Category Archives: Helpful Tips and Tricks

Tips and tricks for users – Not on the level of How-Tos.

Viruses – Scareware, Ransomware, and Annoyware

Now is time for the most famous of viruses. Let’s roll out the red carpet, charge up the cameras and introduce today’s winner! Behold, the infamous ScareWare!

“ScareWare” are viruses that are used in slightly less sinister forms, but still have detrimental effects on your computing experience. They are most commonly found in the forms of infected websites, attachments, or flash-drive floaters. They are small, but harsh and scary-looking. Their sole purpose is to scare you into giving your money to these cyber crooks.

So what exactly is “ScareWare” and what does it look like? A somewhat ironic twist, it looks like a fully legitimate anti-virus program. They have the same colors as a windows program and sometimes even use the same symbols. They almost always tell you that your computer is infected with viruses and prompt you to buy their program to get rid of them. The most common ones usually carry the name “Antivirus 2011,” “Anti-Spyware 2011,” or “Windows Anti-Virus 2011.” Notice a pattern here? Take a look at the picture attached. For years we have seen them go up in consecutive order: Antivirus 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Each year they get slightly harder to get rid of as well, but thankfully they all still follow the same pattern of removal (described in later posts.)

So what happens if you try ignoring this piece of monstrosity? Well, as is the way of these viral infections, you really can’t. It will keep coming up, festering and pestering you to purchase their ScamWare. Each computer restart yields no fixes. Removing it from startup MIGHT delay it, but it will still be in your computer, and might even restart itself again. Even once you pay for it, you are still held hostage because the program never uninstalls itself. It doesn’t have an Add/Remove Programs option and finding its originating files never works either. The removal steps vary from version to version, but there are ways to get rid of them.

Viruses – Remote Control

You wouldn’t leave your computer open to the world, right? You put a password on your computer for a reason! If a virus gets installed and allows the hacker to gain control of your computer, then you’re in for a world of hurt. This brings us to the next topic:

The second most common way that viruses are utilized is to control the user’s computer. When I say control, I mean literally control the computer, almost as if they were sitting right in front of it. This means they will be able to see your files, see what websites you’ve visited and retrieve all the passwords you have stored. They can also put other files on your computer as well as programs that you would never know about! They can even remotely activate your webcam and microphone, watching you while you sleep or listening in on your conversations. Your entire private life could be revealed.

Viruses – Key Logging

An old concept of computing that has been around since the early days of hacking has been key logging. It is the concept of capturing every keystroke entered through the keyboard to the computer and sending those values off to a hacker. Though not as prominent as they once were, key loggers are still part of the virus world today and are still a threat to personal security.

Often, key loggers can be injected with a virus into the user’s system and start working immediately. Each time a key is pressed, the logger remembers that press and sends the corresponding command back to the creator. Let’s say you are entering information in to a website for an online purchase. The usual fields are:

First Name, Last Name, Address, Credit Card Number, CVVC, Expiration Date

The the key logger picks up all that information, and relays it in a message like this to the attacker: Bob[TAB]Smith[TAB]1234 Fake Street[TAB]7891634875617828[TAB]202[TAB]03/2015[ENTER]
The information sent is so small and minute that you would never know it was on your system and being transmitted, but they see all your credit card information clear as day.

Thankfully, due to the nature of Key Loggers, today’s anti-virus, anti-malware and anti-spyware programs all have the ability to see these viruses very easily, so they are not as much as a threat as they once were.

There is another type of key logger, however, that is nowhere near as popular and much harder to implement, and is usually used legally by corporations and government agencies, and that is the form of a hardware key logger. It looks much like a thumb drive and is no bigger than one. It goes in between your keyboard’s plug and the computer and is used to record all your keystrokes, as well as sometimes sites visited, however these have gone by the wayside as well because of the advancement in software-based computer monitoring.

Viruses – Where do they come from?

You’re surfing the internet one day, then all of a sudden an name on your buddy list that you haven’t talked to in years IMs you a random blurb. It’s a URL to a website that you don’t know or identify. The URL layout is odd, the end sign is unknown (it’s not .com) and it looks like a pile of gibberish. You click it anyways.

Bad move. Now you’re infected.

99% of the time, websites like those are virus websites that hackers have taken over and infected (the other 1% of the time, it’s just spam.) The same method can be sent through emails in the form of just a straight email with a website, or even a full bio on the website itself and tells you to “click here for free stuff!” or something similar. We’ve all seen those. This is the newest way viruses are getting around, but by far won’t be the last.

The older ways of sending viruses through attachments are still around, however thankfully webmail and other email services are getting much better at cracking down on viruses and possible viruses. For instance, Gmail has a zero tolerance policy with .exe, .bat and .cmd files. Any of those file types will result in immediate removal of the attached file before the email is sent off.

Other methods that viruses get distributed through include transfer from infected flash drives, infected hard drives, and over a home or office network. If one computer is infected on the network, any computer that is also attached to that network is also at risk for infection.

Viruses – So who makes these things?

I bet you’re wondering, “Who exactly makes these viruses?” Most of you are probably thinking of a kid in a dorm room staying up late at night, lights dimmed, monitor screen bright, fingers tapping away at a keyboard. In most cases, you would be right! There are other people out there that make viruses, however! There are people that make them professionally, also known as White Hat hackers. There are also hackers that will develop viruses to exploit a hole in a website’s security or a company’s firewall. These are known as Grey Hat hackers. The last group develops viruses for malice and with intent, and these are known as Black Hat hackers.

Yet still there are more developers, mostly in Russia and China that develop the viruses many people call “ScareWare.” These are programs designed to look like a legitimate anti-virus telling you that your computer is infected and try to get you to buy their product. Many go by the name “Anti-Virus 2014” or “Windows Virus Chest 2014.” They will hold your computer ransom until you pay, and even then sometimes it won’t release control of your computer, forcing you to reformat or call in a professional to remove it, even after giving your money to these scam artists!

The last group is one you’d probably never imagine. There are scores of developers working for the Federal Government, CIA, and other agencies across the world that develop viruses to infiltrate and infect high-security information strongholds from other countries in a form of “Cyber Warfare.” Just recently, one unknown country launched a secret attack via a virus that crippled a nation’s nuclear program, but only infected computers specific to the cause. No one is claiming responsibility, and traces of the virus have all but been eradicated in these systems, but only after the damage was done.

Viruses – What are they?

So what exactly are viruses, anyways? Everyone has the image of them being little creepazoids living inside your computer like in today’s picture, eating away at the internal components slowly. In actuality, they are piece of code that can vary in purposes ranging from playing a small joke to stealing passwords to turning your computer into a mindless zombie (Robot Zombie Apocalypse, anyone?)

Viruses, unlike computer bugs, are written with intent, and in some cases, malice, to disrupt work flow or secretly steal information. They inherit their name from the biological term “Virus” which is defined as a self-replicating organism found in the living cells of other organisms. Besides the nickname, the only trait they share is their ability to self-replicate. Once a virus has infected your machine, it will immediately find ways to spread itself, either through your email address book, SFTP websites you have direct access to, your home network, instant messenger, or even your flash drive!

Viruses – Nasty little critters

Oh this is going to be a nasty subject. Viruses. Everyone knows they’re out there (even you, Mac users!) and are infecting millions of PCs and Macs daily. Yes, Macs do get viruses… they just don’t find out that they’ve been infected for much longer.

In this series of posts, we will be discussing the following subjects:

What are they?
Who makes them?
Where do they come from?
What do they do?
What do they do? – Part 1: Botnets
What do they do? – Part 2: Keylogging
What do they do? – Part 3: Remote Contol
What do they do? – Part 4: Scareware/Ransomware
How do I know if I’m infected?
Help! I’ve been infected! Get it off get it off!
How do I prevent it from happening next time?

Backups – Because you never know

It cannot be said enough:  Back up!  Back up!  Back up!  Always backup your information.  Always put your most valuable information in a safe place. Hide it in a fireproof safe, but please, always have backups! Have backups of your backups. Have backups for those backups. You can never be too backed up.  Well, that’s not entirely true but we won’t go there.

To back up your digital stuff, you have a few options in today’s world. There are 3 ways we will discuss today:

1. External Backups
2. “Poor Man’s” Backups
3. “Cloud” Backups

External backups are pretty self explanatory. External hard drives. Internal computer drives NOT associated with your main drive. Flash drives. Tape drives. DVDs and CDs.  Anything that holds data that will take a long while to stop working. This is the most common way of backing up your information, and works very well.

The “Poor Man’s” backup is a nifty little trick. If you have web-based email such as Gmail, Yahoo!, Hotmail, or AOL then you can do this. What you do is you take your files you want to save, namely work files or other document files, nothing big, and zip them up into a zip file whose total file size is no more than 20MB zipped. Then, you email that zip file to yourself! That way, if your computer dies out, you’ll always have a backup of those files in your email. **Note: Some web-mail clients block Executable (.exe) files found in Zip files, so change the Zip file’s extension to .txt and then email it to yourself.

The last one being described today is called the “Cloud.” You may have heard this term loosely used from time to time, especially in Microsoft ads. The cloud is essentially storage on hard drives owned or rented by major companies found on the internet. You upload your files to these remote machines, which you will never have to maintain or worry about even seeing, and they will sit there until they expire or you delete the files. One shining example of “Cloud” storage, which is also free to a certain extent, is called “DropBox” and they can be found here: www.dropbox.com

Can O’ Air – Not the kind you bring to sporting events

What happens to your car when you leave it out side for too long? It gets dusty. You’ve all seen those cars, the ones with the “Wash me!” written on the back in what appears to be five layers of dust. The same thing happens to your computers, as well!

We’re all guilty of it. We all have that computer that is old, has never been pulled out of its little cubby and just sits there. Unfortunately, as its been sitting there, it’s been collecting dust, hair, and other goodies. The bad news to that is that these dust bunnies can wreak havoc on a computer’s moving parts, such as fans, hard drives, and CD burners.

So, how do you clean out your dirty desktop? You can’t just blow on it, because the vapors inside your mouth will end up on the electronics, and that is just as bad as giving your computer a bath. Also, you should NEVER vacuum the dust out. The vacuum will create static electricity which will zap the electronics dead. There is one thing, however, you can use to clean them out. A can of compressed air. Essentially, they are a mixture of items that produces high pressure C02. They are available any post electronics stores and some office supply stores.

Once you have one of these cans o’ air, there are methods to using it.  The directions explain briefly what NOT to do, but they don’t explain the best method to getting your electronics clean.  The best way to use them is:

1.  Never turn it upside down.  As cool as it is to see instant frost, you will be letting out the stuff that is needed to create the pressure.

2.  Use short bursts on the target.  Doing so will increase efficiency and it’s easier to move something when it’s hit repeatedly rather than one continuous stream (think of how a plunger works.)

3.  Use your fingers to aim the straw as sometimes the straw will move down away from your target dust bunnies. Guiding the can o’ air’s blast will make your cleaning process much more efficient, direct, and effective.

Need to get some air?  Well don’t go outside, click here instead!