Boom! Whizz! Bang!
Typically, when you think of the Fourth of July, you think about fireworks, watermelon and barbecues. Makes sense too, the Fourth of July is the day that the Second Continental Congress approved and adopted the Declaration of Independence, thereby giving official legitimacy to the rag tag group known as the 13 original Colonies.
But on the Fourth of July in 2009, if you wandered inside to take a break from all the face-stuffing festivities and decided to browse the websites of the Department of Homeland security or the Department of Transportation, you would have been in for quite the surprise. Along with multiple other government sites, the DHS and the DOT’s sites were hit with a sweeping Distributed Denial of Service attack, (typically called a DDoS attack, when multiple sources are used to overwhelm a target with an overload of traffic and effectively shutting down their servers).
The attack, which also hit numerous South Korean Government websites, including the president’s website and the Department of Defense seemed to be linked to, not too surprisingly, North Korea. Some people weren’t convinced of their involvement though as other signs seemed to point in the direction of a virus called MyDoom that proliferated like rabbits, fast becoming the quickest-spreading virus up until that point.
But what does that have to do with the Fourth of July 2016?
Okay, so what? If you were pathetically bored back then when you should have been bbq-ing and throwing back a few cold ones, sure you might have noticed the fact that it took a bit longer to access the Hometown Safety link on the DHS site, and you might not have been able to access um, critical information, regarding the protocols for the delivery of hazmat materials at all. No offense, but it doesn’t sound like a world-wide emergency situation.
But on the other hand, there are always lessons to be learned if you know where to look for them and here it’s not even such a stretch (okay, we admit it, connecting cyber security and pumpkin pie, now that was a bit of a stretch, but a fun stretch). The real takeaway from what was dubbed the “Fourth of July Cyber Attack” is that hackers are always looking for a way in and on to our stuff. So in honor of the Fourth, we present to you the “How to Liberate Your Devices From Intruders Guide”. Snoopers lurk wherever they can and the more you know about where and when to fend them off, the more prepared you’ll be to take care of them fast enough to get back to the bbq.
1.Get rid of bundleware – Don’t you just hate bundleware? Oh, you aren’t sure what Bundleware is? It’s any program that arrives on computers via a download of another, desired piece of software. So let’s say you download a PDF creator but wind up with other junk as well, that junk is bundleware. Bundleware rears its head every now and then, leaving you thinking “Huh, where the heck did that come from?” and it also eats up resources like a beast.
The best way to get rid of these gifts you never asked for was to go to your control panel > programs> programs and features. There you’ll see a list of all programs on your computer. Now look at the list and see if you come across something you don’t recognize. Go to Should I remove it? (our sister site, woo-hoo!) and check it out and potentially remove it from there.
2. Review your email opening protocols – Do you open emails from just about anyone? If you do, you’re asking for intruders. Opening and clicking links within emails is one of the most common attack methods used by hackers attempting to infiltrate your devices. Stay away from shady links and even if you know the sender, try to verify that the email is legit before you open anything.
3. Update and patch your programs – Ahh, is there anything a hacker could love more than a gaping wide vulnerability? Leaving your programs un-updated and unpatched is like hanging up a sign reading “ Free beer and $$ here” . And each time you ignore a program update request, whether on your computer or your mobile, you put your device in grave danger of being hacked. So don’t ignore patches and updates, the safety of your devices rely on them.
4. Think about what you put into your computer – So you find this USB on your desk at work . You know you don’t recognize it but it’s got to be safe, right? Wrong! A study conducted back in April 2016 by Google in conjunction with the Universities of Illinois and Michigan found that almost 50% of people will plug in USBs they find in random places even though doing so it a pretty terrible idea. (Why is is such a bad idea? You don’t go sticking random candy you found on the floor in your mouth do you!? That’s disgusting, were telling your mom on you.) Loading up USBs with malware, especially branded ones is a favorite attack method used by hackers, knowing how innately curious people are. So the next time you find a USB laying around, resist your urge to plug it in, it’s just not worth the risk.
5. Install a solid anti malware platform – Okay, really we hate to sound preachy and all here, but having a solid anti malware up and running is one of the most important parts of a security-balanced breakfast – for you and for you data. An effective anti malware software like RCS acts as the bouncer, keeping out unwanted elements and also as the private eye, looking for anything that might have sneaked in by running daily scans.
6. Make sure your computer isn’t part of a botnet – Have you heard of the zombie apocalypse? No no, there are no real zombies involved, here is what we mean – When a computer or device gets taken over by outside forces to commit crimes and the owner is blissfully unaware, the computer in question is referred to as a zombie computer, part of a large network of infected computers, referred to as a botnet.
An innocent computer can become part of a botnet by way of a trojan or another kind of malware. Once it’s part of this larger network, it can do anything from sending out huge spam campaigns to helping stage DDoS attacks like the one we discussed above, to distributing malware. It might not do any actual harm to the computer but who wants their computer being involved in such rotten stuff?
Some signs to look out for include slow computer activity, high CPU usage, unexpected pop ups and odd emails being sent from your accounts. If you think your device has been brainwashed, make sure your firewall is set to maximum and keep an eye out for any odd incoming and outgoing traffic. This should be a pretty good indicator of whether or not you’ve got a zombie on your hands. If you do, there are some decent botnet removal tools but the best idea is to, gulp, wipe your drive and reinstall from the beginning (yeah, we knew you wouldn’t like that part). Best to not get into the situation in the first place by keeping your anti malware up and running all the time.
Okay, now seriously, why are you reading this when you could be chowing down on steaks and buffalo wings? Go out there and p-a-r-t-y, cuz it’s Da Fourth of Ju-ly!
Happy Fourth of July from everybody here at RCS!