Friday, January 27, 2012

Hacker Therapy Session 1: Everything CMOs need to know about Phishing and RATs

After last week's hacking incident (read my previous post), I have been consulting a shrink. Well not quite a shrink, he is actually my digital strategist. The incident made me reflect on how important security is in an online world. You know after something bad happens to you, you feel like you need to understand what, why, how it happened just to help you get over it? So I began my quest to understand everything about online security (well, just enough to never be duped again...)

I am no online security expert, but this is what we crowd sourced from the hundreds of tips put forward by my Twitter community and of course Google. If you have any more ideas to add to this, please add on the comments section so we can create a collective list which can help others as well.

Currently, the top three methods of hacking into personal accounts are: Phishing, Recovering and Password Decryption (cracking). In this first of 3 postings, I will cover Phishing because that's how it happened to me.

Phishing has been around for a long time. It is inflicted using a fake request for a fake call to action from a website link, subsequent to which the hacker will implant a keylogger or a RAT (Remote Access Tool) using a virus onto your system.

Keyloggers can virtually record every key you press, thereby making a note of all your probable password combinations and feed it back to the hacker. But it is slightly difficult for the hacker since he/she has no knowledge on which keys were pressed for which action and hence will need to spend considerable time in running all the permutations and combinations. Good news is keyloggers are unable to retrieve bank pin access codes from the computer.

A RAT is far more dangerous, since it has the ability to video tape every action you undertake on your computer along with all the keys you type, thereby giving the hacker a perfect video image of the exact keys you pressed when entering your Facebook account password or worse still the bank PIN you submitted while making your last online transaction.

Imagine a keylogger with a hidden webcam...Well that is what a RAT is. What makes it even more frightening is that once you have unknowingly downloaded it into your system , you will not know that it is there since like most other viruses it does not slow down your machine. It will start recording every time you start your machine and some hacker far away will have a premiere show viewing on video of what exactly you do on your computer.

If you hated RATs before, its time to declare war on them now!

Things not to do thereby:

RATs or keyloggers can only be implanted when you download a file. So

  • Don’t fall for mirror websites. Often you can come across sites which look almost exactly to the site you visit regularly. But there are telltale signs- changes in graphics/ resolution etc. For any site which requests your personal information ensure that it is the real one and not a duplicate mirror. This is what happened to me. I entered my ID and password off my mobile phone on what I thought was a Twitter login page. It wasn't.
  • Don’t download any file from any site that looks weird

  • Don’t download any file or extension from any source that you don’t trust

  • Don’t download software updates that you have not called for from the official site

  • Don’t let third party applications run on your machine if you are not 100 per-cent sure of what they are and whether you really need them

  • Don’t undertake online transactions on sites which you don’t trust

  • Don’t download content (music/ movies/ softwares et all) from dubious looking sites. This is more important for those who use file sharing p2p systems. In many cases after you have downloaded the pirated version of Lady Gaga’s newest album, you will find that the file is not working or corrupt. What you will not know is that in all probability a virus has been implanted into your system

Things to do:

  • Apart from the antivirus that came with your computer, you can try running regular scans using anti malware specific tools. These while not 100 per-cent accurate are better in finding out viruses/Trojans than the regular antivirus that we use on our machines. Just ensure you buy from a trusted vendor who specializes in Malware detection. Am not specifying any, but you can Google it and there are many choices.

Hope this was helpful! If you have additional insights, please leave a comment. It will benefit the broader community!

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