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Watch Out for the Scam Emails

As digital information becomes an increasingly hot commodity among black market operations, email scams are increasing in number and sophistication. Most internet-savvy individuals can spot scams of the Nigerian royal family variety with little trouble. However, scammers that are more adept have moved on to tactics that are less obvious, such as spoofing bank sites or phishing for financial information via official-sounding correspondence. Here are a few tips for avoiding the more elaborate scam emails today.

Your Bank Never Asks for Password or Log In

Some scam emails mimic correspondence from your bank and request that you provide a password or user name in response. Often, these emails reference an issue with your account. The scammer may try to unsettle readers with warnings or information that will cause concern, increasing the likelihood that an account holder will act quickly by sending in the requested information. Once the scammer receives the information, they have access to your bank account.

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Filed in: Computers, Email, Security, Spam
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Internet Safety in the Digital Age

Let me introduce a very special guest blogger, Mr. Paul Shirey. Paul is a young man (13 years old) who definitely has a handle on what this Internet thing is all about. In fact, given that people of his generation have this kind of savvy, I think there’s hope that the Internet will evolve from it’s current state of “Wild, Wild, Web” into something more akin to a world wide communications and information portal that is safe for everyone to use. It’s quite possible that you’ll be hearing more from this young man as a future mover and shaker.

You can contact Paul through his website at http://www.teenradiojourney.com or you can leave a comment here. Here’s his article.

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In the digital age,? most of us, if not all, depend on the Internet to get us through the day: some jobs are even 100% online. Well,? sometimes the Internet isn’t all that great, and might be infected with malicious files. Luckily, there are ways you can defend yourself against the Internet terrorists of the digital age.

Online Accounts

The number of online accounts you have can really affect the chances of your accounts being hacked and your identity stolen. The more accounts you have, the more at risk you are. If someone steals your identity and commits a crime in your name, it is possible that you could be the one that ends up behind bars, and none of us want that to happen.

There is a simple way to keep your online accounts secure–don’t use the same password for every online account you have. Imagine this: One day your computer gets infected with malware called a keylogger. Keyloggers record everything you type on your computer. If the hacker behind the malware can find out one of your online passwords before you get the malware removed, that person would have access to all of your online accounts because you used the same password for every account.

Though using the same password for every account you create can be helpful for you (because you won’t have to remember what the password is for every account), it is a serious security threat. There are some very simple ways you can stop this bad habit.

1. If you don’t have a lot of online accounts, use a series of passwords and rotate them between accounts. This way it would be harder for someone to hack into your accounts, and your account could even be temporarily suspended from too many log in attempts.

2. Using a password keeper is an excellent way to create multiple passwords, and most of them have password generators built into them. Even though it might be a little bit annoying to have to copy and paste passwords all the time to log in, it could really be a life saver. You wouldn’t necessarily have to create a generated password for all of your accounts, just the ones you couldn’t afford to get hacked like your bank account or PayPal account. You can download a free password keeper by going here http://keepass.info/. This password keeper can even go onto a USB stick.

Spam

Spam is another way internet hackers gain control of people’s computers and lives. There are some very simple ways you can tell if an email message is spam.

Contains mostly links and is in plain text.

Comes from a free email service like Gmail or Yahoo

Your email client tells you that it is spam

Spam can be very hard to filter out; some spam may even make it through the spam filter. One example of spam that is very tempting is emails that say that you have one a large amount of money. If the email is in plain text and the email address is from a free email service like Gmail or Yahoo, its spam. Delete it and forget it.

If your email client tells you it is spam there is a very small chance that it might not be spam, if you are at a business building using business email, chances are that a lot of non spam emails go to spam due to high filtering settings. You do however need to be able to tell spam from non-spam.

Password Changes

Sites like eBay or PayPal that are heavily encrypted send you an email when your password is changed, even if you were the one that changed it they will still send you an email for security reasons. If you do get one of these emails and you didn’t change the passwoord, you need to contact them immediately.

Imagine that you are opening the door of your house to go inside after a long day at work, but you forget to disarm your security system. The alarm will go off and the alarm company will call you. You tell them that it was only a false alarm and give them your pin number for the alarm system, and they reset the alarms.

So,? going back to the site, the alarm going off when you enter your house is just like you changing your password on a highly encrypted site. The website will contact you just as the alarm company would, except with the website, you usually don’t need to tell them if you changed it or not.

Free Items

Have you ever seen those ads on websites telling you to click to win a free item of high value like a MacBook Air or an expensive car? Well to tell you the truth the website that you clicked on that ad from is just trying to make money, because advertising is how most free websites run. However, that form you will out to get the free item is just collecting your personal information, and you could start receiving tons of spam in the snail mail.

Online Shopping

Another way hackers can attack computers is through online shopping. My rule is the site either has to be approved by internet security companies like McAfee, or use PayPal for orders. I usually will only shop at an online shop if they use PayPal because the only information the store will see when you pay with PayPal is your Name and/or email. That’s a lot better than giving them your credit card number.

The best thing you can do to defend yourself while shopping online is by making sure the shopping website you are buying from is secure. Though eBay and Amazon are very secure, if they were to get hacked it is likely that websites like these would shut down part of their system temporarily until they are sure that the problem is fixed.

Downloads

Downloads can be handy, but if you download multiple programs every day, you could be even more prone to getting a virus. You need to be extremely careful when downloading files from file sharing sites, unless you truly know the person that is hosting them, or were redirected by a software company that you trust.

Sum it up

The key to internet safety is this: if a website or email doesn’t look safe, either don’t go to it,? or do searches on it to see if it is safe. Don’t just look at one search result; look at multiple ones so you are sure that the website is secure. There is a neat little antivirus programs that can keep you safe on the internet, and will even warn you if you try to open an infected webpage or email, and then clean any infected files. You can download this antivirus program by going to http://www.avast.com/. If you already have an antivirus program you trust go ahead and download McAfee Site Advisor http://www.siteadvisor.com/.

Whether you like it or not, you need an antivirus program, it might make your PC a bit slow(er) but it is worth it, you never know when your computer could be threatened in an internet infection.

Paul Shirey

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“14 Golden Rules of Computer Security” Nearing Completion

My new eBook, “14 Golden Rules of Computer Security” is almost complete and will be ready for downloading shortly. Written with the non-technical person in mind, the book is packed with proven, practical advice on how to stay safe on the Wild, Wild Web including bonus articles about creating strong, easy-to-remember passwords and email security tips. I give you tons of links to free and low-cost tools as well as special discounts for software and services by some of the best computer security companies in the business. It’s a must-have for every computer owner.

Based upon my popular “How to Secure Your Computer” series of web articles and fully updated with late-breaking information on safe searching and social networks, “14 Golden Rules of Computer Security” will help you develop your own secure computing practices and save you from the hassle of dealing with unpleasant malware attacks.

The book will cost $9.95 for the general public, but all Ask the Geek subscribers will be sent a download link and password for a free copy, so be sure to sign up. (If you already closed the subscription panel, you can sign up by clicking here or on the Sign Up! link on the Pages sidebar.)

Sign up today and then watch your email for the release announcement and download instructions.

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Spam-o-Meter

Spam-o-Meter is a Kool Tool that gives you an idea of how much spam is on the Internet. You can download a Mac OSX gadget, Flash for a website (like you see here), even a screen saver for Windows, all free. Check it out. I’ve posted it on a page over there to the right.

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Safe Computing Tips (and Other Changes)

I want to let everyone know of some new features you’ll be seeing here at Ask the Geek. First off, you’ll notice that there are more pages being posted. These are permanent pages that will always show up on the site, unlike the posts that usually wind up in the archives. I’ll be updating these frequently. The latest page is “Safe Computing Tips” and I suggest you check it out.

You’ll also notice a sign-up pop-up on some pages when you go to them. Please sign up so I can keep you up to date on new content and special offers from select vendors. I promise I won’t spam you with a bunch of useless junk; I will pass on any special offers that I become aware of from reputable hardware and software sellers.

For now, check out the “Safe Computing Tips” and sign up for my list. And be on the lookout for a new page that reviews top freeware, Open Source, and commercial software offerings.

As always, I’m glad to be of service and I look forward to keeping you as a loyal reader. If you ever need anything at all, feel free to hit the “Ask a Question” or “Leave Feedback” links over at the right.

Cheers!
The Geek

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Feds Claim to have Nailed "King of Spam"

According to this ABC news story, 27-year-old Robert Alan Soloway arrested in Seattle yesterday. They claim he’s one of the world’s biggest spammers, sending out millions of spam e-mails using computers he has hijacked and turned into “zombies” — computers that have been taken over by a hacker without the knowledge of the owners.

Will this really mean less spam in your inbox? Maybe, but don’t hold your breath. It may slow down for a little while (I’ve noticed a decrease today), but someone else will fill the hole. Guaranteed. All the laws and arrests in the world won’t deter criminals from chasing easy money. If only one e-mail out of 10,000 results in a sale, the spammer is probably making tons of money. If he sends out 10 million emails, he can expect 1000 sales.

The only solution to the spam problem is to take the profit out of it. The only way that’s going to happen is if people stop buying the stuff the crooks are pushing. That’s not likely.

Cheers!
The Geek

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Filed in: Computers, Email, Spam
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"Pay me or I’ll kill you"

In their latest phishing scam targeting dentists, a tactic the FBI has labeled “spear phishing,” the fraudsters actually threaten violence. The potential victim receives an email purportedly from a hit man who has been hired by “a friend” to kill him for $50,000. However, if the victim agrees to pay this “hit man” $80,000, he’ll back off and let the person live:

…i have being paid $50,000.00 in advance to terminate you with some reasons listed to me by my employers, its one i believe you call a friend…

Now, listen, i will arrange for us to see face to face but before that i need the amount of $80,000.00 and you will have nothing to be afraid of.

The entire text of the message is presentented in this article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

One of my company’s clients was targeted by this and called us quite upset. We told him that it was more than likely a hoax, but recommended that he immediately report it to the police. We also referred him to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

If you know anyone who has been targeted by this scam and hasn’t been told it’s a scam, please give them some relief and send a link to this article.

Cheers!
The Geek

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Filed in: Answers, Email, Security, Spam
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Kool Tool – Datapol Does It Again

Back in December 2005, I wrote about how to make a thumb drive virus scanner using datapol’s NTFS4DOS, a Kool Tekkie Tool that allows you to read and write NTFS volumes from a DOS command line interface. Now, the good folks at datapol have come up with another winner: CIA DRiVE.net, a very cool remote recovery and offline antivirus utility that no IT pro should be without. There’s a free (read-only) demo available as well as Professional and Enterprise editions. I’m testing the Enterprise edition.

CIA DRiVE.net is the fastest and easiest method to access the drives of a remote computer over the network or the internet. Whether you simply want to transfer data from one PC to another (even in the case that the remote computer doesn’t boot Windows any more), backup or restore data over the network without a working Windows installation or whether you want to be able to perform an offline anti-virus check…with CIA DRiVE.net you get a full-blown solution for managing and recovering remote computers that is nearly…a perfect way to exchange data between computers that don’t belong to the same domain or workgroup.

This isn’t hype; it does everything they say it does. It works over TCP/IP and there’s no need to worry about domain names and workgroups, nor even which subnet you happen to be on; if you know the IP address of the computer you want to connect to, and it’s booted with the CIA DRiVE.net server, you’re good to go. I’ve tried it three ways: with an ethernet crossover cable (much better than a null modem cable); over the LAN in my office; and — this is really slick — over the Internet (you have to open port 45751 in your firewall). No matter how you hook it up, you can do anything to the remote PC that you can do on a local hard drive.

The other techs in my office thought it was pretty cool when I mapped the hard drive on my home computer to my laptop over the Internet and kicked off a full virus scan. Impressive. But there’s more. For those PCs that support it, you can wake them up with a magic packet or force a shutdown or restart. There’s also a user manager that in the Enterprise edition allows you to reset lost WinNT/Win2k/XP passwords that are stored in the SAM and in the Active Directory of Windows Server 2000/2003. If your network card on the remote PC is PXE-capable, you don’t even have to build boot media; the CIA DRiVE.net client has a built-in PXE server and will automatically upload the software to the remote machine.

The boot media maker allows you to make floppies or CDs and also create bootdisk image files: .img for floppies; .iso for CDs. Using an image, you should be able to make a bootable thumb drive, but I haven’t tried this yet. You can make the images available for download, or you can email them easily because they are quite small (less than 2MB).

The free version of CIA DRiVE.net is read-only, but will allow you to see how it works; the Professional version sells for $179 and allows up to 25 remote connections; the Enterprise edition sells for $299 and allows unlimited connections. Obviously, this isn’t a tool for casual use, but it can pay for itself quickly. For instance, saving just one client from major data loss by recovering data from an unbootable hard drive justifies the cost. It might even work on systems where the hard drive isn’t recognized by the BIOS. I haven’t tried it, but if you use the “direct disk access (bypass the BIOS)” option to make a boot disk, it should work in all but the most desperate circumstances.

If you got the feeling that I’m sold on this Kool Tekkie Tool, you’d be right. Check it out.

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