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Posts Tagged ‘Computer Security Tips’

Online Holiday Shopping Security Tips – Beware of Cyber Crooks and Scams

Posted on: November 27th, 2011 by under Computer Security | 1 Comment

Cyber Monday marks the unofficial beginning of the Online Holiday Shopping season. As I write this on the eve of  Cyber Monday, you can be sure that cyber crooks are ready to unleash a  variety of scams intended to separate you from your hard-earned money.

The odds are very good that every  of us will come across such a scam over the next few weeks. How we handle the situation could make the difference between a joyous holiday season and a sad one. Here are some tips to help keep your Holidays happy ones:

1) Learn to identify fake web sites in emails.

You get an email from “Amazon.com” that says you can get a free Apple ipad if you spend $1000 on Amazon. Or they are selling them for $100 below the regular price. First thing to do is STOP and THINK. What are the odds Amazon is giving away ipads? zero. What are the odds they are selling them at $100 below normal price? zero. Apple controls pricing and their products are not discounted. These are just some simple examples, but the point is, just a little common sense is often all it takes to smell a  scam.

But suppose the offer you get is thoroughly believable  or you don’t know enough about the items to know what is reasonable. Before you click on the link in that email that says “Buy on Amazon.com,” just put your mouse cursor on the link without clicking. Somewhere on your screen (depends on which email program you use), the actual URL of the link will appear. Sometimes it will be an obvious fake, ( like usamza.com). But many times, they will includes words in the URL that can fool you. (amazon.com.ipad.store.usamza.com/online_store).  Look carefully at what the last .com (or .net, .biz, .info, etc.) says. That will tell you the real domain name for the link you are about to click on. In this case, it’s usamza.com. The “amazon.com.ipad.store” at the beginning is just there to trick you.

Note: This is also a very common tactic when it comes to online payment sites, like PayPal. You are bound to get emails saying they are from PayPal and you need to login to your account to fix a problem.  Two things: First, remember to closely inspect the link and second, the real PayPal will probably never send you such an email.

2) Beware of  store emails with attachments.

Chances are good you are on some mailing lists from legitimate stores and shopping sites.  Chances are just as good that they will never send you an email with an attachment. For example, you get an email claiming to be from Macys.com, and it tells you to open the attached PDF file for details on a specials friends and family sale – STOP right there and immediately delete the email. Legitimate retailers do not send emails with attachments.

Keep in mind that often times the emails look quite authentic. They’ll have the Macy’s logo, and links to legitimate pages on the real Macy’s site, all designed to make you believe the email is legitimate. It is not.

3) Don’t use store links from search engines.

A favorite tactic of cyber crooks is creating entire fake web sites that are mirror images of a real site. This has been done with banking sites, hoping you will enter your real BankofAmerica username/password on a fake BankofAmerica site they have created that looks just like the real thing. The same tactic is used with shopping sites. If they can create a fake “buy.com” and get you to go there and put in your real buy.com password, they can then go to buy.com and buy things using your account.

The problem for cyber crooks is, how to get you to go to the fake site? One way is with faked emails, as described in #1 above. Another is through search engine results. Let’s say you are looking for a special cooking utensil as a gift for a friend. You do a google search, and one of the first matches is a link for “cooking.com”. You click on the link and are taken to a web site that says Cooking.com” all over the page. You probably wouldn’t notice that the actual URL says “cookingz.com”. It’s a complete fake. Once you are on the fake, they can try to gather personal information or just install malicious software on your computer.

What should you have done? When a search result for cooking.com came up, instead of clicking on the link in the search results, you should open another browser tab or window and manually type in cooking.com. Now you know you are at the real cooking.com. Then, once you’ve used a web site and you know it’s legitimate, add it to your favorites and only use the favorite link to go there in the future.

4) Only enter your credit card info on a secure web site.

The Better Business Bureau online shopping division highly recommends that you ALWAYS use credit cards when purchasing online (built-in fraud protection) and ONLY use web sites that use SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) on their payment page. You’ll know you are on a secure page if the page URL starts with “HTTPS://”  instead of “HTTP://.”  The data transfers on secure pages are encrypted, which protects your confidential  information, even if the data is intercepted by a malicious program on your PC that is “listening in” on the transaction.

5)  Use internet security software.

This may seem kind of obvious to some of you, yet you wouldn’t believe how many home PCs we see  that either have no security software installed or have an old, un-updated version that has expired. Seriously folks, it’s almost 2012. You’re being seriously irresponsible if you are not running some type of security software. Here are 3 I recommend for home use. Two even have basic FREE versions, so you have NO excuse. However, I highly recommend you spend some $$ on the more comprehensive paid versions.

Avast (my favorite free program): http://www.avast.com/free-antivirus-download

AVG: http://free.avg.com/us-en/free-antivirus-download

F-Secure (what I use at home): http://www.f-secure.com/en/web/home_us/protection/internet-security/trial

Be SMART and be SAFE.

Don’t Think Hackers Target Small Business? Think Again…

Posted on: August 22nd, 2011 by under Computer Security | No Comments

Don't Think Hackers Target Small Business? Think Again...There’s a dirty little secret in the hacking community. While the “big score” can be had by going after Fortune 500 and multi-national companies, the odds of success without getting caught are slim. The easy money is had by going after small businesses.

Hackers Target Small Business:

Hackers know that small businesses often don’t have the resources or expertise to properly secure their systems. Whether it’s  your own network or your hosted website, they are being scanned non-stop by potential thieves looking for weak passwords or security holes. Once they gain access, they will often install difficult to detect software that will intercept all data being transmitted and forward it on to their own site.

Stealing credit card information that can be re-sold or used to make purchases is the primary goal. Identity theft and gaining access to online bank accounts are  close behind.

A 2010 survey by the National Retail Federation and First Data Corp. of small- and medium-size retailers in the U.S. found that 64% believed their businesses weren’t vulnerable to card data theft and only 49% had assessed their security safeguards. Talk about nice, ripe low-hanging fruit for the hackers…

On the web site front, current statistics estimate that every .65 seconds, a web page is infected with malware.

An agent in the FBI’s cyber division says that hackers targeting small businesses are a “prolific problem.” And, “It’s going to get much worse before it gets better.”

Proper security is all about creating multiple levels that have to be broken through. Think of a burgler approaching two houses. One is protected by a ten foot wall. The other has a ten foot wall, a ten foot barbed wire fence and a moat with man-eating piranha swimming in it. Which house will he try to break in to?

So, if you own or manage a small business, what do you do?

1) First priority should be installing a proper firewall, which does not mean a $99 home firewall you bought in the local office supply store. It also means hiring a professional IT technician to install and configure it. This is NOT a do-it-yourself job.

2) Don’t be lazy with passwords. Use strong passwords that are combinations of letters, numbers and special characters.

3) Every system needs to be running anti-virus and anti-malware software. While no one program is perfect, running without it is the equivalent of a hole in your barbed-wire fence.

4) Don’t skimp on backups – back up your systems daily at the minimum. And that includes your web site. Is your site being backed up? How often? Look into a free service from CodeGuard.

5) Talk to an IT security professional. In this technology crazed, always-connected world we live in, many people feel they know enough to  “do it themselves and save money.”  There are many areas where that may be true, but this isn’t one of them.

For the most part, you’ll only hear about computer security breaches when they involve large companies and thousands of potential “victims.” There may only be a handful of these every year. But every day, smaller businesses are being hacked and in many cases, enough damage is inflicted to close down the business. Don’t let that happen to you.

If you would like to read some more about this topic, including some real world examples of small businesses under siege, here are some good articles to check out:

Hackers Shift Attacks to Small Firms – Wall Street Journal

New Cyberattacks Target Small Businesses – USA Today


Handy Computer Security Tips From People Who Should Know – the NSA

Posted on: May 22nd, 2011 by under Apple, Computer Security, Microsoft, Operating Systems | No Comments

When it comes to our computer systems, it’s pretty safe to say that everyone recognizes the need to be security-conscious. But how many of us really know what to do beyond setting passwords?

If you work in information security, you don’t need our help. For the rest of you, where do you begin? The task can seem daunting to the average user.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to help you, even too many, probably. So where do you start?

Well, how about from the people responsible for securing the nation’s information – the National Security Agency (NSA).

From the NSA Mission Statement:

The Information Assurance mission confronts the formidable challenge of preventing foreign adversaries from gaining access to sensitive or classified national security information. The Signals Intelligence mission collects, processes, and disseminates intelligence information from foreign signals for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes and to support military operations. This Agency also enables Network Warfare operations to defeat terrorists and their organizations at home and abroad, consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties.

Surprisingly enough, this agency that lives and breathes secrecy, publishes a wide range of security guides that are completely yours to use for free.

Whether you are an Apple, Windows or Linux user, there are two guides specifically for you at these links:

Operating Systems.

Best Practices for Securing a Home Network

For the main page where you can browse all of the guides (categories on the left), go to:

Security Configuration Guides

These guides are good starting points. Be proactive – don’t wait for something bad to happen.


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