Computer Security Precautions

image of person at laptop, dressed to conceal identityOn a sunny Friday afternoon, I had a frantic phone call from a client. They had a phone call from a person claiming to be from their phone and internet carrier, claiming that their method of connecting to the internet would be out of service for several weeks and that they needed to show them how to get around the outage.

Sounds plausible, right?  Without thinking too hard about it, you might say sure, what do I need to do.  The caller instructed my client to go to a website, and download TeamViewer (a tool that several support staff use to connect to a computer remotely); the company that developed TeamViewer is reputable and had no connection with the caller, and install the software.

The installation of the software was configured in such a way, that gave the caller unattended access to my client’s computer.  Now the caller had complete access to my client’s computer, and started opening various applications while trying to gather other personal information over the phone, like which bank they dealt with and how much money they had in the account.

In short, this was a definite case of someone wanting control of the computer to gather information about my client, get banking details, and to even possibly install ransom-ware (software that is installed on the victim’s computer or digital device, encrypts, and holds the data hostage until a ransom is paid).

In short, the telecommunication/internet providers in Australia (unless it is an unplanned outage) notify users via letter, email or text message of an impending outage and advised them of a number to call if they have any concerns.

My role in this situation was to uninstall the version of TeamViewer, restore the computer to an earlier point, check for any other software that may have been installed and remove, then run a virus checker over the computer to ensure any software signatures that the virus checker knew of as being a threat was removed.  I also installed a backup utility from CrashPlan which will backup data files to a remote site (or data centre) to protect your music, photos and other documents you might have. This way, if something goes wrong with your computer, such as hardware failure (yes – I have had a motherboard and hard disk drive fail and lost data) or virus infection or ransom-ware, you can recover most of your data prior to the issue. The reason I say most, is in the case of CrashPlan, it will only be able backup remotely while connected to the internet.

My advice to anyone going forward, report this incident to the police fraud squad, contact his phone and internet carrier and the bank (if you have given details) to advise of the possible breach in security and organise measures to be put in place to prevent any further loss.

Going forward, if you get a phone call in future from anyone claiming to be from their internet provider, to get some sort of authentication from them – that is, get them to give you some sort of details about the account that they would have in front of them (i.e. account number) if they were from the provider.  If they can’t do that, get a name from the person and a phone number and then tell them you’ll call back.

Then contact the provider’s support number, which will be on their website, and any bills they send for providing the service, explain that you had a call from person x and they were walking you through a process to do something, and could they transfer you through to them. If the provider cannot find such a person in their system, or the process that they were going to walk you through isn’t something that they know about or do, then all you have lost is the cost of a phone call, and a little time in protecting yourself.