Category Archives: Cybercrime

Marcus Hutchins: UK ransomware ‘hero’ pleads guilty to US hacking charges

Hutchins says he regrets his actions and will continue ‘keeping people safe from malware attacks’

A British computer security researcher once hailed as a “hero” for helping stem a ransomware outbreak and later accused of creating malware to attack the banking system said on Friday he had pleaded guilty to US criminal charges.

Marcus Hutchins, whose arrest in 2017 stunned the computer security community, acknowledged in a statement pleading guilty to criminal charges linked to his activity in 2014 and 2015.

Related: UK hacker jailed for six years for blackmailing pornography site users

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Operator of Codeshop Cybercrime Marketplace Sentenced to 90 months in prison

Djevair Ametovski was sentenced to 90 months in prison for operating an international cybercrime marketplace named Codeshop.

Macedonian national Djevair Ametovski (32) was sentenced to 90 months in prison by US DoJ authorities for operating an international cybercrime marketplace named Codeshop.

Codeshop.su was a website that specialized in selling stolen payment card data. Ametovski acquired payment card data from hackers who had stolen it from financial institutions and individuals.

According to the investigators, the man commercialized data of 181,000 payment cards between 2010 and 2014.

CodeShop carding

Ametovski (known online as Codeshop, Sindromx, xhevo, and Sindrom) was arrested by Slovenian authorities in January 2014, at the time he was charged with aggravated identity theft, access device fraud conspiracy, and wire fraud conspiracy. The Macedonian citizen was extradited to the United States in May 2016.

The man pleaded guilty to access device fraud and aggravated identity theft, he was also ordered to forfeit $250,000 and pay restitution that will be determined later.

Codeshop customers were able to buy stolen card data searching for specific types of data based on criteria such as country, bank, and bank identification number.

“The stolen data could then be used to make online purchases and to encode plastic cards to withdraw cash at ATMs.” reads the press release the Justice Department.      

“Ametovski used a network of online money exchangers and anonymous digital currencies, including Bitcoin, to reap revenues from the Codeshop website and to conceal all participants’ identities, including his own.  Over the course of the scheme, Ametovski obtained and sold stolen credit and debit card data for more than 1.3 million cards,” said the Justice Department.      

Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – Codeshop, carding)

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Ransomware attack knocks Weather Channel off the Air

A ransomware attack knocked the Weather Channel off the air for at least 90 minutes Thursday morning, federal law enforcement are investigating the incident.A ranomware attack knocked the Weather Channel off the air for at least 90 minutes Thursday morning, federal law enforcement are investigating the incident.

A cyber attack hit the Weather Channel and forced it off the air for at least 90 minutes.

The broadcaster confirmed via Twitter that the incident is the result of a cyber attack, it claims that the problems were caused by “a malicious software attack on the network.”

Details are scant at the moment and a tweet from the station does not lift the haze, informing only that it was the victim of “a malicious software attack on the network.”

This morning the broadcaster transmitted a taped programming “Heavy Rescue” instead of the “AMHQ” live show.

The live show started more than 90 minutes later and the anchors informing viewers of the cyber attack. IT staff has restored the normal operations using the backups.

Weather Channel ransomware

Federal law enforcement has immediately started an investigation on the case, at the time The Weather Channel did not disclose technical details about the attack.

According to 11 Alive News, the attack was caused by ransomware, a circumstance confirmed by Feds to The Wall Street Journal. The live show was interrupted due to a ransomware attack, likely an attempt to extort money to from the broadcaster.

Ransomware attacks continue to represent a serious threat for companies and organizations, it is essential to adopt good cyber hygiene using defence software, having up to date applications and implementing an efficient backup policy.

Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – ransomware, Wheater Channel)




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UK hacker jailed for six years for blackmailing pornography site users

Zain Qaiser targeted millions of computers with ransomware demanding large sums

A hacker who blackmailed users of pornography websites in what investigators say is the UK’s most serious cybercrime case has been jailed for six years and five months.

Zain Qaiser targeted millions of computers with malicious browser-locking software that demanded payment of up to $1,000 (£765) to unfreeze screens, Kingston crown court heard.

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Cybercriminals Feast on Earl Enterprises Customer Data Exposed in Data Breach

Most people don’t think about their credit card information being stolen and sold over the dark web while they’re enjoying a night out at an Italian restaurant. However, many people are experiencing this harsh reality. Earl Enterprises, the parent company of Buca di Beppo, Planet Hollywood, Earl of Sandwich, and Mixology 101 in LA, confirmed that the company was involved in a massive data breach, which exposed the credit card information of 2.15 million customers.

The original discovery was made by cybersecurity researcher Brian Krebs, who found the underground hacking forum where the credit card information had been posted for sale. He determined that the data first surfaced on Joker’s Stash, an underground shop that sells large batches of freshly-stolen credit and debit cards on a regular basis. In late February, Joker’s Stash moved a batch of 2.15 million stolen cards onto their system. This breach involved malware remotely installed on the company’s point-of-sale systems, which allowed cybercrooks to steal card details from customers between May 23, 2018, and March 18, 2019. This malicious software was able to capture payment card details including card numbers, expiration dates, and, in some cases, cardholder names. With this information, thieves are able to clone cards and use them as counterfeits to purchase expensive merchandise such as high-value electronics.

It appears that all 67 Buca di Beppo locations in the U.S., a handful of the 31 Earl of Sandwich locations, and the Planet Hollywood locations in Las Vegas, New York, and Orlando were impacted during this breach. Additionally, Tequila Taqueria in Las Vegas, Chicken Guy! in Disney Springs, and Mixology 101 in Los Angeles were also affected by this breach. Earl Enterprises states that online orders were not affected.

While large company data breaches such as this are difficult to avoid, there are a few steps users can take to better protect their personal data from malicious thieves. Check out the following tips:

  • Keep an eye on your bank account. One of the simplest ways to determine whether someone is fraudulently using your credit card information is to monitor your bank statements. If you see any charges that you did not make, report it to the authorities immediately.
  • Check to see if you’ve been affected. If you know you’ve made purchases at an Earl Enterprises establishment in the last ten months, use this tool to check if you could have been potentially affected.
  • Place a fraud alert. If you suspect that your data might have been compromised, place a fraud alert on your credit. This not only ensures that any new or recent requests undergo scrutiny, but also allows you to have extra copies of your credit report so you can check for suspicious activity.
  • Freeze your credit. Freezing your credit will make it impossible for criminals to take out loans or open up new accounts in your name. To do this effectively, you will need to freeze your credit at each of the three major credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian).
  • Consider using identity theft protection. A solution like McAfee Identify Theft Protection will help you to monitor your accounts and alert you of any suspicious activity.

And, of course, to stay updated on all of the latest consumer and mobile security threats, follow @McAfee_Home on Twitter, listen to our podcast Hackable?, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

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Social Media: Where Cybercrime Lurks in the Shadows

When you think of cybercrime, the first thing that comes to mind is most likely cybercriminals operating on the dark web. Last year, however, cybercriminals made the jump over to social media and cashed in big – $3 billion worth, as a matter of fact. With approximately 2.77 billion people using one social media account or more, it’s no wonder these bad actors have followed the masses. While the average user distrusts the dark web, they do trust their chosen social media platforms. Whether it’s sharing birthdates or a current location, or accepting a follow or message request from strangers, users in front of a screen feel secure. Although, as the line between social platforms and the dark web quickly blurs, the events behind the screen are the real issue.

Since 2017, cryptomining malware has exploded on a global scale, with over half of the identified strains found on social media sites. Utilizing apps, advertisements, and malicious links, cybercriminals were able to deliver these attacks and earn $250 million per year. Not only are social media platforms being used to distribute cryptomining malware, but they are also used as a major source for spreading other types of malware – malvertisments, faulty plug-ins, and apps – that draw users in by offering “too good to be true” deals. Once clicked on, the malware attacks. From there, cybercriminals can obtain data, establish keyloggers, dispense ransomware, and lurk in the shadows of social media accounts in wait for the next opportunity.

That next opportunity could also be on a completely different social media platform. As these sites unknowingly make it easier for malware to spread from one site to another. Many social media accounts interconnect with one another across platforms, which enables “chain exploitation,” or where malware can jump from one account to the next.

In short, social media is a cash cow for cybercriminals, and they are showing no sign of slowing down. What it really comes down to is social platforms, like Instagram and Facebook, attract a significant number of users and are going to draw in a criminal component too. However, if you take the proper security precautions ahead of time, you can fight off bad actors and continuously scroll with confidence. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Limit the amount of personal information shared in the first place. Avoid posting home addresses, full birth dates, and employer information, as well as exact location details of where you are.
  • Be wary of messages and follow requests from strangers. Avoid clicking on links sent by someone you don’t know personally.
  • Report any spam posts or messages you encounter to the social media platform. Then they can stop the threat from spreading to other accounts.
  • Always use comprehensive security software. To help protect you from viruses, spyware, and other digital threats that may emerge from social media sites, consider McAfee Total Protection or McAfee Mobile Security.

Interested in learning more about IoT and mobile security trends and information? Follow @McAfee_Home on Twitter, and ‘Like” us on Facebook.

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Hidden & Fake Apps: How Hackers Could Be Targeting Your Connected Home

Like most parents, before you go to sleep each night, you take extra care to lock doors and windows to keep your family safe from any outside threats. The only thing you may have overlooked is the smartphone illuminated on your nightstand. And if you were to add up the smartphones humming all over your house, suddenly you’d have a number of unlocked doors that a determined criminal could enter through. Maybe not tonight — but eventually.

Digital Ecosystem

Over time you’ve purchased and plugged in devices throughout your home. You might have a voice assistant, a baby monitor, a thermostat, a treadmill, a gaming system, a fitness watch, smart TVs, a refrigerator, and many other fun, useful gadgets. Each purchase likely connects to your smartphone. Take stock: You now have a digital ecosystem growing all around you. And while you rarely stop to take notice of this invisible power grid around you, hackers can’t stop thinking about it.

This digital framework that pulsates within your home gives cybercriminals potential new entryways into your life and your data. Depending on your devices, by accessing your smartphone, outsiders may be able to unlock your literal doors while you are away (via your home security system), eavesdrop on your family conversations and collect important information (via your voice assistant), access financial information (via your gaming system, tablet, or laptop).

What you can do:

  • Change factory security settings. Before you fire up that smart TV, drone, or sound system, be sure to change each product’s factory settings and replace it with a bulletproof password to put a layer of protection between you and would-be hackers.
  • Protect your home network. We are connected people living in connected homes. So, part of the wired lifestyle is taking the lead on doing all we can to protect it. One way to do that is at the router level with built-in network security, which can help secure your connected devices.
  • Stay on top of software updates. Cybercrooks rely on consumers to ignore software updates; it makes their job so much easier. So be sure to install updates to your devices, security software, and IoT products when alerted to do so.

Smartphone = Front Gate

The most common entry point to all of these connected things is your smartphone. While you’ve done a lot of things to protect your phone — a lock screen, secure passwords on accounts, and system updates — there are hacking tactics you likely know nothing about. According to McAfee’s recent  Mobile Threat Report, you don’t know because the scope and complexity of mobile hacks are increasing at alarming rates.

Hidden Apps

The latest statistics report that the average person has between 60-90 apps installed on their phones. Multiply that between all the users in your home, and you are looking at anywhere from 200-500 apps living under your digital roof. Hackers gravitate toward digital trends. They go where the most people congregate because that’s where they can grab the most money. Many of us control everything in our homes from our apps, so app downloads are off the charts, which is why crooks have engineered some of their most sophisticated schemes specifically around app users.

Hidden apps are a way that crooks trick users into letting them inside their phones. Typically, hidden apps (such as TimpDoor) get to users via Google Play when they download games or customized tools. TimpDoor will then directly communicate with users via a text with a link to a voice message that gives detailed instructions to enable apps from unknown sources. That link downloads malware which will run in the background after the app closes. Users often forget they’ve downloaded this and go on with life while the malware runs in the background and can access other internal networks on the smartphone.

What you can do:

  • Stay alert. Don’t fall for the traps or click links to other apps sent via text message.
  • Stay legit. Only download apps hosted by the original trusted stores and verified partner sites.
  • Avoid spam. Don’t click on any email links, pop-ups, or direct messages that include suspicious links, password prompts, or fake attachments. Delete and block spam emails and texts.
  • Disable and delete. If you are not using an app, disable it. And, as a safety habit, remove apps from your phone, tablet, or laptop you no longer use.

Fake Apps

Again, crooks go where the most people congregate, and this year it is the 60 million+ downloaded game Fortnite. The Fortnite craze has lead hackers to design fake Fortnite apps masquerading as the real thing. The fraudulent app designers go to great lengths to make the download look legitimate. They offer enticing downloads and promise users a ton of free perks and add ons. Once users download the fake app, crooks can collect money through ads, send text messages with more bad app links, crypto jack users, or install malware or spyware.

What you can do:

  • Don’t install apps from unknown sources. Not all gaming companies distribute via Google Play or the App Store. This makes it even harder for users to know that the app they are downloading is legit. Do all you can to verify the legitimacy of the site you are downloading from.
  • Delete suspicious acting apps. If you download an app and it begins to request access to anything outside of its service, delete it immediately from your device.
  • Update devices regularly. Keep new bugs and threats at bay by updating your devices automatically.
  • Monitor bank statements. Check statements regularly to monitor the activity of the card linked to your Fortnite account. If you notice repeat or multiple transactions from your account or see charges that you don’t recognize, alert your bank immediately.
  • Be a savvy app user. Verify an app’s legitimacy. Read other user reviews and be discerning before you download anything. This practice also applies to partner sites that sell game hacks, credits, patches, or virtual assets players use to gain rank within a game. Beware of “free” downloads and avoid illegal file-sharing sites. Free downloads can be hotbeds for malware. Stick with the safer, paid options from a reputable source.

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How to Safeguard Your Family Against A Medical Data Breach

Medical Data BreachThe risk to your family’s healthcare data often begins with that piece of paper on a clipboard your physician or hospital asks you to fill out or in the online application for healthcare you completed.

That data gets transferred into a computer where a patient Electronic Health Record (EHR) is created or added to. From there, depending on the security measures your physician, healthcare facility, or healthcare provider has put in place, your data is either safely stored or up for grabs.

It’s a double-edged sword: We all need healthcare but to access it we have to hand over our most sensitive data armed only with the hope that the people on the other side of the glass window will do their part to protect it.

Breaches on the Rise

Feeling a tad vulnerable? You aren’t alone. The stats on medical breaches don’t do much to assuage consumer fears.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that the number of annual health data breaches increased 70% over the past seven years, with 75% of the breached, lost, or stolen records being breached by a hacking or IT incident at a cost close to consumers at nearly $6 billion.

The IoT Factor

Medical Data Breach

Not only are medical facilities vulnerable to hackers, but with the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) consumer products — which, in short, means everything is digitally connected to everything else — also provide entry points for hackers. Wireless devices at risk include insulin pumps and monitors, Fitbits, scales, thermometers, heart and blood pressure monitors.

To protect yourself when using these devices, experts recommend staying on top of device updates and inputting as little personal information as possible when launching and maintaining the app or device.

The Dark Web

The engine driving healthcare attacks of all kinds is the Dark Web where criminals can buy, sell, and trade stolen consumer data without detection. Healthcare data is precious because it often includes a much more complete picture of a person including social security number, credit card/banking information, birthdate, address, health care card information, and patient history.

With this kind of data, many corrupt acts are possible including identity theft, fraudulent medical claims, tax fraud, credit card fraud, and the list goes on. Complete medical profiles garner higher prices on the Dark Web.

Some of the most valuable data to criminals are children’s health information (stolen from pediatrician offices) since a child’s credit records are clean and more useful tools in credit card fraud.

According to Raj Samani, Chief Scientist and McAfee Fellow, Advanced Threat Research, predictions for 2019 include criminals working even more diligently in the Dark Web marketplace to devise and launch more significant threats.

“The game of cat and mouse the security industry plays with ransomware developers will escalate, and the industry will need to respond more quickly and effectively than ever before,” Says Samani.

Medical Data Breach

Healthcare professionals, hospitals, and health insurance companies, while giving criminals an entry point, though responsible, aren’t the bad guys. They are being fined by the government for breaches and lack of proper security, and targeted and extorted by cyber crooks, while simultaneously focusing on patient care and outcomes. Another factor working against them is the lack of qualified cybersecurity professionals equipped to protect healthcare practices and facilities.

Protecting ourselves and our families in the face of this kind of threat can feel overwhelming and even futile. It’s not. Every layer of protection you build between you and a hacker, matters. There are some things you can do to strengthen your family’s healthcare data practices.

Ways to Safeguard Medical Data

Don’t be quick to share your SSN. Your family’s patient information needs to be treated like financial data because it has that same power. For that reason, don’t give away your Social Security Number — even if a medical provider asks for it. The American Medical Association (AMA) discourages medical professionals from collecting patient SSNs nowadays in light of all the security breaches.

Keep your healthcare card close. Treat your healthcare card like a banking card. Know where it is, only offer it to physicians when checking in for an appointment, and report it immediately if it’s missing.

Monitor statements. The Federal Trade Commission recommends consumers keep a close eye on medical bills. If someone has compromised your data, you will notice bogus charges right away. Pay close attention to your “explanation of benefits,” and immediately contact your healthcare provider if anything appears suspicious.

Ask about security. While it’s not likely you can change your healthcare provider’s security practices on the spot, the more consumers inquire about security standards, the more accountable healthcare providers are to following strong data protection practices.

Pay attention to apps, wearables. Understand how app owners are using your data. Where is the data stored? Who is it shared with? If the app seems sketchy on privacy, find a better one.

How to Protect IoT Devices

Medical Data Breach

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), IoT devices, while improving medical care and outcomes, have their own set of safety precautions consumers need to follow.

  • Change default usernames and passwords
  • Isolate IoT devices on their protected networks
  • Configure network firewalls to inhibit traffic from unauthorized IP addresses
  • Implement security recommendations from the device manufacturer and, if appropriate, turn off devices when not in use
  • Visit reputable websites that specialize in cybersecurity analysis when purchasing an IoT device
  • Ensure devices and their associated security patches are up-to-date
  • Apply cybersecurity best practices when connecting devices to a wireless network
  • Invest in a secure router with appropriate security and authentication practices

The post How to Safeguard Your Family Against A Medical Data Breach appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

How to Steer Clear of Tax Season Scams

*This blog contains research discovered by Elizabeth Farrell

It’s that time of year again – tax season! Whether you’ve already filed in the hopes of an early refund or have yet to start the process, one thing is for sure: cybercriminals will certainly use tax season as a means to get victims to give up their personal and financial information. This time of year is advantageous for malicious actors since the IRS and tax preparers are some of the few people who actually need your personal data. As a result, consumers are targeted with various scams impersonating trusted sources like the IRS or DIY tax software companies. Fortunately, every year the IRS outlines the most prevalent tax scams, such as voice phishing, email phishing, and fake tax software scams. Let’s explore the details of these threats.

So, how do cybercriminals use voice phishing to impersonate the IRS? Voice phishing, a form of criminal phone fraud, uses social engineering tactics to gain access to victims’ personal and financial information. For tax scams, criminals will make unsolicited calls posing as the IRS and leave voicemails requesting an immediate callback. The crooks will then demand that the victim pay a phony tax bill in the form of a wire transfer, prepaid debit card or gift card. In one case outlined by Forbes, victims received emails in their inbox that allegedly contained voicemails from the IRS. The emails didn’t actually contain any voicemails but instead directed victims to a suspicious SharePoint URL. Last year, a number of SharePoint phishing scams occurred as an attempt to steal Office 365 credentials, so it’s not surprising that cybercriminals are using this technique to access taxpayers’ personal data now as well.

In addition to voice phishing schemes, malicious actors are also using email to try and get consumers to give up their personal and financial information. This year alone, almost 400 IRS phishing URLs have been reported. Even back in December, we saw a surge of new email phishing scams trying to fool consumers into thinking the message was coming from the IRS or other members of the tax community. In a typical email phishing scheme, scammers try to obtain personal tax information like usernames and passwords by using spoofed email addresses and stolen logos. In many cases, the emails contain suspicious hyperlinks that redirect users to a fake site or PDF attachments that may download malware or viruses. If a victim clicks on these malicious links or attachments, they can seriously endanger their tax data by giving identity thieves the opportunity to steal their refund. What’s more, cybercriminals are also using subject lines like “IRS Important Notice” and “IRS Taxpayer Notice” and demanding payment or threatening to seize the victim’s tax refund.

Cybercriminals are even going so far as to impersonate trusted brands like TurboTax for their scams. In this case, DIY tax preparers who search for TurboTax software on Google are shown ads for pirated versions of TurboTax. The victims will pay a fee for the software via PayPal, only to have their computer infected with malware after downloading the software. You may be wondering, how do victims happen upon this malicious software through a simple Google search? Unfortunately, scammers have been paying to have their spoofed sites show up in search results, increasing the chances that an innocent taxpayer will fall victim to their scheme.

Money is a prime motivator for many consumers, and malicious actors are fully prepared to exploit this. Many people are concerned about how much they might owe or are predicting how much they’ll get back on their tax refund, and scammers play to both of these emotions. So, as hundreds of taxpayers are waiting for a potential tax return, it’s important that they navigate tax season wisely. Check out the following tips to avoid being spoofed by cybercriminals and identity thieves:

  • File before cybercriminals do it for you. The easiest defense you can take against tax seasons schemes is to get your hands on your W-2 and file as soon as possible. The more prompt you are to file, the less likely your data will be raked in by a cybercriminal.
  • Obtain a copy of your credit report. FYI – you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the major bureaus once a year. So, make it a habit to request a copy of your file every three to four months, each time from a different credit bureau. That way, you can keep better track of and monitor any suspicious activity and act early if something appears fishy.
  • Beware of phishing attempts. It’s clear that phishing is the primary tactic crooks are leveraging this tax season, so it’s crucial you stay vigilant around your inbox. This means if any unfamiliar or remotely suspicious emails come through requesting tax data, double check their legitimacy with a manager or the security department before you respond. Be wary of strange file attachment names such as “virus-for-you.doc.” Remember: the IRS only contacts people by snail mail, so if you get an email from someone claiming to be from the IRS, stay away.
  • Watch out for spoofed websites. Scammers have extremely sophisticated tools that help disguise phony web addresses for DIY tax software, such as stolen company logos and site designs. To avoid falling for this, go directly to the source. Type the address of a website directly into the address bar of your browser instead of following a link from an email or internet search. If you receive any suspicious links in your email, investigating the domain is usually a good way to tell if the source is legitimate or not.
  • Consider an identity theft protection solution. If for some reason your personal data does become compromised, be sure to use an identity theft solution such as McAfee Identity Theft Protection, which allows users to take a proactive approach to protect their identities with personal and financial monitoring and recovery tools to help keep their identities personal and secured.

And, as always, stay on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats by following @McAfee_Home on Twitter, listen to our podcast Hackable?, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

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Don’t Take the Bait! How to Steer Clear of Tax Time Scams

tax time scamsFor cybercriminals tax time is the most wonderful time of the year. They are in the shadows giddy, eager, and methodically setting a variety of digital traps knowing that enough taxpayers take the bait to render their efforts worthwhile.

Indeed, with the frenzy of online tax filings, personal information (and money) moving through mailboxes, and hardworking people eagerly awaiting tax refunds, crooks are perfectly positioned for big returns this year.

So let’s be wiser and let’s be ready.

Last year, the IRS noted a 60 percent spike in bogus email schemes seeking to steal money or tax information. This year its a surge in phishing scams, says the IRS, that should have taxpayers on alert.

“The holidays and tax season present great opportunities for scam artists to try stealing valuable information through fake emails,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “Watch your inbox for these sophisticated schemes that try to fool you into thinking they’re from the IRS or our partners in the tax community. Taking a few simple steps can protect yourself during the holiday season and at tax time.”

Scams to Look For

According to the IRS, phishing emails are circulating with subjects such as “IRS Important Notice,” “IRS Taxpayer Notice” and other iterations of that message. The fraudulent emails may demand payment with the threat of seizing the recipient’s tax refund or even jail time.

tax time scams

Attacks may also use email or malicious links to solicit tax or financial information by posing as a trustworthy organization or even a personal friend or business associate of the recipient.

While some emails may have obvious spelling errors or grammar mistakes, some scammers have gone to great lengths to piece together a victim’s personal information to gain their trust. These emails look legitimate, have an authentic tone, and are crafted to get even skeptics to compromise personal data using malicious web links.

Scams include emails with hyperlinks that take users to a fake site or PDF attachments that may download malware or viruses designed to grab sensitive information off your devices. With the right data in hand such as a social security number, crooks can file fake returns and claim your tax return, open credit cards, or run up medical bills.

Other tax scams include threatening phone calls from bogus IRS agents demanding immediate payment of past due tax bills and robocalls that leave urgent callback messages designed to scare victims into immediate payment.

Remember, the IRS will NOT:

  • Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you several bills.
  • Call or email you to verify your identity by asking for personal and financial information.tax time scams
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone or
    e-mail.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.

How to Protect Yourself

Be hyper-aware. Never open a link or attachment from an unknown or suspicious source. In fact, approach all emails with caution even those from people you know. Scams are getting more sophisticated. According to the IRS, thieves can compromise a friend’s email address, or they may be spoofing the address with a slight change in the email text that is hard to recognize.

Reduce your digital footprint. Now is a great time to go through your social accounts and online profiles, posts, and photos and boost your family’s privacy. Edit out any personal information such as your alma mater, your address, birthdate, pet names, children’s names, or mother’s maiden name. Consider making your social profiles private and filtering your friends’ list to actual people you know.

Have a strong password strategy. Cybercrooks count on their victims using the same password for multiple accounts. Lock them out by using unique passwords for separate accounts. Also, consider using two-factor authentification that requires a security code (sent to your phone) to access your account.

Install security software. Phishing emails carry malware and viruses designed to infect your devices and grab your family’s sensitive data or even seize your computer via ransomware. Crooks aren’t messing around so neither should you. Meet fire with fire by investing in comprehensive security software to protect your devices.

If you are the victim of tax fraud or identity theft, take the proper reporting steps. If you receive any unsolicited emails claiming to be from the IRS, forward them to phishing@irs.gov  (then delete the emails).

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The Risks of Public Wi-Fi and How to Close the Security Gap

public wi-fi risksAs I write this blog post, I’m digitally exposed, and I know it. For the past week, I’ve had to log on to a hospital’s public Wi-Fi each day to work while a loved one recuperates.

What seems like a routine, casual connection to the hospital’s Wi-Fi isn’t. Using public Wi-Fi is a daily choice loaded with risk. Sure, I’m conducting business and knocking out my to-do list like a rock star but at what cost to my security?

The Risks

By using public Wi-Fi, I’ve opened my online activity and personal data (via my laptop) up to a variety of threats including eavesdropping, malware distribution, and bitcoin mining. There’s even a chance I could have logged on to a malicious hotspot that looked like the hospital network.

Like many public Wi-Fi spots, the hospital’s network could lack encryption, which is a security measure that scrambles the information sent from my computer to the hospital’s router so other people can’t read it. Minus encryption, whatever I send over the hospital’s network could potentially be intercepted and used maliciously by cybercriminals.

Because logging on to public Wi-Fi is often a necessity — like my situation this week — security isn’t always the first thing on our minds. But over the past year, a new normal is emerging. A lot of us are thinking twice. With data breaches, privacy concerns, the increase in the market for stolen credentials, and increasingly sophisticated online scams making the headlines every day, the risks of using public Wi-Fi are front and center.

Rising Star: VPNpublic wi-fi risks

The solution to risky public Wi-Fi? A Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN allows users to securely access a private network and share data remotely through public networks. Much like a firewall protects the data on your computer, a VPN protects your online activity by encrypting your data when you connect to the internet from a remote or public location. A VPN also conceals your location, IP address, and online activity.

Using a VPN helps protect you from potential hackers using public Wi-Fi, which is one of their favorite easy-to-access security loopholes.

Who Needs a VPN?

If you (or your family members) travel and love to shop online, access your bank account, watch movies, and do everyday business via your phone or laptop, a VPN would allow you to connect safely and encrypt your data no matter where you are.

A VPN can mask, or scramble, your physical location, banking account credentials, and credit card information.

Also, if you have a family data plan you’ve likely encouraged your kids to save data by connecting to public Wi-Fi whenever possible. Using a VPN, this habit would be secured from criminal sniffers and snoopers.

A VPN allows you to connect to a proxy server that will access online sites on your behalf and enables a secure connection most anywhere you go. A VPN also allows hides your IP address and allows you to browse anonymously from any location.

How VPNs work

To use a VPN you subscribe to VPN service, download the app onto your desktop or phone, set up your account, and then log onto a VPN server to conduct your online activity privately.

If you are still logging on to public Wi-Fi, here are a few tips to keep you safe until VPNs become as popular as Wi-Fi.

Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi 

Verify your connection. Fake networks that mine your data abound. If you are logging on to Wi-Fi in a coffee shop, hotel, airport, or library, verify the exact name of the network with an employee. Also, only use Wi-Fi that requires a password to log on.public wi-fi risks

Don’t get distracted. For adults, as well as kids, it’s easy to get distracted and absorbed with our screens — this is risky when on public Wi-Fi, according to Diana Graber, author of Raising Humans in a Digital World. “Knowing how to guard their personal information online is one of the most important skills parents need to equip their young kids with today,” says Graber. “Lots of young people visit public spaces, like a local coffee shop or library, and use public Wi-Fi to do homework, for example. It’s not uncommon for them to get distracted by something else online or even tempted to buy something, without realizing their personal information (or yours!) might be at risk.”

Disable auto Wi-Fi connect. If your phone automatically joins surrounding networks, you can disable this function in your settings. Avoid linking to unknown or unrecognized networks.

Turn off Wi-Fi when done. Your computer or phone can still transmit data even when you are not using it. Be sure to disable your Wi-Fi from the network when you are finished using it.

Avoid financial transactions. If you must use public Wi-Fi, don’t conduct a sensitive transaction such as banking, shopping, or any kind of activity that requires your social security or credit card numbers or password use. Wait until you get to a secured home network to conduct personal business.

Look for the HTTPS. Fake or unsecured websites will not have the HTTPS in their address. Also, look for the little lock icon in the address bar to confirm a secure connection.

Secure your devices. Use a personal VPN as an extra layer of security against hackers and malware.

The post The Risks of Public Wi-Fi and How to Close the Security Gap appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

Valentine’s Alert: Don’t Let Scammers Break Your Heart or Your Bank Account

Online Dating ScamsIt’s hard to believe that as savvy as we’ve become about our tech, people are still getting catfished, scammed, and heartbroken in their pursuit of love online.

The dinner conversation between bystanders goes something like this: “How could anyone be so dumb? Seriously? If they are going to be that reckless and uninformed, then maybe they deserve what they got!”

Some friends and I recently had a similar conversation about online dating scams. I noticed, however, that one friend, Sarah*, wasn’t so eager to jump into the conversation. She shrunk back in the booth and quietly sipped her margarita. Only later did she share her story with me.

The power of love

A single mom in her late 40s, well-educated, and attractive, Sarah’s teenager had convinced her to join a dating site the year before. She was especially lonely after her divorce three years earlier, so she agreed to create a profile on a popular dating app. After a handful of dates fell flat, she found Scott. He was charismatic, kind. “We had an instant connection,” according to Sarah. They spent hours on the phone sharing their deepest secrets and even started imagining a future together. But after about three months, Scott fell on hard times. At first, he needed to borrow $400 to pay for airfare to visit a dying relative, which he paid back immediately. Over the next few months, the numbers grew to $1,000 for rent and $3,000 for a business venture.

Online Dating Scams

Before long, Sarah had loaned her new love over $8,500. When she pressed him to repay the money, Scott ghosted Sarah online, moved out of town, and she never saw him again. My friend didn’t share her story with many people. She didn’t report it. She was too embarrassed and humiliated and even became depressed following what she calls “the Scott scam.” Her trust in other people and in love itself has been obliterated.

Sarah’s story doesn’t just echo that of desperate, clueless people, or lonely older women. Scammers are targeting good people who still believe in and value love and companionship. The pursuit of love online extends to adults as well as teens.

Confidence Fraud

Law enforcement calls these kinds of online romance scams confidence fraud because scammers will take a considerable amount of time gaining the trust and confidence of their victims. They will appear empathetic and supportive as they gather personal information they can use over time to carry out their scam.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) confidence fraud has jumped 20% in the past year despite reports and warnings — especially around this time of year.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reports that romance scams top all other financial online crimes. In 2016, people reported almost 15,000 romance scams to IC3 (nearly 2,500 more than the previous year), with losses exceeding $230 million.

Tips for Safe Online Dating

Never send money. Be it a romantic relationship you’ve engaged with or a phishing email, no matter the sob story, do not send money to anyone online. If you do send money, put a loan agreement in place that is legally enforceable should one party default.

Suspicious behavior. If someone promises to meet you somewhere but keeps canceling or if he or she refuses to video chat, those are red flags. Technology means anyone from anywhere in the world can successfully maintain a scam.Online Dating Scams

Take things slow. If someone is pushing the pace of a relationship or too quick to declare love and talk about the future, pause and assess the situation.

Do a background check. Love is a powerful force and can easily cloud a person’s correct understanding of reality. If you dare to create a dating profile, make a deal with yourself that you will extend the same courage to doing a background check on someone.

Be a sleuth. Don’t be afraid to gather facts on someone you’ve met online. Simple steps such as Googling the person’s name or dropping their photo in Google’s Reverse Image Search will help you get a better understanding of a person. Have faith: Good, legitimate people do exist. However, if there’s anything dubious, it’s best to find it out earlier rather than later. Part of doing your homework is tracking down mutual friends and making inquiries about the person you are talking with online.

Keep your social profiles private. Experts agree that you should edit your online footprint before you start dating people you’ve met online. Making your Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook private will guard you against potential.

Never send racy photos. Some scammers gain the confidence of their victims with every intention of extorting them in the future. They will threaten to send any racy photos with your family, friends, or business associates. The best way to avoid this is to never, ever send racy photos to anyone.Online Dating Scams

Google yourself, restrict info. Google yourself to see if there are any digital breadcrumbs that give away your home address or phone number. If possible, delete or revise that info. Likewise, go through your social accounts and remove any personal information you’ve shared in the past. Digital stalking is a risk for people who date online so turn off GPS on your dating apps and make sure your profile information is vague. Even if you get comfortable online with others, never get too comfortable since apps have privacy loopholes that can easily be exploited by hackers.

Take solid precautions. Enlist at least one friend as your dating safety pal. This will be the person who knows where you are going, who you will be with, and the background on the person you are meeting. Ask that person to check in with you during the date and carry pepper spray or a taser for physical protection. Go the extra step and turn on your Friend Finder or a location app that allows safety friend to track your whereabouts during a date.

*Names have been changed

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Safer Internet Day 2019 – Together for a Better Internet

What You Can Do Today to Help Create a Better Internet

 

Today is Safer Internet Day (SID) – an annual worldwide event to encourage us all to work together to create a better internet. Celebrated globally in over 130 countries, SID is an opportunity for millions of people worldwide to come together to inspire positive change and raise awareness about the importance of online safety.

The theme for 2019 is: ‘Together for a Better Internet’ which I believe is a timely reminder of the importance of us all working together if we are serious about making the internet a safer place. Whether we are parents, carers, teachers or just avid users, we all have a part to play.

The 4R’s of Online Safety

In order to make a positive change to our online world, this year we are being encouraged to focus on four critical skills that many experts believe will help us all (especially our kids) better navigate the internet and create a more positive online environment. Let’s call them the 4R’s of online safety: Respect, Responsibility, Reasoning and Resilience. So, here is my advice on what we can do to try and incorporate these four important skills into our family’s digital lives

  1. Respect – ‘I treat myself and others the way I like to be treated’

I firmly believe that having respect for others online is critical if we are going to foster a safer and more supportive internet for our children and future generations. While many parents realise that our constant reminders about the importance of good manners and respect must also now be extended to include the online world, not everyone is on the same page.

Keyboard warriors who fire off abusive comments online, or harass and troll others clearly do not have any notion of online respect. Online actions can have serious real-world implications. In fact, online actions can often have more significant implications as the dialogue is not just contained to a few, rather it is witnessed by everyone’s online friends which could stretch into the 1000’s. Such public exchanges then create the opportunity for commentary which often further magnifies the hurt and fallout.

It is therefore essential that we have very direct conversations with our children about what is and isn’t appropriate online. And if there is even any confusion, always revert to one of my favourite lessons from my Sunday School days: treat others how you would like to be treated yourself.

  1. Responsibility – ‘I am accountable for my actions and I take a stand when I feel something is wrong’

In my opinion, teaching our kids online responsibility is another important step in making the internet a better place. Ensuring our kids understand that they are not only responsible but accountable for their behaviour is essential. If they harass or bully others online, or are involved in sending inappropriate pics, there are consequences that could quite possible include interactions with the police department.

But being responsible online also means getting involved if you feel something isn’t right. Whether a mate is on the receiving end of online harassment or a cruel joke, getting involved and telling the perpetrator that their behaviour ‘isn’t cool’ is essential.

  1. Reasoning – ‘I question what is real’

Teaching our kids to think critically is an essential survival skill for our kids in our content-driven online world. We need our kids to question, analyse and verify online content. They need to be able to identify reputable and credible sources and think carefully before they share and digest information.

The best thing we can do as parents is challenge our kids and get them thinking! If for example, your child is researching online for a school assignment then get them thinking. Ask them what agenda the author of the article has. Ask them whether there is a counter argument to the one laid out in the article. Ask them whether the source sharing the information is trustworthy. The aim is to teach them to question and not take anything they find online at face value.

  1. Resilience – ‘I get back up from tough situations’

Unfortunately, the chances that your child will experience some challenges online is quite high. Whether someone posts a mean comment, they are harassed, or worst case, cyberbullied – these nasty online interactions can really hurt.

Ensuring your kids know that they can come to you about any issue they experience is essential. And you need to repeat this to them regularly, so they don’t forget! And if your child does come to you with a problem they experienced online, the worst thing you can do is threaten to disconnect them. If you do this, I guarantee you that they will never share anything else with you again.

In 2014, Parent Zone, one of the UK’s leading family digital safety organisations collaborated with the Oxford Internet Institute to examine ways to build children’s online resilience. The resulting report, A Shared Responsibility: Building Children’s Online Resilience, showed that unconditional love and respect from parents, a good set of digital skills plus the opportunity for kids to take risks and develop strategies in the online world – without being overly micro-managed by their parents – were key to building online resilience.

So, love them, educate them and give them some independence so they can start to take some small risks online and start developing resilience.

What Can You Do this Safer Internet Day?

Why not pledge to make one small change to help make the internet a better place this Safer Internet Day? Whether it’s modelling online respect, reminding your kids of their online responsibilities, challenging them to demonstrate reasoning when assessing online content or working with them to develop online resilience, just a few small steps can make a positive change.

 

 

 

 

 

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How Safe is Your Child’s School WiFi?

School WiFi. For many of our digital natives, school WiFi may even be a more important part of their daily life than the canteen!! And that is saying something…

You’d be hard pressed to find a child who rocked up to school without a device in their backpack in our digital age. The vast majority of schools have embraced the many positive learning benefits that internet-connected devices offer our kids. The traditional blackboard and textbook lessons that were confined to the four walls of the classroom are gone. Instead our kids can research, discover, collaborate, create and most importantly, learn like never before.

But in order for this new learning to occur, our kids need to be internet connected. And this is where school WiFi comes into play.

Do Parents Need to Be Concerned About School WiFi?

As parents, we have a responsibility to ensure our kids are safe and not at risk – and that includes when they are using the WiFi at school. Ideally, your child’s school should have a secure WiFi network but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that they do. School budgets are tight and top-notch secure WiFi networks are expensive, so in some cases, security maybe jeopardised.

The other factor we shouldn’t ignore is that our batch of digital natives are very tech literate. The possibility that one of them may choose to cause some mayhem to their school WiFi network should also not be ignored!!

At the end of the day, the security of a WiFi network is all about whether it has tight access controls. If it allows only approved devices and people to connect via a secure login then it is more secure than public WiFi. However, if it is open to anyone or easy for anyone to connect to it, then you need to treat it like public WiFi.

What Are the Risks?

An unsecured school WiFi network is as risky as public WiFi which, according to the Harvard Business Review, is as risky as rolling a dice,

Students and staff who use an unsecured WiFi network are at risk of receiving phishing emails, being the victim of a ransomware attack or even having their data or personal details stolen. There is also a risk that the entire school’s operations could be disrupted and possibly even closed down through a DDOS – a Denial of Service Attack.

What Can Parents Do to Ensure Their Kids Are Safe Using School WiFi?

There are several steps parents can take to minimise the risks when their offspring use school WiFi.

  1. Talk To Your School

The first thing to do is speak to your child’s school to understand exactly how secure their network is. I’d recommend asking who has access to the network, what security practices they have in place and how they manage your child’s private data.

  1. Install Security Software

Operating a device without security software is no different to leaving your front door unlocked. Installing security software on all devices, including smartphones, will provide protection against viruses, online threats, risky websites and dangerous downloads. Check out McAfee’s Total Protection security software for total peace of mind!

  1. Keep Device Software Up To Date

Software updates are commonly designed to address security issues. So ensuring ALL your devices are up to date is a relatively easy way of minimising the risk of being hacked.

  1. Schedule Regular Data Back Up

If you are the victim of a ransomware attack and your data is backed up then you won’t even have to consider paying the hefty fee to retrieve your (or your child’s) data. Backing up data regularly should be not negotiable however life can often get in the way. Why not schedule automatic backups? I personally love online backup options such as Dropbox and Google Drive however you may choose to invest in a hard drive.

  1. Public Wi-Fi Rules?

If after talking to your school, you aren’t convinced that your child’s school WiFi network is secure, then I recommend that your kids should treat it as if it was public WiFi. This means that they should NEVER conduct any financial transactions using it and never share any personal details. But the absolute best way of ensuring your child is safe using an unsecured WiFi network, is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN like McAfee’s Safe Connect creates an encrypted tunnel so anything that is shared over WiFi is completely safe.

As a mum of 4, I am very keen to ensure my kids are engaged with their learning. And in our digital times, this means devices and WiFi. So, let’s support our kids and their teachers in their quest for interactive, digital learning but please don’t forget to check in and ensure your kids are as safe as possible while using WiFi at school.

Take Care

Alex xx

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Holiday Rush: How to Check Yourself Before Your Wreck Yourself When Shopping Online

It was the last item on my list and Christmas was less than a week away. I was on the hunt for a white Northface winter coat my teenage daughter that she had duly ranked as the most-important-die-if-I-don’t-get-it item on her wishlist that year.

After fighting the crowds and scouring the stores to no avail, I went online, stressed and exhausted with my credit card in hand looking for a deal and a Christmas delivery guarantee.

Mistake #1: I was under pressure and cutting it way too close to Christmas.
Mistake #2: I was stressed and exhausted.
Mistake #3: I was adamant about getting the best deal.

Gimme a deal!

It turns out these mistakes created the perfect storm for a scam. I found a site with several name brand named coats available lower prices. I was thrilled to find the exact white coat and guaranteed delivery by Christmas. The cyber elves were working on my behalf for sure!

Only the coat never came and I was out $150.

In my haste and exhaustion, I overlooked a few key things about this “amazing” site that played into the scam. (I’ll won’t harp on the part about me calling customer service a dozen times, writing as many emails, and feeling incredible stupidity over my careless clicking)!

Stress = Digital Risk

I’m not alone in my holiday behaviors it seems. A recent McAfee survey, Stressed Holiday Online Shopping, reveals, unfortunately, that when it comes to online shopping, consumers are often more concerned about finding a deal online than they are with protecting their cybersecurity in the process. 

Here are the kinds of risks stressed consumers are willing to take to get a holiday deal online:

  • 53% think the financial stress of the holidays can lead to careless shopping online.
  • 56% said that they would use a website they were unfamiliar with if it meant they would save money.
  • 51% said they would purchase an item from an untrusted online retailer to get a good deal.
  • 31% would click on a link in an email to get a bargain, regardless of whether they were familiar with the sender.
  • When it comes to sharing personal information to get a good deal: 39% said they would risk sharing their email address, 25% would wager their phone number, and 16% percent would provide their home address.

3 Tips to Safer Online Shopping:

  • Connect with caution. Using public Wi-Fi might seem like a good idea at the moment, but you could be exposing your personal information or credit card details to cybercriminals eavesdropping on the unsecured network. If public Wi-Fi must be used to conduct transactions, use a virtual private network (VPN) to help ensure a secure connection.
  • Slow down and think before you click. Don’t be like me exhausted and desperate while shopping online — think before you click! Cybercriminal love to target victims by using phishing emails disguised as holiday savings or shipping notification, to lure consumers into clicking links that could lead to malware, or a phony website designed to steal personal information. Check directly with the source to verify an offer or shipment.
  • Browse with security protection. Use comprehensive security protection that can help protect devices against malware, phishing attacks, and other threats. Protect your personal information by using a home solution that keeps your identity and financial information secure.
  • Take a nap, stay aware. This may not seem like an important cybersecurity move, but during the holiday rush, stress and exhaustion can wear you down and contribute to poor decision-making online. Outsmarting the cybercrooks means awareness and staying ahead of the threats.

I learned the hard way that holiday stress and shopping do not mix and can easily compromise my online security. I lost $150 that day and I put my credit card information (promptly changed) firmly into a crook’s hands. I hope by reading this, I can help you save far more than that.

Here’s wishing you and your family the Happiest of Holidays! May all your online shopping be merry, bright, and secure from all those pesky digital Grinches!

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Attention Red Dead Redemption 2 Players: Dodge This New Download Scam

Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption 2 has struck a popular chord with many online gamers. Unfortunately, the Western-themed action-adventure game has also become a popular vessel for malicious activity among cybercriminals as well. Scammers are tricking gamers into giving up their personal information with phony “free” downloads of the online game, while simultaneously making a profit on these downloads.

You’re probably wondering how exactly this scam works. It first begins with cybercriminals planting their phony download traps in ads on platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and blog postings. With other, less sophisticated scams, a user would be prompted to install several bundled applications at this point, each one generating revenue for the scammer. But this scheme works a little bit differently. When the user clicks on the “download” button, they are presented with a fake install screen showing the progression of the game’s download process.  The fake install takes about an hour to complete, further giving the illusion that a large file is actually being downloaded on the user’s device.

Once the fake installation is complete, the user is asked to enter a nonexistent license key (a pattern of numbers and/or letters provided to licensed users of a software program). If a user clicks on one of the buttons on this screen, they are redirected to a website asking for human verification in the form of surveys and questionnaires. These surveys trick the user into divulging their personal information for the cybercriminal’s disposal. What’s more, the scammer earns revenue for their malicious acts.

Because this scheme tricks users into handing over their personal information, it affects a victim’s overall privacy. Luckily, there are steps users can take to combat this threat:

  • Browse with caution. Many scammers target gamers through popular websites like YouTube and Twitter to push out malicious content. Use discretion when browsing these websites.
  • Only download content from trusted sources. If you come across a download offer that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Only download software from legitimate sources and avoid sites if you can’t tell whether they are trustworthy or not.
  • Use security software to browse the internet. Sometimes, it can be hard to distinguish whether a site is malicious or not. Security solutions like McAfee WebAdvisor can detect the URLs and scam installers associated with this threat.

And, of course, to stay on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats, be sure to follow me and @McAfee_Home on Twitter, listen to our podcast Hackable? and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

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