Lonely hearts still waiting for their soulmate are easy prey for online dating scams.
Many people search for love through online dating sites, dating apps, or social media. Unfortunately, before you find your prince (or princess), you have to eliminate the frogs.
“Romance” scammers, sometimes referred to as “sweetheart” scammers take advantage of vulnerable people, especially divorced women over 40, by posing as an eligible romantic prospect.
How romance scams work
It all starts with a fake online profile. Scammers may use a fake name or steal the identity of a real person. There is often more than one person perpetuating the scam – there have been reports of a room full of people working from the same script. Often they portray their fictional selves as living overseas or on active duty in the military. This gives them a good reason for why they cannot meet their intended in person.
Romance scams are a long form of social engineering. The scammer can take weeks building an interesting backstory that draws their victim in, but they often express strong emotional feelings in a short period of time, which keeps the victim psychologically engaged. They use words filled with love, share personal information, and sometimes even send their victims small gifts.
Once trust is established, the scammer will push to take the communications to email or an instant messenger service. The new online lover will soon have a problem which requires money to fix. It could be a personal emergency like a family member who needs immediate medical attention, or some kind of financial hardship like a failed business or street mugging.
Yesterday, we walked you through a set of our 2016 predictions in regards to home router security, wearables and the Internet of Things. In addition to these important topics, mobile threats are not something that should be ignored as we move into 2016.
“Most people don’t realize that mobile platforms are not really all that safer or immune from attack then desktop platforms,” said Ondřej Vlček, COO of Avast. “Most people use mobile devices in a more naive way then they use a PC because they just don’t understand that this is a full blown computer that requires caution.”
Hackers have done their homework to prepare for the new year
Over the course of this year, we’ve seen a list of notable mobile threats that jeopardized the privacy and security of individuals. Our own mobile malware analyst, Nikolaos Chrysaidos, has a few ideas about several issues that could crop up in the new year:
Diamond rings and an Audi R8 can be mine just for the simple actions of liking and sharing on Facebook. NOT!
In the past week, three fake giveaways have come across my Facebook newsfeed – two of them today! These were shared by otherwise intelligent friends, so that makes me think all kinds of other people are falling for the scam. I’m sharing these with you, so you’ll know what to look out for.
Each scam promises that you could win a valuable prize just by liking and sharing the post. This one is for an Audi R8 V8, and every time I’ve seen it, it’s originates from a different page. The instructions are always the same – for a chance to win, you must like the page, request your desired color in the comments, and share the post with your friends.
This type of social engineering scam is called like-farming. It is designed to gather many page likes and shares in a short amount of time, and since Facebook’s algorithms give a high weight to those posts that are popular, they have a high probability of showing up in people’s newsfeeds. Scammers go to all this trouble for two purposes: The pages can later be repurposed for survey scams and other types of trickery that can be served to a large audience. And pages with large numbers of fans can be sold on the black market to other scammers with creative ideas.
The major theme of this week’s Mr. Robot episode revolved around vulnerabilities. As much as we sometimes try to deny it, we all have weaknesses. Cybercriminals, being the intelligent people they are, unfortunately often use their smarts for evil. They know that it is human nature to have weaknesses since no one is perfect, and they exploit these weaknesses using a tactic called social engineering.
“People make the best exploits”
Whether directly or indirectly, humans and the software they create can be exploited via their weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
FSociety penetrates Steel Mountain, E Corp’s data security center, by exploiting human weaknesses. We first see this happen when Elliot exploits Bill Harper, a sales associate at Steel Mountain, by dismantling his self-worth and telling him that no one in his life really cares about him. Elliot then requests to speak to someone who matters and Bill, disheartened and humiliated, calls his supervisor.
To FSociety’s surprise, Trudy comes instead of Wendy, the supervisor they were expecting and were prepared to utilize to get into the next level of Steel Mountain. This slightly throws off FSociety for a few seconds, but they make a quick comeback by doing a bit of online research. They learn that Trudy’s weakness is her husband and use a Linux distribution called Kali to send her a text message appearing to be sent from her husband saying that he is in the hospital. I researched more about this tool and found out that when using it, it is possible for anyone to spoof SMS and make messages appear as if they are from a number the recipient knows — a trick that is also employed in fraud emails.
The interesting thing about this, though, is they say they do not have Trudy’s number, just her husband’s number. Yet, they type her number into the program to send the message.
This article is a re-print from the April 1, 2015 edition of Silicon India.
Security threats are evolving quickly, making it difficult to pinpoint just one threat that is currently affecting small and mid-size businesses.
From the threats we have observed in the past and the ones we anticipate for the future, we have learned that while malware can be damaging to businesses, so can human decisions. This makes it vital for small and mid-size business owners to discuss possible threats with their employees and share basic IT guidelines with them, but more importantly, to implement a strong security solution that holds up dangers before they become a real threat.
Taking Advantage of Human Nature: Social Engineering
Hackers understand that it is human nature to make mistakes, which is why they often turn to social engineering. Social engineering is a tactic that tricks people into revealing their personal information, like log in details, or into performing actions, like downloading malware disguised as an attachment or link.
Phishing emails are a popular form of social engineering that can easily sneak their way into your employees’ inboxes, disguising themselves as yet another offer, promotion, or even customer, if you do not have anti-phishing protection. Phishing campaigns come in many forms; they can either use scare tactics to make people believe they are in trouble or that they have won a prize.
In the last few months we have seen Trojans like Pony Stealer and Tinba make their rounds. Both Pony Stealer and Tinba attempted to convince people they owed money and to download an invoice, which was of course not an actual invoice, but a Trojan.
Falling for phishing scams can have devastating effects on businesses; they could not only steal personal information, but also attack Point of Sale (PoS) systems to steal customers’ financial information, thus not only affecting the business itself, but its clients as well.
Lack of security awareness: Beneficial for hackers, bad for your business
Not taking proper security precautions, like choosing weak passwords or ignoring security updates, is another human flaw cybercriminals like to abuse to access accounts and networks. To gain control of a system, hackers can enter common or weak passwords or simply look up hardware’s default administrative log in credentials.
Malware authors like to play hide-and-seek. Hiding executable files inside PDFs and Microsoft Office documents then emailing them as attachments are nothing new, but sometimes one layer isn’t enough. This Avast Virus Lab analysis peels back the layers of a new threat.
Malware authors continually surprise us with their creativity. In an effort to trick banking customers into revealing the login credentials for their online account, cycbercrooks are using the trust people have in Microsoft Office to make them execute banking malware on their own computers. Here’s how it works:
Typically, spam emails contain executable files that can harm a victim’s computer and steal private information. In the layered version, they have PDFs or Microsoft Office documents attached that contain a malicious executable file. We recently found an email that had an added layer and decided to analyze the email.
The email, disguised as a financially-related message from a legitimate company, informed the recipient that an invoice was due and had a PDF file attached. Embedded inside the malicious PDF was a Microsoft Office document and simple java script that dropped and executed the DOC file.
Inside the DOC file we found malicious macro code, which users must activate, as the code is disabled by Microsoft Office by default. The code obfuscates DOC files by creating new documents with unique methods names, variable names, and URLs, making it difficult to detect the malicious files.
When we analyzed the malicious macro code, we found some hints that helped us with our analysis. In this sample it was a function called MICHEL.
We already knew this function would open the URL with the malicious file, and when we found this function in one of the modules, we were able to find the download path.
The address is stored as a GUADALUPE variable. The URL is unique for each sample and leads to the download of a malicious PE file.
The PE file would act as an information stealer, stealing login credentials from banking sites like
- Santander, whose principal market is in the Northeastern United States
- Ulster bank, based in Ireland
- From Google accounts
How to protect yourself from banking malware
Our number 1 recommendation is keep your security software updated. Avast streams hundreds of updates every day to your devices, so you will stay protected. For example, the executable file downloaded by the malicious Microsoft Office document belongs to a banker family evolved from infamous Zeus. This variant is also known as a Dridex Botnet. At the time of writing this post, the botnet is still active, but the malware itself is inactive. Avast detects it as Win32: Pierre-A.
Clever cybercrooks use social engineering to manipulate their victims. Use extreme caution when opening emails related to your finances until you can verify the legitimacy.
Samples related to this analysis:
Fake Flash Player updates fool Facebook users.
Facebook users have fallen victim to a recycled scam, and we want to make sure that all of our readers are fore-warned. Cybercrooks use social engineering tactics to fool people into clicking, and when the bait comes from a trusted friend on Facebook, it works very well.
Here’s how the scam works – your friend sends you an interesting video clip; in the latest iteration you are tagged and lots of other friends are also tagged – this makes it seem more trustworthy. The video stops a few seconds in and when you click on it, a message that your Flash Player needs to be updated for it to continue comes up. Since you have probably seen messages from Adobe to update your Flash Player, this does not raise any red flags. Being conscientious about updating your software, as well as curious about what happens next in the video, you click the link. That’s when the fun really begins.
The fake Flash Player is actually the downloader of a Trojan that infects your account. Security researcher Mohammad Faghani, told The Guardian, …” once it infects someone’s account, it re-shares the clip while tagging up to 20 of their friends – a tactic that helps it spread faster than previous Facebook-targeted malware that relied on one-to-one messaging on Facebook.”
How to protect yourself from Facebook video scams
Don’t fall for it. Videos that are supposedly sensational or shocking are also suspect. Be very cautious when clicking.
Does your friend really watch this stuff? If it seems out of character for your friend to share something like that with you, beware. Their account may have been infected by malware, and it’s possible they don’t even know this is being shared. Do them a favor and tell them about it.
Be careful of shortened links. The BBB says that scammers use link-shortening services to disguise malicious links. Don’t fall for it. If you don’t recognize the link destination, don’t click.
Use up-to-date antivirus software like Avast Free Antivirus with full real-time protection.
Report suspicious activity to Facebook. If your account was compromised, make sure to change your password.
In June 2014, we told you about mobile ransomware called Simplocker that actually encrypted files (before Simplocker, mobile ransomware only claimed to encrypt files to scare users into paying). Simplocker infected more than 20,000 unique users, locking Android devices and encrypting files located in the external storage. Then, it asked victims to pay a ransom in order to “free” the hijacked device. It was easy to decrypt the files affected by this variant of Simplocker, because the decryption key was hardcoded inside the malware and was not unique for each affected device.
Dangerous unique keys
But now there is a new, more sophisticated variant of Simplocker in town that has already infected more than 5,000 unique users within days of being discovered. The reason why this variant is more dangerous than its predecessor is that it generates unique keys for each infected device, making it harder to decrypt infected devices.
To use an analogy, the original variant of Simplocker used a “master key” to lock devices, which made it possible for us to provide a “copy of the master key” (in the form of an app, Avast Ransomware Removal) to unlock already infected devices. The new variant however, locks each device with a “different key” which makes it impossible to provide a solution that can unlock each infected device, because that would require us to “make copies” of all the different “keys”.
Why would anybody install Simplocker?!
The reason why people install this new variant of Simplocker is because it goes undercover, meaning people don’t even realize that what they are installing is ransomware!
In this case, the new variant of Simplocker uses the alias “Flash Player” and hides in malicious ads that are hosted on shady sites. These ads mostly “alert” users that they need Flash Player installed in order to watch videos. When the ad is clicked on, the malicious app gets downloaded, notifying the user to install the alleged Flash Player app. Android, by default, blocks apps from unofficial markets from being installed, which is why users are notified that the install is being blocked for security reasons.
Users should listen to Android’s advice. However, users can go into their settings to deactivate the block and download apps from unknown sources. Once installed, a “Flash Player” app icon appears on the device and when it is opened the “Flash Player” requests the user grant it administrator rights, which is when the trouble really begins.
As soon as the app is granted administrator rights, the malware uses social engineering to deceive the user into paying ransom to unlock the device and decrypt the files it encrypted. The app claims to be the FBI, warning the user that they have found suspicious files, violating copyright laws demanding the user pay a $200 fine to decrypt their files.
What should I do if I have been infected?
We do NOT recommend you pay the ransom. Giving into these tactics makes malware authors believe they are succeeding and encourages them to continue.
If you have been infected by this new strain of Simplocker, back up the encrypted files by connecting your smartphone to your computer. This will not harm your computer, but you may have to wait until a solution to decrypt these files has been found. Then boot your phone into safe mode, go into the administrator settings and remove the malicious app and uninstall the app from the application manager.
Avast protects users against Simplocker
Avast Mobile Security protects users against both the old and new variant of Simplocker, the new variant is detected as: Android:Simplocker-AA.
A more technical look under the hood:
As the fake FBI warning is being shown to users, the malware continues working in the background, doing the following: Read more…
[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.
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.