Prevention is the best way to ensure you are never infected with spyware and your data is never lost or stolen. It is possible to clean up an infected machine and remove spyware but sometimes the damage from certain spyware, such as ransomware, cannot be fixed as files become encrypted or otherwise corrupted.
While no single solution available is a silver bullet, the following list outlines some of the best practices in lessening the risks of losing data after an infection:
1) Backup your files and software! Having backup copies of your photos, documents, software, and other files can make sure you never lose them to a malware infection such as ransomware encryption. Many people choose to use external drives or the cloud for their backups, but keep in mind that if you use external drives, the data can still be at risk if you leave your backup drives connected to your machine at all times.
We at SUPERAntiSpyware offer an Online Backup Solution as an optional service when purchasing SUPERAntiSpyware at $6.95 a month. This subscription allows you to backup and protect your important files and documents onto a cloud-like server so you always have copies of your important files. You can read more about our backup services here: https://www.backup.support.com
2) Keep SUPERAntiSpyware up to date and run regular scans. We update our definition list twice a day to make sure our users catch the latest threats, as well as periodically release software updates. It is imperative users keep up to date so their software continues finding the latest threats. In order to make sure that nothing creeps in between scans, we recommend regular scanning at least once a week, if not every day.
3) Update your Windows Operating System and Software you use. Make sure you always are using the latest version of Windows with the latest updates and security fixes. Most Windows updates are patches for existing and/or potential vulnerabilities, so keeping these holes filled is crucial in stopping the spread of malware. Additionally, using unsupported operating systems (anything older than Windows 7 as of right now) can leave you just as unprotected. If you are using web browsers such as Firefox, Chrome, or others, always make sure you are using the latest versions, and don’t forget to update any add-ons, plugins, or extensions you use to the latest editions.
4) Double Check Emails before opening them. Check the sender of every email you receive. If you do not know them, or the email looks suspicious, do not open it! Delete it! Do the suspicious emails include links to click or strange attachments? Do not click the links or open the attachments no matter how innocent they sound. If it claims to be from an official organization, call them and ask if the email is legit. Better safe than sorry!
5) Use strong passwords and/or multi-factor authentication. Good passwords are long. Good passwords also contain capital and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters. Do not use an easily guessable password that contains personal information like your birthday or the name of your pet, and do not use the same password for every website! This makes it harder for hackers to gain access to your personal information, especially when you use different passwords for every site. It might be a bit more to remember, but it diminishes the risk and the headache of sorting everything out after your information is stolen.
Many sites, such as banks, often will have multi-factor authentication available. With these systems, you not only need a password, but you also will need a special code that is often randomized on a dongle or smartphone app. These types of systems are more secure than just a typical password, as the extra step is incredibly difficult to hack into.
6) Use an Ad blocking Extension. Software such as Adblock Plus and uBlock Origin for your internet browsers are free, cross-platform browser extensions that filter unwanted content such as ads, pop-ups, rogue scripts, and even IP leaks. Using an ad blocking extension on your web browser will greatly lessen the impact of “Malvertising”, website ads that drop rogue programs onto your PC without your knowledge. While these programs might not block every ad you encounter, the chances of you running into something particularly malicious will be reduced dramatically.
7) Remove unsupported software. Many software programs, such as Flash or QuickTime, are no longer supported by their publishers, or are no longer supported by modern web browsers. This means that existing versions can have massive security flaws, despite there being many users who still have the software installed on their computers. It is recommended that users uninstall software that has been abandoned by their creators, especially if it is something that deals with content on the web.
At the same time, many newer pieces of software cannot run on older operating systems such as Windows 98, Windows ME, and even Windows XP. Keep your operating system up to date! When Microsoft stops supporting an old operating system, they stop all updates, which can lead to vulnerabilities being exploited.
8) Don’t talk to tech support scammers. If you’re on the internet and suddenly get a pop-up or email claiming your PC is infected with a virus, and that you need to call a listed number immediately, do not do it! A real security company wouldn’t sell their services from sketchy pop-ups or emails. These companies typically list a 1-800 number for you to call so they can try to lure you into spending potentially hundreds of dollars and giving them remote access to your PC. More likely than not, they will try to infect you or steal personal information during their remote access “work”.
9) Make sure you are on secure connection when purchasing products online or entering in personal information. You can tell you are on a secure website when the URL reads “https” and not just “http.” This is also referred to as HTTP over SSL which is encrypted. This protects against eavesdropping and tampering. Often, the address bar will change color or display a lock icon next to the URL you are visiting if you are connected through a secure HTTPS connection.
10) Use a firewall. Since Windows XP, every Microsoft operating system has come with a firewall. It is recommended you make sure this is always enabled. If you use a third party firewall, it is also recommended you always keep it up and running. Firewalls use rules and examine network traffic as it passes in and out of your PC. If a connection does not follow the firewalls rules, it will be blocked. This also allows you to monitor activity on your network from intrusion attempts or if rogue software on your PC is trying to reach out to a hacker.
Even the most cautious of people can get infected; however, by following these tips your risk of getting infected or being unable to recover from an infection will go down dramatically. Remember to stay safe, exercise caution, scan regularly, keep everything up to date, and backup your data often.
Typosquatting is a type of internet scam that relies on end users making mistakes, such as spelling errors or entering the wrong domain name when entering a websites URL. It is also commonly known as URL Hijacking. There are many motivations for a hijacker to take the Typosquatting approach to deceiving unsuspecting victims:
1) To redirect web traffic to their own or a competitor’s product.
2) Installing malware to infect the user’s machine, typically with ad-hosting pieces of malware.
3) Freeze the web browser for a fake Tech Support scam, scaring the user into calling a fake tech support number claiming the user has a virus infection. These scams potentially cost the users hundreds of dollars.
4) To steal user information by running a phishing scheme to mimic legitimate website.
5) Making revenue from the user clicking on advertisements (either in plain site or disguised as legitimate search links) on the Typosquat website.
6) To blackmail or strong-arm payment from the company they're Typosquatting in order to force a purchase of the website from the Typosquatter.
A scammer who runs a Typosquat scam typically registers a website address with spelling close to the legitimate websites address. This is typically something simple like omitting a letter, adding a letter, or using a different Top Level Domain. For example if a user wants to go to our website, they may end up typing superaantispyware[dot]com with double a’s. This will end up showing a user a Typosquatting website such as this:
Another type of Typosquat scam would be due to the person improperly typing out the full URL, typing something like google [dot] om , rather than typing google [dot] com. In this instance, the person typing the .om domain would actually be viewing a page hosted on Oman's Top Level Domain, rather than the basic .com domain. In some instances, large corporations will buy up as many associated domains as they can in order to prevent this type of mistake (Google, for example, has variants of their site containing multiple o's and different Top Level Domains); however, not all companies have the foresight and/or money to do this.
It is easy to avoid falling prey to a Typosquatting scam. Here are a few easy things you can do to prevent this.
1) Never open links in emails from unexpected senders, and exercise caution when visiting sites you're not familiar with.
2) Bookmark your favorite websites so you can easily access them.
3) Use a search engine like Google, Bing, or Yahoo when looking for a specific website if you are unsure about the spelling or if the business' website is the same as their name. Some car dealerships, for example, use dealer names or slogans as their website.
4) Double check the URL you are typing before loading the page
5) Make sure Real-Time Protection is turned on in SUPERAntiSpyware Professional
6) If you are starting a web-based business, consider buying multiple domains that are similar to your primary site to preemptively stop Typosquatters. Most domain registrars will offer bulk rates when you purchase more than one domain at a time.
While this type of attack is somewhat uncommon by today's standards, it still happens every once in a while. By practicing safe browsing habits, keeping your web browsers up-to-date, and running regular scans of your machine, you should not be impacted by most of these types of attacks.
Some of the earliest computer viruses and malware were created using macros in Microsoft Office documents. These pieces of malicious code would run once the document was opened, and the infection would happen without the user even being aware that their machine had been compromised. While these types of attacks had fallen out of favor over the years, they've come back in style and are more popular than ever before.
What exactly is a macro? While you've probably heard the term thrown around before, most people don't actually know what they are, or what they're capable of. In short, macros are little snippets of code that run through your office software. Many people use macros to speed up a repetitive processes, like formatting items. Unfortunately, the same type of code that is used to perform the mundane can also be used to perform the malicious.
Due to the ease of abuse, Microsoft removed the automatic enabling of macros many years ago. This is ultimately what lead to the majority of these types of attacks going by the wayside. Because there was no longer a way to abuse this on most machines, would-be attackers changed their methods to more traditional programs, which are far easier to detect with a normal malware scanner.
With the recent surge in ransomware, new methods of delivery were needed by would-be attackers. The anti-malware engines had been able to detect many variants, and it was only getting easier. This meant that stealth was needed. What better way to do that than to bring back a tried-and-true method in Office Macros. Few people expected it due to the fact that these infection types hadn't really been seen in years.
The basic attack is carried out like this:
1) An infected person sends you an email with the subject similar to "ATTN: Invoice Attached" that has a Word document attached.
2) The person downloads and opens the file, only to see a garbled mess of characters with a notice that says "Enable macro if the data encoding is incorrect" in big bold red letters at the top of the window
3) The unknowing victim enables macros, thereby initiating the malicious code
4) The code runs, sending out an email to your Outlook contacts (attempting to infect them), downloads whatever payload(s) it wants, then runs the ransomware (locking your files)
Because of the sharp increase in these types of attacks, Microsoft, SUPERAntiSpyware, and many other security vendors recommend that all users disable macros if they do not need to use them. While Macros should be disabled by default, it is worth double-checking your preferences in order to ensure that you are protected as best as possible.
For more information on how to disable macros in Office files, please visit this Microsoft Support article.
NOTE: This is a recommendation specifically for home users, if you are in a work environment please contact your IT department first before making any changes!
A lot can happen in 10 years
This past month, SUPERAntiSpyware® reached a milestone – we’re 10 years old! Let’s take a look back at some of the bigger events that have happened over the past 10 years, just to see how far we’ve come:
2006- SUPERAntiSpyware® is born, Twitter is launched, Pluto is demoted to “dwarf planet” status, the West African black rhino is declared extinct, 20th Winter Olympic Games open in Italy, Brontok email worm discovered
2007- Apple debuts the iPhone, Google Street View is launched, “The Sopranos” series finale, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” released, “The Big Bang Theory” debuts on CBS, Boris Yeltsin dies, Zeus/Zbot banking Trojan discovered
2008- Beijing hosts the Olympic Games, “Iron Man” is released, Bill Gates steps down as Chairman of Microsoft, The Large Hadron Collider is powered up, Barack Obama elected President of the USA, Conficker and Koobface information stealing worms discovered
2009- Chrysler and General Motors file for bankruptcy, Statue of Liberty’s crown reopens to public, Michael Jackson dies, Boeing 787 makes its maiden flight, Windows 7 released, Daprosy password stealing worm discovered
2010- BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Chilean mine incident, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announces his retirement, Burj Khalifa is officially opened, Eyjafjallajökull erupts in Iceland, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” repealed, Stuxnet Trojan cripples Iranian nuclear facilities
2011- Prince William and Kate Middleton married, Osama Bin Laden killed, “The Hunger Games” published, Steve Jobs dies, Japan tsunami hits Fukushima nuclear plant, Final launch of Space Shuttle Discovery, “Game of Thrones” premiers on HBO, ZeroAccess downloader rootkit discovered
2012- Hurricane Sandy hits East coast of USA, West Nile Virus hit 48 states throughout the year, Curiosity Rover lands on Mars, Dick Clark dies, Russia joins World Trade Organization, Windows 8 released, Flamer espionage Trojan discovered
2013- Pope Benedict XVI announces his retirement, Pope Francis elected, Edward Snowden admits to leaks of NSA materials, Nelson Mandela dies, DOMA ruled unconstitutional by US Supreme Court, “Frozen” debuts, CryptoLocker family of Ransomware is born
2014-Boko Haram kidnaps 280 girls, Seattle Seahawks win first Super Bowl in franchise history, Malaysia Airline Flight MH370 vanishes, Attorney General Eric Holder resigns, Malala Yousafzai wins Nobel Peace Prize, Reign Trojan dropper is discovered
2015- Jon Stewart leaves “The Daily Show”, oldest stone tools found in Kenya, David Lettermen leaves “The Late Show”, American Pharoah wins first Triple Crown in 37 years, Microsoft launches Windows 10, CryptoWall family of ransomware is discovered
2016- SUPERAntiSpyware® turns 10 years old
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since SUPERAntiSpyware was released to the general public. Just look at all the things that have changed around the world! Despite all of that change, one thing remains constant – we’re here to serve you.
In honor of our loyal customers, we’ve decided to run a small contest. If you go to our Facebook page and like/share this article with your friends, we’re going to enter you into a drawing for one of ten (10) SUPERAntiSpyware® Gift Packs! This gift pack includes a SUPERAntiSpyware® logo coffee mug, a SUPERAntiSpyware® logo pen, a copy of the SUPERAntiSpyware® install disc, a 1-year 3-user license, and some assorted goodies.
Not a bad deal, huh? The contest will go on until 12pm PST on April 29, 2016. Like and Share this post on Facebook now to enter!
A lot has changed in the world of ransomware since we last talked about it on this blog back in 2013. For those who are new to ransomware, this post should provide a primer of what this family of malware is and what it does. For those who are more well-versed, some of our best practices at the end of this post should help provide some extra prevention methods.
TeslaCrypt, Locky, CryptoLocker, CryptoWall, and other ransomware families are making their way around the internet at break-neck pace. If you find yourself in the unfortunate place of having fallen victim to this type of malware, you’ve essentially got two options: pay up or start from scratch. While this is not something that most people want to hear, it’s the unfortunate reality for a machine that’s been ravaged by these types of infections. Even the FBI has come out and stated that your best option at data retrieval is to pay the ransom (if you do not have proper backups)!
What is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a designation given to families of malware that encrypt your personal files, and then demand a ransom payment in order to be given the decryption key. The types of files that ransomware targets range from generic text files and documents, to pictures, to video games, to music, and even beyond. Unfortunately, the type of encryption that’s used is so strong, that newer versions of some ransomware are completely impenetrable.
Most ransomware families are spread by a special type of Trojan called a “dropper”. The purpose of a dropper is to run processes in the background of your machine to download and execute code from a remote server. That code then searches your computer for files of a specific type (or types), then modifies those files by scrambling them with high-end, two part encryption. After a critical mass of files have been encrypted, the ransomware will then typically create a few different unencrypted documents and/or display a dialogue on your machine telling you that you’ve been locked out of your files unless you pay the price. To add fuel to the fire, many different variants will have a timer imposed upon you for when payment is “due” to them. If you don’t pay in time, they either increase the ransom, or delete the encryption key from their server, thereby making it impossible to retrieve your files.
To make matters worse, many different ransomware variants will disable the Volume Shadow Copy Service on your machine. This service is used by Windows to perform automatic backups and create restore points. These backups are what you would typically use to “roll back” your computer to before a major change happened.
How did I get infected?
Ransomware droppers come in all different shapes and sizes, but one thing that’s true about them is once they’ve been started, it’s almost always too late. These droppers typically are files that you download from your email, other websites, or p2p servers (such as torrent sites). Unfortunately, this is changing rapidly, and we’re starting to see “drive-by” exploits occur in the wild through infected ad-streams on popular sites many people visit on a daily basis.
One of the most frustrating parts of ransomware infections are that they’re extremely difficult to clean up. Even if you run antivirus and antimalware scanners, once the damage has been done, there’s nothing that these pieces of software can do to reverse the damage. These tools, including SUPERAntiSpyware®, can remove the underlying cause of the infection (the dropper) in many instances, but the encryption itself can’t be reversed.
Some versions of ransomware will display messages saying that they are from the FBI, NSA, INTERPOL, or other law enforcement agency. They’ll accuse you of possessing illegal documents and/or visiting illegal websites. This type of scare tactic has fallen out of favor, as people have gotten wise to it. Most modern ransomware will simply display a page admitting freely that you’ve been infected and display instructions on how to pay the ransom.
If you have a home or office network, it’s also possible that your machine got infected due to sharing a network with another infected machine. Because of how these infections work, they simply spread out across the drive space they can see, encrypting whatever data that can be found, regardless if it is on the machine that was initially infected.
What about my data?
If your machine has fallen prey to a ransomware attack, there’s not a whole lot that can be done with the files that were encrypted. Creating new files without removing the underlying infection is a fool’s errand, as they will quickly become encrypted as well.
After coming to terms with the fact that your data has been encrypted, you will find yourself in the middle of an ethical quagmire. If you pay the ransom that is demanded, you will most likely get your files back; however, you’re actively giving these attackers what they want, which is your money. There’s also no guarantee that by paying, your files will be restored; however, if people didn’t get their files back by paying the ransom, why would people continue to pay? If you don’t pay the ransom, you will lose access to all of your files, some of which may be irreplaceable. This is probably one of the most difficult decisions you will make after an infection.
While we can’t tell you one way or the other to pay the ransom or not, one thing that makes it extremely easy to rebound from is the availability of recent backups. If your backups are good, it is far more palatable to format your machine and reinstall the operating system than it is to pay the ransom. There are a few older variants of ransomware that can be decrypted by special software; however, these versions aren’t found in the wild much anymore for that very reason.
How can I protect myself?
There are many different steps you can take in order to help ensure that your machine doesn’t fall victim to a ransomware attack. Below you will find some of the best practices we have to offer:
Back up your data frequently on an external hard drive AND in the cloud. One set of backups is very rarely going to provide you with 100% coverage, either due to timing differences between when you back up your data and what you’re working on, drive failures, or infection of files in your backup.
If you network computers in your home or office make sure that each machine has its own set of backups. Most ransomware infections can not only infect drives that are connected directly to the infected machine, but also the drives of machines that are connected to the same network as the infected machine.
Always disconnect physical backup drives from your machine when not in use. If you constantly have your backup drive plugged in, there’s a strong chance that the ransomware can find and encrypt files on your backup drive.
Don’t ever download from a site that tells you that something is outdated on your machine. Websites aren’t able to detect outdated software or drivers unless you give them access to your machine. If you think that you have outdated software, download the latest version directly from the publisher’s website.
Practice caution when downloading files of any kind, even if it’s something that your grandmother sent you. Many variants of ransomware will send out emails to logged-in accounts with copies of itself attached. Always make sure to save files to your machine before running them, and always scan those files with your antivirus and antimalware scanners.
Keep your antivirus and antimalware scanners up to date with both the most recent versions of the programs themselves and the most recent versions of the detection databases. You should also take this practice a step further and make sure to keep your operating system up to date as well, as many attacks rely on exploiting bugs that have already been patched.
Leave macros in Microsoft Office disabled if you do not use them regularly, and do not turn them on if you don’t. One of the most common attack vectors of ransomware is to have unknowing victims turn on macros in order to “fix” a document that appears to be corrupted. In actuality, once the macros are enabled, the dropper begins its work.
Don’t give yourself (or other users) more login power than you need. Having administrator rights to your machine is definitely something most people overlook. Unfortunately, if a ransomware infection sees that you have administrative access, it makes the computer much easier to infect.