How safe is your web browser? For a long time now, I and many other techies have been advocating a switch to to Firefox (or any of the other popular browsers) for anyone who is using Internet Explorer. The reason? Other browsers are more secure. We all know that’s not really true anymore, it’s just that the other browsers are attacked less frequently than IE. Internet Explorer is and always has been the low-hanging fruit for hackers.
For some time now, modern browsers have been coded to detect and block malicious websites. We have all seen the messages like the one shown below:
Have you ever wondered how well your browser stacks up with respect to blocking malware? The answer might surprise you. Msnbc.com’s Technolog reports that IE9 is the clear winner:
Tests by NSS Labs to “examine the ability of five different web browsers to protect users from socially-engineered malware” showed that IE9 was able to block this kind of threat 99 percent of the time, beating out Apple Safari 5, Google Chrome 12, Mozilla Firefox 4 and Opera 11.
(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
The closest another Web browser got to that blocking-the-bad stuff rate was Chrome, at a very distant 13.2 percent. At the low end of the blockers was Opera, with a 6.1 percent rate.
Makes you think twice, doesn’t it? Those tests are meaningful, of course, but they don’t take into account that IE9’s market share is only 6.8 percent whereas IE8 controls the market with 29.23 percent, so the overall effect at this time is not significant. However, perhaps this will spur the others on to increasing the effectiveness of their own technologies.
I am always suspicious when my computer starts acting strangely and immediately do a scan for malware. I usually come up clean, discovering that the strangeness is some sort of software error or system glitch. The last time I noticed a computer acting strangely (not my own), it turned out to be a malware infection that was sending spam. The main symptom was extremely slow Internet access. That incident led me to a search for a good, easy-to-understand guide about recognizing and cleaning up malware infections.
I am happy to report that I found what I was looking for at MakeUseOf.com. This handy guide, entitled “Operation Cleanup: Complete Malware Recovery Guide” by Brian Meyer, is just what the Geek ordered for his clients, family and friends. Here’s an excerpt, giving the symptoms of possible malware infection:
- Your computer shows strange error messages or popups.
- Your computer takes longer to start and runs more slowly than usual.
- Your computer freezes or crashes randomly.
- The homepage of your web browser has changed.
- Strange or unexpected toolbars appear in your web browser.
- Your search results are being redirected.
- You start ending up at websites you didn’t intend to go to.
- You cannot access security related websites.
- New icons and programs appear on the desktop that you did not put there.
- Your desktop background has changed without your knowledge.
- Your programs won’t start.
- Your security protection have been disabled for no apparent reason.
- You cannot connect to the internet or it runs very slowly.
- Your programs and files are suddenly missing.
- Your computer is performing actions on its own.
You’ll have to sign up (it’s free) to get the download password, but you won’t regret it. This is clearly one of the best sites I have seen for easy-to-follow, user-oriented information. (Don’t worry, Geeks, there’s a Geeky Stuff section, too!) There are more than 50 guides covering just about everything PC, Mac and SmartPhone, Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. You’ll love the “Best Of” section, too.
Check it out.
In my June 18, 2011 post, “Reduce Unwanted Email,” I mentioned a couple of temporary email addresses that you can use when signing up for information. I wrote that post to prevent others from experiencing the spam nightmare I have been having (which I also described in that post).
Unfortunately, using a disposable or temporary email address doesn’t help when you’re already being spammed in volume. Before I took some corrective measures and blacklisted some domains and addresses, I was getting upwards of 100 pieces of spam every day. My mail provider’s spam filtering was somewhat effective, but some spam still got through while there were quite a few false-positives. I quickly realized that wasn’t the solution.
As an avid listener of the podcast “Security Now!,” I have heard Leo Laporte speak very highly of MailRoute.net. I decided to give it a try and signed up for their 15-day free trial last week. As required by the service, I changed my MX record to point to mailroute.net’s servers. I then turned off my host’s spam filtering. Within minutes, the spam started trailing off and there were no false positives. I’m definitely going to spring for the yearly subscription when the trial ends.
Just today, I noticed one false positive–an email from a client’s backup software–but that was easy to fix. I just selected the message and told MailRoute to “Recover and whitelist sender.” The message appeared in my mailbox instantly.
Check it out.
Working in an educational environment is an interesting experience. Young people seeking the knowledge they need to start their careers have a different viewpoint than those of us who are working in our fields. We tend to know where we are headed with our careers; the youngsters have questions about where they are headed. One student asked me recently is Information Security a viable career choice? I answered that it is.
The student was concerned that information security measures are getting better all the time and that it may not be necessary to have information security professionals in the future if things keep improving. I pointed out that we still have physical security professionals employed virtually everywhere even though physical security technology is more advanced than it has ever been. Criminals still manage to circumvent physical security measures even in the face of advanced technologies. It is no different with information security.
I assured the student that she couldn’t go wrong in pursuing an information security certification. Crackers will always be there trying to breach the walls that we security professionals erect to keep them out of our networks. Sure, the technology will evolve and the skill sets needed today will be irrelevant tomorrow, but information security will always be a concern and there will always been a demand for qualified people who understand it.
Every information technology professional from the desktop support technician to the CIO has some responsibility for the security of their organization’s data. The Network Administrator’s role is probably the most critical since he is the one with his feet on the ground dealing with the day to day issues.
Physical security has evolved with technology; information security is doing the same. Despite advances, there is still a need for physical security personnel; likewise, there will always be a need for information security personnel. If information security is what interests you as a career path, I say go for it.
Dear Mr. Hendrik:
God bless you, sir! This grant could not have come at a better time. You see, I had a dog for many years that I truly considered my friend and I had to put her to sleep recently. This devastated me so much that I went on a bender for six weeks and woke up in the hospital missing both of my legs. I have no idea what happened, but one of the nurses said I passed out on the railroad tracks. I don’t remember, but I guess I have to believe her.
They tell me that I have been here (in hospital) for almost a month now and the bill is approaching $500,000.00, so I really need this grant and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I will be able to pay off my hospital bills and have enough left over to re-build my life, such as it has become. Perhaps with the remaining money, I will be able to afford (barely) a pair of bionic legs.
However, your letter has left me with a dilemma: I have no money to pay your processing fee. Since I am to be granted $950,000.00 USD, I can certainly afford to pay you back should you be so kind as to lend me the $560.00 processing fee. In fact, I would be happy to pay you back $1,120.00 in exchange for your generosity.
Mr. Hendrik, I truly appreciate your contacting me in my time of need and look forward to receiving your loan of the processing fee via Western Union immediately upon receipt of this email. You can well imagine how desperate I am and your benevolence at helping a fellow human being in need will certainly be rewarded in whatever afterlife you find yourself.
On 7/24/2011 3:04 PM, Mr. Franklin Hendrik wrote:
International Monetary Fund (IMF)Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses CommissionWuse Zone 5, GarkiATTN: BENEFICIARY,Your International Monetary fund (IMF) grant of $950,000.00 USD has been approved by the International Monetary fund (IMF) board of directors during their last meeting. The amount to be transfered to your nominated bank account is to be carried out by one of our partner banksowing to the fact that the International Monetary fund(IMF) does not directly remit funds into the bank account of its beneficiaries .The last hurdle you would have to scale to have your pending funds transfer transferred to your nominated bank account is the International Monetary fund (IMF) grant processing fee of $560.00 USD.Once this fee is paid! The necessary documents the bank will require from you will be presented to you by us to enable you have access to your $950,000 USD.This transaction can and should be concluded within 48 or at most 72 working hours after you have made payment of the International Monetary fund (IMF) grant processing fee of $560.00 USD.Do respond swiftly, So that we can conclude this transaction as soon as possible.Once again congratulations on your just approved grant of $950,000.00 USD.Regards,Mr. Franklin HendrikINTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND.
I was playing around on the web the other day and found a rather cool tool called “l33t-sp34k g3n3r4t0r.” For the unenlightened among you, that’s “leet-speak generator.” Leet speak originated back in the 1980’s when dial-up bulletin board systems (BBSs) were popular. You can read the Wikipedia entry for more detailed information and history. The leet alphabet is a specialized form of symbolic writing that may also be considered a substitution cipher; however, it is also a fine way to generate passwords.
Now, before you start throwing rotten tomatoes at me, let me explain. Yes, hackers know leet and may try to test such patterns; however, there is no “standard” leet alphabet, so one person’s variations will be different from another person’s. This makes the tool I found a very useful password generator for three reasons:
- The password will be unguessable; and,
- You can use something easy to remember; and,
- If you forget the actual password, you have a tool to translate your phrase.
I downloaded the app, which is just a small .exe file. You enter the normal text in one window and click the Tr4n$L4+E button; out comes l33t spe4k. If you enter l33t sp34k and click the Translate button, you get the normal text. Very cool. I chose “ILoveLucy” as my pass-phrase. In leet, that translates to “IL0VeLUCy.” That’s not particularly strong, but it would do for a non-critical website login. It actually works better if you put spaces in the phrase: “I Love Lucy” becomes “1 L0V3 lucy.” You can then run the characters together if you want.
Try it out and have some fun with it!
Ever heard of the “Anti-Cyber Crime Unit?” Neither have I, but when I got an email the other day with the subject line “Email from: The Anti-Cyber Crime Unit,” it piqued my curiosity. I found it clever and amusing, but read for yourself and see what you think:
The UNITED NATIONS, FBI, LOTTERY OFFICES, COMPENSATION OFFICES AND BANKS recently discussed at a congressional hearing conducted this week just how its special anti-cyber crime taskforce worked when it came to combating cyber crime and the nefarious digital machinations of web rapscallions, hacker hooligans, cyber criminals, and virtual villains. They outlined its latest accomplishments in the IT security front, which included the capture of million-dollar scammers via a synchronized raid on a thousand ATM machines a few months back.
However, truth be told, no one thinks that the U.k. Government and other goverment is fully equipped and ready to stop a really bad hacker attack against its physical or financial networks.
The Decision has been taken, and they have decided to instruct the Anti-Cyber Crime Unit to see and investigate your funds Transfer and why you are yet to get your funds.
You are now to provide Us with the following information below;
YOUR NAME; ………………..
MOBILE NUMBER; ………………….
AMOUNT OF FUNDS TO BE CLAIMED; …………….
AGENT IN CHARGE OF TRANSFER; …………..
BANK WITH YOUR UNCLAIMED FUNDS; …………….
TYPE OF FUNDS; ………………
STATUS OF TRANSFER; ……………….
Immidiately you provide us with the information above, we will investigate your transaction and get back to you with the full details of your funds WITHIN 24HRS.
This is to Fight the Cyber Crime and also inform you if you dealing with the right Person or not.
After the investigation we will instruct you on how to get your funds.
Anti-Cyber Crime Unit
Mr. Thomas Lifson
You’d think by now that the crooks would give up, so why don’t they? The answer is: people still fall for this ruse and as long as people keep falling for it, crooks will keep running the scam.
Well, maybe not me, but over the past couple of years, Microsoft is finally starting to get their security practices in order.
The college I work for has just switched all email for students and staff over to Microsoft’s Live@Edu hosted Exchange offering. While we administrators set pretty secure default passwords when configuring the accounts, people will be people and usually change them to something they can remember, meaning completely guessable and insecure. So, Microsoft is going to enforce strong passwords going forward:
Dear IT Administrator,
Thank you for your continued participation in the Live@edu program. We would like to make you aware of a Windows Live service update that will bring new improvements to the end user experience. You should also be aware of some minor changes to the administrator capabilities brought about by this update. This email provides a summary of these changes along with the timeframe for the update.
All I have to say is, Bravo!
An interesting roundup of stories from Sophos.
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Recall my June 30, 2011 post where I talked about the security nightmares I walked into on my new job:
In this case, it’s a nightmare on Seventh Street! These are the types of things that give me nightmares and I walked into a total nightmare factory:
Wiring closets are open on every floor and every floor has a managed switch and/or router sitting in the closet.
Servers behind unlocked and open doors because shutting the door makes the room too hot and the servers shut down.
Contractors putting in new floors in the server closet and I have no access control.
Backups to external USB drives that anyone in the unlocked closets could walk off with and backups have been intermittent.
Staff laptops are not using encryption.
The good news is that I have corrected some of these things, so I now sleep much better at night!
- The wiring closets are now locked.
- Core switch and servers are now behind locked door and cooling has been installed.
- Barracuda backup server installed and all servers are being backed up with critical data backed up every two hours and sent to the cloud.
- Data structure standardization initiative in progress which includes backup/encryption for staff laptops.
I have to say that the organization is now probably more secure than they have ever been, thanks to my efforts and the efforts of the IT staff at the other locations. Good thing is, we have corporate backing on these efforts. It’s nice to know you have the power to make a difference and get things done.