Spam

Spam Is Back (theoutline.com) 149

Jon Christian, writing for The Outline: For a while, spam -- unsolicited bulk messages sent for commercial or fraudulent purposes -- seemed to be fading away. The 2003 CAN-SPAM Act mandated unsubscribe links in email marketing campaigns and criminalized attempts to hide the sender's identity, while sophisticated filters on what were then cutting-edge email providers like Gmail buried unwanted messages in out-of-sight spam folders. In 2004, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told a crowd at the World Economic Forum that "two years from now, spam will be solved." In 2011, cybersecurity reporter Brian Krebs noted that increasingly tech savvy law enforcement efforts were shutting down major spam operators -- including SpamIt.com, alleged to be a major hub in a Russian digital criminal organization that was responsible for an estimated fifth of the world's spam. These efforts meant that the proportion of all emails that are spam has slowly fallen to a low of about 50 percent in recent years, according to Symantec research.

But it's 2017, and spam has clawed itself back from the grave. It shows up on social media and dating sites as bots hoping to lure you into downloading malware or clicking an affiliate link. It creeps onto your phone as text messages and robocalls that ring you five times a day about luxury cruises and fictitious tax bills. Networks associated with the buzzy new cryptocurrency system Ethereum have been plagued with spam. Facebook recently fought a six-month battle against a spam operation that was administering fake accounts in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. Last year, a Chicago resident sued the Trump campaign for allegedly sending unsolicited text message spam; this past November, ZDNet reported that voters were being inundated with political text messages they never signed up for. Apps can be horrid spam vectors, too. Repeated mass data breaches that include contact information, such as the Yahoo breach in which 3 billion user accounts were exposed, surely haven't helped. Meanwhile, you, me, and everyone we know is being plagued by robocalls.

Communications

Phone Companies Get New Tools To Block Spam Calls (cnbc.com) 128

An anonymous reader shares a report: Phone companies will have greater authority to block questionable calls from reaching customers as regulators adopted new rules to combat automated messages known as robocalls. Rules adopted Thursday by the Federal Communications Commission represent the latest tools against "robocalls," which pester consumers, sometimes multiple times each day, and often push scams. Phone companies can already block some calls that trick consumers by showing up on Caller ID with fake numbers. The new rules make clear that they can block additional calls that are likely scams, such as numbers that start with a 911 area code, or one that isn't currently assigned to anyone.
Spam

Security Firm Creates Chatbot To Respond To Scam Emails On Your Behalf (theverge.com) 70

An anonymous reader shares a report: Chatbots. They're usually a waste of your time, so why not have them waste someone else's instead? Better yet: why not have them waste an email scammer's time. That's the premise behind Re:scam , an email chatbot operated by New Zealand cybersecurity firm Netsafe. Next time you get a dodgy email in your inbox, says Netsafe, forward it on to me@rescam.org, and a proxy email address will start replying to the scammer for you, doing its very utmost to waste their time.
Social Networks

9.6% of Facebook's Users 'May Be Fakes' (nytimes.com) 96

An anonymous reader quotes the New York Times: Facebook estimates that about 200 million of its more than 2.07 billion users may be fakes... [Non-paywalled article here.] Colin Stretch, the general counsel of Facebook, told the Senate Intelligence Committee the company was doubling its review staff to 20,000 and using artificial intelligence to find more "bad actors"... Sean Edgett, Twitter's general counsel, testified before Congress that about 5 percent of its 330 million users are "false accounts or spam," which would add up to more than 16 million fakes.

Independent experts say the real numbers are far higher. On Twitter, little more than an email address is needed to start tweeting. Facebook's requirement that users be their authentic selves means the company asks for a smattering of information to sign up -- name, birthday, gender and email address. But few checks exist to verify if that information is true when a user signs up.

Botnet

Malware Developer Who Used Spam Botnet To Pay For College Gets No Prison Time (bleepingcomputer.com) 57

An anonymous reader writes: The operator of a 77,000-strong spam botnet was sentenced to two years probation and no prison time after admitting his crime and completely reforming his life. The former botnet operator is now working for a cybersecurity company, and admitted his actions as soon as the FBI knocked on his door back in 2013. The botnet operator, a 29-year-old from Santa Clara, California, says he was tricked by fellow co-schemers who told him they were not doing anything wrong by infecting computers with malware because they were not accessing private information such as banking or financial records. Furthermore, the botnet operator escaped prison time because he used all the money he earned in getting a college degree at Cal Poly instead of using it on a lavish lifestyle or drugs. This case is similar to the one that MalwareTech (aka Marcus Hutchins) now faces in the U.S. for his role in developing the Kronos trojan, but also after turning his life around and working as a cybersecurity researcher for years.
Bug

Google Explains Tuesday's Drive, Docs Bug That Marked Some Files As Violating Terms of Service (9to5google.com) 97

On Tuesday, Google's cloud-based word processing software was randomly flagging files for supposedly "violating" Google's Terms of Service, resulting in some users not being able to access or share their files. Google today explained the issue and addressed concerns that arose. 9to5Google reports: Several users on Tuesday morning reported no longer being able to open certain files they were working on in Docs, while others were locked out mid-edit. "On Tuesday, October 31, we mistakenly blocked access to some of our users' files, including Google Docs," Google said in a blog post. "This was due to a short-lived bug that incorrectly flagged some files as violating our terms of service (TOS)." Afterwards, Google provided a comment to Gizmodo noting that a code push made earlier that morning was at fault and that full access had been restored to users hours after the bug first arose. Today's clarification goes on to explain how that error on Tuesday caused Drive to "misinterpret" responses from the antivirus system designed to protect against malware, phishing, and spam. As a result, Docs "erroneously mark[ed] some files as TOS violations, thus causing access denials for users of those files."
Social Networks

TechCrunch Argues Social Media News Feeds 'Need to Die' (techcrunch.com) 154

"Feeds need to die because they distort our views and disconnect us from other human beings around us," argues TechCrunch's Romain Dillet: At first, I thought I was missing out on some Very Important Content. I felt disconnected. I fought against my own FOMO. But now, I don't feel anything. What's going on on Instagram? I don't care. Facebook is now the worst internet forum you can find. Twitter is filled with horrible, abusive people. Instagram has become a tiny Facebook now that it has discouraged all the weird, funny accounts from posting with its broken algorithm. LinkedIn's feed is pure spam.

And here's what I realized after forgetting about all those "social" networks. First, they're tricking you and pushing the right buttons to make you check your feed just one more time. They all use thirsty notifications, promote contrarian posts that get a lot of engagement and play with your emotions. Posting has been gamified and you want to check one more time if you got more likes on your last Instagram photo. Everything is now a story so that you pay more attention to your phone and you get bored less quickly -- moving pictures with sound tend to attract your eyes... [F]inally, I realized that I was missing out by constantly checking all my feeds. By putting my phone on 'Do Not Disturb' for days, I discovered new places, started conversations and noticed tiny little things that made me smile.

He concludes that technology has improved the way we learn, communicate, and share information, "But it has gone too far...

"Forget about your phone for a minute, look around and talk with people next to you."
Businesses

Dodging Russian Spies, Customers Are Ripping Out Kaspersky (thedailybeast.com) 366

From a report: Multiple U.S. security consultants and other industry sources tell The Daily Beast customers are dropping their use of Kaspersky software all together, particularly in the financial sector, likely concerned that Russian spies can rummage through their files. Some security companies are being told to only provide U.S. products. And former Kaspersky employees describe the firm as reeling, with department closures and anticipation that researchers will jump ship soon. "We are under great pressure to only use American products no matter the technical or performance consequences," said a source in a cybersecurity firm which uses Kaspersky's anti-virus engine in its own services. The Daily Beast granted anonymity to some of the industry sources to discuss internal deliberations, as well as the former Kaspersky employees to talk candidly about recent events.
Businesses

Amazon's Next Big Bet is Letting You Communicate Without a Smartphone, Says Alexa's Chief Scientist (cnbc.com) 144

An anonymous reader shares a report: The next big function to take off on Amazon's Echo devices will be voice or video calling -- which is a way Alexa can reduce the need to have your smartphone on your at all times, said Rohit Prasad, VP and Head Scientist at Alexa Machine Learning. "If you have not played with calling and the video calls on Echo Show, you should try it because that is revolutionizing how you can communicate," Prasad said in an exclusive interview with CNBC at an Alexa Accelerator event in Seattle Tuesday night. (The event is dedicating to developing new voice-powered technologies.) "When you can drop in on people who have given you access -- so I can drop in and call my mom in her kitchen without her picking any device -- it's just awesome." (Amazon added the ability to call mobile numbers and landlines for free onto Echo devices a few weeks ago.) Amazon doesn't have a smartphone that lets customers bring a digital assistant everywhere -- like Apple's Siri and Google's Assistant -- and communicating through Alexa devices is one way of reducing the need for a personal handset, Prasad said "I can easily drop in and talk to my kids," Prasad says. "They don't have a smartphone so that's my easiest way to talk to them. It's yet another area where Alexa is taking the friction away."
Twitter

Twitter Suspends 300,000 Accounts Tied To Terrorism In 2017 (bloomberg.com) 69

According to a new transparency report, Twitter said it suspended nearly 300,000 accounts globally linked to terrorism in the first half of the year. The company is improving automation tools used to help block accounts that promote terrorism and violence. Bloomberg reports: Of [the nearly 300,000 accounts that were suspended], roughly 95 percent were identified by the company's spam-fighting automation tools. Meanwhile, the social network said government data requests continued to increase, and that it provided authorities with data on roughly 3,900 accounts from January to June. Twitter said about 75 percent of the blocked accounts this year were spotted before a single tweet was sent, and that 935,897 accounts had been suspended since August 2015, with two-thirds of those coming in the past year. American authorities made 2,111 requests from Twitter from January to June, the most of the 83 countries tracked by the company. Twitter supplied information on users in 77 percent of the inquiries. Japan made 1,384 requests and the U.K. issued 606 requests. Turkish authorities continued a trend of aggressively policing Twitter, making 554 requests for account data and issuing court orders to remove 715 pieces of content. Other governments made only 38 total content-removal requests.
Iphone

How One Writer Is Battling Tech-Induced Attention Disorder (wired.com) 195

New submitter mirandakatz writes: Katie Hafner has spent the last 23 days in rehab. Not for alcoholism or gambling, but for a self-inflicted case of episodic partial attention thanks to her iPhone. On Backchannel, Hafner writes about the detrimental effect the constant stream of pings has had on her, and how her life has come to resemble a computer screen. "I sense a constant agitation when I'm doing something," she says, "as if there is something else out there, beckoning -- demanding -- my attention. And nothing needs to be deferred." "I blame electronics for my affliction," writes Hafner, who says the devices in her life "teem with squirrels." "If I pick up my iPhone to send a text, damned if I don't get knocked off task within a couple of seconds by an alert about Trump's latest tweet. And my guess is that if you have allowed your mind to be as tyrannized by the demands of your devices as I have, you too suffer to some degree from this condition."

Hafner goes on to describe her symptoms of "episodic partial attention" and provide potential fixes for it: "There are the obvious fixes. Address the electronics first: Silence the phone as well as all alerts on your computer, and you automatically banish two squirrels. But how do you shut down the micro-distractions that dangle everywhere in your physical world, their bushy gray tails twitching seductively? My therapy, of my own devising, consists of serial mono-tasking with a big dose of mindful intent, or intentional mindfulness -- which is really just good, old-fashioned paying attention. At first, I took the tiniest of steps. I celebrated the buttoning of a blouse without stopping to apply the hand cream I spotted on the dresser as if I had gotten into Harvard. Each task I took on -- however mundane -- I had to first announce, quietly, to myself. I made myself vow that I would work on that task and only that task until it was finished. Like a stroke patient relearning how to move an arm, I told myself not that I was making the entire bed (too overwhelming), but that I had a series of steps to perform: first the top sheet, then the blankets, then the comforter, then the pillows. Emptying the dishwasher became my Waterloo. Putting dishes away takes time, and it's tedious. Perhaps the greatest challenge lies in the fact that the job requires repeated kitchen crossings. There are squirrels everywhere, none more treacherous than the siren song that is my iPhone."
Botnet

Massive New Spambot Ensnares 711,000,000 Email Addresses (zdnet.com) 31

An anonymous reader quotes ZDNet: A huge spambot ensnaring 711 million email accounts has been uncovered. A Paris-based security researcher, who goes by the pseudonymous handle Benkow, discovered an open and accessible web server hosted in the Netherlands, which stores dozens of text files containing a huge batch of email addresses, passwords, and email servers used to send spam. Those credentials are crucial for the spammer's large-scale malware operation to bypass spam filters by sending email through legitimate email servers.

The spambot, dubbed "Onliner," is used to deliver the Ursnif banking malware into inboxes all over the world. To date, it's resulted in more than 100,000 unique infections across the world, Benkow told ZDNet. Troy Hunt, who runs breach notification site Have I Been Pwned, said it was a "mind-boggling amount of data." Hunt, who analyzed the data and details his findings in a blog post, called it the "largest" batch of data to enter the breach notification site in its history... Those credentials, he explained, have been scraped and collated from other data breaches, such as the LinkedIn hack and the Badoo hack, as well also other unknown sources.

The data includes information on 80 million email servers, and it's all used to identify which recipients have Windows computers, so they can be targeted in follow-up emails delivering Windows-specific malware.
Facebook

Fake Messages Rigged With Malware Are Spreading Via Facebook Messenger (bleepingcomputer.com) 44

According to recent warnings issued by Avira, CSIS Security Group, and Kaspersky Lab, a virulent spam campaign has hit Facebook Messenger during the past few days. "The Facebook spam messages contain a link to what appears to be a video," reports Bleeping Computer. "The messages arrive from one of the user's friends, suggesting that person's account was also compromised." From the report: The format of the spam message is the user's first name, the word video, and a bit.ly or t.cn short-link. Users that click on the links are redirected to different pages based on their geographical location and the type of browser and operating system they use. It's been reported that Firefox users on Windows and Mac are being redirected to a page offering a fake Flash Player installer. Kaspersky says this file installs adware on users' PCs. On Chrome, the spam campaign redirects users to a fake YouTube page pushing a malicious extension. It is believed that crooks use this Chrome extension to push adware and collect credentials for new Facebook accounts, which they later use to push the spam messages to new users.
IT

Developer Accidentally Deletes Three-Month of Work With Visual Studio Code (bingj.com) 765

New submitter joshtops writes: A developer accidentally three-month of his work. In a post, he described his experience, "I had just downloaded VScode as an alternative and I was just playing with the source control option, seeing how it wanted to stage -- five thousand files -- I clicked discard... AND IT DELETED ALL MY FILES, ALL OF THEM, PERMANENTLY! How the f*uk is this s*it possible, who the hell is the d******* who made the option to permanently delete all the files on a project by accident even possible? Cannot even find them in the Recycle Bin!!!! I didn't even thought that was possible on Windows!!! F*ck this f*cking editor and f*ck whoever implemented this option. I wish you the worst.'
Software

Are App Sizes Out of Control? 386

In a blog post, Trevor Elkins points out the large sizes of common apps like LinkedIn and Facebook. "I went to update all my apps the other day when something caught my eye... since when does LinkedIn take up 275MB of space?!" Elkins wrote. "In fact, the six apps in this picture average roughly 230MB in size, 1387MB in total. That would take an 8Mbit internet connection 24 minutes to download, and I'd still be left with 27 additional apps to update! More and more companies are adopting shorter release cycles (two weeks or so) and it's becoming unsustainable as a consumer to update frequently."

Should Apple do something to solve this "systematic" problem? Elkins writes, "how does an app that occasionally sends me a connection request and recruiter spam take up 275MB?"

Further discussion via Hacker News.
The Internet

O'Reilly Media Asks: Is It Time To Build A New Internet? (oreilly.com) 305

An anonymous reader shares an article from O'Reilly Media's VP of content strategy: It's high time to build the internet that we wanted all along: a network designed to respect privacy, a network designed to be secure, and a network designed to impose reasonable controls on behavior. And a network with few barriers to entry -- in particular, the certainty of ISP extortion as new services pay to get into the "fast lane." Is it time to start over from scratch, with new protocols that were designed with security, privacy, and maybe even accountability in mind? Is it time to pull the plug on the abusive old internet, with its entrenched monopolistic carriers, its pervasive advertising, and its spam? Could we start over again?

That would be painful, but not impossible... In his deliciously weird novel Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town, Cory Doctorow writes about an alternative network built from open WiFi access points. It sounds similar to Google's Project Fi, but built and maintained by a hacker underground. Could Doctorow's vision be our future backboneless backbone? A network of completely distributed municipal networks, with long haul segments over some public network, but with low-level protocols designed for security? We'd have to invent some new technology to build that new network, but that's already started.

The article cites the increasing popularity of peer-to-peer functionality everywhere from Bitcoin and Blockchain to the Beaker browser, the Federated Wiki, and even proposals for new file-sharing protocols like IPFS and Upspin. "Can we build a network that can't be monopolized by monopolists? Yes, we can..."

"It's time to build the network we want, and not just curse the network we have."
Social Networks

Nearly 90,000 Sex Bots Invaded Twitter in 'One of the Largest Malicious Campaigns Ever Recorded on a Social Network' (gizmodo.com) 53

An anonymous reader shares a report: Last week, Twitter's security team purged nearly 90,000 fake accounts after outside researchers discovered a massive botnet peddling links to fake "dating" and "romance" services. The accounts had already generated more than 8.5 million posts aimed at driving users to a variety of subscription-based scam websites with promises of -- you guessed it -- hot internet sex. The accounts were first identified by ZeroFOX, a Baltimore-based security firm that specializes in social-media threat detection. The researchers dubbed the botnet "SIREN" after sea-nymphs described in Greek mythology as half-bird half-woman creatures whose sweet songs often lured horny, drunken sailors to their rocky deaths. ZeroFOX's research into SIREN offers a rare glimpse into how efficient scammers have become at bypassing Twitter's anti-spam techniques. Further, it demonstrates how effective these types of botnets can be: The since-deleted accounts collectively generated upwards of 30 million clicks -- easily trackable since the links all used Google's URL shortening service.
The Courts

Warner Bros., Tolkien Estate Settle $80 Million 'Hobbit' Lawsuit (hollywoodreporter.com) 71

Five years later and it appears Warner Bros. and the estate of author J.R.R. Tolkien have settled their lawsuit over the digital exploitation of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. "The Tolkien Estate and book publisher HarperCollins filed a $80 million lawsuit in 2012 alleging that Warners, its New Line subsidiary and Rings/Hobbit rightsholder Saul Zaentz Co. infringed copyright and breached contract by overstepping their authority," reports Hollywood Reporter. "The plaintiffs claimed that a decades-old rights agreement entitled the studio to create only 'tangible' merchandise based on the books, not other digital exploitations that the estate called highly offensive." From the report: The lawsuit brought the two sides into a new battle. Previously, New Line and the Tolkien Estate had fought over profit participation, coming to a deal in 2009 pegged as being worth more than $100 million. As Warner Bros. readied a Peter Jackson big-screen adaptation of The Hobbit, the Tolkien Estate began investigating digital exploitations when its attorney received a spam e-mail about the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Online Slot Game. The subsequent complaint filed in court talked about irreparable harm to Tolkien's legacy and reputation from the prospect of everything from online games to housing developments. In reaction, Warner Bros. filed counterclaims, alleging that repudiation of a 1969 contract and 2010 regrant caused the studio to miss out on millions in Hobbit licensing and decreased exposure to the Jackson films. Warners contended that digital exploitations was both customary and within its scope of rights. Those counterclaims became the subject of a side fight over whether Warners could sue for being sued. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that Warner Bros. had properly asserted contract claims.
Firefox

Chrome and Firefox Headless Modes May Spur New Adware & Clickfraud Tactics (bleepingcomputer.com) 80

From a report: During the past month, both Google and Mozilla developers have added support in their respective browsers for "headless mode," a mechanism that allows browsers to run silently in the OS background and with no visible GUI. [...] While this feature sounds very useful for developers and very uninteresting for day-to-day users, it is excellent news for malware authors, and especially for the ones dabbling with adware. In the future, adware or clickfraud bots could boot-up Chrome or Firefox in headless mode (no visible GUI), load pages, and click on ads without the user's knowledge. The adware won't need to include or download any extra tools and could use locally installed software to perform most of its malicious actions. In the past, there have been quite a few adware families that used headless browsers to perform clickfraud. Martijn Grooten, an editor at Virus Bulletin, also pointed Bleeping Computer to a report where miscreants had abused PhantomJS, a headless browser, to post forum spam. The addition of headless mode in Chrome and Firefox will most likely provide adware devs with a new method of performing surreptitious ad clicks.
Businesses

How Can Businesses Close 'The Cybersecurity Gap'? (venturebeat.com) 179

Companies can't find enough qualified security personnel, and fixing it requires "a fundamental shift in how businesses recruit, hire, and keep security talent," according to a VentureBeat article by an Intermedia security executive: The trickle of security students emerging from post-secondary schools may not be fully prepared to tackle complicated security issues -- what we need are people who can protect businesses environments from everything from spam and BYOD vulnerabilities to complex threats like APTs and spear phishing. Second, certain companies may not know what to look for in a professional. Third, when skilled professionals are hired, they can often be overworked to the point where they don't have the time to keep up with the latest developments in the field -- and even in their own security tools... The fundamental problem facing the skills gap, however, is that there aren't enough people coming into the field to begin with. Here, companies need to do two things: step-up their advocacy when it comes to promoting cybersecurity careers, and look internally for employees who have the skills and desire to take on a security position but need the training and support to succeed...

Finally, businesses need to recognize that security threats today go well beyond just one department. Every employee should be responsible for knowing what to look for in an attack, how to report a suspected threat, and how they can simply disengage from content and files they deem suspicious. Basic security training needs to become a part of the onboarding process for any employee -- especially for those in the C-Suite, where a greater number of spear-phishing attacks occur.

The article also cites a study which found "about a quarter of all cybersecurity positions are left unfilled for about six months."

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