Friday, June 30, 2017

Financial Self Defense

What You Need To Know About The Petya Attack

A massive cyberattack swept through Europe this week, throwing hundreds of businesses into chaos and confusion. The attack originated in Kiev, Ukraine, and quickly spread to the Middle East and the United States, affecting many types of businesses, hospitals and financial institutions. Ukraine was hit the hardest, with systems compromised at its central bank, municipal metro, in Kiev's Boryspil Airport and at the Ukrenergo electricity supplier.

The damage the virus caused was widespread and severe. Maersk, the huge Danish shipping company, has reported systems down across multiple sites. The virus reached servers for Rosneft, the Russian oil company. Closer to home, the New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company Merck has reported substantial damage caused by Petya.

Here's what you need to know about Petya and how to protect yourself from future ransomware attacks:

1.) What is Petya?
Petya is a strain of ransomware. Like its predecessors, Petya encrypts the victim's computer, rendering it unusable unless the victim pays a ransom. Petya demands that $300 be paid to a static Bitcoin address, and that a Bitcoin wallet and installation key be emailed to a Posteo email address.

Sound familiar? It should. This virus comes hot on the heels of last month's WannaCry attack, which hit more than 150 countries across the globe.
In fact, the two attacks are eerily similar. A quick analysis of the virus by two separate firms confirmed that the new ransomware uses the same EternalBlue exploit harnessed by WannaCry. The exploit targets Windows' SMB file-sharing system, and was allegedly developed by the NSA and later shared by the Shadow Brokers hacking group. Microsoft has since patched this weakness, but many computers remain vulnerable.

Early reports identified the virus as a variant of the Petya ransomware, although the company later clarified that the virus is a new strain of ransomware, which it named "NotPetya." Later, the virus was officially dubbed "GoldenEye," and has since been interchangeably referred to as "Petya" and "GoldenEye."
Unfortunately, you don't need to be personally breached to be infected. You can be a responsible user, with updated security systems, and still be tricked into downloading malware through emails or even a shared Word document.

Though WannaCry affected hundreds of thousands of computers, it is amateurish when compared to GoldenEye. The newer ransomware not only encrypts crucial files, it ruins the victim's entire hard drive.

2.) Should I pay the ransom?
If your computer has been infected by GoldenEye, do not pay the requested ransom. As always, the demand for payment is merely a ploy to milk you for money. The attackers do not seem to have any intention - or any capability - of restoring an encrypted computer to its original state. If you pay the ransom, you won't see your money, or your files, again. To make it even worse, you will mark yourself as an easy target for future attacks.

3.) Who is behind Petya?

The origins of the attack are still unclear, but the involvement of Ukraine's electric utilities, and the fact that approximately 60% of Petya's damage was concentrated in Kiev, casts heavy suspicion on Russia.
The bigger question, though, is why the attack was carried out. Usually, ransomware has one objective: to make big bucks for the cybercrooks behind the attack. The creators of Petya, though, do not seem intent on raking in the dough. The virus has proven to be incapable of decrypting infected machines, discouraging ransom payouts. Also, Petya has an outrageously complex payment system, based on a single email address, which was shut down almost immediately after the virus went public. At last count, the Bitcoin wallet associated with the attack had netted only $10,000 - a woefully meager payout by ransomware standards.

This begs the uncomfortable question: What if money wasn't the point? What if the attackers just had a political agenda? As of now, there are no answers, only questions.

4.) Is there a fix?
Unfortunately, at this time, there is no complete fix for the ransomware. There is a way to block GoldenEye, but it won't shut down every infection. Experts have determined that it is impossible to find a killswitch for Petya, like there was for WannaCry.

5.) How can I protect myself from future attacks?
Perhaps the most disturbing factor in this attack is its resemblance to WannaCry - and the reality that the two attacks struck just weeks apart.

WannaCry should have been sufficient motivation for people to strengthen their computers' protection. Unfortunately, though, it appears that most people read about the attack and went on with their lives.
In the wake of the WannaCry panic, Microsoft released special patches to protect outdated computers from the NSA exploits. And yet, according to Avast, an antivirus company, 38 million PCs scanned last week still had not patched their systems.

Don't be the next victim!
Protect your computer by updating your security systems to the latest versions.

Remember: If you use an older OS, you are more vulnerable to attacks; be sure to use the Microsoft patch to keep your computer safe.
Also, make sure your antivirus software is updated regularly; many antivirus companies have also released patches to block Petya and this latest version of the virus.

Finally, use caution. Back up your computer on an external hard drive regularly. Be wary about opening unfamiliar emails and never download anything you can't explain.

With a bit of precaution and lot of protection, your computer will be safe from all malware attacks.

Your Turn: Did you take any action after last month's WannaCry attack? Why, or why not? Share your take with us in the comments!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

6 Ways To Save On Your Summer Vacation

The ocean is calling – and so is the open road. Your dream vacation awaits! But first, you need to work out the financial details. How are you going to pay for your getaway? How much can you realistically spend? Where is the money for your vacation going to come from?
Ideally, a plump vacation fund that’s fed throughout the year is the way to go. Unfortunately, though, we often don’t think about how to pay for vacation until it’s a few weeks away. To make things even worse, according to LearnVest, an alarming 74% of Americans go into debt to pay for a vacation.
Don’t become part of that statistic! Be proactive in planning your vacation by saving up for it in advance. Forgo some luxuries in the months or weeks leading up to your vacation and save the extra cash for your getaway. Consider running a yard sale featuring all of your forgotten treasures and use the profits to fund your trip. Skip your weekly dinner out for a while and put the money in your vacation budget.
Now it’s time to plan your vacation! When you’ve got the money saved up, create a realistic vacation budget. These six vacation saving tips will help you plan the perfect getaway while staying well within your budget.
1.) Timing is everything

Be a savvy shopper. There is an ideal window for buying everything, and booking airline flights is no exception. Flight prices generally fluctuate until departure day, but experts say the sweet spot is 54 days before your travel date. If you don’t want to be busy checking prices all day, sign up for emails from a savings alert site. Let them know which dates and locations you’re interested in, and they’ll let you know when a flight goes on sale so you can book your discounted tickets before they’re sold out.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Skip-a-Payment: Free Cash Flow With A Summertime Break From Your Loan Payment

Risking It When Investing

Q: My wife is a risk taker and wants to invest in things that aren’t really in my comfort zone. I know it’s generally considered better to invest where returns are higher, but that also means a higher risk! Is there some sort of middle ground?

A: It’s great that you’re thinking this through. Many couples face the same question, and while the simplest solution might be to split your funds down the middle and invest as you each see fit, that’s not likely to bring peace or wealth into the relationship. In a marriage, for one thing, whether accounts are titled separately or jointly, they are considered marital assets (even 401Ks). And a healthy relationship depends on working jointly toward financial goals, not going it alone.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Financial Tips For Single Parents

 Smart money management is always important, but it can take on more urgency for those who are without a partner. Whether you’re divorced, widowed, or single by choice, single parenting brings unique budgeting challenges.
Marilyn Timbers, a Connecticut-based financial advisor, says of having to raise a child on one income: “Children are a joy, but they do not come cheap.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes in a report that it costs an estimated $241,080 for a middle-income couple to raise a child to age 18, and some single parents have to shoulder that responsibility alone. Even if child support is adequate – unfortunately nearly 50% of that support is never paid – you’ll do yourself a favor if you think ahead about financial matters as a single mom or dad.
Estate planning is your first priority, according to Lisa Hay of Ascend Financial. It’s essential to make arrangements for your children should you become incapacitated, and this means spending time on two documents that no one enjoys thinking about: a will, which specifies a guardian for your children and how you’ll pass assets down to them; and a “power of attorney,” which gives someone the legal right to make decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to do so.
You may also want to set up a trust. A trust is a legal structure in which your assets can be held for the children. It is overseen by a trustee. And check with your employer to see if it offers a disability benefit. Generally, you will get a reduced income amount when you claim disability – anywhere from 50% to 70% of your salary. “Your income is your most important asset,” says Tom Morrill, owner of Morrill Insurance Group. Insuring it can be especially crucial for single parents who don’t have a second income to cover a gap.
Hay also says be sure to have life insurance. What you purchase will depend on your finances, but a term policy is most economical because it’s a straightforward death benefit. A healthy 33-year-old woman, for example, would pay roughly $240 a year for a 20-year term, $500,000 life insurance policy. This would get your child through college should something happen to you.

Health insurance is “the number one insurance need for a single parent,” according to Morrill, who considers life insurance a close second. People often complain about the cost, but if you’re uninsured, a serious medical procedure or hospital stay can be disastrous to your finances. And, of course, losing a job or becoming ill is still more catastrophic as a single parent than as part of a two-income couple. A recent Harvard study revealed that 62 percent of bankruptcies were caused by medical debt. You can comparison-shop for policies at your state’s marketplace or at

Monday, June 12, 2017

Kick Off A Safe And Healthy Summer

Memorial Day is the traditional start of summer in the U.S., and for many of us that means time spent outdoors, swimming, picnics and travel. Here are some tips to help keep your family healthy, happy and far from the ER this summer.

Thursday, June 1, 2017