Archive for Security – Page 3

Voice Activated Products and Privacy

Microphones in Voice Activated Devices in the Home

For some time now we have had smartphones which you can talk to and get a response from, for example, Apple’s ‘Hey Siri’ and Android’s ‘OK Google’ – both very useful gadgets and which can greatly speed up the time it takes to get information.

Now, with the advent of in-home products such as Amazon’s ‘Echo’, the use of voice-activated devices in the Home is set to increase dramatically, so it’s fair to ask – are there any privacy concerns and do they outweigh the benefits of having such a useful device?

On the one hand, having a device that you can ask questions of as well as giving commands to, is clearly useful but the fact remains that to achieve this, the Echo contains an array of sensitive microphones that picks up audio from anywhere within range – certainly anywhere in an average sized room.

Unless you specifically mute the microphones, they are in ‘always listening’ mode.

The Echo doesn’t understand or process such audio itself – it sends it over the internet to Amazon’s data centres, which do the hard work in a fraction of a second and sends it back to the Echo device to respond back to you. However, and even though the Echo does not respond without hearing the trigger ‘Alexa’, the microphones are still functioning.

Similarly, the camera in the new ‘Echo Look’ – a camera-enabled device pitched for use in your bedroom or bathroom to help you with fashion choices – can also be switched off, but also has a default ‘always on’ mode.

The main privacy concerns relate to two main issues – security of the device and storage of voice data.

Security of the Device

Whilst Amazon has world-leading security at its data centres, we all know that if a device is connected to the internet then there is no such thing as 100% security – either there is a chance (however small) that the device can be compromised by hacking, or the data going to and from it can be intercepted.

It was revealed that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg covers the Webcam in his laptop with tape, as does a former FBI Director who calls it “sensible”, so how useful would audio information fetched directly from within your home, be to the wrong people?

Once your information is in the ‘Cloud’, then you have to accept that you no longer have 100% control of it.

Voice Data Storage

Like Apple’s Siri, previous Amazon Echo recordings are kept by Amazon in order to improve voice recognition accuracy, although you can delete them through your ‘Manage my Devices’ page (but this does mean that the Echo will not “learn” from your past interaction with it). If a device is storing at least some audio from within your home, you need to be aware that it is being stored somewhere else.

Also, bear in mind that you may accidentally use a similar word to one of the trigger words in general conversation, which means that it is possible that the device can actively detect what is being said without you even realising it.

What is clear is that the Echo is a useful device and will no doubt be the first of many interactive devices forming part of the ‘Internet of Things’, but also bear in mind that like much of the tech that we use on a daily basis, it is also a market profile data gathering device, in a similar way to smartphones. In fact, the company actually reserves the right to serve ads based on the data that the Echo receives from you, so don’t be surprised when one day you ask Alexa a question about something and you subsequently get ads related to what you have said to it.

The Echo and similar devices are now in the home, including in private areas, so we need to make an informed choice about what that tech can do for us, versus the possible issues and risks that such technology can bring with it. If you uneasy about ‘always on’ microphones then possibly such a device is not for you, but if you are aware of the risks, then you can make sure that you keep as much control as possible, e.g. use that mute button!

NHS Cyber Attack – how to build up your protection

Malware terms

Here is some more information about the NHS cyber-attack that started on Friday.

The Ransomware variant is called WanCrypt0r and 81,000 infections were reported in the first 12 hours. It has not only targeted the NHS but has also gone for Banks, Telecoms and Utilities worldwide.

It has been established that the criminals are exploiting a known vulnerability in Windows (MS17-010)  which has already been patched, but those computers which do not have up to date Windows Updates are still vulnerable.

We have warned customers before about the Ransomware threat and the extent of this attack means that we should all consider increasing our defences, especially businesses but also homes, as Ransomware can be spread via emails.

As there is no way to guarantee 100% protection against threats, we have to make it as difficult as possible for the threat to take hold and how much you decide to do depends on the level of risk you wish to take.

1. Ensure that Windows Updates is kept up to date

Windows Updates contain security fixes (amongst other things) and computers that have not been kept up to date are vulnerable, as in the case in this attack. Admittedly Windows 10 gives you little choice when it comes to Updates (you have to have them) but if you are using any previous version of Windows – make sure that Updates are kept up to date.

If you are still using Windows XP or Vista, you shouldn’t be. These versions of Windows no longer get Windows Updates.

Update:
Microsoft have now issued a patch for XP and Vista. Go to this web page to download the patch if you are still using XP and Vista (demand is high so it may take more than one try). Please note – this patches this vulnerability only so you should still move away from these unsupported operating systems.

2. Make sure that you have a good antivirus product that is kept up to date

Good security products give a better degree of protection but they have to be kept up to date, with active subscriptions. Free antivirus is better than nothing but does not give protection that is as comprehensive as paid versions.

3.    Install extra protection.

Usually, you should not have more than one security product installed on your computer at any one time, but there is a product called Malwarebytes, which can be installed as well as your existing antivirus. This increases your protection especially from Ransomware, if you install the premium version.

4.    Consider your backup situation

If a computer is infected, the virus goes across a network and it is possible that any connected storage will also get infected – this includes cloud storage such as Dropbox. Having said that, Dropbox state that within 30 days of the event they can restore your files (here) and you can subscribe to extend the 30 days to 1 year if you choose. If you are using any other Cloud storage, check with them to see if they have a similar service.

It is vital that your important files are backed up and a copy kept separate from your computer. In the event of an infection, you can at least relax a little that your important data has not been encrypted.

5.    Consider downtime – system backups

When a computer has Ransomware, if you have backups of important files you will not need to pay the criminals. It is likely that the computer will need to be wiped clean and Windows reinstalled, which takes time.

There is software available that can take a copy of your whole computer, which could be used to reinstall the whole system in much less time than a full reinstall. A copy once every 2 or 3 months would allow you to get back up and running in much less time.

As mentioned earlier, many viruses are spread through emails, so never click on links in emails and do not open attachments unless you know that they are genuine emails – if in doubt call the sender.

If you would like help with any of the above, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Mac Computers and Viruses – Truth versus Myth

Compromised app containing a virus

We have lost count of the number of times that we’ve heard the phrase “Macs don’t get viruses” or “I’ve never had protection on my Mac”. Whilst this may have been true in the past it isn’t as cut and dried today and the Mac OSX operating system actually can be vulnerable, so protection is worth seriously considering especially in a work or business situation.

More difficult to exploit

The Mac is based on the UNIX operating system (as is Linux) which is more difficult to exploit as it is built on a sandbox-type principle, where malicious code cannot usually get as far as it might get in a non-UNIX based system.  Also, Apple has built in a certain degree of malware prevention in the Mac, for example their ‘Gatekeeper’ software actually blocks apps that have been downloaded from the internet (i.e. anywhere other than the Apple Store) that do not have a Developer ID supplied by Apple certifying that they are safe to use.

Unfortunately, in spite of this robustness the Mac is now becoming a victim of its own success because its increasing popularity means that cybercriminals are paying more attention to it – and finding ways of making money from you even if you are a Mac user. It’s not just that popularity – Macs are usually much more expensive to buy, so the cybercriminals may believe that Mac users are attractive targets.

Not impossible to exploit

For example, a popular Mac DVD-ripping and Video Conversion app called ‘Handbrake’ was recently compromised, by criminals hacking the software company download server and inserting malicious code into the app download. When this download was installed on a Mac, it also installed a ‘backdoor’ (a means of bypassing security). The user then was asked for their administrator password, which was passed over the internet in plain text so that the criminals could access any part of the system from that point.

By successfully avoiding having to use the ‘direct attack’ approach, this allowed important information such as password keychains and browser data to be extracted and passed to the crooks.

This compromise has now been corrected and the infected code was from a download between 2nd and 6th May 2017. If you have installed Handbrake version 1.0.7, check the SHA1 checksum of the file by opening a Terminal, typing in shasum and dragging the installation file into the Terminal Window.

If the checksum is 0935a43ca90c6c419a49e4f8f1d75e68cd70b274 then the file is malicious.

To disinfect it remove the Launch Agent plist file fr.handbrake.activity_agent.plist, and the activity_agent.app file located in ~/Library/RenderFiles/. Reboot then change your passwords.

In the past year or so a Ransomware-type malware was discovered for the Mac, so this isn’t the first time that there has been a potential issue.

Even though the Mac is more robust and secure than its main competitor, it is by no means invulnerable to malicious code and it is a risk to think otherwise. You may feel that the risk is small enough to continue to use your Mac as you always have, but at least consider the pros and cons first – as well as being very careful about where you get your apps from.

If you would like help in securing your Mac, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Controlling Windows 10 Autoplay Settings

Autoplay settings in Windows 10

‘Autoplay’ in Windows was originally designed to automatically open removable media that you have plugged into your computer, such as CD/DVD or USB media – it was meant to speed things up for you, but it has had a checkered history.

In the old days, putting in a CD/DVD or USB media with Autoplay switched on was a good way of passing viruses from one computer to another, as viruses were automatically executed when the media was opened for you. This is why good security programs today either automatically scan removable media when inserted, or ask you to allow it to do so, but some programs are better than others and some may not stop a virus from executing itself in time.

Later versions of Windows switched Autoplay off by default and Windows 10 asks you what you want to do, when removable media is inserted. However we do see customers that switch it back on, for ease of use but this does pose a risk.

Even today, it is recommended that Autoplay is switched off. You can do this by going to Settings > Devices and select ‘Autoplay’ on the list on the left. Toggle the Autoplay switch to ‘Off’, Autoplay will be disabled and you will not see the pop-up window again. This allows you or your security software to scan the removable media before opening.

Alternatively, or you just find that annoying, the next safest thing is set Autoplay to ask you what to do every time media is inserted, rather than automatically opening it. In Windows 10 you can actually select different actions for different media, for example you can set memory cards to import photos from your camera (which is unlikely to be infected). The settings for this are in the same section as described above, and you go to the ‘Choose a default’ for each media showing in the list.

There is also even greater control of individual media by going to the ‘Autoplay’ setting in Control Panel, where you can choose a default for many more options such as Pictures, Video, Audio etc. that may be present on your removable media.

Rather than just automatically opening media, the final thing that you can do is to set Autoplay to open the media in File Explorer – but as some viruses reside in an area of removable media that is read when opening its file list, this is not that much better than automatic opening. We would recommend scanning all removable media before opening it in File Explorer.

Every day people are using the same USB drive in their home and office/business computers, or putting removable media into their computers that has been used in a friend or relative’s system. This means that the weakest point is the danger point for compromising the security of your computer – so the friend/relative that may not have a good security program, or a compromised office computer are routes to computer infection.

The last thing you want is to have your computer disinfected, so it pays to reduce the risk where possible.

If you would like help in securing your computer or believe that your computer may be infected, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Security – 4 Ways to Travel Safe for Your Business

or aMobile Security for your Business

Working from anywhere is now as simple as accessing the internet on any number of devices. Managers, owners, and employees are all embracing the flexibility of working while travelling, making it the new norm.

But while you were in the office, you were protected by professionally designed firewalls, security infrastructure, and robust software. As soon as you step away from the building, those protections disappear, leaving your device and the data inside at greater risk.

Cyber attackers love to collect any data they can obtain, often preferring to hack first, assess value later. It doesn’t help that almost all data can be sold, including your personal details, those of your clients and suppliers, as well as your proprietary business data. These days, the information stored on your device is usually worth much more than the device itself.

Here are 3 ways a hacker will attack:

Making use of Opportunity – getting hold of the device

Whether an employee left their laptop at a café or a thief stole the phone from their pocket, the outcome is the same – that device is gone. Hackers will take advantage of any opportunity to gain access to a device, including taking them from hotel rooms and even asking to ‘borrow’ them for a few minutes to install spyware, before handing it back.

Have you ever handed your smartphone to a stranger, asking them to take a photo for you?

Spoofing a Wi-Fi Hotspot

We’ve all come to expect free Wi-Fi networks wherever we go – we can even create them ourselves using smartphones. Hackers will take advantage of this trust to create their own free, insecure network, just waiting for a traveller to check a quick email.

When they do, they can monitor traffic and if your device is not secured, hackers can obtain all sorts of information.

Intercepting an Insecure Network

Hackers don’t need to own the Wi-Fi network to steal content from it. Data travelling across an insecure genuine network is visible and available to anyone with the right software.

Taking these four precautions will help to increase cyber safety and help to protect your business data while on the move: –

1.    Make a backup before you travel: In the event that your device is lost or damaged, you’ll be able to replace the device with a new one and quickly restore all the data from a backup, all with minimal downtime. (Also bear in mind that many devices have a remote delete or lock function in the event of a theft – if yours does you may want to consider it).

2.    Don’t use public Wi-Fi: Wait until you have access to a secure network before going online – even just to check email.

3.    Use passwords and encryption: At a minimum, make sure you have a password on your device, or even better, have full drive encryption. That way, even if your data storage is removed from the device, the contents are inaccessible.

4.    Act fast after loss: If your device is lost or stolen, immediately notify the appropriate people. This might include your IT provider so they can change passwords, your bank so they can lock down accounts, and any staff or colleagues who need to be aware of the breach, so they aren’t tricked into allowing further breaches.

So much personal, financial and business information is now held on our mobile devices that they are a potential goldmine for the wrong people. Think objectively and try to minimise the risk now, because a cyber breach is happening to someone else whilst you are reading this – don’t let it be you.

Need help with mobile cyber security? Call us at 01455 209505.

Beware – the fake TalkTalk Scam is Still Going Strong

Keep your computer secure from scammers

A couple of years ago, TalkTalk made the news after admitting that they had been hacked and large amounts of customer private data had been accessed illegally. At that time there were a number of scammers pretending to be from TalkTalk, phoning people trying to get remote access to their computer by saying that they were infected or their emails had been hacked.

The idea was to convince people into paying them a lot of money, by accessing their computers to either create a problem (to pretend to fix), to syphon details to be used later in ID and bank fraud or just to scare the customer.

Scammers are back

We are now seeing an increasing number of cases where scammers are using the TalkTalk excuse but are even more believable, by giving information that a customer would assume could only be from TalkTalk. For example, customers who have had problems with their emails and who have contacted TalkTalk about it, who have then got a call from the scammers.

Even if these calls are just a coincidence, and that the contact information they are currently using is from the original hack, we strongly suggest that all TalkTalk customers be extra vigilant anyway as these people are very believable and make a lot of money doing this. This also applies to ANY other company that calls you out of the blue, as TalkTalk is not the only company name misused by scammers in this way.

Remember that TalkTalk would never call you to ask for passwords, or contact you out of the blue to ask to remotely access your computer for some reason. Also, they could not tell if your computer is infected or not without examining it, so they would not call you to tell you that it was.

What to do if they call

If you do get a call from someone saying that they are from TalkTalk (or other company), no matter how believable, do not let them access your computer. Go to the genuine company website, get contact details and call them, to make sure that the person you are talking to is genuine.

Also, remember that remote connections can be used legitimately too and you should not be put off using it – just be especially careful who you allow to connect remotely to your computer and you should be ok.

If you think that you may have already been scammed or just want help, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Is Anti-Virus Enough These Days?

Is Anti-virus protection enough these days?

Not too long ago, everyone was warned about computer viruses and ‘Anti-Virus’ became the in-word when it came to computers, because the last thing you wanted was for someone to cause damage using a virus program.

Since then, criminals have jumped on board the malicious software scene and big money can be obtained from data – especially yours.

Increasingly the media are telling us that there are more threats than basic viruses now, things like ‘Ransomware’ (a malicious program which encrypts your files so that you cannot access them again without payment), software aimed at stealing your credit card and identity data, telephone scams using remote software, plus others.

Protection – what can you do?

Clearly, if you want to go on the internet you do need anti-virus protection but unfortunately, protection from free programs is not enough these days. Yes they are definitely better than nothing, but you have to ask yourself if big corporations such as Yahoo and TalkTalk can get hacked, maybe minimal protection compared to paid-for protection, is not the way to go.

A good paid-for security suite is the minimum these days and even then, you have to be careful about what websites you visit, emails you open and what you download.

The One Anti-Virus Rule

Traditionally, the rule has been that you must only have one anti-virus program running at any one time on your computer. To have two anti-virus programs was definitely not recommended, as they compete with each other and at the very least slowed your computer to a crawl, if not actually corrupting your data. We have come across many computer systems with two or more anti-virus programs which have caused problems. That was up till now.

There is now a product called Malwarebytes, which has been designed to actually run alongside your traditional anti-virus program, without causing the problems as before. It compliments your current protection by looking for the ransomware / malware-type of threat and assists in the protection of your system by concentrating on the non-traditional danger to your computer, without causing problems having two protection programs.

As it is a paid-for product it runs in real time, bolstering the protection of your system. As the threats particularly of Ransomware are becoming a problem, especially for businesses, it is recommended to seriously think about adding to the scope of your protection.

Ultimately, no protection system is guaranteed 100% effective as they are always catching up with the “bad guys”, but it is worth considering whether or not one protection program is enough these days, bearing in mind online banking and other day-to-day internet use that involves sensitive personal and financial information.

If you do decide to go down the additional protection route, we can supply Malwarebytes at below retail prices, so if interested give us a call on 01455 209505.

Is your password in the top ten worst Passwords of 2016?

Computer security with good passwords

When the worst (or most guessable) passwords for 2016 were compiled from data breaches in the past year, the results tended to confirm what we have found in many cases – that many people are still using passwords that are so easy to guess that they are a hackers dream.

You can have the best antivirus protection in the world, but using an easy password means that you are just allowing people access as if you had just left your password on a post-it note stuck on the computer (and we’ve seen that too!).

You won’t need 3 guesses what the top two most common passwords are – 123456 and password – are you using one of them?

The Top Ten most used passwords

The top ten as compiled are: –

1.    123456
2.    password
3.    welcome
4.    ninja
5.    abc123
6.    123456789
7.    12345678
8.    sunshine
9.    princess
10.    qwerty

Is yours one of these, or a combination such as password1?

Other research shows that key combinations are becoming a favourite, such as zaq11qaz and other keys taken from patterns on your keyboard. The problem is that if someone wants to try to get into your computer, it isn’t just a question of some person guessing all the possibilities and typing them in – there are programs built specifically to try password combinations much faster than a human being can do, when typing in details.

These programs are designed to target all the common passwords first, such as names and, of course, the likes of password and 123456. They go through more and more possible combinations, knowing that most people tend to take a less complicated approach to their passwords and as such they may strike lucky.

How can you make your passwords harder

There was a time when the general approach was to have a minimum of 8 characters in your password, using letters and numbers. The advice now is to have a minimum of 12 characters (although 16 characters is becoming more popular), again with a combination of letters and numbers but also using capitals and where possible, using special characters such as @ and ! However some websites do not allow the use of special characters, in which case you would need to stick to the alphanumeric method.

Make your passwords impenetrable but memorable

If you have a secure password such as hGu7vyXakeTgo034 it can hardly be classed as memorable and with good reason. So the ‘sweet spot’ is to have a password that is just as complicated, but is one which you can recall without too much trouble.

We recommend a phrase that you can easily recall but substituting letters with numbers, capitals and if possible, special characters, such as wEd0coMPu73rR3P@irs – a version of “wedocomputerrepairs” – just come up with a phrase that means something to you but which you can change enough to be effective.

There are also paid and free password manager programs that you can use, which encrypt and remember passwords for you, but make sure that you use a reputable program, so research such as program reviews is important.

Also, as we have advised previously, try not to re-use passwords if at all possible.

It’s easier than you think to make it harder for your password to be compromised, yet many people do not take this important step. The fact is that you need a good password every bit as much as you need protection from viruses and malware – they are both important.

If you would like advice on securing your computer, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Ransomware comes to iOS

iOS Ransomware scam

For some time now, Windows users have been targeted by criminals who effectively lock their computers and extort money from them – using malicious software called Ransomware. Much of the time, the scammers display messages pretending to be from law enforcement, alleging user access to pornography, etc. and users generally cannot remove these messages unless they pay.

Mobile Safari flaw

Unfortunately, a flaw in Apple’s Mobile Safari browser brought this problem to iOS users. Malicious code on some websites forced the browser to constantly display a message telling people that Safari could not open a page because it was “invalid” and that it was caused by viewing illegal pornography.

What the scammers did was to exploit a flaw relating to pop-up windows using Javascript, which allowed them to constantly display their ransom message by creating a pop-up window loop – effectively making Safari unusable.

Users were told to email an address for unlocking instructions, or forcing them to buy an iTunes gift card to pay a fine.

How to fix this flaw

Due to the nature of what the scammers were alleging, many users did not ask for help, which is a pity as the message could be removed by going into device settings and clearing the browser’s cache, or going into ‘Airplane mode’ and closing the tab – things which the scammers knew most users would not be aware of.

This flaw has been present for some time, but has now been fixed in the 10.3 iOS release this week, amongst other fixes and tweaks to the operating system.

As with all iOS releases, there are pluses and minuses when upgrading, but Ransomware is just one good reason to upgrade today.

The Internet of Things

Internet of Things

Not too long ago, when you watched a TV programme or film that showed someone talking to a computer (and the computer answered back) it was just science fiction. Now it’s fact, just take Amazon Echo for example – one of a number of little gadgets just waiting for you to talk to it. Now, you can ‘talk’ to and control aspects of your home, wherever you are.

What is Internet of Things?

The I.T. world loves its jargon and you may have heard of the phrase ‘Internet of Things’ – this means an interconnected system of everyday devices controllable over the internet.

You arrive at home and the door unlocks because it knows who you are, sensing the key in your pocket. The lights switch themselves on and your favourite music begins to stream through the living area. The home is already the perfect temperature because you switched on the heating using your smartphone, and as you head for the fridge you notice an alert on the screen congratulating you on meeting your exercise goal today and suggesting a tasty snack.

This is actually reality today thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), for example the ‘Hive’ service from the well-known energy company British Gas uses IoT technology. Almost anything that can be turned on or off is now able to be connected to the internet and an entire industry has popped up to help users create a custom experience designed around their unique needs.  Electronic locks, lights, healthcare wearables and household appliances are just the beginning.

Adapters can transform even the most random appliance into a connected gadget, as well as add new layers of functionality. Millions of people are wearing a Fitbit, Jawbone or other wearable fitness trackers to track steps and calories, while others are letting their fridge order groceries!

The practical applications are almost endless, including: GPS trackers on pets, home security via webcam, patient monitoring of blood pressure/heart rate, weather monitoring, and remote power points. No more worrying all day if you left the iron on, just push a button on your phone and know for sure it’s turned off.

Not everyone wants this interconnectivity, (such as their fridge telling them when to order milk – they may want it to be just a fridge) but the technology is there and is going to be built into more and more devices that you buy from the shops from now on.

With all this connectivity comes risks.

If your home devices are connected over the internet, they are open to internet risks just like everything else. While the idea of having your toaster hacked is a bit mind-boggling, technology connected to the internet is open to exploitation. The webcam that allows you to monitor your pets may also allow other people to glimpse inside your home, but only if it’s not secured properly. Unfortunately, it only takes one small gap for a cyber-attack to get through, and once in, all connected devices are at risk.

Having your lights taken over by a far-away prankster may seem like a small risk, but gaps allow them into your computers, phones and tablets too. That’s the part the movies skip over – the networking protections that exist in the background, shielding against attacks.

Taking the time to properly secure your IoT device is essential to making sure you get the whole, happy future-tech experience.

Got an IoT device? Give us a call at 01455 209505 to help you set it up securely.