Who Controls Your Android Phone: You or Criminals?

A malware infection can turn your Windows computer into a zombie, secretly doing the bidding of maleficent thugs who live far away from you. It's not obvious when this happens; the computer doesn't stare blankly, walk slowly, or try to eat brains. It appears to behave normally. But it just might be doing some pretty dreadful things in the background.

An infected computer becomes part of a botnet, a network of computers that criminals can use for their bidding. They can use your computer, along with other people's, to send out spam or cripple a company with distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. And while they're at it, they can steal your passwords and your bank account and credit card numbers.

That's old news. The scary new news is that you don't even need to own a computer to catch this kind of trouble. According to this InformationWeek article by Kurt Marko, your Android phone can also become a botnet zombie doing the bidding of people less scrupulous than the worst politician. "This marks a disturbing milestone in the evolution of mobile malware," says Marko, "since until recently, mobile exploits typically didn't involve a persistent takeover of the device and active communication with a [botnet]." He quotes a Damballa Labs report stating that "two-way Internet communication now makes the mobile market as susceptible to criminal breach activity as desktop devices."

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Fake Microsoft Rogue program

We all know that Microsoft wants us to pay for their software, and that they can get insistent about it if they believe that you're using an unpaid-for copy of Windows.

If you're truly using a pirated copy of Windows, you should pay for it, and probably will have to one of these days. But if you have a legitimate copy and are still getting threatening "Microsoft" messages, something is rotten — and probably not in the state of Redmond.

According to a Computerworld article, a new breed of malicious software is trying to convince you that you owe Microsoft money. Let me assure you that, should you fall for their tricks and pay the fee, the Gates Foundation will not receive any of your money.

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Recover From System Recovery Malware

An error message pops up telling you that your system is in serious trouble, perhaps a hard drive failure. Your only solution is to pay for the full version of the program that identified the problem: System Recovery.

Except that your hard drive is really just fine. Your computer is in trouble, alright, but just not the kind of trouble that System Recovery is telling you about. Your problem is malware infection, and the name of the malware is System Recovery.

This is a rogue or Fake AV, a malware program that warns you of a problem on your computer that doesn't really exist, then informs you that the only fix for the problem is buying the full version of the program. Amazingly enough, when you pony up the money, the problem actually seems to go away. Except that the problem never existed, criminals now have your credit card number, and your computer is still infected with malware that can be used for other purposes.

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Lose Your Smartphone, Lose Your Identity

Ever left a café, bus, or other public place, and left your cellphone behind? If you're lucky, an honest person finds it and eventually gets it back to you. But if you're not lucky…

In the old days, you were out whatever it cost to replace the phone. But if you have a smartphone, you could be out considerably more. The unscrupulous person who won't try to return the phone to you might also find some profit in your private information.

Recent research by two British companies, Churchill Home Insurance and Garlik, suggest that smartphone users are notoriously lax about how they protect their data. More than half don't bother to change banking passwords after their phone disappears. Nearly 40 percent don't even take the simple precaution of password-protecting their phones.

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Watch the Skies, Because They May be Watching You

If you ever go to a popular park or beach on a nice day, you've probably seen someone playing with a remote-controlled flying toy; perhaps a model airplane or helocopter. It's probably harmless fun, but it just might be sniffing out WiFi networks to attack.

A Tech Buzz Examiner article describes a proof-of-concept project by security expert Sven Dietrich. It used a toy helicopter to find and access unsecured WiFi networks. Had the toy been in the hands of a cyberthug instead of a responsible researcher, it could have logged onto these networks, found useful (and private) information on them, and perhaps infected connected computers.

Dietrich clearly thinks he's found something potentially dangerous. After all, he named the research project SkyNET, after the world-conquering computer system from the “Terminator” movies. The flying machine is equipped with a small Linux computer, GPS, and two WiFi cards (but no Austrian-accented cyborgs). One card lets someone control everything remotely from an iPhone or Android phone; the other looks for unprotected networks to break into.

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Malware Mines for Money Via Twitter

If you find a tweak on Twitter inviting you to check an image on Facebook, watch out. It may be out to gain control of your computer, and steal your money.

GMA News Online reports that a vicious worm is spreading over Twitter. The malicious tweets invite you to checkout a .jpg image on Facebook. The link, like all links in Twitter, is shortened — you can't see where it's really taking you.

So far, this infection has primarily hit users in Indonesia. But you can't assume that this sort of thing won't be cropping up elsewhere, too.

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You're Not Mailing Spam, But It Sure Looks Like You Are

Friends don't spam friends.

That seems pretty obvious. Yet we all get spam that appears to come from friends, relatives, and co-workers. And unless you hang out with a pretty seedy crowd, that seems unlikely.

When Twin Cities blogger R.C. Johnson got spam allegedly from a friend, he posted about it. "Knowing that my friend would not be one that would be sending out links to a Canadian pharmacy selling Viagra, Cialis, antibiotics, pain killers, etc., I called him immediately and alerted him to the email." That's the wise thing to do.

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