It has happened to everyone, you visit a website and then shortly one or more pop-ups show up on your screen. Admittedly, with the availability of popup blockers this happens a lot less than it used it. However, it still happens. Those popups are not just annoying, they are often dangerous. Cyberattackers use them to trick us into downloading malware onto our machines.
While there are many ways attackers try to trick us. They have two favourite methods. The first is to fill the popups with pornography. There is nothing more horrifying than having naked people flash on your screen especially when you are at work. The idea is to make you panic so you will click on the X in the popup window to close it. It can be very effective. Anyone in that situation would do exactly as the attackers want and click to close the offending windows as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, once you click you download malware onto your computer.
The second method they like to use is the fake virus alert. The popups appear with flashing read text and flashing arrows directing you to click to remove a virus that they have detected on your machine. They are playing everyone’s worst nightmare in technicolor. It is understandable if someone panics and clicks. However, as before, once you do malware is loaded onto your machine.
The terrifying thing is popups can show up anywhere, not just on dodgy sites you have never visited. Legitimate websites can also be compromised by attackers. One day you are checking the Daily Kitty with no issues, the next day you visit and obscene images fill your screen.
The good news is, there is an easy way to get rid of the unexpected popups without downloading malware. The next time your screen comes alive with dozens of panic inducing popups, just close your browser. Don’t click on anything inside the browser window, just click the little x on the browser window itself and close the thing. Once the browser is closed, the problem is gone.
To make sure it doesn’t reoccur, don’t visit the website that you were on again. As long as you close the browser window and not the popup window, no harm is done. Even better, nothing else needs to be done. No report needs to be made to IT. You don’t have to scan your machine for viruses. You don’t have to spend the day wringing your hands hoping that you didn’t mess up. You can just enjoy the rest of your day in blissful serenity knowing that you stopped the criminals in their tracks.
It was just another day for an MRU staffer. He was fielding calls and sorting through emails when he received an invite to a conference. He just needed to double check the session time. However, it was listed with a different time zone than his. It was early in the morning and his brain wasn’t fully functioning so he was unable to covert the time in his head. He Googled “time zone converter” and clicked the first link listed in the search results.
As soon as the webpage loaded, mayhem erupted on his computer. Three hundred and seventy four pop-ups appeared. Big scary alerts with flashing arrows pointing to a button said he had a virus. Click here said the button to remove the virus. You must click NOW flashed across the screen. Everything that could light up and flash was lit up and flashing. His computer screen looked like a slot machine that was about to pay out, only this pay out was malware not money.
He started to panic. He thought, “What do I do, what do I do? What did Bernadette say to do in training”. Then he remembered the first step.
Don’t touch anything
“Okay”, he thought, “I wont touch anything. what did she say to do next?”
Disconnect from the Internet
“Right.” He dug around behind his computer and yanked the network cable out from the back of it. “Okay, what is next?”
Contact the IT Service Desk
He picked up the phone and called the Service Desk. It took almost no time at all and a technician was there checking his computer. Thankfully, there was no harm done. Because he had followed his training and did not click on anything on the webpage the malware was never loaded onto his machine.
He was immediately grateful for the training he received. Had he forgotten to not touch anything on the screen, he would have lost a lot of his day and his data, getting his computer reimaged. While he knew the training was helpful, he didn’t realize just how much until he found himself experiencing a cyberattack. He was so glad he had taken his annual training. He was never going to consider it a waste of time again.
With the latest zero day threat PrintNightmare, putting printing on pause across the globe; it has become more important than ever to to keep your devices updated. While there is no update yet available to patch this vulnerability, it is a good idea to make sure your computer is ready when it is released.
The best way to do that is to ensure automatic updates on your Windows machine is enabled. MRU devices are automatically updated when you connect to the network so you don’t have to worry about them. This is a system setting controlled by ITS and it can’t be changed. However, you can mess with automatic updates on your home machine. You can pause them on a Windows 10 machine and turn them off all together on a Windows 8 machine. It is strongly recommended that if you have paused the updates or tuned them off , you enable them again. This ensures that as soon as the patch for PrintNightmare is available, it will be downloaded.
If you have a Windows 7 or older machine, the automatic updates feature is not an option, you will have to check for and download the update manually. For the most part, operating systems of this age don’t receive updates anymore and are vulnerable to attack. Which is why it is a good idea to upgrade to a newer one. The exception is when a really, really nasty vulnerability comes along. PrintNightmare falls into this category. Even Windows XP will receive a patch for this one. However, you Windows 98 and 95 holdouts are out of luck.
To complete the installation process, you have to restart your machine. This is true for MRU devices as well as your home machine. Depending on how your version of Windows is set up, you may or may not be notified that a restart is required. So it is a good idea to restart your machine daily. Daily restarts ensure that you both have the latest security patch downloaded and it has been installed as well. Also, it takes less time to restart a machine that has only one update to install versus one that has five. In just a few minutes you can save hours of heartache. Restart your machine and save your data.
The tech support scam is back. This week a MRU community member had a virus warning popup on their screen while they were working. The virus warning listed a phone number and appeared to come from Microsoft.
The individual phoned the Service Desk. However, when they couldn’t get through they called the ‘Microsoft’ number in the pop up. The fake Microsoft rep hung up on them when the caller didn’t provide the rep with the information they were looking for. Our MRU community member avoided being scammed simply by not being cooperative. However, had they been dealing with a more patient scammer, this could have gone very wrong very quickly.
This is a reminder if you see a dialog box with a virus warning and a phone number, it is a scam. Most likely there is no virus on your machine. instead, the website that you have visited has been compromised by a hacker to display a fake virus warning to anyone who views it. If this happens to you, close your browser and then open it again. Do not close the pop up. Do not visit that website again.
If you are concerned that your MRU issued device may have a virus, contact the Service Desk. Be patient, they will get back to you. If it is your personal device you are concerned about, run a virus scan. If something appears to be amiss and the virus scan does not find anything, take your device to a repair shop to have it checked.
All malware is not created equal. This week a particularly devious piece landed in an MRU inbox. It was wrapped up in a zip file attachment. Here is what the malicious email looked like:
This malicious email is hard to identify as it contains a previously sent email thread. Interestingly enough, there is no human behind this email. It was sent by malware. When it gets on your machine it picks an email in your inbox and replies to it. Sending a copy of itself to an unsuspecting recipient.
The email is generic enough to work with pretty much any email. However it is the vagueness that flags it as suspicious. The other tell is the sender’s email address. Because this is malware and not a person sending out the email, the sender’s email address is incorrect.
If you decide to click and open the attachment, you see an Excel spreadsheet with this in the first cell.
If you missed the other two red flags, this one is your last chance to dodge the bullet. This very official looking graphic is asking you to enable editing and content to be able to “decrypt” the document It is also telling you what type of device to use to view it. Anytime you have this kind of instruction given to you to view a document, close it immediately and report it.
The instructions are not there to enable you to view the document. They are there to ensure the malware can be installed and will function. By asking you to enable editing and content, it is bypassing the safety controls we have in place to prevent the running of macros. It is not “decrypting” anything. If you can’t open a document just by clicking on it, consider it a threat.
This is another reminder how important it is to check the sender’s email address before you open an attachment or click on a link. If you recognize it, contact the sender using another method and confirm that they sent the email. If you don’t recognize it, don’t click. You wouldn’t take candy from a stranger, you shouldn’t take attachments from them either; no matter how enticing they are.