From our headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic to our offices in the USA, Germany, China, and South Korea, all of us at Avast Software wish you love, laughter, and peace in 2015.
Looking back on 2014, we are grateful for the trust that our 220 million customers have placed in us. We thank you for your loyalty and for sharing Avast with your friends and family. We appreciate your support, your suggestions and feedback (even when it’s not so good ), the way you help others on our forum and social channels like Facebook, Google +, and Twitter, and especially when you write us with your stories of how Avast saved the day for you.
As we enter this new year, we promise to bring you the best security products for your home network, your business, your PCs, Macs, and Android devices, that we can. We will stay on top of new threats and contain the old ones that keep coming back to plague us. We will strive to keep your trust, but most of all, to keep you and your important data and hardware save from harm.
So raise your glass with us, and join us for our 2015 wish.
Peace. Love. Security. ~ from Avast
[AUDIO VERSION: This is an audio version of this blog post. Click below to listen.]
During the Christmas holidays, my mother received this email from a well-meaning friend. Since her daughter works for the most trusted security company in the world, she immediately asked me about the authenticity of the message.
Here’s the email:
Subject: VIRUS COMING !
PLEASE FORWARD THIS WARNING AMONG FRIENDS, FAMILY AND CONTACTS!
You should be alert during the next few days. Do not open any message
with an attachment entitled POSTCARD FROM HALLMARK , regardless of who sent it to you.
It is a virus which opens A POSTCARD IMAGE, which ‘burns’ the whole
hard disc C of your computer.
This virus will be received from someone who has your e -mail address
in his/her contact list.
This is the reason you need to send this e -mail to all your contacts.
It is better to receive this message 25 times than to receive the virus
and open it.
If you receive an email entitled “POSTCARD,” even though it was sent to
you by a friend, do not open it! Shut down your computer immediately.
This is the worst virus announced by CNN.
It has been classified by Microsoft as the most destructive virus ever.
This virus was discovered by McAfee yesterday, and there is no repair
yet for this kind of Virus.
This virus simply destroys the Zero Sector of the Hard Disc, where the
vital information is kept.
COPY THIS E-MAIL AND SEND IT TO YOUR FRIENDS.
REMEMBER: IF YOU SEND IT TO THEM, YOU WILL BENEFIT ALL OF US
This particular email has been around for years, and you have probably seen one of its incarnations. Although there are real incidents of malware being distributed via e-cards, this is a bogus, unsubstantiated hoax.
The language is quite strong – phrases like the worst virus and the most destructive virus ever are sure to get the attention of security-minded people. The problem is that the email fails to provide any authentic details to learn more about the threat, just vague announcements and classifications.
“The email doesn’t actually mention a specific virus,” said Jan Zika, an Avast Virus Lab analyst. “Sure some viruses use the “Postcard” social engineering method to trick users to click the link, but this email has been circulating for a couple of years now, and it never says which virus it is.”
The email does say what the virus can do, This virus simply destroys the Zero Sector of the Hard Disc, where the vital information is kept, and it burns the whole hard disc C of your computer. Pretty scary stuff!
“No, it cannot burn anything, and no, it is not most destructive virus ever,” said Zika. His advice? “It’s best to avoid such messages unless you can confirm that the threat is real.”
Protect yourself against email hoaxes
- Keep you antivirus protection up-to-date and scan regularly for viruses and malware. Both Avast Internet Security and Avast Premier include anti-spam filters to keep your inbox free of this kind of nonsense.
- Use caution when opening attachments or downloading files. Double check that it’s from a sender you know and trust.
- Before clicking on any links or attachments, try to verify that the email came from a legitimate source. If you can’t, then don’t click.
Earlier this month, as the Sony Entertainment breach was making headlines, Sony’s PlayStation Network (PSN) was knocked offline due to an alleged hacking attack. On Christmas morning, just as kids everywhere were unwrapping their new PlayStation and Xboxes, the PSN and Microsoft’s Xbox Live network were both disrupted leading to speculation that they were once again hacked. A group calling themselves Lizard Squad claiming responsibility for the attacks via Twitter.
As of now, PlayStation is still offline and PSN is directing users to their @AskPlayStation Twitter account for updates.
Please follow @AskPlayStation to get the latest updates as we work to restore full network functionality.
— Ask PlayStation (@AskPlayStation) December 26, 2014
Xbox Live Status reports that its core services are running, but there is limited access to apps for IGN, Maxim, and MLG.tv.
Related article: Sony PlayStation Network down due to hacker attack
2014 has been an active year for cybercrime. Let’s start with the most recent and then take a look at some of the other important security events of the year.
We are ending the year with the most publicized and destructive hack of a major global company by another country – now identified as North Korea. The Sony Entertainment attack, still being investigated by the FBI, resulted in the theft of 100 terabytes of confidential employee data, business documents, and unreleased films. It was an attack on privacy due to the theft of a massive amount of personal records, but also essentially blackmail; aiming to silence something that the North Korean government didn’t like – namely the release of The Interview, a movie depicting an assassination attempt on Kim Jong-Un.
Most of the blame for state-sponsored cybercrime in 2014 has been with Russian or Chinese hackers. Whether private or state-sponsored, these hackers have attempted to access secret information from the United States government, military, or large American companies. Recently, Chinese hackers sponsored by the military were indicted for economic espionage by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Along with the Sony breach, other notable companies that suffered from cybercrime include Home Depot, eBay, Michaels, Staples, Sally Beauty Supply, and others. A significant number of these breaches were begun months or years ago, but were revealed or discovered in 2014.
Nearly 110 million records were stolen from Home Depot; the largest ever breach of a U.S retailer. The cyber-heist included 56 million payment card numbers and 53 million email addresses.
JPMorgan Chase’s data breach impacted nearly 80 million households in the U.S., as well as 7 million small- and medium-sized businesses. Cybercriminals were able to gain access after stealing an employee’s password, reminiscent of the Target breach from 2013. This breach is said to be one of the largest breaches of a financial institution. The FBI is still investigating.
Financial and data stealing malware
GameOver Zeus, called the most infamous malware ever created, infected millions of Internet users around the world and has stolen millions of dollars by retrieving online banking credentials from the infected systems.
Tinba Trojan banking malware uses a social engineering technique called spearfishing to target its victims. The spam campaign targeted Bank of America, ING Direct, and HSBC customers using scare tactics to get customers to download a Trojan which gathered personal information.
Chinese hackers were at it again, and again, targeting South Korean banking customers with banking malware using a VPN connection. The customers were sent to a look-alike webpage where they were unknowingly handing cybercrooks their banking passwords and login information.
Many of the breaches that occurred in 2014 were because of unpatched security holes in software that hackers took advantage of. The names we heard most often were Adobe Flash Player/Plugin, Apple Quicktime, Oracle Java Runtime, and Adobe Acrobat Reader.
Avast’s selection of security products have a feature called Software Updater which shows you an overview of all your outdated software applications, so you can keep them up to date and eliminate any security vulnerabilities.
Today’s biggest threat to the normal consumer is the consumer themselves.
This bold statement was made by Avast CEO Vincent Steckler in an interview with German technology website Valuetech in Munich last week. That’s a daring position to take after this year’s revelations about NSA spying, the theft of tens of millions of customer passwords from major retailers like Target and Home Depot, the recent Sony Pictures hack, and the normal parade of Trojan horses, worms and viruses, but it’s one that Steckler stands behind.
Watch the interview here (04:00),
Mr. Steckler has good reason for his conclusion. Here’s a few of the main points he made during the interview.
Social engineering preys on human weakness
“A lot of attacks are still using social engineering techniques; phishing emails – ways of convincing the user to give up valuable information,” said Steckler.
An example of phishing emails just occurred after Black Friday, when cybercrooks sent millions of fake purchase confirmation emails to customers of major retailers. You can read about that, as well as what to do if you are a victim, in our blog, Fake confirmation emails from Walmart, Home Depot, others in circulation.
The Mac misconception
Mac users are well-known for proudly touting that they don’t use antivirus protection because they never have a problem with viruses. But, it’s really a numbers game.
“There is no fundamental difference,” Steckler says of the security of PCs and Macs. “Mac is not inherently any safer, as a technology, than Windows is. What makes a difference there is what is more opportune for a bad guy to attack.”
He explains that malware written for Windows can attack up to 93% of the world’s PCs. Mac malware only reaches 7-8% of the world’s PCs. The safety then lies in the lower numbers of Mac devices rather than a technical safety advantage.
Households networks are as complicated as small business networks
With the interconnectivity of household devices from household computers, mobile phones, TVs and even refrigerators, Steckler compares the typical household network to that of a small business.
“The central weakness in this ‘Internet of Things’ will be that home router – the thing that connects everything together,” says Steckler, “and basically doesn’t have any security on it.”
Avast 2015 seeks to address this lack in security by including the new Home Network Security scanner.
Poor Sony. They are getting it from all directions these days. On Sunday, the PlayStation Network, the online store for games, movies, and TV shows, suffered a hacker attack and was knocked offline. Visitors to the store got a message that said, ‘Page Not Found! It’s not you. It’s the Internet’s fault.’ I just visited the page, and got this same message, so reports that it was up again, were at best, temporary – at least for some of us.
Sony tweeted yesterday that they were investigating.
We are aware that users are having issues connecting to PSN. Thanks for your patience as we investigate.
— Ask PlayStation (@AskPlayStation) December 8, 2014
A group called Lizard Squad, which was also involved in a hack of Xbox Live last week as well as previous attacks on EA Games and Destiny, claimed responsibility for the attack.
During the Xbox hack, Lizard Squad promised that attacks would continue until Christmas.
This attack comes on the heels of news recently that Sony Pictures’ corporate network was infiltrated by cybercrooks which resulted in the theft of 100 terabytes of confidential employee data, business documents, and unreleased films. It was speculated that North Korean hackers were behind the attack due to the upcoming release of the movie “The Interview,” which is about an attempted assassination of Kim Jong-Un. The North Korean government denied responsibility for the attack on Sunday. The attack has since been traced to a luxury hotel in Bangkok, and is being investigated.
The two attacks appear to be unrelated.
Cybercrooks target busy holiday shoppers with phishing scheme.
After all that shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, consumers are reporting a bunch of phishing emails that look like authentic communications from poular stores. Malware-infected emails are reportedly coming from Walmart, Home Depot, Target, and Costco. The catch is these are not from the authentic merchants, but rather cybercrooks are using a phishing scheme to send fake emails with the intent to gather personal information from harried shoppers.
Millions of these emails are being sent each day, originating from more than 600 hacked websites that act as intermediaries, according to security analysts from Malcovery monitoring the attacks. This method prevented detection by causing the spammed links to point to websites that had been safe until the morning of the attack.
The messages have subject lines like this:
- Thank you for your order
- Order Confirmation
- Thank you for buying from Best Buy
- Acknowledgment of Order
- Order Status
If you receive one of these emails, don’t click on any links. Instead, visit the merchant’s website or call their customer service. Don’t give any personal information out unless you know for sure with whom you are speaking.
Signs of a fake email
Unfortunately, cybercrooks are becoming more professional with their scams, but here are a few things you can look for to tell a fake email from an authentic one.
- Poor grammar usage
- The Sender (the “from” line) may not match the merchant name
- Links in the email do not go to the real website
- There is no order confirmation number or details about the order. A real order confirmation email contains the details of your order without clicking on any links, as well as where it is being shipped and the payment method.
How to protect yourself
Walmart acknowledged that the fraudulent emails were in circulation and suggested these steps if you receive a suspicious email.
- If you actually placed an order and are suspicious about the email you received, log onto your Walmart.com order to check your order status.
- Keep your virus software updated on all your computers.
If you were a victim of fraud via the Internet, you should file a report with your local law enforcement agency along with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (ICCC). The ICCC is a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. You can make a report with the ICCC.
Some webpages are giving away free codes for Playstation Network and Steam but, are they reliable?
At Avast we discovered a lot of webpages offering free codes, with a value from $20 to $50, for Playstation Network and Steam, two of the most important internet-based digital distribution platforms. Those webpages look very suspicious so we decided to analyze them.
We chose one of those webpages and followed all the steps required in order to get our “free code” for Playstation Network or Steam.
After a first look at the main page, we found some suspicious items. To prove how trustworthy the transaction is, the webpage placed two security “certifications” in a visible location, but as we discovered, no security companies are associated with those certifications. They are completely fake!
Also, there’s a label with user ratings (4 ½ stars!), but we cannot rate the webpage; it’s just an image. Both fake images make the users think that they are in a safe and reliable website.
What happens when we click on a gift card? Are we going to receive the code?
The answer is no.
Let’s see what’s next:
When we click on a gift card¸ instead of receiving the promised free code, we are asked to share a link with our friends in order to unlock the code.
Why do they do that?
When we share the link we are contributing to an increase in the number of visitors and, of course, the number of people that will try to redeem the “free code.” Keep this in mind, it will be important at the end of this post.
Ok, we already invited 5 of our friends and, in theory, we unlocked the code. Is this the last step? Are we going to receive the code now?
Again, the answer is no.
Looks like they don’t want to give us the code. Suspicious, right? So, what do they want now?
As we can see in the image, in order to receive our PSN code, we need to complete a short survey (like inviting 5 friends wasn’t already enough?!).
When we click on one of the surveys, a little pop-up with a message appears on the top of the screen. The message says: “You must use your VALID information while filling this offer out”.
Why do they need our VALID information?
Here’s the reason:
In order to receive the code, we need to introduce our phone number – our VALID phone number. But wait, before doing that, let’s read the text at the bottom of the page.
Surprise! It’s a premium SMS service with a total amount of 36,25€/month (>$40/month)! If we enter our phone number, we will be automatically subscribed to this premium service.
Remember the 5 friends you sent the link to? Well, now imagine how many people can fall into this scam just by sharing a link to 5 friends: 5+(5*5)+(5*5*5)+… creepy, right?
And of course, there’s no free code for your PSN or Steam accounts.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of webpages using the same method to get user’s money. Also, there are other webpages offering software to generate codes. Cybercrooks create those
fake apps and get money from “download servers” because they bring
Tonda Hýža, from the AVAST Virus Lab, described those webpages as Adware due to the big amount of lies, advertisements and weird privacy policies.
Make sure you share this alert with your gamer friends J
Losing contacts from your mobile phone is highly inconvenient. There’s seems to be a solution - You can find them online! The catch? Your contacts are in a publicly accessible place.
If you care for your privacy you should always be suspicious about “Cloud Backup” solutions you find in the Google Play Store. The solution that is being analyzed here backs up your personal contacts online. In public.
Upon starting the application, you will find a screen where you can put your mobile number and a password of your choice. Then you can upload your contacts in the cloud.
A brief analysis inside this application shows us how exactly it backs up your contacts in the cloud. The contacts are associated with the phone number that you have given in the previous step and they are sent through HTTP POST requests in a PHP page.
Further analysis through IP traffic capturing with Fiddler helped usdiscover the results in the pictures above; a page located online, for anyone to see, that contains thousands of un-encrypted entries of phone numbers and passwords. Using the info in the app you can retrieve personal private data (contacts) from another user.
We found log in data inside those entries from countries like Greece, Brazil, and others
The Play Store page says that this app has been installed 50.000-100.000 times. This is a big number of installations for an application that doesn’t deliver the basic secure Android coding practices. The developer must use technologies like HTTPS, SSL and encryption on the data that are transferred through the web and stored in the server. Nogotofail is a useful network security testing tool designed by Google to “to help developers and security researchers spot and fix weak TLS/SSL connections and sensitive cleartext traffic on devices and applications in a flexible, scalable, powerful way.“
Avast detects it as Android:DataExposed-B [PUP].
#GivingTuesday is a day dedicated to give from the bounty we have received.
After the shopping free-for-all of Black Friday, the local discoveries of Small Business Saturday, and the online click frenzy of Cyber Monday, people the world over have a day for giving thanks.
On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give. ~www.givingtuesday.org
From supporting women’s microfranchises selling solar products in Nicaragua to supplying feed and services to a ranch in Arizona that helps save horses from abuse and neglect to constructing toilets in a school in West Bengal, there are a myriad of opportunities to spread your goodwill and your cash. It’s also an opportunity for cybercrooks to scam those with a generous heart.
What you need to know about charity scams
Charities and fundraising groups use all methods to solicit funds, so you could receive a phone call, a knock at your door, an email, a message via social networking sites, and even a text message on your mobile phone. Before giving your donation, carefully review a charity and ensure it is a trustworthy organization.
- Watch out for copycats. There may be hundreds of charities seeking support in the same category, and some may use a name that is similar to a better-known, reputable organization. Don’t fall for a case of mistaken identity.
- Avoid being pressured. Don’t succumb to high-pressure tactics that try to get you to donate immediately. Responsible organizations will welcome your gift tomorrow just as much as today.
- Give through a reputable, secure service. If a charity asks for donations in cash, by money wire, or offers to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect the donation immediately, then beware. A genuine charity will give you time and a secure method to make your donation.
- When in doubt, check them out. The results of a Google or Yahoo search have been known to include bogus phishing sites designed to look like a legitimate charity’s website. Just look up scams around Hurricane Katrina, and you’ll see what I mean. Charity Navigator says,
- Carefully examine the web address. Most non-profit web addresses end with .org and not .com. Avoid web addresses that end in a series of numbers.
- Bogus sites often ask for detailed personal information such as your social security number, date of birth, or your bank account and pin information. Be extremely skeptical of these sites as providing this information makes it easy for them to steal your identity.