4 Signs You’ve Been Hacked

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Being hacked is a huge fear of most computer users.  Many believe the first sign of strange behavior or errors on their PC is a sign hackers have taken control.  But are hackers really inside your machine, stealing your information? Or should you be on the lookout for more subtle signs?  What does being hacked really look like?

There is an important distinction to make between being hacked by a person and being infected with a virus or malware. Virus software and malware are automated processes designed to damage your system, steal your data, or both.  There are of course ways that you can defeat these processes, but what if you are instead hacked by an individual?

Logins not working

One of the first steps a hacker might take would be to change the computers passwords.  By doing so, not only do they ensure future access to the account, they prevent you from accessing the system to stop them. For the hacker, this is a crucial step that keeps them in control.  With this in mind, you always want to make sure to keep on top of our own login details and how often you change them.

Security Emails or Texts from online services

Many services track which device and location you logged into your account from last.  If your account is accessed from a new device or a different country it might trigger an automated email or text message to ask if this new login is your own.

If you have logged in using a new computer, tablet, or phone; an email that asks “hey, is this you?” need not be cause for alarm.  If you haven’t, it may be time to investigate further. This service is an important part of information security. It may be a key first step to identify someone else gaining access to your account.

Bank accounts missing money or strange transactions

Most commonly today, hackers commit crimes to steal money. The end goal for hackers is typically to profit from their crimes by taking money from people online.

It always pays to keep a regular eye on your financial transactions to make sure you know what money is coming and going from your account.

You may see a large sum missing where hackers have attempted to take as much as they can in a single transaction.

Alternatively small, hard to notice transactions may appear.  These often account for small purchases where attackers have tested the details they have to make sure they work.

Sudden loss of cellular connectivity

Network interruption is a symptom that few people expect but occurs commonly when hackers attack. Many banks and online services use a security feature known as Two-factor authentication.  To do this they send a short code to your phone or app when you log in.  Two-factor authentication is ideal in most cases and a great boost to security.

Hackers can try to work around this by calling your mobile service provider to report your phone as lost or stolen.  During this call, they will request your phone number be transferred to a new sim card that they control. When your bank sends its regular two-factor authentication code to the number registered, it goes instead to the hacker who may be able to log in.  From your perspective phone service will simply stop working.

Keeping vigilant and maintaining security

These are only some of the modern techniques that hackers can try to use to gain access to your accounts.  It pays to pay close attention to the signs and signals that indicate you may have been hacked.

If you suspect that you might have been hacked, or would like help to prevent hackers in future, give me a call at (828) 290-8237.

How to Stay Safe from Scams and Malware on Facebook

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At last count, Facebook has clocked up over 2.7 billion users, which makes the platform more attractive than ever for scammers and hackers. While you may be logging in to share your latest family photos or catch up with friends, the chances of accidentally triggering a scam or malware are increasing daily. Here’s how to stay safe on Facebook and stop the spread.

Look out for freebies and surveys

Everybody loves a freebie and for the most part the competition posts on Facebook are legitimate. On the flip side though, when you see a giveaway for vouchers from a mega-store, alarm bells should ring. ‘Do this quick survey and we’ll send you a $50 Amazon Voucher!’ – it’s too good to be true. Even one click can take you on a messy journey through the underbelly of the web, picking up trackers and malware at every stop and at the end, you’re asked to share the post so your friends can get a voucher too…except nobody ever gets the reward.

Check your permissions with games and quizzes

Whenever you access a new game or quiz, you’ll need to give permissions for it to access your Facebook profile. Most people click the okay button without any thought, but if you review the permissions you’re giving, you’ll often find they’re asking for a massive amount of personal data; public profile, friend list, email address, birthday and newsfeed. Do they really need ALL this information? Sometimes the shakedown is from necessity, but sometimes the apps are preparing to launch attacks against you both on and off Facebook. For example, when you call your bank they ask certain questions like your full name, birthday and maybe which high school you went to. All that information is in your Facebook profile and now shared with your permission.

Don’t friend people you don’t know

Having lots of friends is always nice, but that friend accept could end up costing you. It might be someone pretending to know you, or a picture of a pretty girl to entice men (and vice versa). Once you friend them, they get access to everything your friends can see. In this case, it’s more than the risk of someone knowing your personal data, you’ve just given them intimate access to your life. It’s exactly how romance scams start, and there are even cases where the victim finds photos of their children circulating the internet.

If it’s weird, forget it

It doesn’t happen very often, but hackers find ways to take advantage of flaws in Facebook. A common hack that keeps popping up in various forms is to embed malware in a link. The virus then infects your machine and contacts all your friends with an enticing message, like asking whether a picture is of them. When they click to view the picture, the virus catches them and their friend list, and so on. Facebook is pretty good at staying on top of these flaws, but they need time to fix it. Just like if you got a weird email with an attachment from a friend, use that same level of scrutiny in your Facebook and don’t open messages or links that seem out of place.

Need help securing your privacy? Call me at (828) 290-8237.

How to Tell if Your Computer Has a Virus?

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Sometimes computers do strange things that ring alarm bells and make us dive for cover. Next thing you know, you’re running scans on repeat and demanding everyone come clean about their browsing habits. Fortunately, not all weird occurrences are caused by viruses – sometimes your computer is simply overloaded, overheating or in desperate need of a reboot.

Here are the tell-tale signs of a malware attack:

1. Bizarre error messages

Messages popping up from nowhere that make no sense, are poorly worded or plain gibberish – especially if they’re about a program you don’t even have. Take note of anti-virus warnings too, check the warning is from YOUR anti-virus software and looks like it should. If a message pops up that isn’t quite right, don’t click. Not even to clear or cancel the message. Close the browser or shut down the computer instead, then run a full scan.

2. Suddenly deactivated anti-virus/malware protection

You know the best way to get past the guard? Send him for a coffee break! Certain viruses are programmed to take out the security systems first, leaving you open to infection. If you reboot and your protections aren’t back on the job, you are more than likely under attack. Attempt to start the anti-virus manually and you’ll know for sure.

3. Social media messages you didn’t send

Are your friends replying to messages you never wrote? Your login details might have been hacked and your friends are now being tricked into giving up personal information or money. Change your password immediately, and advise your friends of the hack.

4. Web browser acting up

Perhaps you’ve noticed your homepage has changed, it’s using an odd search engine or opening/redirecting unwanted sites. If your browser has gone rogue, it’s definitely a virus, usually one intended to steal your personal or financial details. Skip the online banking and email until your scans come up clear and everything is working normally again.

5. Sluggish performance

If your computer speed has dropped, boot up takes an eternity and even moving the mouse has become a chore, it’s a sign that something is wrong. But not necessarily a virus. Run your anti-virus scan and if that resolves it, great. If not, your computer likely needs a tune-up or quickie repair.

6. Constant computer activity

You’re off the computer but the hard drive is going nuts, the fans are whirring, and the network lights are flashing like a disco? It’s almost like someone IS using the computer! Viruses and malware attacks use your computer resources, sometimes even more than you do. Take note of what’s normal, and what’s not.

Got a virus? Give me a call at (828) 290-8237.

6 Simple Tips to Protect Your Customer Data

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As cyber-attacks continue to make headlines, hackers are exposing or selling customer data files in record numbers. But just like with any threat, there are actions you can take to minimize risk and ensure your business retains a positive reputation among customers.

1. Stop using the same password on repeat. Set a mandate for all staff that passwords must be unique for each user and for your workplace. That means it can’t be remotely like the one on their home PC, tablet or online banking. Passwords are hacked more than ever, so when you’re prompted for a password change, dig deep and really think about what goes into a hacker-proof password. If remembering them is a problem, consider one of the latest password management tools.

2. Go on a shredding spree. How much sensitive data is being dumped into the recycling bin? Valuable customer data is often taken from the bins of small businesses and quickly sold or published. Take 5 seconds to run documents through the shredder or book in the services of a secure shredding company.

3. Ditch the accounting spreadsheets. Still using an Excel doc for all your number-crunching? Besides making your accountant’s job harder (and more expensive), you’re opening your business to a massive range of vulnerabilities. Even with password-protection, spreadsheets aren’t designed to safeguard your financials or those of your clients. Upgrade to a proper accounting solution with built-in customer data protections and security guarantees.

4. Train staff explicitly. You can’t rely on common sense because what you think is a given might be news to someone else. It can be extremely beneficial to hold special data-safety training sessions once or twice a year as a reminder, as well as take the time to induct new staff into the way things are done.

5. Limit access to data. Just like the bank manager who guards the keys to the vault, you can limit who accesses your data. Revoke employee access as soon as they leave your business for good, and set rules around who can access what – and when. Do they need access to sensitive information while working from home? Should they be able to change the files, or only view them?

6. Keep your software updated. Possibly the most preventable hack, having outdated software can be an open invitation for cyber-criminals. They look for known weaknesses in business software and waltz right in. While the nagging pop-ups and reminders to update can feel like a selling ploy, they’re actually helping your business to stay in the safe zone. Updated software gives you protection against new viruses and hacking techniques, plus closes off those nasty weaknesses.

If you would like to make sure your business is secure from data breaches, give me a call at (828) 290-8237.

143 million Customers Exposed in Financial Data Breach

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Credit reporting company Equifax has just revealed that its databases were hacked in a large-scale breach affecting millions across the US, UK & Canada. While no hacking event is ever good news, some are easier to ignore than others – this isn’t one of them. The sensitive nature of the exposed data now requires immediate action for all those even possibly affected.

The short version: Equifax is one of the three main organizations in the US that manages & calculates credit scores. To do that effectively, they have access to almost every piece of financial data for adults in the country, plus pretty much anyone who’s lived/worked in the US. We’re talking social security, tax file numbers, drivers’ license, credit card numbers…the big stuff. On July 29, Equifax disclosed the breach, stating that hackers had repeatedly gotten in through a vulnerability in the web application from mid-May to July of this year.

If you’re an Equifax customer: As scary as all that sounds, what’s done is done. Equifax, cyber-security experts & law enforcement officials are on the case, working to minimize the long-term damage.
The best action now is to protect yourself against fallout:

1. Go to: http://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com and click on the button that says “Check Potential Impact” to see if your data may have been affected. There was some news that this site was delivering random results, but Equifax announced it has been corrected. At this stage, it’s safest to assume everyone with a credit history has been impacted, so unless that link gives a definite ‘no you’re safe’ response, continue with the following recommendations.

2. Claim the Equifax free year of credit monitoring & identity theft insurance (if you’re a US resident). If you’re not eligible, consider sourcing your own. As the hacked data will continue to circulate for some time, also consider extending your credit monitoring for a few more years.

3. Keep a close eye on your finances and accounts. Check for notifications of new credit applications, monitor your statements and bills, and immediately report any suspicious activity or sudden change in billing.

4. Change all your passwords to be strong, unique and long. Any of the stolen data may give hackers a free pass into the rest of your bank accounts, email and personal information.

5. Add two-factor authentication where possible. This is when an account demands a second layer of authentication before allowing access or changes – getting the password correct isn’t enough, the hacker would also need to get the special code sent by SMS.

6. Consider freezing your credit report. This makes it harder for identity thieves to open accounts under your name, as access is completely restricted until you choose to un-freeze.

Need help with your passwords? Give me a call at (828) 290-8237.

4 Simple Tips to Keep Your Internet Banking Safe

online-bankingOnline banking has boomed in the past few years to become the new norm. Branches are out and apps are in. Some banks now steer you towards a computer for a DIY transaction – with optional assistance.  But is internet banking really safe? You’re always told to keep your financial details private, but now also to jump on board the online banking train – talk about a push/pull scenario! The good news is you CAN bank safely online with a few simple precautions.

Always type in the website address

Many attackers will attempt to trick you into clicking a fake link to your bank website. Usually sent as a ‘phishing email’, they’ll claim there’s a problem and ask you to click through to your bank and correct it ASAP. The link points to a fake website that looks almost exactly like your real bank site and is recording your private account info. You can avoid scams like this simply by accessing your bank by manually typing in the website or using a bookmark.

Avoid public computers and networks

Jumping onto a PC at the library or mall might seem like a quick and easy way to check your account, but public computers are often targeted by scammers. In just a few moments, they can install keyloggers to record usernames, passwords and other private data, then sit back as all future user details are emailed to them. The same problem applies with free, unsecured Wi-Fi. You’re better off using an ATM or a data-enabled smartphone.

Use a strong password with 2- factor authentication

Create a unique password for your online banking, something you’ve never used anywhere else. Mix up words, numbers and symbols to create a complex password that can’t be guessed easily. Avoid giving attackers a head start with data they can find on Facebook, like kids names, pet names, birthdates, etc and really think outside the box. And never keep it in your wallet, on your phone or laptop computer. If remembering is likely to be an issue, you might like to consider a secure password manager app. Many banks will also help boost your security with two-factor authentication, sending random codes to your phone (or a special LCD device they provide) to verify any activity.

Check page security before entering data

Finally, take a micro-second to spot the small padlock icon before you enter any data. You’re looking for a padlock appearing as part of the browser itself, not just an image on the webpage. It will be either in the bottom corner or next to the URL. The address will also start with httpS:// instead of http://. If you don’t see these things, the page is NOT secure and you shouldn’t log in.

 

Need some help securing your system against scammers? I can help. Call me at (828) 290-8237.