not to open any email with “Good Times” in the subject HAD the words “Good Times” in the subject! This didn’t damage any computers, but it did produce severe cases of cognitive dissonance in irony-impaired workers all across America.
So why do people fall for these hoaxes? A lot of it goes back to the noble desire to help others. Who wouldn’t want to warn others about a disaster? And it’s so easy to send the warning to hundreds of people at one time: with just a click, you’ve saved your friends from a virus!
Another consideration is the uncertainty that people feel in dealing with computers. Look at the jdbgmgr.exe hoax, which is actually quite ingenious in its fashion. By asking users to confirm that the file is on their computer, it makes people feel like they are participating in their own computer security. Most computer users typically can’t “see” a virus, just the aftermath. This, coupled with the anxiety many people feel about their computers — these large, complicated machines that they really don’t understand — leads to a feeling of certainty when the jdbgmgr.exe file is found on their machines. “Aha!” they think, “Caught one! And there’s the proof — right in front of my eyes!”
It’s funny, but most people would never fall for such a trick in real life. Let’s say I walked up to the same people that fell for the jdbgmgr.exe trick and said, “There are terrorists in this neighborhood. If you see a man in a black hat, call the police, because he’s a terrorist!” Minutes later, a man in a black hat walks by. Would these people call the police? Probably not. They would use their common-sense, their experience of the normal everyday rhythms of life, to judge whether or not someone is a threat.
Computers, however, are the equivalent of a foreign country for many people. When someone is in a country with which they are not familiar, perhaps feeling anxiety because they don’t understand the language (“nth-complexity infinite binary loop”, anyone?), they are more likely to grab onto signposts that will help them. In such a situation, they might be far more likely to fall for my false warning about terrorists.
And if the warning came not from a stranger, but from a friend or acquaintance, as happened when jdbgmgr.exe warnings arrived in email inboxes, then the likelihood of falling victim to a hoax skyrockets. After all, in a foreign country, isn’t the sight of a fellow countryperson always welcome?
Another reason people fall for hoaxes is because they know that anti-virus programs, unfortunately, do not always work. Many viruses spread so quickly that they overwhelm users before anti-virus vendors can update their software. The “Melissa” and “I love you” viruses are good examples of this phenomena. So when users “see” — or think they see, a la jdbgmgr.exe — evidence of the “virus” on their computers, but their anti-virus software says there is no virus, many users are going to believe their eyes and not their software.
Even worse, many users pay no attention to the neccessity of updating their anti-virus software. I have seen office computers with anti-virus databases that are years out of date. When I ask these users why they haven’t updated their software, they typically respond with a blank stare and a plaintive but accurate excuse: “I didn’t know I needed to do that.”
Virus hoaxes are not real viruses, by definition, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have negative effects. In fact, virus hoaxes can be quite damaging in a number of different ways.
First, it is quite possible that a hoax may end up damaging your computer. The email itself won’t have caused the damage. Instead, the email will have convinced you to damage your own computer, as my story about the the jdbgmgr.exe email demonstrates. The folks in Jerry Bryan’s church were ready to remove files from their computer that they in fact did not need to remove. They were fortunate that they really didn’t need the file in question, but what about next time? What if the hoax author had more malicious intentions and had instructed gullible recipients to remove a key system file or directory?
Second, a virus hoax results in a waste of resources. The victim wastes valuable time dealing with garbage, and time, after all, is money. People sending the message to friends, family, and colleagues waste bandwidth on the Internet and mail servers. Since these emails usually arrive chock-full of email addresses in the “To” and “CC” fields, spammers treat such warnings as a free gift full of new, valid email addresses they can exploit, further compounding the problem of wasted resources. So remember: if you forward that virus warning, you’ve just multiplied all of the losses above to include everyone else in your address book.
A virus hoax can damage your reputation, or at least make you the butt of jokes. When I receive an email from an acquaintance warning me about jdbgmgr.exe and its dangers, I just shake my head and think “Newbie!” … before I help them. If you forward that email along to 100 folks thinking you’ve done your duty, you’re going to feel pretty sheepish having to send another email letting them know you just made a foolish mistake — and a mistake that could have been prevented with just a little bit of checking on your part first.
Finally, virus hoaxes can have a corrosive effect on security. How? Consider the story of the boy who cried wolf. Similarly, virus hoaxes can undermine the attention that end users pay to rigorous security measures. As a result, users may fall into lax security habits, underestimating the dangers of real viruses because of the frequency of false alarms represented by hoaxes.
There are definite signs that indicate when a virus warning is in fact a hoax. With common sense and a healthy dose of skepticism, you can help make the Internet a better place by helping stop hoaxes before they spread.
First, don’t fall for a warning just because it “sounds” technical. As we have seen above (remember our friend the “nth-complexity infinite binary loop”?), technical-sounding language means nothing. In fact, most real virus warnings from real organizations don’t use a lot of technical language. They try to explain the problem and the solution in language that is simple and direct.
Just because the email came from your friend the computer nerd doesn’t mean it’s correct. Even if he works at Microsoft. And just because the email claims to be reporting the words of the FCC, or the FBI, or a respected anti-virus vendor, or some other government agency or company doesn’t make it more likely to be true. Search the Web sites of the organizations that are mentioned in the email before believing what you read. Further, do a Google search on the virus name: that may produce immediate results indicating whether the virus is real or a hoax.
If the email has a lot of exclamation points or words or phrases written in CAPITAL LETTERS, it is more than likely false. Real security alerts from reputable organizations don’t use such techniques. However, the creators of virus hoaxes do use such techniques, because they know that people are influenced by their emotions. If the email pushes emotional buttons, but doesn’t offer much in the way of verifiable fact, it’s a hoax.
The worse the virus sounds, the less likely its existence. Sure, some viruses do destructive things, but most do not. And the effects attributed to viruses in hoax emails are usually nothing short of apocalyptic: erased hard drives, destroyed systems, and panic in the streets. Be especially suspicious anytime a virus is described using a superlative, as in “most destructive”, “worst ever”, and so on.
Finally, if the “warning” says to pass it along to everyone you know, it is without doubt a fake. In effect, if you pass along warnings, then YOU become the means by which the virus hoax propagates. Real virus warnings never encourage you to forward them; instead, they direct you to a Web site for further information. Break the chain! Don’t forward emails warning about viruses!
But what if you do get an email that seems real? Don’t panic. And don’t forward it to everyone on God’s green earth. Check it out first. Ask the technical department at your company. If they’re not available, there are some excellent resources on the Web that can help you verify the truth of a virus warning.
The major anti-virus vendors all have pages about hoaxes. In particular, Symantec, makers of Norton Anti-Virus, and McAfee have in-depth and timely information that can help you sort truth from fiction. Two outstanding sites that cover these hoaxes in depth are at Vmyths.com: Hoaxes A-Z and Snopes.com. Finally, I have a page on my Web site that gathers together these and other resources.
In conclusion, I have some bad news. I need to warn my readers about a terrible new virus that’s going around. Seriously! This one is real, and I urge you to watch for it and take the appropriate measures. I received the following dire warning in an email today that I must pass along to you, so you can protect yourself. Forward it to all your friends, so we can all help stop this hideous scourge before it brings the world to its knees!
If you receive an Email with the subject line “Badtimes” delete it IMMEDIATELY, WITHOUT READING it. This is the most dangerous Email virus yet.
Not only will it completely rewrite your hard drive, but it will scramble any disks that are even close to your computer. It also demagnetises the strips on your credit cards. It reprograms your ATM access code, screws up the tracking on your VCR and uses subspace field harmonics to scratch any CD’s you try to play. It will recalibrate your refrigerator’s coolness settings so all your ice cream melts and your milk curdles. It will give your ex-boy/girlfriend your new phone number. This virus will mix antifreeze into your fish tank. It will drink all your beer. It will even leave dirty socks on the coffee table when you are expecting company.
It will hide your car keys when you are late for work and interfere with your car radio reception so you hear only static while stuck in traffic. When executed “Badtimes” will give you nightmares about circus midgets. It will replace your shampoo with Nair and deodorant with Surface Spray. It will give you Dutch Elm Disease and Tinea. If the “Badtimes” message is opened in a Windows95 environment, it will leave the toilet seat up and leave your hairdryer plugged in dangerously close to a full bathtub.
It will not only remove the forbidden tags from your mattresses and pillows, but it will refill your skim milk with whole milk. It has been known to disregard ‘Open This End’ labels and can make you ‘Push’ a door that says ‘Pull’ and vice versa. It is insidious and subtle. It is dangerous and terrifying to behold. It is also a rather interesting shade of mauve. These are just a few signs.
You have been warned!
There are many virusses on the Internet. When I started working at the university in late 1988, there were only 4 computer virusses in the entire world. In April 2008, the “1 million” mark for virusses was passed, and we are fast approaching the 2 million mark in October 2011.
With that sort of threat hanging over every computer user’s head, scammers play on the resulting paranoia and general ignorance of the average computer user and have created what we call “scareware”.
Scareware is when a programmer or company creates a substandard antivirus program, (for example WinAntiVirus) and then create websites that bring up fake pop-up ads that show fake alerts about problems on users’ hard drives – for example, “You have 284 severe system threats.” These ads prompt customers to download a free trial of this software or pay a fee for the software. Once installed, the trial versions pump yet more ads into the user’s web browser, pestering people to shell out the full price. It is very ironic, scareware exploits consumer fears of viruses in order to spread what was, in effect, another virus – and the victims pay for the privilege.
Scareware, has become the Internet’s most virulent scourge. By 2009, an average of 35 million computers were being infected by scareware every month, according to a study by software developer Panda Security. “Scareware is still the most promising way of turning compromised machines into cash,” says Dirk Kollberg, a senior threat researcher at security firm Sophos. The problem is this method is very effective. IMI a clandestine operation that creates a lot of scareware is rumoured to have made upwards of $3.96 million per year in pure profit!
So, how do you know the difference between your legitimate anti-virus application and scareware? After all, you don’t want to ignore a legitimate warning message.
First and foremost, get back to basics…
Know what anti-virus or protection software you have installed on your computer.
The scam artists are counting on you not remembering what protection you’ve installed on your computer. Know the name of the software manufacturer (Symantec, TrendMicro, McAfee, etc.) and know the name of the product (Norton Internet Security, PC-cillin, Total Protection, etc). These products also come with a subscription for updates. Know how to find the subscription information so you can verify when the subscription expires.
Some of the scareware pop-up messages appear to be generated from the Windows Security Center. The Windows Security Center is part of Windows. Its purpose is to monitor the status of the presence of an anti-virus application or when the Windows Firewall is turned off. Essentially, the only legitimate messages you will receive from the Windows Security Center are warnings as to the absence of an anti-virus application or warning that your Windows Firewall has been turned off. You can recognize any fake “Windows Security Center” pop-up messages if there is a warning stating that there are infections on the system or if there is an inducement to download or purchase a product.
Unfortunately, if these scareware messages start popping up on your computer it means that your computer is already infected. If you click the pop-up message to purchase the software, a form to collect payment information for the bogus product launches allowing you to download and purchase the fake anti-virus product. But, that is not when your computer gets infected. In most instances, the scareware installed malicious code onto your computer before you saw any pop-up messages… whether you click the warning message, the purchase pop-up form, or not.