Monthly Archives: March 2009

Tech Thoughts Daily Security Alerts – March 26, 2009

Researchers demo BIOS attack that survives hard-disk wipe – A pair of Argentinean researchers have found a way to perform a BIOS level malware attack capable of surviving even a hard-disk wipe.

Stealthy router-based botnet worm squirming – Researchers at DroneBL have spotted signs of a stealthy router-based botnet worm targeting routers and DSL modems.

Is the geek love affair with Firefox waning? – I remember a time not that long ago when most geeks agreed that Firefox was the best browser.

Mac malware warning: new threat – Mac owners have been urged to be wary of a new threat that targets the Apple computer as well as Windows-based PCs.

Scareware Morphs Into Ransomware – Vundo malware now encrypts users’ files and then charges a fee to decrypt them.

Exploit code sends Mozilla scrambling to fix FireFox – Mozilla’s security response team is scrambling to ready a patch for what appears to be a serious security flaw affecting its flagship FireFox browser.

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Tech Thoughts Daily Security Alerts – March 25, 2009

Conficker to activate on 1 April – The Conficker worm is planning to play its own April Fool’s joke on 1 April, though millions of surfers are unlikely to find it very funny.

Foxit Reader security warning – Anyone using the Foxit Reader to open PDF files has been urged to make sure they have the latest version of the software.

Small Business: The New Black In Cybercrime Targets – Enticed by poor defenses of mom-and-pop shops, hackers turn away from hardened defenses of banks and large enterprises.

Router-Based Botnet On The Loose – Researchers discover spreading of new botnet malware that targets DSL home routers and modems.

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Quake 4 – Game Review

Quake 4 is the next game in the long series of Quake games dating back about 10 years. Quake 4, developed by Activision, is a fast paced, FPS (First Person Shooter) game.

Quake 4 Game Play

The game play is very similar to Quake 2. This is good – Quake 2 was a great game; a lot of fun and exciting. However, it is so similar that it takes away some of the excitement of playing a new game.

The game play is comparable to Quake 2, and the weapons and enemies are very like those in the older Quake games as well. The story line picks up right were Quake 2 left off, and is good enough to keep you interested.

The missions are varied and keep the game exciting. The pace of this game is very fast, which is what the Quake series is known for. There is a lot of action, and the enemies come at you fast. You have to be very quick to get past certain parts of this game!

Even though the action of this game is a lot of fun, Quake 4 doesn’t leave much room for level exploration, or problem solving. It pretty much seems that if you can kill the enemies, you can get past the levels.

Quake 4 Graphics

The graphics and effects of Quake 4 are good, but nothing that is really impressive. Quake 4 uses the Doom 3 engine to run its graphics. There are some minor improvements which were made when Activision applied this engine to Quake 4.

Quake 4 definitely shows improvement over past games when it comes to graphics, however, it cannot match some of the games that came out at the same time like Half-Life 2.

quake4

Activision did nothing innovative with this game. It seems as if they made quite a few minor, to medium improvements, but nothing that makes you say – Wow!! Overall, I give this game a 7/10. This is a good and fun game, but it is definitely not the top game in its genre.

Download the demo at GameDaily.com.

Guest Writer: This is a guest post by Dominic Acito, who brings a background as a high level super user and gamer, to the Blogging world.

Why not pay a visit to Dominic’s site at Computer Too Slow.

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Filed under Games, Guest Writers, Interconnectivity, Living Life, Personal Perspective, Software, Windows Tips and Tools

Thanks a Million – Tech Thoughts Hits One Million Page Views

One Million People In the last few days, Tech Thoughts reached its 1 Millionth hit, in just 15 months.

Thanks, to all of you, who have helped make this site the success it has become. If you’re a regular reader of this Blog, a BIG thank you.

If you’re not, and you’re just passing by, a “thank you” to you as well; please consider Book Marking this site, since in the coming months, some exciting changes will be occurring.

In the last few months, a new feature has been added to the site – Guest Writers (The Reading Room), which has proven to be very popular. Thank you, to all the writers who have contributed to this popular feature.

Blogging is tough – to consistently write useful content is one of the most difficult jobs I have every taken on, and there are now more than 500 technical articles on this site. The great thing is, you do read and use the information I generate; the comments tell me that – keep them coming.

An important aspect of Blogging, for me, one I hadn’t considered at the start, is the friendships I have made through Tech Thoughts. This has been the ultimate reward; meeting and corresponding with people who are knowledgeable, savvy and concerned with the “greater good”. This has been an eye opening experience.

A special “thank you” to TechPaul, who has been my sounding board and a great coach and a friend, who knows how to motivate me when the terrible “writer’s block” creeps in.

For those of you who think you knew me in Utah, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, London, England; Dublin, Ireland; or 100 other places, thanks for inquiring – but I’m a Canadian through and through.

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Tech Thoughts Daily Security Alerts – March 24, 2009

FakeAlert-MCodec security warning – McAfee is warning of a security threat which poses as a download of a legitimate application but merely prompts you to install a Trojan.

Malware Is Getting Formidable, but So Are Your Defenses – As bad as malware is getting, there’s plenty you can do to affect excellent, if imperfect, protection.

From IE 8 to FireFox: Web Browsers Tighten Security – A report from Cenzic as well as the exploitation of Apple Safari, Mozilla FireFox and Microsoft Internet Explorer during the recent Pwn2Own contest at CanSecWest underscore the need to keep bolstering browser security.

Scareware and the death of Natasha Richardson – Cybercriminals don’t waste any time these days jumping on the coat-tails of breaking news stories in their attempt to infect as many computer users as possible.

ATM cash machine malware discovered by Sophos – Sophos researchers discover a Trojan horse that is capable of infecting bank cash machines, potentially skimming confidential card information off high street shoppers.

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Want to Avoid Malware on the Internet? – Think BEFORE You Click

Paranoia 6 I ran a little experiment with a group of “average computer user” friends recently, and while there were no great surprises, the conditioned response to “just click” while surfing the web issue, is still there – despite my long battle to get them to modify this behavior.

You would think that endlessly repeating “just clicking haphazardly, without considering the consequences, can lead to the installation of malicious code that can cause identity theft and the theft of passwords, bank account numbers, and other personal information” would have some impact.

Apparently, it will take even more repetition before progress can be made. In the meantime, curiously browsing the web blissfully unaware of the considerable malware dangers, will continue to be the modus operandi for my friends.

The web is the success it has become at least partially due to the fact that it can satisfy our curiosity about almost anything we can think of. My friends are not alone in their “clicking haphazardly” bad habit. Many of us have learned to satisfy our curiosity simply by a mouse click here, and a mouse click there. Arguable, we have developed a conditioned response to “just click”.

Knowing this, cyber crooks are now exploiting our natural curiosity more and more, by focusing on this aspect of social engineering to create an opportunity designed to drop malicious code, including rootkits, password stealers, Trojan horses, and spam bots on our computers.

So in a real sense then, it may well be our conditioned human responses that pose the biggest risk to our online safety and security. Our curiosity, coupled with our conditioned responses can often override our common sense, so it’s not unusual for people to open an email attachment, for example, despite knowing that the attachment could be a virus, or other form of malware.

Conditioned Response

Security experts argue that a significant number of malware infections could be avoided if users stopped “just clicking haphazardly” or opening the types of files that are clearly dangerous. To this point however, this type of dangerous behavior continues despite the warnings.

As part of the Tech community I am aware that many fellow Techies choose not to run anti-malware software, but instead they rely on their own experiences, and common sense, to avoid malware infections. They are well aware of the hidden dangers on the Internet and have overcome that natural tendency to “just click”.

Be kind to your friends, relatives, and associates and let them know that “just clicking haphazardly” without considering the consequences, can lead to the installation of malicious code that can cause identity theft and the theft of passwords, bank account numbers, and other personal information.

The following are security risks on the Internet that “just clicking”, can expose you to:

  • Trojan horse programs
  • Back door and remote administration programs
  • Denial of service attacks
  • Being an intermediary for another attack
  • Mobile code (Java, JavaScript, and ActiveX)
  • Cross-site scripting
  • Email spoofing
  • Email-borne viruses
  • Packet sniffing

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Filed under Don't Get Hacked, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety, Malware Advisories, Safe Surfing, trojans, Viruses, Windows Tips and Tools, worms

Can’t Delete File – Access Denied? Get FileAssassin Free

Delete unresponsive files.

One of the most confusing moments in a new, or average computer users life, can be caused by any one of the following messages.

  1. Cannot delete file: Access is denied.
  2. Make sure the disk is not full or write-protected and that the file is not currently in use.
  3. The source or destination file may be in use.
  4. The file is in use by another program or user.

A fairly typical response in such a case is – huh? The reality is, these types of messages are not uncommon, and can be caused by any number of issues including a malware infection.

Malwarebytes, the developers of the highly effective Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware, have created FileAssassin a free application that can delete any type of locked files that are on your system.

File Assassin 2

According to the developer the program uses advanced programming techniques to unload modules, close remote handles, and terminate processes to remove locked files.

Fast facts:

  • Drag-and-drop functionality
  • Freeware
  • Unloads modules
  • Closes remote handles
  • Terminates processes
  • Small (163 K)
  • User friendly

System Requirements: Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows NT

Download at: Download.com

Note: Caution is the keyword here – deleting critical system files may cause system errors, or failure. If you are not familiar with these issues, seek help from an advanced user.

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Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Don't Get Hacked, Freeware, Manual Malware Removal, Secure File Deletion, Software, System Utilities, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Tech Thoughts Daily Security Alerts – March 23, 2009

Code for ultimate rootkit to be released – Security researchers Joanna Rutkowska and Rafal Wojtczuk just published a research paper describing a new SMM rootkit that installs via a CPU caching vulnerability. This could be the “perfect storm” of rootkits.

Comcast High Speed Internet Scam – A quick note on a new spam run that’s going on.

Report: Rogue antivirus software pays off for scammers – Online scammers are making a lucrative business out of redirecting visitors from legitimate Web sites to sites that try install rogue antivirus software.

Safari hole exploited in seconds at security conference – The security expert who won $10,000 hacking a MacBook Air in less than two minutes last year won $5,000 on Wednesday by exploiting a hole in Safari in 10 seconds or so.

The Lowdown on Zero-Day Attacks – A.N. Ananth, CEO of Prism Microsystems, answers questions from IT Security.

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Boot Windows Faster With Free Startup Tuner 2

Ashampoo Startup Box One of the things that I find really annoying when I install a new application is that program’s decision that it is so essential to system operation, that it automatically triggers an auto-start command on system start up.

So that means, every time my computer is booted, this type of presumptive program is started with Windows, which is rarely my intent, and in most cases is not needed.

As a result, the start sequence can become considerably longer, system resources can be ravaged, and manually shutting down these unnecessary startups can be frustrating, and time consuming.

For example, recently a friend asked me for advice on his sister’s computer that was slow at startup, and even worse, was slow in normal operation. It was easy to see why. The computer was loading 26 applications on startup which then continued to run in the background, eating up system resources.

There are a number of manual methods available to deactivate these very irritating applications from auto starting, but a great free application from Ashampoo does the job quickly, cleanly and with no fuss.

StartUp Tuner 2 lists all auto-start entries and allows you to individually delete or deactivate those entries. If you turn off all of the unnecessary entries (be sure they are not necessary), Windows will boot faster; in some cases considerably faster.

Ashampoo Startup mgr (Click pic for larger view)

Bonus features:

StartUp Tuner 2 can do more than just this though. The tool can list all Windows services by name and it allows you to activate, or deactivate them, with the click of the mouse.

The application shows all installed Windows programs, but it builds its lists more quickly than the control panel software module. You can then uninstall programs that are no longer required, including program entries that the native Windows uninstaller generally leaves untouched.

Many Browser Helper Objects (BHOs) are useful, but others simply take up space on the Hard Drive and serve no useful purpose. StartUp Tuner 2 lists all of them, and allows you to delete, or deactivate them, if you determine you longer need them.

The application automatically generates a backup of the changes that you have made, giving you the opportunity to reverse any changes.

Free registration:

The StartUp Tuner 2 can be used free for 10 days. After that, free online registration is required. You will receive an activation code which will convert the test version of the program into the full version.

Ashampoo loves to remind you of the value of their full software lineup, so if you find it bothersome to receive this type of email, you’d be better off passing on StartUp Tuner 2.

Personally, I find it easier to stay in the loop on new software developments, when I do receive emails soliciting my business for new applications.

System requirements: Windows 2000/XP/Vista

Download at: Ashampoo

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Filed under Computer Maintenance, Free Full Versions, Software, System Tweaks, System Utilities, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Free File Shredder 2 – Delete Files Permanently!

Scissors Many of us now own, and use a paper file shredder to destroy documents, and personal and financial papers that we don’t want to fall into the hands of identity thieves, or anyone else not entitled to have access.

So now, consider those files on your computer that you’ve deleted, sent to the recycle bin, and then flushed as you emptied the recycle bin. When you go through this process the deleted files are gone forever, right?

Well if you’re a typical computer user, you quite likely do believe that they’re gone forever, since the deleted files can’t be seen in Windows Explorer. In fact, you can’t find these files anywhere on your Hard Drive.

It may surprise you to learn that not only can I find those files but I can recover them as well. Oh, it’s not because I’m a super- duper tech wizard – although I will say, with some modesty, that I am. LOL.

Here’s the lowdown: when a file is deleted from your Hard Drive, what really gets deleted is the system link pointing towards the file, but not the file itself. Surprisingly, it is relatively easy to retrieve the deleted file using specialized file recovery software (often available as a free download), which takes advantage of shortcomings in the Windows operating systems.

Let me give you an example. Recently, I agreed to rebuild 30+ computers (at no cost), being donated to a local charity for distribution to less fortunate families.

While working on these machines I noticed immediately that although the Hard Drives had undergone deletion, they had not been wiped. Since these machine had been donated by a government agency; that struck me as being negligent in the extreme.

In order to bring this situation to the attention of those who had committed this serious breach in security, I recovered a number of these files. Not unexpectedly, the recovered files did in fact did contain confidential information. In this case – confidential information on families on public assistance. As part of the process, I saved the recovered files to a floppy disk and presented the disk to the appropriate authorities. Shock, surprise, embarrassment, were just some of the reactions.

It’s easy to see from this example, that deleted files (or a good portion of a file) can easily be recovered.

File Shredder 3

In order to delete or shred files permanently, to protect your privacy and potentially your security, or for any other reason for that matter, you need a program such as File Shredder 2 that is capable of overwriting the file with a random series of binary data multiple times.

This process is often called shredding. That way, the actual content of the file has been overwritten and the possibilities of recovering such a shredded file becomes mainly theoretical.

File Shredder 2 (rated by CNET’s editors as a 5 Star utility), is a simple but powerful program, with a straightforward interface, that many users judge to be better than some commercial file shredders. With File Shredder 2 you can remove files from your hard drive permanently, and feel confident that the file can’t be recovered.

File Shredder 4

Running the program allows you to choose between 5 different shredding algorithms, each one gradually stronger than the previous one. As well, it has an integrated Disk Wiper which uses a shredding algorithm to wipe unused disk space. I use this feature frequently, to clean up my drives (after running test applications), and to destroy any leftover fragments of previously deleted/uninstalled files.

If you’re looking for a great free file shredder application that does what it says it does, in an easy to understand manner, I highly recommend File Shredder 2.

Operating System: Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista

Download at: Download.com

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Filed under Computer Maintenance, Disk Cleaners, Freeware, Privacy, Secure File Deletion, Software, System Utilities, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools