Cyber Espionage: The Dark Side Of The Web

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about information security breaches.  Ahem, and experiencing them first-hand.  In the world of inbound marketing, information security is crucial to maintaining the integrity of your digital accounts.  A breach in these accounts could mean the loss of data for clients, or even the loss of integrity in terms of your image.  It’s quite a sinking feeling when you realize that your data has been stolen or compromised in some way.  According to the recent WebSense 2010 Threat Report  “79.9% of websites with malicious code were legitimate sites that have been compromised…..52% of data stealing attacks occurred over the web…. [and] 84.3% of email messages were spam.”  Think of some of the “big name” websites you usually visit- yes, even those could have been or actually were compromised with malicious coding.  The e-mail statistic is not shocking, I have my Gmail account with nearly 9k email messages in it, most of which are spam.

The statistic that is most alarming to me is that 52% of all attacks where data is stolen occurred over the web.  Think of how much information you give away on the web between online banking, financial forms, e-mail addresses, and social media.  All of that information is susceptible to being stolen.  Aside from malicious code, one way this information can be stolen/compromised is by people who know you well.  Although you may not have given anyone your password, think of  the security questions associated with your accounts in the event that you need to re-set your password.  Does anyone at all know you well enough to be able to answer those?  Does anyone but yourself have access to your computer?  If so, read on- here are some precautions that you can take to prevent your information from being compromised:

  1. When logging on to your on-line banking interface, always make sure the address in the address bar starts with “HTTPS” as opposed to just “HTTP”.  Also, in some browsers (and depending on which version of browser you are using), there will be a little lock icon near the address bar or at the lower right-hand corner of the screen.  Make sure this is present as well.
  2. If you are not the only user for your computer, do NOT save any of your passwords in your browser.  The settings for storing passwords can be edited in the browser options.

  3. Set your browser to delete history, cookies, temporary internet files, form data, and passwords upon closing your browsing sessions.  It’s definitely a pain to have to enter in the information each time you log on, but if you aren’t the only user on your computer, this would be one way that someone could get access to your secure information without your knowledge.  I highly recommend this especially if other user(s) of your computer have ill intentions.

  4. Change your non-email (banking, social media, blog, etc) passwords and security questions often.  At the risk of sounding paranoid, I change mine weekly.  I didn’t always do this- but after a recent data breach by a former associate, I decided it was time to read up on security precautions.

  5. Change your e-mail password often as well- sometimes when someone is trying to gain access to your account, they will need to open the e-mail sent by that site to re-set the password.  If they cannot get into your e-mail, then they cannot re-set it.  If you start noticing e-mail notifications from sites where you have accounts about re-setting your password, someone is definitely trying to gain access to your information.    In certain instances, depending on what kind of access they do gain and depending on what they are doing in your account, this can be grounds for criminal charges.  Recently, someone attempted to delete my domain name in my account.  Luckily, I caught the e-mail notification and was able to contact tech support and prevent anything bad from happening.  Luckily, was able to log the IP address of this person and further action can be taken.

  6. In addition to a good anti-virus software package, you will also need a mal-ware remover.  I prefer Avast anti-virus, as well as Ad-Aware for spyware removal.  Make sure you are updating these types of programs frequently- people who are set on getting your information are smart, and determined.  Trojans viruses can log all of your activities – and open the door for theft of information, identity, and money.   Set your computer to auto-run these programs daily, and you’re much more protected against a security breach.

  7. Avoid questionable content: adult content image searches lead to bad things.  According to the WebSense 2010 Threat report “Bing Adult image and video queries shows that 8.18 percent will result in a search results page that contains a malicious link. . . Google adult image queries were even more striking. . .50.38 percent of queries will give us a search results page that contains a malicious link.”    WebSense also reports a 111.4% increase in malicious websites from 2009 to 2010.    So, always remember to keep your web browsing squeaky clean and you’ll be a LOT less likely to have your information compromised.

  8. Make sure the address in your browser window matches that of the website.  What I mean by that is- if you are visiting FaceBook, make sure you check for the “https” in the address bar.  Social networking sites are targets for phishing scams.  If you try to log-in to a page that is phished, most likely, the address bar will show an address that is slightly different from the actual URL.   Once you enter your secure information, your account has then been compromised.  Another interesting statistic – WebSense reports that “40% of all  Facebook status updates contain links. . . and 10% of those links are either spam or malicious.”  So pay close attention to the website address, as well as what links you click on once logged-in to the site.  Recently, a client was using their Facebook interface and noticed that they kept getting an error message while attempting to log-in.  It just so happened that I was meeting with them that day anyway- and they were able to show me exactly what happened.  The URL was slightly different from the correct Facebook URL and I explained exactly how people do this.  Simple solution: we secured the correct URL, logged-in, and immediately changed the password.  The way phishing works- is that you are tricked into entering your information into a false log-in screen that looks nearly identical to the real site.  The phishers then collect your log-in and password, and use your account freely to do whatever their evil little hearts desire.

Take a look at this list of major discoveries WebSense made during 2010.  It’s pretty surprising at first blush, but after reading through this report, I understood why and how it was possible.

Hopefully, if you employ these tactics, you won’t become the next victim of a malicious cyber espionage attack- and won’t fall prey to the dark side of the web.  May the e-Force be with you!