If you’ve taken to heart any of the security advice or practices that I or many other technology professionals have been dispensing for the past few years, you’ve probably developed a healthy skepticism for any emails that land in your box that are unexpected and contain unfamiliar links. Even more so if your email provider marks the email as spam or a possible phishing attempt.
For example, I recently received an email with the subject “iPhone iPod touch Class Action Settlement” that was immediately marked as spam by Gmail. This email purportedly offered me a part of a class action settlement with Apple. Seeing how many people own iPhones and iPods, it seemed like good phishing bait so I assumed this was yet another scam. It had all the trappings of a well-made con:
- broad target demographic
- based on a recent, actual event
- contained lots of official-sounding text that didn’t read like a 4th grader wrote it
- no overt clues that the sender was an obvious bad agent (non-US domains, inappropriate reply-to addresses, spoofed mail headers, etc.)
It would probably lure people into clicking a link that would either load up their machines with malware, or entice them into giving up some personal information that would later be used in an identity theft attempt. I opened it up with the intent of warning my audience and clients about the potentially well-crafted fraud.
As it turns out, this is a legitimate email that Gmail incorrectly identified as spam, probably because the sender was flagged as a spammer by justifiably suspicious readers like you and me. A little research online reveals this is part of the original case that made headlines back in May of this year. Emboldened by this information, I used Chrome (bolstered by a variety of anti-scripting extensions) to visit the included link, and, lo and behold, it’s a legitimate website. Because of the relative newness of this initiative, there isn’t a lot out on the web about this yet, so unless you are an experienced internet researcher, your searches might have come up with little evidence that this was a legitimate email.
What this means for you:
Most cautious internet citizens might have trusted their email provider’s guidance on this and just deleted this email, potentially missing out on as much as $200 as a settlement award. False positives are an unfortunate side-effect of a proper security protocol, and in this case, even Google didn’t provide enough information to immediately assuage my suspicions, and a few search results actually led to conversations where people immediately labeled it as a scam. Sometimes the internet does not provide instantaneous answers, nor is it always right, and as always, you should always take your search results with a grain of salt, especially if there is money at stake. If your search results turns up a dearth of information, your best course of action is to wait a few days for the internet to catch up (it always does!) and research again, or to contact a tech expert like C2 Technology to get a second opinion.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Security researcher Bogdan Calin has reportedly devised a new cyberattack method that can compromise certain types of routers merely by a local user opening an email on their iPhone, iPod or Mac. This new vector takes advantage of two common security weaknesses: the default mail client settings on Apple devices that loads remote images automatically, as well as default or weak admin passwords on consumer-grade routers that are often found in residences and small businesses. In a nutshell, the attack works by taking advantage of your router’s ability to be managed via web-browser by opening dozens of hidden pages with login and setting changes, each firing off in turn until one of them affects the change.
All of this happens in the blink of an eye, and because the changes don’t have to be destructive immediately, the user would not know they had just compromised their own network. These settings could include changing your DNS settings to servers that a hacker controls, allowing them to misdirect anyone on that network to sites that can further hijack computers. For example, typing “Google.com” would no longer take you to the actual Google website, but could instead send you to a counterfeit site that, for all intents and purposes, looks very similar to Google’s own site, and from there, could lure unsuspecting users into further compromising decisions.
What this means for you:
As of now, this particular attack only works on specific types of routers, and relies on the fact that many people have never set their router password to something other than the default it shipped with from the factory. Despite Mr. Calin’s warning, Apple is not planning to address the settings exploit, and has instead suggested that users can turn off the automatic loading of remote images in emails (the default setting in Android mail clients) if they wish additional security, but with the downside that all images, legitimate or not, would be prevented from loading. The simplest solution, of course, is to set your router password to something other than the default, and preferably one that is hard to guess or brute-force.
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net