Tag Archives: Security

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Digital Self Defense for Incoming Students at RIT Presentation

Category:Higher Education,Information Security,Infosec Communicator,Internet Safety,Presentations,Privacy,Risk,Social Networking Tags : 

We had a great time presenting to our 2800-person incoming class at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Here’s the YouTube video of the five presentations (Hannah Morgan, Dawn Soufleris, Nick Francesco, Jon Maurer, and Ben Woelk) aptly emcee’d by Chris Tarantino.

Click on the screenshot to watch the show!

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Avoiding the Botnet Snare

Category:Information Security,Infosec Communicator,Uncategorized Tags : 

“Why would anyone attack my computer? I don’t have anything of value on it.”

Is this your mindset? Although the goal of many attacks may be identity theft or financial gain, there are other reasons for someone to attack your computer.

Of the many types of malware (malicious software) attacks, one of the most serious is someone installing remote control software that allows them to install and run automated programs, making your computer into a bot or zombie computer. Your computer then becomes part of a bot network controlled by a bot herder. The bot herder will use your computer to conduct distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, send spam and phishing email, and attack other computers.


Several years ago, 2006 was described unofficially as the “Year of the Bot.” Millions of computers were members of botnets—4.7 million according to the 2006 Symantec Internet Threat Report. Other estimates ranged as high as 7% of all computers (approx. 47 million.) Typically, bot networks may contain as many as 80,000 computers. (There were even reports of a Dutch botnet of 1.5 million computers!) The problem is not any better today.

How does it work?

Although bot methodology is evolving, the classic bot scenario is shown below:

How a botnet works: 1. A botnet operator sends...

Image via Wikipedia

IRC (Internet Relay Chat) has been the classic means of communications in bot networks. In this type of network, it is easier to shutdown the bot controller because communications would be easier to track back to their source. Most recently, there are examples of bots using P2P (peer-to-peer) communications—“bots talking to bots.” This creates a decentralized structure which is much harder to shutdown.

How do I know if my computer is part of a bot network?

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to tell. You may notice unusual activity if you leave your computer on, you may be contacted by your Internet service provider (ISP), or you may find that your computer is quarantined/blocked from the campus network. If you are following the requirements of the Desktop Standard and you have run a virus scan and a spyware scan with no reported infections, it is likely that your computer is not part of a botnet. Follow the steps below to make sure you don’t become part of a botnet.


The key to preventing your computer from becoming a bot is to use a combination of technical and process protections. You’ll need to make sure you’ve got the right software enabled and you may need to change the account you use to check email or browse the Internet.

Protecting Yourself from Bots

If you’re running Windows XP or older, don’t use your administrative account for daily activities, use a “limited” account instead. A limited user account doesn’t allow the user to install software or make system configuration changes. If you browse the web using a limited user account and accidentally visit a malicious web site, normally, no software can be installed without your permission because your user account is not capable of installing software.

Create defense in depth to protect your computer against a variety of attacks. Install antivirus software, keep it up to date, and set up regular system scans. Make sure the Operating System (Windows, Macintosh, Linux, etc.) is up to date with its patches and has auto-update turned on. Way back in 2006, the average time between the discovery of a vulnerability and the availability of instructions to exploit was less than seven days.

Use a personal firewall. Firewalls protect you from outside intruders and also can prevent programs on your computer from inappropriately connecting to the Internet For Windows computers, check the list at https://personal-firewall-software-review.toptenreviews.com/. Macintosh users can use the built-in firewall in the OS, but make sure it’s enabled. Linux users should choose an appropriate firewall. A hardware firewall can also be used to protect desktop computers.

Use anti-spyware (where available). Spyware sends personal information to other people without your knowledge. For Windows, Spybot Search & Destroy (www.safer-networking.org) and Ad‑Aware (www.lavasoft.de) (free for personal use only) have been traditional choices. You may find that it is best to use more than one product, but be sure to read any information about compatibility with other software. Check out the reviews at https://anti-spyware-review.toptenreviews.com/ for some suggestions. (Be careful of downloading other anti‑spyware products. Some of them actually install spyware on your computer.) Researchers have estimated that as many as 89 percent of home computers are infected with multiple instances of spyware, averaging about 30 spyware components each.

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Making Information Security Fun

Category:Facebook,Higher Education,Information Security,Infosec Communicator,Internet Safety,Presentations,Social Networking,STC,STC Rochester,techcomm Tags : 

I shared this presentation at the October program meeting of the Rochester Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication. The presentation demonstrates how the Information Security Office at the Rochester Institute of Technology used marketing techniques to reinforce key messages to raise awareness around information security concerns such as phishing.

To see more about how we’re using blogging to raise awareness in a specific academic course, visit the RIT Cyber Self Defense blog.

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Top Ten Tips for Safe(r) Social Networking

Category:Information Security,Infosec Communicator,Internet Safety,Privacy,Social Networking,Uncategorized Tags : 

No lifeguard on dutyDid you know you’re a target every time you go online? Did you know that cyber criminals are targeting social networking sites? Do you know how to recognize a phishing attempt? Following these tips will help make your use of social networking sites safer. (Unfortunately, there’s no way to guarantee that you can use them safely.)

Tip #1: Use strong passwords/passphrases.

It’s important to use strong passwords because automated “cracking” programs can break weak passwords in minutes. At a minimum, you should use 8 characters (preferably 15 or more), mixing upper and lower case letters and numbers. Many websites also allow the use of longer passwords and special characters. Incorporating special characters into your password will make them more difficult to crack. You’ll also want to use different passwords on different accounts. Using a password safe such as LastPass will help you manage these passwords by generating strong passwords and then supplying them when needed.

Tip #2: Keep up to date.

Attackers take advantage of vulnerabilities in software to place malware on your computers. Keeping up to date with patches/updates helps thwart attackers from using “exploits” to attack known vulnerabilities. It’s important to keep both your Operating System (Windows, Mac OS, linux, etc.) and your applications (Microsoft Office, Adobe, QuickTime) patched.

Tip #3: Use security software.

It’s a good practice to follow the requirements of the RIT Desktop and Portable Computer Security Standard on personally-owned computers. Among other elements, the standard requires use of a firewall, antivirus, and anti-spyware programs. Many security suites contain all of the elements needed to protect your computer. (Your Internet Service Provider may also provide security software.)

Tip #4: Learn to recognize phishing attacks.

You’ve all seen phishing attacks. They’re typically emails that appear to come from a financial institution that ask you to verify information by providing your username and password. Never respond to these requests. Your financial institution should not need your password.

Tip #5: Think before you post.

Don’t post personal information (contact info, class schedule, residence, etc.) A talented hacker can see this, even if you’ve restricted your privacy settings! Don’t post potentially embarrassing or compromising photos. Be aware of what photos you’re being “tagged” in—don’t hesitate to ask others to remove photographs of you from their pages.

Tip #6: Remember who else is online.

Did you know that most employers “Google” prospective employees? Have you seen the stories of people’s homes being burglarized because they’ve posted their vacation plans online? Many people other than your friends use these sites.

Tip #7: Be wary of others.

You can’t really tell who’s using a social network account. If you use Facebook, you’ve certainly seen posts by your “friends” whose accounts have been compromised. Don’t feel like you have to accept every friend request, especially if you don’t know the person.

Tip #8: Search for your name.

Have you ever done a “vanity search?” Put your name in a search engine and see what it finds. Did you know that Google allows you to set up an Alert that will monitor when your name appears online? Setting this up with daily notifications will help you see where your name appears.

Tip #9: Guard your personal information.

Identity thieves can put together information you share to develop a profile to help them impersonate you. Be especially careful of Facebook applications. They may collect information that they sell to marketing companies or their databases could be compromised. Do they really need the information they’re requesting?

Tip #10: Use privacy settings.

Default settings in most social networks are set to sharing all information. Adjust the social network’s privacy settings to help protect your identity. Show “limited friends” a cut-down version of your profile. Choose the strongest privacy settings and then “open” them only if needed.

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Choosing the Safest Browser, Part 2

Category:Information Security,Infosec Communicator,Internet Safety Tags : 

Safe Practices

Check your Browser Security Settings

How can you tell how secure your web browser may be? Scanit’s Browser Security Test checks your browser security settings and provides a report explaining the vulnerabilities, the potential impacts, and how to correct them.

Use Security Software

Your security software should include an antivirus, anti-spyware, and a firewall.

Update Regularly

Keep your browser and applications up to date. If you’re prompted for an update, accept it.

Use Strong Passwords

Use a strong complex password or passphrase. Consider using a password vault such as LastPass to generate and store your passwords.

Install Browser Tools/Add-ons

Current browsers all provide some protection against phishing. There are also browser tools that you’ll find helpful.

  • The Netcraft Toolbar is a browser plug-in available for Firefox. The toolbar helps stop phishing attempts by blocking known phishing sites and providing hosting information about the sites you visit.
  • The McAfee Site Advisor is a browser plug-in available for Internet Explorer and Firefox. The Site Advisor warns you of websites known to have malicious downloads or links by checking them against a database at McAfee.
  • WoT (Web of Trust) provides color-coded ratings of the safety and reputation of websites.

Limited Account Privileges

Limiting account privileges (WindowsXP) provides simple but effective protection when working online. Limited accounts allow you to do most daily activities but do not allow you to install software (only accounts with administrative privileges can install software on the computer).

Many attacks take advantage of administrative privileges to install malware on your computer. If you’re using a limited account, attackers and malicious websites will not be able to install malware. (This is less of an issue with Windows 7 and Mac OS X because they ask you to confirm software changes.)

Threats have doubled since 2009 and the threat vectors have increased. Vigilance is even more important.

One thing hasn’t changed. The key to safe browsing is not which browser you choose. It’s following safe practices.

Please comment on the post and let us know some safe practices you recommend.

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