Archive for the ‘Security’ Category

Who’s Accessing Your PC?

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Handcuffs  Last month a Luton man was successfully prosecuted for scamming users into paying for free software. He had hired a number of call centre staff in India to call UK residents and to trick them into giving them remote access to their PC’s. The caller would tell the victim that their PC had a serious issue and that they could fix it for them. They then charged victims between £35 and £150 for software which could be downloaded from Microsoft for free.

Trading Standards have hailed this as a landmark case, the first time a UK resident has been convicted of the Microsoft scam, however, there are many more copy-cat scams in place so how do you make sure you don’t fall victim?

Firstly, Microsoft do not make outgoing calls to their customers – never! If you get a call from anyone who says they are calling directly from Microsoft then it’s simply not true.

Secondly, unless you are paying for a managed support service on your home PC, no third party company would know if you had a virus or other issue with your PC and be able to get in contact with you about it.

Worried userSome of these callers can be very convincing and, with most users conscious of the number of viruses and security around, it is easy to be lulled into thinking that something terrible is happening with your PC, but if anyone calls out of the blue and wants access to your PC, don’t let them in!

If you are worried that you may have a virus or malware on your PC, make sure that your anti-virus software is up to date and running properly then run a full scan. Once the scan has completed, follow any instructions carefully to ensure that any infections are successfully removed.

If in doubt, contact a reputable local IT company who will have the tools available to remove any infections.

CryptoLocker Ransomware – Don’t get Caught

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Man in despairI am sure most people are aware that there are some pretty nasty bugs and malware being sent around the Internet.

Some hijack your email and send spam to your address book, others are designed to sit secretly in the background and simply use your systems resource and internet connection as a gateway to send spam or process tasks in the background. Some try to steal your identity or personal information either through logging your key strokes or duping you in to entering personal details into a fake website. Some will try to ‘break’ your system by changing settings or files .

Now, these are not nice and can be a nuisance to get rid of. Generally, any decent anti-virus product will protect your system and stop these programs from running or at least stop them in their tracks. You can then restore any damaged or missing files from your backup, though normally any data will be retrievable anyway, even in the case of a complete reload of the system.

There is one virus however, which can cause the loss of all your data and files and for which there is currently no known resolution apart from paying a lot of money – and even that will not guarantee a return of your data.

The CryptoLocker virus sits dormant on an infected machine until that system is rebooted. This then triggers a file to run on restart which secretly works its way through your files encrypting them and making them unreadable. Not only will it work its way through your hard drive, but it will search through any mapped network drives or connected USB drives encrypting them also.

Screenshot of Cryptoware warningAs a final nail in the coffin, it will attempt to delete and disable any historical shadow copies, just to make doubly sure you have no way of retrieving your precious data.

Only when it has finished will it display its message on your desktop to tell you your system is infected and with details on how to pay and retrieve the key to decrypt your data.

So, how can you protect yourself? Generally the virus is transmitted via an email attachment. These are appearing more and more genuine and those we have seen include Companies House submission reports, Bank statement notifications, delivery instructions from major courier companies and HMRC tax return notifications. The attachment pretends to be a pdf document but is in fact an executable file which runs and then infects.

Image of Bullguard protection software packageFirstly, do not open or even preview an email you are not expecting from these sort of sources. If in doubt, delete it.

Secondly, make sure you are running up to date, valid anti-virus software. This will help to pick up any known executable files as they run on your system.

Thirdly, there is a small application, written by FoolishIT LLC which can be installed on a PC to help protect against this particular threat. It stops certain file types running in certain locations on your PC. This will help to protect against the virus but may possibly impact some other 3rd party software also. You can download CryptoPrevent from the following page: http://www.foolishit.com/download/cryptoprevent/

Backup imageFinally, make sure your system is regularly backed up but, if you back up onto a USB disk, do not leave this permanently attached to your PC. Depending on how you back your files up, this could become encrypted also should you be infected.

Should you be unfortunate enough to be a victim of this virus, and you simply must try to retrieve your information, you have a limited time to follow the instructions and decrypt your files. Currently, there is no other alternative to retrieving any encrypted data. Success rates vary and paying the ransom does not guarantee your files will be saved. If you do want to take this route, then do not make any attempt to clean your system until you have tried to decrypt your files. If you remove the key files from your system then you could end up having to pay more money or not be able to decrypt your files at all.

For more information on keeping your systems safe and secure, please contact us.

Don’t get scammed!

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Search for “computer scams UK” on the world’s favourite search engine and you get over 5 million results. Start to look through and the first 5 pages all talk about the recent fake phone scams affecting UK home computer users.

The fraudsters prey on computer users’ lack of knowledge where technology is concerned and persuade them that their PC’s are faulty or infected with viruses. They will often say that they can see the computer has been connected to the internet or sending emails, which builds up the fear in the user that someone can see what is going on within their home. They will normally claim to be from a well-known company such as Microsoft or a computer related company to add kudos.

The scammers will then try to gain remote access to the computer with the users help, claiming they will fix the problem and/or will ask for credit card details as payment for resolving a fault that never existed or that they created.

Other scams include emails asking for you to confirm account details, whether that is from a bank, PayPal or other social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Hotmail. The emails can look very genuine but no company will ever ask you for your account details via email.

Another scam is a play on the postal courier scam, where a card is left claiming a parcel tried to be delivered and asking you to call a number, which of course is a premium rate number. The electronic version is an email saying the same sort of message but asking you to open an attachment to view the delivery details. This contains a virus and as soon as it is opened the PC gets infected.

Finally, there’s the web based scams. You’re browsing the internet, on a reputable site, and suddenly a pop up says you have loads of viruses. It looks very genuine and so you, understandably, follow the instructions to clean the PC. As soon as you click on the image, a virus is downloaded to the machine and that’s it. if you’re lucky, you’ll get some annoying messages keep appearing and the PC will be a bit slow. More unfortunate users can suffer from the PC becoming unusable.

So how do you avoid the traps?

Generally, no company will telephone you to tell you your computer has a virus. The only exception to this is your broadband or email provider, who may call you if they see a significant amount of email traffic or broadband access which is not normal and exceeds their fair use policies. This may indicate a virus or spamming from your account. Definitely do not allow any one remote access to your PC unless you know who they are, where they are from and you have requested them to do so. Definitely do not give any cold callers access to your PC or credit card details over the phone.

If in doubt take as much information as you can get out of them such as company name, individual name, telephone number etc. and say you will call them back. Most will hang up at this point.

Never give any account information such as passwords or pin codes in response to an email request. Again, if in doubt, telephone the company to confirm that the request is genuine, but check the contact details from your own bank statements or correspondence, not from those given on the email or any associated web links. These can all be spoofed to get you to call the fraudsters.

Be wary of any emails with attachments when you do not know the sender or do not recognise their address. Read emails carefully before opening attachments or clicking on links and remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is! Only open attachments or follow links where you are sure of the sender and that it has genuinely been sent by that person.

Finally, if you are browsing the web and suddenly get a pop up regarding security or virus issues, and it is not from your own anti-virus package, don’t click on anything. Don’t even click the No or Cancel buttons. The best thing to do is to shut down the computer by clicking on the Start button. If this won’t work, hold in the power button until the PC or laptop turns off. It’s not ideal but it will limit damage from the virus.

If you think you have been affected by a scam or virus, check that the PC is working correctly, is not unreasonably slow, has not got more pop-ups or that your web browser is not redirecting you to strange sites. If you get any of these symptoms it’s likely your PC is infected so either contact your anti-virus provider or your local computer repair company to get it looked at quickly.

Generally, with any security issues, the more you use a PC the worse it will get so it’s best to get it checked out quickly. Remember that many viruses will disable or affect installed anti-virus packages but having a good security package installed on your PC, which is kept up to date will help to stop infections to your system and can help in damage limitation and removal should you get a virus or malware.

If the worst happens, @home IT offer a fixed price virus removal service for £82.50 including vat. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like any advice or help with PC security.

Is your network secure?

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Google has recently been accused of gathering personal information gained from their Street View cars whilst gathering WiFi hotspot information for the software. This information was only gained via unsecured and open networks which could have been accessed by anyone with a limited amount of IT knowledge. So how can you be sure that your network is safe and secure?

You should ensure that your wireless network is secured using the latest technology available on your device such as a WPA or WPA2 key. This is a strong form of encryption which prevents people without the key accessing the network.

You can hide your wireless network from being discovered by other wireless devices, although this is easily circumvented and can cause problems if you regularly connect different devices. If you don’t want to hide your network then give it an obscure name that does not relate it to you or your property. Older security technologies such as mac addressing and WEP are more easily cracked and should be avoided.

On most modern routers the wireless security key is printed on a sticker on the router along with the SSID or network name. It is a good idea to log into your router and change the default information such as the administration password, SSID and key so that they cannot be known by anyone but you. Just remember to keep a note of them for future reference!

When you are out and about with your laptop and do not want to use wireless or Bluetooth, turn off these services. This will prevent people finding and connecting to your machine. There should be a switch somewhere on the laptop for these services or possibly one of the Function keys on the numbers at the top of the keyboard.

When connecting to unsecured networks such as hotspots make sure your anti-virus and firewall protection is enabled and up to date to prevent unwanted access. Also, avoid sharing drives on your computer. Although this may be convenient when you are at home, if you are out and about and connected to Public networks your data could be available to everyone!

Finally, if you need any help setting up or securing your network please contact us on 01628 819515 or email help@athomeit.co.uk.

Problems with BullGuard Internet Security Suite and latest Microsoft LiveMail updates

Monday, October 25th, 2010

We have been made aware of an issue with BullGuard anti-virus spam filters and Microsoft LiveMail.  The latest LiveMail updates have a conflict with the Bullguard splam filter.

After installation of the updates the conflict means that you cannnot access LiveMail.

Disabling the BullGuard Spam Filter will allow LiveMail to start working again.

As a permentant resolution, Bullguard recommend that users upgrade to Version 10.  This can be downloaded from http://download.bullguard.com/BullGuardDownloader.exe

If you have already uninstalled BullGuard then the latest version can be downloaded from the following locations.  You will need to re-enter your account information and key code to activate the full version.

http://downloads.bullguard.com/BullGuard_100.exe (for 32-bit)
 http://downloads.bullguard.com/BullGuard_100_x64.exe (for 64-bit versions of BullGuard).

Do you know what you’re downloading?

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

We all download software, tools and utilities from the Internet. Maybe you need to do something as a one-off, want to trial some software or find a free tool that might be useful.

But do you know exactly what you are downloading and where it is coming from?  Is the site reputable?  Are there other things that might be included in your download apart from the particular item you require?

There are a few hints and tips you can use to check your downloads are not going to catch you out!

Check the reputation of the site

Use a free web browser security tool such as McAfee SiteAdvisor which will stop you inadvertently going to a site known for viruses, spam, malware and other nasties.  As well as blocking known dodgy sites it will also display symbols next to your search results showing which links are safe to follow and which you should treat with caution.

What are you downloading?

It’s easy to get distracted by the wonderful advertising and wording on some sites.  If you are downloading something which is supposed to be free, be wary of entering any payment details or too much personal information.  You may find yourself subscribing to a service you don’t want and which is difficult to cancel.  Sometimes you can find yourself following 2 or 3 links before you finally think you’ve found your download link only to find it’s for something else, so double check before clicking the download button.

Check the small print

Read through the license agreements and any small print before clicking the ‘Agree’ button.  Check what any information you enter will be used for and the license terms for the software or downloads.  There are lots of things which can be downloaded and used for personal use but not for commercial purposes for example.

Only install what you need

When you’ve found your file, on a reputable site, and it’s been downloaded you may think you’re home and dry, but there are still some things to look out for.  Read the installation instructions carefully.  Watch out for tick boxes that relate to other items such as unrelated toolbars, security products and search tools.  These items are generally not related to the software you are installing and can use up resources on the PC.

Finally…

If there is a piece of software or a utility that you want and it’s not available free of charge then you are unlikely to find a copy or a key code on the Internet.  There are crack-sites out there offering serial numbers or free downloads of games and software but normally all you’ll end up with are viruses, malware and spam.  Most software manufacturers are wise to the trade in illegitimate software and keycodes.  Most applications need to be authenticated online before they will work and once the key has been used once or twice it won’t work again without speaking to the manufacturer and providing proof of purchase.

On the plus side there are lots of open source and free applications available to download from reputable websites and as long as you take care over which sites you visit and what you download then have fun experimenting with some new applications!

Don’t buy more than you bargained for

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

When ordering items online make sure you don’t end up subscribing to a service that you don’t need – or don’t even know about!

Make sure you read the small print on each page of the checkout process and double check anything that has a check box next to it.  These often relate to how the company can use your data – for it’s own marketing purposes, to keep you informed of updates or maybe to ‘share’ your data with selected 3rd parties – i.e. sell it on.

We have had reports lately of people finding strange charges on their credit card bills.  These turn out to be for subscriptions they have unwittingly subscribed to by not unticking a box whilst buying something online.  Often the websites and items they have bought are completely unrelated.

So, when buying online, keep safe by reading the small print and checking what those ticks mean, and remember to regularly check your credit card statements for unusual charges.