Category Archives: Google

Locky Ransomware Encrypts Files Even When Machine Is Offline

The Locky ransomware has added a fallback mechanism in the latest strain of  malware created for situations where the code can’t reach its Command & Control server.

Researchers from antivirus vendor Avira blogged about this version which starts encrypting files even when it cannot request a unique encryption key from the Command & Control server because the computer is offline or a firewall blocks outgoing communications.

Calling the mothership is normally required for ransomware that uses public key cryptography. And actually, if the code is unable to call home to a Command & Control server after they infect a new machine, most ransomware does not start the encryption process and is dead in the water.

Why? The encryption routine needs unique public-private key pairs that are generated by the Command & Control server for each infection. How does this work? Here is a simplified sequence of events.

  1. The ransomware program generates a local encryption key and uses an algorithm like AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) to encrypt files with certain extensions.
  2. It reaches out to a Command & Control server and asks that machine to generate an RSA key pair for the newly infected system.
  3. The public key of that pair is sent back to the infected machine and used to encrypt the AES encryption key from step 1. The private key, (needed to decrypt what the public key encrypted), stays on the Command & Control server and is the key that you get when you pay the ransom and is used for decryption.

As you see, a lot of ransomware  strains are useless if a firewall detects their attempt to call home and blocks it as suspicious. There is another scenario however…

As damage control, organizations also cut off a computer from the network the moment a ransomware infection is detected. They might even take the whole network offline until they can investigate if other systems have also been infected.

The silver lining? If someone pays the ransom and gets the private key, that key will work for all other offline victims as well, so expect a free decryptor to become available in the near future.

 

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Amazon Prime Video Gets Offline Playback on iOS and Android

Amazon-Offline-Videos

Amazon may not be the most popular video streaming service on the block, but today it got a killer feature that takes it one step closer to its competition: offline video.

iTunes and Google Play have been able to do this for awhile, of course, but those are pay-per-video services. Amazon Prime Video has also had this on the Kindle Fire, but now iOS and Android users can download movies or TV episodes for offline playback, perfect for saving data or watching on an airplane.

It’s currently only available for certain shows and movies, but it’s a decent list. You can download Amazon’s own shows, as well as shows from HBO, NBCUniversal, CBS, and Fox, not to mention some movies—including Epix movies like Star Trek Into Darkness and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Which, incidentally, Netflix is losing. Yikes.

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Phone and laptop encryption guide: Protect your stuff and yourself

How to encrypt local storage on your Google, Microsoft, and Apple devices.

The worst thing about having a phone or laptop stolen isn’t necessarily the loss of the physical object itself, though there’s no question that that part sucks. It’s the amount of damage control you have to do afterward. Calling your phone company to get SIMs deactivated, changing all of your account passwords, and maybe even canceling credit cards are all good ideas, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

Using strong PINs or passwords and various Find My Phone features is a good place to start if you’d like to limit the amount of cleanup you need to do, but in this day and age it’s a good idea to encrypt your device’s local storage if at all possible. Full-disk or full-device encryption (that is, encrypting everything on your drive, rather than a specific folder or user profile) isn’t yet a default feature across the board, but most of the major desktop and mobile OSes support it in some fashion. In case you’ve never considered it before, here’s what you need to know.

Why encrypt?

Even if you normally protect your user account with a decent password, that doesn’t truly protect your data if someone decides to swipe your device. For many computers, the drive can simply be removed and plugged into another system, or the computer can be booted from an external drive and the data can be copied to that drive. Android phones and tablets can be booted into recovery mode and many of the files on the user partition can be accessed with freely available debug tools. And even if you totally wipe your drive, disk recovery software may still be able to read old files.

Encrypting your local storage makes all of that much more difficult, if not impossible. Anyone trying to access your data will need a key to actually mount the drive or read anything off of it, and if you wipe the drive the leftover data that can be read by that file recovery software will still be encrypted even if the new data on the drive isn’t.

There are a few downsides. If you yourself lose the key or if your drive becomes corrupted, for example, it might be more difficult or impossible to recover data. It can slow down performance, especially for devices with processors that don’t provide hardware acceleration for encrypting and decrypting data. But, by and large, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, and the slowdown for modern devices should be tolerable-to-unnoticeable.

iOS: Don’t worry about it

As of iOS 8, as long as you set a passcode, your personal data gets encrypted. Apple’s security whitepaper (PDF) for iOS 8.3 and later specifically says that “key system apps, such as Messages, Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Photos, and Health data values use Data Protection by default, and third-party apps installed on iOS 7 or later receive this protection automatically.”

The company also claims that every current iDevice features “a dedicated AES 256 crypto engine built into the DMA path between the flash storage and main system memory,” which ought to limit the impact of this encryption on system speed.

OS X: FileVault

Starting with OS X 10.7 (Lion) in 2011, Apple began supporting full-disk encryption with FileVault 2. In more recent OS X versions, some Macs even offer to encrypt your storage as part of the first-boot setup process, though it’s not the default as it is in iOS.

To encrypt your drive after the fact, go to the Security & Privacy pane in System Preferences, and select the FileVault tab. Click Turn On FileVault and you’ll be offered a pair of options: store the key used to unlock your disk somewhere yourself, or choose to store it in your iCloud account. A local recovery key keeps that key off of another company’s servers, but leaves you without recourse if you lose it and you’re locked out of your system. If you do store your key in iCloud (or even if you don’t, for that matter), we strongly recommend enabling two-factor authentication for your Apple ID.

Encrypting your disk doesn’t drastically change the way that OS X works—you just need to put your account password in to unlock the disk before the operating system boots instead of afterward. You’ll also need to specify which local users’ logins can decrypt the disk. Otherwise, just the account that enabled FileVault will be able to turn the machine on. If you ever need to decrypt your Mac, it’s pretty easy if you can log in to the computer or if you have the key available.

Generally speaking, performance for encrypted devices declines less for newer Macs with hardware acceleration—most Core i5s and i7s can do it, but Core 2 Duo Macs cannot.

Android

Despite past promises, new Android devices still aren’t being encrypted by default. Default encryption is an option for OEMs, but outside of Google’s Nexus devices few if any companies are choosing to enable the feature on their phones.

You can still encrypt any relatively modern version of Android pretty easily—these specific steps work for Nexus devices or anything running near-stock Android, but the process should be similar if your phone is using a skin.

Open the Settings app, go to Security, and then tap “encrypt phone” to get the process started. Your phone may ask you to plug it in or charge the battery to a specific level before it will give you the option to encrypt, mostly because interrupting this process at any point is likely to completely corrupt your data partition. You’ll need to protect your phone with some kind of PIN or pattern or password if you haven’t already, and as in OS X your phone will probably require it before the operating system will boot.

To confirm that your phone was encrypted, go to Settings and then Security and look for a small “Encrypted” badge under the “Encrypt phone” menu item. If your phone already says it’s encrypted, you may have one of the new post-Lollipop phones that came with encryption enabled out of the box.

Depending on your phone, encrypting your Android phone or tablet can significantly impact performance. This is the worst for older or slower devices, which can use slower flash memory and filesystems and lack hardware encryption acceleration. The experience is better on newer phones with 64-bit ARMv8 processors and higher-end, faster storage.

Additionally, if you need to decrypt the device later on, there’s no way to do it without wiping and resetting the phone. If your phone came encrypted out of the box, though, there’s no way to decrypt the device without making more extensive software modifications.

Finally, in Android Marshmallow, the Android phones that include external storage are able to encrypt and protect the data on those cards as well as on internal storage.

Chrome OS: Also don’t worry about it

Chromebooks and boxes are pretty locked down out of the box by default, and that extends to encryption of the local storage. As described in the Chromium design documents, ChromeOS uses the eCryptfs filesystem and each user directory is protected by a separate encryption key. Unless you’ve turned on Developer Mode, you don’t have anything to worry about.

Linux

The wide variety of Linux distributions available means that it’s difficult to recommend one tool or script or set of directions that will encrypt your drive.

If you’re running a recent Ubuntu or Ubuntu-based distribution, at least, the OS will offer to encrypt your data when you install it. All you need to do is tick a box. And for anything else, you can always take a look at that list of third-party disk encryption software.

Windows Phone 8.1

Windows Phone 8.1 is odd; it supports encryption, but only when some kind of device management server has told it to encrypt itself. There’s no option for end users to encrypt their own devices on demand.

User-initiated BitLocker encryption should be possible in Windows Phone 10, an update that at least most of the current Windows Phone 8.1 devices should be able to get.

Windows

Windows is a complex operating system that runs on what is by far the widest range of hardware of any operating system here, so encryption is more complicated. We’ll be focusing on the built-in tools included in modern versions of Windows, but if they don’t work for you there are lots and lots of other third-party drive encryption programs you can look into.

There’s a very small chance that the Windows system you’re using is already encrypted by default, at least if you have the right combination of hardware and software. That goes for users of Windows 8.1, and Windows 10 computers who sign into their systems with Microsoft or Active Directory accounts and whose hardware meets the following requirements:

  • Support for the Secure Boot
  • A Trusted Platform Module (TPM). The feature requires TPM 2.0, and most current devices use TPM 1.2.
  • Hardware and firmware support for Windows’ InstantGo (formerly Connected Standby) feature. InstantGo allows a sleeping system to wake up periodically and refresh certain data, like e-mail messages or calendar events. Your smartphone already does the same sort of thing.
  • InstantGo comes with its own set of hardware requirements, including a solid-state boot volume, NDIS 6.30 support for all network interfaces, and memory soldered to the motherboard. The system must also rely on passive cooling when in Connected Standby mode, even if it normally uses a fan.

This encryption method is also used by the handful of Windows RT systems that made it out the door.

The benefit of this method is that it’s automated and it’s available with every edition of Windows, including the Home editions. The bad news is that those hardware requirements are pretty stringent and there’s no way to just add them to a computer you’ve already bought. And the Microsoft account requirement may rankle if you have no desire to use one.

If you want encryption and don’t meet those requirements, your next best bet is BitLocker. It’s got less-stringent hardware requirements, though it works best if your computer includes a TPM. It also needs one of the higher-end versions of Windows. In Windows 10, users of the Pro, Enterprise, and Education editions can all use it. Windows 8.x provides it with the Pro and Enterprise editions, while Windows 7 and Windows Vista require either the Ultimate or Enterprise editions. Home and Bing editions of Windows are universally excluded, as are pre-Vista versions of Windows.

To enable BitLocker on any version of Windows that supports it, head to the desktop version of the Control Panel and click BitLocker Drive Encryption. If you have a TPM, you ought to be able to save your encryption recovery key to an external drive or your Microsoft account, click through all the screens, and come out on the other side with an encrypted laptop. You can choose to encrypt just the used space on the disk (leaving the free space unencrypted), or you can encrypt the full drive.

Many business-class laptops from the last decade or so and some more recent high-end Ultrabooks tend to include TPMs, though it’s never been a key part of Windows’ system requirements. They generally have their own entries in the Device Manager, if you don’t know whether your computer has one.

If you don’t have a TPM, you’re not out of luck, but there are extra steps. By default, BitLocker won’t work without one, but there are several other options available once you flip a switch. The steps:

  • Go to the Start menu search box or use the Windows+R hotkey combo and type in gpedit.msc. This is a local policy editor that works a lot like the group policy editor used in large businesses, the settings just apply to one computer instead of many.
  • Go to Computer Configuration, then Administrative Templates, then Windows Components, then BitLocker Drive Encryption.
  • Select the Operating System Drives folder.
  • Double-click Require additional authentication at startup.
  • Click the “enabled” bubble, and then check the “Allow BitLocker without a compatible TPM” option below.
  • Click OK.

Now head to the Control Panel and open up BitLocker Drive Encryption. From here, you can either use a USB key that will need to be plugged into your computer to unlock the drive every time it boots. Or you can come up with a special password, separate from your account password, that you type at boot to unlock the disk. Backup keys can be saved to an external drive, your Microsoft account, or to some other file on another local or network disk.

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How to Move Chrome Bookmarks to a New Computer

Google-Chrome

Google Chrome includes a bookmark management tool that allows you to organize your bookmarks, export them for backup or import them from another computer. This allows you change Web browsers or purchase a new computer without fear that you will have difficulty finding your favorite websites again.

 

Step 1

Insert a removable storage device such as a USB flash drive into the old computer, and then launch Google Chrome.

Step 2

Click the three lines in the upper-right corner of the Google Chrome window, and then click “Bookmarks” and “Bookmark Manager.” You can also press CTRL + Shift + O on your keyboard. A new browser tab opens, displaying all of your stored bookmarks. chrome://bookmarks/

Step 3

Click the “Organize” button in the upper-left corner of the browser tab, and then click “Export Bookmarks.” A new window with the title “Save As” appears.

Step 4

Navigate in the “Save As” window to the removable storage device, and then click the “Save” button. Google Chrome automatically gives the file a name such as “My Bookmarks.html.”

Step 5

Transfer the removable storage device to the new computer, and launch Google Chrome.

Step 6

Click the three lines button in the upper right hand corner, and then click “Bookmarks” and “Bookmark Manager.”

Step 7

Click the “Organize” button, and then click “Import Bookmarks.” A new window titled “Open” appears.

Step 8

Navigate in the “Open” window to the removable storage device, and double-click the Google Chrome bookmarks file. A new folder called “Imported” appears on the left side of the Bookmark Manager tab.

Step 9

Click the “Imported” folder to see your bookmarks.

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Google Maps for iOS Will No Longer Blind You Thanks to “Night Mode”

The iPhone version of Google Maps was updated with a handy new night mode feature alongside the ability to label places and edit photo captions.

The night mode is the biggest new feature and works a little differently than you might expect. Instead of switching over to night mode when you’re in a dark area, it does it whenever the clock says it’s nighttime. It’s a little weird, but it’s certainly not nice to not get blinded every time you use your phone at night. You can also now label places on a custom map, which is nice for adding custom addresses or whatever else you’d need.

Google Maps (Free) | iTunes App Store

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Create Custom-Named Places in Google Maps for Android

Google-maps-mark-your-own-place

Have a favorite spot in the park nearby where you like to sit and read? Want to add locations to your map that aren’t in Google’s database? The latest version of Maps for Android lets you give any place a custom name, so you can search for it later.

That means you can rename existing locations (like your favorite pizza place) or locations that don’t have official entries in Google’s database (like a random spot in the park, or a certain address). Just open up a location or drop a pin, click the three-dot menu in the upper-right corner, and choose “Edit Name”. Give the place your custom name, and from then on you’ll be able to search for it in Google Maps.

Give a Place a Private Name | Maps for Mobile Help via Google Operating System

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Weather for Chrome Puts Your Local Forecast in a Chrome Toolbar Button

Chrome-Weather-Extension

Weather is a simple Chrome extension that gives you the local forecast with a single click on the extension’s toolbar button. You’ll see the temperature and current conditions on the button itself, updated regularly, but click it for a full expanded forecast, using data from Forecast.io.

Since the data comes from Forecast.io, you can trust that it’s accurate. The extension will pinpoint your location automatically, so you don’t have to tell it (although you can if you want to), and once you click on it, you’ll see current conditions on top, an hourly forecast just below that with icons that show you projected conditions, and then a five-day forecast with highs and lows, along with conditions and precipitation chance for the rest of the week.

If you’re planning a trip or just want to know if you’ll need your umbrella when you leave the house, a quick check of the weather is a must, and while looking out the window is great, it won’t tell you whether it’s going to rain in an hour, or tomorrow. You could always just Google “weather” and get similar results, but Weather puts all that information right into Chrome, a single click away. It’s simple, free, and it works.

Weather | Chrome Web Store

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Google Maps Now Shows Your Location History in a Timeline 

Web app/Android: Google Maps is rolling out a new feature for Android and desktop called Your Timeline that shows you location history in a handy timeline view.
When you tap on the Your Timeline option in Google maps, you’ll see a map of where you spent your time on any given day, month, or year. This allows you to visualize your routine and see where you’ve been. If you’re using Google Photos, you’ll also see any photos you took on a specific day. Your Timeline is only visible by you, and you can delete days, places, or your history at any time. You can access Your Timeline on desktop and Android if you’ve opted-in to store your location history already.
Google Maps | via Google Maps Blog

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Chrome for iOS Adds Swipe Navigation

iOS: Chrome for iOS is great, but one of the weird quirks was that swiping left or right brought up a tab view instead of navigating a tab’s history. Now, that’s fixed.
Now, when you swipe left or right in Chrome you’ll navigate tabs instead of switching tabs. You can still switch tabs by tapping the icon in the right corner. The update also adds support for Physical Web, which means that the Chrome widget in the today view will scan for URLs so you can control real world objects.
Chrome (Free) | iTunes App Store

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