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Gameover Zeus reminds us of the basics of online security

The UK’s National Crime Agency has advised that it has identified the gang behind prevalent virus, Gameover Zeus, and warned users that they have a two week window to ensure their computers are secure, before it can be expected that the cybercriminals regain control and potentially unleash a large scale cyber-attack.

The warning comes after the NCA, working with the FBI, managed to disrupt one of the two largest global cybercrime networks; the Gameover Zeus botnet, and the Cryptolocker ransomware network.

These two attacks work in close coordination. Normally spread as an innocent/official looking link or email attachment, Gameover Zeus silently monitors data and intercepts communications with online banking sites in order to steal login details and passwords.

The other aspect of the attack is Cryptolocker, a form of ransomware that exploded in popularity in 2013. Cryptolocker encrypts the files on the computer and extorts a heavy ransom from the user to regain control of their machine.

Recently, I commented on how there is still a need for all PC users to ensure they have an up-to-date AntiVirus product because attacks of this nature as usually so stealthily disguised as to be invisible to most PC users.

This makes them particularly harmful to small businesses whose PCs hold sensitive data of all their customers and partners. Infection with Gameover Zeus could be both materially and reputationally damaging, especially as there is no easy way to identify if an attack has happened until after the fact.

With only a two week window to prepare, there are a few simple steps consumers and small business users can take to help secure their personal information against attack:

1. Get protected

The first thing users should do is to make sure that their security software detects both of these threats and is fully updated. AVG protection, for example, detects and mitigates both Gameover Zeus and Cryptolocker.

As we see the number of malware attacks rising, it is more important than ever to have security software which will scan links and attachments to ensure they are safe before you open them.

2. Update your operating system

A lot of malware takes advantage of vulnerabilities in operating systems like Windows. Microsoft regularly issues security updates to address these weak spots so users should make sure that they have fully updated their operating system to give them the best possible chance of avoiding infection.

3. Back up your PC

The very next thing that users should do to protect themselves from malware such as Cryptolocker is to regularly backup their files so that should the worst happen, no sensitive or personal files are lost.

4. Two-step authentication

Gameover Zeus spies on online banking details so one way of helping to secure yourself from this threat is to ensure that you have activated two-step authentication with your bank. Two-step authentication requires a randomly generated code to be entered in addition to your regular username and password. Most two-step authentication is done via a mobile app, which itself can be vulnerable to mobile versions of Zeus (ZITMO) so be sure to get somemobile security too. While two-step authentication not guaranteed to keep you safe, it is certainly an additional layer of protection that can help keep you safe. Ask your bank for details.

5. Check your credit card and banking statements

Keep a close eye on your online banking statements over the next few weeks and report any suspicious activity to your bank immediately.

Banks can protect consumers against this type of scam but small businesses are especially at risk.

If you are a business owner, you should monitor the situation very carefully and investigate additional security solutions that can help you protect your financial information.

by Yuval Ben-Itzhak

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