Large Scale Log-In Theft Uncovers Weak Passwords

December 4th, 2013

Password on keyboard

A recent discovery of two million passwords to online accounts is making headlines. Violet Blue of ZDNet reports that a botnet is responsible for stealing users’ passwords to Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo, one of the world’s largest providers of payroll services and more.

Though some have reported that the victims in this password heist are all located in the Netherlands, they’re actually believed to be spread across the globe. The criminal responsible used tactics to disguise his actions and make it look like the victims are all located in the Netherlands, but because of this it’s difficult to tell exactly where the passwords come from.

A tool called a Pony Botnet Controller is recognized as the root of this attack. It’s capable of stealing hundreds of thousands of passwords within only a few days of infection. In this particular infection, more than 1.5-million passwords to website’s were stolen along with 320-thousand email credentials, 41-thousand FTP credentials, 3-thousand remote desktop credentials and 3-thousand Secure Shell credentials.

When passwords are stolen in this manner, it should trigger action from all users regardless of whether they are actual victims. The stolen passwords become common knowledge for hackers. These passwords are used in lists that are part of hacking attempts on all kinds of online accounts. So, while your account may not have been compromised, someone with a similar password may have been, which in turn puts you at risk.

Shockingly, some of the most popular passwords found in this batch of stolen log-ins were extremely rudimentary. Almost 16-thousand of the stolen passwords were “123456”. “Password” was used over 2200 times and ‘admin’ accounted for almost 2000 of the stolen passwords. Overall, some form of the numbers 1 through 9 in order accounted for eight of the top ten most used passwords that were stolen.

This suggests that too many users are still using easy to remember, and incredibly easy to hack passwords for important accounts online. Using these passwords puts sensitive data at a significant risk. So, take this opportunity to create a stronger, original password for all of your accounts before you become a victim in the next attack.

If your computer is infected with malware, or you’d like to improve security to prevent an infection, call Geek Rescue at 918-369-4335.

Help For Choosing Between Android Smartphones

December 4th, 2013

Stack of smartphones

Most people change smartphones every couple of years, if not sooner. For some, the decision on what new phone to get is an easy one. You might be dedicated to iPhones or have a particular Android model that you want to stick with. Others have a more difficult time deciding between the various options available to them. Eric Ravenscraft of Lifehacker wrote an extensive piece about how to choose a new Android smartphone. Here, we’ll look specifically at what features are most important and how to choose the smartphone with the best features for you.

  • Camera

No one carries their smartphone and a digital camera around everywhere they go. Most users want a phone with a quality camera and it’s one of the most varied features from phone to phone. Just because one smartphone’s camera boasts more megapixels doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best. Each manufacturer uses different tactics and designs to create a better camera. So, do some research and look for comparison tests online that show the type of images a camera will capture and in what settings they’re best used.

  • Display

Some users will opt for the biggest, brightest and best high-definition display they can find simply because it has the best specs. That isn’t necessarily wrong, but those super charged displays will cost you battery life and processing power and most users can’t tell much of a difference. The big deciding factor for display is between AMOLED or LCD. AMOLED are usually brighter, with more saturated color. They also use less battery because they only light pixels as they’re needed. LCD provide a more realistic color representation. Different displays are best for different users, but don’t rely on number of pixels to choose your next phone.

  • Battery Life

The amount of time your battery lasts would probably be first in this list for most people. Once again, you can’t judge battery life on one statistic alone. Some manufacturers include larger capacity batteries to power more powerful processors and brighter screens for longer. Others optimize hardware to use less battery. Both are good ways to improve battery life so research is key to picking the right phone. Battery comparisons and tests are available online.

  • Manufacturer Specific Features

If you haven’t narrowed down your choices by using the first three features, this one could help you make a final decision. Manufacturer’s like Samsung, HTC and Motorola all put their own spin on what comes with their smartphones. HTC includes a live news feed of your social media profiles on your home screen and a feature to control your television. Motorola phones come with a voice control app. These features probably won’t win you over by themselves, but they could help you decide between your top two options.

When choosing a new smartphone, you don’t need to worry about which phone is the best. You need only worry about which is the best for you. Before you even start researching phones, take a moment to think about how you plan to use it and what you need it for.

If you have issues with a new smartphone, or would like to fix up your current phone to feel like new, bring it in to Geek Rescue or call us at 918-369-4335.

Hundreds Of Thousands Of New Malicious Websites Discovered In Past 30 Days

December 3rd, 2013

Hacker concept

As an internet user, you’re able to do more, access more and store more online than you’ve ever been able to before. Unfortunately, that makes your data more valuable to criminals than it has ever been before. Because of this, malicious tools used to steal your log-ins or personal information are rapidly on the rise. Tim Wilson, of Dark Reading, reports that over the past month there have nearly 344-thousand new malicious websites discovered. These websites vary in their design and goal, but all of them are being used by hackers to steal your identity, data or money or to infect your computer.

On average, this means there are about 11,500 new malicious website springing up every day, which significantly increases the likelihood that a typical user will stumble across one of these sites. About 173-thousand of these websites have been identified as malware distributors. These sites often download malware to your computer without any action being taken on your part, beyond simply loading the website. Many times this download will take place in the background, which means it could be weeks or months before you learn that you’ve been infected.

About 114-thousand of the malicious websites were labeled as phishing sites. These sites attempt to steal users log-ins and passwords. Usually, they’ll use the name and logo of a familiar site to attempt to fool visitors into thinking they’re on a trusted page. Most often in these examples, PayPal was used to gain access to accounts and steal users’ money. There has also been a rise of site designed to steal users’ Google log-ins. This is attributed to the fact that one Google log-in can give an individual access to Gmail, Google Drive and Calendar, Google+ and more.

These increasing threats illustrate the need for effective security on any device you use to access the internet. For help putting the proper security precautions in place at home or at your place of business, contact Geek Rescue at 918-369-4335. If you have a device that’s been infected with malware, bring it in to one of your convenient locations.

Could Facial Scanning Be Apple’s Next Security Feature?

December 3rd, 2013

Facial scanning of man

Apple introduced Touch ID as a security feature that recognizes a user’s fingerprint to unlock the iPhone 5S. That feature has come under scrutiny after security experts and hackers uncovered flaws and ways to by-pass it. Some users have also complained that Touch ID doesn’t always recognize their finger, or it takes too long to scan. Soon, Apple users may not have to worry about scanning fingers at all.

Lance Whitney, of CNet, reports that Apple has been granted a patent on an idea that would allow facial scanning to replace the current Touch ID feature.

The facial scanning function, which was patented under “Personal computing device control using face detection and recognition”, is still in its infancy. It appears, however, that Apple plans to make it a security feature on future products.

In many ways, it works the same as Touch ID does for your fingers. A user would start by scanning their own face and the face of anyone else they want to have access to their smartphone or tablet. The scan would record the shape, texture, color and size of your features and store them. Then, to unlock the device, you would have to again scan your face. Only registered users would be able to unlock the device, while unauthorized users would be stuck at the lock screen.

Calls, emails, texts and other notifications would also be locked behind the facial scanner. So, if a call comes in, your smartphone would scan your face before allowing you to answer.

Many of the same security flaws and workarounds that existed with Touch ID after it was introduced are still possible with facial scanning. A password would likely still act as a back-up for situations where the facial scan didn’t work, which opens the door for hacking. But, this is another interesting step for improved security on mobile devices.

If you’d like to improve the security on any of your devices, or you’re having problems like broken hardware, slow performance, or malware, bring your device to Geek Rescue or call us at 918-369-4335.


Are Mobile Devices More Secure For Online Shopping?

December 2nd, 2013

Online shopping touchscreen

Cyber Monday marks the beginning of a busy online shopping season. Unfortunately, that’s well known information, which means criminals will be targeting shoppers hoping to cash in on the holiday season. To keep yourself, and your bank account, safe, Jennifer LeClaire of Lumension suggests doing your online shopping and banking on a mobile device.

Many users assume that a mobile device, like a tablet or smartphone, is less secure than their PC. This is usually only true because they’ve failed to take the same security precautions on their mobile device that they have on their laptop or desktop. With security apps in place, mobile devices can be much more secure because there are far fewer threats specifically targeting them.

There are certainly pieces of malware made specifically for Android, and to a lesser extent Apple’s iOS, but it pales in comparison to the threats being produced for PCs. Both Apple and Android provide security in their app store. As long as users don’t venture outside of the store to download unverified apps, they should have an entirely safe environment. PC users typically download more and take more risks online, which leaves their PC teeming with vulnerabilities and possible infections.

If your mobile device has an antivirus app installed, and is absent of any existing malware, you’ll have a great foundation for a secure online shopping season. You’ll still want to use smart surfing tactics, however. For example, don’t use public WiFi for any activity where you’re asked to log-in to an account, or provide payment information. Public WiFi provides no security for your data, which allows criminals to easily intercept any information you send over that network. So, while a mobile device may be more secure for online shopping than your PC, it shouldn’t be used just anywhere. Shop from home on your own, secured network.

Regardless of how you plan to do your online shopping this year, you need to take the proper precautions. To secure any of your devices, remove viruses and malware, or to create a more secure network at home or the office, call Geek Rescue at 918-369-4335.

HTTPS Is Becoming Less Secure

December 2nd, 2013

HTTPS on padlock

When you visit your bank’s website, most retailers or a credit card’s website, you might notice that the address starts with “HTTPS”. The added ‘S’ stands for secure. That’s ‘Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure’ all together. It denotes that the site you’re using is safe from hackers stealing your log-in information. While that may have been true at one time, Rohit Sethi writes for USA Today that HTTPS alone no longer provides complete security for users.

HTTPS remains a useful tool to keep users secure, but it can’t do the job alone. Hackers have already exposed some areas of weakness. In another two to five years, successful attacks on HTTPS could become so common that an entirely new structure will be needed.

When using a site with HTTPS, your data is encrypted so that no third party will be able to steal it. However, attacks have already taken place that allow hackers to bypass this security. This means that log-in information for important online accounts, like for banking sites, is easily stolen by criminals in less than a minute. For both websites and users, this poses a particular problem because both parties believe in the security HTTPS is supposed to provide.

Users must understand that an HTTPS included in a URL and a small lock icon no longer provides enough security. Fortunately, there are other ways to keep your data safe. A Virtual Private Network, VPN, is one valuable tool. It provides an extra layer of encryption for all of your browsing activity. Many VPNs contain the same type of security flaws that have been exploited in HTTPS, so do some research and find a VPN using IPsec.

Smart, safe surfing habits also go a long way in protecting your data. Unsecured wireless networks provide little security, so if you’re using one, don’t log-in to any of your online accounts. Also, consider having a credit card dedicated to online purchases. This way, if that card is compromised, a criminal won’t have access to your entire bank account and you should notice quickly.

If you’d like to improve security for any device at home or at the office, or if you need to upgrade security for your website, call Geek Rescue for help at 918-369-4335.