Gooligan Malware Takes Over Android Devices at a Rate of 13,000 Per Day

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Android devices are again the targets of malware. This one has been roaming the wild for a couple of years, but is showing up again, some would say “en masse.” Gooligan has been found in at least 86 malicious apps. Around 13,000 Android devices are being infected on a daily basis, according to the Israeli security company Check Point Software.

Again, these apps made it onto the various devices as a result of the owners sideloading them from PCs or other devices. Therefore, if you are known to do this, reconsider that and only download them from the official app store.

Some may not even know what operating system, which is what “Android” refers to, is on their devices. At a high level, if you are using a Google device such as the new Pixel smartphone or the Nexus tablet, it will most certainly be running Android. If you use a Kindle, an HTC, LG, or Samsung smartphone, it is also most likely using the Android operating system. If you don’t know what your devices are using as an operating system, find out.

Gooligan uses a type of malware called Ghost Push. Once it gets onto a device, it can do all kinds of things such as send annoying pop-up ads in an effort to get the user to install even more malicious apps, as well as get access to Google accounts that are associated with the user’s Google credentials. This is because a token is issued by Android that that allows those devices to permanently, or mostly permanently, log into the device automatically. Therefore, Gooligan can pretend to be a user, submit 5-star reviews, and attract others to apps that distribute it. This is why it is so important to check reviews and do research on apps before allowing them on your devices. If there are only a few reviews and they are all glowing, maybe it’s a good idea to wait a while before downloading it. You want to see constructive reviews as well, not just a bunch of 5-star ratings.

Some good news is that it does not appear that Gooligan steals sensitive data. Google is also working hard to block Ghost Push. It has tracked more than 40,000 Ghost Push Apps and taken action against them. It has also been able to interfere with the command-and-control servers trying to distribute it.

Check Point has “Gooligan Checker” web page that supposedly allows users to see if their Google account has been compromised. A few of the affected apps are reported to be called StopWatch, Perfect Cleaner, and WiFi Enhancer and will exploit devices running Android 4.1-4.3 Jelly Bean, 4.4 KitKat, and 5.0-5.1 Lollipop. This is a good reminder to update all of your devices that are running older versions of Android and to keep them updated with the latest security patches. The most current versions of Android are 6.0 Marshmallow or 7.0-7.1 Nougat.

© Copyright 2016 Stickley on Security

How to Make the Most of a Reduced Paycheck

Scissors cutting a dollar bill in half

Countless Americans are earning considerably less than they used to—and struggling to keep up with expenses. A wide range of circumstances can boomerang personal income back to where it started. Bubbles burst, the economy falters, companies downsize, and personal disasters happen. Perpetual salary growth—or even maintenance – is simply not guaranteed. However, by adopting the right tools and attitude, you can make the most of a reduced paycheck—and not just survive, but thrive.

Determine whether your situation is temporary or permanent
If you fully expect to be back in the CEO’s chair soon, you may only have to adjust to lessened cash flow for a limited time. But before you tap into your reserves (and retirement savings, home equity, cash value life insurance, etc.) it would be wise to behave as if the salary depreciation is lasting. Though both your gut and your resume may assure that a six figure income is just around the corner, you can’t know for certain until you are negotiating the fine points of your defined benefit plan. Cut down on spending now. Securing that job may be harder and take longer than you think.

If you never expect to make as much money as you once did, you may be experiencing anxiety and depression—normal emotions are not easily shrugged off. There are practical matters to contend with as well, (such as how you will pay your bills) which can send you into panic mode. Adopting a systematic approach of simply doing what you can will take you far.

Recognize that your salary is not you
This is a deceptively obvious statement. Of course your salary is not you. But many people’s self esteem directly corresponds with how much money they make—the higher the income, the more important they feel. If your mood declines when your income drops, make every effort to dispel the attitude that financial wealth equals worth. It does not, nor does having an abundance of money guarantee happiness. Think back to when you were making more money then you do now. Were you genuinely happier, or did you just have the ability to buy more?

Seize the day
Hardship can hone skills and challenge entrenched ideas. Perhaps you worked in the high-tech field because the money was good, but that is not where your passion (or even perhaps talent) truly is. Consider this your opportunity to discover what you really want out of life. After all, if you are going to dedicate forty or more hours a week to your job, it should be something you love. Or at least like.

If you are currently unemployed or are working fewer hours, use this “extra” time wisely. Your options are as varied and abundant as your desires. Consider taking a class—one that will boost future earning potential (to where it was or even beyond) or for pure pleasure. Write that book, paint the kitchen, start an exercise routine. Or just relax. Chances are, at the end of many a grueling day at your former highly paid yet high-stress job, you said to yourself through gritted teeth “All I want to do is lay down on the couch, TV on, shoes off and do nothing.” Well now you can. Enjoy this time; it may not last forever.

Analyze your expenses and value system
When cash is copious, it is easy to spend arbitrarily. However, when the salary that sustained such a lifestyle is gone or drastically reduced, its time to take a good strong look at what you need to spend your money on, not what you can. Prioritize expenses now, and identify which bills take precedence. Mortgage versus car payment? Credit cards versus utilities? Analyze the ramifications of missing or not paying each. If you need help deciding, contact an expert. CCCS-SF/Balance provides free financial coaching and appointments can be conducted over the telephone at a time and date that works for you.

Develop a spending plan. It will help you to discern between those expenses you can and cannot live without. If you find there is simply not enough money to support your necessities, much less your desires, at the very least you now know how much you will require from your next job. If expensive (and expensed) dinners are now a thing of the past, relish in the delights of a cheap pizza, or making cold cuts stretch with lots of lettuce. Enjoy and appreciate the things you may have begun to take for granted.

Remember: credit is not supplementary income
When money is tight, credit cards can take on an unusually seductive glow. However, a $40,000 line of credit is not a bonus in disguise, no matter how you much you wish it was. If you use credit to maintain the lifestyle you’ve grown accustomed to, it won’t be long before you “hit the wall”. Without an income to support repaying the balance in full every month, you’ll be paying in installments. Interest rates are commonly in the high teens, and if you fall behind by 60 days, they will likely skyrocket. Late and over limit fees (if opted in) will add to an increasingly daunting balance. And soon you’ll be wishing you could return all the merchandise you bought and the meals you ate just so you don’t have to open another statement and look at those big, scary numbers. Credit cards are not designed to be emergency savings accounts.

Develop a plan
To thwart procrastination, write down what you want to achieve during this time. Be specific: include names of people you need to speak to and proposed accomplishment dates for each task. Update and refer to it regularly. Apathy’s enemy is a detailed and well-thought-out plan.

Go forward
Get professional assistance, talk to friends, and find others who are in like circumstances. It is too easy to think you are alone in this—support is key. Vent to those who can empathize; ask for help from those who can assist. Shock, shame, and anger are normal and feeling these emotions is expected. But by adopting a positive attitude and taking pragmatic steps, you can adapt to a reduced income, and achieve a financially stable future.

BALANCE

Revised January 2016

When Might Opening a Joint Bank Account Make Sense?

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Did you recently get married, move in with a new roommate, see a child off to college or start managing a relative’s finances? The change in relationship dynamics could prompt you to consider tying part of your financial lives together by opening a joint bank account.

You might enjoy the conveniences a joint account offers, or you could see it as a symbolic step in your relationship. But before you open a bank account with someone else, consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of the arrangement.

First, here’s a quick introduction to joint accounts. Individual and joint accounts are similar in many ways. You can open a joint account at an online-only bank or local bank branch. However, with a joint account both co-owners can deposit or withdraw money as if it was an individual account. The account holders can also write checks, make online payments or transfers and use the account’s debit cards (if it offers them) to make purchases or withdrawals.

Let’s start with a few situations where you might want to use a joint bank account, followed by examples of why the arrangement might not make sense for you.

You might want a joint account if you share financial responsibilities with someone else. Sharing a joint account could be a good option if you’re married or living with a significant other. Some couples keep their individual accounts and also create a joint account where they deposit a portion of their paychecks and use the money to pay for household expenses or a shared savings goal.

With two people contribution to and watching a shared account, it could be easier to meet minimum balance requirements and identify savings opportunities. Some accounts also offer higher interest rates the more money you have in the account.

A shared account could also help you care for a family member. A joint bank account could help you care for relatives, whether they live nearby or in another state. With co-owner access, it’ll be easy to deposit or transfer funds online and at a bank branch, pay the person’s bills from the account and keep an eye on the account’s activity and balance.

But beware, joint accounts give everyone full ownership of the money. No matter who makes the deposit, once money is in a joint account, each member “owns” it and can legally spend it however he or she wants. In other words, you might not have any recourse if your new roommate raids a joint account and spends the rent money on a weekend getaway.

A joint account holder’s debt could also spell trouble for everyone on the account. Because every joint account holder has equal rights to the money, creditors can go after the money in a joint account if they sue one of the account holders. Meaning all the money is risk if one person gets sued, falls behind on bills or doesn’t pay taxes.

If you’re considering using a joint account to help manage an older relative’s finances, a convenience account or getting power of attorney may be potentially safer alternatives.

Communication and trust are vital to managing a joint account. Lack of communication between joint account holders could lead to overdrawn accounts or low balances, and the corresponding fees. It can also lead to disputes if the owners have different ideas of how the money should be spent.

Some co-owners make an informal agreement before opening an account together. Although it won’t have legal backing, you could create a rule that you have to ask the other person before spending $150 or more. Using a mobile app to check a joint account’s balance before making a purchase could also help you avoid mistakes.

Bottom line: While joint bank accounts let two or more people share access to an account, the convenience of the arrangement can sometimes be outweighed by the risks it poses to the co-owners. Even if you trust the other co-owner, having a clear understanding of the intention behind the account and how the money will be used are important to avoiding arguments and mismanagement of your joint funds.

 

By Nathaniel Sillin

 

 

Tips for Saving Money during the Work Week

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When it comes time for you to have a full time occupation, it’s supposed to be for MAKING money, not spending it. Sadly, however, with rising rates on tolls and gas, it’s becoming more and more expensive to make it to and from the office everyday; and that’s not even factoring in lunch, parking, and that cup of coffee on the way in each morning. That is why it’s more important than ever to be smart with your money and save where you can during the work week.

The ultimate goal should always be financially preparing for bigger and better things instead of wasting paychecks on unneeded daily expenses. Here are three easy ways each of us can cut a few corners and save while going through the grind.

  1. Make Your Own Coffee and Lunch! – Listen, we get the whole “can’t put a price on convenience” thing, but few of us (especially those of us with families) can truly afford to eat out for breakfast and lunch every day during the work week. You may not think that cup of coffee at Starbucks is a big deal, but when it comes down to it, 5 dollars every day five times a week adds up to $1,300 a year! It is much cheaper to just make your first meal of the day at home, complete with your own cup of Joe. Better yet, leverage one of your free work options in the office kitchen; chances are even with a few different options, the taste isn’t as good as the big guys, but as they say “free is for me,” and it should be for you too. When it comes to lunch, you should certainly treat yourself and maybe every Friday go out with the boys, but even just bringing lunch 3 times a week can save out another $1,600-$1,700 annually. Instead of taking the easy way out on coffee and food, use that $3,000 on something more meaningful like an extra mortgage payment or vacation.
  1. Carpool Whenever Possible– This one is obviously dependent on your commute as some of us rely on taking public transportation to and from work every day. That being said, if you are one of the millions of Americans who are crowded on the highways, parkways, and freeways everyday from 7am-9am and 4:30pm-6:30pm, costs and vehicular wear and tear can really add up. Ease the burden your job places on not only you, but your car by finding some friends in the office that share a similar route to and from the building. You can alternate days, full weeks, or even months, whatever works best for everyone’s schedule; but when you add up all the gas, tolls, and parking, you’ll be happily left with plenty of extra cash for the holidays or rainy day fund.
  1. Leverage Corporate Perks– In a competitive market for top talent, most business do what they can when it comes to spoiling their employees with incentives, bonuses, and special rates on common products or services. The savings potential really becomes significant, however, when you properly leverage not only corporate lunches, but rather things that carry over into your daily personal life- i.e. gym memberships, mobile phone packages, cable discounts, and insurance. Sure, you should never pay for a pen or notebook while the supply closet is right down the hall, but it is these unexpected perks of working at a company that often become the most rewarding. Don’t forget about corporate airline and hotel discounts when it comes time for a well needed (and deserved) vacation with the family too!

 

2016 Year-End Tax Planning Basics

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The window of opportunity for many tax-saving moves closes on December 31, so it’s important to evaluate your tax situation now, while there’s still time to affect your bottom line for the 2016 tax year.

Timing is everything

Consider any opportunities you have to defer income to 2017. For example, you may be able to defer a year-end bonus, or delay the collection of business debts, rents, and payments for services. Doing so may allow you to postpone paying tax on the income until next year. If there’s a chance that you’ll be in a lower income tax bracket next year, deferring income could mean paying less tax on the income as well.

Similarly, consider ways to accelerate deductions into 2016. If you itemize deductions, you might accelerate some deductible expenses like medical expenses, qualifying interest, or state and local taxes by making payments before year-end. Or you might consider making next year’s charitable contribution this year instead.

Sometimes, however, it may make sense to take the opposite approach — accelerating income into 2016 and postponing deductible expenses to 2017. That might be the case, for example, if you can project that you’ll be in a higher tax bracket in 2017; paying taxes this year instead of next might be outweighed by the fact that the income would be taxed at a higher rate next year.

Factor in the AMT

Make sure that you factor in the alternative minimum tax (AMT). If you’re subject to the AMT, traditional year-end maneuvers, like deferring income and accelerating deductions, can have a negative effect. That’s because the AMT — essentially a separate, parallel income tax with its own rates and rules — effectively disallows a number of itemized deductions. For example, if you’re subject to the AMT in 2016, prepaying 2017 state and local taxes won’t help your 2016 tax situation, but could hurt your 2017 bottom line.

Special concerns for higher-income individuals

The top marginal tax rate (39.6%) applies if your taxable income exceeds $415,050 in 2016 ($466,950 if married filing jointly, $233,475 if married filing separately, $441,000 if head of household). And if your taxable income places you in the top 39.6% tax bracket, a maximum 20% tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualifying dividends also generally applies (individuals with lower taxable incomes are generally subject to a top rate of 15%).

If your adjusted gross income (AGI) is more than $259,400 ($311,300 if married filing jointly, $155,650 if married filing separately, $285,350 if head of household), your personal and dependency exemptions may be phased out for 2016 and your itemized deductions may be limited. If your AGI is above this threshold, be sure you understand the impact before accelerating or deferring deductible expenses.

Additionally, a 3.8% net investment income tax (unearned income Medicare contribution tax) may apply to some or all of your net investment income if your modified AGI exceeds $200,000 ($250,000 if married filing jointly, $125,000 if married filing separately).

Note: High-income individuals are subject to an additional 0.9% Medicare (hospital insurance) payroll tax on wages exceeding $200,000 ($250,000 if married filing jointly or $125,000 if married filing separately).

IRAs and retirement plans

Take full advantage of tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicles. Traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans such as 401(k) plans allow you to contribute funds on a deductible (if you qualify) or pre-tax basis, reducing your 2016 taxable income. Contributions to a Roth IRA (assuming you meet the income requirements) or a Roth 401(k) aren’t deductible or made with pre-tax dollars, so there’s no tax benefit for 2016, but qualified Roth distributions are completely free from federal income tax, which can make these retirement savings vehicles appealing.

For 2016, you can contribute up to $18,000 to a 401(k) plan ($24,000 if you’re age 50 or older) and up to $5,500 to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or older). The window to make 2016 contributions to an employer plan typically closes at the end of the year, while you generally have until the April tax return filing deadline to make 2016 IRA contributions.

Roth conversions

Year-end is a good time to evaluate whether it makes sense to convert a tax-deferred savings vehicle like a traditional IRA or a 401(k) account to a Roth account. When you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, or a traditional 401(k) account to a Roth 401(k) account, the converted funds are generally subject to federal income tax in the year that you make the conversion (except to the extent that the funds represent nondeductible after-tax contributions). If a Roth conversion does make sense, you’ll want to give some thought to the timing of the conversion. For example, if you believe that you’ll be in a better tax situation this year than next (e.g., you would pay tax on the converted funds at a lower rate this year), you might think about acting now rather than waiting. (Whether a Roth conversion is appropriate for you depends on many factors, including your current and projected future income tax rates.)

If you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA and it turns out to be the wrong decision (things don’t go the way you planned and you realize that you would have been better off waiting to convert), you can recharacterize (i.e., “undo”) the conversion. You’ll generally have until October 16, 2017, to recharacterize a 2016 Roth IRA conversion — effectively treating the conversion as if it never happened for federal income tax purposes. You can’t undo an in-plan Roth 401(k) conversion, however.

Changes to note

If you didn’t have qualifying health insurance coverage in 2016, you are generally responsible for the “individual shared responsibility payment” (unless you qualified for an exemption). The maximum individual shared responsibility payment for 2016 increased to 2.5% of household income with a family maximum of $2,085 for 2016, up from 2% of household income for 2015. After 2016, the individual shared responsibility payment will be based on the 2016 dollar amounts, adjusted for inflation.

Since 2013, individuals who itemize deductions on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040 have been able to deduct unreimbursed medical expenses to the extent that the total expenses exceed 10% of AGI. However, a lower 7.5% AGI threshold has applied to those age 65 or older (the lower threshold applied if either you or your spouse turned age 65 before the end of the taxable year). Starting in 2017, the 10% threshold will apply to all individuals, regardless of age. This is something that you may want to factor in if you’re considering accelerating (or delaying) deductible medical expenses.

Expiring provisions

Legislation signed into law in December 2015 retroactively extended a host of popular tax provisions — frequently referred to as “tax extenders” — that had already expired. Many of the tax extender provisions were made permanent, but others were only temporarily extended. The following provisions are among those scheduled to expire at the end of 2016.

• Above-the-line deduction for qualified higher-education expenses
• Ability to deduct qualified mortgage insurance premiums as deductible interest on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040
• Ability to exclude from income amounts resulting from the forgiveness of debt on a qualified principal residence
• Nonbusiness energy property credit, which allowed individuals to offset some of the cost of energy-efficient qualified home improvements (subject to a $500 lifetime cap)

Talk to a professional

When it comes to year-end tax planning, there’s always a lot to think about. A tax professional can help you evaluate your situation, keep you apprised of any legislative changes, and determine whether any year-end moves make sense for you.

Source: Broadridge

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* Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, L.P. (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Products offered through CFS: are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federally insured, are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involve investment risk including possible loss of principal. Investment Representatives are registered through CFS. NASA Federal Credit Union has contracted with CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.

CUSO Financial Services, L.P. and its representatives do not provide tax advice. For such advice, please contact a tax professional.

Early Bird Holiday Shoppers Targeted with Fake Apps in Apple Store

Online shopping concept nackground. Mobile phone or smartphone with cart and boxes and bag. 3d

Each year it seems that the holiday shopping season starts earlier and earlier. As soon as the jack-o-lanterns and super hero costumes are put away, the wreaths and sparkly lights seem to appear, as if by the flick of a magic wand. Unfortunately, the fraudsters are at it earlier and earlier too and hundreds of phony shopping apps have been spotted in Apple’s App Store for those in the holiday spirit already to get duped right at the start of the season.

Phony shops such as Dollar Tree, Dillard’s, Nordstrom, Zappos, and Footlocker as well as designer name brand shops such as Jimmy Choo and Christian Dior have been found in the app store without being caught by Apple’s review process.

Always use caution when downloading apps, even from the app store. As more and more apps apply to get into the various stores, it is more difficult for the companies to review and approve all of them. The Apple App Store has over 2 million apps already. That puts more pressure on the consumer to do research and make sure the apps are the real ones. Read the reviews to see what others are saying and if they aren’t so good, perhaps it’s best to skip it. In addition, if there are no or very few reviews, particularly for a large department store, second-guess it. While being an early adopter has its perks for a lot of things, in this case patience is a virtue. Wait a few weeks before trying again. If results are the same, it’s probably one of the fake ones.

Many of the fake apps seem to come from Chinese developers who are paid to write the apps in English. One had a menu with drastically misspelled English words, such as spelling Friday as “Firday.” Keep an eye out for those types of errors too and if there are any, don’t use the app.

Don’t assume that Android apps are safe. In fact, because of the less restrictive policy for getting apps into the Google Play store, there are similar risks of downloading phony apps there.

The recent apps have largely been found to pop up annoying ads rather than do real damage. However, some of them do ask for payment card information and other personal details. Therefore, if there is any doubt about the app’s legitimacy, don’t download it or delete it if you already have.

While you’re at it, make sure your devices are updated with the latest versions of the operating systems and apps, and confirm that anti-malware is installed on them and is updated too. As mobile becomes a preferred way to shop, it’s more likely that malicious apps that do harm will show up.

© Copyright 2016 Stickley on Security