Why Setting Your Homepage Matters


Among the most underappreciated things in all of Internet security is the homepage.

In fact, it's importance goes beyond security. It affects three things:

  1. Security
  2. Speed
  3. Sanity


In this video, we discuss why setting your homepage to one specific thing is the only way to go. (And, most people have never even heard of it!)

Here's what you get:

  1. Browsers open faster.
  2. New tabs open faster.
  3. More control of your time online.
  4. huge tip-off if a specific kind of malware has sneaked past your defenses and infected your PC


We talk all the time about antivirus software, but none of 'em are perfect (as I talked about in my last post, When Antivirus Software Fails You) and showed in detail in this video exposing a banking-related trojan.

In any event, setting your homepage as we show in this video, is the way to go.




When Antivirus Software Fails You: How to Stop (and Defeat!) a Real-World Trojan & Social Engineering Attack


It isn't every day you get to see what a real Trojan or Social Engineering attack looks like.

When you do, there's seldom time to even take screenshots: you just want to get the heck out of Dodge.

But, this time, in putting together material for our upcoming free workshop, Get Secure, when I came across a real attack I was able to record it.

If you've ever wondered what an attack looks like, here's your chance to see one.

Here's the best/worst part: nothing stopped it.

  • Not our Internet Security Software.
  • Not any of our browsers' built-in malware protection
  • Not even Windows 10 built-in security.

See for yourself how it happened and what you can do to stop it.


Click the >< icon above to go full screen ^


Be the first to know about
our upcoming free workshop!


You'll get...
  1. real-world problems like this solved
  2. quick and easy-to-do PC optimization tricks
  3. how to spot (and avoid) online fraud & fake news
  4. and..
  5. real confidence in your skills behind the keyboard. Fast.

I promise you, it'll be some of the
best, most useful stuff you'll ever see.

Put in your details here to be the first notified.

[Click here to download the printable step-by-step companion "recipe" file.]
This file opens in a new tab / Window for you.



Phishing by Phone. What Are They Thinking?!


By a bit of serendipity, Josh and I each got phishing attempts in the past few days.

Granted, we get a lot of phishing and malware emails. After all, we have secret email addresses we use to intentionally collect malware and phishing attempts the bad guys are sending.

It lets us see what the latest attacks are and lets us accurately test the antivirus software against the latest threats.

What made these particular phishing attacks different was they happened by phone.

Since it was, I got to have a bit of fun with the phisher.

And, even though you might get a good laugh, hopefully, it'll help you to remember to be as wary of phone calls as you are now of clicking links in emails.

Here's what happened...

I answered the phone at my office as I usually do, "Hello, this is Kevin."

"Hi, Kevin. This is 'Ron' I'm with the Wells Fargo fraud team. We've detected unusual activity on your account.

"Have you travelled to London recently?"

Since I don't have a Wells Fargo account, the gig was up right there for him, but I decided to have a little fun.

"Oh, gosh, I'd love to go to London!" I said.

Thrown by my reply, the best he could muster was, "Yessir. And have you been there in the past two weeks?"

Fish & Chips (with a Texas Accent)

At this point, I decided to give him the best Texas accent I could muster.

"Well, let's see. I guess you might say. I have done a fair bit of travelin'. First I was—sorry, we were—in Leicester. Had a wonderful fish-and-chips at a pub richt thar.

"My wife, girlfriend, and our thirteen kids, well technically I'm not sure if four of the rugrats are mine, but after five or


six, what's another?

"Love 'em all just the same.

"So we were in Leicester, the wife, girlfriend, kids and me, when one of the kids decides to wander out of the pub. Shooooot, it musta been two in the mornin'.

"Don't know what the little bugger was thinking, so he wanders out into the street. No idea how long he was gone.

"I guess the coppers must've scared him because he wandered back in. Knees looked a bit skinned, but the girlfriend tended him, so it was no concern of mine.

"After Leicester, we made our way to Brisbane for the night. Wonderful city."

"Pert near a fortnight there and we were off to Timbuktu, which if you've never been, is a real city. Sure as shootin.'

"Good luck trading your money there though, let me tell you."

How 'bout an American Express?

"So glad I had my American Express card. Don't leave home without it, I always say. So you're with American Express you say?"

"Uh. Yessir. I am. Your travel to, uh, these places. It. Uh. It has set off fraud warnings in our system."

"I need to confirm your card is in your possession. Do you have it?"

"Oh sure. Let me dig around for it. One of the kids must've just used it for some Minecraft thing or another."

At this point I put the phone down, found some sounds online of kids playing and put the phone next to the speakers, while pretending to rustle papers around.

Those Doggone Kids

Every couple of minutes, I'd shout some obscenities with a random kids name.

Every few minutes I'd go back to the phone, apologize, and tell him to hold on just another minute.

I could tell from the exasperation in his voice, my gig was almost up, but I wasn't done with him yet.

Time for a Boston Accent & a Discover Card

Switching now to a Boston accent, I went on,

"Gosh, I'm sorry. The wife and girlfriend left a while ago for some a little shaawpping. They took one of the Ferraris and left me with awl these kids.

"I just don't know where my Discover khad is."

"Oh, that's no problem. We'll just look it up with your social security number."

Darn... Maxed out the Social Security Card, too??

"My social security number? Oh, heck, I stopped using that credit caaad years ago! Maxed that thing right out. Can we use something else?"

"Sir, your social security number isn't a credit card."

"Oh right. That thing. Haven't used it in years either. I don't think I can find it."

"You don't know your social security number??"

"Well, not since little Frankie ran over the neighbah's pet alligata back in '86. Had to get the heck out of Dawdle afta that. Moved to Canada for a couple a years.

"Let me tell you, getting fifteen kids, the wife, the girlfriend, AND the Ferraris across the border took some doing.

"Oh wait, we had the Porsches then. Air-cooled engines. Great sound.

"So, no, I guess I don't really know my social security number anymore. Isn't there anything else??"

At this point, 'Ron' was nearly in tears. It was bliss.

"Well, we could use your checking account, full name, and address. The one you use to make payments with."

"Oh, right, sure thing. Easy. Peasy."

Those Pesky Kids Are Back / The Surfer - Valley Girl Arrives...

At this point, I repeated the kids shouting / playing sounds routine and pretended to rustle through belongings and occasionally shouted random kids names again.

Upon returning, I'd gone part California surfer, part Valley Girl.

"Like. I can't find the doggone check book either. Don't that like just take the cake, dude.

"I bet those two are really going to do some damage. Last time they went out together with the Visa and my checkbook, they said they were just going for a manicure but came home with a new Ferrari.

"Love those two.

" Heck, with all the kids' puke stains on the back seat, I guess it was time, man. Thing probably had 4,000 miles on it anyway.

"You know, now that I think about it, OMG! I'm not sure if they even got manicures that day."

"Well, let's confirm the account details we do have here on file, and I can call later to get the rest of the information."

"Oh. Right. Sure."

"...your full name as it appears on your account, sir?"

"Kevin Hfuhruhurr Armani Dior Steve Stifler de la Cruz IV."

Hfuhruhurr can be a real bugger to spell apparently.

Exasperation level: 10/10.

"Street address"

"Well, we don't really have a 'permanent address', air quotes!! ...you might say...Not with like the, you know, like, alligator incident in '91 and all."

Are You Telling Me the Truth?

"Sir. Are you telling me the truth? Or are you just making things up now?" he pleaded.

"I'm telling as much truth as you are."

"OK, I guess the gig is up for both of us."

"What's a 'gig', sir?"

"In this case, it means 'scam." I said. "Let's drop the bullshit. You called me trying to steal from me. You're not my bank. You're a scammer. Where are you, someplace in India?"

The Long Silence: Part I

After considering his options, 'Ron' decided to come clean.

"Yes. I'm in India."

I pressed on, "And this call, it's a total scam, isn't it?"

"Well. I wouldn't call it that."

"Oh, right. You're from my bank. Wells Fargo, you said. Here's the funny thing: I don't even have an account there."

'Ron' went on to confess he'd been doing it for about three months, and that the money wasn't great, but it was enough to feed his family.

I asked him how he'd feel if someone stole money from his family, and they couldn't eat.

"I never thought of it that way..." he began, "The banks pay everyone back. No one gets hurt."

"Hate to burst your bubble, 'Ron,' but that's not how it works. When you take money from someone's bank account, it's a looooong process for the victim. It takes weeks to even try to get the money back.

Sometimes, the banks say, "No," and the victim loses the money.

"There's really no difference between what you're doing and a mugger on the street: YOU are a thief telling money from people."

The Long Silence: Part II

After another long silence, I added, "You can try to justify it to yourself anyway you want, but you're a thief, 'Ron,' plain and simple. Does your wife even know what you're doing."

"No. She thinks I'm in tech support."

"Huh. That makes you a thief and a liar. A liar to your own wife. If you're earning enough to make a living stealing from people, you must be pretty convincing. You must be a pretty good salesman."

"I guess I am?" he said, almost asking me if I thought he was.

The Long Silence: Part III

"I guess... I just... I don't know..." he whispered, "I don't know what to do, sir."

"Maybe you should quit this shit, stop stealing from people, and go get an honest job, perhaps in sales." I offered, "Then whether or not you come clean to your wife is up to you, but at least come clean with yourself. Get out of there, brother."

"Thank you for your time, sir."

The Takeaway

The scams are out there. They take many forms.

Sometimes phishing scams come by email; sometimes they come by fax; sometimes they come by phone or even text message.

Even if it's a phone call, fax, or text, there's no reason to trust it. Call 'em back.

And, if you think you can trust your Caller ID: don't. It's a fools errand.

"Spoofing" Caller ID so that it looks like the call is coming from a different number is trivial. Typically, scammers like 'Ron' really just need a T1 phone line.

After that, they can make the caller ID say anything they want.

In fact, in a lot of ways it's actually easier to fake a phone number than it is to setup a whole fake website to do phishing.

On top of that, nearly all email providers are actively working to thwart the bad guys and prevent their emails from getting through. When was the last time your phone company even lifted a finger to prevent a fake or harassing phone call from getting through?

Add to that, the challenge of getting by the anti-phishing filters built into most Internet Security Suites, and setting up a T1 line is downright easy.

Consider this, too: if you get a call from your bank, and there's a legitimate issue, they'll understand your concern for security, and your wish to call them back.

On the other hand, if the caller gets agitated at this suggestion, it's all the more reason to be suspicious.


How Prevalent Is Fake Antivirus Software?

Over the past couple of years, we've gotten a lot of calls and emails from people who've been infected by fake antivirus software.

I took a call myself from Joyce in Philadelphia late last week. She told me about how she had to wire money to India to get the viruses removed from her computer.

Their pitch to her? Her antivirus software (their fake software) had expired. When she called their so-called tech support number, they told her there was no way they could remove the virus without her making a payment by Western Union to renew the software for another year.

There were problems (of course) with her computer even after she paid the fees, so she was calling to see what the best antivirus software was because what she bought, she felt, sure wasn't very good.

Sure, some readers are going to say, "Why on Earth did she send a Western Union transfer to India?! What was the thinking??"

Let's put that aside for a while and ask the bigger question: Just how prevlent is this crap?

Funny thing is Kasperksy asked this question, too, in their survey/report Digital Consumer’s Online Trends and Risks.

A whopping 24% of users surveyed worldwide said they're encountered fake antivirus software with the worst three countries for "infection" being Russia (48%), the United States (34%), and the United Kingdom (28%).

What's the take-away message from this?

Well, there's more than just one:
  1. If you've seen fake antivirus software, you're not alone.
  2. Your chances are about 1 in 4 you will.
  3. Make sure you're running real antivirus software
  4. Familiarize yourself with what it's like and how it works
  5. If you're familiar with it, you're more likely to know a fake threat when you encounter it


Ask the Experts: Do I Need Antivirus Software?

Martha tapped a note out to us today that asked,
I'm 73 years old. My grand kids have been getting after me a lot lately. They want to me to put some of that antivirus software on my computer. I don't know a thing about this stuff. I don't understand why I even need it. I use my computer for email and reading the news.
Here's my reply: (with a little extra added here for clarification)

Thanks for writing, Martha.

I'm glad to hear your grandkids have been after you to get antivirus software. They're wise beyond their years. :-)

The first question here is:

Do I need antivirus software?

Since there are so many different ways a computer can get a virus, the question to ask to decide if you need antivirus software is:

What would happen if your PC got a virus?

The main risks of viruses are that they tend to be:
  1. destructive
  2. personally invasive
  3. resource thieves
The first thing is easy to understand. Viruses can delete your files.

If you have nothing of value on your PC, there's no risk here other than the time and cost for a PC shop to restore your PC and get it back into a working state.

On the other hand, if you do have things of value (real or sentimental) on your PC, maybe photos, music, emails, or the like, what would be involved in restoring those files, assuming it's possible?

As for viruses being personally invasive, it means viruses can steal your files, your data, and under the right circumstances even your identity.

Ditto here. If there's nothing of value on your PC, the risks are the time and cost of repair. If you use your computer for things like online banking, doing your taxes, or medical-related stuff, what's the risk of this information falling into the wrong hands?

The last one, resource theft, means viruses can burrow their way onto your PC and can make your computer a part of a "botnet".

Botnets are often used for sending spam, so if your PC gets sucked into a virus botnet, it's pretty likely someone would start using it to send their spams, probably without you even knowing it.

Even if there's truly no risk of data loss or theft (which isn't really the case, but assuming it is), if your computer is in a botnet, it's definitely being used for malicious purposes, something most folks don't want.

As to how you get a virus, there are a lot of ways computers get viruses. These days, the bad guys are resorting to taking over legitimate websites and using clever tricks to confuse people--or their computers--to installing their viruses.

How you get a virus is actually less important than what would happen if you got one, which is the real question to ask yourself if you're trying to figure out if you need antivirus software.


Fake Antivirus Software Showing up on Legit Websites

For a while it seemed the fake antivirus software world was going to continue growing unchecked, but as pointed out by ZDNet's Ed Bott in his piece Who killed the fake antivirus business?
The fake-antivirus business was a big money-maker in the first half of this year.

"Then, at the end of June, fake-AV products practically disappeared from the web.

"Was it technology, or does traditional law enforcement deserve the credit?
Ironically, just two weeks after his piece, uTorrent (a company offering legitimate BitTorrent software) saw their web servers hacked into and their legitimate BitTorrent software replaced with fake antivirus software.

As it turns out, the server in question, according to the geek.com piece, was only online with the phony antivirus software/malware for an hour and 40 minutes, from 4:20AM 'til 6AM PST.

A response of under two hours to identify the breach and take the server offline, especially in the wee hours of the morning, is really quite good. (Unless, of course, you downloaded uTorrent in that block of time.)

Here's what one version of the Security Shield fake antivirus software looks like:

(Notice the bad grammar in the fake software's interface, Protect your PC in new level.)

Matthew Humphries, the geek.com writer behind the story, goes on to say,
uTorrent has now apologized and managed to get their servers back online after removing the rogue files.

"If nothing else this should act as a reminder to everyone to ensure any files you download from the Internet are scanned with a reputable security scanner before being run, as clearly you can’t trust legitimate sites all of the time.
I couldn't have said it better myself.

And that, my friends, is why antivirus software is a must.

Even huge companies like Sony have suffered major break-ins in recent months, like Sony's entire Playstation Network (PSN) being taken down for weeks as a result, so even when you're downloading software from a known, trusted source, who's to say their servers haven't been compromised?


[Alert] Free "Smiley" hats & Free Vans shoes a Scam

So far over 300,000 people have been duped into "liking" a facebook page that claims to offer the first 750,000 people who like the page free "Smiley" hats and Vans brand shoes.

Here's what the junk Smiley Hat scam looks like in your facebook account:
...and here's what the fake Vans shoes scam looks like:
Sophos, an antivirus software company specializing in business-oriented antivirus software, appears to be one of the first to break the news of this latest scam on their blog with the aptly named page: "Smiley Hats Vans Facebook Scams".

Graham Cluley, who wrote the piece for Sophos sums it up, saying,
...do you really believe that you are going to be sent a smiley hat?

"And who is this un-named company that is planning to ask 750,000 people for their name and postal address?

"Is it possible they are planning to do anything else with that information if you hand it over to them?

And what - seriously - are the chances that they are going to spend the money shipping that many hats to people who don't even know what brand it is that they are promoting.
Here's my $.02.

If it's legit, how are they planning to collect mailing addresses for that many people?

Think about it. Seven hundred fifty THOUSAND people.

Let's assume the mailing cost alone is $2/hat, we'll be optimistic.

You're talking about 1.5 *million* dollars just in mailing costs. Oh, and what brand is being promoted? Who's footing the bill for mailing the hats?

And we haven't even talked about the technology required to track that many addresses, link them to facebook accounts, and ensure everyone has been mailed one (but not several! hats) as it's going to take days--or even weeks--to get everyone to send in their addresses for the hats.

Oh, yah... and what about the cost of the hats themselves?

Even if they're $1 a piece to make, you're still talking about another $750,000 in costs. All with no mention of a brand behind it.

Methinks there's a rat in here somewhere.

As for Vans, Cluely says they're already disavowed the promotion for free shoes with this post to their official Vans Europe facebook page,

What should I do

If you've already liked either of these scams, do yourself--and your friends--a favor and at least "unlike" them. No reason to help the scammers get any further in their ploy to get your personal information.

Next, pay attention to your inbox. There's little question these scammers are looking to get at your email address to send you spam, phishing, and even spear-phishing emails.

Pay attention to what you click in your inbox. Think about what you're clicking on and who might have really sent that email to you.

And, let's remember: Facebook really is an incredible site with a whole world inside. The problem is, there is a whole world inside, good people and scammers alike.

Just because you're "surrounded" by friends in facebook, doesn't mean you get to check your street smarts at the [login] box.

The bottom line here: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Thanks and credit to Sophos and Graham Cluely for the find and the screenshots.


Fake Security Software Scammers Nabbed by FBI

By now most of us have seen the scareware, fake antivirus software (like MacDefender), and other scams that play on people's fears.

In nearly all cases, the ads look like legitimate error messages from our computers; in one case it was a fake hard drive failing ad that was made to look like a real error message from Windows.


Whatever the case, and whatever they look like, there will be a few less of them now since in no less than twelve countries (including the U.S. and the U.K.), the FBI and other local law enforcement folks, have raided and shut down one of these malware/scareware gangs.

The BBC has some details of the FBI raid on fake security software gang, but the FBI's own press release has even better info on how they disrupted international cyber crime rings distributing scareware.

Here are some of the best details,
The first of the international criminal groups disrupted by Operation Trident Tribunal infected hundreds of thousands of computers [emphasis mine] with scareware and sold more than $72 million of the fake antivirus product over a period of three years.

"The scareware scheme used a variety of ruses to trick consumers into infecting their computers with the malicious scareware products, including web pages featuring fake computer scans.

"Once the scareware was downloaded, victims were notified that their computers were infected with a range of malicious software, such as viruses and Trojans and badgered into purchasing the fake antivirus software to resolve the non-existent problem at a cost of up to $129.

"An estimated 960,000 users were victimized by this scareware scheme, leading to $72 million in actual losses.

"Latvian authorities also executed seizure warrants for at least five bank accounts that were alleged to have been used to funnel profits to the scam’s leadership.
The most important part of this quote is, The scareware scheme used a variety of ruses to trick consumers into infecting their computers with the malicious scareware products, including web pages featuring fake computer scans.

Which means the bottom line is that this is not a case where a worm or virus is spreading itself onto people's computers.

Instead this is an old-school con job. Plain and simple.

And, they were good at it, too, given that nearly a million people fell for it.

This type of malware is very, very, very difficult for regular antivirus software to detect, but it is one place where Internet Security Suites and "Premium" versions can offer an advantage.

The ISS/Premium versions typically include malicious website filtering/blocking, so often if you try to go to one of the malware sites when you're running Internet Security Software, the Security Suite can often help protect your PC from infection when someone tries to trick you into installing scamware onto your PC.

No, website filters aren't perfect, but between the website filtering in an ISS and your web browser--assuming you're using a good, modern browser and it's malicious site filters are turned on--you do at least stand a fighting chance.


MacDefender Screenshots... So Here's What it Looks Like

Joel Esler, one of the members of the Snort.org project has excellent coverage of MacDefender and its variants. It's from May, but I just came across it today, and it's so good it's worth sharing.

There have been a couple of different variations on the infection method that MacDefender uses, which I've shown in previous blog on MacDefender removal and on MacDefender spreading on Facebook.

Joel's wrap-up to the piece is great and worth reading. To paraphrase:
  1. Buy software from reputable places you go to
  2. Buying software from a popup window just isn't smart
  3. Educate yourself on what's out there and how to tell
Think the last one is hard? Consider this:

If you were walking down the Las Vegas strip, you'd know a conman from a mile away! When some huckster approaches you with his wares, you get leery--you know better than to deal with them.


You've educated yourself.


Apple Releases MacDefender Removal & Prevention Tools

Although it took longer than most Mac users would like, Apple finally released a security update designed to remove (and thwart installation of) MacDefender and its similarly named brethren.

Getting the update is a cinch, even if you're unfamiliar with OSX. Here's how:

  1. Click the Apple logo and choose "Software Update"

    You'll then see a window pop-up identical to this one:

  2. Click "Show Details" (alternately, you can skip ahead and just choose "Install" as shown here)

  3. If you choose "Show Details", you'll want to look for "Security Update 2011-003" as shown here:

    After which you'll want to click "Install [number] item(s)"
    Once you have, you'll see:

    Followed by a confirmation that the update was installed...

    Followed by one last check to ensure there aren't any more updates...
    And finally, you'll get a confirmation that your software is up-to-date.

Now what?

OK, so you've installed the MacDefender Removal & Prevention tool.

How do you know if you've got the malware? And, how do you know if it was removed?

Here are some more screenshots to help you see what OSX is supposed to do now that the MacDefender Removal/Prevention tool is installed.

First of all, let's talk about what you'll see if your Mac has been infected with MacDefender.

Let's be honest, if you see that error message appear, there shouldn't be any confusion, right?

You'll notice the only option here is to hit "OK." There's no other option to get tricked into clicking, and you'll also note that the OS detected and removed the malware on its own.

In other words, there was nothing to buy and nothing to run. It just worked. Great.

MacDefender Prevention

The next thing to be on the lookout for whether or not you've been infected is what to look for so that you don't get hit with this thing.

If you do accidentally download the file, you should expect to see this warning:

Interestingly, Apple choose to leave "Open" as one of the possible options. This is great for those of us in the antivirus field, and as crazy as it may seem, some people will click "Open" instead of "Move to Trash."

Sometimes it's accidental. Sometimes it's intimidation about doing the wrong thing. Sometimes it's just clicking away at things hoping to make boxes like this go away. And, sometimes it's outright stupidity.

It happens. We're only human.

So, the last tidbit of insight I can shed on things here is this: Make sure your "Automatically update safe downloads list" is checked as shown here.

You can find it under "Apple > System Preferences > Security > General."

[Editor's Note: Alternately, you can also get the update to remove MacDefender to install it manually, too.]