Tag Archives: viruses

I’m A Spammer! Well, Not Quite…

Before I get into this post, I’d like to mention that I was interviewed for the first time about my finance site, which was pretty cool. I also wrote one of my rare guest posts for Sonia of Logallot titled 7 Certainties Of Blogging That Prevent Boredom. Check those out if you’ve got the stomach for it. 🙂

Last September I wrote a white paper and put it up on my business website for potential clients to download. I decided I wanted to capture email addresses so I could follow up on some of the people who downloaded it. That turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes of my life, and I’m still paying for it. And I should have known better.

Dean Studios (Des Moines, IA) Advert,  Early 1960s
Joe Wolf via Compfight

It worked pretty well initially, as more than 50 people downloaded it. Then suddenly I started to get a lot of returned email, only I hadn’t sent these emails out. It seemed that my business email address had been scrapped because of the script I used and was now sending spam email blasts out with my email address, though not from my IP; thank goodness!

Not only that, but these scammers have hacked into multiple people’s email accounts, though I haven’t been able to figure out which ones, because every email that comes back my way has a different person’s name on it, and every once in awhile when someone responds to it I can tell that they know the person by name.

I should have known better because this type of thing happened to me back in 2007 as well. At that time I created my newsletter page with a script so that people could give me their email address along with a message and also tell me which newsletter they wanted, as I was writing two at the time. Within months the same thing started happening, though not at the volume and length of time this one is. All I did then was remove the script and it stopped within a few weeks. This time around it’s been almost 8 months; help!

Actually, the official term is spoofing, and it seems there’s little I can do about it except hope it slows down at some point. One blessing is that, unlike years ago, my email address hasn’t been put on a blacklist. That’s because these days IP addresses are logged instead of email addresses, and none of them are coming from my IP.

Most of the time I delete the messages, but every once in awhile I download one and try to track down the IP address, though I know that’s fruitless. And I will download any emails where someone thinks they’re responding to their friend and tell them what’s going on, hoping that they’ll contact their friend and that they didn’t click on the link in the email.

What are the lessons to learn here? Check this out:

1. Find ways to verify any scripts you put on your websites. Maybe instead of just scraping your email address someone will figure out a way to get into your website or blog and hack it; it’s been done often.

2. Make sure that if you’ve got an email address on a site like AOL, Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo, etc, that your password is strong. Don’t make it easy for scammers to find your stuff; use caps, numbers, symbols if allowed, and try to make your password at least more than 10 characters; I only have one that short.

3. If you ever receive an email from someone you know but there’s no signature file at the bottom of it, don’t open that bad boy. And if most emails you get from your friends don’t have signature files to begin with (shame on them), just look at the email and see if it resembles what you’d normally get from your friends. Some folks are just so trusting…

4. Make sure you have a good antivirus program running just in case you have a lapse of mental faith and decide to click on a link without thinking. Good software will prevent the virus or malware you just invited onto your computer from getting there.

So, feel sorry for me while taking precautions of your own; protect yourself, because there’s a lot of nefarious people out there.
 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Mitch Mitchell

Protect Your Computer From Malware

Some days ago one of my web clients calls and leaves and interesting message on my phone. He says that his hard drive has crashed and he’s lost everything that was on his C drive. The message asked me to call him as soon as possible.


by Tara Hunt via Flickr

Of course by the time I got that message it was late, and I knew he went to bed early. I called him the next morning and throughout the day, as it was Saturday, and never reached him. So I sent him an email, which I knew he’d get on his phone, and told him to reach me Sunday. He did, we talked, and he brought his computer over and left it with me.

The first thing I did was to hook his computer to my monitor and other stuff. Then I disconnected my wife’s computer from the network and booted his up because I wanted to see what it would do. It booted up just fine, and when it was loading suddenly I saw this message saying the C drive had been compromised, and that he could buy some product to help fix the problem.

I’m assuming most people reading this blog know this already, but he had malware on his computer. The reason I disconnected my wife’s computer from the network up front is because I was betting he had malware. There’s no such message ever telling anyone that their C drive has crashed; it just doesn’t work that way. If it had crashed the computer wouldn’t boot up, instead emitting these little beeps that drive someone like me crazy because of their pitch.

How did he get the malware? I have no clue, and neither did he, but often I see this type of thing when someone goes to a website that’s been compromised, they get an initial warning saying something might be wrong with their computer and to “click here” to check it out, and there you go. The uninitiated will fall for it almost every time, and my client would truly be considered one of the uninitiated.

The trick then is to get rid of the malware. His computer couldn’t access the internet, as figures, so I went to my laptop and downloaded a copy of ComboFix, which works wonders with XP computers; there’s no equivalent yet for Vista or Win 7so I’d have had to do a search on how to get rid of it for his particular issue, but for XP ComboFix is the way to go. I loaded it, then it went online to look for updates and it was ready to go.

What you’ll sometimes see is it saying you have some kind of scanner or virus program running. In this case it said he was running Microsoft Essentials, but I know I’d turned it off and I’d also disabled it under msconfig, and rebooted before running the program, so I knew it wasn’t running. ComboFix will still run, but it’ll tell you that it might not work as well; so be it. The program will create a restore point, then do its job, which could take awhile or it might work fairly fast. In this case it took about 25 minutes, but it killed the malware.

The next thing I did was install CCleaner, which a few people mentioned in my post on clearing out browser history, and ran it in both ways. By that I mean I first ran it to look through all the browsers on his computer to clean things out. Good thing I did because it discovered two dormant viruses that it took care of. Then I ran a registry check and it found over 1,300 bad entries, which I cleared up and then ran it again to fix whatever was left.

After that I added an antivirusand a firewall. Thing is I thought I’d added it to his computer last year when I repaired it, then remembered that this was actually a new computer of only a few months that I hadn’t seen before.

What are the lessons here? One, if you get a warning on your computer and it’s not from a program you know you’re running, don’t click on it. Two, if the message belies the action, such as a message telling you that your hard drive has crashed and yet you’re computer is still running, it’s malware. Three, at the very least disconnect your computer from the internet (if you’re running cable like I am) to help keep things under control. Four, make sure your computer has antivirus and firewall protection.

Oh yeah, a number five; if you go through something like this and have to ask someone else to fix it for you, ask them to clean things out while they’re in there and don’t gripe about the price, since you should have asked up front what it might cost. Even though I didn’t just sit there watching stuff running, it did end up taking me 3 1/2 hours to clean out all the junk on his computer, including all these programs that were automatically running because they’d inserted themselves into his start up files, large temp files from software loads, etc. When he got his computer back that sucker was once again humming like it was new.

You’ve got to protect your hardware; you probably need your computer more than you think you do.
 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Mitch Mitchell

System Restore; Possibly Your Computer’s Best Friend

I have spent the better part of the last 24 hours trying to repair a friend’s computer. Actually, not quite a repair; seems he got a few viruses and malware on the computer while downloading shared music through Limewire. Suddenly he was getting all sorts of popups, then it wouldn’t let him open any programs except the one offered to fix everything; if you’re computer savvy you know where this one’s going.


by blisschan

Since it’s still on XP I went and pulled out trustly ol’ Combofix, which has never failed me in the past. And this time… it failed me! It wouldn’t load, consistently saying some file had crashed and asking if I wanted to send it to Microsoft for review. Sometimes I do that, sometimes I don’t, but this seemed somewhat suspicious. So I looked it up on my computer and found that if I’d clicked on it more malware and nasty stuff would have been allowed onto the computer; ick.

I went through a litany of things; after all, I had just cleaned and fixed this computer about 2 months ago. Nothing was working, including going through the registry trying to track down this one particular virus. There were some programs that said they’d fix it for a price, but I wasn’t having it, especially for someone else’s computer.

Finally, I decided it was time to go back to square one. Okay, maybe not quite square one, since I didn’t start with that, but it was time to go to the WABAC Machine for this particular computer; it was time for System Restore.

System Restore is a program on your computer that allows you to reset your computer to a time and place before you added something new to your computer. If you’d downloaded songs and the like it won’t touch those, but if you’d loaded any programs whatsoever it would eliminate anything you’d done that affected the registry since the last time your computer had a system restore point. There are some folks who recommend turning this off to speed up your computer performance but trust me, it’s worth a slight decrease in speed to keep this sucker open.

I opened the program and went back about 4 weeks, which I figured was a safe enough period of time where this computer was running better, and I loaded it. The sucker took almost 30 minutes, but that’s okay because I knew when it was done almost everything would be fine.

And I was right. When it had completed its task all his icons were back, his wallpaper was back, and I opened a few programs just to make sure they were back as well; they were. I could have said I was done at that point, but nope, it was time to add more stuff.

There was no antivirus on the sucker, so I downloaded and added AVG, which is not only free but looks for a few other things than just viruses. Then I added a firewall, Zone Alarm, which still works great on XP computers. I ran a full scan on his system and found some minor virus that must have been residing there some time ago, and got rid of that. Otherwise the computer was now totally clean and, after telling tons of things that he and his wife had starting up automatically and sitting in the background to beat it, loading much faster.

System Restore just might be your best friend; whew!

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Mitch Mitchell