Category Archives: phishing

More phishing leaks into Gmail

I’ve been a Gmail user since its beginning in 2004. Unlike Yahoo! email, Gmail has historically done an exemplary job of blocking spam and phishing.

Until this year.

New forms of phishing are evading Google’s filters: the first is what I call the “invoice scam,” where the sender emails an attachment claiming to be an invoice. I surmise that either the attachment has malware embedded in it, or they are hoping that I will pay the invoice by sending money to who-knows-where.

Another form of phishing I’m seeing a lot (several each day) are emails in which the entire contents of the message is a single image. The image claims to originate from a major retailer such as Home Depot, Ace Hardware, and others. I’m told that I have been selected to win a product of some sort. Like the invoice scam, I’m certain that clicking the image will take me to a watering hole attack, a page where I’ll be asked for login credentials or payment information.

I don’t doubt that Google will figure out how to block these types of phishing messages. But the senders are not going to give up so easily. We must continue to be on our guard and practice the principles of incoming emails:

  • Be wary of emails from people you don’t know.
  • Be wary of emails from people you DO know that are out of character.
  • Confirm the message through independent means (NOT a reply).
  • Do not be curious and click, just to see what happens next.

Crypto Purchase Scam

Over the past three weeks, I’ve received several invoices through PayPal for alleged purchases of cryptocurrency. One such invoice is shown here.

Recent PayPal invoice

I don’t have a PayPal account, and I have not been in contact with this seller, so my natural inclination is to consider this a scam.

The email actually originated at PayPal, per the SMTP and DKIM headers, and the View and Pay Invoice link actually goes to

Protect your Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping with a quick PC tune-up

Before embarking on online shopping trips, it’s worth the few minutes required to make sure your computer does not enable the theft of your identity.

Tens of thousands will have their identities stolen in the next few weeks, because malware was able to help steal valuable information from you such as credit card numbers, online userids and passwords. A few minutes work will go a long way towards preventing this.

That, or you can do nothing, and potentially have to take days off of work to cancel credit cards, write letters, get credit monitoring, and get back to where you are right now with perhaps forty hours’ work.

It’s up to you.


1. On your PC, connect to .  Go through the steps required to check that all necessary security patches are installed.

Note: If you are able to connect to Internet sites but are unable to successfully install updates at, your PC may already be compromised. If so, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to rid your computer of malware. Delays may be very costly in the long run.

2. To eliminate the need to periodically visit, confirm that Automatic Updates are properly set. Use one of the following links for detailed instructions (all are Microsoft articles that open in a new window):

Windows XP | Windows Vista | Windows 7 | Windows 8 (automatic updates are turned on by default)

Note: If you are unable to successfully turn on Automatic Updates, your PC may already be compromised. If so, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to rid your computer of malware. Delays may be very costly in the long run.

3. Ensure that your PC has working anti-virus software. If you know how to find it, make sure that it has downloaded updates in the last few days. Try doing an update now – your anti-virus software should be able to successfully connect and check for new updates. If your Internet connection is working but your anti-virus software is unable to check for updates, it is likely that your PC is already compromised.

Note: if any of the following conditions are true, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to make sure your computer is protected from malware.

a. You cannot find your anti-virus program

b. Your anti-virus program cannot successfully check for updates

c. Your anti-virus program does not seem to be working properly

Several free anti-virus programs are worthy of consideration: AVGAvastZone Alarm Free Antivirus + FirewallPanda Cloud Anti-VirusI cannot stress enough the need for every PC user to have a healthy, working, properly configured anti-virus program on their computer at all times.

New Year’s Resolutions: safer Internet usage

Celebration of the New Year is a time of looking back at the closing year and looking forward to the new year. This is often a time when we set new personal goals for improving our lives in meaningful ways.

Given how much we all use personal computing (you do if you are reading this), all of us can stand to make one or more improvements in our computing hygiene, making us safer and better off.

This article contains categories of ideas that you can choose from. Read through these and decide which of them will be best for you to adopt as a resolution.

Home computing

  • Back up your data, so that you can recover it in case of theft, disaster, or other loss.
  • Keep your anti-virus working and healthy.
  • Configure your computer to automatically download and install security patches.
  • Use an online virus scanner to scan your computer, in case your install anti-virus misses one.
  • Use different user accounts for each family / household member.
  • Use OpenDNS to help prevent visiting phishing sites.
  • Use OpenDNS to restrict the types of sites that can be visited from your home (or office) network.
  • Tune up your home firewall (which may be in your DSL router or cable modem).
  • Use different passwords for each online site you log in to; use a password vault to remember your passwords.

Safe smartphone usage

  • Choose a good unlock password for your smart phone. If you insist on using numeric only, use 8 or more digits.
  • Set your smartphone auto-lock to 15 minutes or less.
  • Keep track of where your smartphone is at all times.
  • Install a “find my smartphone” app to discover its location if lost or stolen.
  • Do not save any passwords on your smartphone.
  • Limit your access to sensitive / valuable information (e.g. online banking) from your smartphone, especially if it is Android.

Protecting your identity

  • Keep your anti-virus working and healthy.
  • Check your credit report at least once per year (or, more ideally, every four months by checking your credit report for a different bureau each time).
  • Be conscious of where and how you provide personal information (name, address, date of birth, etc.) to online sites.
  • Resist the urge to click on links or documents in suspicious looking e-mail messages. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is a scam.
  • Carefully review all financial statements from banks and credit cards. Consider closing some accounts if you have too many.
  • Get a home safe or use a bank safe deposit box to store valuables such as passports, birth certificates, seldom-used credit cards, and other valuables.
  • Use a home shredder to shred documents containing sensitive or personal information.

If you feel you need to starting doing all of the above, I suggest you choose the few that are most important and establish them as good habits. Then, return to this list and choose a few more to implement. If you attempt to make too many changes at once, you might become frustrated by all of the changes and revert back to your old ways.

Social media safety during the holidays

The late-year holidays (Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas) are known for travel, visiting with friends and family, and gift giving and receiving. Any time of year is a time for sharing some details of our lives with others through social media outlets such as FaceBook, Twitter, MySpace, and personal blogs.

During this time of year, it is especially important that you protect yourself from online threats, some of which are caused by others, and some of which are caused by you! Follow these steps to keep your property and your online presence safe during the holidays:

Don’t announce your travel in advance. If you post something like, “leaving home for Philadelphia for five days”, you are announcing to the world that your home may be vacant for extended periods of time, inviting burglaries.  Make your posts more vague, such as “spending Christmas with brothers and parents”, which might be where you live, or not.

Don’t gloat about your gifts. Similarly, if you talk about your new Kinect,  Wii, or iPad online, you may be sharing news of your loot with too many outsiders. Instead, be more discrete and share news about your new things more privately.

Limit FaceBook exposure. Check your privacy settings in FaceBook. Consider setting up one or more groups of family and friends, to limit how wide your announcements are sent. My wife and I have “immediate family”, “family”, and other groups of highly-trusted individuals with whom we may share things about travel, gifts, and other personal matters, so that the entire world doesn’t know that we might not be home at the moment.  Similarly, limit the FaceBook applications that you allow to access your personal data. Some FaceBook applications are malevolent and are designed to steal your information and use it against you.

Get a security tune-up. Follow easy steps to ensure that your anti-virus and firewall are working, and that your patches and browser are up to date. Do this before you shop online, to limit the chances that your credit cards will be compromised.

Secure your home Wi-Fi. Find the instructions to improve the security of your home router or Wi-Fi access point. Change from no security to WEP, or better yet, WPA.  While WEP is not as secure these days, it’s better than nothing. WPA or WPA2 are far better, and most PCs (and even gaming consoles) supports WPA and WPA2 these days.

Limit use of public Wi-Fi hotspots. From road warriors to housewives, we roam with our laptops from hotspot to hotspot at our favorite coffee shops and other public venues.  While it’s okay to check the news and get shopping information, it is not okay to check e-mail, log on to FaceBook or Twitter, or perform high-value activities such as online shopping from an open WiFi hotspot. Easy to use tools are widely available that permit even the unskilled to hijack your session and compromise your personal information.

Check your credit. U.S. consumers can check their credit three times per year for free (once per year for each of the three credit bureaus). Check your credit report carefully, looking for any accounts that you may not have opened, or for changes in accounts you may not have authorized.

Use a separate online shopping credit card. Rather than using your primary credit/debit card for online shopping, open a second account and use only that one. Keep a low balance to minimize your exposures.

Choose “credit” when using debit/credit cards. Whenever you are making purchases with your debit/credit card, choose “Credit”. Then, if your credit card number is later compromised, you may enjoy additional protection (such as the $50 liability limit) on your account. Many banks do not offer the same protection for compromised debit card numbers.

Include safe computing in your list of New Years Resolutions

Bookmark This (opens in new window)

The New Year is a time of reflection, and traditionally a time to consider changing one’s habits.

Our reliance upon computers and networks has exceeded our means to safely use and control them. Every computer user has some responsibility to make sure that their computer and use of the Internet does not introduce unknown and unwanted risks. By following these recommendations you will greatly reduce your risk to fraud, identity theft, and other risks related to Internet usage.

1. Change your passwords. Use strong passwords, which cannot be easily guessed by others, even those who know you. Do not share your password with any other person. If needed, store your passwords in a protected vault such as Password Safe or KeePass. I recommend you not use an online vault for password storage: if their security is compromised, so are your passwords.

2. Scan for Viruses and other malware. Configure your anti-virus software to scan your entire computer at least weekly. Make sure that your anti-virus software is checking for updates at least once per day. Also scan your computer with one of several online virus scanners at least once per month.

Panda: (look for the ActiveScan link on the home page)


Trend Micro:



3. Block spam, and don’t open spam messages. The majority of spam (unwanted junk email) is related to fraud. Spam messages advertise fraudulent or misleading products, or lure you to websites that contain malware that will attempt to take over your computer (without your knowing it) and steal valuable information from you.

4. Get a firewall. If you use Windows, turn on the Windows Firewall. Ask your broadband service provider to upgrade your modem/router to one that contains a firewall (most newer modems / routers do have firewalls or other similar protection).

5. Remove spyware. Obtain a good anti-spyware program and use it to find and remove spyware from your computer.

6. Update your software. Obtain up-to-date copies of browsers and tools on your computer, as many older versions are no longer secure. This includes Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, Java, and other programs.

7. Install security patches. If you are using Windows, turn on Automatic Updates, and configure it to automatically download and install security patches and updates.

8. Use separate accounts on shared computers. If more than one person uses your computer, set up separate accounts for each user. Make each user an ordinary user or power user, but never an administrator. Making each user an administrator makes the entire computer more vulnerable to malware (viruses, etc.).

9. Browse Safely. Change to Firefox and use the NoScript add-on. This is the only combination designed to block the new “clickjacking” vulnerability present in all other browsers. Also consider using Flashblock (works only with Firefox) if you want to control the use of Flash content in your browser.

10. Protect your wireless WiFi network. The old an still-common “WEP” protocol designed to encrypt your wireless traffic has been broken, and is no longer safe. Upgrade to WPA, even if it means buying a new wireless access point.

11. Back up your data. All kinds of bad things can happen, from mistakes to hardware failures. If you cannot afford to lose your data, then you need to copy it to a separate storage device. External hard drives and high capacity USB thumb drives cost well below US$100. You’ll be glad you did, sooner or later.

12. Encrypt your hard drive. Mostly important for laptop computers, but also important for desktop computers. The TrueCrypt tool is by far the most popular one available, and it’s free. If you don’t encrypt your data, then anyone who steals your computer can (and will) read all of your private data.

13. Check your credit reports. Fraud and identity theft can result in thieves opening new credit card and loan accounts in your name. They run up a balance and then never pay the bill, making that your problem instead. Consider a credit reporting service as well, which will alert you to inquiries and changes to your credit accounts, limits, and balances.

Federal Trade Commission information on free credit reports




Recommended Tools:

Secunia Personal Software Inspector – free tool that examines your computer and alerts you to all of the unpatched and older versions of programs that need to be upgraded.

Password Safe – safe and secure storage of all of your Internet passwords. Also remembers userids and URLs.

NoScript – the only way to control third-party javascript and clickjacking. Works only with Firefox.

TrueCrypt – safe and free encryption of your PC’s hard drive.

ETrade: phishing or not?

Bookmark This (opens in new window)

Financial institutions are very in tune with the phishing threat and how it can damage their brand.

Or are they?

I received this e-mail from ETrade yesterday.  I’m a security expert and I recognize spam and phishing. I had to look this one over a few times to distinguish whether it was real or not.

This isn’t helping customers. Instead, it’s training them to respond to *real* phishing mail by making phishing and real messages indistinguishable.

Here is the spam – um, I mean, e-mail:

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Special Pricing Expiration Notification

Your discounted commissions on stock and options trades will expire in 7 days.

You can still get extraordinary value when you trade with E*TRADE. We customize our commissions(1), making it easy to qualify for our best pricing.

If you have any questions, please call 1-800-ETRADE-1 (1-800-387-2331) or log on to your account at and contact us through the Help Center.

View our current commission schedule (


1. For details and additional information about our trading commissions and options contract fees, please visit

(c) 2007 E*TRADE Securities LLC, Member NASD/SIPC ( All rights reserved. The information contained in this Smart Alert does not constitute a recommendation by E*TRADE Securities, and is subject to the Smart Alerts Terms and Conditions ( and the E*TRADE Securities Customer Agreement ( We cannot respond to e-mails sent to this mailbox. If you have questions, please contact us through the Help Center (

ETrade teaching its customers to respond to phishing scams

ETrade is teaching its users to respond to phishing scams. I am an ETrade customer, and last week they sent me the message below.

ETrade isn’t helping its customers by sending messages like this, because it makes it all the more difficult for customers to distinguish genuine messages from phony ones.

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Thu Mar 13 14:48:00 2008 – Account Service Fee
Dear PETER ,

Account #: XXXX-nnnn

On 03/26/08, your E*TRADE Securities account will be charged a $40 Account Service Fee (ASF) (
If your account does not have enough funds to pay for the fee, E*TRADE Securities may sell securities in your account to cover the charge.
If you have questions about your account, call 1-800-ETRADE-1 (1-800-387-2331) or send a secure e-mail through the Help Center ( (To call from outside of the U.S., dial +1-678-624-6210).
Learn how to avoid incurring an Account Service Fee (

Review all the ways you can deposit money (
The E*TRADE FINANCIAL family of companies provides financial services that include trading, investing, cash management, and lending.
Securities products and services are offered by E*TRADE Securities LLC, Member FINRA(

(c) 2008 E*TRADE FINANCIAL Corp. All rights reserved. The information contained in this Smart Alert is subject to the Smart Alerts Terms and Conditions ( We cannot respond to e-mails sent to this mailbox. If you have questions, please contact us through the Online Service Center (

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