Tag Archives: ransomware

How to Create a Folder Accessible to only a Specific User (Data Backup User)

Data backup is like taking an insurance on your data. Just as we cannot predict what will happen with our life and property the next moment, and take cover of a good insurance, the same is true for our data too. Our precious data may be lost due to various reasons – natural disasters (earth-quake, flood, storm, fire), man-made havoc (theft, arson, violence), equipment failure, hacker attack etc. Backup acts as a good insurance against all such incidents. So, let’s make sure to regularly backup data.

It’s most common take backups onto another storage device, such as an external USB drive or a network share. It’s definitely a good step, but such storage also can be targeted by malware and virus. For example, if you map a network share to a drive (such as map \\myserver\backupshare to the drive x:) or attach an external USB drive to your computer, malware can identify such a drive and do the same damage as it does to regular drives in a computer. To protect the backup drive from malware attack, take the following steps so that the drive / folder is accessible ONLY to your dedicated backup user account as explained in our other blog post “How to Handle Ransomware Threat: Be Cautious and Backup Data“.

NOTE: Though the following set of steps use the folder name “BackupShared” as an example, DO NOT use such an easy-to-guess account name. Choose something suitable for your case that does NOT include your name, username etc.

a) Right-click on the folder (in this case E:\BackupShared as an example), and from the context-menu click on ‘Properties’ option.

b) Click on ‘Security’ tab to select it. You will see the dialog below.
Create Secure Drive - Step B

c) Click on the ‘Advanced’ button. You will then see the dialog below.
Create Secure Drive - Step C

d) Click on the ‘Disable inheritance’ button, which will show the following dialog.
Create Secure Drive - Step D

e) Select the option ‘Remove all inherited permissions from this object’.

f) Remove all ‘Permission entries’ (if any) from the following dialog.
Create Secure Drive - Step F

g) Now click the ‘Add’ button in the above dialog, and you will see the following dialog.
Create Secure Drive - Step G

h) Click on ‘Select a principal’ and you will get the following dialog.
Create Secure Drive - Step H

i) Specify name of the backup-only user created in step (b) above and click on ‘OK’.
Create Secure Drive - Step I

j) You will next see the following dialog. In the ‘Basic permissions’ section, select ‘Full Control’. The other options within this dialog should be as shown below. Then click ‘OK’.
Create Secure Drive - Step J

k) Now click ‘Apply’ in the following dialog.
Create Secure Drive - Step K

l) Change the ‘Owner’ by clicking on the ‘Change’ link in the above dialog. This should be the same as the backup user.

m) Click ‘OK’ to close the dialog. You will come back to the following dialog.
Create Secure Drive - Step M

n) Open the ‘Sharing’ tab, and click ‘Share…’.
Create Secure Drive - Step N

o) Then you will see the following dialog.
Create Secure Drive - Step O

p) If the “backup username” does not appear in the box, click on the dropdown list and select ‘Find people…’. Specify the “backup username” in that dialog and click ‘OK’ to come back to the File Sharing dialog. Then click ‘Add’. Choose ‘Owner’ or ‘Read/Write’ as the ‘Permission Level’ for the user.

q) Click the ‘Share’ button to share the folder. Click ‘Done’ on the following dialog.
Create Secure Drive - Step Q

r) Click ‘Close’ in the following dialog to complete the security settings.
Create Secure Drive - Step R

Yes, you are really done! It took quite a number of steps to go through, but now you have secured a folder / drive from unapproved access by malware and hack attacks. This is a safe destination for your backup data. Go ahead, start the backup process now.

How to Handle Ransomware Threat: Be Cautious and Backup Data

Why spend money on a backup program or bother setting it up? I know my data is safe.

This commonly-held belief was shattered by the recent WannaCrypt / WannaCry ransomware. The attack started on Friday, May 12, 2017, and has been described as unprecedented in scale, infecting more than 300,000 computers in over 150 countries. Some of the people had to pay up hoping to get back their data, while others just lost it. It is estimated that more than US$80,000 has been paid in ransom so far, but the total loss due to this attack might be as high as US$4 billion (according to CBS News).

“Ransomware” is a type of malicious software that blocks access to a user’s data generally by encrypting the files and displays a message demanding ransom payment. It won’t allow the user to get back the files until a “ransom” is paid (generally through untraceable ways of Bitcoin). Ransomware may also encrypt the computer’s Master File Table (MFT) or the entire Hard Drive. The WannaCry ransomware enters a network (an organization’s LAN) via an email attachment or from a compromised website. Once in the network, it uses a vulnerability in the Microsoft’s implementation of the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol to spread across the entire network. Back in March 2017 (i.e., nearly 2 months before the attack happened) Microsoft provided a fix for this security vulnerability for Windows Vista and higher. Recently Microsoft has released a patch for the outdated and out-of-support Windows XP Operating System too.
This ransomware encrypts the files in a computer and demands a payment of around US$300 in Bitcoin currency within 3 days or US$600 within 7 days. After 7 days, the files will become completely unrecoverable.

Wannacry Ransomware Screenshot
[By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54032765]

Ransomware attacks have happened before, and will happen again, and again. On May 19 another new ransomware, Xdata, has started spreading mainly in Ukraine.

So, how can we prepare to protect our valuable data from such attacks? There are two ways of handling this threat.

1. Prevent or minimize the chance of a malware attack.
2. Minimize the effect of being infected / hit by a malware.

The above two-prong proactive defense is important, because one of the possible ways of getting rid of the malware “industry” is to frustrate the players, who are not some intelligent-but-bored teenagers having fun, rather organized criminals are into this to make money. If they can’t break into enough computers, either to cause disruption (and thereby derive some perverse pleasure) or make money (which is the main goal), their interest will eventually fade. Let’s do our part to weaken, and over time hopefully get rid of, this menace.

1. Prevent or Minimize the Chance of a Malware Attack

There are some basic precautions all of us need to take to minimize (and hopefully eliminate) the threat of various malware.

a) Always use genuine software – Operating System (such as Windows) and applications (such as Office, Photoshop, browsers etc.) – from reputed companies and their suppliers. If you get pirated software (especially OS) from someone or download random software from the Internet, you are immediately vulnerable to different security threats.

b) Always keep your OS updated with the latest updates and service packs. Do not use an outdated OS.

c) Use a good up-to-date anti-virus to protect your system. Using an ineffective anti-virus is equivalent of using a door lock that anyone can open without the required key. Microsoft provides free download of its own anti-virus and anti-malware (Security Essentials and Defender). Also, regularly update the virus definitions.

d) Avoid using the computer by logging into an account with administrative privileges. It’s safer to do day-to-day work from a limited privilege user account.

e) Avoid visiting unknown or unreliable websites, and do not accept to run any script or application, if prompted by the websites. Also, use recent (preferably latest) version of one of the top browsers – Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer (11 only), Edge, Safari, Opera.

f) Avoid installing browser plug-ins or extensions from unknown providers. Keep vulnerable plug-ins or extensions disabled.

g) Do not open an email attachment from an unverified source, sometimes even from supposedly known sources such as friends or colleagues. Never run any attachment directly from the email client. Always download the attachment and run a virus scan on it before opening the attachment.

h) Do not insert any random media device (USB drive – flash or hard disc, SD-Card etc.) in your PC. Such media devices might been used on a compromised / infected computer. If need be, format it, or scan it using an up-to-date anti-virus before plugging it into your PC.

2. Minimize the Effect of Being Infected / Hit by Malware

In spite of all the precautions, it IS quite possible to still get infected / hit by some malware. For such scenarios, safeguard what the attacker is aiming for – your data.

NOTE: In such a case, you will need to re-setup the computer (such as reformat the hard drives, install OS and applications, reconfigure as per your needs), and then restore the data from existing backups.

First Rule of Safety – Take regular backups. Use a good backup tool to regularly backup your files and folders, preferably scheduled to run automatically. There are lots of backup tools at different price points for every OS. An application like SARANGSoft filexpertez for individual PC backup costs just US$19.95 (one-time license fee). More advanced network backup tool like SARANGSoft WinBackup Business starts at less than US$100 for 10 PCs. It’s a very small price compared to losing all your valuable data to ransomware as well as virus or hacker attack, natural disasters, equipment (such as hard disc) failure, or accidental deletion.

Take the following steps for a secure backup arrangement.

a) Dedicate an administrative user account for backup only: Create a user account for backup only and assign administrative privileges to it. Avoid logging into this account other than backup purposes. Choose a strong password for this account, e.g., use 10 or more characters, with a mix of upper and lower case, numbers, and special characters, and avoid your own name date of birth etc. Do not store / save the password anywhere in the PC.

NOTE: Do NOT use names like “backupuser” or “mybackup” or “backupadmin” etc. for the backup user account, which can be guessed by hackers. Pick something different and uncommon, but definitely NOT using your name, username etc.

b) Create a backup destination accessible only to the dedicated backup user: Create a backup destination folder, either in an attached external USB drive or in the drive of another computer within your network. Assign full access of this folder to the backup user account created in step 2(a) above. Do NOT provide access to any other user for this folder, not even to ‘SYSTEM’ account. If this folder is in a different computer of your network, share it only to the dedicated backup user account of step 2(a). Follow the detailed set of steps shown in our other blog post “Steps to Create Backup Destination Accessible only to a Specific User”.

c) Use cloud storage as backup destination: You can also choose to store the backup archives in a cloud storage such as Amazon AWS S3, Microsoft Azure or one of your choice. For example, SARANGSoft filexpertez enables direct backup to AWS-S3 and Azure as part of the backup definition process. Using local storage for backup is fast and convenient. Backup to cloud involves a little more work and recurring cost, but it also provides additional safety.

d) Schedule Automatic Backup: Schedule a backup to run periodically (e.g., every night) on the computer. Identify all your important documents and folders to be backed up and include those in your backup. Ideally, a full backup should be scheduled to run once a month or quarter and an incremental backup should be done every day. You can choose depending on your own / organization’s needs.

e) Run the backup manually once and also schedule to run it using the dedicated backup user account created in step 2(a) above. Avoid logging into this account for anything other than backup purposes. Chose the “Backup Destination” folder created in step 2(b) above to store the backup data (archives).

Now even if you lose your the data in your computer for any reason, including virus or ransomware attack, you are protected because you still have a backup copy of the required data saved in another location — in local or cloud storage.

2016: IT Security Challenges

A recently published report by Gartner & Raytheon (Dec-2015) makes some security predictions for the year 2016. The picture is not comforting at all. The already scary level of attacks by cyber criminals will rise even more because of the cyber terrorists (including the “Syrian Electronic Army” or SEA in short), who will be working in sync with ISIS and other such groups.

1.  The US Elections Cycle Will Drive Significant Themed Attacks: The level of use of social and online media for US Presidential election process will exceed all earlier instances. The candidates have started opening websites with their own profile and are regularly updating those with campaign schedules, time tables, issue-based debates etc. They are also using facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. as campaign tools. A 2014 survey showed nearly 74% of US adults use social networking. According to a recent survey by Pew Research Center, nearly 92% of the Americans are on social media. Of them 96% adults read news on Presidential election there. They have less interest and trust in traditional media like TV, newspaper etc. The candidates also are paying more attention to their Ads in social media sites.
This will make things easier for the hackers and spammers. Pretending to campaign on behalf of some candidate(s), they will present attractive / interesting topics or use offers as bait to trap / cheat users visiting social media as well as push malware, spam etc. in their email / computer.

2.  The attack on Google, Bing etc. will reach an extremely high level. There will be attacks through facebook, Twitter “friend” / “connection”. Serious attacks like Highly Transient Web Threat (HTWT) will also happen.

3.  Addition of the GTLD system will provide new opportunities for attackers: The top ten botnets like “Cutwell”, “Rustock”, “Mega-D” etc. will become even more powerful and active. They have been spreading spam to about 100 million computers around the world, which is 88% of all the 100s of billions of spam sent daily. In 2016, it might grow by 15 times or more!
Since multinational corporations and marketing agencies are becoming increasingly dependent on online services and web-based systems, there is big growth in “cloud computing”. Now the cyber criminals / terrorists are making “cloud computing” systems as their major target.

4.  The cyber criminals will attack the “traditional customer authentication” methods used for online banking and financial transactions to steal funds from bank accounts. There will be tremendous rise in the “Man in the Browser” (MITB) Trojan attack incidents.

5.  The cyber terrorists will also attach in guise of lucrative offers in emails (possibly as attachments) with attractive topics, pictures, invites as well fake web links, so that you step into their trap to reveal important personal information.

6.  The criminals will also use “BlackHatSEO” to get the fake sites and/or links in front of you in search engine results by suppressing the genuine websites. For this they will use various SEO techniques, including paid SEO.

7.  Fake Advertisements in the name of reputed media houses will be used to inject virus into those organizations’ websites. The hackers and spammers will use the still-in-use outdated technologies, such as unsupported and unpatched old software.

8.  The tiny URLs used in facebook and Twitter are quite popular among users. Since those are easy to utilize, the criminals will target the tiny URLs to bring people to malware-ridden 100s of thousands of fake websites.
According to an estimate from a few years back by a security software firm, nearly 300,000 fake websites are launched EVERYDAY just to lure unsuspecting users and infect their computers with malware and virus.

9.  The cyber criminals are going to use “SQL Injection” attack against the famous multinational banks, commercial and marketing companies around the world, including USA. Along with that they will use Phishing (stealing data through browser / email), Vishing (stealing data via phone calls), Smishing (via SMS to mobile phones) attacks.

10. There will be major increase in the cyber terrorists’ use of “foreign language spam” as well as “identity theft” attacks to steal our “digital signatures” for online (commercial / legal / financial) activities.

The only protection is to be super-careful (being paranoid is OK), even for individuals, because our own personal finances can be ruined by such attacks. A whole lot of people have already been burnt by “ransomware” (a kind of malware). Phishing and Vishing are still going on, and people continue to fall for those. On the other hand, a lot of computer users are oblivious about upgrading their software — Operating Systems, Applications, Browsers etc., even if free upgrades are widely available. There are a lot of people who derive extra pleasure in using pirated software, without understanding how dangerous it is for THEMSELVES. The big software companies can afford to lose a couple of billions in lost revenue due to piracy, but a compromised computer can terribly affect an individual’s life or a small business. It really doesn’t cost much when it’s spread over the lifetime of a computer and software. However, some people still find it necessary to avoid paying the dues and lead a risky life. Also, some computer users indiscriminately download and install “free” software from the Internet. Is “free” a business model for anyone? Yes, there are some legitimate “free” (mostly open source) software organizations, but they are well known. Why use software from a random company that pops up in a Google search? Does anyone buy any other thing like that? In real life do you use an item handed out by a complete stranger? Hopefully not.

It’s important to practice “Safe Computing”:
a)  Use ONLY legitimate software
b)  Use RELIABLE anti-virus from a REPUTED company
c)  Regularly update / patch software
d)  Monitor network to detect intrusion / infection
e)  Take automatic backup of all important data

The challenges are grave. The threats are real. The repercussions can be devastating. It’s worth being extra careful.