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25 Fellows for 25 Years: Jose Perez Alegre

2010_25th_timeline_web_images-23As we celebrate our 25th anniversary, we’re paying tribute to the women and men who helped build the success story that is F-Secure. You can experience that story here and help us fight malware in our anniversary arcade game.

Today we speak to Jose Perez Alegre — Senior Researcher, Anti-malware Technologies in F-Secure Labs.

Where were you 25 years ago?

I was in Madrid eating hundreds of Marie biscuits, according to my mother, and watching the children’s program “Sesame District”. At that time, I already started my Judo lessons, my belt was yellow-white and I was one of the strongest, I guess because of the amount of biscuits (: .

What’s surprised you most since you’ve joined F-Secure?

Definitely, the people. There are and there have been many professionals I had the luck to work with and share ideas along the years. Without a doubt, the most valuable asset of this company, hardworking people, motivated and eager for new challenges and innovation.

What’s your favorite piece of technology?

At the moment, I’m pretty happy with my new yellowish Nokia Lumia. I’m just learning about its inner workings to start playing with it. Maybe not the conventional “playing with your phone”, but as you may know already, the F-Secure Labs is full of geeks, cool ones.

What F-Secure memory is most irreplaceable to you?

The day I first came to see the office and join the sauna session. It was with a group of students from the University where we were attending a course being taught by F-Secure, as it does still today. That day, I made a couple of “tricky” questions during the presentations which ended up with the later visit to the office some weeks later to start the interview process, a very productive day.

How will the world be different in 25 years?

Hopefully still exciting. In my opinion, the advances and innovation in science, technology and medicine will let humanity to live longer, better and be connected to each other, physically or virtually, like never before. Energy, water, food and the environment will become more critical problems yet to solve, until then and beyond. And I hope, we will know by then what dark matter is?

What’s your 25th birthday wish for F-Secure?

Live long and prosper.

25 Fellows for 25 Years

Mikko Hypponen – 1991
Jyrki Airola — 1994
Pekka Usva — 1995
Kim Englund — 1996
Pirkka Palomäki — 1997

Ilkka Ranta — 1997
Veli-Jussi Kesti — 1998
Taneli Virtanen — 1999
Kalle Korpi — 2001
Mike Graham — 2001

Johan Jarl — 2002
Miska Repo– 2004
Cord Stukenberg — 2005
Morgan MacDonald — 2006
Suh Gim Goh –2010

Harri Kiljander — 2010
Orestis Kostakis — 2010
Pratima Potturu — 2010
Eric Wang – 2011
Ines Finisie – 2011

Timo Laaksonen — 2012
Gianni Pintonello — 2012
Wille Miljas — 2013

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Kids need better protection – An open letter to developers and decision makers

Tuesday February 9th is Safer Internet Day this year. An excellent time to sit down and reflect about what kind of Internet we offer to our kids. And what kind of electronic environment they will inherit from us. I have to be blunt here. Our children love their smartphones and the net. They have access to a lot of stuff that interest them. And it’s their new cool way to be in contact with each other. But the net is not designed for them and even younger children are getting connected smartphones. Technology does not support parents properly and they are often left with very poor visibility into what their kids are doing on-line. This manifests itself as a wide range of problems, from addiction to cyber bullying and grooming. The situation is not healthy! There are several factors that contribute to this huge problem: The future’s main connectivity devices, the handhelds, are not suitable for kids. Rudimentary features that help protect children are starting to appear, but the development is too slow. Social media turns a blind eye to children’s and parents’ needs. Most services only offer one single user experience for both children and adults, and do not recognize parent-child relationships. Legislation and controlling authorities are national while Internet is global. We will not achieve much without a globally harmonized framework that both device manufacturers and service providers adhere to. Let’s take a closer look at these three issues. Mobile devices based on iOS and Android have made significant security advances compared to our old-school desktop computers. The sandboxed app model, where applications only have limited permissions in the system, is good at keeping malware at bay. The downside is however that you can’t make traditional anti-malware products for these environments. These products used to carry an overall responsibility for what happens in the system and monitor activity at many levels. The new model helps fight malware, but there’s a wide range of other threats and unsuitable content that can’t be fought efficiently anymore. We at F-Secure have a lot of technology and knowledge that can keep devices safe. It’s frustrating that we can’t deploy that technology efficiently in the devices our kids love to use. We can make things like a safe browser that filters out unwanted content, but we can’t filter what the kids are accessing through other apps. And forcing the kids to use our safe browser exclusively requires tricky configuration. Device manufacturers should recognize the need for parental control at the mobile devices. They should provide functionality that enable us to enforce a managed and safe experience for the kids across all apps. Privacy is an issue of paramount importance in social media. Most platforms have implemented good tools enabling users to manage their privacy. This is great, but it has a downside just like the app model in mobile operating systems. Kids can sign up in social media and enjoy the same privacy protection as adults. Also against their parents. What we need is a special kind of child account that must be tied to one or more adult accounts. The adults would have some level of visibility into what the kid is doing. But full visibility is probably not the right way to implement this. Remember that children also have a certain right to privacy. A good start would be to show whom the kid is communicating with and how often. But without showing the message contents. That would already enable the parents to spot cyberbullying and grooming patterns in an early phase. But what if the kids sign up as adults with a false year of birth? There’s currently no reliable way to stop that without implementing strong identity checks for new users. And that is principally unfeasible. Device control could be the answer. If parents can lock the social media accounts used on the device, then they could at the same time ensure that the kid really is using a child account that is connected to the parents. The ideas presented here are all significant changes. The device manufacturers and social media companies may have limited motivation to drive them as they aren’t linked to their business models. It is therefore very important that there is an external, centralized driving force. The authorities. And that this force is globally harmonized. This is where it becomes really challenging. Many of the problems we face on Internet today are somehow related to the lack of global harmonization. This area is no exception. The tools we are left with today are pretty much talking to the kids, setting clear rules and threatening to take away the smartphone. Some of the problems can no doubt be solved this way. But there is still the risk that destructive on-line scenarios can develop for too long before the parents notice. So status quo is really not an acceptable state. I also really hope that parents don’t get scared and solve the problem by not buying the kids a smartphone at all. This is even worse than the apparent dangers posed by an uncontrolled net. The ability to use smart devices and social media will be a fundamental skill in the future society. They deserve to start practicing for that early. And mobile devices are also becoming tools that tie the group together. A kid without a smartphone is soon an outsider. So the no smartphone strategy is not really an alternative anymore. Yes, this is an epic issue. It’s clear that we can’t solve it overnight. But we must start working towards these goals ASAP. Mobile devices and Internet will be a cornerstone in tomorrow’s society. In our children’s society. We owe them a net that is better suited for the little ones. We will not achieve this during our kids’ childhood. But we must start working now to make this reality for our grandchildren.   Micke

February 8, 2016
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Want to Know how Adblocking Works?

Adblocking made waves last summer after Apple announced that it would bake content blocking capabilities into iOS 9. Content blocking lets users filter out content that they don’t want to load, and in this case, it worked with Apple’s Safari web browser. And there’s one kind of content that typically irritates people more than anything else – ads. So Apple’s content blocking capabilities swiftly lead to adblocking on iOS devices, with many companies developing these apps to help secure and improve people’s web browsing experience. This includes F-Secure, who released a free adblocking app last September. Now, F-Secure Labs has written up a brief whitepaper explaining, in detail, how F-Secure Adblocker works. Without getting into too much detail, F-Secure Adblocker basically checks for information about web traffic with F-Secure Security Cloud (a cloud-based service that powers many of F-Secure’s security products). If F-Secure Security Cloud is able to identify the source of web traffic as an advertising server, it lets Adblocker know, and Adblocker can filter out the advertising content, leaving you with the information about sports, news, business, or whatever else you’re browsing for. Using Adblocker also speeds up your browsing, protects you from malvertising, and saves bandwidth for those of you trying to save money on your data plans. Not bad for a free app. Plus, it all operates in accordance with F-Secure’s Privacy Principles. F-Secure can’t connect the information about your web traffic with anything else about you, so you don’t have to worry about sharing information with companies looking to exploit your personal data. The paper is a quick easy read and gives you a comprehensive breakdown about how Adblocker works, so it’s worth checking out if you’re interested in learning how products being ad free can improve your web browsing experience. [Image by Chris Schmich | Flickr]

February 5, 2016
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Mikko Hypponen

Mikko Hypponen’s Malware Hall of Fame

Mikko Hypponen is one of the world’s most prominent cyber security experts. Described as a “virus hunter” in a Vanity Fair profile called “The Code Warrior”, Hypponen has spent nearly 25 years with F-Secure protecting people from computer viruses, worms, trojans, and other types of malware. In 2011, Hypponen travelled to Pakistan to meet the men behind the first known PC virus – Brain.A. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnedOWfPKT0&w=560&h=315] The Brain virus was released in January of 1986, making January 2016 the 30th anniversary of this milestone in malware history. I thought it would be interesting to reach out to Mikko and ask him about other families of malware that standout as being noteworthy. So here’s Mikko’s list of some of the most infamous malware families (including viruses, worms, trojans, etc) that’ve pestered, frustrated, and even extorted computer users over the past few decades. 1990 Form – Form was a common computer virus identified in 1990, and for several years, was arguably the most prominent computer virus in the world. Spread through 3.5” floppy disks, it infected millions of computers throughout the world, and is possibly one of the most widespread viruses in history. 1992 Michelangelo – Michelangelo earns a place on the list for being the first truly global virus scare. It was named after the famous artist because the virus remained dormant until March 6 (the artist’s birthday), when it would awaken and overwrite sections of infected hard disks, thereby making the information inaccessible and the computer unusable. The virus was never particularly prominent compared to some of its contemporaries, but its destructive nature and subtlety helped spread Michelangelo Madness throughout the globe. 1995 Concept – Concept was the very first macro virus – a type of virus that infects applications such as Microsoft Word. It was a very prominent security concern in the mid-nineties, and even though it was successful in propagating itself organically during this time, it hasn’t been seen in over a decade. As the first macro virus, it was notable in that it spread by hiding itself as a Word doc and then infecting computers as those documents were shared. By using Word, it could use both Windows PCs and Macs to spread infections, as the software could run on both platforms. 1999 Melissa – Melissa, supposedly named after an exotic dancer, was a computer virus that sent infected Word documents to contacts in victims’ Outlook address book. While the virus was not designed to be particularly destructive, its rapid proliferation through the Internet wreaked considerable havoc on corporate servers and infrastructure. Some accounts claim that it infected twenty percent of computers globally, and the man eventually convicted of releasing the virus into the wild admitted to causing eighty million dollars in financial losses. 2000 Loveletter – Loveletter, also widely known as ILOVEYOU, was a prominent email worm that was able to spread itself throughout the globe in a matter of hours by promising victims a little bit of love. Disguising itself as a chain, love-themed email to recipients helped it quickly spread from its Filipino origin through Asia, Europe and North America. To this date, it is one of the largest malware outbreaks of all time, and responsible for an estimated 5.5 billion dollars of damage. 2001 Code Red – Code Red was the first fully-automated network worm for Windows. As in users would not have to interact with a machine in order to spread the infection. Code Red’s most infamous day was July 19th, 2001, when it successfully infected 300,000 servers. The worm was programmed to spread itself on certain days, and then execute distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on others, and was used against several different targets (including The White House). 2003 Slammer, Lovsan, and Sobig – Ok, so there’s three here and not just one. But they all occurred very close together, and unfortunately, all three were worms responsible for massive, global malware outbreaks. Slammer targeted servers so it’s presence wasn’t readily apparent to end users (save some lagging when they were attempting to access an infected server). Lovesan, however was able to infect end users running Windows ME or Windows XP, and use the infected machines in DDoS attacks. Sobig spread itself through email and network drives, and contained a trojan in order to cause more headaches for infected users. However, it appears that the trojan feature did not function as expected. These three worms infected millions of machines, and made headlines all over the world. 2004 Sasser – A computer worm that can be considered as the last large “hobbyist” outbreak. This is significant as it signaled the end of an era when most malware was written by people who were simply curious to see what the malware could do. Nowadays, malware has a more specific, insidious purpose, such as stealing information or making money. 2006 Warezov – A two-year email worm campaign perpetuated by professional criminals, Warezov gained notoriety for downloading new versions of itself from remote servers – sometimes as frequently as every 30 minutes, according to a 2006 interview with Mikko. 2007 Storm Worm (also called Small.dam) – Storm Worm was a trojan that was spread as an attachment to spam emails. But more importantly, it was a combination of complex and advanced virus techniques that criminals were able to use to make money by using infected machines as part of a botnet. 2013 Cryptolocker – A notorious ransomware family, Cryptolocker was spread through malicious email attachments, as well as the infamous Gameover Zeus botnet. Infected victims would find their hard drives suddenly encrypted, essentially locking them out of their devices and data until they paid a ransom to the perpetrators. While the FBI, in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies and security companies (including F-Secure), were able to disrupt the operation, the perpetrators were able to use Cryptolocker to extort about 3 million dollars from victims before being stopped. Other notable mentions include the 2005 Sony rootkit (for being distributed on Sony BMG CD-ROMs on their behalf), the still prominent Downadup worm from 2008 (for infecting millions, including armed forces of several countries and police departments), and the well-known Stuxnet virus from 2010 (for both its sophistication and its apparent state-sponsorship). If you want to know more about the history of computer viruses, you can check out Computer Invaders: The 25 Most Infamous PC Viruses of All Time!

January 29, 2016
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