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PC SECURITY

How Hackers can Turn on Your Webcam and Control Your Computer with RAT

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Remote access software is typically used by IT professionals to resolve computer issues over the internet. Examples include TeamViewer and LogMeIn, which are legtimately used by helpdesk technicians and system administrators to fix technical issues remotely. Attackers, however, also recognize the effectiveness and usefulness of this technology and exploit it as a means of taking control of their victims’ computers through the “back door” with the help of Remote Access Trojans (RATs).

A Remote Access Trojan (RAT) is a type of dangerous malware program that hackers generally use to get complete, anonymous control over your computer without your knowledge. Most RATs are designed for Windows computers, but some are multiplatform and work on Linux, Mac and Android devices. When a RAT is installed on your computer, hackers can do just about anything.

What can a Remote Access Trojan do to my computer?

When a computer is infected with RAT, it assumes full administrative control over the targeted device. This makes it possible for a hacker to do anything on the machine, including:

  • Spy on you.
  • Watch you inside your home through your webcam camera as you go about your day.
  • Combine with a keylogger to steal sensitive data.
  • Record all your on-screen activity.
  • Steal confidential information such as usernames, passwords, sensitive photos and financial information such as credit card information.
  • Alter your personal files.
  • Stream you over the internet through your webcam without your knowledge.
  • Take control of a home network and create a botnet.
  • Hijack or even destroy your device.
  • Delete files and folders.
  • Download additional malicious programs that can be used to take over online banking transactions.
  • Distribute viruses and other malware to other computers.
  • Format your computer’s hard drive.

How can I check for RATs on my system?

Unlike other types of malware, it can be difficult to detect when RATs has been installed on your machine because they are designed to conceal their presence. It won’t slow down your computer so you won’t be aware that anything’s wrong. It also won’t show up in your lists of active or running programs.

In fact, a RAT can be installed on your computer for years without detection, which is why this threat is known as an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT). Ordinary antivirus scans are also unlikely to detect encrypted RATs.

Here are some symptoms of possible infection in your Windows 10 computer:

  • Unknown processes running in your system which are visible in the Task Manager.
  • Your internet connection suddenly slows down considerably.
  • Files have been modified or deleted.
  • Your mouse begins to move across your computer screen on its own.
  • You have strange programs in your startup folder.
  • Your webcam indicator light is constantly on or blinks when you haven’t turned the webcam on.
  • Unknown programs that you never installed are visible in the Control Panel and Add or Remove Programs.

Top antivirus software solutions help ensure RATs are unable to function properly in your computer. But the best way to identify and remove RATs from a system is through the use of intrusion detection systems.

 How can a RAT be downloaded on my system?

Users who end up with malicious software on their system often do so inadvertently in the following ways:

  • Phishing emails. A cybercriminal sends a spoofed email to a victim from what appears to be an established and well-respected company. The message will include an attachment which the user opens and inadvertently downloads a RAT onto their system. Alternately, the user can click on a malicious link in the email which takes the user to an infected webpage that downloads a RAT to the user’s system.
  • Phishing phone calls. A cybercriminal poses as tech support from your bank, Microsoft or some other trusted organisation and persuades the user to download onto their computer.
  • Piggybacking on legitimate software. A RAT can be downloaded by attaching itself to free software bundles — such as a video game.
  • Automatically when you visit a website that has been infected with malware

How can I protect my computer from RAT infection?

To protect your system from RATs, follow the same procedures you use to prevent other malware infections:

  • Keep your OS, antivirus and other application software up to date.
  • Make sure your firewall is enabled and active.
  • Be very careful when downloading any free software packages advertised on the web.
  • Do not download software from sites you don’t trust. If in doubt, Google the website.
  • Regularly backup your data.
  • Use a safe browser like Chrome, Firefox or Edge when surfing the web. Safe browsers are able to prevent automatic downloads or notify you when a website you’ve landed on is unsafe.
  • Avoid clicking pop-us, links or opening attachments from unsolicited emails.
  • Download webcam on-off software from Sordum that can automatically turn off your device when you’re not using it.
  • Use black tape to cover your webcam when you’re not using it if you don’t want to download software.

What can I do if my system is infected with RATs?

If you discover that your system has been infected with RAT, you need to take action immediately as soon as you discover the infection.

  1. Disconnect your device from the internet. Your device must be connected to the internet for RAT to work.
  2. Run a full scan of your machine using a powerful antiviral software like Malwarebytes.
  3. Use Malwarebytes to remove the malicious software. Malwarebytes is currently one of the most successful tools for removing RATs from an infected device.
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PC SECURITY

10 Warning Signs Your Computer Has Been Hacked and What To Do

Reading Time: 7 minutes

The internet has made our lives easier and more convenient. There’s so much we can now do online. We can bank, shop, order food and connect with old friends around the world within seconds. But while digital technology has enhanced our lives in so many ways, it has also exposed us to threats that we didn’t have to face before.

Computer hacking has become increasingly sophisticated and capable of posing a major threat to our privacy and the security of our most sensitive data such as our usernames and passwords, credit card numbers, banking details and other valuable information. This means we need to pay close attention to any changes that occur on our computing devices.

How Hackers Get into Your Computer

In order to infect your computer with malware, a hacker will have to entice you to click on a link to an infected website that automatically downloads malware to your computer, or download an attachment that contains malicious software. One of the most effective ways they do this is by sending files that look legit such as MS Office documents or PDFs that contain hidden code that infects your computer. It is also quite common to get infected from a USB flash drive that contains any form of malware. 

Here are 10 warning signs that your computer has been hacked and infected with malware:

1. Your antivirus software is disabled.

The first red flag that your computer has been compromised is if your antivirus software has been disabled and you didn’t do it yourself. It cannot turn off on its own. Disabling your antivirus software is usually the first thing an attacker will do when they hack into a computing device to prevent you from running a virus scan or antivirus software.

2. Fake virus warnings.

Fake virus alerts or warnings are the browser tab or web page pop-ups that you get when you visit a web page. They will display warnings that your computer is hacked, and that you need to call a number or click a link to fix it. If you are getting these alerts, then your computer has already been infected.

These alerts are fake and created by attackers, and they will try to get you to click on a link or contact a random phone number. What you must always reaize is that legitimate AV software will never prompt you to call a number or click a random link. Any links you click on will take you to professional-looking sites setup by cybercriminals to infect your computing device ad steal your confidential information. 

Fake virus alert – desktop
Fake virus alert – Android
Fake virus alert – iPhone

3. You’re getting random pop-ups all of a sudden

If you’re suddenly getting a barrage of constant popups from websites that don’t normally generate them, that’s a big sign that your computer has been infected. You get these pop-ups because one of the first things a hacker will do is when they hack into a computer is to disable pop-up blocking software.

4. Your passwords suddenly don’t work

If the passwords to your online accounts stop working all of a sudden, this is a major red flag that your computing device has been hacked. This can be your password for your emails, social media accounts or even your computer. A common tactic when stealing information is to lock the real person out of their accounts by changing the password. When this happens, you may find that your friends have received weird messages on social media from you that you never sent, often containing a malicious link .

5. You discover strange, random applications on your computer

If you notice strange computer programs on your desktop that you or anyone else that uses the computer with you did not install, this is a clear warning sign that your machine has been infected with malware. Malicious software today has evolved into sophisticated programs that install themselves as legitimate software. This makes it very difficult to differentiate between real and fake applications. In many cases, these rogue programs get installed by attaching themselves to other software that you have installed together as a bundle.

6. Your web searches are being redirected.

If you’re repeatedly getting redirected to random, spammy websites whenever you search for stuff online, this is another symptom of hacking. This typically happens when you enter some keywords into a search engine. You’ll get a list of search results but when you click on one of them, instead of being taken to that website, you’re taken somewhere else. These redirects are often caused by adware and other different types of malware present on your system. 

7. Programs start to crash repeatedly.

If your mouse is moving by itself or your once reliable applications suddenly begin to crash on a frequent basis, this is one of the biggest symptoms of malware infection. When this happens, you may not be able to open your files or programs. You may also find that your files have been randomly deleted. Any files ending in .exe are the file types that viruses tend to use. However, note that hackers can also disguise text documents, PDFs and images as viruses.

8. Random browser toolbars

Browser toolbars are one of the biggest red flags that most people overlook. If your browser suddenly has multiple toolbars that you never installed, then this is a sign that your device has been compromised. Some hackers will add toolbars to malicious websites which are designed to download trackable apps that monitor passwords to your social media and online banking accounts.

Infected browser with random toolbars

You’ll want to delete all of the toolbars that you don’t recognize. You can also restore your browser to its default settings if you are unable to remove any of those toolbars. If those toolbars stay deleted, then all may be well. But if they reappear after a few days, then you’re being actively hacked. This is why you should be very careful when installing any type of free software on your computer. Free software is one of the most common sources of random toolbar installation.

Webcam hacking is quite common nowadays, and the last thing you want is some creep spaying on you. If you notice your webcam activity light comes on and flickers even when you’re not using it, this is a sign that your computer has been hacked. Be sure to disconnect your webcam when you’re not using it. If it is built into your computer, you can cover it with black tape when you’re not using it.

10. The computer has slowed down.

All computers gradually slowdown in performance as they get older. Sometimes however, it may have nothing to do with the age of your computer. If the simplest tasks such as booting up and loading applications are taking considerably longer, it might mean that your computer’s processor is being overworked because it not only has to process the instructions that you’re giving it, but it also has to process instructions from the malware that’s been installed on the computer.

How can I check if my Windows 10 computer has a virus?

If you suspect that your Windows 10 computer has been infected by malware, start by running a full virus scan to detect the malware infecting your computer. If you don’t have antivirus installed and are running Windows 10, follow the steps below:

Type settings into the Windows search box to run the Settings app.

Click on Update and Security.

In the left menu, click on Windows Security.

In the Protection areas menu panel, click on Virus & Threat protection.

Scroll down to Current threats. Perform a full scan by clicking on Scan Options and select Full Scan and click on Scan Now.

What can I do if a virus scan is not fruitful?

Security software isn’t perfect. There could be instances where Microsoft Defender or any other antivirus software does not detect the malware on your computer. According to security experts, thousands of new malware are created every week, and a new strain could easily slip past your antivirus software and get into your system. Once on your system, you may find that you’re prevented from downloading or running any malware clean-up tool.

Here are some things you could try:

  1. Most antivirus companies will send you an ISO file that you can use to boot from a USB drive. This will launch a separate operating system with a built-in antivirus.
  2. Symantec offers a free, downloadable Norton Power Eraser tool that is used to detect threats using aggressive methods. You can run a virus scan with this tool.
  3. Run Malware Chameleon. This is a free utility tool that you can use to easily remove malware from your computing device. Once you have extracted the contents of the zip file, you’ll find a list of files that don’t appear to have anything to do with malware removal.
Malwarebytes Chameleon

These files are so-called in order to fool the malware into thinking that the files don’t have anything to do with malware removal. Because the files don’t appear to be any type of security software, the malware doesn’t block them.

When you run these files, they will open a command prompt and download Malwarebytes in a way that won’t be detected by the malware. Anti-Malware is run automatically. It scans the disk and removes viruses and other malware.

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PC SECURITY

9 Ways to Prevent Windows 10 From Spying on You

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Many users consider Windows 10 to be the best version of Windows that Microsoft has ever released. However, you may not be aware of how intrusive the operating system really is. By default, Windows 10 is programmed to constantly track confidential data about you and what you do on your computer, store that information on your hard drive and send it back to Microsoft via the web for processing.

According to Microsoft’s privacy statement, this information is used only to improve the operating system. It is not sold to third parties, and is deleted after 30 days. But no matter how Microsoft tries to spin this, most users would consider this an unfair intrusion on their privacy.

According to InvestmentWatch, Windows 10 transmits the following data back to Microsoft:

  • Typed text on keyboard sent every 30 minutes
  • Anything you say into a microphone
  • Transcripts of things you say while using Cortana
  • Index of all media files on your computer
  • When your webcam is first enabled, 35mb of data
  • Telemetry data

Here are privacy settings you can tweak to prevent Windows 10 from collecting data about what you do on your computing device.

1. Switch off your location.

For security reasons, it would be a bad idea to keep your location switched on all the time. When you keep your location switched on, Windows 10 stores your computing device’s location history for up to 24 hours. During this time, apps with location permissions will have access to that data.

If your location is switched off, apps that use your location (such as the Maps app) will not be able to find you. But you can manually set a default location that apps can use.

To switch off your location, go to Start > Settings > Privacy > Location. Click the Change button under Location for this device is on and toggle it to off. Below this setting, you can also allow or restrict apps from knowing your location.

2. Turn off ad tracking.

Each Microsoft account has a unique advertising ID that allows Microsoft to collect information about you. The ID gathers info about you as you browse the web and as you use Windows 10 apps. This information is used to create a profile of you and your interests to deliver a personalized ad experience across various platforms. When you sign into Windows 10 with a Microsoft account, targeted ads will follow you onto your computer. You’ll see them in frequently used apps and sometimes in the operating system itself. 

To switch these ads off in Windows 10, go to Start > Settings > Privacy > General > Toggle off Let apps use advertising ID to make ads more interesting to you based on your app usage. This doesn’t mean you won’t see ads any more. You’ll still see ads, but they just won’t be personalized to you.

3. Use Microsoft’s Privacy Dashboard

Microsoft has introduced a web-based privacy tool that allows you to track and delete a lot of information that Microsoft collects about you. To get to it, when you’re logged in with your Microsoft account, go to account.microsoft.com/privacy. Here you can do things like turn off ad targeting, delete data gathered by Cortana, to review and delete data about you that Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer have collected about you including location activity, search history, browsing history, voice activity, social media activity, and a lot more.

Turning this off will prevent ads from showing up when you’re using Windows 10, but you’ll still see ads when you’re using Windows 10 on other platforms. If you want to get rid of ads on other platforms, you can do so from Microsoft’s advertising opt-out page.  

4. Change your app permissions.

You can decide what level of access Windows apps can have on your device because they have the potential to intrude on your privacy by gaining access to your camera, location, pictures, videos and microphone. To control app permissions, go to Start > Settings > Privacy. Type App Permissions in the search box on the left pane, and you’ll get a list of all of all the hardware and features that Windows apps can access if they have permission to do so. By clicking on any of the items, you can turn off access for all apps. You can also view a listing of all apps that have access to the microphone, and control access on an app-by-app basis.

5. Stop syncing.

If you have multiple Windows 10 devices, when you sign into Windows 10 on one device with your Microsoft account, you can sync your settings with all of your Windows devices. For example, if you make any changes to settings on your desktop PC, those settings, including your passwords, will be applied to your laptop when you login with the same account. Note that if you switch off syncing, your settings and passwords will not be synced when you login with the same Microsoft account. To switch of syncing, go to Start > Settings > Accounts > Sync your settings. Here you have the option of turning syncing off or switching it off for different features.

6. Switch to a local account.

Once you have turned off syncing across your devices, there’s no point using your Microsoft account to login to your computing devices. You can simply use a local account that doesn’t require email, which will prevent Microsoft from collecting information about you. When you create a local account, all you need to do is to create a username and password.

Click here for instructions on how to create a local Windows account. Note however that when this is done, you won’t be able to use Microsoft’s OneDrive storage or install paid apps from the Microsoft store. However, you’ll still be able to install free apps from the Microsoft store.

7. Switch off Timeline

If you have multiple Windows 10 devices, Timeline is a feature that allows you to resume activities that you’ve started on one device, on another device. For example, if you begin work on a Windows 10 laptop and logoff, you’ll be able to resume your activities on a different Windows 10 machine. But to do this, Windows will need to collect information about your activities on both computers and send it off to Microsoft. If this is something that bothers you, you can switch Timeline off.

To do that, go to Start > Settings > Privacy > Activity History and uncheck the boxes next to Store my activity history on this device and Send my activity history to Microsoft.

8. Limit what information Cortona gathers about you.

Cortona is a visual assistant built into Windows 10. But for it to work well, Cortona collects a lot of information about you including your device location information and location history, contacts, voice input, searching history, calendar details, content, place of work and the times and route you take to get there, as well as communication history from messages and apps on your device. You can limit the amount of information that Cortona gathers about you. Note however, that there’s some information you’ll have to share if you want to use Cortona at all.

Make sure you are signed in to your Microsoft account. Open Cortona settings by clicking on the circle icon next to the Windows 10 search box, then click the three-dot icon in the top left of the screen. Select the Settings icon. A panel appears that allows you to limit the information Cortona gathers about you. If you click on Revoke Permission and sign out, Cortona won’t collect any information about you, but you also won’t be able to use the tool.

To clear other information from Cortana, go to the Privacy Dashboard. Scroll down to ‘Cortona’s Notebook’ and click on Edit Cortona. To delete all of the data Cortona has collected about you, click Clear Cortona data on the right of the screen. You will have to repeat this process from time to time because Cortona will begin to collect information about you once you start using. If you don’t want the tool to collect any information, you’ll have to stop using it completely.

9. Use the free WPD tool

The WPD tool is the most convenient way to manage all of your privacy settings in Windows 10. The tool is easy to use and simplifies the process of finding the settings you need to change. It also tells you what each setting does, so you don’t have to try to figure anything out on your own.

Here’s how to use the WPD tool:

  1. Go to wpd.app.

2. Click the big blue Download button

3. Right click the zipped folder and click open

4. Double click the WPD app

Click “Extract All”

Select where to save the file. Make sure “Show extracted files when complete” box is checked. Click on browse and select desktop in the left pane. Click on “Select Folder” and click on Extract.

Double-click on WPD.exe file.

wpd app

Click “Yes” to allow WPD.exe to make changes.

You’re now faced with 3 icons:

Privacy

Click on the Privacy button to manage your privacy settings. Under Local Group Policy, toggle off each setting you want to switch off. If you’re not sure about a particular setting, click on the question mark beside the setting for an explanation.

Blocker

This is where you can block the Windows 10 Telemetry data. This typically includes basic system diagnostics information, logs of how frequently you use features and applications, system files, and other metrics that Microsoft hasn’t disclosed. This is where you can also block applications like Skype, Bing, Live and Microsoft Office. You can also block Windows Update, but this isn’t recommended, as that could leave holes in your operating systems that cybercriminals can exploit. This is also where you can enable or disable the Windows Firewall (should be left on). 

Apps

This is where you can directly remove any unwanted Windows app from your PC.

At the bottom of the tool, avoid choosing “Disable All”. Doing so will switch off all the privacy settings including Microsoft Services and Task Scheduler settings in one felt swoop. It is better to go through each individual setting one by one.

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PC SECURITY

How to Secure Your PC When You’re Not in the Room

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Windows 10 has a great feature called Dynamic Lock that will automatically lock your PC whenever you leave the room. It works by pairing your Android with your computing device. But for this feature to work, you need to have Bluetooth enabled on your phone, and your PC needs to have Bluetooth capability. To activate Dynamic Lock, all you have to do is take your phone with you when you’re not in the room, and it will automatically lock around a minute after it detcts that you’re no longer in Bluetooth range.

How it works

Dynamic Lock will lock your computer automatically based on the following:

  1. It does not detect user input for at least 30 seconds.
  2. Bluetooth has been enabled on the PC and smartphone.   
  3. Your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone is no longer in the same room.
  4. If someone starts to use your PC while it’s unlocked, Dynamic Lock won’t engage even if you leave the room with your smartphone.
  5. There’s no Dynamic Unlock feature when you return to your desk. You’ll have to login again.

How to enable Dynamic Lock

Step 1: Enable Bluetooth on your PC and Android device.

Each Android device may vary, so if you can’t find your Bluetooth settings, check your phone’s manual. You can also visit this link: https://support.google.com/android/answer/3094742

Enable Bluetooth on Android:

  1. Tap on Settings on your Android device.
  2. Look for Bluetooth or the Bluetooth symbol in your settings and tap it.
  3. Look for the option to enable. Tap on it so that is in the on position.

Enable Bluetooth on Windows 10:

  1. Select the Start button, then select Settings > Devices > Bluetooth & other devices.
  2. Toggle the Bluetooth switch to turn it On or Off as desired.

Step 2: Pair your phone

You must first pair your phone with your PC before you can enable Dynamic Lock.

  1. On your PC, go to Settings > Devices > Bluetooth & other devices. (You can also press Start and then type Bluetooth in the search bar and press enter.)
  2. Turn on Bluetooth with the toggle switch.
  3. Next, tap the “+” button for Add Bluetooth or other device.
  4. In the pop-up Add a device window, click on Bluetooth, then choose your device from the list that shows up.
  5. You should now get prompts on both your PC and phone.
  6. Passcodes will appear on your phone and PC. If they match, accept them both by clicking Yes on the PC and then click Pair on the phone to pair.

Update your PC’s Bluetooth driver:

In the search box next to the Start button, type Device Manager and click to expand the Bluetooth line.

Right-click on the first Bluetooth item listed (e.g, Bluetooth USB module), tap Update driver and then select Search automatically for updated driver software.

Step 2: Activate Dynamic Lock

Once your PC and phone have been paired:

  • Click the Start button
  • Go to Settings > Accounts
  • Click Sign-in options in the left panel.
  • Scroll down to the Dynamic Lock section and check the box for Allow Windows to detect when you’re away and automatically lock the device when you’re away.
  • You’re done!

You have now enabled Dynamic Lock. So, every time you leave the room with your smartphone, your PC should automatically to into Locked mode.

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PC SECURITY

Top 11 Mistakes to Avoid When Creating a Password

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Every day, more and more people are having their accounts hacked because of their passwords. People have had money stolen from their bank accounts, lost sleep, spent hours setting up new accounts, or had their credit ruined. And the source of all of this can be traced to weak passwords.

If you do not secure your computer and online accounts with a strong password, the more vulnerable they will be to hackers and malicious software.

With that being said, here are 8 common mistakes to avoid when choosing a password…

Mistake #1: Using the same password on different websites.

Many victims of online banking fraud often use the same password for their online bank accounts as they do for social media and online shopping sites. Recent research carried out by F-Secure shows that people have an average of over one hundred accounts requiring password login and 41 percent of those people reuse the same password across those accounts. That number increases to 56 percent when slight variations of the same password are used. This is understandable. Remembering long, complex and totally unique passwords for so many different email and password combinations is practically impossible.

But what you must realise is that if you use the same login info for all of your online accounts and if any one of those sites get hacked, you would have to change your password on every other site. For example, if a cybercriminal gets hold of your eBay password, the first thing they will do is try it with your PayPal account. Using a single password for all of your online accounts is just like having a master key that unlocks everything. If someone gets access to that key, they can steal everything.

Mistake #2: Not updating your password.

Many people find it inconvenient to change their passwords, which is why they carry on using the same passwords for years. This can be quite dangerous, especially if your password is not particularly strong. If your password is less than 12 characters, your password is vulnerable, and it is important to change your password on a regular basis such as every 90 days to avoid being hacked.

Mistake #3: Using short passwords

One of the most common ways that hackers try to guess your password is through brute force attacks. As already mentioned, any password that is under 12 characters is vulnerable. Brute force attacks show that password length is very important. If you have a six-character password with upper case, lower case, numbers and special characters, that six-character password can be brute forced in about 12 hours.

If you increase that toe a 12-character password, it would take almost 2000 years to brute force the same password. So just by doubling the password length, you have significantly increased the amount of time it would take an attacker to brute force your password. This means, the longer your password, the better.

Mistake #4: Using people’s names.

Along with a longer password, you want to make sure that your password has enough randomness in it. Passwords that are created around things like names are much easier for cybercriminals to break because the combination of characters is more predictable. By choosing a name as your password, you’re making a hacker’s job easier. Avoid using people’s names, celebrity names, kids’ names, nicknames, names from characters in books or movies.

You should also avoid other obvious choices such as your address, favorite band, sports team, pet’s name, the word ‘password,’ and any alternations of it. Such passwords are very weak and will be relatively easy to guess. When you use weak passwords to secure your online accounts, you are only making it easier for someone to compromise all of your accounts.

Mistake #5: Using easy to remember English words

English words that are easy to remember are also easy to guess. Your passwords should never contain English words, non-English words or any words that can be found in any dictionary. Furthermore, according to security experts, if your password contains one or more recognizable words with a few of the letters changed to numbers and even with some random characters at the beginning and/or end, it could get cracked in as little as 3 days.

Mistake #6: Using personal information as your password.

Avoid including information about you that is easy to find online in your password. These include birthdays, social security numbers, telephone numbers, anniversaries, address, city of birth, university, high school, and relatives’ and pets’ names. Using these types of details will only make your password easier to guess.

Mistake #7: Using a used computer you bought from a private buyer without checking for malware.

Logging in to your personal accounts on a second hand computer that you bought from a private buyer is a big risk. Install antivirus before you do any such thing. It is easy for cybercriminals to sell computers that they have infected with malware that is designed to steal your password. They can also install a keylogger that tracks everything you type and relays it back to the previous owner, including the usernames and passwords you’ve used to sign into your bank accounts.

Mistake #8: Relying on common substitutions in your password.

Common tricks such as substituting numbers or special characters for letters are completely ineffective against brute force attacks. Those types of passwords will be cracked with ease. Random character placement is a much more effective technique. 

Mistake #9: Entering your passwords when connected to public Wi-Fi.

Do not enter your passwords whenever you are connected to an unsecured Wi-Fi connection. Free Wi-Fi such as those that are found in coffee shops, hotels, train stations and other places are known to be favorite hunting grounds for hackers. It will be easy for them to harvest your passwords and confidential information over an unsecured connection.

Mistake #10: Saving passwords in your browser.

Whenever your internet browser asks for permission to remember your passwords especially when you sign into a site like your bank, always decline and choose the “never” option.

Mistake #11: Using your password on an insecure computer.

Do not enter your password on computers that you have no control over. That computer may have malicious software designed to steal your password.

You are ultimately responsible for keeping your information safe and secure. These tips can help you avoid most of the hazards you may come across along the way.

Click here to learn how you can create a long and complex password that will be very easy for you to remember.

Categories
PC SECURITY

What is a Computer Virus? Tips to Protect Your Computer in 2021

Reading Time: 4 minutes

What is a computer virus?

A computer virus is a type of malicious program that gets into your computer through email attachments or are hidden inside of other software applications that you have downloaded to your computer. Viruses are primarily created to alter the way a computer functions. Although they cannot damage the physical hardware of a computer system, some viruses have the capacity to render the device completely useless within seconds. Thousands of new viruses are discovered by security experts every week.

How does a computer virus work?

Once a virus has attached itself to a legitimate program on your computer, it can remain dormant without showing any symptoms until the infected program is run, which in turn will cause the virus to be activated. When a virus is activated, it means that it is in the computer’s memory, where it will be able to do a lot of damage such as infecting other applications in the machine. Once the infection phase of the virus is complete, the next stage begins: the destructive phase, where it delivers its payload. Viruses will wait for a certain trigger such as a date before it delivers its payload. This can be the deletion of files all the way to the destruction of the operating system.

Some of the damage a virus can do include:

  • Steal passwords and sensitive data
  • Log keystrokes
  • Corrupt or delete files and folders
  • Spam email contacts
  • Completely take over your device
  • Damage your hard disk

How does a computer get infected with a virus?

In the olden days, viruses were distributed on a floppy disk. Today, as the Internet has matured, computer viruses are spread in several ways.

  • The virus can attach itself to legitimate software such as a computer game, PDF file or office document which is then downloaded to a device.
  • By clicking on an attachment in an email that is infected with a virus.
  • By clicking a malicious link in an email or text message that redirects to an infected webpage which downloads a virus to your computer.
  • By clicking on a malicious link in a social media message or post.  
  • Through external storage devices such as USB sticks.
  • A network user visiting an infected site will infect other devices on the same network.
  • Some viruses are part of macros in spreadsheets or word processing applications like Microsoft Office.

What are signs or symptoms of a computer virus?

If your computer has been infected with a virus, it will begin to show symptoms that indicate the computer has been infected, and what type of virus it has been infected with:

  • Unexpected pop-ups. The popups that suddenly appear when you browse the web are actually coming from adware that’s been installed on your computer. These popups are used to sell fake antivirus programs. Avoid clicking on them as they will actually install different types of malware onto your computer.
  • Your search engine changes without your consent. When your homepage is changed or your search engine changes without your consent, you won’t be able to reset it. It means your web browser has been infected with browser hijackers and adware that has been installed on your computer. When this happens, you’ll be redirected to unfamiliar websites and see unwanted advertisements that originate from the viruses that have been installed on your system.
  • Your computer and internet speed slows down. Sudden loss of performance is one of the most common symptoms that indicate your computer has been infected by a virus. Your operating system will take longer than normal to start, and software programs will take ages to open. Your internet speed will also slow down considerably. If you have recently downloaded free software, you may have inadvertently downloaded a virus that was attached to the file.
  • Antivirus software is disabled. If your antivirus software is disabled, this is a clear sign that your computer has been infected with malware. Antivirus software cannot get disabled on its own. You’re also likely to find that you’re unable to download antiviral software.
  • Slow internet. Computer viruses are a major cause of slow internet performance. Some viruses can hog your internet bandwidth by sending out hundreds of spam emails per minute.
  • Strange programs: You may suddenly have unrecognized applications on your computer that launch by themselves.
  • Programs crashing: If you have a virus, your computer is likely to crash frequently, with programs opening and closing automatically. You may not be able to open your programs and files. You’ll may also see strange messages as you boot.
  • Overactive hard drive: If you find that your hard drive is exhibiting a high level of activity and constantly spins even though you’re not using the device, it is highly likely that you have a virus in the machine.
  • Password changes: if you’re suddenly no longer able to login to your computer, a virus may be preventing you from logging in.
  • Missing files: If you find that certain files and programs have suddenly been deleted or moved around, this is likely to mean that you have a virus on your system.
  • Constantly active internet connection: if your internet connection is very active even when you’re not using it, you may have a virus that is transferring messages back and forth across the web.

How can I prevent computer virus infection?

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Installing antivirus software on your system may not be enough to guard your computer against all types of viruses, with thousands being created every single week. Here are crucial tips you can use to protect your computer from being infected by a nasty virus.

  • Use strong passwords. Secure your computer with a strong, unique and complex password. You need to make it extremely difficult for your computer to get hacked.
  • Stay up to date. Ensure that you have the very latest versions of all applications installed on your devices. Legitimate software vendors regularly update their software to get rid of vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit.
  • Install good antivirus software. Antivirus software are not a complete solution, but they can identify and eliminate threats and keep your system protected.
  • Enable your firewall. Modern operating systems come with a firewall pre-installed. Be sure to enable it to provide an extra layer of protection against viruses and other online threats.
  • Block pop-ups. A pop-up blocker will prevent pop-up ads that can download malware onto your system.
  • Beware of phishing emails. Clicking attachments in phishing emails is one of the most common ways to download viruses to your computer. Never click a link or download an attachment in an email unless you are 100% confident of the source of that email.
Categories
PC SECURITY

How to Run Windows Defender Alongside Malwarebytes

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Malwarebytes is a powerful security tool that is highly effective against malware and other nasty online threats that traditional antivirus programs don’t deal with. However, you can run it alongside a primary antivirus program such as Microsoft Defender to keep your computer in good security shape. The free version of Malwarebytes is perfect to run alongside Microsoft Defender because it doesn’t actually run in the background. Rather, it only activates when you click the scan button. This means it wouldn’t interfere with Defender.

You don’t have to do any extra configuration to get Malwarebytes to be effective for your computer. Simply install it and now and again, launch it to scan for “potentially unwanted programs (PUP), which it will search for and remove. Note that when you install Malwarebytes for the first time, you’ll actually be installing the 14-day free trial.

How can I run Malwarebytes with Microsoft Defender?

When you download Malwarebytes to your computer, the software automatically registers itself as the system’s security program by default. When this happens, Microsoft Defender switches itself off.  However, this doesn’t mean you can’t run the free version of Malwarebytes alongside Microsoft Defender.

Once your free trial is over, if you don’t upgrade, the free version of Malwarebytes will kick in, and you don’t need to do anything else. Defender will carry out automatic scans, whilst the free version of Malwarebytes will remove malware and other advanced threats that it finds on your computer. Note that unlike the free version, you won’t be able to run the premium version of Malwarebytes alongside Microsoft Defender without some configuration in both programs.

Download Malwarebytes

You can download Malwarebytes free trial. Once your 14-day free trial is up, simply do nothing and the free version will continue.

  1. Go to www.malwarebytes.com
  2. Malwarebytes for Windows
  3. Click on the orange Free Download button
  4. Click on Free Download
  5. Allow Malwarebytes Setup to make changes
  6. Click on Yes to complete installation of Malwarebytes
  7. Click on Personal Computer
  8. Click on the blue install button
  9. Click Yes to install Malwarebytes Browser Guard to block annoying popups and speed up your browser

In Malwarebytes, open Settings, click the “Security” tab and disable the “Always register Malwarebytes in the Windows Security Center” option by toggling it to off.  With this option disabled, Malwarebytes won’t register itself as the system’s security application and both Malwarebytes and Microsoft Defender will run at the same time.

Note that once you toggle off this setting, you may have to re-enable Microsoft Defender because it will have switched itself off. Don’t try to enable Microsoft Defender as long as the premium version of Malwarebytes is running because it won’t work without some extra configuration.

How can I re-enable Microsoft Defender?

  1. In the Windows search bar, type group policy.
  2. Click on ‘Edit group policy’
  3. Select Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Microsoft Defender Antivirus.
  4. Select “Turn off Windows Defender Antivirus” at the bottom of the list.
  5. Select Disabled or Not configured. Do not select Enabled as this switches off Microsoft Defender.  
  6. Select Apply > OK.

How can I check if Microsoft Defender is running?

1. In the Windows search bar, type task manager

2. Click on the Details tab.

3. Scroll down and look for MsMpEng.exe and look at the Status column. It will show if Defender is running. If you cannot find this file, then Microsoft Defender is not running on your machine.

Categories
PC SECURITY

Make Your Computer More Secure By Displaying File Extensions in Windows

Reading Time: 5 minutes

If you’ve used the file explorer app to browse files stored on your Windows computer, you might have noticed that file extensions are hidden by default. It is important to understand what type of file you’re clicking on, and file extensions are very useful for quickly determining a file type. This is important because many of the malicious software that gets onto your computer require you to actually click on the file in order for the malware’s payload to be activated.

What is a file extension?

There are many different file types on a computer, and each file has it’s own extension. A file extension is a three, sometimes four letter abbreviation at the end of a file. It begins with a period, and allows the computer to open the file with the right program whenever you want to use the file.   

What is the usefulness of a file extension?

A file extension helps you to identify what type of document it is. For example, a file with an extension of .docx is a Microsoft Word file, and a file extension of .exe tells you that the file is an executable program. By default, Windows hides the file extension so you would have no way of knowing what type of file it is.

Since long file names that were capable of containing multiple full stops are perfectly valid in Windows, hackers soon figured out that they could get users to run malicious programs through the use of hidden file extensions. This means that a suspicious looking executable file that is actually named ‘goodphoto.jpg.exe’ would be perfectly fine, and would appear in file explorer as an innocent looking ‘goodphoto’.

This means you could get an email with an attachment such as funnyphotoofpete.jpg, which looks like an innocent photo. In reality, the actual name of the attachment is a suspicious looking funnyphotoofpete.jpg.exe – not a photo at all, but a malicious program. But since the .exe would be hidden, you wouldn’t notice anything suspicious. And since the attacker is using the name of someone that may be familiar to you, you might be persuaded to double-click on the attachment, thinking it was a photo of Pete. The malicious program would run, compromising the computing device. These types of attacks are very common.

How can I keep prevent these types of malware attacks?

The best way to protect yourself from these types of attacks is to switch on the display of file extensions. By doing that, you’ll be able to see what type of file it really is before deciding whether to open it or not.

Follow the steps below to display file extensions for your version of Windows:

Windows 7

  1. Right-click the start button and select Windows Explorer from the context menu.
  2. In Explorer, click on Organize.
  3. Click Folder and search options
  4. Click the View tab
  5. Scroll down and uncheck the box next to Hide extensions for known file types.
  6. Click OK to finish the process.

Windows 8.1 & 10

  1. Right-click the start button and select Windows Explorer from the context menu.
  2. Select the View tab.
  3. Check the box next to File name extensions.

How can I scan a suspicious looking file in Windows?

If you’ve downloaded a file or received an email with an attachment and are not sure of it’s validity, Windows Defender allows you to scan specific files and folders to make sure they are safe before you open them. As soon as you scan the file, you’ll be notified immediately if it is something to worry about. To scan the file or attachment, simply right-click on it and select ‘Scan with Microsoft Defender.’ When the scan is complete, you’ll see the Scan options page, letting you know the results of the scan.

Most people are aware that .exe files are often used to distribute viruses and other types of malware, but those are not the only file extensions to be wary of in Windows computers. Malware is very dynamic, and changes every day. There are several different file extensions that can contain code, scripts and other potentially dangerous stuff. Read on to increase your malware awareness so you are better prepared to deal with malicious software if it arrives on your computer.

.EXE executable files:

.EXE files are traditionally associated with malware and often sent as malicious email attachments. The use of .exe files to spread malware is not as widespread today because they are often blocked when detected by email providers.

.DOC, .DOCX, .DOCM and other Microsoft Office files.

These files have become very popular method of spreading malware through the use of malicious macros that are embedded within the files. This makes it a lot easier to get past any antivirus software and email attachment protection software.

.HTA, .HTML and .HTM application files.

These HTML web applications have been linked to different ransomware variants and some have been found to be the most effective malware against the Windows 10 operating system.

.JS and .JAR files.

These types of files contain malicious JavaScript code that is notorious for infecting computers with malware. .JS files in particular have been associated with ransomware viruses.

.VBS and .VB script files.

Visual basic files have been associated with some of the biggest and most notorious malware names over the past few years.

.PDF Adobe Reader files

Cybercriminals conceal malware in .PDF files as spam message attachments and these .PDF files have been very effective against unsuspecting victims because these types of files are not traditionally associated with malware.

.SFX archive files

.SFX (Self-Extracting) archive files have been used to infect computing devices by notorious malware families.

.BAT files

Batch files are one of the most widespread files used to spread malware. They can contain a list of malicious administrative commands that will be executed on your computer if they are opened. 

.DLL files

.DLL or Dynamic Link Library files are often Microsoft system files that have been infected with malicious code to perform all types of destructive functions such as deleting essential Windows files, executing dangerous code and modifying registry files.

.TMP temporary files

.TMP files are temporary files that hold important info related to the nefarious activities that will be performed by malicious software on the computer.

.PY python files

These types of files are associated with ransomware, and are used to encrypt the files (pictures, videos, documents, etc.) on your computer so that they cannot be opened again.

Other potentially malicious files you may come across:

The following files may not be often encountered, but they have the potential to infect your computing device with malware. You should scan them before double-clicking them on your computer.

Programs:

.MSI files

These files are used in the installation, maintenance and removal of software on Windows 10 computers.

.MSP files

These are files that are used to patch any application installed with Windows Installer. Any malware in this type of file may pose as fake updates.

.COM files

These files are similar to .BAT files, and are also used to insert commands. They were often used to spread viruses and worms in Windows XP, but can still be used to spread malware today.

.GADGET files

If you use a Windows type with floating gadgets on the desktop, you should look out for these types of files.

Script files:

 .CMD files

These are old-school Windows Command Prompt files. They are similar to batch files in that they can insert malicious commands that will run on your computer if the files are clicked.

.VBE Files

These are encrypted VBS files. You can determine whether a .VBE file is malicious by dragging and dropping the file onto the decode VBS script, and then checking out the code.

.JSE files

These are encrypted JavaScript files. It is difficult to detect a virus in a .JSE file. There is no need to take a risk by opening this file on your computer. A better option would be to delete the file.

.PS1, .PS1XML, .PS2, .PS2XML, .PSC1, .PSC2

These are potentially dangerous Windows PowerShell script files as they are ran with administrative privileges.