Education? Academic background in modern languages, social sciences, and computer science.
Highlights of your career? I was a late starter (1986) as an IT professional, beginning at the Royal Free Hospital, then with the Human Genome Project (1989), then at Imperial Cancer Research Fund (1991-2001), where I wrote/co-wrote/edited a number of Internet FAQs and my first articles on programming and security. I presented my first conference papers in 1997 (at Virus Bulletin and SANS). In 2001 Osborne published Viruses Revealed (co-written with Robert Slade and Urs Gattiker): VR and the later AVIEN Malware Defense Guide (Syngress) – to which Andrew Lee also contributed – are probably the best known of my books. When I rejoined the UK’s National Health Service in 2006, I ran the Threat Assessment Centre and was the go-to person nationally for malware issues. I left to work as a freelance author and consultant in 2006, which is also when I began to work with ESET.
Position and history at ESET? Senior Research Fellow at ESET N. America. Primarily, I’m an author and blogger, editor, conference speaker, and commentator on a wide range of security issues. Like the rest of the industry, they put up with me because I’ve been around so long.
What malware do you hate the most? Malware is just code. It’s malicious people I detest. While I’ve no love of scammers, I can see that it’s easier to be honest in a relatively prosperous environment – if there is such a thing anymore – and that cybercrime can be driven by an economic imperative. But I have nothing but contempt for those sociopaths who cause harm to others for no reason except that they can.
Favorite activities? The guitar (I still gig and record when time allows), other people’s music. I love opera but don’t attempt to sing it. Photography, art, poetry, country walking – well, ambling is about as much as I can manage at my age – good food and wine, good television when I can find it...
What is your golden rule for cyberspace? Scepticism is a survival trait: don’t assume that anything you read online is gospel truth, even this adage.
When did you get your first computer and what kind was it? Amstrad PCW (primarily a word-processor) in 1986. What else would you expect a not-very-rich author to buy in 1986? :)
Favorite computer game/activity? Extra-curricular writing (blogging, verse and lyrics, articles). Digital photography and miscellaneous artwork.
Is there really anything new to be said about tech support scams? Unfortunately, the FTC tells us there is. Not only because people are still falling prey to this type of fraud, but because the scammers are still finding new approaches to harvesting their victims’ credit card details. Some quite interesting, sophisticated technical tricks are
There are plenty of scams effective enough to rate a warning or three, in the hope of alerting potential victims to the kind of gambit they use. And so, even though much of ESET’s business is focused on the bits and bytes of malicious software, I’ve spent a lot of time writing on WeLiveSecurity and
Death of a Sales Force: Whatever Happened to Anti-Virus? is a paper written by Larry Bridwell and myself for the 16th AVAR conference in Chennai, which was kindly presented by ESET’s Chief Research Officer Juraj Malcho, as neither Larry nor myself were able to attend the conference in the end. The paper is also available
(All four blog articles in this series, of which this article is the last, are available as a single paper here: The_Thoughtful_Phisher_Revisited.) From the sort of ‘visit this link and update or we’ll cancel your account’ message that we saw in the previous blog in this series (The Less Thoughtful Phisher), it’s a short step
Less innovative than the scam mails described in my previous articles (Phish to phry and The Thoughtful Phisher II), there are those phish messages that suggest a problem with your account that they need you to log in to fix. (Of course, you aren’t really logging in to a legitimate site.) Mostly their appeal is
In the previous Thoughtful Phisher blog, we looked at some visual clues that should tip you off that a email from a ‘bank’ is not to be trusted. Just as interesting here, though, is the variety of social engineering gambits used by this wave of phish campaigns. It’s worth taking a closer look at some
[A much shorter version of this article appeared in the October 2013 Threat Radar Report as ‘The Thoughtful Phisher’. As these particular scam/spam campaigns don’t seem to be diminishing, however – indeed, some of the phishing techniques seem to be getting more sophisticated – I thought perhaps it was worth updating and expanding for a
It so happens that I live over 5,000 miles from the ESET North America office in San Diego, and so tend not to have water cooler conversations with the people located there. Of course, researchers working for and with ESET around the world maintain contact through the wonders of electronic messaging, but there are lots
[Update 30th October 2013: with regard to the ping gambit discussed below, please note that protection.com now responds to ICMP echo requests – in other words, if you now run the command “ping protection.com” you should now see a screen something like this: Note that this is perfectly normal behaviour for a site that responds
As both Macs and Mac malware increase in prevalence, the importance of testing the software intended to supplement the internal security of OS X increases too. But testing security products on Mac is tricky, due to Apple’s own countermeasures. Can it be made easier?
After taking quite a long break from comment moderation on the WeLiveSecurity blog, I’ve recently started receiving comment notifications and have therefore been able to moderate some of the comments that have I’ve seen, and I thought it was worth passing on some thoughts about the moderation process as I see it. I should make
A new paper aims to profile the victims most likely to fall for a phishing attack. But what is less clear is how you develop a profile while avoiding the pitfalls of stereotyping.
I was recently contacted by a journalist researching a story about ‘hackers’ quitting the dark side (and virus writing in particular) for the bright(-er) side. He cited this set of examples – 7 Hackers Who Got Legit Jobs From Their Exploits – and also mentioned Mike Ellison (formerly known as Stormbringer and Black Wolf, among
I recently completed my 14th Virus Bulletin conference paper, co-written with Intego’s Lysa Myers, on “Mac hacking: the way to better testing?” to be presented at the 23rd VB conference in October, in Berlin. The paper itself won’t be available until after the conference, but the abstract is on the Virus Bulletin conference page here.
My colleagues at ESET Ireland, report that an all-too-familiar scam is currently hitting Irish mailboxes. I’ve talked about it at some length here previously – for instance here and here – but here’s a quick summary. Someone, apparently someone you know (a friend or a family member) contacts you to tell you that they’ve been
I made a comment recently that was subsequently quoted in a recent ESET blog – Android “master key” leaves 900 million devices vulnerable, researchers claim – and it appears that comment may have confused one or two people. What I actually said was this: “Security based on application whitelisting relies on an accurate identification of
[A shorter version of this article was originally published – without illustrations – on the Anti-Phishing Working Group’s eCrime blog.] Phishing attacks targeting academia aren’t the most high-profile of attacks, though they’re more common than you might think. Student populations in themselves constitute a sizeable pool of potential victims for money mule recruitment and other
A BYOD dissonance between economic imperative and loss of central control? Discontented staff susceptible to social engineering? David Harley reflects on aspects of Business Reimagined, a new book by Dave Coplin, chief envisioning officer at Microsoft UK, interivewed by Ross McGuinness in Metro.
…and nor are we responsible for fake AV/scareware and (more recently) ransomware, though I did suggest in a paper I presented at EICAR a couple of years ago that the bad guys who do peddle that stuff are all too proficient at stealing our clothes, and that maybe some security companies were making it easier
As an earlier article here noted, the recent report from the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property shows a great deal of concern about the “scale of international theft of American intellectual property” which it estimates to be “hundreds of billions of dollars per year.” However, there’s also been a certain amount of
Recently we realized that from time to time when people find a live link in one of our blogs, they click on it to see where it goes, even though the context might suggest that the link could be malicious. So we thought it might be a good idea to set up a link so
Apparently we posted 235 blogs here in 2012, just a fraction under 20 blogs per month on average. So this would be a perfect moment to produce one of those summaries of the year’s activities that wordpress.com provides, telling you how many people viewed your blog site and how many times they’d go round the
…an article suggests that “Stuxnet was developed to improve the quality of enriched uranium, so that it no longer can be used for the production of atomic bombs.” It’s an interesting theory, and I’m certainly not going to say it’s wrong…
The top ten (twenty, twenty-five…) season doesn’t seem to have finished yet: the latest to cross my radar was something like seven ways of surviving the recession, which I’m sure is of interest to all of us, but not really in scope for this blog. So here’s a snippet from our 2008 Global Threat Report,
You might have noticed that Conficker (Downadup) is actually standing up rather well to all the attention it’s receiving at the moment. Heise UK reported that 2.5 million PCs are already infected (links removed, as Heise no longer seems to have a UK site and the articles have disappeared). In The Register, Dan Goodin reports that the
Here are a few rather disconnected items that I intended to blog about last week, but never had time to write up. First of all, an interview with an adware author from philosecurity.org that went up on 12th January. Excerpt: “Matt Knox, a talented Ruby instructor and coder, talks about his early days designing and writing
As a *Fellow of the British Computer Society (is that the sound of a self-blown trumpet I hear?) I get daily emails that I often don’t have time to read. Which is a pity, because when I do, I often find an interesting nugget. Sometimes I even get a paper magazine (remember those?) through the post,
This is bizarre, if slightly nostalgic. I spent a lot of time in the first half of this decade writing and presenting on problems with email filters that assumed that if the “From” field of an email header says that the sender was firstname.lastname@example.org (apologies to thenameofmysite.com if it actually exists, but I don’t think
Not one of our Top X lists, this time, but one featured in an article on the SANS site. SANS have been banging the drum for safer coding for quite a while – in fact, they do quite a few courses on safe coding in various development contexts. Admittedly, that gives them a financial incentive to fly
Nigel Morris, of the UK’s “Independent” newspaper reported recently on new powers given to police in the UK and proposals to extend similar powers across the European Union. Understandably, civil rights groups like Liberty have apparently expressed the belief that such expansion of “police hacking operations” should be regulated by Act of Parliament and that there
And finally… Don’t use cracked/pirated software! These are easy avenues for introducing malware into, or exploiting weaknesses in, a system. This also includes the illegal P2P (peer-to-peer) distribution of copyrighted audio and video files: some of these are counterfeited or modified so that they can be used directly in the malware distribution process. Even if
It occurs to me that I should make it clear that this “top ten” isn’t in any particular order. Like the other “top ten” suggestions by the research team that are likely to find their way here in the near future, they’re all significant issues that need thinking about. Point 9 (a short one!) is, don’t
Update: Graham Cluley’s issued a blog post a couple of days ago suggesting that so far, at least some of the phishes described in our earlier blog about Twitter phishing have been used for old style defacement purposes rather than out-and-out fraud. (I suspect, though, that now this latest phishing genie is out of the bottle, there
Don’t expect antivirus alone to protect you from everything. Use additional measures such as a personal firewall, antispam and anti-phishing toolbars, but be aware that there is a lot of fake security software out there. This means that you need to take care to invest in reputable security solutions, not malware which claims to fix
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