Category Archives: Field Reports

Cleanup reports of startupware from the real world.

Equifax’s Technology: What Happened?

by Jerry Stern,

I’ve been asked many times “Can I be hacked?” The answer is “generally not without your help.” Hackers of low-value targets (any small business) are sending you links to malware and hoping you’ll click into something that installs software that will search and monitor your computer and online activity for email account logins and credit card numbers. That’s pretty-well blocked by good ‘antivirus’ software, unless you click to let it in. Hack attempts for high-value targets, like global companies and government angencies, are custom-tailored hack attempts, and they’re looking for network access to a lot more than an email account or credit card. Both of these situations are hack attempts at the level of a worker’s computer.

That’s not what happened at Equifax. They had unpatched software (“Apache Struts”) on a web server, open and available to the outside world through their set of web sites; Apache Struts was widely-installed, with a patch available on March 7th, but not installed at Equifax. Once the patch was announced by Apache, the hackers knew where the problem was on many servers, and some time later, found that issue at Equifax, and used it to gain access to Equifax servers.

Web sites are scanned by hackers continuously for known security gaps, and that’s what happened to Equifax. They didn’t monitor, patch, or detect the problem, the invasion, or the downloads in a way that any other company in financial services would have. If we were their customers, we would leave, and they would be gone. That’s not the case here. They sell their services to banks and other credit monitoring companies, not us. We are a commodity, not a client.

Put simply, Equifax profits from the breach. They are.offering free credit monitoring to anyone impacted by the breach. That credit monitoring won’t be free forever, although their sign-up page is not currently asking for any card numbers. estimates that if 1% of the free users continue their monitoring next year, Equifax will make an extra $200 million per year. Equifax will also receive millions from other credit monitoring companies that pay Equifax for credit reports, and from the Federal government, who pays Equifax as the exclusive provider of identification confirmation services. Here’s their analysis:

What To Do

Andrew Bareham has listed the financial steps above. Remember that the stolen data doesn’t expire. Prevention is key; cleaning up after identity theft takes years. Freezes are less hassle than cleaning up later.

For better protection against hacks that happen on your own systems, there’s a one-page document from that summarizes what you need to know about social engineering. That’s the set of tricks used to convince you to click a fraudulent message.

AntiVirus Software EPIC FAIL by Design

Got an invoice in the mail this morning. A company I never heard of, with this message:

Here is your bill.

Waiting for your answer

Risus Incorporated
Lev Mckenzie
(896) 756-0588

The attachment is named “Risus Incorporated.bill42zo.06.p24me38i.rtf”.

So what’s wrong with that?

  • I have no business relationship with any of those names.
  • The company name doesn’t match the email domain.
  • 896 is a fake area code.
  • That last name is odd–that ‘k’ in ‘Mckenzie’ should be capitalized. Who misspells their own name?
  • The web site matching the email address that appears to have sent the email is the “Arab Real Estate Company”, with what appears to be a legit web site in Arabic.
  • The “invoice” is a RTF file, also known as a “Rich Text File”; that’s what we programmers used to use to create help files, so it is very capable of holding scripts and program code, but it’s a horrible choice for sending an actual invoice.

PhishSo it’s an obvious fake: a phish, an attempt to get me to open something I shouldn’t. OK, with caution, I looked inside. (Don’t do what I do. I’m a professional, and I don’t just double-click to see if anything explodes.) Inside there are multiple pages of this:


valvular wishbone sallymen poop gyn underdepth fearfulness feistiest vapulate gigsmen hemagglutinate bridoon diactinism shiplet subintegumental marliest vagabonding proamateur atamasco supracargo teleplay spherify rhytidome unheart verifiably neobotany horizontalism presbyterianism fatigues reconsign ower incontrollable gangliglions externa allopathically creep witches cicatrices scrappiest hardfistedness harakiri subcortically privily sappily intendence nearshore hypereutectoid chylidrosis metosteal sarcasm's dropsied earthing devour patashte stereoelectric brattie counterprove adventure resprout hyperparasitize humanised unevil pinyin prerighteousness pidgized shellful recompute ultrafiltration masslessness spig expectance voidance multipartisan fin mandrin mezair wastes audiotapes contrariness nonrefractional abnormalise wrihte morphonemics splenetive utilize goniostat chondrocranium

Well, that’s just a paste of words, mostly from a scientific dictionary, in random order, probably chosen because scientific terms are basically international, and would not trigger a “Wrong language” alert in an automated scan.

After a lot of that, I can see function calls to Windows libraries. In other words, yes, it’s a program or a script. Beyond that, I leave it to the malware labs, and yes, I sent a copy to one of the top providers, and they will share it with the other anti-malware companies.


And here’s the issue. The computer that this arrived on has in excess of 12 layers of security filtering, between software, settings, and plugins that block evil activity, and is 100% up-to-date, confirmed with three different products. The message wasn’t flagged by Clam Antivirus on the mail server. And on arrival, I saved the attachment, and manually scanned it with three anti-virus and anti-malware products.

There were NO ALERTS AT ALL. Why? Because these anti-malware products are based on a spell checker. They do a mathematical calculation of the contents of a known-evil sample, and come up with a long number that identifies exactly that file, and they save that and send it out to all the computers running that AV product. Takes three days from submission to prevention. But this sample is full of dictionary words. Well, if the malware authors are generating new random pages of word scrambles in each attached RTF file, not one of their “invoices” will ever be detected. EPIC FAIL. Even if they don’t send you a dictionary, there’s a three-day lag time, and until then, the malware is undetectable.

The Fix

  • Educate your users.
  • Don’t open suspicious attachments.
  • Keep your patches up-to-date. Automate it, so that published security holes used by the bad guys aren’t available on your systems.
  • Use ONLY non-Administrator accounts on your computers.
  • Uninstall software that connects to the internet when it’s no longer needed, to reduce attack surface and reduce needed patches.

So there’s no infection here. I didn’t open the invoice. I don’t owe money to a real estate company in Saudi Arabia. Deleted. And you don’t need software to tell you when an email is just plain impossibly wrong.

Windows 10 Upgraded? Check Your Backup Software!

Windows 10 Download Status

The free upgrades to Windows 10 ended this morning, around 6am Eastern, or midnight at the International Date Line. What to do now? Well, hold on tight for the ‘Anniversary Update’, coming next week. And you can tweak Windows 10 to skip showing ads; look for ‘Windows ppotlight’ in Settings, Personalization, Lock Screen, and choose a picture instead. And turn off “Get fun facts, tips, tricks and more on your lock screen.” At best, it’s clutter on a locked computer’s screen, at worst, well we’ll see how that develops.

Backups Still Working?

More important than the inevitable new-software tweaks, however, are to check your backup software. That means start the program, and see if it works; some older versions of backup software are being detected as dangerous in version 10. Update to the current version as-needed.

Now go and look at the actual backups, and restore a few files. Does it still work as it should?

Notifications icon in Windows 10Operating system updates are a big deal. Windows deleted some programs and apps during the upgrade. Some of them, it warned you, well, after the fact, that it had removed them, by a chirp and a notification in the bottom-right of the screen. You can read those again–click the notifications icon, immediately left of the clock.

Missing Stuff?

Most of the deletions that I’ve heard about or seen have been software tools used by repair techs and consultants like myself. Anyone using those won’t have a problem reinstalling the latest version. But XP Mode is gone! That’s not news, XP Mode wasn’t available in Windows 8 or 8.1, either, but it was a separate downloadable add-on for Windows 7, from Microsoft, and there’s no notice that it was removed.

XP Mode was basically Windows XP in a box. It was handy for running an old program that isn’t compatible with Windows 7. If you lost XP Mode, switch to Oracle VirtualBox instead. It’s free, faster, and runs in Windows 10. You have to provide your own operating system to load inside VirtualBox; there are plenty of online guides on how to do that.