Too Many Topics

Wow, I know I have been remiss in posting a new blog in the last few months, but a whirl-wind of activity has kept me well occupied. Now I am awash in Topics to write about, and I don’t know where to start.

Here are some of the more recent tech-centric headlines: HeartBleed, FBI says NO Internet Explorer, XP now Retired, Target Hacked, New Microsoft CEO, Facebook ‘Friend Tracker’. Now I have already talked about a couple of these topics over the last year, and I would love to talk about the rest of them right now, but that is not what this blog is about. At least, not today.

You may have noticed that all of the above-mentioned headlines are also links that will take you to that story. [THE LINKING OF DATA IS THE REAL POWER OF WEB PAGES!] But you may not have notices that all the links come from only 3 different web sites.

All of us have to get our information from somewhere; The Bible, Network News, Holy Writings, Newspapers, Radio, Television, this Blog, the Onion, College Humor, and so on… As a Professional, I regard myself as a seeker of VERIFIABLE data, so that I can pass it along to my customers as a value added service and so I can best serve them in using technology. It is because of this that I MUST have reputable sources to draw upon. So when I need trusted information, here are some of my go-to sources, in no particular order:

[PSST, don't tell anyone else, they might not call me for help anymore]

Krebs on Security – “Brian Krebs worked as a reporter for The Washington Post from 1995 to 2009, authoring more than 1,300 blog posts for the Security Fix blog, as well as hundreds of stories for washingtonpost.com and The Washington Post newspaper, including eight front-page stories in the dead-tree edition and a Post Magazine cover piece on botnet operators. He was recently profiled in The New York Times, Business Week and by Poynter.org.” – (stolen from the Author’s own website)

INFOPACKETS – “Established in 2001, Infopackets features the latest in headline news based on MS Windows, Internet, and technology trends. Subscription to our website is free.”

REDMOND MAGAZINE – “We provide news, in-depth analysis, and hands-on information for IT directors, managers, developers, administrators and partners in the Microsoft community. Visit us on the Web for original, high quality content: CertCities.com, MCPmag.com, MSDNmagazine.com, RCPmag.com, RedDevNews.com, Redmondmag.com, RedmondReport.com, TechNetMagazine.com and VisualStudioMagazine.com.”

INFRAGARD – OK, while I admit that privacy is VERY high on my list of priorities, the FBI is a great source of community support for electronic threats to our Internet safety. “InfraGard is a partnership between the FBI and the private sector. It is an association of persons who represent businesses, academic institutions, state and local law enforcement agencies, and other participants dedicated to sharing information and intelligence to prevent hostile acts against the U.S.” – Arizona Infragard Website

And My Favorite – Windows Secrets – “The Windows Secrets Newsletter began with the merger in July 2004 of two high-tech e-mail newsletters: Brian’s Buzz on Windows, edited by Brian Livingston beginning February 2003, and Woody’s Windows Watch, founded by Woody Leonhard in 1998. The two publications merged on July 22, 2004, and began using the domain name WindowsSecrets.com. Brian’s 50,000 subscribers joined Woody’s 100,000-strong list to form a combined, unduplicated subscriber base of about 140,000.”

Crypto-What?!?!

C-R-Y-P-T-O-L-O-C-K-E-R

It is not a virus, trojan, worm or root-kit. It is actually a security program meant for good but bent to the will of some evil, greedy parasites. They have taken a useful encryption program and surrounded it with a bright red screen that holds your documents and photos hostage until you pay them hundreds of dollars!

Viri and Trojans are bad enough when they cause damage or disable you computer access, and then the FBI/Moneypak Trojan came along and threatened us with extortion; but now, CryptoLocker actually encrypts your files and demands money to return them to their previous state. It is TERRORISM!

This nifty little package comes via a .ZIP file attached to an email, usually from UPS, FEDEX or DHL shipping service.

I have now had to deal with this low-down, flea-bag piece of malware, and so I HIGHLY recommend another layer of defense.

  • Hardware Router/Firewall
  • Software Firewall
  • Security Software with anti-virus, anti-malware, intrusion detection and email scanning
  • System Cleaner for temp files and Registry scans [CCleaner]
  • Java Script/Ad Blocker for Web Browser [NoScript/Ghostery]
  • And now WEB DOWNLOAD EXE/ZIP BLOCKER

Folks, this one is bad news; if you have XP and don’t have a backup of your data files, it will ruin your day/week/month. In a situation like this, the only way to restore your files is to pay the ransom. If you have windows 7 or 8 then there is a small chance your PC has a backup of your files. The BEST way to fix this one is to avoid it altogether.

The first step is to scan and block bad emails BEFORE they get into your computer. Use SPAM-filtering on your email, especially if you don’t have Gmail. Webmail can be harder to protect if your email provider does not scan your email for malware.

The second is to block executable programs and ZIP files from running in your TemporaryInternetFiles folder [or Web cache files.] There is a manual process; I’ve done it and it is tedious and technical. There are also 2 web sites that have bundled all the commands into a neat little tool to protect your computer. For Networks and Servers, use this one. For workstations and home PC’s, use CryptoPrevent.

The third is to make sure you have your important data backed up online. DropBox, Google Drive, Mozy and Carbonite will all work, but for real data security CrazyDogBackup is the way to go.

Lastly, if this stuff makes you nervous, then just let me know, ‘cuz I am here to help.

Hacked Password….Aaauuuggghhhh!

Thank you to us.123rf.com for this great image!

Just got a call from a friend who got attacked by SPAM and had bank and PayPal accounts hacked. The question I got was this, “Do I have to change my email address?”

My answer was, “No, Get a better password!”

I also suggested that AOL might not be the best place to park her email. (They have a bad reputation for harboring SPAMmers, although they try to keep them away.)

I thought it was a good time to review password policy. Good News to some of you is this: Changing your password is NOT as important as having a good password. For some of you the question is, “What makes a good password?” Well, I am here to help!

CERN Computer Security says;

A good password is:

  • private: it is used and known by one person only;
  • secret: it does not appear in clear text in any file or program or on a piece of paper pinned to the monitor;
  • easily remembered: so there is no need to write it down;
  • at least 8 characters long;
  • a mixture of at least 3 of the following: upper case letters, lower case letters, digits and symbols;
  • not listed in a dictionary of any major language;
  • not guessable by any program in a reasonable time, for instance less than one week.

 

And here are some DON”Ts from CMU/SCS Computing Facilities:

What not to do when choosing a password

  • Do not choose a password based upon personal data like your name, your username, or other information that one could easily discover about you from such sources as searching the internet.
  • Do not choose a password that is a word (English or otherwise), proper name, name of a TV show, keyboard sequence, or anything else that one would expect a clever person to put in a “dictionary” of passwords.
  • Do not choose a password that is a simple transformation of a word, such as putting a punctuation mark at the beginning or end of a word, converting the letter “l” to the digit “1″, writing a word backwards, etc. For example, “password,123″ is not a good password, since adding “,123″ is a common, simple transformation of a word.
  • Do not choose passwords less than 8 characters long or that are made up solely of numbers or letters. Use letters of different cases, mixtures of digits and letters, and/or non-alphanumeric characters.

Borrowed from www.madhusudhan.info

My last piece of advice for my friend was this: Find two or three passwords that are easy for YOU to remember (following the guidelines above) and use a different one for each of your bank accounts, Paypal and such. This way, one compromised password will not let them into every account.

Got Questions? I am here to help! Use the Contact page to shoot me an email.

Old Friends and Old Computers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My daughter was only 2 years old when this photo was taken in 2001. The dog was named Patch and he died in September of 2011. I love looking at this photo, and any of you with teen-agers might just know what I mean by that. This is the dog after which my Crazy Dog logo is modeled. That dog was almost 14 human years old when we had to let him go. In dog years, he was 75!

But why would I even bring it up if the photo is twelve years old, do you ask? Well, here is why: Windows XP was released less than a month after this photo was taken, and now it is also twelve years old! Software ages just like dogs; in just 2 years it is fully grown and having puppies of its own. That would make XP 70 in dog years. Windows XP still accounts for 38% of all computers and yet we have THREE newer Microsoft Operating Systems.

“But Rick, my XP computer is running just fine; why should I upgrade?” Well if it is true that your system is working flawlessly then no, you don’t need to upgrade…yet.

Come April of 2014 [this next year] Microsoft will eliminate support for XP, which means there will no longer be any more security updates. This is like making my 96 year old grandfather into a security guard at the bank and taking away his gun and pepper spray. Who wouldn’t rob that bank?  I am not going to mention Vista, but Windows 7 is light-years ahead of XP in security AND stability. I have removed malware from Windows 7 just by using System Restore. You can’t do that with XP.

I loved my dog, Patch, but at the end, he couldn’t protect me from a baby in a stroller; and in this same way, XP cannot protect you from current Internet threats like the Medfos Trojan. If you have any questions, I am here to help.

Rambling Tale

Thank you to http://blog.pixert.com for the image.

As a computer repairman, I have a lot of electronic carcasses laying around my workroom, many of them are still around because they have some value, even if it is just for spare parts. My wife is always amazed at the “junk” I keep. In some ways, I am a handy-man for computers, and if you ask my friend John, handy-men never throw anything away, because they might need it some day. You would be surprised by how much stuff I never end up using, and by how many things I can fix because I just happen to have one of “those” laying around at home.

Why do I even mention any of this? Well we all have extra stuff laying around or packed in secretive spots for when it might be needed. It may be lawn or sports equipment, or supplies for our favorite hobby or just memorabilia like photos or mementos. But in the world of electronics, upgrades and new technologies make older parts obsolete in only 2 to 4 years time. The law of Diminishing Returns demands a reckoning on my storage bins on a semi-annual basis.

I need a laptop that will run Minecraft as a gift, so I was reconditioning one of the better laptops stacked in my workroom, when I noticed that many of them will only run Windows XP. Say what you will about the new Operating systems from Microsoft, but XP is a dinosaur, really, it is so unsafe to use! Over 50% of the malware I clean is cleaned from XP computers. Windows 7 is safer, better and more reliable. Now is the time to upgrade while Win7 can still be purchased. [Windows 8 is best saved for the new touch-screen devices.]

It is not OK to keep using old software and hardware if it accesses the internet at all. Would you drive a car with 3 wheels? Take it from a pack-rat; it is time to upgrade and Windows 7 is your ticket if you live in a Microsoft world.

If you live in a Mac world you should be on Lion, if not Mountain Lion [OS X 10.7 or 10.8]. Apple has already set all version of OS X version 10.4 [Tiger] and older adrift in the Ocean of no-upgrades. And remember; if you have any questions, I am here to help.