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Criminal Mind Games

Created: 05 Dec 2012 • Updated: 18 Dec 2012 • Translations available: Français, Deutsch, Español
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Attacks using malware – eg, malicious software embracing everything from computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware adware and other malicious programs –have reached epidemic proportions. Ask around your office now, or your social networking friends, and someone will have experienced such an event or know someone who has.

Have you been hit, for example, by the Dorkbot worm?  It caused havoc for untold numbers of Facebook and Twitter users, and has since been socially engineering Skype users into downloading the malware, whose payload includes a mechanism to lock down machines.

It delves through an infected Skype user's contact list and sends out the message: ‘Lol is this your new profile pic?’ in English and a similar greeting in German. Clicking on the link opens a .zip file that contains ‘skype_02102012_image.exe’. So far, so bad. Unzipping the file then opens a backdoor and installs the Dorkbot worm. The victim's machine is then enlisted into a botnet and files may also be held hostage until a $200 payment is made within 24 to 48 hours. Similar malware made the rounds within the past year on social networks Facebook and Twitter, as well as through IM channels and USB drives.

It all adds up to a need for absolute vigilance when you access any site. But how safe can you ever really be? One worrying trend is that criminals are installing malware on PCs before they even reach consumers, according to Microsoft. Its researchers in China investigating the sale of counterfeit software found malware pre-installed on four of 20 new desktop and laptop PCs they bought for testing. They found forged versions of Windows on all the machines.

These are extreme cases, of course, and hopefully ones of a severity you will never have to face yourself. If you stick to these two golden rules – if it looks too good to be true it probably is, and anything suspicious should be deleted immediately – you are well on the way to staying out of the danger zone.

When it comes to apps on the move, you can usually tell if malware is present on your mobile device if you notice decreased battery life (because there is something running in the background) or an increase in data use (as the malware transmits data from the phone). It is also important to keep your apps and the device up to date, as criminals will use vulnerabilities in the apps or the device in order to hack into your phone. If you detect suspicious apps/services running, try to find more information about it. If you don’t use it, remove it from your phone.

Phone settings can be changed to prevent installation of content that isn't from trusted sources. Also, your phone should notify you before downloading any app to ensure you are restricted from unwanted activity. Make sure you auto-lock your phone and have a strong password, in case it is lost or stolen. This can help keep your personal data private. Another good practice is disabling the ‘Wi-Fi auto connect’ feature, so your phone will only connect to previously recognised Wi-Fi networks.

Just like spam email, you have to be careful about following links sent from contacts within your address book. It is also very important to follow the same security advice to navigate the Internet using your phone, since you will be exposed to the same risks. Take into account that a malicious site that you browse can exploit a bug in your phone and install malware in the background. Be careful with sites that want you to install new software as well.

It goes without saying that apps should only be downloaded from trustworthy sources – but does it? Time and again, people are downloading apps on the spur of the moment because they sound good or ‘seem’ to be from a reliable source However, you could come to regret a download made in haste. Search around the web, or ask friends/your IT expert at work what they know about a programme or app before you execute a file. Read any reviews and ratings from other users to be sure the app is not malware. And remember that even well-known mobile stores can fall prey to malicious apps.

For more information on how to keep your apps safe, visit this blog post:

For more information on website security download the Symantec website security threat report.