Living in a parallel steampunk world of mechanical computers and a global communication system that looks awfully similar to Terry Pratchett's Clacks, this secret super heroine to the non-profit and small to mid-size business provides affordable custom websites demonstrating my super web powers both backend and frontend along with email marketing, security, analytics, support and seo. Well, not so secret anymore. Whups.

RansomWare Strikes Again: CryptoLocker


That nasty thing above is the screen for a new, on the rise RansomWare called CryptoLocker.  We’ve discussed RansomWare before in a previous couple of posts here and here.   As a review of what this malware does – it locks your computer and then holds it for – yep, you guessed it – a ransom fee.  Hence the name.

However with this particular RansomWare it encrypts all your files and then offers, as above in the screen shot, a way to decrypt them –  for a price – anywhere from $100 – $700 or in some cases, 2 Bitcoins – 10 Bitcoins ( $450 – $2100).   In fact, with this new attack, they offer a “Decryption Service” that allows victims to purchase a “decryption key”.  Of course, that’s the last thing you want to do.  Bottom line: your files get encrypted and you may lose them forever and ever.  Amen.  …unless you have the decryption key.

How do you get infected?

CryptoWare is spread through email attachments and it ihas been noted that the hackers are targeting companies through phishing attacks.

What kind of files are  being targeted on an infected computer?

The file extensions, according to MalwareBytes, are listed below:

3fr, accdb, ai, arw, bay, cdr, cer, cr2, crt, crw, dbf, dcr, der, dng, doc, docm, docx, dwg, dxf, dxg, eps, erf, indd, jpe, jpg, kdc, mdb, mdf, mef, mrw, nef, nrw, odb, odm, odp, ods, odt, orf, p12, p7b, p7c, pdd, pef, pem, pfx, ppt, pptm, pptx, psd, pst, ptx, r3d, raf, raw, rtf, rw2, rwl, srf, srw, wb2, wpd, wps, xlk, xls, xlsb, xlsm, xlsx

How far has this malware spread?

According to The Hacker News, “…64% of its victims are from the US.”   It targets Windows systems.


Regretfully, there is no specific tool known to be able to decrypt and restore asymmetrically encrypted files except a private key.  MalwareBytes will detect CryptoLocker as “Trojan.Ransom” but it also cannot restore your encysted files.  Your best defense is to back up your files frequently.  And since this malware can cross through external drives such as USB and mapped drives, don’t leave X-drives mounted.   Keep your anti-virus up to date and work at using file sharing services rather than relying on email attachments.

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SOS SEO Tips: Searcher Intent and Relevant Key Phrases vs Key Word Searches.

SEOMost people understand about keywords when it comes to meeting the basic requirements of search engine optimization.  If you are selling ice cream, then you’re going to have the words “ice cream”  in your meta tags. But search engines look for more than just single keywords these days.


Because their algorithms are much more complex than when search engines started and that’s because the way people search for what they want is more complex, too.   It has to do with the Searcher’s intent.

Searcher Intent

Breaking it down, there are 3 basic ways that people search:

  • Navigation: The searcher is going for a specific site he or she knows they want to visit.  The means?  The site’s search box or the browser Address bar.  Doe s it make a difference which they use as to site rankings?  Definitely.  Its your site search box competing against the address bar of the browser .  Which does the site user trust to find them what they want?
  • Information: The searcher wants to know how to do something, or where to find some ice cream in the city.  They are searching about some idea or more information about a category of products.  A good example is “Where is the best ice cream in my city?”
  • Transactions: This is very straightforward.  The searcher wants to sign up for something, like email.  Or purchase a product from an online store. Or perhaps download a coupon file.

Key Phrases: Relevance and Authority

Since its much more costly to compete with the big search engines on navigation searches, its best for smaller businesses and organizations to focus on information and transaction searches.  How do you do that?

Let’s say your site sells ice cream ( I like to stick with what I know, er, like a lot).  You may side specialize in selling dietetic ice cream so you might want to rank your site for “diet foods”.  Diet foods is a big market and getting even a small percentage of those  searches would mean a chance of converting at least some to sales, right?  But here’s where the relevance factor comes in because that is how you will be ranked by the search engines.  The question to ask yourself is this: Is my eCommerce ice cream site really relevant for “diet foods”?   No, its relevant for ice cream – that’s how the search engine will look at it.  So,  unless you plan on building up a lot of content and promoting your site as an authority on ice cream as a diet food, there’s a better and less costlier way.  Using a relevant key phrase like “best tasting diet ice cream”  will gain you more searches in your niche, especially adding the city.

It’s a good idea though to work on a plan to promote your business as the authority in its niche and do so in a relevant way.  You do this by listening to your customers: what they do like and what they don’t.   In the “old days” it was more about link-building.  Now its all about the content on your site.  So make your content relevant to your customers and be determined to be the authority in your niche.

Now, I wonder if my favorite ice cream site will show me how to build the best tasting diet banana split?  I think I’ll do a search…


Image Source: Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream

Want to know more about how Switched-On-Sites can help you with your SEO?

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Will Linkedin Finally Challenge University ePortfolios For Students?


I’ve decided to focus on a little Back-To-School social media with this post of the SOS blog.   So this is for all you parents and students out there.

As of September 12, Linkedin has just updated their TOS (Terms of Service) with what appears to be  an interesting challenge to the lifetime aspect of the university ePortfolio site.  Their new User Agreement now states the following:

We are updating our User Agreement to make LinkedIn available to students 13 years and older, depending on country. Smart, ambitious students are already thinking about their futures when they step foot into high school – where they want to go to college, what they want to study, where they want to live and work. We want to encourage these students to leverage the insights and connections of the millions of successful professionals on LinkedIn, so they can make the most informed decisions and start their careers off right. (Eric Heath, LinkedIn Blog)

They are calling this new feature University Pages.  And promising:

… we are providing a new way for schools, students, and alumni to connect, communicate, and explore unique insights about the full range of career possibilities – wherever your educational starting point may be.

Basically, students can check schools out on Linkedin using University Pages and start their networking with University representatives and future classmates before they even meet them face to face.  Below is a sample page:


So while University Pages is not ePortfolio replacement,  it is a big inducement for students to further focus on developing their Linkedin accounts in connection with the networking advantage of University Pages.  What seems to be the unique challenge now to universities espousing ePortfolios is  that Linkedin  has beat them to the punch on a unified global system for pre-university students that actually has the capability to do what ePortfolios have been promising: to allow a student a way to collect and house a student’s artifacts that will  follow them throughout their scholastic career and into the job market for a lifetime.  Its likely that Linkedin won’t stop with the current interface features that highlight work artifacts  and could easily expand its capabilities to support students.

Linkedin has also implemented some extra security and privacy features to protect user that are under the age of 18:

  • Minors will have different default settings to protect certain sections from public view
  • Minors will have select service for trouble tickets
  • Minors will have easy access to LinkedIN’s Safety Center and Family Center support

If you are a student or a parent with a student in school, University Pages are  definitely worth a looksee as Linkedin is here to stay for awhile.  As of June 2013,  Linkedin reports more than 225 million acquired users according to Wikipedia.

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SECURITY ALERT: RansomWare Disguised As False DHS Warning


This is a special notice from CERT that we have just been made aware of: Ransomware is back but under the guise of a false warning from the Department of Homeland Security.   For a review of what Ransomware is and how it works, you might want to read our past post on this malware.

So how does this new Ransomware work?

Users who are being targeted by the ransomware receive a message claiming that use of their computer has been suspended and that the user must pay a fine to unblock it. One iteration of this malware also takes a webcam (if available) photo or video of a recipient and posts it in a pop-up to add to the appearance of legitimacy. The ransomware falsely claims to be from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Cyber Security Division. – CERT

Reports of this particular nastiness are said to be occurring in the wild which means that this is  a malware that has been reported by at least two verifiable occurrences along with a sample submitted by Wildlist reporters (those with expertise in the field).


  • Don’t pay the ransom
  • Notify the FBI – Internet Crime Complaint Center
  • If infected by this Ransomware,
    • Contact a skilled professional OR
    • Reformat your Hard Drive and then  perform a clean reinstall of your OS.
  • Change ALL passwords after safely removing the malware from your system to STRONG PASSWORDS.  If its easy for you to remember, its easy for it to be hacked – socially or using hacking software.

Prevention Tips:

  • Don’t click on unsolicited links in email messages.
  • Reduce reliance on Email Attachments.  Instead use Google Drive inside a protected intranet and maintain strong password usage.
  • Maintain updated antivirus and malware software.  Scan frequently.
  • Don’t pass along email chain letters. Delete them
  • Log out of all instances online.
  • Review this CERT document on recognizing Email Scams
  • Review this CERT document on Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks.  We’ve covered this information in past posts but its always good to go over it again.

You really don’t want this on your computer.  So be safe and obey the rules of the road on this one.

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MelanieSECURITY ALERT: RansomWare Disguised As False DHS Warning
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SOS SEO Tips: Let Your Images Support The Search

SEODid you know there is way you can help your web site SEO with your images?

One of the places people forget that they can mention a keyword is by naming their images with that keyword.  By doing so, you help your keyword ranking along with your title and meta tags.

So the next time you are tempted to upload an image and use the default name, or even worse, leaving it as a default number identifier (some cameras do this to photos), think about renaming that image to something that will help your web site ranking.

Oh, and don’t forget to use that keyword again, in your alt tag on the image!

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Safety At the Wi

WifiSOSNo, this isn’t about pool safety at the YMCA, this is about making sure you have a secure connection on an insecure connection, namely every time you connect to the Internet at a public wi-fi spot.

Wifi is a public network and any data transfer passing through can be intercepted, monitored or recorded by any number of interested parties with the right software and know how.  That means if you try to access your bank online or make a purchase or login to a web application while on a public wifi network your banking details, credit card numbers, passwords, and other sensitive data can be stolen.   So what can you do to protect yourself?

By now you may have heard the term VPN. What is it exactly?  Its an acronym that stands for Virtual Private Network, a secure , encrypted “tunnel”, if you will, through which all your online data can pass safely.  It works for any application that requires an Internet connection: be it a web browser, email client, or an IM client (chat).

Searching Google  will turn up a number of free VPN’s you can use, one  such is proXPN*, but take note, they don’t all provide the same level of protection.  If you want to be sure that you are getting as much protection as you can get, you might want to think about making the monthly investment.

* Switched-On-Sites does not necessarily endorse this service.  

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MS Updates, DDoS, and the Need for Threat-Centric Security


If you have read anything in the media about security on the Internet you know that attacks on the web and on web sites are increasing.   In this month’s discussion, we’ll talk about the new Microsoft Updates rolling out today,  the current news on DDoS attack increases across the web, and finally the need for threat-centric security for your website.

Microsoft Updates For Multiple Vulnerabilities

There are a number of MS products that have been discovered to have vulnerabilities among them are:

  • Microsoft Windows,
  • Internet Explorer
  • Microsoft .NET Framework
  • Microsoft Lync
  • Microsoft Office
  • Microsoft Windows Essential

All of these products have had flaws privately discovered (as Microsoft stated in their recent bulletin) that allow:

A remote, unauthenticated attacker could execute arbitrary code, cause a denial of service, or gain unauthorized access to your files or system.

Breaking this down, it means the Windows flaw could allow a Denial of Service (DoS) attack,  the Microsoft .NET Framework (off which several programs run) could allow spoofing through a “specially crafted XML file” that can let an attacker gain the rights of an authenticated user to access functions on your computer.  Lync, Publisher and Word all have flaws that could allow remote code execution.  Both Microsoft Visio and Windows Essential have flaws that expose potential information exposure to an attacker.  Internet Explorer has flaws that could allow a user to gain the user rights of the current user and this is especially a vulnerability for those who operate their systems solely through the administrative user.


If you haven’t already, enable Windows Automatic Updates.  Here’s how

DDoS and DoS (Denial of Service) Attacks

We won’t dwell too much on this one except to say that it is one of the least sophisticated ways of attacking a network or a website …but its one of the most effective at bringing both down.  They have increased in frequency and severity over the last few months and industry predictions are that this trend is expected to continue.  So what can you do to protect yourself?


Make sure your web  designer/developer or server admin has set you up with a security layer to slow down attacks and isolate and block attackers.   Give me a call at Switched-On-Sites (use our free call widget)  to discuss how I can implement this to protect your site.

Threat-Centric Security For Your Web Site

What’s the advantage of having a threat-centric security package for your web site?  With the increased capabilities of hackers to attack multiple  end points on the web, your site is always at risk.  What does it mean to have a threat-centric web designer/developer?  It means your web designer/developer has developed a proactive plan for continuously monitoring and detecting threats against your web site.  It means they know how to respond to these threats and block them.  It means that your web site getting breached isn’t the issue so much as how they respond when the breach happens.   Give me a call at Switched-On-Sites to discuss how a Threat-Centric Security Package can protect your site.

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MelanieMS Updates, DDoS, and the Need for Threat-Centric Security
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Facebook Click-jacking: Look Before You Click!

FacebookWe’ve discussed a number of ways that you can be hacked on Facebook in a previous post. There’s a another way called click-jacking that’s making the rounds on Facebook and we’re going to focus on that today.

How and where is it happening?

Usually, this sort of click-jacking scenario happens via a wall post on Facebook.  And the hacker’s intent is to get you to click on a fraudulent comment that looks like it will lead you to a legitimate Facebook post/page but then redirects you to a fraud page where you will be tempted to give up some sensitive information about yourself, ie, login credentials, credit card information, etc.   The hackers can have dummy accounts that link to malicious blog posts.

What kinds of disguised content should you be on the look out for?

  • Posts disguised to look like breaking news or latest news
  • Posts disguised as a chance to see exclusive clips or photos
  • Posts disguised as promotionals for products  or contests

How can you avoid this threat?

Keep in mind that everything that shows up in your news-feed is NOT benign.  This is where you will most likely see these types of malicious posts.  Be wary of clicking on links that just “show up” as a recommended page.  These could be originating through dummy accounts.  Avoid clicking on links in comments unless you know and trust the person making the comment.

Make sure that you monitor your social media contacts and be prudent about restricting them to people you know.  Facebook allows you to control to a certain extent what shows up in your feed.  Restricting it to close (trusted) friends can help avoid some of the exposure.

Make sure you access Facebook with an https:// protocal.  And think seriously about using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to browse your social media sites.

If you want to be aware of the latest world news, updates and entertainment news, bookmark legitimate sites and instead of relying solely on clicking social media links for news.  Subscribe to their site updates at the source.  Use social media to signal to you that there maybe news you need to check at the trusted source.   Use caution about clicking on social media links that are from new pages or unknown content posters.

As a last resort, you may decide to make your Facebook profile private, thus restricting the flow of information you may get.

All of the above suggestions have their upsides and downsides and you will need to decide what works best for you.  Use social media with some reasonable caution and always look before you click!

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Tragedies and Malicious Actors: Investigate Before You Send Your Credit Card


Several tragedies of recent have provided opportunities for people to reach out and give to help those affected.  Giving online has become easier because of technology and  its also becoming the means of choice.  Unfortunately, this also affords those who have a bad purpose to take advantage of tragic circumstances with scams.  According to a recent release from National Cyber Awareness System, there are already some who are trying to take advantage of the Boston Marathon tragedy and those who are willing to contribute.   How can they do this?  By registering fake domain names and fake social media accounts.  The US-CERT had this to say:

For example, Twitter account
@_BostonMarathon was created shortly after the explosions took place.
The account stated it would donate $1 for each retweet, and was crafted
to closely resemble the legitimate Boston Marathon Twitter account
(@BostonMarathon). This account has since been suspended by Twitter;
however, the likelihood that similar social media accounts will surface
remains high.

US-CERT recommends that you look to official charities if you wish to donate money to support those affected by tragedies, especially those that have recently happened, such as the Boston Marathon bombing,  the West, Texas Fertilizer plant explosion and the Beaumont, Texas Oil Refinery fire.

Use caution when clicking links or interacting with social media accounts that claim to be representing a charity for a recent tragedy or need.   Do your homework.  Check out legitimate news agencies for verification or trusted  local organizations and churches.

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Google + for Business + Your Business


Recently I had a client ask how Google+ works.  Its true.  More people are looking at the advantages of Google+ in addition to Facebook.  And the great thing about setting up  a Google+ business page  is that it is very similar to the way you set up a Facebook page but the audience you get is as loyal to Google+ as Facebook fans are to Facebook.  So as a business owner, you’ll want to take advantage of that.

Getting started is a bit different with Google+  because everything revolves around Gmail, of course.   So step one…

1) Set up a business gmail account

Yes, you may already have a personal gmail account, but I would encourage you to start new with an email focused on your business brand.  This makes it easier to keep things tidy from your personal Google+ profile.  So go to Google Accounts and create your business brand account.  Don’t forget to import your contacts into this new account.  Since Google+ uses “Circles”  rather than friends like on Facebook, when you start to promote your page, you’ll want to have some people  all ready to share with in your Circles.

2) Create your business page

Once your business gmail is created, its time to head to the Google+ Create Google+ Page and follow the page creation wizard.   First, Pick a Category.


Second,  you’ll want to add your information.


3) Brand your business page

The third step in the wizard allows you to customize your profile with your brand picture and tag line.

4) Promote your business page

Now its time to tell your circles.  This is where Google+ allows you to post to the people in your circles about your new page.  The more Google contacts you have the easier this will be to get started on.  The more  you post and the more people see your posts, they’ll have the opportunity to add you to their circles.

That’s all there is to it!  Well, at least to setting up your page.  We’ll talk more about posting to support your business goals and increase your traffic in a future post.

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MelanieGoogle + for Business + Your Business
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