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Recent Malware Exploits Should Get Your Attention

  • During early October 2012, several US-based power plants were impacted by malware and at least one was shut down for a period of three weeks. One of these plants was brought down during a software update in which a USB stick infected with an identity-theft Trojan was used by an outside contractor. The anti-virus software at this plant had not been updated.
  • In December 2012, the FBI and the US Department of Justice arrested 10 individuals who had used the Yahos banking Trojan via Facebook to steal $850 million and infect 11 million computers via the Butterfly botnet.
  • McAfee discovered a Russian scheme that was targeted at 30 US banks, including Wells Fargo, Citibank and Chase. The plan was to infect the computers of these banks’ customers with Trojans, withdrawing funds from their accounts. Although the scheme may have been thwarted because of its discovery, at least 300 computers have already been infected and the plan may still be moving forward.
  • Zaxby’s, a restaurant chain that serves customers in 13 states across the southeast and mid-Atlantic states, reported earlier this month that it found various malware files in its restaurants in 10 of those states. Customer credit and debit card numbers, as well as their names, may have been stolen.
  • On November 26th and 27th, a Web application was breached at the Rosenthal Collins Group resulting in the possible breach of individuals’ names, addresses, Social Security numbers, net worth, net income, passwords and other sensitive information.
  • Kaspersky reported earlier this month that a large and internationally distributed malware network has stolen several terabytes of information from government embassies worldwide. The malware is spread through email and enters computers via an attachment; it has been discovered in 39 countries so far.

There are several lessons to draw from these incidents:

  • Any device can be infected—from a USB stick used by a bona fide computer technician to a smartphone to your desktop computer. The proliferation of devices used in the workplace, particularly personally owned devices that are used to read and write corporate data, increase the likelihood of infection.
  • You are valuable—or at least your data is valuable—to bad guys.  If you have a bank account with a reasonable balance, a passport, a credit card, a mortgage, login credentials to your bank or corporate systems, etc., you are a potential target. The more you know and the more you have, the more interested that bad guys will be in you.
  • Using credit cards online can be risky. Their use can also be risky when you buy a hamburger at a restaurant down the street.

Perhaps the most important lesson is to be careful by following six fairly simple security precautions. While these are seemingly obvious, you’d be surprised at how many people aren’t so careful:

  1. Maintain good anti-virus defenses on every platform and device you use, including the lowly USB stick. If you’re in IT and your employees are using personally owned devices to access corporate data and systems, make sure that their anti-virus software is up-to-date.
  2. If you’re an IT decision maker charged with security in your organization, make sure that any deal includes security tools or services for end users working from home. If you’re a financial decision maker charged with approving security-related purchases, fund the additional cost of protecting your employees’ home computers.
  3. When you access a Web site that is asking for personal information, look for a lock symbol in the browser signifying that content is being sent using encryption and that the certificate is valid.
  4. Don’t open email attachments or click on links in email if you don’t know the sender or if it looks even the slightest bit suspicious.
  5. Be careful about oversharing: Don’t share personal information on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else you would not want the world to see.  Don’t enable GPS capabilities on your mobile devices unless you want to be tracked. Don’t post your vacation photos unless you have a house sitter or some other way to safeguard your home while gone.
  6. Make sure your mobile devices can be remotely wiped if they are lost or stolen.

Apologies for offering such basic advice, but many people simply don’t follow these steps consistently or at all.

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