Less than NetZero, or How Personal Email can Spoil Your Day

Computer User

Why do malware attacks seem to happen to the same people at work all the time—people who you’d think would be the least likely to spend their idle moments on trolling through the worst of the Internet?

And why, after your company has spent a lot of time, money and energy setting up firewalls, anti-virus, anti-malware and spam filters does still an occasional malware attack gets through?

As I noted in my WannaCry missives earlier this week, the most “successful” malware attacks spread through emails and the result of human habits that are hard to break. (“Oh, here’s an email from Uncle Harry.  I haven’t heard from him in years!”)

I got a panicky call yesterday from an employee of a long-time client. “I’m getting this message that says I’ve been attacked and I’m not supposed to reboot or close the message.  I called Microsoft, using a telephone number on the message.  They told me they couldn’t help and that I have to call my IT guy. I’m stuck.”

After taking a deep breath, I said, as calmly as possible, “I’ll be there as soon as I can. Just let everything alone for now.”

It turned out to be an infected website that took over her Chrome browser.  I was able to use the old three-fingered solute (ctrl-alt-delete) and task manager to close the browser windows, updated and ran my good buddy Malwarebytes. It found two PUPs (possibly unwanted programs) and a Trojan (as in horse), which it quarantined. After rebooting, I downloaded the newest version of Malwarebytes and scanned it again. This time we got 16 more nasties.

So, this being a browser event, I asked, “What websites were you on recently?” Her response was “Oh, Google, a government site, and—oh, yeah—I checked my NetZero email.

Bingo. We’ve chosen the safest email systems we can afford for our workplace and it’s doing a reasonable job of keeping out the bad stuff. However, NetZero, and its “ancient” brethren, are still with us.  Given their revenue sources (Why do you think they called it Zero?), it’s not surprising that they don’t vet incoming email as well as the giants (Gmail, Microsoft).

Lures we don’t see on the workplace’s email come crashing through on a web-based personal email account that the employee has had for years. They were just doing what they’ve always done.

So here’s today’s takeaway:  Please ask your employees to check their personal emails on their phone or other NON-WORK device.  Or, ask them to wait until they get home to check their personal emails.