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What is a Bot? A Botnet? A Zombie Computer?
 

You may or may not have heard such terms as "Bots", "Botnets", "Zombie Computer" in news stories about data breaches and other cybersecurity risks.

A "Bot", short for robot, is a type of software application or script that allows an attacker to take complete control remotely of an affected computer. The compromised machine may also be referred to as a "Zombie", "Zombie Computer" and a collection of these infected computers is known as a "Botnet".

Millions of computers worldwide are infected with Bots and under the control of hackers as part of a Botnet, which is a network of computers running Bots under the control of a Botnet Operator.

Bots are software applications that run automated scripts over a network, while a Botnet Operator is a person controlling and maintaining the Botnet. The owners of these infected computers typically do not experience any signs that the machine is infected and continue to use it, unaware they are being controlled by a cybercriminal.

 In fact, the infected machine could be sending multiple spam emails, including ones to all contacts in the computer, making it appear that the email is legitimate and from someone they know. They can use your computer for mining Bitcoins or other Cryptocurrencies; they can steal banking passwords and can be used to infect other computers on the Internet as well.

 

 

How does a Bot infection happen?

Bot infections follow the same path as the typical Internet Virus or Worm.

A Computer Virus is a malicious software program loaded onto a user's computer without the user's knowledge which performs malicious actions, infects your programs and files, and alters the way your computer operates or stops it from working altogether.

A Computer Worm is a type of malware that spreads copies of itself from computer to computer. A computer Worm can replicate itself without any human interaction, and it does not need to attach itself to a software program in order to cause damage.

Malware (Malicious Software) is any software designed to cause harm. Malware can damage files, steal sensitive data, and even take your device hostage.

You may open an attachment in an email, visit a malicious web site or download malicious software often associated with “free software” such as games, screensavers, any of which may result in malware being installed on your computer.

Once infected, the Bot software sends a notice to the “controller”, the Botnet Operator, who then downloads additional malicious software to the compromised host. The Botnet controller then may have complete control of your computer.

Examples of malicious software commonly associated with Botnets and the subsequent activity impact on your computer are:

  • Keystroke logger programs that specialize in capturing all of your key strokes and are adept at capturing personal information including your user name and password, as well as credit card and other financial information.

 
  • Programs that are used to distribute spam. The next email you receive regarding a hot stock tip or prescription drugs could be coming from your neighbor.  These emails usually employ a ”spoofed” or phony email address.

  • Denial of service attack programs. The botnet controller can summon tens of thousands of zombies to overwhelm web sites, computers or entire networks.  Even large companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo and the New York Times have had their web sites impacted by denial of service attacks.

  • Use your computer for mining Bitcoins or other Cryptocurrencies.

  • It is estimated that over 65% of spam worldwide is sent by botnets.

  • The FBI recently reported a botnet containing over one million zombie computers!  

How can I tell if my computer is part of a botnet?

lIf you are infected with a worm or virus, chances are today that you may also be part of a Botnet.

hSome of the symptoms of infection are:

  • Your computer and Internet connection are slower than usual; programs that use to run on your computer no longer are able to run; your hard drive is spinning (making a noise) and you are not using your computer; Sluggish behavior by your computer or any other strange behaviors or anomalous activity on a computer.
  • You receive unexplained error messages and your computer crashes frequently and your computer takes longer to shut down and startup
  • You discover messages in your outgoing email folder that you didn’t send. A tip-off might be if you receive bounce-back notifications from people you don’t know or haven’t emailed.
  • Your Web browser frequently closes for no obvious reason and your access to computer security websites is blocked.
  • CPU Usage at or near 100%
 

If you detect any of the above symptoms affecting your computer that may be an indication of an infection and should be investigated further to determine if there is an infection, and if so, the type and the scale of the infection.

What can I do to protect my computer?

Bots propagate by taking advantage of security vulnerabilities in software, poor security controls, as well as by using social engineering techniques to entice users to open an email attachment that infects your computer or to visit a web site that downloads malware.  

 The following recommendations will help prevent your computer from becoming part of a botnet:

  • Never open an email attachment unless you know what it is--even if it's from someone you know and trust.

  • Do not visit untrusted web sites.

  • Do not download free software from untrusted sites.

  • Do not use free file sharing programs. These are commonly used to distribute music files and often contain malware.

  • Use a firewall to filter Internet traffic.

  • Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software and keep it up to date.

  • Keep your operating system and application software, especially your Internet browser, up-to-date.

 

 

What is a computer Virus?

by Flicker Thomas - flicker@flickertronics.com

 

A Computer Virus is a program or piece of binary code that is loaded on to your computer without your knowledge and can cause malicious damage. All Computer Viruses are man-made.

Some Computer Viruses can also replicate themselves (Polmorphic Virus), and some types of viruses are capable of transmitting themselves across networks and bypassing security systems.

Computer Viruses are often spread through downloads on the Internet or by attachments in Email or instant messaging messages. They can also be disguised as attachments of funny images, greeting cards, or audio or video files. That is why it is essential that you open email attachments unless you know who it's from and you are expecting it.

What is Ransomware?

by Flicker Thomas - flicker@flickertronics.com

Ransomware is a type of Malware which blocks access to the to the computer system that it infects , and demands a ransom be paid to the creators of the Malware via an on-screen alert in order for the victim to regain access to their computer or files, typically in the $100 to $300 range.

Some forms of Ransomware will put up an alert that the FBI has blocked your computer and tell you to buy a MoneyPak Card and put in the redemtion code to access your computer - those are all bogus and simply take your money.

Some forms of Ransomware encrypt the files on the systems's hard drive ( cryptoviral extortion). The Cryptolocker Virus is particularly nasty, and I will discuss that in the article below.

 

Computer Workstation Ergonomics

Excerpts Compiled from OSHA                     by Flicker, CEO, Flickertronics

 Millions of people work with computers every day and pay little attention to computer workstation ergonomics, the study of how people work in their environment and the effects of such work on the human body.

While there is no single correct posture, furniture arrangement or working environment, with these few tips you will find your workplace more comfortable.

Here are the tips:

1. Keep top of monitor at or just below eye level.

2. Keep head and neck balanced and in-line with torso.

3. Keep shoulders relaxed.

4. Keep elbows close to your body and supported.

5. Keep lower back supported.

6. Keep wrists and hands in-line with forearms.

7. Have more than adequate room for keyboard and mouse.

8. Keep your feet flat on the floor.

9. Have good lighting and avoid glare from improperly shaded windows.

 
 

The Microsoft Imposter Scam

The Microsoft Impostor Scam is Targeting the Saint Augustine, Florida area especially hard in recent months.

We have a number of people each month who let impostors access their computer remotely.

We have been receiving increased calls from local consumers who have been targeted by the Microsoft Imposter Scam and similar others - a number of them have allowed the impostor to access their computers remotely, and even paid, the impostors!

The scam, which involves people pretending to be employed by Microsoft, Cisco, Linksys, HP or other recognizable technology names offering to fix computer Viruses, is thought to have ripped off tens of thousands of people in six countries.

We will use Microsoft as an example, but this applies to any such suspicious caller since none of those companies ever call people in such a manner.

The Impostor will make an unsolicited phone call, send a letter, e-mail or text coming "out of the blue" pretending to be a Microsoft or other prominent company employee. The targeted victim is told that it has been detected that their computer is infected with Viruses and the caller offers to help to fix the problem.

The fake Microsoft employee will try to “Hard Sell” their targeted victim regarding all sorts of bad things that will happen to their computer if they do not sort out the problem immediately.

 To try to gain the targeted victims trust, the caller may sometimes direct them to the Event Viewer in Windows which shows details about various hardware and Windows software issues.

The Event Viewer is always full of some type of error messages, even on a healthy computer, but the caller will convince them that these are the warning signs of the impending disaster.

When the caller has their trust, they ask the targeted victim to go to a website and download a remote control program that will help them fix the problem.

After downloading the remote control program, the caller will take control of the computer, the targeted victim will see their mouse pointer move around while various programs and folders are opened. The caller will claim that they know exactly what the problem is and how to fix it.

Then the caller will ask for credit card details for a piece of software that will supposedly remove the ‘Virus’.

The software that they sell to fix the computer will do nothing except tell you every now and then that everything is fine, all viruses have been removed. But in reality, it could be downloading all sorts of Malware to your computer.

However, part of the scam’s damage may already have been done when the customer downloaded the remote control software. This software could well have the capability to sit in the background for months or years, stealing personal information from the computer like bank login details and other personal details that could be used for identity theft purposes.          

Quote from Microsoft:

"Microsoft takes the privacy and security of our customers and partners personal information very seriously. We are advising customers to treat all unsolicited phone calls with skepticism and not to provide any personal information to anyone over the phone or online. Anyone who receives an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft should hang up. We can assure you Microsoft does not make these kinds of calls.

These callers could also be using this software to infect your computer with real viruses and Malware.

If you receive one of these unsolicited phone calls hang up and do not download anything they ask you to download.

And definitely don’t hand over your credit card details, just because someone mentions the well known names Microsoft or Windows.

 

If you have allowed them to take control of your computer, or you have downloaded their ‘fix’ software, it is possible they have infected your computer with a Virus or other nasty Malware.

At www.techsourcenews.com we have a number of tools to verify that your computer is safe and secure.

To scan and remove Viruses, Rootkits and Malware for FREE from your computer, click on the Free Do it yourself Virus Removal Tools link at the top of the page.

Ransomware does not only target home computers, thousands of businesses have been infected as well, resulting in millions of dollars in losses.

Paying the ransom does not guarantee your encrypted files will be unencrypted, and rarely does paying the ransom work..

However, if paying the ransom does work that will start the decryption process. When you pay the ransom you will be shown a screen stating that your payment is being processed and may take several hours to complete.

Once the payment has been verified, it will begin decrypting your files, which can take quite a while depending on how many files were encrypted, and you most likely will not recover many files!

 

 
US_CERT Security Tip (ST06-003) - Staying Safe on Social Network Sites
What are social networking sites?

Social networking sites, sometimes referred to as "friend-of-a-friend" sites, built upon the concept of traditional social networks where you are connected to new people through people you already know.


The purpose of some networking sites may be purely social, allowing users to establish friendships or romantic relationships, while others may focus on establishing business connections.


What security implications do these sites represent?

Some social networking sites rely on connections and communication, so they encourage you to provide a cetain amount of personal information. When decicing how much information to reveal, people may not exercise the same amount of caution as they would in person because
1. The Internet provides a sense of anonymity
2. The lack of physical interaction provides a false sense of security.
3. They tailor the information for their friends to read, forgetting that others may see it.
4. They want to offer insights to impress potential friends or associates
While the majority of people using these sites do not pose a threat, malicious people may be drawn to them because of the accessibility and amount of personal information that's available. The more information malicious people have about you, the easier it is for them to take advantage of you. Predators may form relationships online and then convince unsuspecting individuals to meet in person leading to potentially dangerous situations.
 

The personal information can also be used to conduct a social engineering attack. Using information that you provide about your location, hobbies, interests, and friends, a malicious person could impersonate a trusted friend or convince you that they have the authority to access other personal of financial data.


Additionally, because of the popularity of these sites, attackers may use them to distribute malicious code. Sites that offer applications developed by third parties are particularly susceptible. Attackers may be able to create customized applications that appear innocent while infecting your compute or sharing your information without your
knowledge. (High Security Risk for business networks - Flicker)


Limit the amount of personal information you post - Do not post information that would make you vulnerable, such as your address or information about your schedule or routine. If your connections post information about you, make sure the combined information is not more than you would be comfortable with strangers knowing. Also be considerate when posting information , including photos, about your connections.


Remember that the Internet is a public resource - Only post information you are comfortable with anyone seeing. This includes information and photos in your profile and blogs and other forums. Also, once you post information online, you can't retract it. Even if you remove the information from a site, saved or cached versions may still existon other people's machines.


Be wary of strangers - The Internet makes it easy for people to misrepresent their identities and motives. Consider limiting the amount of people who can contact you on these sites. If you interact with people you do not know, be cautious about the amount of information you reveal or agreeing to meet them in person

Be Skeptical - Don't believe everything you read online. People may post false or misleading information about various topics, including their own identities. This is not necessarily with malicious intent; it could be unintentional, an exaggeration, or a joke. Take appropriate precautions, though, and try to verify the authenticity of any information before taking action.

Evaluate your settings - Take advantage of a site's privacy settings. The default settings for some sites may allow anyone to see your profile, but you can customize your settings to restrict access to only certain people. There is still a risk that private information could be exposed despite these restrictions, so don't post anything ou would not want the public to see.

Be wary of third-party applications - Third-party applications may provide entertainment or functionality, but use caution when deciding which applications to enable. Avoid applications that seem suspicious, and modify your settings to limit the amount of information the applications can access.
 

  Use strong passwords - Protect your account with passwords that cannot easily be guessed. If your password is compromised, someone else may be able to access your account and pretend to be you.


Check privacy policies - Some sites may share information such as email addresses or user preferences with other companies. This may lead to an increase in spam. Also, try to locate the policy for handling referrals to make sure that you do not unintentionally sign your friends up for spam. Some sites will continue to email messages to anyone you refer until they join.


Keep software, particularly your web browser, up-to-date - Install software updates so that attackers cannot take advantage of known problems or vulnerabilities. Many operating systems offer automatic updates. If this option is available, you should enable it.


Use and maintain Antivirus software - Antivirus software helps protect your computer against known viruses, and some offer added protection from "Viruses in the Wild", or unknown viruses, using Heuristics. Because attackers are continually writing new viruses, it is important to keep your definitions up to date.
 

 

 

Flicker’s Story

Mom, I hear voices in the in the ovenby Flicker Thomas

 Being in business for over 21 years I have had hundreds and hundreds of people ask me how I became interested in electronics. This is the wondrous tale that started me upon my path. 

 Mom, I hear voices in the in the oven.  I was almost 6 years old, and we had just moved to Jacksonville, Florida.

As a child I was always into everything, reading, poking and prying into things. One day I opened the door to our electric oven and heard voices. I ran into the other room and yelled for my mom to come into the kitchen and told her I heard voices coming from the oven.

We walked into the kitchen and opened the oven door and there was complete silence. My mom just gave me a puzzled look and walked back into the living room and sat back down.

 Over the next few weeks I kept hearing music and voices in the oven, and each time I summoned my mom, dad or  my sister the music would stop. Mom, Dad and my sister were finally convinced that I had some mental illness or  affliction that was getting worse.

 Then one day my mom was standing in the kitchen near me when I decided to open the oven door and see what  would happen. I heard people talking and called for my mom to come over. She just stood there and gave me a look  of sorrow and pity for her poor sick child. In desperation I went to her and dragged her by the arm and screamed for  her to listen. 

 She stuck her head in the open oven door and heard music for a few seconds. The look on her face was utter  shock since she was experiencing the same delusions her poor, sick child had been. Over the next few days or so everyone was sticking their heads in the oven to hear the people talking and the music playing briefly for a few  seconds. Then one day we heard them announce WAPE and discovered we were hearing the local AM radio station  less than one half mile away.

  I was mesmerized by the thought that you could hear a radio station in your electric oven. I had to find out how this  could possibly happen so I went to the library and started my quest for knowledge (which has never ended)

I learned that when two pieces of metal are touching and are oxidized (corroded) they can actually function as a  rectifier, which Is a diode detector, and generate sound like a Cat’s Whisker Crystal Radio Detector, which was used in early radio Sets (The Cat’s Whisker was a small piece of wire – no cats were ever harmed!). The close proximity of  the local AM radio station is what made this feat possible! This phenomenon only occurs with AM (Amplitude Modulated) radio signals, and not in FM radio (Frequency Modulated) signals.

 The term “Cats’ Whisker” refers to a thin wire that lightly touches a crystal of semiconducting mineral (a rectifier or  Diode Detector, which is usually made from galena) to make a crude point-contact rectifier.  

 

 

Diagram of a crystal radio from 1922 using a cat's-whisker detector

Modern galena cat's-whisker detector, showing parts. The galena crystal (upper left) is held in the metal capsule with a screw cap, leaving its face exposed.  

           

 From then on I read everything I could about electronics and electricity that was available. This is a prime example of how children can be affected by things they are exposed to early in life.

 Thank you for reading,

Flicker Thomas

flicker@flickertronics.com

 

 

         The Cloth Stretcher Incident by Flicker Thomas

 As a teenager, at age 19 my best friend and I got a job at the furniture company where my father had worked for years. Our job consisted of loading couches and other furniture into semi-trailers. It was late summer and it was so hot outside, and inside, they had water sprinklers on the tin roof and big, industrial size fans strategically located inside to make the working conditions tolerable.
 
 One day after I had been working there for a week or so my boss came up to me and said “I need for you to
bring me the cloth stretcher” and walked back towards his office.
 
I walked away from the loading dock and started my search. I went up to the first person’s station near the
loading dock and asked where I could find the cloth stretcher.  He gave me a nice smile said to ask the next person in line.
 
Every person I went to just smiled as I inquired as to where the cloth stretcher was, and each suggested that perhaps the next person down the line would know.
 
For 30 or so minutes I continued my search for the elusive cloth stretcher, finding no one who knew where it was. With my mission an apparent failure, I reflected upon how nice each person had been and how their faces lit up when I asked them where the object of my search might be.
 
Having asked everyone in the warehouse as well as the furniture builders I went back to the first person I had asked. By now I had been on my quest for at least 45 minutes with no success.
 
I asked him for the second time “Do you know where the cloth stretcher is?”
 
By now everyone in the business had their eye on me and what I was doing, and I felt I was under intense scrutiny, appearing to be the focus of everyone’s attention.
 
He looked at me with a funny, quirky smile and said “Look, I have to tell you that there is no such thing as a cloth stretcher”.
 I looked at him and gave a huge, great smile and said “YOU know there is no such thing as a cloth stretcher and I know there is no such thing as a cloth stretcher, but what would you do? Look for something your boss asked you to find or load trucks in this heat.”
 
My smile widened as I saw the utterly stunned look on his face, then he started laughing and laughing.
 
I went to the loading dock, picked up a sofa and balanced it on my head and started loading the truck again.
 
This business was around for over 20 years and I was the first person to turn a newcomer prank around.
 
 
  
 
Thank you for reading,
Flicker Thomas
flicker@flickertronics.com
 

 

 

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