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23 days of security

You go to a web site.  You search for something.  You then go to another page and the very thing you were looking for is now in the advertisements in the facebook feed, the side banners, just about everything you look at.   All due to tracking, beacons, cookies and all of the things that web sites use to keep track of you.

Just out today is something that is interesting, frightening, sad, and empowering all in one.  And for those of us in the United States, a bit timely.

Firefox and ProPublica are bundling a browser that has specific extensions specifically to monitor election ad tracking as well as provide a database of what ads are targeting us.  Just the other day my Dad said that if every politician did what their opponent said they did, we shouldn’t vote either one into office.  But nevertheless, someone needs to represent us and rather than not voting at all, it’s time to make your voice heard.

The ProPublica extension specifically tracks what ads end up in your Facebook stream and what they are targeting.

What the Extension Does

The extension places a content script on every Facebook page you visit. That script scans for ads, which it then stores on your computer. These ads are also sent to ProPublica to support research and journalism

But Susan, (you say) in the month of paranoia you want to SEND information to a journalism site?  For this purpose I do.  I’m convinced that foreign countries did (and still do) use targeted facebook and targeted twitter bots to enhance and influence opinions in other countries.

If you don’t do social media, wonderful, this paranoia isn’t for you.  But if you do… it might just be an interesting experiment to undertake in the month left before the elections.

Even if you don’t think this is an interesting idea, may I strongly urge you to ensure you are signed up to vote.  For some states, the deadline was today.

I don’t want to make this post political in any way, I just want to urge you to vote, period.  It’s time we all keep a bit more eye on things.

24 days of security

Today I’d like to remind you about a risk of something that too often we don’t think anything about and just take for granted…. wifi.  Walk into a Coffee shop and you will find people using a wifi that they don’t know anything about.  Go to a hotel and the check in process hands you a password to a wifi access point.

Yet you should think about what CAN occur on a hotel or public wifi which includes malware, man in the middle attacks, Malicious hotspots, or wifi sniffing.  I generally make it a rule to not connect to a wifi access point that I haven’t personally installed (my home and office), or personally know who has (friends and family).

Now you can add vpn services like NordVPN, ExpressVPN, OpenVPN and any number of other VPN services that put a layer of protection around your connection, but my recommendation is to also pay for that as well.  Don’t rely on free.  As a general rule “free” means that you are the product they are selling.  Review the end user license agreement very carefully, or don’t connect at all.

Also consider the device you travel with.  As a general rule, traveling with an ipad or android tablet is not only easier to get through the TSA lines, but also less of a target for malware.  Not saying that ipads are immune but giving the apps store experience, there is more of a vetting process that goes on.  When I do travel with a laptop for travelling, I travel with a (now several years older) Surface with built in cellular connection so I have the easy ability to get online with a paid cellular connection and not connecting to the Amtrak wifi, hotel wifi or coffee shops.  It’s getting a bit slow now and I’m looking forward to replacing it with a newer lightweight device that contains built in cellular as well.

Too often I see too many of us in restaurants, hotels and coffee shops with our nose in our phones or computers and not enjoying the ambiance of the moment.  Time to be a bit more paranoid about connecting to the wifi and make eye contact with that person sitting across the room from you.

25 days of security

It’s now been seven days of paranoia and today’s topic is about social engineering.  Or as the FBI puts it in their video designed to help train political campaign workers to not be tricked… “targeted lies designed to get you to let your guard down”.  Social engineering is now one of the key ways that attackers use to get into our systems, however, it is not new.  Back in 1995, Kevin Mitnick was arrested for breaking into computer systems, often without cracking passwords, merely tricking the person on the other end of the phone call with key information to get them to trust him to turn over more information.  He now is the “Chief Hacking Officer” of Knowbe4 a security awareness company.  What worked then, still works now, except what often worked then had to do with a human, Kevin, calling the victim over the phone and gathering information to trick the person on the phone to turn over key information.

Now we use phishing and spear-phishing (targeted attacks) via email to get to the same target.  As is noted in the video by the FBI, be careful what you share online and on social media.  Often you “leak” key personal information in social media posts.  Often password reset questions can be googled.  How many times have we seen reports of key individuals whose email accounts got hacked by being able to google up key questions in the person’s biography like where they went to school and so on.

90% of breaches start with social engineering/phishing attacks.  Read that stat again…. 90%.  Ransomware containing emails have increased 6000% between 2016 and 2017.

Bottom line they are out to get you so watch your email carefully.  For all the automatic tools and filters I have on my email, often the only thing between me and an attacker is a bit of skepticism and paranoia and not immediately opening up emails.  Don’t open attachments you weren’t expecting.  Run files through just to be safe.  Empower yourself it not immediately take action on email.  Be more suspicious of what comes into your email.  The vast majority of email in your inbox is there to attack you.

26 days of security

We now turn to today’s (belated, sorry my automatic posting tool broke and didn’t post this entry) paranoia post.  And today’s paranoia is a reminder to check out the ways and means you can get your email back should someone hack your password.  Often the way to reset a password is to send a recovery email via email.  But if the very thing you are trying to recover IS email, obviously you need some other means to gain access and reset the password.  If you are unsure if your main email account has such a secondary access, now is the time to check it out.  Gmail will often remind you if you don’t have such a secondary account.  For Outlook you go into the security settings of your account.  I am seeing more and more web sites asking to set up multi factor and or secondary access to ensure you can get back into an account.

I’ve also seen where when an email account gets hacked, this reset account gets changed to the attacker’s email address so that they can reset it.  For all the talk of passwords are dead, we are still so dependent on them.

So take some time to determine if you have a secondary means to get back into your account and prove that you are you.  If you can’t prove that you are you, you might not be able to get back into your email account.  I’ve known some folks who have had this happen to them and it’s not a fun thing to deal with.

27 days of security

can you trust your hardware?  You’ve probably seen the headline about chips embedded into motherboards of computers used by Apple and others.

But before we start unplugging all of our computers and going back to paper cups and string as our communication means, there are also numerous stories that the article has holes in it.  For example… statements from the vendors.  Questions about the reporting from others.

But now there are stories that it’s not just hardware but firmware updates.  So how can you trust hardware when so much of it is built in a Country (and I’m going to be less than diplomatic here) has a history of being less than transparent?

And how do you know if you have a system that has such a backdoor?

There are several tools I use to better understand what is going out of my system, but none of them are easy to understand.  Some are cheap (free), but take a rocket scientist, of which I am not, to understand.

Ranging from tools like wireshark (free) that allow you to view the packets leaving your system, to Windows defender Advanced threat protection that give Windows 10 E5 users (yeah, not cheap) the ability to view in a console what is going on in your system helps me to better understand what is going outbound from my computer.

What is a bit disconcerting is that all of this information that we, the computing public, need to better understand what is happening to our systems is getting more complicated, not less.  Furthermore, our vendors are making it harder to get answers from our own systems.  While Windows 10 has a relatively new (in 1803) diagnostic data viewer, pretty much only a Microsoft engineer can understand it.

So what’s a computer user to do?  Today I don’t have a good solution for us.  Seeing and viewing outbound traffic and understanding it isn’t easy.  I hope that someday Microsoft will put Advanced threat protection in all versions of Windows.  The best I can recommend is get a gut feel for your system.  Open up the task manager and view what processes are running.  Note when your system “hits” the hard drive and what you are using at the time.  See if you want to tackle understanding Wireshark.  And then just kinda freak out a bit reading those articles.

I told you this would be 31 days of paranoia!

28 days of security

First off a couple of facts about “lost data”.  Unless you’ve written over the top of the very spot on the hard drive, that data isn’t lost.  It is, however an absolute pain in the rear to gain access to data that has lost it’s structure.   I still remember the day that on an IBM 8088 computer that I was intending to delete some files from a directory and instead I was at the root of the C drive and typed in del *.*.   Yeah, back in the dos days that was ugly.

And just because your data is in “da cloud” you need backups as well.  Office 365 is not immune to accidental deletions of information, and while in any cloud platform …just like it is on your local PC, the data is honestly still there, you just don’t have the ability to be an admin on a cloud server to run the necessary undelete tools to put it back.

And then… protect those backups.  As an unencrypted iPhone backup on a computer can often be accessed to get into phone data.  Back in the ancient days of offsite backup tapes, many a story was in the news that a backup tape was lost in transit.

While both cloud backups and onsite backups are invaluable tools, what you need to ask yourself is how fast do you want your data back?  A cloud restore process works, but may take time.  An onsite backup is often prone to failure, but is the fastest way to recover a lot of data.

So what backup solution do you use?  And for the bonus in paranoia… do you randomly delete a file/rename it and attempt a recovery?  When’s the last time you tested your backup?

29 days of security

It’s a little bit fitting on a day when all of the cell phones in the United States went off with a Presidential alert that today’s paranoia topic is on the increasing impact of phone scams.  Today’s alert wasn’t a scam, but unless you were aware of it, you might not know that it was a real live test of the Emergency Broadcast system.

On a near daily basis we get calls to our land lines and cell phones about any range of topics that are flat out not true.  For example in the United States our tax collection entity, the IRS never calls you out of the blue.  They send old fashioned snail mail letters.  Microsoft never calls you up and says your computer is sending out viruses.  Apple never calls you up and tells you your iPhone needs a patch.

I personally feel that signing up for don’t call me sites doesn’t work.  I think the best way is to look for means to blacklist callers.  For AT&T there is a call protect app that blocks known scammers.  Xfinity voice has a similar blocking means.

So what are you using to get alerted to phone scams and to block phone scams?

Just a little bit of rain

The other day at the office we had a bit of rain fall.  We had over 2 inches of rain fall in our area in about an hour.


Fortunately we were luckier than some of the offices in the area as the local news video showcases.  Some businesses just down the street had quite a bit of water flood their offices.  We only had water in our back old file storage area and nothing impacted the rest of the main office.

The post office may have the creed of “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”.

We can now say that more than 2 inches of rain doesn’t stop us from preparing your tax returns!

For all our clients have a very Happy Easter and remember your taxes are due on Tuesday, April 18th! Remember you can send your efile documents to us at

New additions

In today’s people on the move section of the Fresno Business Journal we’re announcing our new hires …..peoplemove

Our other new addition to the firm, Karen Bradley joins our firm effective February 6th.  You can read more about Karen’s background here.


This is Fresno…. this is cool

Makes you want to live here, doesn’t it?

Remember, we’re hiring.