Tuesday, January 17, 2012
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Ramnit Infiltrates Facebook Accounts
Here we are, already publishing the third issue of GCFlash in 2012. We try to keep subject matter lighter around the holiday season. As the new year settles into routine, it's time for us to do the same.
For GCFlash, that means keeping readers aware of the harsh reality that your safety is at risk. Cybercrooks lurk everywhere, ready to strike the minute your guard is let down.
Facebook has become the wild west for malware downloads. Folks have come to recognize spam emails, they no longer click every link offered to them. But if it appears to come from a Facebook friend, they don't think twice.
This is how a new variant of the Ramnit worm has been able to steal banking credentials and gain access to corporate networks.
Ramnit emerged as a hybrid of the ZeuS and SpyEye financial fraud Trojans. It injects code into a browser that captures online banking credentials, modifying the page a user sees so they believe they're conducting a transaction on a legitimate bank web page. Neither the financial institution nor the customer are aware that the page has been tampered with. This type of compromise is called a man-in-the-middle attack. Read our August 17, 2010 edition for more details.
Earlier this month, Ramnit was discovered infiltrating Facebook accounts. The attackers stole credentials from more than 45,000 Facebook users and used the compromised accounts to further spread the Ramnit worm.
What can be gained from stealing Facebook credentials, you might wonder? Everything. People tend to use the same password for all of their social network logins. The same password for online shopping. The same password for online banking and corporate login.
With Facebook credentials in hand, both you and your employer have just been compromised. Along with everyone you conduct business with.
The secret to protecting yourself is simple. Establish a strong password protocol. Don't use the same password for every purpose. And change them often. Find some good tips on creating a strong password here.
Understand Facebook is not the villain here. The site is diligent in maintaining user safety. The open nature of a social product lends itself to vulnerabilities. Any product, or site, is only as safe as its least-educated user.
You've probably all laughed at product labels that include ridiculous warnings. Do not use a hairdryer while sitting in a bathtub filled with water. Do not rock or tilt a vending machine or it can fall over and kill you. Do not grab the bar of a chainsaw while the motor is running.
These warnings are necessary only because someone somewhere sued the company for damages resulting from actions they willfully performed when common sense dictated otherwise.
These same people are also on Facebook. Do you think they're concerned about their own online safety much less yours?
Facebook is serious about user security. Their investigation in conjunction with cybersecurity researchers led to the identification of the criminals behind the Koobface worm.
The worm became active in 2008, luring victims into downloading malware by distributing links to steamy videos and risqué celebrity images that many found irresistible. Those who clicked on the link were instructed to install a fake Flash update to proceed. They were actually downloading the Koobface worm.
Information on the St. Petersburg gang was provided to Russian police a couple of years ago, but they've been slow to conduct their own investigation and prosecute. Names aren't typically released until arrests have been made but word leaked out so the details are now going public.
Researchers have been tracking this gang of cybercriminals for years during the investigation, following them closely on social networking sites. Money was their motivator, keeping such close track they send daily SMS updates to each other. Estimates put their annual earnings in the range of $2 million.
Crime is the world's second-oldest profession. We can detect it, we can stop a particular instance. But we can't prevent it from recurring. It won't go away, it merely evolves.
Your smartphone will see the next wave of threats. The cure, no matter where the crime is perpetrated, remains the same. Education.
Protect all of your valuables with the same diligence. Whether it be your wallet, your home, your computer, your social identity or your smartphone, learn about available resources and employ them wisely.
Cell Phone Etiquette
One would think this topic to be considered common courtesy, yet that often gets lost in the quest for instant access to whatever our heart desires.
I live in a state that still permits cell phone use while driving. It should be duly noted that we also have the third highest rate of vehicular deaths in the country as well, but there's no empirical evidence that these facts support each other.
But I can attest to the potential they hold for traffic accidents. One can't help but notice the high percentage of other drivers holding a cell phone to their ear as we travel our highway.
These drivers move along in their own little world, oblivious to the hazard they're creating. They don't notice their turn until it's upon them, causing them to stop abruptly in front of you to do so.
They don't notice speed limit signs, causing other drivers to pass them as they crawl along at a snail's pace and ignite road rage in fellow travelers trying to get to work on time. They swerve in and out of their lane just as dangerously as any drunk driver on the road.
I just thought I'd describe some of the fun you may be missing if you live in a state that recognizes this practice as dangerous. But I'm guessing the roadway is the only place free from cell phone mania. No doubt you still endure rude behavior in other places.
Like in a store, for example. If you're the one who does the grocery shopping in the household, you can back me up here.
The act of grocery shopping has changed. Stacks of yet-to-be-shelved product aren't your only hazard as you steer your cart down the aisle. Today's shopper has to steer clear of others who can't pry themselves away from loved ones long enough to complete the chore at hand.
Daytime soap operas don't hold nearly half the drama as the one-sided conversations that you overhear when you can't get past another shopper with a phone to her ear. Straddling down the center of the aisle, blocking you on both sides. Your repeated attempts to get her attention fail miserably when she's captivated by a friend's depiction of a blind date the night before.
You could wish these people would end their conversation before reaching the checkout line. The cashier is waiting for their attention to provide the service required of her job. Those in line behind the offender do not appreciate the holdup.
It's no different at our small business. We turn our attention away from the task at hand whenever a customer approaches. They walk through the door, phone to ear, and proceed to finish their conversation before conducting business. It's hard to be cordial to someone who has already wasted so much of our valuable time.
Restaurant staff deal with the same rudeness in customers. They're standing at a table to take an order. Not to listen to someone's phone conversation.
Cell phones are commonplace. Courtesy should be, too.
If you must use your cell phone in a public place, remain at least 10 feet away from other people. Lower your voice. Others don't deem your conversation as important as you do.
Turn your ringer off in public places. Unless you're in the midst of a family emergency, your phone should not be used in restaurants, theaters, church or other places where attention should be focused on the event itself. Set it to vibrate if you're expecting an emergency call. And remove yourself from the room before you take the call.
Avoid private conversations when you're in public. If you must take an important call while you're engaged in a face-to-face conversation, excuse yourself first.
Hang up and drive.
Don't recognize yourself in any of these no-nos? Of course not. People do not typically see their own failings.
But if you're often the target of angry store clerks, surly waiters or road rage, hang up the phone.
I promised you this week that I would lay out some simple steps that would lead to economic recovery. Perhaps it is more accurate to articulate the conditions that are concurrent with prosperity, and determine where we might be off the tracks.
But first a few premises to consider. It is undeniable that the socioeconomic circumstances of the world's populations vary dramatically. Some inhabitants, such as on the African peninsula, live in crushing poverty. While others in Europe and America live palatial lives in palaces. It is a fact that the poor of affluent societies very often live far better than the wealthy of the poorest regions. Ever wonder why? Is it luck?
Hardly. If it were luck, than the regions with the most natural resources would have the highest standards of living, while the resource starved regions would remain in poverty. Yet, for the most part, the exact opposite is reality. Why would resource rich nations such as Russia and China have a standard of living far below resource starved nations such as Japan and England? Even the mighty United States is not "resource rich" when viewed in relation to size of its population (the United States consumes about 19 million barrels of oil per day, more than half of which is imported).
Could it be weather? One would think that the harshest climates would absorb much human effort just for survival and the favorable climates near the equator would be bustling with prosperity. Yet no such correlation exists. So it must me something else.
Strong institutions make a great society. Democratic capitalism can be an astonishing wealth creator, but must be aided with some rules that everyone understands. The rules need not be complicated, either. On the contrary, simple rules that everyone understands lead to the most prosperity.
Over the next few weeks, I'll suggest numerous "institutions" that make a given society prosperous. Since I promised you some specifics this week, I'll lead off with an obvious and fairly uncontroversial one.
#1 - A strong military. Obviously, a free and prosperous society must be protected. Our merchant ships must be protected, our skies must remain safe and our borders secure. Make no mistake, there are those who would steal our stuff and harm our citizens. Worse yet, there are many who would like to stamp out the freedoms we enjoy. Fact.
And while we can lead by example, that must be backed up by military strength. As the 26th President of the United States Teddy Roosevelt famously wrote to a colleague in 1900 just before taking office, "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far."
Ideally, a military should only be used for defensive purposes. However, as all good coaches know, sometimes the best defense is a strong offense. Hawaii sits in the middle of the Pacific with virtually no natural defenses and only a modest military footprint. Why has it not been invaded since 1941? Simple. The world now knows that the U.S. would not tolerate it and quickly bring a lethal response to anyplace on the globe the perpetrators might try to hide. Occasionally, the world needs proof as the Japanese so vividly learned.
It is a simple fact that, for a society to be both prosperous and free, it must have military strength that enemies don't even think about challenging.
"Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong." -Ronald Reagan
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