Spies Inside Your Computer

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[Business News]

A Russian gang of criminals has been rumbled for infiltrating thousands of corporate and government computers to steal passwords and other valuable information. 

The cyber thieves adapted a program called Coreflood to help themselves to online bank accounts. Security expert Joe Stewart from SecureWorks, a computer security firm in Atlanta has been following the progress of Coreflood as it wormed its way into PC’s belonging to hospitals, companies and government agencies. 

At a recent security conference in Las Vegas he explained its modus operandi “It’s spying on you, capturing your log-ons, user names, passwords, bank balances, contents of your e-mail.”

To give you an idea of how successful Coreflood has been Stewart posted some his findings on his company’s website. He managed to grab 500 gigabytes of date from a server that the gang was using. Of the accounts the crooks tested, the highest balance was $147,000.

The gang’s exposure highlights the explosion of malicious software that has been hijacking computers across the planet. Spyware is the general term given to programs that follow your every keystroke and transmit this information to a third party elsewhere on the internet. So if you bank or shop online your private and personal information could be sent back to the people who created the programs. 

Companies can find their accounts emptied or checks drawn for miscellaneous amounts. They strike without warning.

Enormously adept at getting onto your system, there are numerous ways to unwittingly pick up a spyware program. By visiting a dodgy website, downloading from a file sharing network, or just by opening an email.  

Also be wary of dialogue boxes on some websites. This is a classic way for a piece of spyware software to infiltrate your computer. You click to close the box, but what you don’t realize is that you’re actually giving the green light for the program to rummage around your hard drive.

Businesses without the expertise to deal with these situations will suffer. “Good technical support, especially in small to mid-size businesses, is a key aspect to running businesses efficiently today," explained Cari Diaz of Fast-teks in a recent interview. They’re a leading on-site computer services company and specialize in getting consumers and businesses out of the mess that malicious software can cause.  They also equip people with the knowledge to spot trouble before it’s too late.

The first inkling that something is wrong with your computer is that you are bombarded with pop-up advertisements. 

Some of these come from legitimate companies wanting to place what they believe are relevant adverts for you. The spyware program has learnt all about your surfing habits and targeted you with ads that cater for your hobbies. Other noticeable signs of attack are that your computer is running slower than normal, it freezes or crashes.

According to the experts there is a lot you can do to avoid harm. Companies such as Fast-teks advise their customers to protect themselves in the following ways. They say you should avoid opening suspicious pop-up advertisements and e-mails, install pop-blockers and get hold of the latest anti-virus software or spyware removal programs.

Some of the most popular fixes on the market are Ad-Aware, Spybot S&D, and Webroot Skysweeper. But beware of sites offering free anti-spy ware programs, as some of these can be fakes and may even be spyware themselves.

The good news is that your computer can be cleansed, the bugs eliminated, and the threat destroyed. The bad news is that victory may only be temporary. Joe Stewart’s experience with Coreflood is proof that the problem may never go away. The Russian gang shut down their original command program and moved it to another computer in the Ukraine, beyond the reach of US law. Coreflood infections continue.

Business and consumers need to heed all the expert advice. Regular scans with anti-spyware programs, or calling in the professionals are the best chances of spotting trouble before it’s too late.

Take action before real damage is done to your life or business.


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