Tag Archives: Ubuntu

It’s Banking Day at the Ranch and a Linux Live CD is in the Saddle!

I’ve maintained for years, that I treat my Windows machines as if they have already been compromised – a position that has left me open to some criticism. I’ll take the criticism – I’d rather be safe than sorry.

If you’re a regular reader of Tech Thoughts Daily Net News column then, you’re probably aware that the following items from last week (below the break), are not in the least unusual. In fact, notification of security breaches, or unpatched vulnerabilities that are weeks or months old, are now commonplace.

A legitimate question is – how likely were you to have been affected by any of the unpatched flaws – as noted below – or, the scores of similar long-standing vulnerabilities published in Tech Thoughts Daily Net News over the last few years?

I’ll grant you that “not very likely”, is a reasonable assumption. Still, the question remains – how do you know that you’re not already compromised by a yet to be disclosed vulnerability? Something to think about.

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Eight-month WordPress flaw responsible for Yahoo mail breach: Bitdefender – A cross-site scripting flaw that saw some Yahoo email users lose control of their accounts has now been traced back to a WordPress installation that was not patched for at least eight months.

Serious security holes fixed in Opera – but Mac App Store users left at risk again – It should go without saying that if you use Opera, you should update to version 12.13 as soon as possible. But… what if you didn’t get your copy of Opera from the official website? What if, instead, you acquired your version of Opera for Mac from Apple’s Mac App Store?

Symantec denies blame after Chinese govt hacks The New York Times – After one of the world’s most famous newspapers points the finger at Symantec for failing to protect its network against a four-month long Chinese cyberattack, the security firm returns fire –

Symantec:

“Turning on only the signature-based anti-virus components of endpoint solutions alone are not enough in a world that is changing daily from attacks and threats. We encourage customers to be very aggressive in deploying solutions that offer a combined approach to security.”

I found Symantec’s response more than interesting. This is the first time that I can recall, that a major security vendor has gone on record and suggested that their product, as a stand alone solution, should not be expected to identify and contain each and every conceivable threat.

I couldn’t agree more and, I have made that point consistently, for years.

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Initially, I had no intention of writing such a long introduction to a simple review – but, my continuing disappointment in the computer technology industry as a whole, whose overall response to an epidemic of criminal activity, runs along the same lines as that old time movie – Jaws – in which one of the plot lines revolves around keeping people in the water (despite the evident danger from a Great White shark) since to do otherwise, would be bad for business, got the better of me. Perhaps not the best analogy – but, it works for me.

I have a sign on the wall above my desk that reads – Bullshit in = Bullshit out. I can’t think of a more fitting epitaph for the current state of affairs in an industry rife with misinformation, misdirection, hype, and sheer outrageous bullshit.

I’m not a gloom and doom guy – but, market forces are such, that a little crystal ball gazing has convinced me that the status quo is as stable as the Rock of Gibraltar. In other words, if you want to be safe on the Internet, then accept the fact that you’re on your own.

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It’s Banking Day at the Ranch and a Linux Live CD is in the Saddle!

While connected to the Internet, just like you, I face exposure to Trojans, spyware, viruses, phishing scams, identity theft, scam artists, schemers and cyber crooks lurking in the shadows, just waiting to make me a victim. Even so, the odds of me picking up a malware infection, or being scammed, are fairly low. Am I just lucky, or is it more than that?

To some extent I might be lucky – but, it takes much more than luck to stay safe on the Internet. For me – it really boils down to prevention. Preventing cybercriminals from getting a foothold by being vigilant and adhering scrupulously to fundamental security precautions, including –

A fully patched operating system.

A robust firewall.

Automatically updated anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

Increased Internet Browser protection through selected add-ons.

Encryption where necessary.

and, most importantly never forgetting toStop. Think. Click.

Despite all those security precautions though, there’s one connected activity that still concerns me – online banking. Regardless of the fact that I choose my Internet banking provider based partially on it’s low profile, I’m not entirely relying on this low profile as a guarantee that cybercriminals will not target my provider.

The inescapable fact remains; I am my own best protection while conducting financial transactions on the Internet. Frankly, I’m not convinced that financial institutions are where they need to be when it comes to protecting their online customers.

Despite my best efforts, it’s possible that malicious code may be installed on my computer – ready to pounce on my banking user account names, and passwords. Which is why, I have long made it a practice to conduct my financial affairs on the Internet via a self-booting Linux Live CD. Since a Linux Live CD is read-only media, the environment (running entirely in RAM), should be more secure than Windows.

I’m not suggestion that Linux systems are impervious to malware (I know better than to make that claim) – but, since the majority of malware is Windows specific, banking online through a Linux Live CD should offer a more secure environment.

If you can click a mouse – then, you’re good to go. It’s that easy. Today’s Linux distros are not your Granny’s Linux.

I’m not suggesting that you replace your Windows operating system and jump with both feet into Linux. That’s impractical. What is not impractical however is – running with Linux on those occasions when you do your Internet banking.

Recommended Linux Live CDs:

Puppy Linux – A complete operating system with suite of GUI apps, only about 70 – 140MB, and boots directly off the CD. I should point out that Puppy is my personal favorite.

Damn Small LinuxDamn Small Linux is a very versatile 50MB mini desktop oriented Linux distribution.

Fedora – Fedora is a fast, stable, and powerful operating system for everyday use built by a worldwide community of friends. It’s completely free to use, study, and share.

Ubuntu – Fast, secure and easy-to-use.

Lightweight Portable Security (LPS) – A Linux distro from the US Department of Defense. Lightweight Portable Security (LPS) creates a secure end node from trusted media on almost any Intel-based computer (PC or Mac). LPS boots a thin Linux operating system from a CD or USB flash stick without mounting a local hard drive.

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Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, downloads, Linux, Live CDs, Online Banking

Secure Your Online Banking With A Linux Live CD

imageWhile connected to the Internet, just like you, I face exposure to Trojans, spyware, viruses, phishing scams, identity theft, scam artists, schemers and cyber crooks lurking in the shadows, just waiting to make me a victim. Even so, the odds of me picking up a malware infection, or being scammed, are low  – not 0% but…… Am I just lucky, or is it more than that?

Well, to some extent I might be lucky – but, it takes much more than luck to stay safe on the Internet. For me – it really boils down to prevention. Preventing cybercriminals from getting a foothold by being vigilant and adhering scrupulously to fundamental security precautions, including –

A fully patched operating system.

A robust firewall.

Automatically updated anti-virus and anti-spyware software

An aggressive HIPS (host intrusion prevention system).

Increased Internet Browser protection through selected add-ons.

and, most importantly never forgetting toStop. Think. Click.

Despite all those security precautions though, there’s one connected activity that still concerns me – online banking. Regardless of the fact that I choose my Internet banking provider based partially on its low profile (four branches as opposed to the usual 3,000/5,000 branches common in Canadian banking), I’m not entirely relying on this low profile as a guarantee that cybercriminals will not target my provider.

The inescapable fact remains; I am my own best protection while conducting financial transactions on the Internet. Frankly, I’m not convinced that financial institutions are where they need to be when it comes to protecting their online customers.

Despite my best efforts it’s possible (though unlikely), that malicious code may be installed on my computer – ready to pounce on my banking user account names, and passwords. Which is why, I have long made it a practice to conduct my financial affairs on the Internet via a self-booting Linux Live CD running Firefox. Since a Linux Live CD is read-only media, the environment (running entirely in RAM), will be much more secure than Windows.

Yes, I admit that it’s a pain to shut down and reboot just to complete an online financial transaction but, I’d rather be safe than sorry – I’m into an ounce of prevention. Since the majority of malware is Windows specific, banking online through a Linux Live CD is my ounce of prevention.

Recommended Linux Live CDs:

Lightweight Portable Security (LPS) – A Linux distro from the US Department of Defense.

Ubuntu – fast, secure and easy-to-use.

Puppy Linux – A complete operating system with suite of GUI apps, only about 70 – 140MB, and boots directly off the CD.

KNOPPIX – Live Linux file system on CD.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Cyber Crime, Cyber Criminals, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety Tools, Linux, Live CDs, Malware Protection, Online Banking, Software, System Security, Ubuntu

Sandbox Firefox With Secure Browser Version 5.1

imageI first reported on Secure Browser, a virtualized version of Firefox back in July of this year, and since then there have been a number of upgrades to the application, including 64 bit compatibility.

This is not 1985 when the only thing you had to worry about was what might be on the floppy disks you exchanged with your friends. Today, your Browser is the conduit into your computer – that’s the route by which the majority of malware spreads.

So, controlling malware intrusion, while surfing the Net, through the use of a ‘”virtual” environment rather than operating in a “real” environment, continues to make sense given the level of cyber criminal activity on the Internet.

In the last few months we’ve looked primarily at operating system virtualization – Shadow Defender, Returnil Virtual System, Wondershare Time Freeze, and a number of other similar applications. But, there are alternatives to OS virtualization – specific application virtualization running in a sandbox.

KACE Networks, Secure Browser (last updated Oct 20, 2010), is a virtualized version of Firefox which according to KACE –

Changes or malicious files inadvertently downloaded from the Internet are contained within the secure browser, keeping the underlying OS and computer secure from hostile changes.

Any changes resulting from browser activity may be quickly and easily reset to effectively “undo” such changes and return it to its initially installed state.

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Graphic courtesy of Kace.

Fast facts:

Provides a virtualized and contained Firefox v3.6 Browser with Adobe Reader and Flash plug-ins.

Rapidly reset any changes made during normal use back to their initial state, enabling easy recovery from infections or attacks.

View statistics related to the number of processes detected and blocked.

Set white and black lists to limit access to known good sites, or prevent access to known bad sites to further limit the risk of attack and infection.

Contrary to my usual practice, I have not tested this application. Instead, I’m reporting on it’s availability only. I tend to stick with Ubuntu when surfing the Internet.

System requirements: Windows 7, Vista, XP (32-bit and 64-bit systems).

Download at: KACE

Note: Registration required.

Alternative solutions:

Sandbox your current Browser in Sandboxie.

Run the Chrome Browser which includes a form of sandboxing.

Run Comodo Dragon a variation on Chrome with additional privacy controls.

Run Ubuntu while surfing the Web.

If you found this article useful, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Anti-Malware Tools, Browsers, Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Firefox, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety Tools, Malware Protection, Online Safety, Software, Windows 7, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Vista, Windows XP

Secure Browser – A Sandboxed Firefox 3.6

image Controlling malware intrusion, while surfing the Net, through the use of a ‘”virtual” environment, rather than operating in a “real” environment, continues to make sense given the level of cyber criminal activity on the Internet.

In the last few months we’ve looked primarily at operating system virtualization – Shadow Defender, Returnil Virtual System, Wondershare Time Freeze, and a number of other similar applications. But, there are alternatives to OS virtualization – specific application virtualization running in a sandbox.

Dell, not generally noted for their free software, recently released (through their subsidiary, KACE Networks), Secure Browser, a virtualized version of Firefox 3.6, which according to KACE –

Changes or malicious files inadvertently downloaded from the Internet are contained within the secure browser, keeping the underlying OS and computer secure from hostile changes.

Any changes resulting from browser activity may be quickly and easily reset to effectively “undo” such changes and return it to its initially installed state.

Fast facts:

Provides a virtualized and contained Firefox v3.6 Browser with Adobe Reader and Flash plug-ins.

Rapidly reset any changes made during normal use back to their initial state, enabling easy recovery from infections or attacks.

View statistics related to the number of processes detected and blocked.

Set white and black lists to limit access to known good sites, or prevent access to known bad sites to further limit the risk of attack and infection.

Contrary to my usual practice, I have not tested this application. Instead, I’m reporting on it’s availability only.

System requirements: Windows 32 bit only.

Download at: KACE

Note: Registration required.

Alternative solutions:

Sandbox your current Browser in Sandboxie.

Run the Chrome Browser which includes a form of sandboxing.

Run Comodo Dragon a variation on Chrome with additional privacy controls.

Run Ubuntu while surfing the Web.

If you found this article useful, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.

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Filed under Browsers, Chrome, Comodo, Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Firefox, Free Anti-malware Software, Freeware, Google, Internet Safety Tools, Software, System Security, Ubuntu, Virtualization, Windows 7, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Vista, Windows XP

Time To Surf Without Windows? Is Ubuntu The Answer?

Many of my friends think that I lean towards a “scare them to death” philosophy, when it comes to the Internet. I often get badgered with questions like – “Don’t you ever see anything good about the Internet?” Or, “Don’t you get tired of scaring people with all your talk of the dangers on the Internet?”

Just to be clear – there is no doubt that the Internet can provide a rich educational and cultural experience, at a minimum, but at the same time, it is virtually impossible for Microsoft Windows users not to be exposed to the underbelly of the Internet.

The sad reality is, that most of my friends (as I explain to them), are just like the majority of computer users who are undereducated when it comes to recognizing the dangers, and threats, that the Internet poses to their computers, and to their personal privacy.

Most cyber security vendors will tell you, that a little common sense, a properly configured and updated system, coupled with their antimalware software will keep you safe on the Internet. Don’t believe it.

Cyber crime has undergone a fundamental change this past year. Much of today’s badware is smart enough to probe a system, searching out vulnerabilities in either the operating system or installed applications, with little or no interaction required from the user.

If you’re tired of having to consider whether the antimalware applications running on your system are up to the task of protecting you against cyber crime: identity theft; email scams; system penetration; viruses, spyware; adware; rogue software; web site spoofing; social media scams; erosion of your privacy rights; denial-of-service attack; then you need to start thinking outside the Microsoft Windows box.

I’m not a Microsoft hater – in fact, I love Windows, and I have been on board since Version 1.0. But, there’s no denying, that based on Windows installed base (well over 90% of the PCs in the world operate using some version of Windows), cyber criminals have seized the opportunity such a large market presents.

Current statistics indicate that over 95 percent of viruses, spyware, and other types of malware, are designed and targeted to attack Microsoft Windows. I’m not laying the blame at Microsoft’s door – third party application developers could do much more to ensure their applications are hardened against cyber criminals.

It seems reasonable to make the point then, that if you’re not running Windows while surfing the Net, but instead, you’re running an alternative operating system, you shouldn’t have to unnecessarily worry about malware, viruses, and spyware.

So, is it time that you took yourself out of this cyber crime market? Is it time for you to consider using an alternative operating system, while you interact with the Internet? And, if you are leaning this way – what operating system should suit your needs?

Since having to learn the fundamentals of a new operating system is a legitimate dissuader for most people, when faced with the question of the feasibly of changing to an unknown operating environment, familiarity in terms of the look and feel of the new system is of primary importance.

Ubuntu, an open source operating system, arguably the most popular distribution of Linux, has the look and feel of a Windows installation. I recently installed Ubuntu alongside Windows 7 Ultimate, which allows me to choose which operating system I want at Boot, and I haven’t been on the Internet since in Windows. Windows however, remains important to me since so many of my offline applications are Windows specific.

One fundamental difference you will observe immediately when using Ubuntu is it’s blazing speed.

The following screen captures indicates just how easy it is to install Ubuntu to run alongside your Windows installation. Be sure to choose the right installation from the selection.

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The following screen capture shows the Ubuntu install on my C: drive. Installing Ubuntu in this way, is dead simple – no partitioning or any other esoteric steps required.

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So what does Ubuntu look like when running? The following screen shots show just some of the possibilities.

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Ubuntu installs with all the applications you are ever likely to need, but it doesn’t stop there – there are literally thousands of applications readily available through the  built-in Software Center. No more searching the Internet for free applications, and having to download from questionable sites.

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I’m not suggesting for a moment, that you replace your current Windows installation – although, you may choose to do so when you experience the power of Ubuntu. Instead, I’m recommending that you interact with the Internet using Ubuntu in order to substantially reduce the risks Windows user have to contend with.

Hardware requirements:

1 GHz x86 processor

1 Gb of system memory (RAM)

15 GB of hard-drive space (although this can be split onto 2 drives, a 5Gb / and a 10Gb /home fairly easily)

Graphics card and monitor capable of 1024 by 768

Either a CD/DVD drive or a USB socket (or both)

Download at: Ubuntu

Note: A follow-up full review of Ubuntu is in the works, and should be posted here in the next week, or so.

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Filed under Alternatives to Windows, cybercrime, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Freeware, Linux, Open Source, Software, Ubuntu

Lotus Symphony Office Suite – A Blast from the Past?

Free Lotus Symphony Office Suite – your office in a box for tough economic times.

When I heard the words “Lotus Symphony” recently, I had a quick flashback to the “good old days” of MS-DOS. Sort of like a “back to the future” moment.

Symphony was the first “all in one” software package (text, spreadsheet, etc.) I bought for my IBM DOS OS computer, back in 1984/85. It seems to me, I paid something like $700/800 for this innovative (for then), software. According to the Inflation Calculator, that translates into $1,600 in today’s dollars.

Today, Lotus Symphony Office Suite ( a cross platform application), can be had for the grand sum of $zero. How times have changed!

Lotus Symphony Office Suite, offered by IBM, is a fairly basic, free (open source) substitute for Microsoft Office.

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The principal components of Symphony, as with MS Office are:

Word Processor

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Spreadsheet

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Presentation Graphics

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Fast facts:

Free

Reads and writes Open Document and MS Office formats

Macro support

Context-sensitive menus

Supports PDF conversion

Plug-in support to increase functionality

Multilingual supports 28 languages

If you are running a small office and you’re finding it tough going making ends meet, like the rest of us I suspect, the word “free” can be music to the ears. Lotus Symphony Office Suite while not a perfect replacement for MS Office, will meet your basic business needs.

IBM offers great support for this application, including plug-ins, downloadable clipart, and more.

System requirements: Windows XP and Vista; Intel Macs – OS X 10.5, Linux – Ubuntu

Download at: IBM

Open Office is another free Office Suite that is extremely popular and is worth a look.

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Filed under Business Applications, Desktop Applications, downloads, Free Full Versions, Free Office Suites, Free Word Processors, Freeware, Microsoft, Open Source, Productivity Software, Software, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Vista, Windows XP