Seven Stupid Security Flaws You May Have Overlooked
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If you clicked that link up there, you should feel bad about yourself. Yes, this is an article on a reputable website, and yes, the link only led to a naked picture of hot German volleyball player Ilka Semmler instead of a malicious site bent on wrecking your credit and ruining your reputation, but the fact remains that your inability to control yourself makes you a security liability. If this article were a spy movie, this would be the part where the orchestra swells and a shady man in a black hat steps out and shoots you in the neck.
Just that little knee-jerk reflex of clicking on a seemingly innocuous link is enough to put you in danger. That’s how your hard drive gets crammed with so much malware, ad trackers, and other harmful crap: you’re performing the technological equivalent of leaving your unlocked car running in downtown Dallas while you dash inside to have unprotected sex with a needle-marked hooker.
And if you’re the type who laughs in the face of identity theft, keep in mind that sometimes even child pornography can make its way into your computer without you even realizing it. And there it will sit, some pervert’s disgusting spank bank socked away in a hidden encrypted file somewhere in the bowels of your C drive, just waiting for the Geek Squad or your office’s IT guys to find it and turn you in to the FBI. One day you’re heading into the office and bam - tackled by a task force before you even make it past the front door. Suddenly you’re under a federal indictment for unknowingly possessing someone else’s child porn collection as a direct result of leaving your computer vulnerable to other internet users.
We’ll give you a minute to imagine what it would be like to explain to a judge how a bunch of highly illegal images got downloaded onto your hard drive without your knowledge or consent.
Thanks to the ubiquity of the internet and the tendency for people to be massive assholes to each other, everyone is in danger at some point in their networking lives. Technically speaking, the average computer user is about as safe as two drunk teens having sex in the woods in a horror movie. Sure, everything’s pretty awesome at first, but it won’t be long before you’re buck-ass naked and nailed upside-down to a nearby tree with a pitchfork.
You don’t want to be that guy, right? Of course not – that guy sucks. But you’re not some lax jerkoff who just lets the world have its way with you. You know not to download stuff from questionable sites, or to save your email password on a public computer. You keep your anti-virus up to date and your wifi locked down like Alcatraz. You go through all the standard protocols to keep you safe online and what does it add up to? Dick.
What it all boils down to is this: your security is going to be compromised at some point. It’s virtually unavoidable. When, and how badly, is entirely up to you.
What do Outlook Express, Windows Mail and Mac Mail all have in common? If you answered “They’re all used by middle-aged women who read Twilight and fantasize about time travel,” you’re almost correct.
They’re called mail clients, programs that download your email from your webmail’s servers, organizing it into standard email folders and storing them on your computer. In some cases, that means viruses and all. Will your AV program detect it? Hopefully, but what if it’s one of the really shitty ones that necessitates registry edits and system restores, boot disks and chicken bones?
You always run the risk of infecting the computer you’re using to check your email. Email clients tend to exacerbate that by leaving a few important data ports wide open. Those ports can be used to remotely execute applications on your computer, or generally just wreak a sort of mildly irritating, but not terribly harmful havoc. That may sound like a bit of puffed-up bullshit, since you’re just one in the hundreds of millions of internet users. Why would anyone waste their time “hacking” into your computer?
We won’t link to it here, but plenty of video exists showing just how easy this sort of thing is, with directions to find better detailed instructions. It’s not some huge coordinated tactical strike. It’s more like the technological version of asshole eighth-graders chucking grapefruits at your front door and digging up the lawn with their bikes, except it’s much more difficult to tag them with a pellet gun.
What we’re saying here is learn to webmail, gramps.
Quick Fix : Shitcan it, Evelyn. You can forward your racist chain-letters just fine using GMail.
That sinking feeling you get when you see that Excel document attached to an email from your boss titled URGENT is not just the natural human instinct to avoid all work and get paid for it. It’s also the little part of your brain that knows not to open the attachment until you’ve made sure it’s duly scanned. So you download it for later inspection, but, since you’re using IE on your work computer, the document automatically opens. Congratulations!
Your workstation crashes, and then what? Try to boot into safe mode a couple times, maybe fiddle with some BIOS settings. Begin to panic when it occurs to you that Lawrence in the IT department is likely soon to be merrily rifling through your uncleared web history and chat logs. Inter-office blackmail commences. Lawrence, with all his sysadmin access, already knows your home address.
Since you live in lame thriller probably starring Michael Douglas, you know that it won’t end until one of you is either dead or in jail.
Quick Fix : Internet Explorer is out to ruin your life. Fight back by forbidding it to do pretty much anything.
It sort of goes without saying that whatever you download off the internet has at least a vague chance of being infectious in one way or another. Music, text files, porn. Do people really still download porn? Why? That’s like guys who sweat it out every month hoping their wives won’t find the charges for Hustler on their credit card bills. Whatever the case, everyone knows downloaded media is dangerous.
Those same people may not know, however, that their media player itself might actually be the bigger threat. Sure, malicious scripts and programs might tag along on the occasional MPEG, but that can be easily remedied by a quick scan and some light swearing. While it’s by no means a prevalent phenomenon, some media programs conveniently allow people to execute malicious code and even remotely hijack your computer.
Keep that in mind the next time you open Winamp and queue up that Jenna Haze video you downloaded for no god-damned reason at all.
Quick Fix : Upgrade your player to something a little less early ’00s, or try to remember that online porn is the safest kind of porn.
We’ll be the first to admit it seemed a little questionable at first. We thought “Why the hell would people go to the trouble of infecting phones when there are so many juicy laptops out there with Bluetooth broadcasting 24/7?” Then half a second later the answer hit and we felt pretty stupid.
Phone numbers, identification, address books, travel plans…just about everything you could conceivably want to know about a person is available in their cute little pink touch-screen PDA. All of that plus access to records of your awkward, drunkenly misspelled sexting sessions makes your Blackberry a juicy, incredibly easy to tap resource.
It seems like a fairly obvious issue that you’d pick up on pretty quickly, provided you hadn’t been recently struck about the head and face. It’s the kind of stupid problem that happens to people like Paris Hilton, so many people don’t even really consider it. On laptops, you have to actually turn Bluetooth on before even you can use it, but a good many phones and PDAs have it running more or less all of the time. Using a few simple exploits, individuals can force your Bluetooth-enabled device to accept incoming files.
Yes, your cellphone can be raped by strangers.
Quick Fix : Set Bluetooth to enable on-demand, or close your eyes and find a happy place.
Unless you set up your own network and wireless security on a third-party router, there’s a good chance some tech support monkey has had his grubby fingers all up inside your home network’s security. Whether by home install or over the phone following the instructions of some bored sweating Indian making fifty rupees an hour, your “secure” wifi connection is open for business to anyone with half a brain and a wireless card.
See, the problem here is that, for a lot of ISPs out there, the quickest way to set up security on a router is to enable WPA and set the pass key to the name of whatever ISP the router is leased from. Unless you stop the help-desk wage slave or go in and change it on your own, your wireless password has a forty percent chance of being nothing more encrypted than the word “verizon”.
You wouldn’t trust a car salesman to give you an honest estimate on your ’83 Hoopty, so why would you let an eight-dollar-an-hour helpdesk trainee have the last word on whether the dickhead 24-year-old neighbor kid can get your service cut off for torrenting anime and Quentin Tarantino movies?
Quick Fix : Change your password, or steal neighbor kid’s laptop.
Losing a tiny USB thumb drive is like second nature to some people. They do it so frequently and flawlessly you have to wonder if they took a class somewhere to get that damned good at losing it. And while it’s something to kind of roll your eyes about, there’s a pretty big vulnerability stored right in that little puppy-shaped device that…goddamnit was just here a second ago.
USB technology has made the world an amazingly convenient place. You can attach external hardware to your PC without doing any serious installations, you can carry around wheelbarrow-fulls of information in a little plastic thingamajig the size of a fingertip. If you’re anything like us, you utilize USB technology to turn your chest into a wireless mousepad so you don’t have to do anything strenuous like extend your elbow.
Being relatively simple devices, miniature storage devices don’t offer much in the way of security. Which is unfortunate, since not only are they incredibly easy to use, they also carry around loads of personal information in files you more than likely didn’t think to encrypt. In addition to that, it would take any average office prankster maybe five minutes to swipe your thumb drive, download some obnoxious application to it, and return it to your desk while you’re taking a leak.
He’ll be the guy cackling in the background while your PowerPoint presentation turns into a barrage of flopping animated penises.
Quick Fix : Encrypt your files, get nicer coworkers or become immune to flopping dick .gifs.
Imagine for a moment that you’re a member of an elite tech-savvy strike force called upon to face the world’s mightiest technological villains. Your countless acts of bravery are unequaled by any man, and yet your heroism goes unrewarded. After a time, your brave nature turns sour, spiteful, and you begin to detest those you once protected. You must shake off the shackles of this thankless existence, and there is only one way to accomplish this task. By setting up your cellphone to film your customers in the shower.
Now, we don’t want you to think it’s just Geek Squad who does this sort of thing. We have a sinking feeling that computer techs the world over know at least a couple of their coworkers who have riffled through a porn folder, or copied some sensitive material (read: govt secrets, vag pics) to a flash drive. Though not alone, the Geek Squad is definitely the most visible culprit. From getting busted ripping a customer’s music collection to being caught actually stealing their amateur porn, the Geek Squad are like the Green Berets of fucking up.
Any guy worth his salt can rotate his tires or change his own oil, and he knows every time he takes his car to Quickie Lube he runs the risk of having his shit stolen out of the glove box. Take that same wisdom and apply it to your computer, what you have stored on it, and exactly who you’ll be letting sniff around in there.
Quick Fix : It’s like Grandpa always said “If you lie down with dogs, you wake up with all your porn stolen.” We always assumed he was talking about Best Buy.