If you’re still a Windows XP user, you’re probably singing a sad song knowing that after 12 long years Microsoft will end its support for the world’s second most popular operating system on April 8, 2014.
Microsoft warns you that if you continue to use its OS first introduced before the iPhone even existed “your computer will still work but it might become more vulnerable to security risks and viruses.” And if that isn’t enough to encourage you to upgrade or get a computer, maybe the fact that “you can expect to encounter greater numbers of apps and devices that do not work with Windows XP” will.
But given the millions of PCs running the OS and the scarce amount of time and resources many people have, some people will certainly be XP users well after its “expiration date.” If you’re going to be one of these daredevils, our Security Advisor Sean Sullivan has some suggestions.
“Folks that continue to use XP at home can do so with some reasonable amount of safety, but they absolutely need to review their Internet and computing habits as April draws near,” he told us. And he broke down 7 ways to avoid the trouble from the criminals who will surely be targeting these unsupported systems.
1) Install an alternative browser — not Internet Explorer.
2) Review the third-party software you’ve installed and uninstall anything that isn’t needed.
3) For the third-party software that you keep – consider disabling or uninstalling the browser plugins. Or at least set the browser to “always ask” what to do about things such as PDF files. (Personally, I always download PDFs to my desktop and open them from there. I don’t want the PDF viewer plugin installed, and I don’t like being in the habit of opening certain file types in my browser’s window.)
4) Have an up-to-date security product with antivirus and firewall installed.
5) Keep your XP computer connected to a NAT router, which will act as a hardware firewall. (Practically speaking, this means you shouldn’t be roaming around outside of your home with an XP computer. Don’t plug into a university network for connectivity – keep your computer at home on a trusted network.)
As you can see, living in the past may not make life easy. But if it’s your only option, you should at least try to stay as safe as possible.
[Image via Patrick Hoesly via Flickr.com]
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]
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!
Today is Data Privacy Day (or Data Protection Day as it’s known in Europe). Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you get gifts, so it hasn’t caught on in the same way as holidays like Christmas. But what you do get is the chance to take part in the conversation about how you see the boundaries that separate your public life from your personal life. So what do you have to say about this? And why is this topic so important anyway? Well, F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan posed this question to just over 1,000 people in the US and UK in 2014. While about 83% of respondents said they don’t have anything to hide (slightly more in the UK than the US), 89% said “no” (again, slightly more in the UK than in the US) when asked “Would you want to share everything about your life with everyone everywhere, all the time, forever?” [polldaddy poll=9289730] The point being – people think about privacy in different ways, and a lot of what they think is shaped by the conversations about privacy that we have. A recent F-Secure survey posed a variety of security and privacy related questions to almost 9000 people in 11 different countries. You can see the breakdown of some of the results below. When asked about whether they were concerned about data privacy, and if they changed their Internet habits as a result, many people disagreed with the statement (more Americans seemed concerned compared to other nationalities). So people are either unconcerned about their data privacy, or at least not enough to change their behavior. However, other questions focused more on particular threats to online privacy, and these responses indicated considerably more people are concerned about these threats. The majority of respondents said they avoided using public Wi-Fi – a well-documented security and privacy risk. And an overwhelming majority of respondents said they avoid installing apps asking for unnecessary app permissions (which are critical for controlling what apps can access what data). Avoiding using certain apps or services strikes me as an indication that people are concerned about these things. And they’re right to be worried about these things, which becomes more apparent when confronted with questions that highlights how vulnerable their online privacy actually is. I asked Sean about this, who pointed out the way we talk about things like privacy on Data Privacy Day/Data Protection Day is more significant that people might think. “In North America, we say Data Privacy Day. In Europe, we say Data Protection Day. They refer to the same thing, but represent it in different ways,” says Sean. “I want to protect my data because privacy is important to me. I don’t want everyone to know my phone number or my credit cards number, so I try and use services that don’t collect this information.” “It’s not because I’m emotionally attached to my personal space, even though that’s important, but I feel like that information could be used in ways that may be harmful. And that aspect isn’t always clear when people talk about online privacy.” Just over a year ago, Sean wrote that he’d like to ask people “Are there things in your past that are best left forgotten?” Maybe today is a good day to start talking about that.