Security Advisory: New Email Scam claiming hackers have your password

Over the past few weeks, some people have received emails from themselves claiming that a hacker has stolen their passwords and hacked their webcam, threatening to expose your data, as well as browsing habits if you do not remit to them some bitcoins valued between $1000-$1500 US dollars.

The hackers use publicly exposed data from massive breaches that have happened across various popular services including Yahoo, LinkedIn and others.

In this new type of email scam, the hacker spoofs your email address appearing as if he has logged into your email account and sent yourself an email. This can be easily achieved and could be minimized following best practices detailed in my earlier post about preventing email spoofing with SPF.

The hackers claim they have your password, which they get from publicly exposed data, and hope to intimidate you into paying them a ransom.

The hackers deploy automated processes to mass email and spoof the users addresses appearing to be sent from their own mailboxes.

Security Best Practices

Whether you are a victim of this email scam, or not — you should follow some best practices to avoid being compromised:

  • Check your password on Have I Been Pwned. It will let you know if the password exists in publicly exposed data from previous breaches.
  • Change your passwords immediately.
  • Ensure the use of strong passwords which contain lower case, upper case, numbers and symbols
  • Ensure your password is unique for every website or service that you use.
  • Use multi factor authentication wherever available.
  • Always make sure you are entering your passwords on secure websites. Learn more on how to check if a website is secured or not here.
  • Make sure you’re using SSL/TLS in your email clients.

SSL is no longer optional for your website.

Your website should most likely be labelled with “Not Secure”. What does it mean, and how do you get it fixed?



Background

Nearly two years ago, Google announced that Chrome would eventually start marking all sites that are not encrypted with HTTPS as ‘Not Secure’ as an attempt to motivate site owners to improve the security of their websites.

On July 24th 2018, Google officially launched Chrome 68 and with it rolled out the warning labels on all websites.

Chrome is a widely used browser accounting to about 80% based on statistics by W3Schools, where their website receives 50 million visitors a month.

What do these labels mean?

As seen above, there are three (3) types of labels.

i) Not Secure

This means that you do not have an SSL certificate installed on your website. I’ll explain what that is, and how it helps in a bit.

ii) Secure

This means that everything is good – and you don’t need to do anything more.

iii) Notice

This usually means that while the site itself is secured, there may be some content that has been loaded on the website which is not secure. If you’re getting this, your website developer or webmaster will need to fix it. The most common things that cause these are external links using http:// instead of https:// or preferred simply as // to support both.

Some examples include:

  • External images shown on your website.
  • External links to javascript files such as jQuery.
  • External links to CSS files such as Bootstrap.
  • Embedding of Google Fonts, Analytics and pretty much any other services.

Note that, using https:// on any of these require the external service/server to have a valid SSL installed on their end too!

What does Secure mean?

Any communication over the internet could either be secured, or not. A secured communication means that the data that is received or transmitted is encrypted which prevents prying eyes from looking at it.

Let’s say – you’ve typed in your username and password on a website. If that information, when sent over the internet is not secure – then anyone between your computer — and the server/service — could potentially “see” that data. However, if the website is secured, then the same information is encrypted making it extremely difficult for someone to see it.

Should I care if my website doesn’t have any login forms?

Yes, you should. Login forms are just one example. Maybe, you have a contact form where you ask your website visitors to fill in a message to reach you. The information that they type in there would be transmitted insecurely which could allow someone to see it.

SSL is no longer optional. Add SSL to your website today to avoid losing visitor confidence and sales. Plus, with SSL you get all these benefits too:The other benefits of having your website secure include:

  • More secure user experience
  • Protect user privacy
  • Increased conversions
  • Boost search rankings
  • Increased user trust
  • Show you care about users’ data

How do I secure my website?

You’ll need to get an SSL certificate installed for your website. This could be done by yourself, your webmaster, website developer or your web host.

What is an SSL certificate?

SSL is short for “Secure Sockets Layer”. It was introduced in the mid 90’s as a protocol to secure traffic. While SSL itself is depreciated, the newer versions of SSL protocols are actually known as “Transport Layer Security” (TLS). The certificates however are still commonly referred to as SSL certificates.

An SSL certificate is used by the browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Edge to establish trust, validate that it is valid with a Certificate Authority (CA) and use it to encrypt the communication between you — and the server/service that you are communicating with.

These certificates are issued by Certificate Authorities (CA) who vet and issue the certificates. There are a few types of SSL certificates:

  • Domain Validation (DV) SSL Certificate
    Domain Validation SSL certificates are the cheapest provided by well known SSL brands. They are also freely available through Let’s Encrypt, a free – automated – and open certificate authority sponsored by big names in the internet industry.Free SSL certificates are also included in some hosting plans offered by web hosting companies like Extreme Web Technologies. They are ideal for basic security for websites and blogs, and are usually issued in minutes.
  • Organisation Validation (OV) SSL Certificate
    Organisation Validation certificates are slightly expensive as have some documentation processes required such as verifying your organisation legal information. The certificate authorities usually ask for your business incorporation documents, as well as physical address and sometimes identities of website/business owners. These are always purchased separately — and are a must have for serious businesses. These could take about a week to be issued, sometimes a bit more.
  • Extended Validation (EV)

    Extended Validation certificates are the most expensive certificates available. They could cost unto $2000 per year and go through extended validation processes including credit checks. These certificates also include a special feature supported across browsers which makes the address bar green showing your company name. These certificates are a must have for internet banking portals, as well as other applications to ensure user trust in the service. These certificates take the longest time to be issued, generally between 2-4 weeks.

I have a certificate, but my website still shows Not Secure when accessed.

When website visitors type in your website link on the address bar, they end up on the non-secure version of your site. You may need to consult your website developer or hosting company to assist you with this. 

How to fix Not Secure on WordPress.

If your website is built on WordPress, then the simplest way to make the switch is by going to your WordPress Admin (wp-admin), under the Settings > General screen, update your WordPress Address (URL) and Site Address (URL) to include https://.

How to fix Not Secure on my website which is NOT built on WordPress.

This will work on pretty much any basic website on cPanel hosting, such as the hosting plans offered by Extreme Web Technologies.

Log into your cPanel, find the File Manager, under public_html folder, look for a file named .htaccess and edit it. If it doesn’t exist, you can create it and paste the following snippet.

Make sure to update your domain name in it:

# BEGIN SSL
<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^yourdomain\.co\.tz [NC]
RewriteCond %{SERVER_PORT} 80
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://www.yourdomain.co.tz/$1 [L,R=301]
</IfModule>
# END SSL 

I’m stuck and need someone to do this for me.
Please contact our customer happiness team at Extreme Web Technologies to assist you get your website secured.

This blog post was written by Mohsin Sumar (@mohsinsumar) who is the Founder and CEO of Extreme Web Technologies. Mohsin with his Customer Happiness team constantly strive to deliver top notch quality web hosting in Tanzania.

Image credits: Creativeart – Freepik.com

Preventing email spoofing with SPF

The very first email was sent about 45 years ago, in 1971 by Ray Tomlinson. Tomlinson is internationally known and credited as the inventor of email. The Internet Hall of Fame in account of his work commented “His email program brought about a complete revolution, fundamentally changing the way people communicate”.

Fast forward 45 years…

Over the last two decades, email has indeed revolutionised the way we communicate.

There are over 4.3 billion email accounts in the world and of all the emails being sent, about 141 million emails were classified as spam by SpamCop in the last 12 months alone!

Email is abused every day in the form of spam or phishing emails which may distribute viruses, malware, spyware, ransomware or attempt to steal information by disguising as someone else.

Make the Internet work better.

The Internet is best defined by Wikipedia as a global system of interconnected computer networks to link billions of devices worldwide. Every server on the internet can make the internet work better by following some standards to prevent abuse.

What most don’t know of, is the existence of Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). IETF develops and promotes voluntary internet standards with the mission to make the Internet work better. These internet standards are published as RFC’s which stand for Request for Comments.

35 years after the first email, IETF published RFC 4408 in 2006 which describes Sender Policy Framework, commonly known as SPF. The original SPF document was then replaced by another version RFC 7208 published in 2014.

Sender Policy Framework (SPF) is amongst the widely adopted ways of preventing email abuse.

So, what does SPF do?

SPF is a simple email validation system designed to detect email spoofing and provides a mechanism for email servers to check the incoming email to verify whether it originated from a trusted source.

It allows your domain name administrator to publish your authorised email source servers, and provides a way for receiving email servers verify the email origin. It then evaluates the test and produces results such as Pass, Neutral, Fail amongst others and lets the servers email policies decide what to do.

Email Policies

Anyone setting up or managing an email server needs to set some sort of policies. These policies help protect the email system from abuse of resources. Luckily, most of these policies already come bundled in with the mail server software including Exim and Microsoft Exchange Server or hosted services such as cPanel hosting, Office 365 and Google Apps for Work.

However, SPF fail policy needs to be configured. There are 3 choices:

  1. Reject the email (recommended)
  2. Accept and deliver the email with additional actions (move to Junk Mail, change the subject line, and so on)
  3. Accept, but delete the email (not recommended)

This is well documented in Appendix G2 of RFC 7208.

What is the best way to handle unauthorised email messages?

The most logical way to handle unauthorised email messages (SPF fail) is to reject it before it is received. This protects the system from unnecessary handling of incoming email including data transfer of the email content as well as other processes such as spam filtering and email delivery.

Doing this, also notifies the sender that their email was rejected because it failed SPF check and, if the sender is legitimate, they will appropriately rectify their systems.

Can someone spoof my emails, even after deploying SPF?

Yes, someone can still spoof your emails. SPF does not define the standard of sending email itself, but rather a standard for checking if the sender server is trusted.

Prevent unauthorised emails to go out in the first place.

It’s unfortunate to see many servers allow emails to be sent without authentication, either through website scripts or SMTP. Any email that goes out from an email system should be authenticated to prevent abuse. Doing so makes it easier for system administrators to block that user in the event of a SPAM outbreak.

At Extreme Web Technologies, we block a simple PHP mail function that is commonly used to send out unauthenticated emails. It is widely used in contact forms. When a website is compromised, a spammer can leverage that function to send out large volumes of spam email.

We also properly reject emails that are not from a trusted source. I have come across some email servers that do not have the appropriate reject policy set for SPF failure. They are putting their users at risk of receiving spoofed emails from untrusted sources.

I hope that future RFC revisions will be in favor of rejecting the email message, instead of allowing the option for it to be handled by email policies. Till then, the best way to prevent email abuse is to use a strong SPF record, and have DKIM setup too, host your emails & website with a professional hosting company and HOPE that the recipients use a mailserver with realistic mail policies!

This blog post was written by Mohsin Sumar (@mohsinsumar) who is the co-founder and CEO of Extreme Web Technologies. Mohsin with his Customer Happiness team constantly strive to deliver top notch quality web hosting in Tanzania.

Image credits: Background vector designed by Dooder – Freepik.com; modified by Mohsin Sumar.

Using find to compress new or modified files after a particular date

One of our customers had a unique challenge of moving web servers. Their site was huge, with one directory having over 200GB of images. They opted to do a partial migration, copying over the website as is first before the final switch over.

The final switch over required to copy over only the latest files created or modified after a particular date.

The most efficient way would have been the rsync utility. Unfortunately, this was not an option as we did not have SSH access on the new service, so we had to find an alternate way.

The objective was simple;

  • Find the files
  • Archive/compress them

There are two commands that required to be run, the first one was to search for new or modified files after a particular date and the second one was to create a tar file.

The dry run command looked like so:

find /path/to/folder -type f -newermt '2017-04-01T00:00:00' -print0

Let’s break this down:

  • find /path/to/folder
    • This defines where to search
  • -type f 
    • We’ll be looking for files only, recursively.
  • -newermt ‘2017-04-01T00:00:00’ 
    • The date from where we want to search from
  • -print0
    • This outputs the files so it can be piped into the tar command

For the second objective, we piped in the tar command to accept the output from the first. This would be appended to the original command.

  • | tar -czvf /backup/archive-name.tar -T –
    • Begin piping into the tar
    • The tar will compress and output the progress (verbose)
    • -T – takes in the files to archive from the previous output

Here is the final command:

find /path/to/folder -type f -newermt '2017-04-01T00:00:00' -print0 | tar -czvf /backup/archive-name.tar -T -

I hope this will be useful for anyone with a similar requirement.

A shark in your tank

The Japanese have always loved fresh fish, but the water close to Japan has not held many fish for decades.

So to feed the Japanese population, fishing boats got bigger and went farther than ever. The further the fishermen went, the longer it took to bring the fish. If the return trip took more time, the fish were not fresh.

To solve this problem, fish companies installed freezers on their boats. They would catch the fish and freeze them at sea. Freezers allowed the boats to go farther and stay longer.

However, the Japanese could taste the difference between fresh and frozen fish and they did not like the taste of frozen fish. The frozen fish brought a lower price. So, fishing companies installed fish tanks.

They would catch the fish and stuff them in the tanks, fin to fin. After a little thrashing around, they were tired, dull, and lost their fresh-fish taste. The fishing industry faced an impending crisis!

But today, they get fresh-tasting fish to Japan. How did they manage…?

To keep the fish tasting fresh, the Japanese fishing companies still put the fish in the tanks but with a small shark. The fish are challenged and hence are constantly on the move. The challenge they face keeps them alive and fresh!

Have you realized that some of us are also living in a pond but most of the time tired and dull….? Basically in our lives, sharks are new challenges to keep us active.

If you are steadily conquering challenges, you are happy. Your challenges keep you energised. Don’t create Success and revel in it in a state of inertia.

You have the resources, skills and abilities to make a difference. Put a shark in your tank in the year 2016 and see how far you can really go. Best wishes for a challenging, highly energized and active year in 2016.

Sources: Shreya Bhatt; CiteHR; Photo by Zac Wolf (edited by Mohsin Sumar to add the title of the post);

Improve your company’s productivity in 2016

Along with the entire customer happiness team at Extreme Web Technologies; I wish you a Happy New Year 2016!

As 2016 sets in, its time to put those new year resolutions in effect. Did your new year resolution include improving your productivity as a business? If not, make sure to list it down because your employees could be wasting 24% of their day on useless email.

Useless email are SPAM emails that clutter our email inbox every day. It may be cheap for spammers to send SPAM, however, it is very costly for a business on the other end. The following costs are usually associated with SPAM emails:

  • Productivity loss, or waste of time of your employees in reviewing and deleting spam emails.
  • The cost of anti-spam technology.
  • Wasted storage and server resources.
  • Internet data.

Here’s a report from one of our customers account using professional spam filter. They have seen an improvement of 35% emails being blocked by the filter. Think about it for a second, how many is 35% on the report below? That’s 25,000 emails blocked over 3 month period.

Spam Filter Report for 3 Months

 

Improve the productivity of your business by using a professional spam filter. For a limited time, DOUBLE your storage when you add professional spam filter to your account! Contact us by sending us an email to support (at) extreme.co.tz for more information.

Improve your company's productivity in 2016 with professional spam filter.

This article was first published on Extreme Web Technologies Blog. This article was written by Mohsin Sumar (@mohsinsumar) and serves as the Technical Director of Extreme Web Technologies. Mohsin with his Customer Happiness team constantly strive to deliver top notch quality web hosting in Tanzania.

.tz Marketing Workshop

I attended a marketing workshop representing Extreme Web Technologies, top performing .TZ accredited registrar on 10th & 11th December 2015 which was organised by tzNIC in collaboration with ICANN. It was held at BOT Conference Room and facilitated by Bob Ochieng and Ali Hussein Kassim.

The workshop aimed to share and provide necessary business skill-sets as well as exposure to the domain industry players to the participants which comprised mostly of .TZ registrars, as well as representatives from various academia, government bodies and students.

The workshop came at a time when African continent of about 1 billion people is striving to grow the ccTLD domain business from about 1.3 Million domains that are in use today.

Key questions that were discussed at the workshop included what should be done to change the situation? What can the ccTLD manager and registrars do to grow the .tz domain business in Tanzania? And finally, what other stakeholders should do to propel the .tz domain name industry?

I was also a panelist of a discussion where we discussed various ways to market the domain business through raising awareness of .tz domain by educating small & medium sized businesses on the importance of their online presence, the need of personalised email addresses and more.