A few weeks ago in Toronto, Chelsea Clark and her boyfriend were snuggling in their own home watching Netflix together on his laptop. This sounds very similar to what lots of people do to relax at home in the evening. What makes this story stand out is that someone was in the room with them.
Turns out that the next day when Clark looked at her Facebook page, she saw intimate images of herself and her boyfriend from the night before sent from an unknown person. The person, identified as Mahmoud Abdul in Cairo, Egypt, uploaded the pictures with a message that said “Really, cute couple [sic]”. The pictures were apparently taken from the laptop’s webcam.
This type of story is not new. This past March, a young man turned himself into the FBI and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for the computer hacking of Miss Teen USA, Cassidy Wolf. He watched her through her computer’s webcam for months, and took intimate photos of her in her own bedroom. He then attempted to blackmail her, asking for money for not posting the videos and photos.
Some sophisticated viruses hide when you turn on your computer (also known as booting up your computer), and even antivirus software like Avast, with its boot-time scan feature, can be prevented from seeing it. If you believe your computer is infected with a virus, the first step you should take is to download and install Avast Free Antivirus and run an entire system scan. If for some reason you are unable to do that, and you have exhausted all other alternatives, like asking our support team for help by submitting a request online at http://www.avast.com/support, then you can create an Avast Rescue Disk that will scan, detect, and remove most malware. This bootable version of Avast attacks a virus from outside of your computer system, catching it before it hides or camouflages itself.
You can create the Avast Rescue Disk from any Avast product. All you need is an uninfected computer with Avast Antivirus 2015 installed and an empty USB flash drive (make sure it is fairly new so that it supports booting) or a blank recordable CD/DVD.
Relying on your hotel to protect you when using their free guest Wi-Fi is not a good idea.
Even the best hotel chains are vulnerable to hackers, so having a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is vital for your protection. I will tell you how easy it is to use below. But first, here’s how cybercrooks can get their victims:
One way is through buggy equipment such as the critical vulnerability discovered last March in ANTlabs’s InnGate product used by 277 hotels, convention centers, and data centers in 29 countries. The InnGate provides temporary guest access to a Wi-Fi connection. By breaking into this piece of equipment, an attacker gets full read and write access to a Linux file system and from there can launch attacks against guests on the affected hotel’s Wi-Fi.
Another tactic hackers take is to create a fake Wi-Fi network, call it something innocuous like “Hotel Guest Wi-Fi”, and lure unsuspecting victims to their rogue connection. What the hackers do is set up their own access point and hope you’ll connect to theirs instead of the public Wi-Fi network.
What do hackers want?
It depends on who you are and what information you have on your devices. For normal people with normal jobs, typically, the hacker can watch your online activity, read your email, steal your account passwords and if they go deeply enough, potentially steal your credit card information, which is the precursor to identity theft. “There is seemingly no limit to what they could do,” say the researchers who discovered the InnGate vulnerability.
Victims’ laptops or mobile devices can be also be infected with malware. Last year, the DarkHotel cyberspies gained access to the computers of high-level executives, government agencies and NGOs, and U.S. executives traveling in Asia, probably to steal nuclear secrets.
How do you protect yourself on free Wi-Fi?
Targeted advertisements based on your search history, location tracking, Wi-Fi sharing, torrent style updates – features that share too much are getting privacy watchdogs in a tizzy.
Reviewers and consumers alike are happy about the new Windows 10, but now that there has been time to read through the 45-page long consolidation of Service Agreements into one central agreement (which also covers Bing, Outlook, and Xbox Live) some data protection advocates are taking issue with certain features. The European Digital Rights (EDRi) organization summarized that “Microsoft basically grants itself very broad rights to collect everything you do, say and write with and on your devices in order to sell more targeted advertising or to sell your data to third parties.”
Sharing your business to keep yourself organized
One of the useful but controversial features in Windows 10 is a personal digital assistant called Cortana, similar to Apple’s Siri (and light years away from Clippit, Windows 95 office assistant!) Cortana can set reminders, recognize your natural voice, use information from Bing to answer questions, and of course save all that information in order to provide personalized search results, which basically means you are being profiled so targeted ads can be presented to you (Facebook and Google does that too). Cortana can be disabled and you can opt out of personalized ads.
For those of you keeping track, you can add high-tech sniper rifles to the growing list of Things That Can be Hacked. The vulnerability that allowed two security researchers to break into the computer guidance system of a sniper rifle is the same that allows hackers to access baby monitors and home routers. Simply put, the default Wi-Fi password, which was locked by the manufacturer, allowed anyone within range to connect. The typical range is up to 150 feet (46 m) indoors and 300 feet (92 m) outdoors.
In advance of the Black Hat conference this month, security researchers Runa Sandvik and Michael Auger, have demonstrated that they can hack TrackingPoint precision-guided firearms.
The TrackingPoint rifles can make a sharpshooter out of a novice. This is thanks to the computer-aided sensors including gyroscopes and accelerometers which take into account all the factors that a sniper scout would look for; wind, speed of the target, distance, snipers orientation, ammunition caliber, even curvature of the earth.
I asked Steve Ashe, a veteran of Desert Storm and Desert Shield, who collaborated closely with the sniper team what he thought about such technology. “Trained scouts and snipers must master a set of physical and mental skills that is beyond the reach of most people. This type of rifle can never replace that. Besides being crack shooters, they are in excellent physical condition, able to do complicated calculations in their heads and have mastered field craft such as land navigation, stalking and range estimation.”
One of the features of the TrackingPoint rifle is the ability to video stream your shot and share the view from the scope to another device connected via Wi-Fi. It’s this connection to Wi-Fi that turned out to be the weak point. The gun’s network has a default password that cannot be changed.
After a while, your phones and tablets accumulate obsolete files and superfluous data, system caches, gallery thumbnails, and programs. This ‘junk’ slows down your device and eats up precious storage space.
Avast Cleanup identifies and cleans unwanted files from your Android device so it will run like a champ again.
Our new free app, Avast Cleanup & Boost for Android, cleans away all the unwanted files and programs so that your device is running smoothly and quickly with storage space to spare. But don’t take our word for it.
Here’s your wrap up of security and privacy related news from the first half of July.
Every week we invite a security expert to talk us through the hacks on Mr. Robot, USA Network’s summertime hit TV show. We want to know if they are real or a Hollywood version of cybercrime? Read our weekly reviews of the hacks:
- Pilot episode 1: Are the hacks on Mr. Robot real?
- Episode 1.1: Mr. Robot Review: Ones and Zer0s
- Episode 1.2: Mr. Robot Review: d3bug.mkv
- Episode 1.3: Mr. Robot Review: da3m0ns.mp4
- Episode 1.4: Mr. Robot Review: 3xpl0its.wmv
It’s too bad that hacking is not just for TV and movies. Even trusted websites can fall victim to cybercrooks. Online shopping just got a little more risky when the largest e-commerce platform was hacked in order to spy on customers and steal credit card data.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or texting while driving is still a bigger risk to your safety on the road, but the hacking experiments conducted on technology-heavy cars might be an indicator of break-downs to come.
Two security engineers proved that a car is not just a transportation device to get from point A to point B, but a vulnerable combination of individual software systems that can be hacked.
Back in 2013, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek hacked a 2010 Ford Escape and a Toyota Prius. The two researchers demonstrated the ability to send commands from their laptop that did things like jerk the steering wheel, give false readings on the speedometer and odometer, sound the horn continuously, and slam on the brakes while going down the road.
They have done it again, this time with a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Make sure your Android phone is wiped clean before you sell it.
Every day, tens of thousands of people sell or give away their old mobile phones. We decided to buy some of these used phones to test whether they had been wiped clean of their data. What we found was astonishing: 40,000 photos including 750 photos of partially nude women and more than 250 male nude selfies, 750 emails and texts, 250 names and addresses, a collection of anime porn, a complete loan application, and the identity of four of the previous phone owners.
How did we recover so much personal data?
The problem is that people thought they deleted files but the standard features that came with their operating system did not do the job completely. The operating system deleted the corresponding pointers in the file table and marked the space occupied by the file as free. But in reality, the file still existed and remained on the drive.
Avast Software Updater helps you apply software updates.
Earlier this week, we told our readers about the three Flash Player zero-day vulnerabilities that were found in stolen files that were leaked from the Hacking Team. We advised Avast users to disable Flash until the bugs are fixed.
It doesn’t look good for Flash. Because of the continuing security problems facing the 20-year old platform, Google and Mozilla each announced this week that their Web browsers will eventually be dropping default support for Adobe Flash, and Facebook’s new security chief wants to kill Flash. For now you can still use it, but the reports of it’s death are not greatly exaggerated…