What’s the Deal with AMBER and Other Emergency Alerts on Your iPhone?

Have you ever gotten an emergency alert on your iPhone, telling you about an abducted child or public safety emergency? That’s the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system, at least in the United States, although some other countries have similar systems.

The WEA system enables authorized national, state, and local government authorities to send alerts about public safety emergencies to mobile devices in the affected area. Also included in the WEA system are AMBER Alerts designed to solicit public information when law enforcement is searching for a missing child. Some US states also broadcast Silver Alerts about missing adults, particularly senior citizens with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other mental disabilities. The alerts are always meant to be useful, either to you or to law enforcement working on a case.

Unfortunately, the alerts aren’t always helpful or well targeted. Worse, they break through the Do Not Disturb cone of silence, and there’s no way to change their tones. You might not appreciate being woken up at 2 AM to be told to look for a white Ford that’s potentially associated with a missing child. Plus, although the AMBER Alerts are generally popular with the public, research suggests that they’re largely ineffective.

More concerningly, the loud noise that accompanies the alerts can be dangerous, either to your hearing if you’re wearing earbuds when the alert comes through, or to your life if you overreact while driving.

In iOS 12 in the US, you’ll see three categories of government alerts at the bottom of Settings > Notifications: AMBER Alerts, Emergency Alerts, and Public Safety Alerts.

In most countries, Apple lets you turn off all three categories, but you could still receive so-called “Presidential Alerts,” which are meant to reach everyone in the country during a national emergency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages the WEA system, tested the Presidential Alert system for the first time in October 2018.

What should you do? It’s entirely up to you, of course, but in most situations, it’s probably best to leave all three alert types enabled. If you find yourself being annoyed by repeated AMBER Alerts or Silver Alerts, particularly if you’re unlikely to be in a location where you could be helpful, you might want to toggle the AMBER Alerts switch off. But the Emergency and Public Safety alerts could be essential, especially if you’re in an area prone to hurricanes or tornadoes.

If you’ve already disabled the alerts because of poor targeting—being notified of something of concern only to people hundreds of miles away is just an interruption—you might consider turning them back on later this year, since the FCC requires carriers to improve the geo-targeting starting November 30th, 2019.

Look before You Click with Safari’s Link Preview

When you follow a link in Safari, you generally don’t know where you’re going to end up. That’s fine most of the time, but what if you’re concerned that a site might be trying to trick you into going somewhere malicious? Safari provides an easy way to look at the URL under a link. On the Mac, choose View > Show Status Bar, hover your pointer over the link, and look at the bottom of the window. In iOS, touch and hold a link (don’t press for 3D Touch) until a popover appears, showing the link and giving you options for opening it. The most important thing to look at is the domain—us.norton.com in the screenshots. It should match where you think you’re going, or at least look reasonable. If the URL is dubious, don’t follow the link.

Gone Phishing: Five Signs That Identify Scam Email Messages

A significant danger to businesses today is phishing—the act of forging email to fool someone into revealing login credentials, credit card numbers, or other sensitive information. Of course, phishing is a problem for individuals too, but attackers more frequently target businesses for the same reason as bank robber Willie Sutton’s apocryphal quote about why he robbed banks: “Because that’s where the money is.”

The other reason that businesses are hit more often is that they have multiple points of entry—an attacker doesn’t need to go after a technically savvy CEO when they can get in by fooling a low-level employee in accounting. So company-wide training in identifying phishing attempts is absolutely essential.

Here are some tips you can share about how to identify fraudulent email messages. If you’d like us to put together a comprehensive training plan for your company’s employees, get in touch.

Beware of email asking you to reveal information, click a link, or sign a document

The number one thing to watch out for is any email that asks you to do something that could reveal personal information, expose your login credentials, get you to sign a document online, or open an attachment that could install malware. Anytime you receive such a message out of the blue, get suspicious.

If you think the message might be legitimate, confirm the request “out of band,” which means using another form of communication. For instance, if an email message asks you to log in to your bank account “for verification,” call the bank using a phone number you get from its Web site, not one that’s in the email message, and ask to speak to an account manager or someone in security.

Beware of email from a sender you’ve never heard of before

This is the email equivalent of “stranger danger.” If you don’t know the sender of an email that’s asking you do something out of the ordinary, treat it with suspicion (and don’t do whatever it’s asking!). Of course, that doesn’t mean you should be entirely paranoid—business involves contact with unknown people who might become customers or partners, after all—but people who are new to you shouldn’t be asking for anything unusual.

Beware of email from large companies for whom you’re an anonymous customer

Attackers often forge email so it appears to come from a big company like Apple, Google, or PayPal. These companies are fully aware of the problem, and they never send email asking you to log in to your account, update your credit card information, or the like. (If a company did need you to do something along these lines, it would provide manual instructions so you could be sure you weren’t working on a forged Web site designed to steal your password.)

Since sample email from large companies is easy to come by, these phishing attacks can look a lot like legitimate email. Aside from the unusual call to action, though, they often aren’t quite right. If something seems off in an email from a big company, it probably is.

Beware of email from a trusted source that asks for sensitive information

The most dangerous form of this sort of attack is spear phishing, where an attacker targets you personally. A spear phishing attack involves email forged to look like it’s from a trusted source—your boss, a co-worker, your bank, or a big customer. (The attacker might even have taken over the sender’s account.) The email then requests that you do something that reveals sensitive information or worse. In one famous spear-phishing incident, employees of networking firm Ubiquiti Networks were fooled into wiring $46.7 million to accounts controlled by the attackers.

Beware of email that has numerous spelling and grammar mistakes

Many phishing attacks come from overseas, and attackers from other countries seldom write English correctly. So no matter who a message purports to come from, or what it’s asking you to do, if its spelling, grammar, and capitalization are atrocious, it’s probably fraudulent. (This is yet another reason why it’s important to write carefully when sending important email—if you’re sloppy, the recipient might think the message is fake.)

One of the best ways to train employees about the dangers of phishing is with security awareness testing, which involves sending your own phishing messages to employees and seeing who, if anyone, falls for it. Again, if you need help doing this, let us know.

Ignore Unsolicited Calls and Texts from Apple and Other Tech Companies

We don’t want to belabor the point, but multinational tech companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google will never call or text you personally out of the blue. So if you get a call or text purporting to be from such a company, it’s 99.9% likely to be a scam, and you should ignore it regardless of whether the caller ID seems legitimate. If you’re still worried, look up the company’s tech support phone number separately—never respond directly to such a call or tap a link in a text—and discuss the situation with the support reps. Or contact us, and we’ll talk it through with you.

The Easiest Way to Give Someone Your Wi-Fi Network Password

Here is the easiest way to give someone your Wi-Fi network password. You know the drill—a friend comes to visit and wants to get on your Wi-Fi network. You’ve written the password down somewhere, but where? Even if you have it handy, it’s a pain for your friend to type in. Since macOS 10.13 High Sierra and iOS 11, Apple’s operating systems can make connecting a lot easier. Have your guest choose your network, and then put their device next to one of your devices that’s awake and connected to the Wi-Fi network. As long as you have a card in your Contacts app whose name matches your friend’s My Card in their Contacts, your device should ask if you want to share the Wi-Fi password with them. Just tap Share Password when prompted and you’re done!

What To Do if You Get Blackmail Spam Containing an Old Password

Have you gotten an email message whose Subject line says something like “Change your password immediately! Your account has been hacked.”? If not, it may be only a matter of time before you do. It’s a scary message, especially because it contains one of your passwords, some threats, and a demand for money. Worse, the password is likely one you’ve used in the past—how could the hacker have discovered it? Has your Mac really been taken over?

Relax. There’s nothing to worry about.

This “blackmail spam” has been making the rounds on the Internet recently—we’ve heard from several clients who have received it, and we’ve gotten copies too. The message purports to be from a hacker who has taken over your Mac and installed spyware that has recorded you visiting Web sites that aren’t exactly G-rated. The hacker also claims to have used your Mac’s camera to photograph you while you’re browsing said non-G-rated sites and threatens to share those pictures with your contacts and erase your drive unless you pay a ransom using Bitcoin.

This blackmail spam has raised so many pulses because it backs up its claims by showing a password that you’ve used in the past. Hopefully, it’s not one that you’re still using, because it was extracted from one of the hundreds of password breaches that have occurred over the past decade. Impacted Web sites include big names such as Yahoo, LinkedIn, Adobe, Dropbox, Disqus, and Tumblr—thieves have collectively stolen over 5.5 billion accounts. It’s all too likely that some old password of yours was caught up in one of those thefts.

Concerning as the message sounds, all the details other than your email address and password are completely fabricated. Your Mac has not been hacked. There is no malware spying on your every move. No pictures of you have been uploaded to a remote server. Your hard drive will not be erased. In short, you have nothing to worry about, and you should just mark the message as spam.

However, if you’re still using the password that appeared in the message, that is cause for concern. It means that any automated hacking software could break into the associated account, and it must be a weak password if the bad guys were able to decrypt it from the stolen password files. Go to Have I Been Pwned and search for your email address. If it shows up for any breaches, make sure you’ve changed your password for those accounts.

As always, we recommend that you create a strong, unique password for each of your Web accounts. The easiest way to do this is to rely on a password manager like 1Password or LastPass to generate a random password. Then, when you want to go back to that site, the password manager can log you in automatically. It’s easier and more secure.

If you’re still concerned about your passwords, call us and we can help you get started with stronger security practices.