Heartbleed, OpenSSL and Perfect Forward Secrecy

If you want to know the quick and easy way to understand what Heartbleed is, How the Heartbleed Bug Works and what it means to you in very simple and elegant terms, there’s this wonderful xkcd cartoon today:

Heartbleed Explanation: How the Heartbleed Bug Works - xkcd.com - Click on image to go to the site to see it larger

Heartbleed Explanation: How the Heartbleed Bug Works – xkcd.com – Click on image to go to the site to see it larger

And that my friends is pretty much it in the nutshell.

Due to this ‘bug’ or what could be commonly called in days gone by as a type of buffer overflow condition causing leaking of information, sometimes serious and important information.

You will or at least you should be hearing from secure websites where you have made purchases and have accounts, as well as banks you use, and many more secure websites as they update their SSL Certificates.

Many have been working on this and many have already taken care of this on their servers.

Once it is taken care of, then you want to change your password but not before.

If the website was vulnerable, they should be contacting you, or when you login you will see a notice about it. Soundcloud.com was a good example. When I logged in today, they presented a banner across the top about the Heartbleed vulnerability.

When/If a secure website was vulnerable, they will be contacting you when they get this fixed on their website server, so you can change your password.

The sad thing is that this bug has been out there for at least 2 years!

Here’s a really good article about this in layman’s terms and there are several sites for testing supposedly secure websites for your banks, credit card companies, email, etc.:

Heartbleed OpenSSL Bug FAQ for Mac iPhone and iPad users – Intego.com Blog

What CERT and others are recommending to these websites that are vulnerable is to implement Perfect Forward Secrecy like StartPage.com and ixquick.com where they have this knowledge base article:
“Heartbleed” is a security vulnerability in OpenSSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption that permits eavesdropping on communications and access to sensitive data such as passwords. Heartbleed gives read access to the memory of the encryption functions of vulnerable servers, allowing attackers to steal the private keys used to encrypt data transmissions.StartPage’s vulnerability to this attack was limited, since we had implemented a more secure, upgraded form of SSL known as Perfect Forward Security (PFS) in July 2013. PFS is generally supported by most recent browser versions. Since PFS uses a different “per-session” encryption key for each data transfer, even if a site’s private SSL key is compromised, past communications are protected from retroactive decryption.

Security is a moving target, and we work hard to stay ahead of the curve. Immediately after the Heartbleed security advisory, StartPage’s encryption modules were updated and encryption certificates were changed.

In independent evaluation, StartPage and Ixquick outscore other search engines on encryption standards, earning an A+ rating. See Qualys’ SSL Labs evaluation of StartPage’s encryption features here:
https://www.ssllabs.com/ssltest/analyze.html?d=startpage.com&s=69.90.210.72

This problem is serious and needs to be addressed, but don’t panic. Secure websites that are vulnerable are working on the problem that was discovered this week.

Wait to hear from companies about whether they were vulnerable and that they have fixed the vulnerability on their secure webservers before changing any passwords.

Some good things to note, Apple and Microsoft have already notified that their services are not vulnerable. Here’s the Hit List from Mashable:

The Heartbleed Hit List: The Passwords You Need to Change Right Now – Mashable

Some big names that you might be happy to hear were not affected according to the Mashable article:

Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, eBay, PayPal, Target, Walmart, LinkedIn, Hulu, AOL email, Hotmail/MSN/Outlook.com emails and more.

All the Google servers have been updated:

You may have heard of “Heartbleed,” a flaw in OpenSSL that could allow the theft of data normally protected by SSL/TLS encryption. We’ve assessed this vulnerability and applied patches to key Google services such as Search, Gmail, YouTube, Wallet, Play, Apps, and App Engine.Google Chrome and Chrome OS are not affected. We are still working to patch some other Google services. We regularly and proactively look for vulnerabilities like this — and encourage others to report them — so that that we can fix software flaws before they are exploited.

More in the article.

More information on Heartbleed:

EDIT: Please check the comments for some additional links that are very helpful and informative about the Bleeding Hearts Club by EFF.org, the vulnerable routers from Cisco/Juniper Networks as well as some additional VPN  and other products. And some good news about 1Password.
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MS Word users warned of ongoing attacks exploiting unpatched bug

Microsoft warns Word users of ongoing attacks exploiting unpatched bug – Computerworld

Biggest worry, says expert, is that exploits are triggered just by previewing malicious messages in Outlook 2007, 2010 and 2013

Microsoft today warned users of Word 2010 that in-the-wild attacks are exploiting an unpatched vulnerability in the software.

The company also published an automated tool to protect customers until it issues a patch.

An attacker could cause remote code execution if someone was convinced to open a specially-crafted Rich Text Format (RTF) file or a specially-crafted mail in Microsoft Outlook while using Microsoft Word as the email viewer,” said Dustin Childs, group manager and spokesman for Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing group in a blog Monday.

BOLD in the quote is mine.

Microsoft put out a Security Advisory 2953095 as Corrine noted on her Security Garden Blog including Fix it buttons for enabling and disabling reading email messages in plain text format.

This is one of the things for which both Microsoft in Outlook and Apple in Mail have massively fallen down on the job. This would not be happening if you could easily toggle various view options such as HTML or Plain Text for reading emails, as well as allowing and disallowing images inline.

This is something that I am very thankful that Mozilla Thunderbird got right from the very beginning. Mozilla Thunderbird gives very granular control regarding the various ways to Display email messages such as in PLAIN TEXT, SIMPLE HTML (simple html with javascripting disabled), or ORIGINAL HTML.

You also have control over how images are displayed or not in several ways and differentiating between attached images and remote images.

You can also close to enable do not track in emails. There are Security Add-ons like Adblock PlusEnigmail (OpenPGP), more. As well as lots of specialized Add=ons. One of these that I like is QuickText and a few others. It works on Windows, Mac and Linux.

There is also a pay to play $9.95 I think, but also has a free trial. It was originally for Macs and now there is a Windows version as well. It was created by the original developers of Thunderbird called Postbox. It has some but not all the Add-ons that Thunderbird has.

/rant on

I am not saying everyone should move to Mozilla Thunderbird. What I am saying is that Microsoft Outlook and Apple Mail should give their users these types of granular control so people can choose how they wish emails to be viewed. Both do some things but they stop way short of what is really needed in this day and age with emails.

HTML is like a venetian blind. It hides what is behind it. You can’t see what is behind all that HTML. You can’t decide to see HTML only if you trust the email after viewing what is in that email. This makes it way too easy for phishing emails to look like your bank, PayPal, your credit card company, etc. It also allows companies to track you with web beacons, transparent gif images and other remotely loaded images so they know if and when you view their email.

Something needs to be done about all this. Mozilla Thunderbird makes it so easy for folks to be able to toggle images so they can’t track you, use SIMPLE HTML to keep the ‘form’ of an email message without the more dangerous javascripting. Or allows you to totally view the email in plain text so you can see that that link that appears to be going to your bank actually goes to some strange URL that has nothing to do with your bank or a store you may or may not do business with.

People need these tools. Some may or may not realize it, but they really do.

I have heard so many people say that the email look just like it was from their bank and they fell for it. Or a store they frequent and gave up their login credentials by clicking on the link rather than going to the website because it looked like it was the store’s promotion.

Sure, no one should click on links in email, but if it looks legit, many do. Sure, if you like something in a promotion for a store, it might be better to just go to the store’s website but some stores really don’t have a page on their website that is clickable to get you there, unless you click on the link in an email. Also, the links are often obfuscated by third party trackers and campaign tracking sites, etc. This all makes life very difficult for email users to know what’s good and what’s not.

OK, I will get off my soap box now.

/rant off

 

XP SP3 and Office 2003 Support Ends April 8, 2014

Windows XP has been around since August 24, 2001 – 12 years ago now. It is getting VERY long in the tooth.

Windows XP SP3 and Office 2003 Support Ends April 8th, 2014

Like many Operating System versions, Windows XP was not such a great OS in the beginning. BUT, like many Microsoft products, it got better after Service Pack 1 (SP1), but wasn’t the best it could be till after Service Pack 2 (SP2) and mildly better after Service Pack 3 (SP3). SP3 is the current version of Windows XP.

I loved Windows XP for a long time, even though it was getting long in the tooth. But I have come to love Windows 7 even more. Windows 8 … the jury is still out. For me I use several different operating systems. I also love and use Mac OS X or just OS X (as it is called now) and Debian Linux.

Windows XP has been on life support or Extended Support since April 8, 2009 when Mainstream Support ended. That was after two says of execution as it were since it was supposed to be ended earlier than 2009.

Windows XP has been the main stay for many folks for a long time in the Windows world — the last 12 years. That’s a long time for an Operating System version.

Windows XP still holds the #2 spot at 31.24% of computer users as shown below in the graph from NetMarketShare.com:

NetMarketShare.com Operating System Breakout - November 1, 2013

NetMarketShare.com Operating System Breakout – November 1, 2013

Windows 7 holds the #1 spot for a very good reason. It is still the best of the newer Operating Systems from Microsoft to date — in my opinion and nearly half of all Windows users to date. And Windows 7 is still good to go until January 14, 2020 (end of Extended Support – it is still in Mainstream Support until January 15, 2015). Here’s the break out of the Windows lifecycle fact sheet info:

Windows Life Cycles from the Windows Life Cycle Fact Sheet

Windows Life Cycles from the Windows Life Cycle Fact Sheet

I have said all this because we need to see where were are, and where we need to be as computer users, particularly as Windows users with April 8, 2014 looming over those of us still using Windows XP.

Especially in the light of the pervasive malware purveyors out there today.

We need to make sure we are all no longer using Windows XP of any kind before or at least by April 8, 2014 when Microsoft will no longer be providing ANY security updates for Windows XP.

A few years back they did the same thing with Windows 2000. It’s now Windows XP’s turn.

Please read the following articles to see why this will be very important:

Windows XP infection rate may jump 66% after patches end in April – Computerworld

Microsoft yesterday again put the scare into Windows XP users, telling them that after April 8, 2014, the chance that malware will infect their PCs could jump by two-thirds.

Windows lifecycle fact sheet – Microsoft.com (image above)

New stats show Windows 8 usage up sharply as XP usage plummets – ZDNet (for curiosity though, look at the difference between the table on ZDNet’s article and the one today).

NetMarketShare (choose Operating Systems from the dropdown to see the chart above in real time)

Gartner Says Worldwide PC, Tablet and Mobile Phone Shipments to Grow 4.5 Percent in 2013 as Lower-Priced Devices Drive Growth – Gartner.com

Source: Gartner Oct 2013 - Worldwide Device Shipments by Segment

Source: Gartner Oct 2013 – Worldwide Device Shipments by Segment

It would appear, that, as predicted, many around the world are moving to other types of computers, in particular mobile devices. This was forecast and it would seem to be coming to pass rather dramatically now.

It is amazing to see the number of people who rarely if ever use their desktop computers these days, relying on their mobile devices for almost all, if not all, their computing and Internet needs. Some folks no longer even have a computer other than a tablet, like the iPad or Nexus Tablet, or Surface, etc., or just use their smartphones for their email, browsing, messaging, gaming, etc. which is the bulk of what people seem to do on the Internet these days. Unless of course if their work or business, or gaming bents, are important to them. Having said that, even gaming has very much gone mobile for many people.

I am hoping that folks will take a look at the overall picture and determine which direction they wish to go now that there are only a few months left before Windows XP will no longer be a viable Internet connected computer.

Will a Desktop or Laptop be the way to go, or will a Mobile device like a Tablet or maybe even just a smartphone be enough for many folks? Staying with Windows or moving to a Mac may also be a consideration.

No matter which way folks ultimately go, deciding will be important and thinking about this is really needed with Windows XP going away in just a short few months.

Over 31% of computer users will need to make this decision before April 8, 2014, if they wish to remain as safe as they can be on the Internet.

Even with Google Chrome continuing to support Windows XP SP3 a year after Microsoft (till 2015), if the Operating System itself has no updates, that will certainly not be enough.

Lots to think about and only a few months to decide … Windows XP SP3 and Office 2003 Support Ends April 8th, 2014

A wave out to all my Google+ friends

[tweetmeme source=”franscomputerservices” only_single=false]And other Google+ users who might soon be wondering where I went…

EDIT 9/6/2011: In the comments, I continue to add articles. I hope to have this be a pretty inclusive list of articles on this issue. If you know of one I have missed please feel free to leave a comment with the link. Thanks!

I have found that as much as I absolutely love Google+ the ‘social network’ — now known to be an ‘identity service’, I am leaving on 9/9 along with some others that have identified 9/9 as the day to leave. Hopefully it will have some impact even if it’s only a small overall number of users. But more than anything, I hope it will have a lasting impression regardless on how dangerous ‘identity services’ appearing to be ‘social networks’ can be.

Google has determined that Google+ aka Google Plus or G+ is to be an ‘identity service’ and that Google/Google+ require your real/common name not a pseudonym, pen name, stage name but only western style two name real/common names apparently.

Some may say so what. But others will know that this is a major issue and has been since Facebook started this trend. Here‘s my Google+ posting on this and this one reshared from Tom Anderson both which will be gone after 9/9.

Not to mention the fact that Google+ is linked to things like your GMail account, Google Search, Picasa, Youtube, Google maps/location data, Android apps purchases, and so much more — and even more of Google’s offerings as time goes on (and boy do they have a lot of social types of offerings or apps). And if you don’t like that and decide to leave G+, you are prompted to remove all, what they call connections to their ‘social apps’ linked to your G+ GMail account.

“Just go somewhere else” is a fallacy. The name policy stretches far beyond Google+, and here’s why. (Todd Vierling on Google+)

Here’s just a couple early articles the weekend when Google started arbitrarily disabling accounts:

Google+ and the loss of online anonymity by Matthew Ingram (GigaOm)

Update: Complaints mount over Google+ account deletions by Juan Carlos Perez (Computerworld)

Dutch researcher downloads 35 million Google Profiles (State of Search)

So what’s the big deal? First, it’s a great security risk for users. Especially normal/average users since many business users already have their ‘real’ name out there and it’s part of their branding. I actually am one who has done just that. Fran Parker is Fran’s Computer Services and this posting is on my Fran’s Computer Services blog. And technically Fran Parker is a common variation on my real name, but that is ‘allowable’ on G+ because it is how I am commonly known. Also, there is some arbitrariness about it all too. If disabled users can ‘prove’ who they are, or can ‘prove’ that they have a ‘valid’ reason for allowing the ‘pseudonym’ to those at Google/G+ who handle complaints or vetting of those who want to try to get reinstated, you can be back in their good graces.

However I am leaving Google+ — and don’t get me wrong — it would certainly benefit me to stay on G+ and let their new service benefit my business networking online. Instead, I am leaving Google+.

My name is Clo | My Name Is Me

My name is Albatross | My Name Is Me

Why? I am leaving because Google has decided to build G+ as an identity service — in some ways like Facebook, but not really since G+ is a public profile server — yes, you can hide nearly everything but your public posts or responses to public posts, your +1 (think: Facebook Like), AND you can’t hide your real/common name because they make that public — and Google has changed the rules on their services so they can now link you, by name, and even by what you put in the field for ‘also known as’, or ‘nicknames’ field, on every one of their services and boy do they have a lot of services. And if you don’t believe me, try this. Especially if you are a member of Google+, search on your name, particularly your Google+ profile name.

Will cyberthugs exploit Google Plus ‘identity service’ for spear phishing attacks? by Darlene Storm (Computerworld)

What’s the big deal, you say? Oh, nothing much accept that by doing this, they have made each and every one of us a bigger phishing, actually more like spear phishing, and/or unethical hacking/cracking target by linking everything we do or say online. For business users whose names are linked to their branding, they live with that day in and day out and it’s a major pain, but they made that decision to deal with that consciously at some point. But the average user? I don’t think the average or normal user needs or wants those types of hassles. OK, so maybe you say, So what? It’s a greater security risk for users. You can be targeted so much easier by linking so much about yourself online. And there is this to think about:

Google fined in Brazil for refusing to reveal bloggers’ identities (TheNextWeb)

OK, and if that wasn’t bad enough. By limiting the ability to use pseudonyms, stage names, pen names, non-English Western civilization name standards, etc., Google is cutting of their nose to spite their face. And some folks have been known by nothing else but a pseudonym, pen name or stage name online for as much as 20+ years, by the way. But that’s OK, they don’t really want to be everyone’s Google+ friend, they obviously just want to make more money.

Why do I say that? Because all of this linking is data they can market with, sell to others in corporations, governments, highest bidder, whatever — in aggregate form of course, like Facebook does. Facebook makes a bundle on this already and Google apparently wants a piece of that action…well a bigger piece. Besides they already know you. Now they are getting your permission to basically track you further, and use more of your data that you share with them….errr, enter on their services, like Google+.

Also, but many of us have been working against abuse of marketing crap since Steve Gibson created OptOut when he became aware of the crap that was going on in the early days of computing online on the Internet. Marketing which was more like spyware than benign advertising in the newspapers or magazines where they can’t track you!

OK, enough about that side of things. Now on to the other side. The discrimination, the arbitrary decisions to disable accounts and require proof of who they are or the changing of their ‘name’ to something more western or 1st world or whatever you want to call it … two name (first and last name) like western countries do. Which is not at all like real/common names in other parts of the world.

Also, some folks really do need to use a pseudonym, or alternative name, stage name, pen name …whatever you want to call it. And many people in this type of situation would rightfully feel this is a discrimination against women. Many women have been stalked, have had abusive spouses or coworkers/bosses or have spouses or jobs where it would be ‘inconvenient’ (like they could lose their job or their spouses job for them or their position), if they were not able to speak out anonymously through a pseudonym.

There are so many angles on this issue. It was wrong when Facebook did it and it’s even more wrong (if there is such a thing) for Google to do it. Why is it more wrong for Google? Because we have higher expectations of Google. They have always tried to ‘do no evil’ in the past and now they will be right in the middle of it. Was ‘do no evil’ only to get people to trust them? Like Apple with their ‘think different’ and revolution anti-big brother stance in their 1984 commercial? But all the time they had other plans?

If you are not familiar, and it would likely be easy not to be familiar if you are not on G+ aka Google Plus service or have friends that are. Since it is an invite only ‘field test’ at the moment anyway, many would be not involved. But many geeks, technicians, artists, artisans, journalists, etc. are on it to help improve it and try it out as the new kid on the block in social networking. I have been one of these folks for some time now. First with a pseudonym which was quickly squashed through either someone turning me in for having a pseudonym or their algorithm bot got me because the name was obviously not a real name, and after that was disabled, I decided to come back as my business name.

Here are some, and just a few really of the articles that address the issues better than I could ever do:

Understanding the Nym Wars (BoingBoing) with several links and some great commentary


A Case for Pseudonyms (EFF.org)


Google+ Identity Crisis: What’s at Stake With Real Names and Privacy (Wired.com)

Violet Blue: just one of her many postings about Pseudonyms on G+ and she has a legitimate gripe and one of her articles on ZDNet


“Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power (danah boyd blog)


Tracking the Nym Wars (G+ Insider’s Guide)

On Pseudonymity, Privacy and Responsibility on Google+ – Kee Hinkley

Why It’s Important To Turn the Tide on Google’s Real Name Policy (Botgirl’s Second Life Diary blog)

Who is harmed by a “Real Names” policy? (GeekFeminism – Wikia.com) (and related Pseudonymity article).

Who is harmed by a “Real Names” policy?

This page lists groups of people who are disadvantaged by any policy which bans Pseudonymity and requires so-called “Real names” (more properly, legal names).

This is an attempt to create a comprehensive list of groups of people who are affected by such policies.

The cost to these people can be vast, including:

  • harassment, both online and offline
  • discrimination in employment, provision of services, etc.
  • actual physical danger of bullying, hate crime, etc.
  • arrest, imprisonment, or execution in some jurisdictions
  • economic harm such as job loss, loss of professional reputation, reduction of job opportunity, etc.
  • social costs of not being able to interact with friends and colleagues
  • possible (temporary) loss of access to their data if their account is suspended or terminated

The groups of people who use pseudonyms, or want to use pseudonyms, are not a small minority (some of the classes of people who can benefit from pseudonyms constitute up to 50% of the total population, and many of the others are classes of people that almost everyone knows). However, their needs are often ignored by the relatively privileged designers and policy-makers who want people to use their real/legal names.


Nymwars – Wikipedia

The icing on the cake was Eric Schmidt the recent but former CEO of Google stating this (guess he can say anything now, eh?):

Eric Schmidt: Google+ Is An Identity Service; User Your Real Name Or Don’t Sign On (Huffington Post)

Schmidt: G+ ‘Identity Service,’ Not Social Network by David Gerard (slash dot or /.):

David Gerard writes
“Eric Schmidt has revealed that Google+ is an identity service, and the ‘social network’ bit is just bait. Schmidt says ‘G+ is completely optional,’ not mentioning that Google has admitted that deleting a G+ account will seriously downgrade your other Google services. As others have noted, Somewhere, there are two kids in a garage building a company whose motto will be ‘Don’t be Google.‘”

And here’s one I missed that I just saw over at Google+ on Nom DeB‘s profile posts:

Google+ Can Be A Social Network Or The Name Police – Not Both by Bob Blakley at Gartner Blogs

Really all you need to do to find out more about this is to search on Google or any other search engine for any number of combinations of words in this article.

Now we even have a place for Google Refuges to be able to link up after they leave Google+.

EDIT: grammer/clarity and to add Bob Blakley’s Gartner blog article. Also almost forgot my TWEETMEME link, and Added Todd Vierling’s “Just go somewhere else” is a fallacy. The name policy stretches far beyond Google+, and here’s why.”

Attackers exploit latest Flash bug on large scale

[tweetmeme source=”franscomputerservices” only_single=false]Attackers exploit latest Flash bug on large scale, says researcher (Computerworld):

Hackers are aggressively exploiting a just-patched Flash vulnerability, serving attack code “on a fairly large scale” from compromised sites as well as from their own malicious domains, a security researcher said Friday.

The attacks exploit the critical Flash Player bug that Adobe patched June 14 with its second “out-of-band,” or emergency update, in nine days.

Check your current version of Adobe Flash and make sure you have their latest version. They have put out 2 out of band updates recently, so we all need to really be sure.

New Flash Player Zero Day

[tweetmeme source=”franscomputerservices” only_single=false]ZDNet reports, Adobe warns of new Flash Player zero-day attack:

Hackers are embedding malicious Flash Player files in Microsoft Word documents to launch targeted attacks against select businesses, according to a warning from Adobe.

These are being used to steal secrets from corporations, likely through downloaded and emailed MS Word documents such as Excel.

Adobe is working on patches for Flash 10.2.x and for earlier versions as well, for just about every OS out there.

Adobe Reader X protected mode will “prevent an exploit of this kind from executing.” The actual fix won’t come till their normal patch cycle in June for Adobe Reader. So be sure to get the latest version (Adobe Reader X)!

Much more in the article including information and links to Adobe’s security release.

Lizamoon and Epsilon breach

[tweetmeme source=”franscomputerservices” only_single=false]There are two major things that users need to be aware of right now, as if there weren’t enough already. 😉

One affects email and the other affects browsing/surfing the Internet. Both bad news, and we all need to be very aware of what has happened and why we have to be very vigilant in making sure we don’t click on links in email, open attachments sent in email, or respond to potential unexpected boxes and requests while surfing the Internet.

Financial and payment services are the biggest areas being hit right now, and will continue to be so much more effective and dangerous due to the current economy while people scramble to survive around the world.

Targeted Sectors Q2 2010 - Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG)

Targeted Sectors Q2 2010 - Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG)

Lizamoon/LizaMoon drive-by rogue malware infection

Lizamoon is a drive-by rouge antimalware or antivirus download infection. Thankfully you generally have to take some action to allow it to install as noted by Fred Langa in the comp copy of WindowsSecrets.com newsletter in his article entitled, “LizaMoon infection: a blow-by-blow account“. Must read!

The most important takeaway is that Fred said he had to take action on four separate occasions before the infection took place:

On the other hand, deliberate choices and actions by a user can defeat any software. LizaMoon required my active, voluntary involvement four different times before the infection took hold.

LizaMoon wasn’t even subtle: I had plenty of warnings and opportunities to abort the process, the malware itself provided abundant clues to its own bogus nature (such as an inability to keep its aliases straight).

Much more in the article. A must read for all who surf the Internet to be able to identify this rogue drive-by infection when it happens/if it happens.

The biggest takeaway:We can prevent these types of things by being aware and not clicking on things just because they are presented to us while surfing the Internet.

Epsilon breach – Spear Phishing attacks

Epsilon is an outsourcing marketing company for many big companies/banks. They have a huge database of people’s email addresses, names and the company or bank associated with each email address. This makes the spear phishing, generally a very effective social engineering technique and can make their attacks via email so much more effective…mainly because they know the email addresses are real, and more importantly they can link the real name and the actual company/bank connected the email address.

Computerworld reports, “Security experts today warned users to be on the watch for targeted email attacks after a breach at a major marketing firm that may have put millions of addresses in the hands of hackers and scammers.”

Brian Krebs (KrebsOnSecurity) and Heise Online Security report,

Epsilon has now confirmed that approximately 2 per cent of its total clients were affected. According to a blog post by security blogger Brian Krebs, financial services company Visa and American Express (Amex) say that they were not impacted by the Epsilon breach. However, the following banks, service providers and online retailers are said to have been affected:

1-800-FLOWERS
AbeBooks
Air Miles (Canada)
Ameriprise Financial
Barclay’s Bank of Delaware
Beach Body
Bebe Stores
Best Buy
Benefit Cosmetics
Brookstone
Capital One
Chase
Citigroup
City Market
College Board
Dillons
Disney Destinations
Eddie Bauer
Eileen Fisher
Ethan Allen
Euro Sport (Soccer.com)
Food 4 Less
Fred Meyer
Fry’s Electronics
Hilton Honors Program
Home Depot Credit Card (Citibank Editor)
Home Shopping Network
JPMorgan Chase
Kroger
Marks and Spencer
Marriott
McKinsey Quarterly
MoneyGram
New York & Co.
QFC
Ralph’s
Red Roof Inns
Ritz-Carlton
Robert Half International
Smith Brands
Target
TD Ameritrade
TiVo
U.S. Bank
Walgreen’s

Much more in these articles, must read, as well as others on the web including WashingtonPost, eWeek, BBC, and others.

The biggest takeaway: Don’t believe everything you see in email. Don’t trust links or downloads in email. Check with the person who sends it before opening any downloads and don’t give out information from your bank, and other sites, etc. unless you can confirm it definitely came from them. You can always go to the site directly from your own bookmarks/favorites and login to ensure you get to the right place. Don’t use their links in email unless you can verify it’s really from the company. In fact, one can get into trouble and get further compromised by clicking on links in email.

Side note: this is why I do not view email as HTML. So much can be hidden behind all the pretty pictures and code.

And be prepared. Keep your antivirus software and antimalware program as well, clear your Internet cache frequently. If you suspect you have been hit with one of these rogue antivirus/antimalware attacks, unplug the Internet/network cable from your computer to prevent further harm and take appropriate action by running Malwarebytes Antimalware, CCleaner (or other temporary Internet cleaner program you use), and then a scan with your antivirus software and take whatever recommended action they call for. Links to these programs provided on our Resources page.

If you make sure both of these are updated before you surf for the day, you will be in a much better situation should you somehow get hit with something.

And do your backups, and have an image of your OS to restore from if it becomes necessary. Windows 7 makes this very easy to do with their built-in image creator and backups, and system repair disk.