Protecting Yourself From Phishing Attacks

With tax deadline quickly approaching, more problems than just tax forms are on the horizon. Many cyberattacks are now targeting users with emails that look almost identical to legitimate TurboTax and IRS communications.

TurboTax PhishingTurboTax Phishing2

So how do you know what to look for and what is phishing anyway? Simply put, “phishing” refers to attackers attempting to get personal information (names, account numbers, credit card information, addresses, and other identity information) from a victim by pretending they are a legitimate source. Anytime you receive an email from a company asking you to verify information, first ALWAYS ask yourself if you have ever actually created an account with that company. If you prepared your taxes with an accountant and you get an email asking you to verify TurboTax information, chances are that the email is malicious. If you think that an email may be suspicious it is best to:

1. NEVER open any attachments in the email.
2. Do NOT forward the email to anyone else.
3. Do NOT click on anything in the email including pictures, videos, buttons, and links.
4. If you think the email MAY be legitimate, contact the sender by phone (not by phone number listed in the email). Search that company’s name on Google, Bing, or Yahoo! and get the correct information from their own website. Then verify the email you are looking at is legitimate.

Sometimes, even the most educated users can be fooled by attacks. Cybercriminals are constantly evolving their attacks and even targeting specific individuals rather than mass mailing random accounts. Some general best practices for protecting yourself from even the most sophisticated include: making sure that your operating system and browser are updated to the latest version, you have an updated anti-virus AND anti-malware software, and you always access the internet from known and trusted networks.

Here are some additional things you can do to protect yourself from a phishing attack:

1. Always have passwords on your computer and any important software. Make sure those passwords are not kept in plain sight and never share them with anyone.

2. Never click on any links in an email that redirect somewhere other than the sender’s website. A simple way to see where the link points is to either mouse over it or look in the bottom bar of your browser for the full url.

3. Make sure you keep up to date on the latest releases and patches for your operating systems. Run Windows update often on your computer or enable automatic update delivery. Same applies for Apple/Mac operating systems.

4. Make sure you are using an updated web browser that includes anti-phishing features, such as Internet Explorer 10, Microsoft Edge, Firefox version 45, Safari version 9.0.3, or Chrome version 49.

5. Do NOT open up any attachments that claim to be a software update, invoice, or bill. Legitimate companies will provide a secure link to their portal with any of this information.

6. NEVER respond to emails asking for account, password, banking, or credit card information.

7. Do not respond to calls or texts asking you to call a number and enter your account number, social security number, or pin. Legitimate companies and government agencies will NOT call you to verify critical information such as your account, credit card, or social security numbers.

8. Do not allow anyone to remotely log into your computer to install updates, patches, or modify your system in any way unless you can verify they actually work for a company you do business with. Legitimate companies will also never ask you to send them money through sources such as Western Union, Moneygram, or Bitcoin.

General Pointers to Avoid Ransomware Attacks

From hospitals to small businesses, ransomware is a topic that has been in the news quite often in recent weeks. So what is it? Quite simply, it is a malicious program, application, or piece of code that takes over your system and demands that you pay a “ransom” to let you back in. Ransomware comes in a number of different variations, but the at the end of the day, it pretty much infects your machine, encrypts your files (so you have to pay to get them back), and then tries to spread to as many other shared locations as possible.

How do you get it? There are a number of ways to get infected, most commonly through email attachments (some of these are as simple as PDF or Word files). Quite often clicking on links to infected websites also carries a risk of getting the malware. If you see an email that is not intended for you, has questionable content, or just plain looks suspicious, the best bet is to delete immediately. This ransomware can now also attack Macs, phones, and even Linux machines. There are variations that will spread through the network and infect as many other files as they can find.

How do I know I am infected and what do I do? If for any reason you start seeing strange popups or a screen appears telling you that anything has been infected or encrypted immediately turn off your machine (yes, pull the plug). The biggest problem with this type of ransomware is that it immediately begins to encrypt files, the faster the machine is turned off and off the network, the greater the chance that it will not encrypt anything vital. Ransomware will always present itself very clearly, there will be a message that your files are locked or encrypted, and likely a message that you have been doing something inappropriate. Often times, attackers will use logos from the FBI, NSA, and local law enforcement agencies in these messages. Upon seeing such a screen, immediately shut off your machine even if pulling the power cord is the only way. With laptops, press and hold the power button until the machine shuts off completely. Make sure you disconnect it from any network sources, especially if connected with a cable. Contact your IT provider immediately so they can advise you on the next steps that pertain to your particular environment.

How do you protect yourself? No matter how many security safeguards are in place, no system is perfect. The name of the game is to always stay one step ahead of the bad guys and their goal is to find a way around the good guys’ defenses. End users must be taught to be very careful when clicking on any links in emails, going to any websites that may be suspicious (even legitimate sites can get hacked), and downloading things from email or links contained in email. Also be mindful of any USB drives that you do not 100% know the origin of. Same goes for CDs, SD cards, portable drives, etc. Many of you may also charge your phones through the PCs as well. Keep in mind that any infection that may be on your phone now has a way to spread to the computer when you sync or charge it.

The single greatest way to protect yourself from infection is having the knowledge to avoid potential dangerous situations. But even the most informed will sometimes get attacked. In such cases, having backups of your data is paramount. Look for our other blogs regarding proper backup strategies and more security pointers!