Mar
18
Filed Under (Tips) by dw on 18-03-2013

chainAll software has defects (known as bugs) and bad design — which make computers vulnerable to attack. The Windows operating system, Office suites, media players, browsers and browser plug-ins are just a few examples of software that are open to attack.

An Attack vector (or just vector) is a specific computer-system vulnerability, along with the path and method that exploits it. It’s just a particular way to gain access to a computer in order to install malware, gain external control, or extract user data. (You might have a state-of-the-art burglar alarm at home, but if you leave the back door unlocked to let the cat in, you have created an attack vector)

There are other places to attack computer systems besides the software. The human element — the component between the chair and the keyboard — is often the most vulnerable part of a computer system. In humorous terms, this is known to computer geeks as a PEBKAC error. (Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair)

Email attachments have been the classic vector to use against humans. Email messages entice or alarm users, to open malicious attachments. Once opened, these attachment do the dirty work, often with the willing permission and participation of the victim. These attacks rely on deception to get past defense systems.

Along with attachments, email messages, downloaded files, infected webpages, videos, popup windows, instant messages, and social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter) are vehicles for many popular attack vectors.

One Ring to rule them all! This saying comes from the “Lord of the Rings”. Often people become victims of online fraud by using the same password  or usernames on multiple sites, including social media sites and Internet banking sites. Your online banking site and Facebook profile should never have the same password. Facebook is easily compromised, opening up a vulnerability to your Internet banking security.

Take a look at your online presence. How much information is out there about you that could be pieced together to scam you? Your name? Email address? Friends’ names? Their email addresses? Are you on, for example, any of the popular social networking sites? Take a look at your posts. Anything there you don’t want a scammer to know? Or have you posted something on a friend’s page that might reveal too much?

Passwords: Do you use just one password or easy-to-figure-out variations on just one? If you do either, you should not. You are making it easy for a phishing scammer to get access to your personal financial information. Every password for every site you visit should be different. Random letters and numbers work best. Change them frequently.

 

nessieWhat is a Virus/E-Mail Hoax?

Have you ever received an e-mail message that includes something like the following:

  •  A warning of a new virus that you should send on to everyone you know.
  • A warning of a scam that you should send on to everyone you know.
  • A petition to help the needy or some cause that wants you to forward it on to those who might be interested.
  • A get-rich-quick scheme that claims if you forward on the message you’ll receive money for each time it’s forwarded.
  • A claim that for each email sent someone in need will be helped by another organization.
  • A warning of a new virus or a scam that was sent out apparently by an organisation that is perceived as being legitimate and informed – like the South African Police.

These 6 scenarios account for almost all the virus and e-mail hoaxes you will see, and in almost all cases anything that follows any of these guidelines is a hoax, false, or an outdated petition that is just “floating” around the Internet. Before you consider forwarding any email that asks you to forward it to anyone else you should be able to do the following:

  •  Check the original date the message was created and sent.
  • Check the original sender of the message.
  • Check how many times the mail has been forwarded (Several FWD: Or Forwarded: in the subject line will be a clue)
  • Check any quotes made by any organizations mentioned with specific URL’s (web addresses) that backup the claims made in the message.
  • If the e-mail is for a cause, check the date of any action mentioned and/or the specific piece of legislation that is mentioned.

In general it is considered very bad manners  to forward a message on to a large number of people.

Why these Hoaxes Cause Problems?

Imagine if someone receives a message that tells them to forward it on to “everyone they know.” If  this person forwards the message on to 100 people, (which is not uncommon) and just a few people forward this message onto to another large group, the message will be duplicated thousands of times in a short period of time, often just hours.

A few thousand extra e-mails result in a bunch of wasted disk space, clogging of network bandwidth, and most importantly the complete waste of time for many professionals and, possibly, your friends all over the world. This simple e-mail hoax may cost thousands of dollars in wasted time by everyone involved. Consider the man hours wasted in dealing with these hoaxes and what is costing the organisation.

Furthermore the organisation is employing people to do a job and if these employees waste time sending out mail instead of doing their work, they are essentially robbing the organisation

What is equally disconcerting is that there might be a message that is true, or contains some important information, that is ignored because most of the previous e-mail have been hoaxes. (The old fairy tale of “The boy who cried wolf” is a good example)

 How to Tell if a Message is a Hoax?

Below is a message about a supposed screen saver that will wipe out your hard drive and “steal your password.” You can read about this virus hoax at http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/venc/data/buddylst.zip.html

Read after the message for some tips on how you can tell this is obviously a hoax.

 Subject: [Fwd: Beware of the Budweiser virus–really!]

 This information came from Microsoft yesterday morning. Please pass it on to anyone you know who has access to the Internet. You may receive an apparently harmless Budweiser Screensaver, If you do, DO NOT OPEN IT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, but delete it immediately. Once opened, you will lose EVERYTHING on your PC. Your hard disk will be completely destroyed and the person who sent you the message will have access to your name and password via the Internet.

 As far as we know, the virus was circulated yesterday morning. It’s a new virus, and extremely dangerous. Please copy this information and e-mail it to everyone in your address book. We need to do all we can to block his virus. AOL has confirmed how dangerous it is, and there is no Antivirus program as yet which is capable of destroying it.

Please take all the necessary precautions, and pass this information on to your friends, acquaintances and work colleagues.

End of message.

EMAILCHIEF

 First, take look at the following text:

“This information came from Microsoft yesterday morning.”

The words “yesterday morning” are quite a clue. When was yesterday morning? Obviously not yesterday. What about Microsoft? If they are making some sort of announcement where is the web site address with this announcement? Why would Microsoft make an announcement about some random virus that has nothing to do with their company?

Please pass it on to anyone you know who has access to the Internet.

Anything that asks you to “pass it on to anyone you know who has access to the Internet” is a big flag. Any official group (Microsoft, AOL, etc.) are the last ones to ask you to forward e-mail to everyone you know. This goes against standard Internet policies and good etiquette. It just clogs up disks, networks and wastes everyone’s time.

“AOL has confirmed how dangerous it is…”

If AOL had confirmed anything they would certainly have a URL with this statement. Furthermore, what does AOL have to do with this? Finally, AOL is not an official virus reporting agency. You want to see things like CERT, Symantec (they make Norton AntiVirus), McAfee, F-PROT (they make F-PROT F-Secure), etc.

The following statement is a big sign:

“…and there is no Antivirus program as yet which is capable of destroying it.”

By the time the message gets to anyone, if the virus was for real, all the major antivirus programs would already have a check for this. Generally it takes just one or two days for a big company like Symantec, McAfee, or F-PROT to come up with a check for such a virus.

Finally, we have this:

“…the person who sent you the message will have access to your name and password via the Internet.”

What password? What do they mean by “via the Internet”? If you do store any of your passwords on your machine (e.g. dialup, in Eudora, etc.) it’s encrypted. Furthermore, suppose it’s some super virus and it can decrypt your passwords in certain circumstances, then what? Is it going to mail the password back to its creator? Now the South African Police can track them down easily and arrest them? None of this makes much sense. Many e-mail hoaxes make ridiculous statements such as this.

Where to Check if a Message is a Hoax

Before you consider forwarding a message about a “virus” or a petition, always check your sources, just because your elderly mother sent it from her computer, or the e-mail has a South African Police or SARS logo on it, doesn’t necessarily tell you that it is legitimate or true. Sometime a simple Google search with key terms will immediately give you an answer, often within a couple of seconds.

To check if a message is a hoax you can try out the following sites:

Snopes Urban Legends Reference Pages

http://www.snopes.com/

Symantec’s AntiVirus Research Center Virus Hoax Page

http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/hoax.html

 

May
28
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by dw on 28-05-2012

Social networking services like Facebook are dangerous. You lose your privacy and open yourself to a number of risks.

For example, two masked robbers robbed the wrong home, hours after a teenager posted a photo on Facebook of a large pile of her grandmother’s savings.

Police in New South Wales, Australia, said that the men, armed with a club and a knife, struck at the home of the 17-year-old’s mother in the country town of Bundanoon on Thursday night, but were told the daughter no longer lived there.

The bandits searched the house and took a small amount of cash as well as other property before leaving. No one was injured.

Police said that earlier in the day the girl had posted a picture on her Facebook page of a “large sum of cash” she had helped count at her 72-year-old grandmother’s home in Sydney, 75 miles north-east of Bundanoon.

No matter how “cool” or convenient Facebook is, it is always important to keep a close watch on its security implications. Each of these services comes with its own set of security concerns which can put your information
systems and/or personal data at risk. (the incident above is one such example)

For example, you have posted an update on your Facebook profile say: “Looking forward to the family holiday next week at the beach house.” Although these might seem relatively harmless, the third bullet point could raise some concern. You have just told all your friends, as well as all their friends, that you will be away from home for a full week. This is comparable to putting a sign on the main road that shouts “Empty House” for passers-by to see. Even if you have a burglar alarm or neighbors keeping an occasional eye on the home, you still don’t want to create the temptation for strangers (Friends of Friends) to consider helping themselves to the contents of your house.

This is just one of the risks you might encounter when using Facebook, and this is one to the reasons why I prefer to steer away from social networking services. You rarely know or meet your “friends”, and this exposes you to unacceptable risks to your personal safety! Optimism aside, the world is full of mean-spirited people who would want to exploit and harm you. Be careful!

 

Mar
08
Filed Under (Tips) by dw on 08-03-2012

Each day, almost 3,000 laptop computers are stolen. Many of these thefts could be prevented. Here are some practical steps you can take to prevent your portable notebook computer from becoming a police statistic.

  • Lock your notebook in your office during off-hours.
  • Whenever possible, take your laptop home with you so you always know where it is.
  • Review and understand the laptop insurance coverage included in your business and homeowners’ policies to ensure that you have coverage for theft.
  • Keep only the most necessary proprietary information on the laptop.
  • Do not load passwords on the laptop, particularly those allowing remote and email communication with clients or the office.
  • Never leave your laptop unattended in a public place, even for a moment!
  • Consider installing a boot-up password, available on most laptops, so only users with your password can access the hard drive.
  • Back up your files and store them in some place other than the laptop carrying case.
  • Consider engraving the company name or some other identification on the laptop cover.
  • Be especially cautious about installing software from unknown sources—it may contain a virus.
  • Pay attention to where you use your laptop. Be aware that someone behind or next to you can see your computer screen. This is especially true on an airplane.

When Traveling

  • Carry your notebook in a strong, padded,nondescript bag. Do not use a carrying case that advertises there’s a computer inside.
  • Never leave a laptop in full view in your car, and never check the computer as luggage at airports.Do not leave your laptop unattended.
  • At airport checkpoints, be observant. Don’t place the laptop on a conveyor belt until you are ready to walk through the checkpoint.

Laptop & Data Security Tools

Several effective laptop and data security options are available to protect your equipment from theft:

  • IBM has “secure” notebooks that are equipped with Asset ID, a radiofrequency-based security and asset-tracking technology.
  • Automatic online backups by Toshiba prevent anyone from reading the data your computer sends without your pass phrase. Information is encrypted before your PC transmits it.
  • Track-it is a product that blasts a sonic alarm if you get more than 40 feet from your laptop to alert you that it has been left behind.
  • A software program, CompuTrace, calls in with its location to a Central Monitoring System. These calls are made at regular intervals, providing the electronic serial number, phone number (from which it is calling) and other traceable information.
  • For some inexpensive ways of reducing laptop theft, try security cables, stands, AnchorPads and boxes that offer good protection.
Mar
02

Moodle and Blackboard are both popular online LMS solution (Learning Management System) with which the Faculty of Health Sciences can develop complete online courses that can include multimedia content.

How do the two compare to each other and what are the benefits unique to each course delivery system?  Let’s explore some of these benefits of  Moodle and Blackboard.

Firstly let’s clear the deck and note what Moodle and Blackboard are.

Moodle is an Open Source Learning Management System that is provided freely and can be run on many operating systems. According to the Moodle website it is “free to download, change, share, improve, and customize to whatever you want it to be,”. Therefore, any lecturer can use it to build or supplement a course.

Blackboard on the other hand is a proprietary Learning Management System and its use is typically limited to institutions like the university which pay a sizeable fee each year to take on a license agreement for its use. Each and every student at the university pays a small amount every year for the licencing.

Moodle’s is definitely the gawky teenager here. It is constantly in a state of development and improvement, there’s no waiting for the company to fix a bug or impove the program. Being “open source” each and every user has a unique opportunity to contribute to the development of the product.

The new features of Moodle mostly centre around increased usability, these include: easier navigation, improved user profiles, community hub publishing and downloading, a new interface for messaging, and a feature that allows teachers to check student work for plagiarism. Text formats will also allow plug-ins for embedded photos and videos in text (but Blackboard allows for this too).

A major improvement over previous releases is that anyone can set up a community hub, which is a public or private directory of courses. Another notable feature is that Moodle now allows teachers to search all public community hubs and download courses to use as templates for building their own courses. Also, teachers can now see when a student completes a certain activity or task and can also see reports on a student’s progress in a course.

Many small scale open source platforms require that users support the product themselves, getting their “hands dirty” tweaking and improving the hard way – of course using the open source community as their primary resource. However Moodle has an advantage, it has become so popular that a small industry has evolved around it, providing a wide range of support and services. Two of the most popular support and hosting services are  Moodlerooms and Remote-Learner.

Blackboard Learn is Blackboard’s newest and most innovative upgrade to its Blackboard Learn package.

Improvements in its uses for higher education include course wikis (Moodle improved theirs as well), blogs and journals that stimulate conversation and reflection on a course, and group tools that make group collaboration and communication easier than the previous version. Its most notable feature is its Web 2.0 interface, which makes it easy for educators to navigate when adding content to an online course and for students to navigate when accessing course content.

Blackboard Learn now incorporates Blackboard Connect (of course at an additional cost), which alerts students to deadlines, due dates and academic priorities within a course. The new release also allows educators to more easily incorporate videos and photos directly into text for a more complete learning experience.  Finally, Blackboard features Blackboard Mobile Learn (also at an additional cost – and why am I not surprised), which lets students connect to their online courses using various handheld devices, such as the iPhone or iPad.

So, what are the biggest differences?

Features & Functions: Both of these tools have a lot of different functionality available, either natively, or through add-on types of functionality. If different functions are going to be the deciding factor in selecting one of these versus the other, you will really need to drill in and compare and decide for yourselves which features and functions will make the difference for the Faculty.

Cost: This is clearly different. As an open source product, Moodle is simply less expensive. Blackboard is sort of the “Rolls Royce” of today’s LMS, and there are users of the product who would tell you that if you want the best LMS money can buy, you should make the financial commitment to Blackboard. On the other hand, if you want a premier product for a much lower cost, Moodle is really the way to go. Another thing to be aware of is that Blackboard builds substantial annual increases into their pricing model, since they are continually procuring and integration additional products into their offerings, with the intent of adding value for their users.

Product/vendor model: As indicated above, Moodle and Blackboard are very different products with very different vendor models. One is open source, and there are many support and service vendors to choose from, while the other is proprietary and there is just the one company to work with. How that impacts your decision is up to you and your institution to determine.

Nov
23
Filed Under (Editorial) by dw on 23-11-2011

ISPA names and shames South Africa’s biggest spammers and email address resellers in their Hall of Shame

The South African Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) updated their “Spam Hall of Shame” recently, naming and shaming the country’s spammers and e-mail address resellers.

Until recently it was mainly the embarrassment of appearing on this list which made it a deterrent to spammers, but an announcement by a local firm that it is using this data in fighting spam changes the game.

Pinpoint SecureMail said that they are integrating the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) Hall of Shame anti-spam watchlist in their e-mail protection software.

According to Yossi Hasson, managing director of Pinpoint SecureMail development company SYNAQ, this means that all companies listed on the ISPA spam Hall of Shame are immediately given an extra weighting on SYNAQ’s spam algorithms and are quarantined.

In the first three weeks following the ISPA Hall of Shame integration into Pinpoint SecureMail, SYNAQ identified and blocked 146,926 spam messages sent out by companies included in the list.

The latest spammers and email address resellers listed in ISPA’s spam hall of shame are as follows.

South African spammers:

  1. Dynamic Seminars
  2. New Heights 1268 / Jaco Derksen
  3. SA Webs (not SA Web Design)
  4. Ketler Presentations
  5. Brain Power
  6. Worldclass Mobile aka Marketing House
  7. World Class Products
  8. Kaleidoscope Advertising and eMarketing
  9. The Peer Group
  10. The SA Consumer Initiative
  11. Pinny Barak – Bizweb
  12. Promo Mail SA
  13. Greycell cc / Bad Credit Loans
  14. Eddy Wines
  15. Jake The Transporter
  16. Drive Car Sales / Justgroup-Africa
  17. No More Debt / Debt Free Living
  18. Marketing Now
  19. Body and Mind
  20. SA Passport
  21. Front Foot Events
  22. Plum Solutions
  23. Eezi Marketing
  24. Craig Sneeden C2IT
  25. Winners Circle
  26. Richard Catto
  27. Jimmie Somers
  28. South African Centre for Health Management cc
  29. African Experience Golf Tours
  30. FiF 247 Information Services
  31. Kevin Croft
  32. Tom Goldgamer
  33. Top In
  34. Master Lists
  35. Bulk eMail services
  36. IITA
  37. Kidz Memoriez
  38. Bidding Buzz
  39. Grunder Marketing
  40. SaveHost
  41. WebSites4SA – Johan Steyn
  42. Flossnet.org.za
  43. Marketing Counts
  44. Manhattan Hotel

Address resellers:

  1. Mark Tribelhorn
  2. Affordable Construction
  3. Rain Marketing
  4. Peter Van Wyk – Media Online (not The Media Online)
  5. Mandy Simone
  6. Timothy Heston
  7. Jonathan Schoeman: BP Media & SMSCity
  8. Verosha Bisnath
  9. ListSA
  10. Email Marketing South Africa
  11. Web Marketing Today
  12. All Things SA
  13. Data Corp SA
  14. Trinity Designs
  15. Trevor Jones
  16. MailMagic
  17. DataInc
  18. Jannie Pretorius, Group3Properties
  19. Silent G
  20. Michael Fraser, Pink Soda Marketing
  21. Graham Naude, Eezi Marketing
  22. Marketing Now
  23. Abram Morake
  24. Aqua Direct Marketing
  25. Master Lists SA
  26. Bulk eMail services
  27. marketing.counts@gmail.com
  28. Tony Baker – SA Data Marketing
  29. Lowveld Media

Staff Writer – MyBroadband.co.za

Nov
15
Filed Under (Editorial, Tips) by dw on 15-11-2011

Jerry Bryan immediately knew there was something wrong at his church. He knew it the second he opened up the email from the pastor. As a highly respected member of his church and a known technophile, Jerry was often consulted by the pastor concerning technical matters. In this case, however, the pastor was passing along a serious warning.

A secretary at his church had received an email from a friend that scared her:

I have some bad news. I was just informed that my address book has been infected with a virus. As a result, so has yours because your address is in my book. The virus is called jdbgmgr.exe. It cannot be detected by Norton or McAfee anti-virus programs. It sits quietly for about 14 days before damaging the system. It is sent automatically by messenger and address book, whether or not you send email. The good news is that it is easy to get rid of!

Just follow these simple steps and you should have no problem.

  1. Go to Start, then Find or Search
  2. In files/folders, write the name jdbgmgr.exe
  3. Be sure to search in you “C” drive
  4. Click Find or Search
  5. The virus has a teddy bear logo with the name jdbgmgr.exe – DO NOT OPEN!!
  6. RIGHT click and delete it
  7. Go to the recycle bin and delete it there also

IF YOU FIND THE VIRUS, YOU MUST CONTACT EVERYONE IN YOUR ADDRESS BOOK
Sorry for the trouble, but this is something I had no control over. I received it from someone else’s address book.

After receiving the email, the secretary looked, and sure enough, jdbgmgr.exe was sitting on her hard drive! She had a virus! She put in a call for the church’s tech people and then began to check other computers in the building. They all had the virus! jdbgmgr.exe was everywhere! A mass program of cleansing was about to begin, but Jerry got back to the pastor just in time with some good news. The church was not the victim of a virus. It was the victim of a hoax: the jdbgmgr.exe virus hoax.

After arising among Spanish-speaking Net users in early April 2002, the hoax quickly spread to English-speakers by mid-April. No one knows how many people fell for it, but it continues to this day, as the story above proves. Unfortunately, when people delete jdbgmgr.exe, they are not deleting a malicious virus; instead, they are deleting a system file placed on their computer by Microsoft.

Microsoft explains in its Knowledge Base article that jdbgmgr.exe is the “Microsoft Debugger Registrar for Java”. Fortunately, if you delete the file, you’re not really affected unless you use Microsoft Visual J++ 1.1 to develop programs written in the Java programming language. If you are such a developer, then you need to follow the instructions Microsoft gives on its Web page.

A Brief History of Hoaxes

The jdbgmgr.exe virus hoax is by no means an isolated incident. Indeed, there has been a rash of virus hoaxes in recent years. For instance, there was the “Budweiser Frogs screensaver” hoax in 1997. This email warned folks that a “creepoid scam-artist” was sending “a very desirable screen-saver (the Bud frogs)” that would, if downloaded, cause you to “lose everything!!!!”, while at the same time, “someone from the Internet will get your screen name and password!”. Of course, nothing of the sort would occur if you loaded the screensaver. Granted, you might find yourself thinking about enjoying a cold one, but you certainly wouldn’t find your computer affected. The logical impossibility of hard drive failure at the same time your username and password are not only saved but sent to “someone from the Internet” never seemed to cross the minds of this hoax’s victims.

Another hoax that frightened people was the so-called ” Virtual Card for You” virus of 2000. Victims were warned, via email, that a “new virus has just been discovered that has been classified by Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) and by McAfee (www.mcafee.com) as the most destructive ever!”. Details continued:

This virus acts in the following manner: It sends itself automatically to all contacts on your list with the title “A Virtual Card for You”.

As soon as the supposed virtual card is opened, the computer freezes so that the user has to reboot. When the ctrl+alt+del keys or the reset button are pressed, the virus destroys Sector Zero, thus permanently destroying the hard disk.

Please distribute this message to the greatest number of people possible. Yesterday in just a few hours this virus caused panic in New York, according to news broadcast by CNN (www.cnn.com).

There was no truth to the statements in this email. There was no virus, CNN didn’t broadcast a warning, and there was certainly no panic in New York (Like a little computer virus would panic New Yorkers! It takes something serious to get New Yorkers to panic — like a shortage of cream cheese at Zabar’s, or a gigantic gorilla on top of the Empire State Building.). Nonetheless, thousands of people fell for it, and the email continues to make the rounds.

Although virus hoaxes have been circulating since 1988, the granddaddy of them all is the supposed Good Times virus, the first really successful virus hoax. It started life on AOL in 1994, and it still pops up today. Its descendants are legion, as many other virus hoaxes have copied some aspect of Good Times. In that sense, it can be said to be the most influential virus hoax of all. The virus read as follows:

Some miscreant is sending email under the title “Good Times” nationwide, if you get anything like this, DON’T DOWN LOAD THE FILE!

It has a virus that rewrites your hard drive, obliterating anything on it. Please be careful and forward this mail to anyone you care about. The FCC released a warning last Wednesday concerning a matter of major importance to any regular user of the Internet. Apparently a new computer virus has been engineered by a user of AMERICA ON LINE that is unparalleled in its destructive capability. … What makes this virus so terrifying, said the FCC, is the fact that no program needs to be exchanged for a new computer to be infected. It can be spread through the existing email systems of the Internet.

Once a Computer is infected, one of several things can happen. If the computer contains a hard drive, that will most likely be destroyed. If the program is not stopped, the computer’s processor will be placed in an nth-complexity infinite binary loop – which can severely damage the processor if left running that way too long. Unfortunately, most novice computer users will not realize what is happening until it is far too late. Luckily, there is one sure means of detecting what is now known as the “Good Times” virus. It always travels to new computers the same way in a text email message with the subject line reading “Good Times”. Avoiding infection is easy once the file has been received simply by NOT READING IT! The act of loading the file into the mail server’s ASCII buffer causes the “Good Times” mainline program to initialize and execute.

The program is highly intelligent – it will send copies of itself to everyone whose email address is contained in a receive-mail file or a sent-mail file, if it can find one. It will then proceed to trash the computer it is running on.

The bottom line is: – if you receive a file with the subject line “Good Times”, delete it immediately! Do not read it. Rest assured that whoever’s name was on the “From” line was surely struck by the virus. Warn your friends and local system users of this newest threat to the Internet! It could save them a lot of time and money.

********IMPORTANT******* PLEASE SEND TO PEOPLE YOU CARE ABOUT OR JUST PEOPLE ONLINE

As with the other hoaxes we have looked at, this “warning” was full of lies and misconceptions. There is no way that simply viewing a plain-text email could infect someone’s machine with a virus (unfortunately, the same is not true for folks that use Outlook to view HTML-formatted email, as my SecurityFocus articles on Outlook security discussed). It used fancy-sounding “techie” words that sound impressive to non-technical people, but actually mean nothing at all, like the “nth-complexity infinite binary loop”, whatever that is. And finally, do you really think that a user of America OnLine could create anything like a virus this technically complex?

The Good Times hoax was fairly ironic. Often, system administrators would get the email and immediately forward it to everyone in their companies, warning employees not to open any email with “Good Times” in the subject. Of course, the email warning people not to open any email with “Good Times” in the subject HAD the words “Good Times” in the subject! This didn’t damage any computers, but it did produce severe cases of cognitive dissonance in irony-impaired workers all across America.

There’s One Born Every Minute – Or is There?

So why do people fall for these hoaxes? A lot of it goes back to the noble desire to help others. Who wouldn’t want to warn others about a disaster? And it’s so easy to send the warning to hundreds of people at one time: with just a click, you’ve saved your friends from a virus!

Another consideration is the uncertainty that people feel in dealing with computers. Look at the jdbgmgr.exe hoax, which is actually quite ingenious in its fashion. By asking users to confirm that the file is on their computer, it makes people feel like they are participating in their own computer security. Most computer users typically can’t “see” a virus, just the aftermath. This, coupled with the anxiety many people feel about their computers — these large, complicated machines that they really don’t understand — leads to a feeling of certainty when the jdbgmgr.exe file is found on their machines. “Aha!” they think, “Caught one! And there’s the proof — right in front of my eyes!”

It’s funny, but most people would never fall for such a trick in real life. Let’s say I walked up to the same people that fell for the jdbgmgr.exe trick and said, “There are terrorists in this neighborhood. If you see a man in a black hat, call the police, because he’s a terrorist!” Minutes later, a man in a black hat walks by. Would these people call the police? Probably not. They would use their common-sense, their experience of the normal everyday rhythms of life, to judge whether or not someone is a threat.

Computers, however, are the equivalent of a foreign country for many people. When someone is in a country with which they are not familiar, perhaps feeling anxiety because they don’t understand the language (“nth-complexity infinite binary loop”, anyone?), they are more likely to grab onto signposts that will help them. In such a situation, they might be far more likely to fall for my false warning about terrorists.

And if the warning came not from a stranger, but from a friend or acquaintance, as happened when jdbgmgr.exe warnings arrived in email inboxes, then the likelihood of falling victim to a hoax skyrockets. After all, in a foreign country, isn’t the sight of a fellow countryperson always welcome?

Another reason people fall for hoaxes is because they know that anti-virus programs, unfortunately, do not always work. Many viruses spread so quickly that they overwhelm users before anti-virus vendors can update their software. The “Melissa” and “I love you” viruses are good examples of this phenomena. So when users “see” — or think they see, a la jdbgmgr.exe — evidence of the “virus” on their computers, but their anti-virus software says there is no virus, many users are going to believe their eyes and not their software.

Even worse, many users pay no attention to the neccessity of updating their anti-virus software. I have seen office computers with anti-virus databases that are years out of date. When I ask these users why they haven’t updated their software, they typically respond with a blank stare and a plaintive but accurate excuse: “I didn’t know I needed to do that.”

Not Just Harmless Fun – The Real Dangers of Hoaxes

Virus hoaxes are not real viruses, by definition, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have negative effects. In fact, virus hoaxes can be quite damaging in a number of different ways.

First, it is quite possible that a hoax may end up damaging your computer. The email itself won’t have caused the damage. Instead, the email will have convinced you to damage your own computer, as my story about the the jdbgmgr.exe email demonstrates. The folks in Jerry Bryan’s church were ready to remove files from their computer that they in fact did not need to remove. They were fortunate that they really didn’t need the file in question, but what about next time? What if the hoax author had more malicious intentions and had instructed gullible recipients to remove a key system file or directory?

Second, a virus hoax results in a waste of resources. The victim wastes valuable time dealing with garbage, and time, after all, is money. People sending the message to friends, family, and colleagues waste bandwidth on the Internet and mail servers. Since these emails usually arrive chock-full of email addresses in the “To” and “CC” fields, spammers treat such warnings as a free gift full of new, valid email addresses they can exploit, further compounding the problem of wasted resources. So remember: if you forward that virus warning, you’ve just multiplied all of the losses above to include everyone else in your address book.

A virus hoax can damage your reputation, or at least make you the butt of jokes. When I receive an email from an acquaintance warning me about jdbgmgr.exe and its dangers, I just shake my head and think “Newbie!” … before I help them. If you forward that email along to 100 folks thinking you’ve done your duty, you’re going to feel pretty sheepish having to send another email letting them know you just made a foolish mistake — and a mistake that could have been prevented with just a little bit of checking on your part first.

Finally, virus hoaxes can have a corrosive effect on security. How? Consider the story of the boy who cried wolf. Similarly, virus hoaxes can undermine the attention that end users pay to rigorous security measures. As a result, users may fall into lax security habits, underestimating the dangers of real viruses because of the frequency of false alarms represented by hoaxes.

How to Spot a Virus

There are definite signs that indicate when a virus warning is in fact a hoax. With common sense and a healthy dose of skepticism, you can help make the Internet a better place by helping stop hoaxes before they spread.

First, don’t fall for a warning just because it “sounds” technical. As we have seen above (remember our friend the “nth-complexity infinite binary loop”?), technical-sounding language means nothing. In fact, most real virus warnings from real organizations don’t use a lot of technical language. They try to explain the problem and the solution in language that is simple and direct.

Just because the email came from your friend the computer nerd doesn’t mean it’s correct. Even if he works at Microsoft. And just because the email claims to be reporting the words of the FCC, or the FBI, or a respected anti-virus vendor, or some other government agency or company doesn’t make it more likely to be true. Search the Web sites of the organizations that are mentioned in the email before believing what you read. Further, do a Google search on the virus name: that may produce immediate results indicating whether the virus is real or a hoax.

If the email has a lot of exclamation points or words or phrases written in CAPITAL LETTERS, it is more than likely false. Real security alerts from reputable organizations don’t use such techniques. However, the creators of virus hoaxes do use such techniques, because they know that people are influenced by their emotions. If the email pushes emotional buttons, but doesn’t offer much in the way of verifiable fact, it’s a hoax.

The worse the virus sounds, the less likely its existence. Sure, some viruses do destructive things, but most do not. And the effects attributed to viruses in hoax emails are usually nothing short of apocalyptic: erased hard drives, destroyed systems, and panic in the streets. Be especially suspicious anytime a virus is described using a superlative, as in “most destructive”, “worst ever”, and so on.

Finally, if the “warning” says to pass it along to everyone you know, it is without doubt a fake. In effect, if you pass along warnings, then YOU become the means by which the virus hoax propagates. Real virus warnings never encourage you to forward them; instead, they direct you to a Web site for further information. Break the chain! Don’t forward emails warning about viruses!

But what if you do get an email that seems real? Don’t panic. And don’t forward it to everyone on God’s green earth. Check it out first. Ask the technical department at your company. If they’re not available, there are some excellent resources on the Web that can help you verify the truth of a virus warning.

The major anti-virus vendors all have pages about hoaxes. In particular, Symantec, makers of Norton Anti-Virus, and McAfee have in-depth and timely information that can help you sort truth from fiction. Two outstanding sites that cover these hoaxes in depth are at Vmyths.com: Hoaxes A-Z and Snopes.com. Finally, I have a page on my Web site that gathers together these and other resources.

A Last Desparate Warning

In conclusion, I have some bad news. I need to warn my readers about a terrible new virus that’s going around. Seriously! This one is real, and I urge you to watch for it and take the appropriate measures. I received the following dire warning in an email today that I must pass along to you, so you can protect yourself. Forward it to all your friends, so we can all help stop this hideous scourge before it brings the world to its knees!

If you receive an Email with the subject line “Badtimes” delete it IMMEDIATELY, WITHOUT READING it. This is the most dangerous Email virus yet.

Not only will it completely rewrite your hard drive, but it will scramble any disks that are even close to your computer. It also demagnetises the strips on your credit cards. It reprograms your ATM access code, screws up the tracking on your VCR and uses subspace field harmonics to scratch any CD’s you try to play. It will recalibrate your refrigerator’s coolness settings so all your ice cream melts and your milk curdles. It will give your ex-boy/girlfriend your new phone number. This virus will mix antifreeze into your fish tank. It will drink all your beer. It will even leave dirty socks on the coffee table when you are expecting company.

It will hide your car keys when you are late for work and interfere with your car radio reception so you hear only static while stuck in traffic. When executed “Badtimes” will give you nightmares about circus midgets. It will replace your shampoo with Nair and deodorant with Surface Spray. It will give you Dutch Elm Disease and Tinea. If the “Badtimes” message is opened in a Windows95 environment, it will leave the toilet seat up and leave your hairdryer plugged in dangerously close to a full bathtub.

It will not only remove the forbidden tags from your mattresses and pillows, but it will refill your skim milk with whole milk. It has been known to disregard ‘Open This End’ labels and can make you ‘Push’ a door that says ‘Pull’ and vice versa. It is insidious and subtle. It is dangerous and terrifying to behold. It is also a rather interesting shade of mauve. These are just a few signs.

You have been warned!

by Scott Granneman

If you were born after 1960 or so you will realise how frightengly rapid technology is progressing and changing. In the first half of the 2000s, retailers were buzzing about the wonders of MP3 players and netbooks, but by the end of the decade, those products had largely been replaced by smartphones and tablets.

We will all have to face the facts – some of the gadgets you may currently rely on will disappear or made obsolete by the end of this decade in 2020, no longer be produced for a mass-market audience.

In this largely speculative article we ask the question: Which popular products today will join the likes of VCRs, cassette players and transistor radios disappearing from the shelves and our lives forever? (except perhaps in an antique collection)

Standalone GPS Systems

The days of spending R1500 or more on a standalone GPS device won’t last much longer, analysts say. “Portable navigation devices like those sold by TomTom and Garmin will probably not be sold in 2020, just because mobile phones will have taken on that function themselves and because GPS systems will be standard equipment in cars,” says Charles S. Golvin, an analyst at Forrester, a market research firm. So here won’t be much of a need to buy a product whose only function is to tell you directions. If there is a demand for these GPS systems, it will likely come from a very specific segment of consumers, like mountaineers climbing Mount Everest or long-distance truckers or the military, but for the vast majority of consumers, standalone GPS systems will be irrelevant and redundant.

E-Readers

The e-reader has already undergone significant changes in its short history, evolving from a product with a keyboard to one with a touchscreen and more recently being integrated into a kind of a tablet-hybrid, but according to Golvin, the market for e-readers will mostly disappear by the end of the decade. “The tablet will largely supplant the e-reader in the same way that the iPod increasingly gets displaced by smartphones,” Golvin says. “Tablets will take on the e-reader function of handling magazine, newspaper and book reading.” In essence, spending money on an e-reader that can only handle reading when tablets can do this and more will come to seem as useless as buying a GPS system that can only look up directions when other technology does this as well. Just how small the e-reader market becomes may depend somewhat on advancements in display technology. One of the biggest incentives for consumers to buy a pure e-reader is to have an e-ink display (like reading from a book) rather than a backlit display (like reading from a computer screen), but according to Golvin, manufacturers are already working on ways to merge the two reading experiences and create a tablet that doubles as an authentic e-reader. Even then, there may be still be some e-readers on the market at the beginning of next decade, but not many. “It could be that by 2020 you can still buy a super cheap e-reader for R160, but by and large, the volume of sales will be so close to zero as to be indistinguishable, like CD players are now,” he says.

Feature Phones

A feature phone is a mobile phone that, like smartphones, combines the functions of a personal digital assistant (PDA) and a mobile phone. Today’s models typically also serve as portable media players and camera phones with touchscreen, GPS navigation, Wi-Fi and mobile broadband access.

Several of the products that are likely to be phased out will ultimately be the victim of advances to smartphones, and none more directly than feature phones. Tim Bajarin, a technology columnist and principle analyst with Creative Strategies, predicts that 80% of all phones sold in 2015 will be smartphones and every phone sold in 2018 will be a smartphone. This rapid decline will come about thanks to a drop in prices for consumers and an increase in revenue opportunities for carriers. “Even today, the money that is made is not on the phone itself but on the services,” Bajarin says, noting that carriers will opt to “fade out” their feature phone option in favor of smartphones with more services.

Low-End Digital Cameras

When Apple unveiled the iPhone 4S, smartphone competitors probably weren’t the only ones beginning to sweat. Digital camera makers also have much to be worried about. Apple’s newest phone has a killer 8-megapixel camera that takes in more light and records video at 1080p HD video. Until recently, those kind of specs were unique to digital cameras, but increasingly smartphones are taking over the market. “Flip cameras went bye-bye and now low-end camera functions are being taken over by smartphones,” says Rob Enderle, principle analyst for the Enderle Group. Going forward, consumers will have less incentive to carry around a camera when they already have a phone in their pocket that takes quality pictures. “The point-and-shooters – and particularly the cameras that sell for under R1500 – will eventually go away and be replaced by cellphones that do the same thing.” On the other hand, Enderle predicts more expensive and high-tech cameras may have a brighter future, though not by much, as a smaller market of photo enthusiasts seek out professional-quality cameras that go above and beyond what’s offered on a phone.

DVD Players

DVD players are in the process of being phased out now by Blu-ray players and will likely be erased from the consumer landscape by the end of the decade. “The DVD player should be replaced by digital delivery,” says Ian Olgeirson, a senior analyst at SNL Kagan, who points to streaming movie services like Netflix as being the future. “Blu-rays and whatever the next generation high-end movie format emerges could prolong the lifespan because of challenges around streaming, but eventually the disc is going to be phased out.” The idea of placing a disc into a DVD player to watch a movie will eventually seem as outdated as placing a record on a turntable.

Recordable CDs and DVDs

Using CDs and DVDs to view and store content will soon be a thing of the past. “CDs are clearly not going to make it over the next 10 years because everything will shift over to pure digital distribution, so all those shiny discs will be gone,” Bajarin says. This will be due in part to more streaming options for music and movies and a greater reliance on digital downloads, combined with more efficient storage options for consumers, including USB drives, external hard drives and of course the cloud. “All a CD is is a medium for distribution of content … and within 10 years, you won’t need a physical transport medium,” Bajarin says.

Video Game Consoles

Popular video game systems such as the Wii, PlayStation and Xbox may still be in homes next decade, but they will look much different. Rather than buy a separate console, Enderle expects that consumers will instead buy smart televisions with a gaming system built into it, not to mention tablets and smartphones that will continue to ramp up their gaming options. “It looks like analog game systems won’t make it until the end of the decade,” Enderle says. “You are already seeing the Wii have a tough time holding on to the market and PlayStation has been struggling for a while.” The gaming systems that will succeed in the future will be those that manage to move away from being focused solely on video games and more on other entertainment options such as movies, evolving from a traditional game console into more of a set-top box.

By Seth Fiegerman, MainStreet

Oct
07
Filed Under (Tips) by dw on 07-10-2011

There are many virusses on the Internet. When I started working at the university in late 1988, there were only 4 computer virusses in the entire world. In April 2008, the “1 million” mark for virusses was passed, and we are fast approaching the 2 million mark in October 2011.

With that sort of threat hanging over every computer user’s head, scammers play on the resulting paranoia and general ignorance of the average computer user and have created what we call “scareware”.

Scareware is when a programmer or company creates a substandard antivirus program, (for example WinAntiVirus) and then create websites that bring up  fake pop-up ads that show fake alerts about problems on users’ hard drives – for example, “You have 284 severe system threats.”  These ads prompt customers to download a free trial of this software or pay a fee for the software. Once installed, the trial versions pump yet more ads into the user’s web browser, pestering people to shell out the full price. It is very ironic, scareware exploits consumer fears of viruses in order to spread what was, in effect, another virus – and the victims pay for the privilege.

Scareware, has become the Internet’s most virulent scourge. By 2009, an average of 35 million computers were being infected by scareware every month, according to a study by software developer Panda Security. “Scareware is still the most promising way of turning compromised machines into cash,” says Dirk Kollberg, a senior threat researcher at security firm Sophos. The problem is this method is very effective. IMI a clandestine operation that creates a lot of scareware is rumoured to have made upwards of $3.96 million per year in pure profit!

So, how do you know the difference between your legitimate anti-virus application and scareware? After all, you don’t want to ignore a legitimate warning message.

First and foremost, get back to basics…

Know what anti-virus or protection software you have installed on your computer.

The scam artists are counting on you not remembering what protection you’ve installed on your computer. Know the name of the software manufacturer (Symantec, TrendMicro, McAfee, etc.) and know the name of the product (Norton Internet Security, PC-cillin, Total Protection, etc). These products also come with a subscription for updates. Know how to find the subscription information so you can verify when the subscription expires.

Some of the scareware pop-up messages appear to be generated from the Windows Security Center. The Windows Security Center is part of Windows. Its purpose is to monitor the status of the presence of an anti-virus application or when the Windows Firewall is turned off. Essentially, the only legitimate messages you will receive from the Windows Security Center are warnings as to the absence of an anti-virus application or warning that your Windows Firewall has been turned off. You can recognize any fake “Windows Security Center” pop-up messages if there is a warning stating that there are infections on the system or if there is an inducement to download or purchase a product.

Unfortunately, if these scareware messages start popping up on your computer it means that your computer is already infected. If you click the pop-up message to purchase the software, a form to collect payment information for the bogus product launches allowing you to download and purchase the fake anti-virus product. But, that is not when your computer gets infected. In most instances, the scareware installed malicious code onto your computer before you saw any pop-up messages… whether you click the warning message, the purchase pop-up form, or not.

Oct
07

Steve Jobs – CEO and co-founder of Apple – who passed away on 5th October – hasn’t even been buried yet and already there are numerous scams using his name and company to extort information and money.

As an example, the stevejobsfuneral.com site, attempts to collect e-mail addresses for a supposed lottery with a 1-in-15 chance to win a Macbook. And it links to an online store selling Apple products as way to pay tribute to Jobs, by buying Apple products.

Conveniently for the site, this link also contains affiliate advertising info that brings revenue for any purchases made though the link.

It is probably needless to say that people should avoid stevejobsfuneral.com, which was already registered on September 20th. The vultures have been circling around for quite a while.