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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Repost: The Securosis Top 6 Tips for Safe Online Holiday Shopping

By Rich

Today is the last day some of you will be in front of your computers before the horror of Black Friday. Thus, we are reposting our safe holiday shopping advice.

Hey. Let’s be careful out there.

Yes folks, Black Friday is less than two weeks away and the silly season is upon us. As someone born and bred in good old North Jersey (until I could legally escape), land of honey and shopping malls, this is a time so deeply ingrained into my subconscious that I’ve occasionally found myself sleepwalking around the nearest parking lot, looking for our old wood-paneled station wagon.

These days, thanks to the wonder of the Internet, anyone can experience the hustle and bustle of the Paramus malls from the comfort of their own home. And to help keep your shopping experience authentic, there’s no shortage of cheats and thieves ready to yank your painstakingly chosen gifts right out of the virtual trunk of your web browser. Of course they might take your house with it, which, even in Jersey (despite the legends) is somewhat rare.

In the spirit of safe and happy holidays, Securosis presents our top 6 tips for safe online shopping, simply presented for the technical or non-technical consumer. Some of these tips also apply to the real world for those of you who just can’t restrain the draw to the mall. Spread the fun, and feel free to post your own tips in the comments.

  1. Use a dedicated credit card (or PayPal account) for holiday shopping. Our first tip is also useful for the physical world- still the origin of most credit card fraud. Take your card with the lowest limit and use it exclusively for holiday shopping. Use one you can monitor online, and check the activity daily through the holidays (weekly at a minimum). Make sure it isn’t a debit card, and turn off any automatic payments (so you can dispute any charges before making payments). Keep tracking activity at least weekly for 12 months after the holidays are over, or cancel the card. DON”T USE A DEBIT CARD!!! These don’t have the same protections as credit cards, and you’re responsible for fraudulent charges. As for PayPal, read on to our second tip.
  2. Only use credit cards at major online retailers; use a PayPal debit account for smaller shops . Sure, you might get a better deal from Billy-Bobs-Bait-Shop-And-Diamond-Wholesaler.com, but many smaller retailers don’t follow appropriate security practices. Those hosted with a major service are often okay, but few consumers really want to check the pedigree for specialty shops. Instead, create a dedicated PayPal account that’s not linked to any of your bank accounts or credit cards. Credit it with as much cash as you think you need and use it for those riskier online payments. Worst case, you only lose what’s in that account, and you can easily cancel it anytime.
  3. Never, ever, ever ,ever click on ANYTHING in email. It doesn’t matter if your best friend sent you a really good deal in email. It doesn’t matter if it’s your favorite retailer and you’ve always gotten email offers from them. Repeat after me, “I will never click on anything in email.” No special offers. No Ebay member to member emails. No “fraud alerts” to check your account. No nothing. Ever. Nada. Attackers are getting more and more refined in their attacks, some of which are very hard to distinguish from legitimate emails. Spam waves over the holidays are expected to break records this year. When you see an interesting offer in email, and it’s a business you want to deal with, just open your web browser, type in the address manually, and browse to the item, offer, or account area. Email is the single biggest source of online fraud; never click on anything in email!
  4. Update your browser- use Firefox 2.0, IE 7, Safari, or Opera. Turn on the highest security settings. Over the past month or so we’ve seen major updates of Firefox and Internet Explorer, both with significant security enhancements. Safari (installed on every Mac) and Opera are also good options. Firefox 2.0 and IE 7 include features to help detect fraudulent sites- if you see a warning, shut down the browser and don’t go back to that site. All of these browsers will ask you before installing any software when you visit a site; when shopping, never allow the site to install anything. Either it’s a fraud or they don’t deserve your business. Most browsers now install with security enabled by default, so we won’t be providing detailed instructions here. Just download them. Now. Then come back and read the rest of this list. We’ll wait.
  5. Download and install the Netcraft toolbar if you’re on Windows. This is a free toolbar for Firefox and IE that helps identify phishing sites. Although both browsers include their own anti-phishing technologies (as do many other toolbars), it never hurts to double up during the holiday season. Think of it as the deadbolt lock to enhance the regular lock on your front door. If you don’t want it bothering you all the time, at least use it during your holiday shopping and turn it off later.
  6. Keep your antivirus, firewall, antispam, and anti-spyware up to date. I don’t really care which product you use (and truth be told, we don’t really like most of the commercial ones) but as bad as some of these perform they really are essential on a PC. Before the holidays we plan on putting together a list of free, non-geek security tools, but for you non-technical type any of the shrink wrapped major vendors offers at least a modicum of protection. For Windows users, Windows Defender is a good, free additional tool to limit spyware. Right now there’s no known spyware for Macs.

These six simple steps won’t stop all fraud, but will significantly reduce both the chances you’ll be a victim, and the damage if you are. Feel free to email them to your friends and family who won’t normally browse a security site like this one.

And stay tuned for our non-geek guide to securing a Windows computer for free…

–Rich

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Securosis Top 6 Tips for Safe Online Holiday Shopping

By Rich

Yes folks, Black Friday is less than two weeks away and the silly season is upon us. As someone born and bred in good old North Jersey (until I could legally escape), land of honey and shopping malls, this is a time so deeply ingrained into my subconscious that I’ve occasionally found myself sleepwalking around the nearest parking lot, looking for our old wood-paneled station wagon.

These days, thanks to the wonder of the Internet, anyone can experience the hustle and bustle of the Paramus malls from the comfort of their own home. And to help keep your shopping experience authentic, there’s no shortage of cheats and thieves ready to yank your painstakingly chosen gifts right out of the virtual trunk of your web browser. Of course they might take your house with it, which, even in Jersey (despite the legends) is somewhat rare.

In the spirit of safe and happy holidays, Securosis presents our top 6 tips for safe online shopping, simply presented for the technical or non-technical consumer. Some of these tips also apply to the real world for those of you who just can’t restrain the draw to the mall. Spread the fun, and feel free to post your own tips in the comments.

  1. Use a dedicated credit card (or PayPal account) for holiday shopping. Our first tip is also useful for the physical world- still the origin of most credit card fraud. Take your card with the lowest limit and use it exclusively for holiday shopping. Use one you can monitor online, and check the activity daily through the holidays (weekly at a minimum). Make sure it isn’t a debit card, and turn off any automatic payments (so you can dispute any charges before making payments). Keep tracking activity at least weekly for 12 months after the holidays are over, or cancel the card. DON”T USE A DEBIT CARD!!! These don’t have the same protections as credit cards, and you’re responsible for fraudulent charges. As for PayPal, read on to our second tip.
  2. Only use credit cards at major online retailers; use a PayPal debit account for smaller shops . Sure, you might get a better deal from Billy-Bobs-Bait-Shop-And-Diamond-Wholesaler.com, but many smaller retailers don’t follow appropriate security practices. Those hosted with a major service are often okay, but few consumers really want to check the pedigree for specialty shops. Instead, create a dedicated PayPal account that’s not linked to any of your bank accounts or credit cards. Credit it with as much cash as you think you need and use it for those riskier online payments. Worst case, you only lose what’s in that account, and you can easily cancel it anytime.
  3. Never, ever, ever ,ever click on ANYTHING in email. It doesn’t matter if your best friend sent you a really good deal in email. It doesn’t matter if it’s your favorite retailer and you’ve always gotten email offers from them. Repeat after me, “I will never click on anything in email.” No special offers. No Ebay member to member emails. No “fraud alerts” to check your account. No nothing. Ever. Nada. Attackers are getting more and more refined in their attacks, some of which are very hard to distinguish from legitimate emails. Spam waves over the holidays are expected to break records this year. When you see an interesting offer in email, and it’s a business you want to deal with, just open your web browser, type in the address manually, and browse to the item, offer, or account area. Email is the single biggest source of online fraud; never click on anything in email!
  4. Update your browser- use Firefox 2.0, IE 7, Safari, or Opera. Turn on the highest security settings. Over the past month or so we’ve seen major updates of Firefox and Internet Explorer, both with significant security enhancements. Safari (installed on every Mac) and Opera are also good options. Firefox 2.0 and IE 7 include features to help detect fraudulent sites- if you see a warning, shut down the browser and don’t go back to that site. All of these browsers will ask you before installing any software when you visit a site; when shopping, never allow the site to install anything. Either it’s a fraud or they don’t deserve your business. Most browsers now install with security enabled by default, so we won’t be providing detailed instructions here. Just download them. Now. Then come back and read the rest of this list. We’ll wait.
  5. Download and install the Netcraft toolbar if you’re on Windows. This is a free toolbar for Firefox and IE that helps identify phishing sites. Although both browsers include their own anti-phishing technologies (as do many other toolbars), it never hurts to double up during the holiday season. Think of it as the deadbolt lock to enhance the regular lock on your front door. If you don’t want it bothering you all the time, at least use it during your holiday shopping and turn it off later.
  6. Keep your antivirus, firewall, antispam, and anti-spyware up to date. I don’t really care which product you use (and truth be told, we don’t really like most of the commercial ones) but as bad as some of these perform they really are essential on a PC. Before the holidays we plan on putting together a list of free, non-geek security tools, but for you non-technical type any of the shrink wrapped major vendors offers at least a modicum of protection. For Windows users, Windows Defender is a good, free additional tool to limit spyware. Right now there’s no known spyware for Macs.

These six simple steps won’t stop all fraud, but will significantly reduce both the chances you’ll be a victim, and the damage if you are. Feel free to email them to your friends and family who won’t normally browse a security site like this one.

And stay tuned for our non-geek guide to securing a Windows computer for free…

–Rich

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Stop Using Internet Explorer (for now)! Today! Seriously!

By Rich

Symantec has just reported a new 0day security vulnerability in Internet Explorer that could allow someone to take over your computer.

For you non-geeks a 0day (or zero-day, or 0-day) is a vulnerability without a patch. In other words, you can’t fix the flaw on your computer so you either have to block the attacks before they hit you or disable the vulnerable software.

While details are sketchy it looks like this particular vulnerability could allow an attacker to take over your computer when you visit a website with the attack code on it. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this in Internet Explorer (and a few other browsers) but if you’ve ever found some nasty spyware or a bot on your computer it’s quite possible this is how you got it.

Especially if you go to “those” sites. Yes, you. Stop pretending you don’t know what I’m talking about.

While you can turn off ActiveX in your browser at this point I recommend using an alternate browser until this flaw is patched. If you’re reading this site odds are you already use Firefox, but if not go and install it right now by clicking here.

You can also download the beta of Internet Explorer 7, which seems to be safe.

You Mac users are safe. Personally I use Safari and Firefox on my Mac, but I still use Internet Explorer for some sites on my PCs. Rumor is IE7 is pretty good, and much more secure than current versions, for those of you that want to keep using IE.

Don’t forget to tell grandma…

–Rich

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Home Security Tip of the Day: SpamSieve for Mac

By Rich

One of the advantages of being a paranoid security geek is you slowly acquire a familiarity with consumer security tools to prevent any of the bad nastiness you comment on from happening to your own system. While I’m sure some of my remotely hosted servers will get cracked on occasion since I don’t have full control over them I’ve taken it as a personal point of honor to defend my personal computers from www.youvebeenhacked.ru to the bitter end. Every now and then on slow news days I’ll highlight some of these tools and techniques to help readers protect their own systems. Since I use Macs, PCs, and even a dash of Linux there should be some good nuggets for all platforms.

Disclaimer- I do not accept any advertising (or anything else) from any vendor, anywhere, end of story. If I discuss a vendor on this site it’s because I think the product is actually useful. I will also NEVER endorse any vendor I cover professionally on Securosis!

And I’m going to start with spam.

I really hate spam.

Seriously.

And if you want to skip to the end just go buy SpamSieve (Mac only), which is one of those gems very familiar to you Mac geeks.

But for those of you that like to read…

Like everyone on the Internet not sending this crap I despise spam. I still remember the early days when commercial business was forbidden on the Internet. No spam. No popups. No phishing. No Amazon. No Google. No ThinkGeek. No… oh wait, never mind.

Spam is more than an annoyance, it’s a pretty serious security issue. Most phishing attacks, Internet fraud, and viruses spread using spam. While I don’t know the exact economics involved I suspect more spam today is for fraudulent businesses and goods than legitimate, but annoying, marketing. Sorry, even the porn spam guys. Spam is apparently so darn profitable that a serious chunk of the botnets today are dedicated to spreading it.

But most of you already know this.

For a while I was reasonably immune to spam. My work email was protected with a commercial server-based product and the not-too-bad Outlook junk mail filters. Yahoo does a good job, as do the other public servers where I keep accounts. The real problem was my long-time personal email on a private domain. This account was hard to guess and off the map for a long time and spam was where. What did make it through was caught by the server filter we used (SpamAssasin). But one tragic day I ended up on a political email list and my blissful childhood ended. One bad list administrator managed to get everyone on that list firmly in the sights of the evil spammers. Within weeks 70% of my email on my once-pristine account was spam.

Until I finally downloaded SpamSieve.

SpamSieve is what’s known as a Bayesian filter- which means it uses all sorts of math I’ll never understand to recognize patterns. I won’t review it or dig into details. All you need to know is if you are on a Mac and have spam in your Inbox you need to go buy this. It took me only 5 days of the free 30 day trial before I whipped out the credit card and paid my $25.00

I get less than one spam message in my Inbox per week. It’s only ever blocked one message I wanted to read (you can check). It takes a few days to a week to train, but that’s really easy. Unlike most computer software it just works.

‘nuff said.

–Rich