Google Chrome Tech Support Scam Misery

Google Chrome is by far the most popular internet browser.  There is a very good chance that you are reading this article using Chrome right now.  As of Jan 2018, a whopping 56.3% of all internet users browsed the web using Chrome (data from StatCounter)

This popularity has brought some unwanted attention to Chrome. Scammers are targetting the browser users with ever more sophisticated and realistic “Tech Support” scams designed to panic the user and con them into phoning a fake ‘helpline’.  Once on the ‘helpline’, you will be asked for your credit card number in return for sorting out the problem.

What does the scam look like?

tech support scam message affecting Google Chrome browser

Having landed on an infected site the Chrome browser displays the above information, often along with unsettling alarm sounds to heighten further the users level of anxiety.  Like all scams, it is cleverly designed to put you under pressure with dire warnings about what is being ‘stolen’ and a time scale (within the next 5 minutes) to frighten the user into following the instructions.

Behind the scenes the browser is instructed to try and save a file repeatedly – so fast that it cannot cope and becomes unresponsive to any commands to close or navigate away from this page.  At which point the scammers hope that you will phone their number and offer up your credit card number in return for their ‘support’ to fix the problem.

That is the very last thing you should do. Let’s dive a bit deeper into this scam and see how to get out of it and even avoid it in the first place.

Where is this scam found?

Frequently this scam is deployed via ‘Malvertising’ – Malicious Advertising – a seemingly innocuous advert appearing on a legitimate site that happens to contain a hidden payload designed to cause harm. These adverts might have been designed from the ground up by the scammers or were a previously safe advert that has been hacked and turned into a vehicle to spread the malware.  Wikipedia on Malvertising

What can I do, if I encounter this Tech Support Scam?

Firstly, don’t panic.  Recognise it for what it is and DO NOT under any circumstances phone the number given.
Secondly, try to close either the affected tab or the entire browser as you would normally using the X top right. In all likelihood, neither of these methods will work but it is worth trying it first. Beware that closing the browser will discard any work you may have open in other tabs.
Thirdly (and most probably), you will need to use the Windows Task Manager to kill off the unresponsive browser. It may be a while since you have had to use this, so here is a quick reminder.

1. Press Ctrl + Alt + Del to bring up the options screen and click on Task Manager.

2. Click on Google Chrome in the list of Tasks to highlight it, then click the End Task button

Windows Task Manager screen image
at the bottom of the screen. This will terminate the Chrome browser and the pesky fake tech support message.

3. For peace of mind, you may want to run a security scan of your machine now to reassure yourself that nothing untoward has happened as a result of this attempted scam.

Can I prevent it?

Yes, partly. As many of the scams are distributed via ‘Malvertising’, running an Ad Blocker such as Ad Block Plus can mean they never make it anywhere near your browser. There is a Google Extension for this service –  AdBlock Plus Extension – that we have used for years and can highly recommend.
Google is aware of this issue and is working on a fix.  However,  you can bet the scammers will also be working on ways to circumvent this, so it is unlikely this type of scam will go away anytime soon.

If you know of any Chrome users, please share this article with them to help keep them informed and safe.

The Curious Case of the Disappearing Mouse

For a number of years, I’ve used a drawing tablet in preference to a mouse when working on a desktop PC.  Years of using a mouse have taken their toll on my right wrist and it was for ever painful and tender.  The tablet and accompanying pen puts the control into my dominant hand (yes, I’m a ‘leftie’) and has given me much more control in programs such as PhotoShop where drawing and shading with the pen are now possible.  Just as importantly, it has given my poor right wrist a rest and allowed the pain, tenderness and inflammation to subside.

However, recently an issue occurred that had me – reluctantly – reverting back to the mouse.  In several programs, the mouse cursor would simply disappear.  Hover actions associated with moving the mouse would still occur but seeing where it was and clicking with it were nigh on impossible.

In particular, this was happening in my go to code editor, Visual Studio Code.  Every time I clicked File – Open to begin working, the cursor would vanish and I couldn’t select a file to begin editing.  I felt rather like a chef without a knife or a photographer without a camera – devoid of a key tool to do my job!  Only by closing the program, re-opening it and using the mouse in preference to the tablet could I get anywhere.

Searching Google for similar problems associated with using a Wacom Pen Touch tablet and Visual Studio Code brought nothing of value.  A wider search showed that a similar problem occurred when using the Google Chrome browser and a Wacom tablet device. Missing of flickering mouse cursor and an inability to click, point or right click with the pen.

In the case of Chrome, the suggested solution was to disable the use of Windows Ink in the Wacom Control Panel.

With little expectation that it would make a difference in Visual Studio Code I did as suggested and, to my amazement, it now works perfectly – the missing mouse cursor has returned.  Additionally, the odd behaviour experienced in other programs, where it wasn’t possible to right click or scroll through a document using the Wacom Pen, have all gone as well.

Windows Ink seems to have been turned “on” as part of the recent Fall Creator’s update to Windows 10. Disabling it has given me back the control I had become accustomed to with the excellent Wacom PT device.

If you are having similar problems with a Wacom product, and are finding the pen cannot be used as a mouse to click or select, try disabling Windows Ink.

Passwords

Recently, cyber-security firm 4iq.com discovered on a community forum deep within the ‘dark web’, the largest aggregated database of emails / passwords found to date.  The searchable database contained 1.4 billion user login credentials hoovered up from a wide range of hacks, security breaches, data dumps etc.  These are in ‘clear text’ meaning they are not encrypted or scrambled in any way, they can be read by anyone.  Yes anyone.

Anyone who is active on the dark web, that finds the database can access it and start trying to log into other people’s accounts.  Quite possibly yours and mine.

Alarming

4i have begun extensive analysis of the data and what was immediately alarming in the database was the extent to which people were either…

  • Reusing the same password across multiple services or sites (often multiple times)
  • Using incredibly weak and obvious passwords (and in some case they were reusing the same weak passwords, which is probably the cyber equivalent of leaving your car unlocked with the key in the ignition and the engine running)!

An example of the most common (and weakest) passwords is shown in the table below…

Astonishingly, the password ‘123456’ occurred over 9 million times in the leaked and stolen data.  That’s 9 million people who are making it unbelievably straightforward for someone to break into their account.

So What?

Whilst much of the data in the database will be old, some of it is not (14% of the credentials recovered have never been seen before in any other data breach or leak).  The latest data was added in late November 2017.  This stuff is current and could easily include your information.

4i have checked with a number of users to verify if the information in the database is correct.  Almost all of the users contacted have verified that the data was true.  Frequently their reactions were…

but that’s an old password…

commonly followed by…

Oh crap! I still use that password on <this> site…

You can check whether your information appears within the database by sending an email to verification@4iq.com with subject line: Password Exposure Check  4i will respond with the truncated list of found passwords for that email.  Of course they will only report the passwords related to the specific email from which you write to them.  If you want to verify different email addresses you will have to send an email from each of them.

Take Action Now

  Stop reusing the same password in different places

  Use long (more than 12 characters and ideally 15 characters plus) passwords

  Consider using a password manager such as KeePass or LastPass to hold these rather than trying to remember them all

  Consider using two factor authentication in as many places as possible.  Whilst it may be slightly inconvenient to do so, it increases your security enormously.

  Make your email account passwords particularly complex and long.  After all, this is where any password reset notifications will be sent. If a hacker has your email password they can reset it and then beaver away on all of your other accounts.

Please, please share or pass this onto anyone that you think might benefit from it. And, above all, stay safe out there.

Can I Trust HTTPS?

Can I automatically trust a site that uses HTTPS?

 

Recently, BBC Watchdog ran a story on bogus fundraising accounts being opened shortly after the horrific Grenfell Tower fire in London.  I thought I had ceased to be surprised by the depths to which some criminals would stoop but this one sickened me.  Not only is it deceiving the well-meaning folk who think they are donating to charity, it deprives those who really need support of the funds to help get them back on their feet.  Furthermore, once the scam is revealed, it  is likely to make everyone more wary of giving to any online charity.

A spokesman from Action Fraud said that you should look for the sign of security – HTTPS – in the URL of the website along the associated green padlock symbol somewhere in your browser.

https as a sign of security

So, should you trust a site simply because it uses HTTPS? 

In a word, NO!

HTTPS stands for Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure and signifies that the connection between a browser and the server hosting the website is secure and uses an encrypted protocol to transmit data between the visitor and the website.  This is a good thing as it means that your communication cannot be eavesdropped by a third party; particularly important when you are sending highly sensitive information such as your credit card details through a shopping cart at checkout time.  If you are running an eCommerce site, this is clearly essential.

Until fairly recently, acquiring the SSL certificate to facilitate HTTPS was a costly business. However, with Google’s drive to secure the web the cost of certificates has dropped and with the Lets Encrypt project now well established, it is possible to acquire a certificate for nothing.

Whilst the cost of a certificate was certainly a barrier to potential scammers in the past, the price drop means they are available to all.  And with countless tutorials available online, even the most inept of cyber criminals are able to find out how to install a certificate and set up an HTTPS site.

But surely, HTTPS means it is secure, I can trust a site that is secure can’t I?

The certificate that underpins HTTPS refers simply and only to the transmission of data.  It does not certify the site, its content, the identity of the site owner or the activity conducted on that site.  Any assumption that using HTTPS indicates a more trustworthy site is therefore clearly unwarranted.

So what should you look out for?

  • Use a familiar and trustworthy website.
  • Don’t rely upon a link to a site in an email or in social media, even if it is a site you have used before; type the address into your browser address bar. It is easy to make a link look like it goes to a safe site where in fact it goes somewhere else.
  • When you arrive at a site check the address bar. Is the URL (web address) correct?  Look out for tricks such as…
    1. a different domain ending, so rather than justgiving.com it is justgiving.global
    2. deliberate spelling mistakes in the URL e.g. justgivimg.com, that you might not spot if you only looked quickly.   Before you question whether I’m calling Just Giving  out on this, I’m not but as one of the largest fundraising websites they are likely to be a big target for on line fraudsters.
    3. subdomains e,g. justgiving.official.com. This is nothing to do with the JustGiving website but a subdomain of a website called official.com.  Scammers are ingenious in how they mask the identity of the site you are going to, scrutinise everything to assure yourself that you are where you expect to be.
  • Requests for you to use bank transfers rather than credit card or PayPal type legitimate payment gateways transactions should have alarm bells ringing loudly. No legitimate fundraising site would ask for payment to be made this way.
  • If using PayPal, when you get to the stage of confirming the transaction, check to see who the payee will be, if it is not who you expect, and you may be able to confirm this by referring to a previous credit card statement, then something is wrong. Stop and only proceed with caution.

Scammers and cyber criminals are becoming increasingly competent at building websites that aim to steal either your money or your personal information.  Whilst HTTPS is a good sign that the connection between you and the website is secure, it does not mean the website itself should automatically be trusted.  Before giving a website any information or donating money, verify for yourself that the site is legitimate and that you are not being taken for a ride.

Page Speed Matters

website speed matters

There is more to web design than arranging content on the page.   Unfortunately, there are many web designers (and I use that phrase loosely), that rely upon tools such as WordPress or other web-builder platforms for every site they create.  Ask them to create a site from scratch in html, CSS and JavaScript and they wouldn’t have the faintest idea where to start.

Why does this matter?

Web-builder platforms are the “Swiss army knives” of web design. They come with a multitude of features and functions; of which many are rarely, if ever, used. However, because they are in place, the browser must download the resources associated with this feature even if it doesn’t get used in a site. Additional JavaScript files, extra CSS files etc all increase the number of requests the browser has to make to the server, slows down render time and ultimately delays the point at which the user can see and interact with a website.

Even in these days of super-fast broadband (for those lucky enough to have it), 4g mobile networks, wifi hotspots in almost every cafe and coffee shop, site speed is still a vital metric for any web designer.

If your site is identical in content to another site (unlikely I know) but the other site loads more quickly, it is almost a given they will appear above you in Google search results. No one wants to wait and that includes the search engines themselves!

AliExpress reduced load times by 36%…, helping to increase orders by 10.5% and conversion rates by 27%

Sites that load quickly tend to get more traffic, retain people on the site and, as in the case of Aliexpress above, do more business.  For every additional second your site takes to load you could be losing significant numbers of potential visitors to your site.

95 out of 100 on Google page speed testFollowing some adjustments to the QD Design site, we now score 95 on the Google Developers Page Speed Checker. Whilst no doubt we could improve upon this further, it puts us in the top few % for page loading speed.

Slower sites can be attributed to poor or outdated coding, bloated or un-required files being called by the browser, unoptimised images as well as whole host of factors associated with the server. Taking advantage of server side (GZIP) compression, browser caching or setting a character set for a page can all be done via the .htaccess file that sits in the root of the web server.

This is the sort of knowledge and expertise that only a true web developer will have. If you want / crave a fast loading site, then you need to speak with someone that really knows what they are doing behind the page and not just manipulating text and pictures in a drag and drop page builder.

QD Design consistently make fast loading html based sites that help businesses reach their audience as quickly as possible.  If your site is lacking that “va va voom”, then get in touch, we can analyse what is holding it back, and help you get off the brake pedal and onto the throttle!

Business Ethics and Web Design

A question was posed on Quora recently about scams from purported “web designers”. I have always taken business ethics very seriously and recognise that my customers have a choice over whether they use me or someone else.  I felt compelled to give an answer to this question.
Whether you would call some of these true ‘scams’ or just shady practices all comes down to your level of business ethics. To me, these are all deceitful and deliberate attempts to  mislead the customer.

Offshoring the work but not telling the customer

Offshoring work but using local contact details such as a local phone number, business address to make out that the business is located close by. For a lot of business owners the fact they can pick up the phone to speak with or arrange to meet face to face the designer of their website is important. Hiding the the fact that the work is actually being done thousands of miles away in a different time zone by people who are freelancers is definitely suspect.
Business offshoringShould the business owner want to update their website, unless the freelancer has done a good job of marking up and commenting their code, who ever has the task of unpicking the existing code to make changes has a harder job on their hands.

Fake reviews and testimonials

Fake reviews and testimonials. I don’t mean ‘the friend you asked to favourably review your web design business in exchange for a few beers’, type of thing. I know of one web design agency close to me that have created an entirely fictitious person, business and backstory in order to create a review on their website. It is elaborate, detailed and a complete falsehood. If they will go to the effort of creating a fake testimonial for themselves, what else are they prepared to make up or be creative about?  I wrote in greater depth on this story in Sharp Practices by Web Designers.

Cookie Cutter Site development

 ‘Cookie cutter’ web site development. There is a marketing firm not far from me that advertise their ability to create websites for incredibly low prices. It is only when you look at the output they have created that you recognise a startling similarity between all their sites. They have used the same web-builder tool for all of them and worse than that, they have used an identical template for all sites.  Every site they produce is a clone of the last.
Web site clonesThe only differences being background colors, text, logos and any images. The layouts, menus and structure are identical. They have taken a tool the business owner could have used themselves, dropped in the content (no doubt created by the business owner) and have the cheek to call themselves ‘web designers’.

Unethical SEO Services

SEO Services. There are some genuine and professional SEO service providers out there. They seem to be outnumbered by the scammers and crooks who promise “top ranking in Google” or “first page in all search engines”. For the business owner who knows little about how the search engines work (and let’s face it, that is most business owners) but is keen for their business to grow, these sort of promises sound ideal. Of course what the SEO scammer does not say, is that the top ranking is either for the most obscure ‘long tail key word’, or achieved through dubious means. The former has no meaningful impact on the business since very few searches are made for that ‘long tail key word’ whilst the latter has a dramatic effect upon their business once the search engines punish the site for employing suspect methods to raise its ranking.

Inflating Prices

Over charging. The situation that comes to mind most readily is the web design agency that says they can handle domain registration and / or hosting. They then massively inflate the costs incurred when invoicing the customer. I’ve seen bills for hundreds of dollars for registering a domain or hosting it.web agencies that overcharge
When you investigate where it is being hosted, it is easy to see that the real price is around $60 / year. Meanwhile the customer is being charged $500. In my view this is taking advantage of the customers lack of knowledge to make a fast buck.

To me, as a web designer / web developer, integrity is everything. I need and want my customers to trust me and heed the well given advice I offer them. To be less than 100% honest at all times risks damaging that hard earned trust. I want the relationship with my customers to be a partnership that stands the test of time; treating them as idiots or ‘cash cows’ to be milked feels plain wrong.

Are you Mobile Ready?

Mobile devices are changing the way we exist. Many people would be bereft without their mobile as a source of information, entertainment and as a means of communication.

So much so that mobile access to the Internet has overtaken and now far exceeds larger devices such as laptop and desktop computers.  In a recent study commissioned by Google, 69% of smartphone users said they turned to mobile search in a moment of need.

2 years ago, Google announced they would be prioritising sites in the search results that were mobile friendly over those that were not. This continues today.  If your web site is not mobile friendly, then you are potentially needlessly giving away postions in the search results.

So how do you know if your site is mobile friendly?

Simple.  Google have produce a tool that will tell you instantly if your site is mobile compatible.

search console tool, mobile friendly
Google Search Console, mobile friendly checker

Put your website URL into the search box, click Run Test and see for yourself if Google recognises your site as mobile friendly.  If it is, then you will see a page something like the one below.  If it is not then you will get a series of warning and advice on what you need to do to make your site mobile friendly.

QD Design site successfully passing the search console mobile friendly test
This is how your site should look…

“But”, I hear you yell, “Most, if not all, of my visitors are using desktop / laptop computers, so it doesn’t matter to me, does it”.   Wrong.   Google will still penalise your site if it isn’t mobile friendly even though no mobile users currently visit it.

Can you really afford to needlessly give away search engine position because your site isn’t compatible with mobile devices?

QD Design only design fully responsive mobile friendly web sites that ensure you are not penalised by Google or the other search engines. If your web site is in need of a “tune up”, let’s talk.

WordPress – How to Change the Number of Dashboard Columns

This has been bugging me for weeks.

I tend to use a single decent sized monitor for most of my web design work.  On it, every WordPress install gives me two columns of very large dashboard blocks that makes appallingly poor use of the available space.  So much so that with a number blocks expanded to their full size, much of the information is off the bottom of the screen meaning I have to scroll down for it.  Sort of negates the idea of a ‘dashboard’ if you have to go looking for the info.

I do have one site that for some reason has three columns and it made much better use of the available space.  I wanted to recreate this on my other installs but couldn’t find out how.  I searched every control in the menu structure, looked at the code that drove the dashboard but nothing came up.  How on earth did this one site have three columns and not two?


Prior to WordPress 3.8 there was an option to choose the number of columns present in the dashboard but 3.8 saw this disappear.  Admittedly, there are plug ins that allow you to take control over the dashboard but I’ve discovered something easier, simpler and so obvious I’ve been kicking myself since I found it.

Most browsers allow you to zoom in / out.  On my personal favourite browser – Chrome (and I’m pretty sure it is the same in others too), it is CTRL + / CTRL –
Well, if you zoom out to 90%, such a small change in font size you will barely notice it, it gives just enough room to fit three columns across the dashboard. Voila, everything in view, all at the same time and no need to scroll.

Give it a try. If you have a reasonable amount of space on screen when working on a WordPress site, why not make the best use of it.

What Facebook Knows About You

The recent BBC Panorama programme on “What Facebook Knows About You” seems to have taken many people by surprise.  If you are active on Facebook and the Web, you are leaving a ‘digital breadcrumb’ trail behind you.  Every ‘like’ you make, every post you share, every place you check into in Facebook, all gets logged and used to create a profile about you.  This profile is used to serve up adverts to your Facebook page that best fit your interests and lifestyle.   This is the price we pay to use this “free” service.

Many of the people featured in the programme last night were surprised at what Facebook knew about them and what Facebook perceived as their interests, hobbies and preferences.

You can easily see what Facebook knows about you.  And, if it is not to your liking, make some changes to it.  Here’s how…..

1. Assuming you are on a computer rather than mobile device, in Facebook go to the little down arrow on the far right of the blue bar at the top of the screen (next to the question mark that goes to the help info).  On a mobile go to the three horizontal lines and scroll down to Adverts.

How to find out what information Facebook holds on you

2. Choose settings from the drop down list

3. From the list on the left hand side, choose Adverts. You might also want to try the Download a copy of your Information though this can be pretty vast if you are a prolific poster. This gives you a zip file on your computer of everything you have ever posted on Facebook (text, images, videos) as well as any events you have attended or shown an interest in.

4. From the Adverts link you will see the following. Each of the rows – Your Interests, Adverts You Have Interacted With can be expanded to show more information. This is what Facebook uses to build your profile. Most of it shouldn’t be a surprise as it is you that caused it to be logged.

However there may be the odd anomaly that you can’t explain. No, I’ve no idea why I ‘Entre Rios Province’ is listed as a place I am interested in either!

5. Every one of these snippets of information can be edited and removed. The X button will remove it from your list of places, list of hobbies, list of advertisers with who you have interacted.

One important point to note is that you are never going to get rid of Facebook Ads entirely. That is what keeps it free to use.

Advert settings in Facebook

However, using these tools you can fine tune the ads you see so that embarrassing one for ‘ointment’ doesn’t appear.  If you turn off the Interest Based Adverts feature completely, then you will see any old advert that Facebook deems to put in front of you.  Leaving it on means there is a chance the Ads you see ‘might’ be relevant to you.

If you don’t like what Facebook knows about you, then the choice is simple. Delete your Facebook account, stop using the web on any device, sell your house, buy a tent, move to the woods and hide. OK, this last advice is purely tongue in cheek, you don’t necessarily need to buy a tent, you might be lucky and find a cave to sleep in!

Seriously, should you worry about the information Facebook knows about you?   Probably not.  Between Facebook, Google, your Internet Service Provider and your mobile provider, there is little these people don’t know about you.  Add in your local supermarket where you use a loyalty card, other websites where you check in or use a service e.g. your fitness tracker, and almost your entire waking day is logged or mapped.  If you are doing nothing you are ashamed of or nothing that you shouldn’t be doing, then you have little to worry about!

How long to set up a shop and sell online?

How long does it take to set up a shop and sell online?

I’ve been asked this question several times in the last week.  When you turn it around and ask the questioner how long they reckon it will take, the answer is usually several hours, if not days.

What if it took less than 30 minutes to set up your own shop and begin selling on line, wouldn’t you do it?  Of course you would!

You design handmade jewelry, knit incredible garments, print custom T shirts or make amazing items of artwork and sell them to friends / family and through local independent shops.

No doubt your customers are delighted with your products and tell all their friends about you. But you are still only tapping into the tiniest proportion of your available market. Unless someone happens to know you / one of your friends or be in that independent shop, they have no chance of knowing about your product and thus making a purchase.

The answer (of course), is to sell online.  However, several conversations in just the last week show that for many people the idea of setting up their own shop is a daunting one, and one they expect to be complex and problematical.

Let me let you into a secret. It isn’t! You could easily have a shop of your own up and running in around 30 minutes.    Here’s how.

1. Assuming you have a website running WordPress, install the WooCommerce plug in. WooCommerce is part of the organisation that builds WordPress itself and it is the biggest (by a long way) e-commerce platform on WordPress.   Not got a WordPress website – no problem. Just about every server can handle WordPress*, it is easy to set up a simple WordPress site, styled to look like your current website and put links to it from the relevant places in your main site.

2. Configure WooCommerce – set up your location, currency, whether it is a physical or downloadable product (e.g. an e book), customise any email confirmations you want the system to send.

3. Download the Payment Gateway plug in of your choice (PayPal, Stripe, Amazon Pay, WorldPay etc) and configure your account.

4. Connect WooCommerce to your chosen payment gateway and link using the provided API key.

5. Create a product to sell in WooCommerce. Ideally with a product description, images, size / colour options etc.

6. Begin selling!

It is as simple as that.  In 30 minutes or so, your reach will have gone from local to potentially global.  What’s stopping you?   You have a great product, why not sell it as widely as possible!

At QD Design we can assist you through the process. From simple advice and guidance, to setting up the WooCommerce platform and Payment Gateway or even building the complete WordPress site to contain it all.

We eat, sleep and breath the web and want to help businesses make the most out of it. Call us for a chat or drop us an email and we will get back to you.


*If your server really can’t support WordPress, we need to talk, urgently!  You are being hosted on a device that may well be compromising your websites speed and thus your position in Google search results (Google hates slow sites and penalises them over faster ones).