Monday, August 4, 2014

Fraudulent Emails continue to plague PLU Community (or "What exactly is a Phishing email?")

Good Morning!

As many of you probably saw this weekend, yet another round of fraudulent "phishing" emails have been sent across Campus masquerading as an official email warning users that their accounts are about to be shut down due to exceeding their storage limit.  While it may be easy for many of us to write these off as non-sense, the newest batches have become progressively more convincing to the point that even seasoned users would require a bit of research to determine their authenticity.  

From a purely technical standpoint,
this fake email is a thing of beauty

As we have noted multiple times during these campaigns, the Help Desk will never solicit your account information like this.  All of our account work is done via our ePass website [epass.plu.edu], and we will not intentionally put your account into a position where it cannot be recovered.

Given how these emails continue to grow in their elaborateness, we felt it would be appropriate to do a more extended write up with a small FAQ to help better inform the PLU community about these phishing emails.


Summary:

  • PLU (I&TS) will never solicit your account information via email
  • If you ever have even the slightest inkling that an email might be fraudulent, do not do anything with it and call the Help Desk at 253-535-7525
  • If you have clicked on any links in these emails or responded to them, call the Help Desk at 253-535-7525
  • We post up-to-date information on the phishing emails going around on our Twitter @PLUHelpDesk
  • This phishing campaign has been attacking users for ~5 months, taking over PLU accounts and sending more phishing emails from PLU accounts
  • They often include PLU logos to mimic official PLU emails and claim to be from the non-existent PLU Webmail Management Team
It is imperative that we let as many people know about the existence of these fraudulent emails; the more people know, the less likely they are to actually respond to them.  I&TS has been using the Help Desk Twitter @PLUHelpDesk to notify users about the phishing emails, but we would love to know your preferred method of communication!  If you can think of a means of communication you'd prefer we use, let us know, and we will do our best to oblige.





FAQ:

Q: What exactly is a phishing email?
A:  A phishing email is basically an email meant to trick users into revealing sensitive information, "baiting" them into giving out private info such as passwords, credit card information, etc.

Typically, a phishing email will masquerade as coming from an official source, often claiming to either have important information for the user or claiming that their "account will be terminated" if the user doesn't give out their password information.

Unfortunately, methods will vary from phishing email to phishing email.

Q: How can I tell if an email is a phishing email?
A: Most phishing emails are plagued with:
  • Spelling errors
  • Grammatical mistakes
  • Strange use of punctuation
  • Bits of "code" showing in the email
  • Vague claims or threats towards your account
  •  Inconsistent or incorrect information about the account system
In the most recent instances, however, the phishers have gotten really fancy and upped the ante.  These most recent emails appear to be very real, as they include the PLU logo, are fairly free of any spelling or grammar mistakes, and even include our actual address!  (That was particularly surprising)

The only give-away on this wave of phishing emails was that the process for updating account info was completely wrong (we do everything through epass.plu.edu), and that we would never shut down your account in this fashion.  Also, we don't have a Webmail Management Team, and nothing would come up if you searched it.

These phishing emails were so well crafted, the only thing "wrong" about them was that they didn't send you to our actual epass.plu.edu page, which was done by design.  

Q: Why is this still happening months after the initial email?  Can't these emails be stopped?
A:  The way this particular phishing campaign is working is to send out as many emails as possible to PLU emails, collect a few accounts, sit on these accounts for a bit while sending out more emails, and continue to collect more accounts.  Every time the attackers get another account, they can send out hundreds of emails; if even one person responds, that's another account and another couple hundred emails.

It's a vicious cycle that we can only break by educating users about the existence of these emails.  While we do our best to shut down the accounts as soon as we receive a report, usually we don't get a report until after a few minutes of sending, which can be hundreds of emails by that point. 

We are considering other alternatives system side, but we need to be vary careful about such alterations as they can affect the receiving of legitimate emails as well. 

Q: What do the attackers have to gain by doing this?
A:  Just more sources to spam people with.  Once the spammers have a sufficient number of accounts stocked up, they can start sending out spam emails to other people.  Often times we will cleanse an account and find that it has been altered to look like a bank or a school or a credit union.

Q: What should I do if I have responded to one of these emails?
A:  Change your password immediate by going to epass.plu.edu [epass.plu.edu] and call the Help Desk at 253-535-7525.  We will need to walk you through cleaning your account to ensure that no one else has access.

Q:  Is there anything I can do to help combat these emails?
A:  Yes!  Continue to report them to us every time you get one.  It may seem futile or redundant, but the sooner we know about a new wave, the sooner we can take action.

Tell your colleagues and friends about the phishing emails and about how they can learn more about them (@PLUHelpDesk); the more people that know, the better chance we have that the phishing waves will be ineffective. 




Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Summer 2014 Technology Workshops


Check out the schedule of Summer 2014 Technology workshops at http://www.plu.edu/itech/workshops/ along with full workshop descriptions and registration information. Workshops include a diversity of topics such as: 
  • Screencasting with Camtasia
  • Collaboration with Google Docs and Drive
  • The New Sakai Lessons Tool
  • Webconferencing - Communicate Live and Online!
  • Easy Steps for Making Your Course Content Accessible
  • Getting Started with Sakai
  • Backups and Data Security at PLU
  • And more... ! 
For a complete listing of workshops, see the workshop listings.

If you have a particular need for specialized and customized technology workshops for your class or department, contact Layne Nordgren (
layne.nordgren@plu.edu, 253-535-7197) and we'll do our best to meet your specific needs.

Need one on one assistance with technology? Instructional Technologies provides a design lab with computers and software for digital editing projects. The Digital Design Lab is located on the first floor of the Library near the Help Desk. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Phishing Email 3-19-14

At approximately 8 pm tonight a phishing email began being sent out from a PLU account.  This email is fraudulent and should not be responded to, nor should any links be clicked on.

If you have responded to this email or clicked on the link within the email, please contact the Help Desk at 253-535-7525 immediately.  You will need to perform a password change and several other fixes.

Below is a screenshot example of the email which I&TS received.
This is a very pretty, but very fraudulent email.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Spam Email Report 2/6/14

Today's spam email report comes courtesy of our technician, Ingrid.

It has recently been brought to the attention of the Help Desk that a series of spam emails has been circulating through the PLU Gmail system. These emails are originating in accounts that have been compromised, and are telling recipients that their inbox storage has exceeded its capacity and they should follow the link provided to update their account. Emails of this nature should be ignored and deleted, and personal information should never be provided to the sender. A photo of the email is provided at the bottom of the page, as well as an explanation for how it was determined to be spam.
We encourage you to always err on the side of caution if you believe you have received a spam or phishing email. If you ever feel that you need assistance determining whether an email is legitimate or not, don't hesitate to contact the Help Desk at 253-535-7525, or email us at helpdesk@plu.edu.

If you have given out any password or log in information, or if your account has been sending similar emails without your knowledge, please follow our standard procedures for possibly compromised accounts:
  • Update your epass password at http://epass.plu.edu
  • Update your password on any sites where you used that password (i.e., if your epass was the same as your bank password, update your bank password as well)
  • Log into your Gmail and sign out of all other sessions; to do this, scroll down to the bottom of the page and look for the section which says "Last Account Activity"; click on the "Details" link; a window will appear which will let you force sign out all other sessions.
In the image provided, text highlighted in orange can be deemed suspicious because it suggests that the email originated from a non-PLU source. PLU emails are not managed through Webmail, and user inboxes do not have a maximum capacity, nor are they ever deleted from the system due to inbox overfilling. Areas highlighted in blue indicate grammatical and formatting oddities that should not be found in a legitimate communication from a PLU source. These errors are another red flag indicating that the email is originating in a compromised account.
Once again, we advise you to use your best judgment when deciding whether an email looks suspicious or not, and notify the Help Desk promptly if you believe you have encountered a security risk.

The questionable email.  Click to enlarge

Friday, January 10, 2014

Apple slowing security updates for previous versions of OS X

Source:
http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2014/01/09/82-of-enterprise-mac-users-not-getting-security-updates/
http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1222

Recently, Apple released the newest version of their operating system (OS), OS X 10.9 Mavericks, for free to all users that were at least on OS X 10.6 (and had compatible hardware).  This was a pretty bold move on Apple's part to just stop charging for the Operating System itself, and was welcomed by users across the tech spectrum, especially since most key Apple software was now also being released for free.

Months later, it seems that Apple really really really wants everyone to be using Mavericks, and they're doing so by putting all their focus on Mavericks at the expense of their older versions of the OS.  According to Apple's security release schedule (apple.com), there has been a lack of security updates directed at the older OSes.  Mavericks itself came with a bundle of security patches for some of the core parts of OS X, such as some minor unix utilities which needed bug fixes and some Apple software that wasn't working quite as expected. 

Security patches and bug fixes are normal for operating systems, and it's not uncommon for all OSes to have a slew of security patches out each month.  Apple typically prefers to release them in larger bundles as opposed to individualized fixes, though in the past they have released "hot fixes" to address major issues.  But for Apple to be turning away from their previous OSes so quickly, it seems like a real push to get users onto Mavericks as soon as possible and keep them there.

So is your Mac less secure if it doesn't have Mavericks?  Absolutely.  Many of the patches are for some fairly critical vulnerabilities, and while the virus and malware scene for Mac still hasn't taken off in over a decade, that doesn't mean they don't exist.  The best security practice you can have for your Mac right now would be to keep it up to date with software updates from Apple, including Mavericks.

Mavericks is free!  The upgrade is very simple, requiring a bit of time to download the software.  If your computer is Mavericks compatible (wikipedia.org), you most definitely should upgrade.  We strongly recommend backing up all your important documents before trying to perform the upgrade.  If you need assistance with upgrading your Mac, or have questions, please stop in or contact the Help Desk, and we'll be more than glad to assist!  Contact information at the end of this post.

A final note on OS X Security -- while OS X is not free of vulnerabilities, there still is not a strong case for using an anti-virus on your Mac at this time.  Most of the anti-virus systems currently available are just sub-par, often eating up a lot of the Mac's power looking for viruses and malware that just likely aren't going to hit your machine.  Apple has and keeps its own anti-malware service running in the background on your Mac; it isn't something you can interact with, but it is updated and worked on by Apple. 

Help Desk Contact Info:
Twitter:@PLUHelpDesk
Phone: 253-535-7525
email: helpdesk@plu.edu

Monday, January 6, 2014

Spam email report 1/6/2014



A new year and new spam emails! Today's write up comes courtesy of our technician, Carolyn.

Recently, the Help Desk received a report of a new spam email circulating via campus Gmail accounts. These appear to be coming directly from compromised PLU epass accounts, so it is important to be able to identify which of your contacts’ emails are legitimate and which are not. At the bottom of this post is a copy of the email, as well as a summary of the red flags that helped us to determine that this email was fraudulent.

If you have already responded to the email, please discontinue all communication immediately. If you have provided personal information, such as your bank account information, please contact your Bank immediately and discuss the issue, they will advise you on the proper procedure for protecting your accounts.

If you have given out any password or log in information, or if your account has been sending similar emails without your knowledge, please follow our standard procedures for possibly compromised accounts:
  • Update your epass password at http://epass.plu.edu
  • Update your password on any sites where you used that password (i.e., if your epass was the same as your bank password, update your bank password as well)
  • Log into your Gmail and sign out of all other sessions; to do this, scroll down to the bottom of the page and look for the section which says "Last Account Activity"; click on the "Details" link; a window will appear which will let you force sign out all other sessions.
Any questions, please contact the Help Desk at 253-535-7525 or helpdesk@plu.edu. You can also stop in at the Help Desk located on the first floor of the Library.

Original email; click to enlarge
In light blue, we have highlighted the fact that these emails are coming directly from PLU accounts instead of an outside source address. This may be the most confusing factor when determining if an email is fraudulent, so it is important to use your own personal judgment to determine a message’s legitimacy when it is coming from a person you know. If you are receiving emails from colleagues, students, or staff that don’t match previous interactions that are typical of their email communication (misspelled words, grammar errors, change in professional tone/language, etc.), then you should regard it as suspicious.

Highlighted in red are a few logical tipoffs: First and foremost, whoever is emailing you did not inform you of their “urgent trip to Iuganisk (Ukraine)”, yet they claim to know you well enough to ask for a money loan. This is a classic tactic of many varieties of spam emails; again, please err on the side of caution and utilize your own personal judgment when receiving emails from someone you know. Also highlighted in this email are the more subtle hints that helped us to identify this email as spam: the user states that they contacted their bank and cancelled their cards, which demonstrates that they are reasonably capable of communicating with their source of finances. This logically conflicts with their claim that they need a money loan from you in order to pay for their hotel and flight fees. If an email raises any sort of suspicion about its logic or legitimacy, do NOT respond to it or give out any personal or financial information.