I warned about Putin’s cyber army and now I’ve caught Russian hackers trying to spy on MY home computer, says our reporter Toby Walne
- Toby’s home computer crippled by ‘attacks from Russia’
- It was a heartbreaking experience because his computer is like an extra limb
- Russians could be monitoring his every move with wiretaps at the KGB
The Russians are coming. They may not be knocking on our doors, but hackers are already invading our computers. And I can attest to the disruption they cause. My personal computer was crippled by “attacks from Russia” because they tried to hijack my email account.
It was a harrowing experience because my computer is like an extra limb – and essential for my work.
As a victim of the Red Army of Kremlin online fraudsters, I can no longer send or receive emails. Worse still, I fear the Russians are monitoring my every move – with KGB wiretaps.
Tip: Expert Colin Tankard helps Toby Walne secure his computer system following the attack
I can’t say why I was targeted. I may be a journalist, but my emails are full of advice on bleeding radiators to cut heating bills – not UK nuclear arsenal codes.
It left me not only violated, but also paranoid. At any time, they could raid my computer files and demand money in a “ransomware” attack by blackmail – or by stealing enough data, or even emptying my bank account.
The trigger for the attacks on my machine remains unknown, but may have been the result of downloading “Bad Rabbit” software – malware – when I pressed a button thinking I was updating the software. This malware trashes your computer for information and appears to originate from Russia.
Then again, maybe the Kremlin found my details on the dark web – where it seems my personal details and passwords have been leaked, following hacks of services I’ve used in the past.
Or maybe I had been targeted following a warning article written in The Mail on Sunday in March about ‘Putin hackers’.
As scary as the experience was, at least I am now aware of what is happening and can act. And according to cyber experts, I am not alone. The Russians are targeting thousands – possibly millions – of people’s computers in order to disrupt Western economies following the invasion of Ukraine.
It’s not just about getting revenge on the sanctions – creating disruption and panic among computer users – but about cheating us out of our money.
My encounter with Russian cyber hackers began last month when the email account I use on my home computer kept crashing.
I called my ISP Easyspace. He said he noted “numerous” attempts to hack into my email account from a Russian Internet Protocol (IP) address. This caused my account to be frozen.
After contacting Easyspace, they lifted their “suspension order” on my account – only to have the account crash again a few days later. Again, Easyspace confirmed that the “Russian State” was responsible for trying to access my account.
The Easyspace service costs £30 per year and has done its job well. He said: “Using a proactive email hosting company with your domain enables prompt action to be taken on your behalf in the event of security issues, including attempts to login to your account during attacks. from Russia.” But my Apple ‘Mail’ account – which allows me to read my e-mails – no longer opened on my computer.
Also, my aging 12-year-old Mac wasn’t downloading the latest security updates needed to combat an upsurge in attacks. Cybersecurity expert Colin Tankard understood what I was going through. He said I should be grateful that Easyspace was up to the task and stopped the Russian cyber hackers.
He said that for Easyspace to suspend my account, there must have been at least a dozen attempts to access my emails with different passwords used. He recommended that I visit the “Have I Been Pwned” website to see if there had been any online database breaches, leaks, or hacks on the accounts I was using.
After entering my email address, I found 15 instances where my personal information could have ended up on the dark web, stolen from sites such as LinkedIn, LiveAuctioneers and MySpace.
Tankard, chief executive of data security firm Digital Pathways, told me to take immediate action.
He said: “Change the Easyspace password immediately as attempts to login to your account show that the criminals may be about to crack the code.”
He added: “The new password doesn’t have to be complex – try something visually memorable, but odd. An example might be something like BeesPlayBanjos56.’
Russian hackers don’t need to be super sleuths to hack into an email account or steal identity information – because the keys to unlocking them are easily found on the dark web.
This is where websites not listed on traditional search engines are exploited illegally and used by criminals to exchange stolen information.
Scammers can pay £10 for someone’s ‘fullz’ – cyberslang for a person’s full identity details. It includes not only a person’s name, address and date of birth, but also service login information and passwords.
Tankard warned that now that the Russians might have my personal information, I’m more likely to be drawn into a scam designed to steal my money – known as phishing.
Tankard advised: “You have to be a lot more careful. Do not open unsolicited attachments. Visit the virustotal.com website. It can tell you if viruses have been detected on files sent to you.’
The security expert then shook his head in disbelief when I showed him my external hard drive – a box used to store data in case something went wrong with my computer. This £45 device was as useful as a chocolate teapot because it stopped working a few years ago. Only now do I see the folly of not replacing it. After a stern reprimand, I promised to buy a new one.
The Russians may be coming, but I defend myself.