Archive for the ‘Know This’ Category

Badware

January 27, 2006

Badware or Malware are generic terms used to describe Computer Viruses, Trojan Horses, and Spyware.

StopBadware.org defines Badware as…

Badware is software that fundamentally disregards a user’s choice over how his or her computer will be used. There are several commonly recognized terms for types of badware – spyware, malware, and deceptive adware. Common examples might be a free screensaver that surreptitiously generates ads, or a malicious web browser toolbar that makes your browser go to different pages than the ones you expected.

How do you know if your Home Computer has been infected with Badware? Common symptoms are:

  • Your Home Computer runs slower
  • Your Web Browser starts with a website that you did not choose
  • Your Home Computer is being bombarded with Popup Windows

Spybot Search and Destroy

How do you check your Home Computer for Badware and remove it? In addition to anti-virus software, I recommend that you download and install the Free program Spybot Search and Destroy.

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Trust Me

January 24, 2006

Trustworthy Computing is not.

Computer Viruses

January 20, 2006

Home Computer Viruses

We’ve all heard about Computer Viruses. If you have a Windows Home Computer you’ve almost certainly got some or have detected them. What the heck are they and why should you care?

A fantastic description of Computer Viruses can be found at Wikipedia. I realize the article contains alot of information and is quite technical. The important thing to know about computer viruses is that they are bad and you don’t want them.

The following are symptoms of a Computer Virus Infection (source: www.learnthenet.com):

  • Your computer starts running sluggishly
  • It shuts down unexpectedly or crashes frequently
  • It experiences memory problems or runs out of disc space
  • Unusual files or directories appear on your system
  • Strange messages appear on your screen

Computer Viruses, similar to biological viruses, have the ability to replicate themselves and cause damage to otherwise healthy systems. The good news is that software is available for your Home Computer to detect and remove them from your system. We’ll discuss how to install and use anti-virus software in a future article.

Top 10 Viruses

January 19, 2006

To learn more about computer viruses, I found Sophos to be one of the best informational sources. The Top Ten List is a good place to start.

Sophos provides fairly technical information. Don’t worry if you don’t understand it all. Recognition of the current threats is the important thing.

Phishing for You

January 18, 2006

Bluegill

No. I didn’t misspell the title. I regularly fish for bluegills because they taste good, they’re easy to clean, and they’re easy to catch. They’re so easy to catch, that a two year old with a Scooby-Doo fishing pole and some worms can catch fifty a day.

Often, Black Hat criminals will go Phishing for you. Why? From a criminals perspective, most Home Computer users are easy to catch. When I fish for bluegills I use worms for bait. When criminals go phishing they use your Trust for bait. Home Computer users are too trusting and consequently, easily caught.

On of the most famous computer worms was the MyDoom virus. The phishing scheme disguises itself as an e-mail message with subject lines including “Error,” “Mail Delivery System,” “Test” or “Mail Transaction Failed”. The virus contains an attachment that if executed by you, will copy itself to all users in your e-mail address book and install hidden software on your home computer.

Message Labs reported that in early January 2004, between 50,000 – 60,000 computers per hour were being infected. At its peak, about 1 in 12 e-mails on the Internet were infected with MyDoom. How’s that for a phishing expedition?

In The Clear

January 13, 2006

I Love You Note

Passing notes is a time-honored method of classroom communication. Suppose I want to send a message to a friend sitting on the far side of the room. I write my message on a folded piece of paper with my friends name on it and simply say, “Pass it on”. Magically, within seconds, the message is sent and received.

Unfortunately, the note passing system has a couple of flaws. First, I trust that nobody in the note passing chain will open the message and read it before passing it on. Second, the teacher may spot the note and intercept it. As punishment, the teacher may hold the note for ransom under threat of exposure. Worse, the private message will be read to the entire class.

Internet communications from your Home Computer function similar to note passing. An e-mail that you send to your friend, passes through many other computers before reaching its destination. The contents are in clear view of all computers that “pass” the message. What is thought to be a private message, certainly is not. For a technical description of how Internet messages are sent read about Packet Switching.

You should know that most e-mail and web browsing communications happen In The Clear. Know also, that you don’t know who may be intercepting and/or viewing your communications. For now, its enough to know this basic information. In the future, I hope you’ll think about the contents of a message before “Passing it on”.

Trust

January 12, 2006

Trust is defined as a “Firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing”. As you will learn, both computer software and the communication techniques employed by the Internet have a foundation based on trust.

My first computer, in 1980 was an Apple II+. The only software it ran were the programs I wrote. It was a secure computer because it couldn’t communicate with anything else. The millions of IBM Compatible PC’s sold before the Internet age were secure as well. Why? Theses computers could be trusted because they were isolated.

When the Internet was first built in the 1960’s it was composed of a few large, expensive computers. The U.S. Government project ARPANET evolved into today’s Internet from research done at UCLA, Stanford, University of California – Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah. The first Internet transmission was a login attempt between computers at UCLA and Stanford. The communication was safe and secure because nobody else was listening.

Much like a person living in a small town, home computers trust their surroundings. Doors are open and security is of little concern. Likewise, early Internet communication was secure because only a handful of trusted individuals and computers could make it work.

Today, the relatively inexpensive and fast computers combined with high speed Internet connections suddenly turn a small town into a global community. Anyone, anywhere in the world can communicate with your home computer instantaneously. Will you trust everyone who comes knocking on your door? I hope not.

Who and Why do they Intrude?

January 11, 2006

White Hat/Black Hat

Why would anyone want to break into my home computer? There’s nothing valuable on it. Just a bunch of family pictures, some games for the kids and my greeting card list. I suppose they might want to look at my checkbook register but it normally floats close to nothing. What’s the big deal?

I’ll give you three good reasons:

  • Your new Computer is Fast
  • Your DSL or Cable modem Connection is Fast
  • Your Home Computer is an Easy target.

A typical Home Computer represents a Fast and Easy target for an intruder. Sounds like the punch-line to a sleazy joke doesn’t it? Sorry to say, its no joke. The Black Hats are treating us like sleaze. Worse, most of us don’t know that we’re being used (see Home Computers A Tempting Target).

So how easy are we? According to Amit Yoran of computer security firm Riptech (recently purchased by symantec),

“If you’ve got a system out on the Net and it’s not patched, there’s a very high degree of likelihood that literally in a matter of hours you’ll be popped.”

Who are the Black Hats? This TechNewsWorld article entitled, Profile of a Virus Writer: Pride to Profit, explains how the geeky vandal of yesterday is transforming into an organized, profit-driven criminal.

There’s a saying, “Ignorance is Bliss”. Not knowing something is often more comfortable than knowing it. The more I learn about computer security, the more I contemplate that phrase. As you learn more, you may find yourself wondering the same thing.

Introduction to Securing your Home Computer

January 10, 2006

I’ve spent a good amount of time over the last few years fixing the computers of friends and family. Most of these systems had been taken over by the bad guys (often called Black Hats). When I informed the owners what had happened, they were shocked! “How could this have happened to me?” Guess what? They’re not alone. Read Online users not safe as they think.

What I’ve learned, is that securing a home computer is not an easy task. The modern desktop computer system is a very complex machine. It requires ongoing education, patience and work to keep these systems running clean. This blog attempts to simplify the security process by focusing on three primary areas:

  • What you should Know
  • What you should Do
  • What you should Install

For fun, I would like you to take the 5 minutes quiz, How Safe are You?. Post a comment with the quiz results so we can compare.