Julie Amero Update – Porn Queen or Spyware Victim???

March 5, 2007

There don’t seem to be too many people left who actually believe that Julie Amero was deliberately attempting to expose children to pornographic images. (The notable exceptions to that appear to be the prosecutor in Connecticut). I wrote about this case in more detail here.

Last week the Judge Hillary Strickbein postponed sentencing until March 29th at the request of the defence team. Apparently the postponement had been requested in order to give a new attorney and consultant time to familiarize themselves with the case.

With most of the supposedly “expert” technical evidence apparently having been discredited, Assistant State’s Attorney David Smith claims that Ms Amero did not do enough to protect the children from exposure to pornography, (eg shutting down the computer).  The substitute teacher had already informed colleagues that there was a problem with pop-ups on the PC, and had been told to ignore them. She was also under instruction NOT to turn off the PC.

I wonder if Mr Smith will use the same logic to pursue the individuals responsible for ensuring the school had proper technology in place to protect them from spyware. And whoever was responsible for ensuring teachers had full training on the PC’s. And whoever allowed the PC’s to be implemented without effective password controls. And whoever wrote and circulated the spyware that infected the PC in the first place.

Based on what I’ve read of the case to date, Julie Amero should be way down the list of people culpable for this. If Assistant State’s Attorney David Smith was hoping to make a name for himself out of this case, then he has certainly succeeded. Sadly though it looks as though justice, (and Julie Amero) were poorly served in the process.

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Reads this if you use online banking

February 27, 2007

Ever heard of phishing? It’s the process whereby someone tries to lure you into divulging personal details, (username, password, account details etc), usually by sending you a mail that appears to come from your bank explaining that their servers are to be upgraded, and asking you to follow the link and re-enter all your details.

Well, last week a major pharming attack hit users of 65 banks in the US, Europe and Australia. Pharming is kind of a step up from phishing, because you don’t need to click on a link in an email. Basically what it does is recognise when you wype in the url for your banks site, and redirect those requests a duplicate site. In last weeks case, all the information keyed in by users was subsequently forwarded to the banks in question, which of course makes the problem harder to detect. But by the time the banks received the information entered it had already been captured by the guys behind the scam.

According to Yahoo news, target institutions included Bank of Scotland, Barclays Bank, eBay, Paypal, Discover Card & American Express.

The whole thing seems to have been launched through a trojan known as Burglar.A, which in turn downloaded a number of other Trojans. Keylog.LN, which captures keystrokes and looks for user login details, Banker.CLJ which carries out the pharming scam, FileStealer, which installs a web-server on the PC giving the authors remote control of the server, and Sters.P, designed to prevent users and programs from contacting their websites for security updates.

So overall this was a really nasty little piece of code. The Internet is a fabulous place, but to quote Hill Street Blues….Let’s be careful out there!


Why Nasty Hackers Target Nice PC Users!!!

February 26, 2007

Last week I was explaining to a client about how hackers operate, and they simply didn’t believe that anyone would want to hack into their systems. After all, they’re a micro-business operating in the south-east of Ireland. In global terms they are a complete non-entity.

One of the great things about the internet is that you don’t have to be a multi-national corporation to have a multi-national presence. A single PC in the kitchen can provide services to companies all over the world. And that’s what makes every PC a target for hackers. The Washinton Post reported on this last week:

“Last month, a number of anti-spam Web sites came under a sustained distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, an electronic assault during which the attackers use thousands of compromised personal computers to overwhelm a target with so much bogus traffic that the PCs can’t accommodate legitimate visitors.

The attacks were made possible by tens of thousands – perhaps millions – of computers infected by the recent e-mail virus known as the Storm worm.”

This is just one example but it explains how important it is for every PC to be properly protected. The Storm worm is now particularly ingenious in the way it works. It hit the internet at a time when they’re were particularly bad storms raging across Europe, which helped it spread, but it can be blocked by most commercial security products.

The problem here is that people will go out and spend €1000 on a PC, and then be reluctant to spend €30 or €40 on a decent internet security product. Even the free products like avast and avg provide good levels of protection. I don’t believe that people are that stingy, so surely the problem is a lack of awareness.


Why Not Rocket Science

February 15, 2007

I’m still fairly new to the whole blogging thing, and one of the things I’ve read since I started this was that the blog title should be simple and relevant to the content.

This blog is all about making computer security simple and accessible to non-technical computer users. But it just occurred to me that it may seem like I’m saying that computer security is a simple area. That’s not the case at all. In fact there are layers and layers of complexity and specific areas of expertise within the overall “computer security” field.

The idea that you will make your computer or your network completely secure is nothing more than a pipedream. Sadly, there’s no such thing as Total Computer Security. What you can do though is implement security measures that provide an optimal level of protection. This idea of “Optimal Security” is discussed in more detail on my secureyourbusinessnow.com site, (see the blogroll), but basically it means looking at what you are trying to protect, the threats you are trying to protect from, and then deciding on the best security solutions for your needs.

So the optimal security level will vary from one company or even 1 PC to the next. If you have a PC used for your accounts, payroll, client details, etc, it is more critical than a PC used for web-browsing. That doesn’t mean you don’t implement security in some cases. There is a base level of security that should always be in place on any PC, (and unfortunately often isn’t!!!).

What it means though is that you don’t need to be a technical guru to protect your computers to a level where they are relatively safe from attack. In economic terms, you reach the point of diminishing marginal returns, where spending more money, time or effort will not give you sufficient return to make it worthwhile. It’s up to you to decide where that point is, and you do that by understanding your needs, the threats, and the solutions.

All of which doesn’t have to be that difficult, once you remove the hype and jargon, and focus more on SECURITY and less on COMPUTER.

Clear as mud??? Let me know


How To Battle Spam

February 9, 2007

I just checked my spam filtering service, and according to their website, 70% of emails passing through their scanners is identified as spam, with a further 3% flagged as viruses. MessageLabs, a leading player in this field has the number slightly lower at around 55% & 0.5% respectively.

Other industry sources, (probably with a vested interest), often report spam figures up around 90%, but even at the most conservative, it’s reasonable to say that at least 1 in every 2 emails sent is spam.

For some people, (the lucky few), this never becomes a problem, but for the rest of us it can be a real pain. So what can you do about it. Well, the easist way to combat spam is to avoid it in the first place. You can do this by being careful with your email address. Don’t put it on forms, (written or online), don’t share on the internet, don;t give it to people unless you know them very well, etc.

Great advice but not always practical. So what else can you do? Here’s 4 simple steps that can help reduce the problem.

1. Do NOT un-subscribe from an email you receive. It just lets the spammer know you exist so you will be inundated with mails

2. If you do have to fill in your email address online, check out the privacy statement on the website.

3. Read the small print before you tick (or leave blank) the box. Some of these forms are very sneaky. Like when they have two paragraphs with tick boxes. Paragraph 1 says ticking the box means you agree to receive mails etc, and paragraqph 2 says ticking the box means I do not want to receive mails. Unless you take the time to read properly you will be added to the list.

4. Implement a spam filter. It can be either a local one, (on your PC or server), or an external one, catching mails before they hit your network, or both. There are pros and cons to both options but at least use something. You will need to monitor it, particularly in the early days, but once it’s been running for a while the amount of monitoring required decreases.

Spam is becoming more and more of an issue for computer users, but there are answers out there. Don’t sit and moan, do something about it.


No 1 most critical tool for protecting your computer?

February 8, 2007

Maybe I’m biased here because I just got a panic call from someone who’s lost a whole load of critical information, but…surely the most important security tool is not anti-virus software, or firewalls, or anti-spyware. It’s got to be backups.

There are any number of threats out there, and any number of technologies available to protect you from them, but at the end of the day, the warm cozy feeling of knowing that no matter what happens, all your critical data is nicely secured offsite is priceless.

That’s not to say you don’t need all the other stuff. Anyone who doesn’t have proper virus protection and a decent firewall in place nowadays is just crazy. But even with all these measures in place, bad stuff can still happen. Properly implemented and properly executed backups are the magic wand that will save the day and leave you looking like a hero. (The downside is that poorly implemented backups, that have missed out on some key information, or that haven’t been checked,  could cost you your job, so make sure you get it right.)


How Viruses Spread

February 5, 2007

Nurech.A is a worm that is currently being spread through a mass-mailer. This is not a new virus but it does look like this is a new outbreak of it.

The virus is sent out through a mass-mailer to as many email addresses as possible, with subject titles designed to encourage recipients to open them, (in spite of the fact that they know they shouldn’t).

So the current outbreak has titles like “Together You and I”, “Everyone Needs Someone”, or “CyberLove”, and has a female name in the sender field. Of course with Valentines Day on the way this email is more likely to be opened.

It’s interesting to note how often viruses are being circulated at the moment using events such as this, (or current news items), to try to entice readers to open them.