Tag Archives: information

Free Protection against Computer Viruses and Other Malware

Today’s computers are under a constant assault of viruses and other malware. We all need to have up to date Antimalware software to protect our computer. Buying antivirus software and subscription could be expensive because you need to update your subscription yearly. However there are free options for your computer’s security.

What is Malware?

Computer Malware

Malware is a general term for any software designed with the intention to affect negatively a computer or to steal private information.
Malware includes computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, rootkits, spyware, adware, crimeware and other malicious software.

There is a misconception that only Windows operating systems are affected by Malware. However, this isn’t true. Mac’s and Linux machines are affected as well. There are not as many viruses written for Mac and Linux machines, but this is mainly because of their popularity as Operating Systems. Windows OS is the most popular therefore many Malware programmers exists.

Today a computer without an antivirus is extremely vulnerable. Especially if the computer is connected to Internet or and exchanges files with other computers, which is the case of most of the computers today. More than that, nowadays an antivirus is not enough for avid Internet users. There are so many types of threats that an antivirus alone will not protect you entirely. All computers should have an up to date Antivirus and Antispyware as a minimum. Sometimes, websites that seem inoffensive can infect your computer with spyware, Trojans or even computer viruses.

Some websites will create deceiving pop-ups to mislead you in believing that your computer is infected. An action is requested on the next step asking you if you want to scan your computer. Many times you don’t have the choice to refuse this action as the pop-up special crafted and you cannot close it. The best thing to do in this situation is to save all of your work and logoff or reboot your computer. Advanced users can alternatively kill the task from the task manager.

Free Antimalware

There are a few good choices for people who don’t want to pay for their computer security. There are free antivirus, free antispyware, free personal firewalls, and free anti add-ware. The vast majority of them are only free for personal use. In other words, if your computer is a company computer you should buy a license.
Don’t forget that you need to have at least an antispyware, an antivirus, and a firewall to be protected, or software that combines all of them.

Firewall

Firewall

A firewall is a must for any laptop, since connecting your laptop in other networks puts a serious threat on the security of your computer. Depending on how your home firewall is configured, if you own one, you might need a firewall on all of your home computers.

A basic firewall is included with all modern operating systems so you don’t need to buy one. However, if you need a more advanced personal firewall that gives you a very granular control of all your network and Internet activity, in and out, you should consider the free Sygate Personal Firewall, or Online Armor Free, or Comodo firewall which is part of the Comodo Internet Security suite, or Sunbelt Personal Firewall.

Antispyware

Spyware is one of the most common Malware today. Spyware can range from almost inoffensive pieces of code to software that will damage your computer and make you lose data or steal private information from your computer. A computer without an antispyware protection will be, sooner or later, affected by spyware.
There are a few free Anti-spyware products on the market. I will first mention the free for anyone “Spybot-S&D!”. It is a good antispyware with a long history on the Market. You need some computer knowledge to configure it for best results. If you need a scan only free Anti-Spyware it’s one of the best choices.
Ad-aware, the known anti add-ware has evolved to an antispyware program. There is a free limited version.
Windows Defender is Microsoft’s antispyware solution. Windows Defender is now part of the operating system with Windows Vista and Windows 7. There are Free, (for Personal Use), Security Suites that include antispyware as part of the bundle. See the Security Suites for more antispyware.

Antivirus

Clamav Logo

Antivirus has always been a must for any computer that exchanges data with other computers in any way. There are viruses that can even render your computer useless. For instance the virus CIH will corrupt your computer BIOS. The BIOS chip is essential for starting your computer. Other viruses will trash all your hard drive data.

Free antivirus programs exist on the market. ClamAv is a free, open source, antivirus for both personal and commercial use. Other free for personal use Antivirus include Avira Antivir, Kaspersky Anti-Virus free edition, Norton Security Scan and eTrust EZ Antivirus as a one year trial. There are also free online scanners, many antivirus manufacturers provide an online scanner for free.

Security Suites

Security suites are sets of Anti-Malware programs designed to protect against more than one threat. They can contain an Anti-Virus, an Anti-Spyware, Anti-Phishing, a firewall, an Anti-SPAM, as well as other protections against Malware. They are the choice of most of us since they are easy to administrate and don’t require advanced computer knowledge.
Very popular Free Security Suites are AVG, Avast, Comodo Internet Security, Google Pack – a collection of software that includes an antivirus and an Anti-spyware and Microsoft’s Security Essentials.

As you see, there are a lot of free choices, so not having an up-to-date Anti-virus and Anti-spyware is free if you can’t afford to pay for one.
Share you thoughts about Internet Security and your choice of Antivirus.

Chain Letters and Spam Email

Email Chain letters are one of the sneakiest and devious ways of SPAM. I consider them a particular case of social engineering.

Chain Letters Target Human Weakness and the Lack of Information.

Even though chain letters come always from your friends, and they look like their purpose is to spread “peace on Earth” or to give you an insightful perspective of life, or ask you to help someone in need, their purpose is Spamming.
You can recognize this by the encouragement to forward the message to your friends or to close the email circle or anything similar. Some of you came here as a result of my SPAM, (I apologize, I had to…).
Sometimes the spammer will go as far as threatening you to send to your friends or else something bad will happen. All of these are various sorts of psychological exploitation. They target human weakness and lack of knowledge.
Most of the times chain letters contain false, misleading, frightening, or foolish messages, Urban Legends, Virus Hoaxes. The Chain Letter has evolved now and it is more subtle nonetheless dangerous. It uses “good luck” promises, “missionary” messages, or even true philosophical dissertations.
No matter what is the method of persuasion, all the chain letters will convince you to send the letter to other people. It is very convincing and it targets human flaws. I am not an easy to scare person but I can remember myself in at least on occasion getting chills up my spine while reading the blackmail at the end of the email. Human brain is easily influenced, once the message read you will start, unconsciously, to act upon validating the prediction. It is a process similar to Hypnosis.
Best way to avoid such events is to delete the message without reading it.
There is also the positive message if you forward the message to 5 friends something wonderful will happen in your life. Who can resist such a promise? Me.

Is It Wrong to Propagate Chain Letters?

Short answer – YES – it’s wrong to propagate chain letters. Previous paragraph explains why.
Long answer:
Sometimes it is hard to ignore some of these messages and discard them. Their message is beautiful, and you would like to share it with your friends. There is not too wrong to do that IF and ONLY IF you follow these simple rules.
Use BCC field when addressing your email, (blind carbon copy). This will conceal the destination addresses.
When the chain letter arrives in your Inbox there are high chances to contain all the previous recipients into its body. Remove all the email addresses in the body, before forwarding the message. This is of no benefit to you, but it will benefit the community, and if many people do this harvesting addresses will be very difficult. Who knows on how many chain letters has circulated my email address?
If you really need to send chain letters, consider using your secondary email address.
Consistency on doing all of these will discourage the creators of such letters to write them, as the benefit from sending them will be null.

The image below shows a portion of the email body of a message that contains all the previous recipients of a chain letter. Using an email harvesting utility I got 417 email addresses only from this message.

Example of email Chain Letter
Chain Letter - Click to enlarge

What does the SPAMMER achieve by these kinds of emails?

They harvest email addresses. How do they do this? The principle is that the more an email circulate the more chances are to come back to the original sender. Even if it doesn’t come back it will go to another SPAMMER in the “Black Hat Web Marketing Community” and made public within the community. Then all the harvested email address will be shared or sold.
Another reason for circulating chain letters is scamming people. There are numerous scamming schemes circulating through emails.
There are also the hoaxes. A lot of chain letters warn about an upcoming virus or a computer threat. Most of them are hoaxes. Some of them are just simple hoax, but some other are cleverly crafted emails, so that when a recipient look for some of the keywords in the respective email, they would be directed by the search engine to targeted websites.

How can the Spammer harvest email addresses?

The main problem comes from the fact that most of the people will never think of hiding email addresses when they are forwarding messages. This makes that an email can sometimes contain hundreds or even thousands of addresses from all the people that forwarded it. The picture bellow depicts such a message.

What can you do to help?

First, whenever you send an email to a list of people add your addresses on the BCC field rather than CC or TO field. The BCC field will hide all the destination addresses.
If you forward a message, delete the transmission history in the message body. Check this article Prevent email SPAM for more information.
Break the chain! Delete the message and do not forward it. You have now the information. Stop for a few minutes before sending the email and think.
Comment on this post with positive or negative feedback. I can take critique.

I dedicate this article to Bogdan M. who first talked me about chain letters some 10 years ago.