Archive for the ‘Hacking’ Category

By William V. Burns

 October 27, 2014 

Secure your accounts

Secure your accounts

 In my previous blog post, I described a number of scenarios, in several different locations, that demonstrated risks to your banking. As they say, the Internet is a bad neighborhood. It is possible to safely use your banking resources even in such a sketchy environment. Just as you need to take physical precautions when you use money, you also need to take Internet security into account.

Let’s look at the precautions you can take to help reduce the risk in each of those places:

Right at the ATM you just left.

Skimming and shoulder surfing are two big threats here. Be familiar with your surroundings. If there is something different about the ATM, go inside and ask an employee about it, or delay your withdrawal and go to another ATM location. Don’t let people get close while you enter your PIN. In case something or someone is watching, make a habit of hiding your PIN entry with your other hand.

 Back at home, on your PC.

Phishing and malware are your two biggest threats. Phishing can be defeated by guarding your banking and personal information as zealously as you would the contents of all your bank accounts were they in an envelope. Don’t click on any link emailed to you. Never respond to any request, by phone, mail, email or whatever, that asks you to send them your password and account information. No legitimate institution will request that. Only use the bank’s website to logon, and don’t keep the password written down or on a file in the computer.

 Malware is a virus, or keylogging program, or a reconfigured web browser. Scan your PC for viruses and other malware often, using well-known software. Don’t ever download some security package at random from the Internet.

 Lock your session, or log out, from any machine you’re using, if you’re going to be away from it. Set your screensaver to lock automatically after a minute of inactivity. When you dispose of your system, make sure the hard drive has been destroyed properly.

 At the store, or the fuel pump, or the supermarket.

Skimming, shoulder surfing, employee copying of your info, the main protection is to either use cash or visit the same locations as much as possible and keep your eyes open. When traveling, you can buy some refillable VISA or gift cards to use at these places instead of your main bank card.

 Inside your smartphone.

You want to do your banking from your phone. In coordination with your investment app, your email app, and your text and Twitter and FaceBook connections, all your life is tied into one communications center. Here’s how to do mobile banking safely. Whether it’s a tablet or a smartphone, the only way to install an app is directly from your financial institution or via a link from that site. Don’t go to an application store directly and download an app, and especially don’t follow a link from an email or an unfamiliar website to get your banking app.

 Secure your mobile device. Keep it with you, make sure it automatically locks within seconds of idleness, password protect it, and make sure you have installed an app or method (some devices come with this feature install) to remotely disable it. Make sure you have looked up this method and made yourself familiar with it, before you have a lost device and have to spend precious minutes or hours trying to figure this out.

Don’t use public Wi-Fi connectivity for your mobile device. It’s far too easy to break into a mobile device using unsecured Wi-Fi. Use your 3G or 4G network. If your device doesn’t connect to such, ‘tether’ the device to your phone which does. If you feel you must use public Wi-Fi, never use your banking or other financial app while you’re connected.

Change your passwords often, at least one a month. This goes for your device, your apps, and if possible, your home Wi-Fi. Difficult? Yes, but with people phishing around for your information, it’s essential. If you have trouble keeping track of your passwords, I suggest a ‘container’ for all of them that’s much more secure than a sheet of paper or a text file (don’t use those), such as RoboForm, which manages and even creates secure passwords and stores them in an encrypted form. It’s about ten US dollars a year for the subscription, and is usable on almost every system or even a USB stick.

On the other side of the world, in a corporate server.

So you do your best. You become more aware of your surroundings, you update your PC, you are careful where you click and where you log on. But one day, you trust your financial information to a company or institution (school, another bank, your own bank, the government, etc.) and they lose it to a hacker.

What do you do now?

Learn the laws about your financial responsibility, and the financial institution, and the company that lost your information. Study this now, before you have such a loss. You may find that your bank, or the company that had the breach, has to make you whole. If you use a major credit card or a debit card with a VISA, MasterCard, or other major payment processor logo on it, you may be completely covered from loss.

In the immediate aftermath of a loss, call the bank or financial institution immediately. They may be able to reverse or replace the loss right then, or after a short period. Give them as much information as you can. Assume that all your other information is compromised, and change and cancel current cards as soon as possible and feasible.

Monitor your credit. Make sure you get an annual free credit report from the three major credit agencies, and see if everything on there came from you. You can also ‘freeze’ your credit files so nobody can use your identity to open new accounts of any sort unless you unlock it.

In short, use common sense, lower your amount of trust in strangers, read more about banking security (we link some excellent articles in the bibliography) and keep aware of risk.


CreditCards.Com – 8 Tips to Stop Banking App Fraud

Net Teller – Protecting Yourself from Online Banking Fraud

 Kaspersky – What is a Keylogger?

Fidelity – Protecting your mobile and online banking

RoboForm – Password Manager

Clark Howard – Credit Freeze and Thaw Guide


By William V. Burns

 October 27, 2014

Online Banking Risks

Online Banking Risks

 Withdrawing money from your bank or other financial institution triggers some sort of animal instinct in us; we feel a sense of satisfaction in handling the cash, followed by a quick look around for predators.

That look around was too late, and ineffective anyway. You have already been preyed upon. Oh the cash in your hand is safe enough, depending on how much crime there is in your neighborhood. Count it quietly and put it away. But check the balance on your ATM receipt. You see? Your balance is now zero.

 The predation was invisible and swift.

Where it could have happened?

 Right at the ATM you just left.

There is an entire criminal industry centered on defrauding people while they withdraw money. One widespread method is called ‘skimming.’ The criminal has a device, called a ‘skimmer,’ made by them or bought online on the darker side of the Internet, which looks like part of the ATM. They walk up, snap or glue it in place, and walk away. When you swipe your card in the ATM, the device reads your card information; it records you entering your PIN, and then transmits your bank information to the criminal who then uses that information to empty your account.

 Back at home, on your PC.

It looks like your bank sent you an email alert. There was a problem with your account! The email asked you to verify your banking information immediately or your account would be locked. You clicked on the link in the email and logged on to your account. You saw the words ‘account verified.’ You relaxed.That email wasn’t from your bank. It was from a criminal. You got phished.

 At the store, while buying something for yourself.

The ‘skimmers’ referred to above are also installed by criminals on Point Of Sale (POS) terminals in retail locations. There also exist for sale ‘dongles’ that can be surreptitiously plugged into the POS in line with the cable or in an empty socket – these dongles capture the information from your card purchase and send it to our criminal. They emptied your account.

 At the fuel pump.

Fuel pumps are big targets nowadays for skimmers. There’s also some fraud from clerks inside the station convenience store swiping your card twice; once on the machine, and the second time through a small card reader plugged into their smartphone. Got your money.

 In line at the supermarket.

You wouldn’t let a stranger lurk right behind you at the ATM or the fuel pump. They have no reason to be so close. It’s different in the supermarket checkout line, where we’re all just folks, pushing our food, booze, snacks, and cleaning supplies up against each other, fumbling at the little keyboard. The fellow leaning close is engaging in a ploy called ‘shoulder surfing,’ a bit of social engineering to grab your PIN. Your card number has already been compromised through him taking a quick digital picture with his phone. One email later, and his partner in Zaire withdraws your money.

 Inside your smartphone.

You download a new banking app for your smartphone, and load it up with your account information, routing number, and password. Unfortunately, the app was designed by a hacker, and they sold your information to a third party, who loots your account.

 On the other side of the world, in a corporate server.

You bought a nice pair of pants at this franchised boutique six months ago. You used your debit card. The corporation has a database with customer names, addresses, card numbers, and authentication data. After some hard work finding a security vulnerability in the boutique’s corporate server and exploiting this to gain access, a Russian hacker now has your account information, which he sells to another cybercriminal. Your account balance falls to zero shortly after.

 What next?

What can you do? How can you protect yourself when there are so many people after your money?

Sensible precautions are outlined in part two, which will follow shortly.


Krebs On Security – All about Skimmers

USNews – Is it safe to bank online?

Wall Street Journal – ‘Phishing’ Scams Cast Net on Mobile Banking

 Naked Security – 8 Tips for safer online banking

 Bankrate – Online banking: Is your Money safe?

by William V. Burns

October 24, 2014

You are a juicy, delicious phish. Allow me to explain. I am not referring to the jam rock band, the ice cream flavor from Ben & Jerry’s, or the homophonic wiggly gilled denizens of watery environments.

No, to a select group of individuals, you are far more valuable. You are a trusting person with a mouse. You click on things.

More precisely, you follow links in emails.

Now, I can’t really blame you. You were taught that behavior. ‘Click here’ was the mantra of the early Internet. Email was one of the prominent ways to spread links around.

*sound effects*

“You’ve got mail! Click!”

 Those times are now in the past, and it’s time for you, Mr. or Ms. Phish, to put the mouse down for a moment and let me explain about Social Engineering and Phishing.


Phishing – Pic from betacontinua on flickr

Social Engineering is the practice of abusing the usual trust folks have for other people in order to gain some advantage. Simply put, there are jerks out there that will lie to you and take advantage of your habits and tendencies to trick you into handing over your money, or your information, or your money and information.

One set of jerks, commonly referred to as ‘hackers’ or cybercriminals, go setting traps for you through email. They coined the word ‘phishing’ to describe the practice.

One way or another, these criminals harvest some likely consumer emails, known to be active, and associated with a known company, preferably one that has a financial relationship with you, especially a bank or online payment service such as PayPal.

Their next step is to set up a server which can host a webpage which looks like that bank or payment service, with a logon page or credentials confirmation page. The cybercriminals will set up temporary or even stolen hosting in order to create this site, which will collect people’s account and login information.

Then they go ‘phishing.’ A batch of emails is sent out, often through compromised or open mail relay servers, to thousands of harvested consumer email addresses, and these emails have a clean background, a logo, contact information, and overall look just like they came from (for example) your bank. Often the email will have language suggesting a sense of urgency:

A purchase was made using your card which may have been a fraudulent use.

Please log on to our site and verify your identity, or we will cancel your account

within the next six hours. Click here to verify your identity: link

 Pro tip: don’t click that link. Victims follow the link, end up on the criminal site, try to ‘verify’ their information, and enter it into the web page, which collects it for the ‘hackers.’

Millions of people every year fall for this trick. And why not? It looks like your bank is protecting your account.

How to stay safe:

  • Don’t click links in emails. Go to your bank or institution’s already-known email address, or call them. Don’t use the information from the email.
  • Sign up on your real institution’s website for a smartphone app (so you know you’re getting the actual app). Get your alerts and information from there.
  • Be less trusting about your email. If several of you at work have received the same ‘phishing’ email attempt, contact your company’s security office.
  • Learn more, stay up to date. Read some of the linked articles below for much more information.

There is a more focused version of this, called ‘spearphishing,’ where the cybercriminals have collected specific information about your company and tailor the emails and the collection site so they seem even more legitimate. If you’re considered a top person in your organization, you might even be the only person to get the email. This last version is known as ‘whaling,’ and is the most focused of all.

Don’t click that email link!


TechRepublic – 12 steps to avoid Phishing scams

 Kaspersky – Simple Phishing Prevention Tips To Protect Your Identity and Wallet

 Biztech – 10 Tips for Phishing Prevention

 InfoWorld – How to stop your executives from being harpooned

 About Technology – What is Whaling?