NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, September 2005

Barlow's Hard Drive Newsletter - August 2005


How Internet Predators Can Harm Your Computer


By Gene Barlow

User Group Relations

Copyrighted August 2005


This is the first of a two part article on Internet Security. This article will focus on the harm that predators can do to your computer while you are attached to the Internet. The second article addresses what you can do to protect your computer from these predators. You need to read both articles to get the whole story.




The Internet was originally designed as a communication tool between users of a few mainframe computers located inside some Universities and Government offices. To access this early Internet, you had to use a terminal that was inside these secure locations and attached by cable to one of the mainframe computers involved. The outside world could not get access to this early Internet system. Because the original Internet was limited to a very secure environment, no security measures were designed into the Internet. Later, as the scope of the Internet was broaden and became available to almost anyone around the world, additional security features were not added to the Internet. The Internet was initially designed without security and security was never added to the Internet as it grew.


The Internet has become one of the most useful features of our computers. Almost all computers can be connected to the Internet through phone lines, wireless, or via many types of broadband connections. Today, we keep in touch with our families and friends via Internet email, chats, and Internet phones. We find enormous amounts of information on almost any topic by researching the Internet. We locate hard to find items on the Internet and can order them and have them delivered to our door. We access our bank and investments using the Internet to handle our financial affairs. The Internet has brought us tremendous benefits in the past few years.


That is the bright side of the Internet. Unfortunately, there is also a dark side to the Internet that many of us are not fully aware of. The simple fact is that while you are connected to the Internet and can access thousands of locations, thousands of predators on the Internet can access your computer at the same time. As our connection time to the Internet increases, the risk of having harm done to our computers is skyrocketing. Broadband Internet connections greatly speed up our use of the Internet, but these are always connected and so our computer is always available to these predators. The purpose of this article is to identify who these predators are and how they use your computer for their own needs. The following article will show you what you can do to protect your computer from these predators.


Internet Predators


Who are the Internet predators that cause harm to your computer? They are called Hackers and they come in a variety of types. Taking a cliché from the old western movies, these hackers are often distinguished by the deeds they do. If you remember the old western movies, the cowboys that wore white hats were usually the good guys. The bad cowboys normally wore black hats. Likewise, you have the White Hat Hackers and the Black Hat Hackers. They both break into your computer, but the White Hat Hackers do no harm and only do it for the challenge. The Black Hat Hackers are not as kind and will do all sorts of damage to your computer once they break into it. Finally, you have the Script Kiddies who are young kids learning to become hackers.


Where do these hackers hang out? There are hundreds of hacker web sites around the world and the hackers use these sites to exchange ideas and things they have learned about hacking into certain computers. They also brag about their hacking accomplishments once they have broken into a special computer. This brings them the admiration of their fellow hackers. Young kids from 10-14 years old learn to become the future hackers of the world on these web sites. So these web sites are the training ground for new hackers to learn and develop.


Taking Over Your Computer


What do these Internet Predators do to your computer? The Black Hat Hackers go through a number of steps to break into and harm your computer. The first step is to scan for a target. They want to find a computer that has fast internet access, has enough empty space on their hard drive for storage of their hacker tools, and is a fast computer. While this is the ideal target, they will take a less valuable target if they can access it easily. They have special computer programs that scan and test computers connected to the Internet. Did you know that your computer is tested on average of 17 times each day by hackers looking for a target? When will they stop at your computer and decide to use it for their purposes? One in four computers will be hacked this year, so your turn is not far off.


Once the hackers find a target, their next task is to break and enter into that computer. Unfortunately, this task is very easy to do, since most computers have no security protection at all to keep the hackers out. Some users will have a firewall set up to prevent hackers from entering their computers. These firewalls have doors in them called ports. A firewall may have 256,000 doors or ports in them with some of these doors wide open. When a hacker finds a firewall, all he needs to do is to scan these ports until he finds one that is open and available for him to enter into your computer. Finally, hackers know of weaknesses in your operating system and Internet browser. He can take advantage of these weaknesses in the software and break through any security you think you have in place. It may take him a bit of time, but eventually, a hacker will find a way to break into your computer without you even knowing that he is doing this.


Once inside your computer, the hacker goes about setting up shop in your system. He may first look around for anything of value that he can steal from you. It may be as dangerous as your social security number, credit card numbers, or other financial information that he can use in the theft of your identity. Identity Theft is the number one consumer problem today and the number of thefts is growing each year. If your identity is taken and used, it will cost over $10,000 in goods and services to resolve the problems from this crime. The hacker may find your personal digital photos saved on your computer and share them with others on the Internet. Finally, the hacker may help himself to copies of any software he finds on your computer.


Next the hacker will make changes to your computer to fit his needs. He will store his hacker tools on your hard drive so that it is available for him to use in a moments notice. These tools may include viruses and worms to send out from your computer, key loggers to watch the keys you press as you enter your password to get into your online banking, email monitors to read your email messages, and other devious tools he has available to use from your computer. Once he gets all of his tools loaded on your computer, he will make your computer secure from other hackers. He will close up all of the open ports and operating system weaknesses in your computer so that other hackers will not be able to break into it. He wants your computer for his own use and not to share it with other hackers. He will leave one very well hidden back door open so that he can get back in to your computer at any time he wants to. The hacker now has your computer all ready for his future use.


Using Your Computer


Having set up your computer for his needs, what things will a hacker do with your computer? First, he may set up your computer to send out viruses to other computers. He will start with your email address book and send out these viruses to all of your friends and family members. After all, he does not want to have his computer identified as the source of the virus. Junk mail is also sent out mostly from hacked computers. My computer was hacked a couple of years ago and thousands of SPAM messages were sent out late night using my computer. The next morning my inbox was filled with bounced messages from email addresses that were no longer valid. Just emptying these bounced messages from my inbox took hours to accomplish. Working with my ISP, we found the faulty code that let my system be hacked and fixed it. I quickly learned that these hackers are serious. Another favorite hacker use of your computer is to send out porn pictures. It would really embarrass me to learn that my computer had been used to distribute porn to others. I may even be held legally liable for permitting this porn to be distributed from my computer.


Some hackers pride themselves in bringing down main computers, like eBay, Yahoo, or AOL. Other hackers go after mainframe computers at banks, stock markets, and government offices. To do this, they need to use more than one computer. Hackers will break into and set up hundreds of computers which are called Zombie systems. The hacker can activate these Zombies to do what it wants in a few seconds. Your computer may be sitting as a Zombie computer waiting to be activated to attack some large government defense computer. When it is activated with hundreds of other Zombie computers, they all send messages at the same time to the large computer under attack. When the mainframe computer is hit at the same time by hundreds or thousands of Zombies, it can’t handle the load and will shut down to protect itself. Just what the hacker wanted. The shutdown of a major computer may take hours to bring back up and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost businesses to these companies. This is serious hacking and your computer might be involved without your knowing it.


Check Out Your Computer


So, how do you know if your system has been affected by a hacker? Hackers pride themselves in doing their mischief without anyone knowing that they have been hacked. So, finding out that you have been hacked is not easy to do. There are a few excellent software tools that have been designed to find and remove hacking tools from computer systems. The second article of this series will identify all of the things you need to do to protect your computer from hackers and to remove their mischief if you have already been hacked. Watch for this article to be sent to you in a few days or you can find it on my web site (www.usergroupstore.com) in the Newsletters section after September 1, 2005. In the meantime, you can check to see if your computer has hacker tools on it by accessing my Invisus web site at www.myinvisusdirect.com/usergroupstore. Look for and click on the small red button that is titled, “Test Your PC Now”. This will take you to a page where you can download a trial of the hacker tool removal program and see what hacker tools are located on your computer. You will probably be surprised at what you find.


I hope you have learned more about the harm that can happen to your computer on the Internet. If you have questions about this article or Invisus tools, please email them to gene@ugr.com and I will try to answer them for you. Watch for my following article on protecting your computer from Internet predators.


Gene Barlow is the president of User Group Relations, a consulting firm specializing in promoting computer products to the user group community. He has over 40 years of experience with computer systems. He worked for IBM for 34 years and managed IBM's user group support organization for 14 years. He helped hundreds of user groups get started and is sometimes called the Father of User Groups for his involvement. When he left IBM, he set up his own consulting firm and has represented many software vendors to the user group community the past 9 years. He is an outstanding speaker, writer, and helper of end users and loves working with user groups. You may contact him atgene@ugr.com.




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Gene Barlow

User Group Relations

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