Don't Let Email Drop Your Box

These days, you have to carefully watch your email as well as just read it. Email can easily be used to stealthily install what is known as spyware on your computer or smart phone. The term ‘spyware’ is a portmanteau of spying and software, and is also commonly known as keylogging software, named after the first spyware that only logged what a computer user typed. Today’s keyloggers can monitor anything a user does on a computer, and via the computer’s webcam and microphone, even what they do when not on the computer. When your email is not carefully monitored, there are several ways it can be used to install spyware on your computer when you think you are only reading an email. Luckily, these days, most of the software or web sites we use for email do a lot of security checking on emails for us.

Probably the most common way people get their computers infected via email is by downloading and opening a file attachment in a mail from someone they don’t know, or one that looks like it’s from someone they do know. It is too often that people checking their email just quickly look at the subject, or display name, and think it’s a mail from a friend or colleague instead of being careful before opening it. Once you download and open a file you know nothing about, computer security goes out the window. Even opening non-executable files, i.e. those that are not programs, for example image files you think are photos a friend has sent you, can result in hidden software running and infecting your PC with spyware or a keylogger.

The popular online file storage and sharing service DropBox is also a very popular channel for the clandestine installation of keyloggers on remote computers, where remote in this context means your computer, which is remote from the person spying on you. The first two pages of Google hits for the search term “keylogger dropbox” revealed five detailed sets of instructions on how to use DropBox to spy on someone, e.g. the first hit on the first page was for an article on a hacking site titled Hack Like a Pro: How to Remotely Install a Keylogger onto Your Girlfriend’s Computer. Spying on one’s girlfriend or boyfriend is most likely one of the most popular reasons for people using spyware.

A computer can be easily set up to automatically synchronise files stored on it with the user’s DropBox account, so that whenever a file changes, appears, or disappears on the computer, the same happens on DropBox, and vice versa. Many people use DropBox to keep files synchronised between one or more of their computers, such as home and office machines, and a compromise in security on one machine can quickly spell disaster for all the synchronised machines. The negligence and ignorance of so many users regarding computer security makes these types of attacks very common and easy to perform for people with even minimal technical know-how.