Category Archives: Virus / Malware

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Kill Spam for Good

[Update 12/2016: Unfortunately, DesktopOne is being discontinued, so this fabulous spam solution is no longer available.]

“For tis the sport to have the (spammer) hoist with his own petard.” – Shakespeare, Hamlet

Finally, we have a free and effective solution to your spam problems!

I’ve always gotten my share of spam in my email inbox, but something happened several months ago that sent the spam problem out of control. Evidently several of my email addresses, including some that are only used internally, found their way into spam lists. Probably this was due to an “inside job” at my email service provider, such as a worker at that company selling client email addresses for profit. Although it’s not something I can prove, it’s hard to imagine another way that these internal email addresses could have escaped into the wild.

Seemingly overnight my inbox exploded out of control, with typically about 300 bogus emails per day. That averages out to a spam every five minutes, 24 hours per day. First thing in the morning I’d be greeted by perhaps 100 spams in my inbox, making it very easy to completely miss or accidentally delete a legitimate email. Note that these spams are not the “opt in” type of spam that you might get from a real company – your bank, a department store, Amazon, etc. Those types of emails can be annoying too, but you can opt out of them, or unsubscribe. I’m not counting those in my 300 per day.

The spam I am talking about is the real kind, and more often than not it is the dangerous kind – spoof emails with bogus links or infected attachments, usually courtesy of cowardly international shysters, criminals, and con artists. Such spam accounts for about 80% of my email.

This is not an easy problem to combat. I could change my email addresses, but this would be very disruptive making it difficult for my customers to reach me. I can’t unsubscribe to them because I am not subscribed in the first place, and in any case the return email addresses are generally fake. If they do offer an unsubscribe option, it is only as a trap that lets the bad people know that my email address is attached to a real person – clicking the unsubscribe button will make the situation worse.

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Your Antivirus Is Worse Than You Think

We have always taken the position that antivirus software is necessary but not sufficient, and is best viewed as a second line of defense against malware threats. A recent study published by the Imperva Hacker Intelligence Initiative confirms our suspicions in stark terms. According to this study, on average your antivirus software has about a 5% chance of detecting a new threat on the day that the threat is released by the bad guys. Given that as many as 100,000 new “strains” of malware are released every single day, chances are you will be easily infected if you are trusting your antivirus as the first line of defense.

The good news is that within one to four weeks after a given new threat, most antivirus products are able to detect and eliminate it. The bad news is that it’s a losing battle.

So if antivirus software is not your first line of defense, what is the best way to combat infection attacks? Good old fashioned vigilance and common sense. The vast majority of infections enter your computer through attachments or links in email. Spammers distribute millions of bogus emails daily that find new and creative ways to try to fool you into opening an infected attachment, clicking on a link to an infected web site, or getting you involved in some sort of fraudulent con game. The best defense is to be suspicious of each and every email, even if it appears to be from a company or person that you know and trust – often the “from” information is faked by the spammer through one means or another.

Never open an attachment if you can help it, particularly if it is unsolicited. If you think it is from someone you know, contact that person by phone to verify before opening the attachment.

Never click on a link in an email unless you first verify that the link is legitimate. Remember that the visible text showing for the link may be different from the actual link. In most email programs, you can see the actual link by hovering your mouse over the link (but don’t click). When you hover, the link will appear either in a small pop-up, or in the status bar at the bottom of the window. For example, this link actually goes to our home page. For example, if the email claims to be from FedEx, but you hover over the link and it reveals something strange like, then hit the Delete key.

Another common avenue for infection, particularly where teenagers are in the home, is by file sharing. Many people enjoy downloading “free” games, music, and software from file sharing sites. But a very high percentage of such files are infected. The best rule of thumb is to never download from file sharing sites. If you absolutely must do it, then download to a computer you don’t care about.

We have written in the past about a completely different form of attack that has gotten a lot of traction in our area – phone attacks. It works like this: you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft and claiming that they have detected problems on your computer. They ask you to allow them to access your computer so that they can resolve the problems for you. Once you give them access, suddenly they find all kinds of “problems” that can be “resolved” only if you pay them a fee for what turns out to be fake software. In the meantime, they have infected and hijacked your computer and can even encrypt it and hold your data for ransom. A number of our customers have received this phone call, and we’ve even gotten them here in our office.

ScreenShot1199The scam is effective because the scammers make the safe bet that everyone has at least some problems on their computer, and further bets that they will trust a caller who claims to be from Microsoft. It is far more personal than anonymously distributed spam email. The scammer is usually calling from a noisy call center, with poor phone quality, and in our experience always has an Indian accent. Needless to say, never give any information to such a caller. We recommend you tell them something like this: “I appreciate your call. Please hold on the line while I forward you to my cousin who works for the FBI and who will be able to assist you in this matter.” This will terminate the call quickly and ensure there are no further calls.

Many people ask us if using a Mac will ensure safety. Mac are not immune to attack, although viral infections are rare on that platform. But Macs are equally vulnerable to email phishing and phone scams, and increasingly are seeing other types of malware attack. As on Windows computers, your best bet is to be careful, and to always keep a backup of your data just in case.

It’s an ugly world out there, but if we are vigilant we can stay safe from all of these attacks.

Watch Out for This Scam

An ingenious new scam is currently sweeping our area. You may receive a call from someone claiming to represent Microsoft and stating that your computer has been detected with some sort of problem, such as an infection or an invalid license key. The call originates from an overseas call center, which will be obvious from the caller’s accent and also the background sound of voices conducting other calls. It should go without saying that Microsoft would never initiate a call such as this.

The scammer will attempt to persuade you to give him remote access to your computer so he can fix the alleged problem. Once connected into your computer, he will install tools to give him complete access to your computer. He will install a fake tool that will show that your computer is full of “errors” that need to be corrected, then ask you to pay for him to “fix” your computer. If you refuse to pay for this “service”, the caller will become increasingly belligerent, sabotaging your computer and extorting payment from you. For one of our clients hit by this scam, the caller began to systematically delete the data files from his computer.

Please keep in mind that this type of scam allows the scammer to bypass all of your protections (antivirus software, firewalls, passwords, wireless keys, and so on) to gain full and direct access to your computer.

We recommend the following:

  1. Never allow someone access to your computer unless it is a trusted professional and where you initiated the contact and the request.
  2. Should a suspicious person contact you claiming to be representing Microsoft, your best bet is to just hang up. If they continue to bother you, ask for a callback phone number, hang up, and call the police.
  3. Always keep a current and complete backup of all of your critical files, including business files, financial files, personal photos, etc.

Health Insurance Reform (…for your computer…)

We’ve all heard about health insurance reform for ourselves, but what about our computers? With meticulous care and a fair share of luck we can avoid most colds and other infections, but sooner or later we end up at the doctor’s office. Many of us will take preventative steps like getting an annual flu shot, and will have some form of insurance for when we do get sick.

The situation with our computers is similar. If we are very careful and very lucky, we can avoid most computer infections, but the truth is that the scammers and crooks are getting better and better all the time, and no single antivirus software solution can protect us. Cleaning up the mess can be a costly experience. How would you like to never have to never again have to pay for antivirus software or for infection removal and repairs? There is an anti-malware “insurance” plan that takes care of those issues as covered services, at a cost of less than 66 cents per day.

There are three things we can do to protect ourselves from this growing threat from the bad guys: Continue reading

THIS is how you get infected!

So many people suffer computer infections, yet have no idea how it happened. We get the same question over and over: “Can you tell me how I got infected?”  Usually, the answer is no, because we only see the end result, and not the cause. We can give you general answers about how infections occur, but cannot be too specific about a given case.

We came across an excellent video that demonstrates, step-by-step, one common way that computers get infected. We think it’s a good idea for all of our clients to spent a couple of minutes watching this video. It shows how anyone can become infected, simply by doing a seemingly innocent Google web search.
You can view by clicking this link.

You will note from the video that although these criminals are clever, there are definite “red flags” that an alert user should be able to notice. The red flags we notice in this demonstration include: an odd URL (web address) link; the link leads to a page that has nothing except what appears to be a video; and clicking on the video does not actually play a video, but instead asks you to download software (hoping that you will assume the download is required to watch the video). Continue reading