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December 2007

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 6 months ago

Senior Computer Users Group of Greater K.C.


Bits & Bytes Technical Newsletter

Don Achim Editor http://kcseniors.pbwiki.com/

December 2007


Spreading the Computer Virus


Dr Frederick Cohen defined a Computer Virus as a program that can infect other programs by modifying them to include a possible evolved version of itself. A virus replicates and then spreads by becoming attached to a host, commonly harming the host while doing so. The host, which is normally another computer program or computer operating system, then infects the applications that are transferred to other computers.


The Computer Virus can be spread between computers in two ways, depending on its type and capabilities. The first way or traditional way for a virus to be spread is through host files that are added to a computer from removable media, such as floppy disks. Before computer networks became widespread, most viruses were spread on removable media, particularly floppy disks

In the early days of personal computers, many users regularly exchanged information and programs on disks. Infected disks transferred infected files from computer to computer, and relied predominantly on human assistance to spread the file from one user to the next.


The second and increasingly common way to spread a virus is through host files attached to e-mail and transferred over the Internet. Originally viruses were spread using the Internet by infecting popular software that was traded online, predominantly games and applications. The spreading of these viruses also relied on human assistance to a large degree the user had to locate and download the file. In more recent times however, viruses have begun to act more independantly. Many viruses are now predominantly capable of spreading themselves without assistance & these viruses locate e-mail addresses stored in the infected computer and use these to send disguised infected emails to unsuspecting victims. Some viruses even go so far as to disguise themselves as emails regarding virus protection or warnings.


Once a virus has been spread from one computer to the next, it then actively spreads within the newly infected host computer itself. Each virus can affect and spread within a new host in two different ways, therefore can be classified into two different categories.


The first category is a nonresident virus. Wikipedia suggests that a nonresident virus consists of two different modules, a finder module, and a replicator module. The virus first uses the finder module to locate new files to infect. For each new executable file that is located, the virus then uses the replicator model to replicate and infect that file. A nonresident virus immediately searches for other hosts that can be infected, and infects these targets.


The second category is a resident virus. Wikipedia infers that a resident virus concentrates predominantly on replication, and consists of a replication module. The virus loads the replication module into memory and ensures that this module is executed each time the operating system is called to perform a certain operation. A resident virus stays active in the background of normal functions and infects unsuspecting hosts when those files are accessed by other programs or the operating system itself.


A popular way to spread a computer virus is through emails. A person receives a unsolicited email telling them that a virus threat can cause severe damage to their computer. The receipiant then sends this to dozens of friends who in turn fowards it the dozens of friends. Actually the email carries a virus and infects every computer it is sent to. These viruses, spyware, trojans, and malware can infect computers in many ways. It is the job of your antivirus program to detect these programs and "kill" them before thay can cause any damage. The problem is the delay the antivirus company takes before sending a new update to your computer that will neuter the new virus and make it harmless.


Antivirus Program Ratings (2007)




3.ESET Nod32

4.Trend Micro

5.F-Secure Anti-Virus

6. McAfee VirusScan

7.Norton AntiVirus

8.AVG Anti-Vir Pro

9.CA Antivirus

10.Norman Virus Control


Any of these programs are suitable and work well for most users. Bit-Defender and Kaspersky are excellant for the advanced computer user. Nod32 is my choice as it can detect most unreported viruses. AVG Free is an excellant choice for those folks who use the computer for occasional web searches and email chores.


Be very suspicious if your PC uploads files over the Internet without your approval. Much malware today sends info from your PC, either to spy on you or to use your PC to send spam or a virus. Make sure your firewall is set to stop and report on all outgoing activity you haven't explicitly approved. Windows XP's firewall doesn't provide this functionality, so if you don't already own a security suite or stand-alone firewall that can handle the job, I recommend that you get Zone Labs' Zone Alarm which is free for personal use.


Hint: Never install Norton Antivirus software if you use dialup.




Test Your Internet IQ: Top Security Myths


Many of us surf the Internet, even shop and bank online, without really understanding that if we can get out to the world from our home computers, the world can get in.Test your knowledge of home computing security issues; you might be surprised by some commonly held misperceptions.


Myth 1. I have antivirus software—that's all I need.

This is the most common Internet myth. Yes, antivirus protection is important and you need it. But just having the software isn't enough. New viruses emerge all the time, so you need to update your virus definitions regularly to make sure they're current or, better yet, use software that does that for you automatically.


Furthermore, antivirus software only provides one type of security (stopping viruses from infecting your system) when you go online. But hackers are also a threat, and antivirus software can't deflect a determined hacker (see Myth #4). You need a firewall to stop hackers from getting into your system, and to make sure your personal information doesn't go out without your authorization.


2. There's nothing on my computer that a hacker would want.

Most of us believe this to be true. But a hacker could want the private data you store on your computer.


Hackers might search for personal information stored on your system—your Social Security and bank account numbers, for example—which they could use to make fraudulent purchases in your name. Identity Theft is the fastest-growing white-collar crime in the U.S. today (see related article, "Beware of Identity Theft"). And even if you don't do any financial work on your home computer, you may keep a resume on your hard drive in a desktop file conveniently named "resume." Your resume lists your name, address, where you went to school, your work experience. That's exactly the type of information you need when you apply for a credit card or a loan. Once hackers get hold of your personal data, especially your Social Security number, they can do all kinds of damage.


3. Only big corporations—not home computer users—are targets for hackers.

This is another common myth. "Why would they bother with me when all I do on my home computer is play games and send email?"


Hackers usually are looking for easy prey, and your home computer is much simpler to break into than a large corporate network would be. Hackers can infiltrate your system by using a number of tools readily available online. Broadband connections are particularly vulnerable because they have an "always-on," static IP address that can more easily be accessed, and it might take you a while to realize you've been hacked. If your home computer is always on and you don't check it frequently, you could be an ideal target.

Big corporations, on the other hand, have invested heavily in their Information Technology departments. They have huge antivirus programs on their gateway and very effective firewalls. In other words, they are harder to hack.



4. It takes a lot of technical knowledge to be a hacker.

Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be a genius to hack into a computer. Hacking actually takes very little technical knowledge because any search engine queried about "hacking tools" will list site after site. The tools are readily available and can be downloaded in a few minutes. They even come with directions.


5. My ISP provides protection (antivirus and/or firewall) to me when I'm online.

ISPs rarely provide comprehensive protection, but for some reason users think that they do. So you might want to check with your ISP and ask how safe you are from viruses and hackers. And even if your ISP does provide a certain amount of protection, you should still install good antivirus software on your own computer.


6. I'm using dial-up, so I don't need to worry about hackers.

It's true that broadband users are more vulnerable to attack. A high-speed (broadband) connection means you have a static Internet Protocol (IP) address, so once hackers know where to find you, they can come back. They know where you live.


With a much slower, dial-up access, your IP address is changing all the time. This random access address allows dial-up users to enjoy a false sense of security, but that doesn't mean hackers can't find you anyway.


And if you have a dial-up connection, a hacker who does break into your system could install a back-door Trojan Horse, which lets the hacker see you each time you log in. The Trojan flashes a beacon that says, "Hey I'm here, come and get me"—so they know you're online and vulnerable. It's also possible to pick up a Trojan Horse through an email virus, or you might download it in an infected Internet file. If you've picked up a Trojan Horse, it doesn't matter whether your connection is broadband or dial-up.


7. I have a Macintosh

Mac users often feel safe because most viruses are designed for Windows-based platforms. But to a hacker it doesn't matter. A computer is a computer. They don't care what platform you're using, they just look for open ports. Many Mac-specific hacking tools are readily available on the Internet. Also, the new OS X is Unix-based. Unix computers have been around for so long that many of the hacking tools available to Unix users are now applicable to Macintosh.


Protect yourself

Be smart. Install an antivirus program like Norton Antivirus to safeguard your computer from virus attacks and to be sure you don't download a Trojan Horse or other "back-door" program. It's also important that you keep your virus definitions up-to-date. Norton AntiVirus does this for you automatically, so your protection stays current. And use a firewall program such as Norton Personal Firewall. It protects you from hackers trying to scan your personal files, steal data, or damage your system. Norton 360, Norton Antivirus, and other essential online protection tools are available together in Norton Internet Security.


Windows XP or Vista?


There are two main types of Windows users in the world. Which kind are you:


Windows XP or Windows Vista?


The recent news that testers at Devil Mountain Software found Microsoft’s beta of Windows XP Service Pack 3 to be 10% faster than XP SP2 has pushed me over the edge.


I honestly find no advantage to Windows Vista, and there are some downsides. For example, no matter what Vista advocates say, Vista requires Vista-level hardware. Pentium M/Centrino single-core notebook hardware just doesn’t run it well. Pentium 4 desktop hardware runs it better, but usually that class of hardware needs a video upgrade. I’ve personally seen instabilities with the shipping version of the Vista code: applications freezing, Windows services slowing to a crawl, even OS crashes. I’m not saying everyone is having these problems, but I see no real improvement over Windows XP. While the architecture of Vista is a little better, Vista adds a lot of overhead to support quite a bit of new and sometimes questionable functionality. Vista is a lot more complex than Windows XP. It’s probably more secure, but it still needs a raft of third-party security software and hardware. I don’t trust its anti-malware protection or its firewall. And it doesn’t have an onboard antivirus product.


I have five Windows Vista installations. I’m reducing that number to two, one of which will be in a dual-boot with XP. The Windows Vista installation I have on my main Windows machine was a Vista upgrade install, and it’s the least stable. That’s why it’s getting fresh dual-boot clean installs. The other Vista machine I’m keeping stays in the office, where I don’t use it frequently. If I need other Vista boxes for testing, I’ll set them up as I need them.


The rest of my Windows hardware will shortly revert to pristine Windows XP installations. Windows XP is a mature operating system that’s not trying to be something that it’s not. The user experience is better than Vista’s. There’s no “reduced functionality mode” that will inadvertently trip when Microsoft’s WGA/SPP servers have an outage again.


I hope to test a later release of Windows Vista Service Pack 1, but based on my hands-on use of the first widely distributed beta code and performance testing also conducted by Devil Mountain Software, Vista SP1 is no faster than the original shipping version of the OS. Devil Mountain’s report of XP SP3 being faster than SP2 is very intriguing, though. I’ve been using XP for more than six years, and I’d be perfectly happy to continue using it for another six if Microsoft continued to support it properly.


Until they build something better than Windows XP, I see no reason to switch. As it is packaged today, Windows Vista is not that OS.


Microsoft needs to release a new version of Vista that doesn’t stratify the features (why does CD and DVD burning happen only on the Home versions of the OS, for example?). It needs to unload some of the crap it padded Vista with. And it needs to rethink the user experience with respect to functionalities like UAC and SPP. Enterprises aren’t buying Vista because it offers very little advantage for them, and end users aren’t clamoring for it. Of all companies, Microsoft should know that end-user desire for an OS has a huge effect on how rapidly it’s adopted. The company seems to have forgotten its roots.


I have no doubt that Microsoft could turn Vista around if it wanted to. But it would have to own up to the idea that, with its Vista product and business strategy, it’s been wrong-headed in a number of ways. I’m not so sure that the current management, as Bill Gates continues to edge toward the door, has the technical vision to make the right choices.


Update: Vista SP1 Dumping the ‘Kill Switch’


  • Microsoft is showing one or two small signs of coming around. First it admitted that the WGA breakdown last August that caused thousands of Vista users to wind up being pegged as software pirates when they couldn’t activate their copies of Vista was, in fact, an “outage.” The company had denied that terminology earlier. Now, Microsoft is eliminating reduced functionality mode — more commonly referred to as Vista’s “Kill Switch.” This change will be implemented by Vista Service Pack 1, which is expected to ship in the first quarter of next year.


Bottom line, though, this is a welcome change, but it doesn’t materially change the user experience at all. Most of us will hopefully never come face to face with reduced functionality mode. And until we actually test what Vista does instead of the kill switch, I’m not prepared to embrace. The Windows Vista RC1 that I’m looking at now still has the kill switch in it.



Navigating the vista of PC buying


Paul Sakuma, AP


I'm frequently asked what kind of PC to buy, a query that takes on added significance as shoppers fish around for holiday bargains. There are no one-size-fits-all answers. The computer you should buy depends on your budget, living or work space, and your expectations on how you'll use the machine.


The choice is further complicated by the fact that Microsoft sells at least five versions of its roughly year-old Windows Vista operating system. Some buyers don't want Vista at all and are sticking with its predecessor, Windows XP.


And some are eschewing Windows altogether in favor of Apple's (AAPL) Macintosh. It's an appealing option. Check out last week's column to learn more about buying a Mac. For the purposes of this column, I'm focusing on buying a Windows machine.


The key issues:


Matching a system to your needs.


Think about the type of user you are and go from there. Cutting-edge, 3-D gamers or complex video editors have different needs than the guy or gal who primarily surfs the Web, sends e-mail and uses a word processor.


Some general observations: For years, I've been telling folks to spring for a bigger hard drive and more system memory, or RAM (random access memory), than they think they'll need.


It seems especially true in the Vista age. Microsoft's (MSFT) operating system is a hog; I generally recommend 2 gigabytes of RAM as a minimum. The good news is that cheap PCs nowadays often come with 250-GB hard drives or larger, which seems generous. But you can rapidly exhaust the space if you load lots of pictures and videos.


Unless you're a power user, don't get hung up over processor speeds, or even whether such chips come from Intel or AMD. "Dual core" processors from either chipmaker are state-of-the-art for many home PCs. Budget machines tend to employ less-robust processors such as Intel's Celeron, whose performance will be wimpy if you run graphically rich games or other demanding applications.


Hard-core gamers should pay close attention to the graphics or video card inside the computer. Choose a card that has its own dedicated memory for video, as opposed to a shared memory solution in which the system taps into the computer's main RAM.


Gamers wanting to take advantage of advanced Microsoft graphics technology called DirectX 10 must have a DirectX-10-capable graphics card, from the likes of ATI Radeon and Nvidia.


•Evaluating the Vista madness.


It wasn't enough for Microsoft to release one or even two editions of Vista, as with XP. Vista comes in Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise and Ultimate. The Enterprise edition is earmarked for the corporate crowd. Unless you're a budget-buyer with modest computing requirements, I'd also pass on Home Basic. This no-frills edition lacks several features, notably the pretty Windows Aero graphical interface, whose translucent menus and such are Microsoft's attempt to mimic the Mac environment. Home Basic, or the even more stripped-down Vista Starter Edition, is the likely version on sub-$400 PCs.


Of the remaining editions, Home Premium makes the most sense for many home users. You can take advantage of Windows Media Center for running slide shows, listening to music and (if the machine comes with a TV tuner) turning the PC into a TiVo-like personal video recorder.


Because your home PC may double as a work computer, you may consider Business, which has more advanced backup-and-restore security features than Home Premium, but it's missing some consumer features, such as parental controls.


If you can't decide between the two, Vista Ultimate gives you the whole shebang — for a price. You might pay an extra $100 to $160 for Vista Ultimate over a machine with Home Premium.


•Vista vs. XP?


I'm having this debate with a colleague. He says to stick with XP to avoid the sluggishness, software driver hassles and compatibility issues that have plagued Vista. I beg to differ.


To be sure, Vista's problems are frustrating and real. But they are for the most part being addressed, albeit more slowly than some of us would like.


Software produced down the road will certainly be fine-tuned for Vista.


And Vista boasts better security than its predecessor, along with improved search and other welcome features. (We both agree you shouldn't upgrade an existing XP computer to Vista.)


For the record, Microsoft says nearly 7,000 programs and accessories are certified for or work with Vista. And the company says 2.3 million, or 96%, of all plug-and-play hardware is compatible with Vista.


If you still prefer XP, Microsoft has extended its availability on new PCs to June 30. Dell, for one, is selling a few new desktop and notebook systems with XP.


•Bells and whistles.


There's more to PCs than specs. Aesthetics and extra features count. PC buyers sometimes select models like they do cars — because they prefer one color over another or because the design matches home decor.


Meanwhile, laptop buyers must grapple with a series of issues involving battery life, size, weight, performance and other factors. Need to have extra juice to go cross-country? You might have to sacrifice a lighter machine for one with a longer-life battery — or at least carry a spare battery.


Size matters with desktop PCs, too, a reason some shoppers will appreciate pricey all-in-one PCs such as the GatewayOne or Dell (DELL) XPS One. The monitor is built into the computer.


Other goodies to look for: built-in webcams, TV tuners, DVD burners that can also play high-definition discs, and slots for digital camera memory cards.


And if you think you're going to live with this PC for a while, make sure you can easily add memory or other components in the future. Just remember that to get everything on your wish list, be prepared to splurge on a machine whose price will likely crack four digits. Happy hunting, and happy holidays.


Google Gets Ready to Rumble With Microsoft



Published: December 16, 2007


A CEREBRAL computer-scientist-turned-executive, Eric E. Schmidt has spent much of his career competing uphill against Microsoft, quietly watching it outflank, outmaneuver or simply outgun most of its rivals.


At Sun Microsystems, where he was chief technology officer, Mr. Schmidt looked on as Scott G. McNealy, the company’s chairman, railed against Microsoft and its leaders, Steven A. Ballmer and Bill Gates, as “Ballmer and Butthead.” During a four-year stint as chief executive of Novell, Mr. Schmidt routinely opined that it was folly for any Microsoft rival to “moon the giant,” as he put it; all that would do, he argued, was incite Microsoft’s wrath.


Then, six years ago, Mr. Schmidt snared the C.E.O. spot at Google and today finds himself at the helm of one of computing’s most inventive and formidable players, the runaway leader in Internet search and online advertising. With its ample resources and eye for new markets, Google has begun offering online products that strike at the core of Microsoft’s financial might: popular computing tools like word processing applications and spreadsheets.


The growing confrontation between Google and Microsoft promises to be an epic business battle. It is likely to shape the prosperity and progress of both companies, and also inform how consumers and corporations work, shop, communicate and go about their digital lives. Google sees all of this happening on remote servers in faraway data centers, accessible over the Web by an array of wired and wireless devices — a setup known as cloud computing. Microsoft sees a Web future as well, but one whose center of gravity remains firmly tethered to its desktop PC software. Therein lies the conflict.


But in a lengthy interview at Google’s campus here, Mr. Schmidt, 52, follows past practices. He soft-pedals. As he coyly describes a move that most of the industry views as Google’s assault on Microsoft, he does his best to say that it is something entirely other than that.


No, he says, there was no thought of a Microsoft takedown when, earlier this year, Google introduced a package of online software offerings, called Google Apps, that includes e-mail, instant messaging, calendars, word processing and spreadsheets. They are simpler versions of the pricey programs that make up Microsoft’s lucrative Office business, and Google is offering them free to consumers.


Still, Google Apps aren’t anything other than a natural step in Google’s march to deliver more computing capability to users over the Internet, Mr. Schmidt says.


“For most people,” he says, “computers are complex and unreliable,” given to crashing and afflicted with viruses. If Google can deliver computing services over the Web, then “it will be a real improvement in people’s lives,” he says.


To explain, Mr. Schmidt steps up to a white board. He draws a rectangle and rattles off a list of things that can be done in the Web-based cloud, and he notes that this list is expanding as Internet connection speeds become faster and Internet software improves. In a sliver of the rectangle, about 10 percent, he marks off what can’t be done in the cloud, like high-end graphics processing. So, in Google’s thinking, will 90 percent of computing eventually reside in the cloud?


“In our view, yes,” Mr. Schmidt says. “It’s a 90-10 thing.” Inside the cloud resides “almost everything you do in a company, almost everything a knowledge worker does.”


Mr. Schmidt clearly believes that the arcs of technology and history are in Google’s corner, no matter how hard he tries to avoid mooning the giant. Microsoft, of course, isn’t planning to merely stand still. It has spent billions trying to catch Google in search and Web advertising, so far without success. And the companies are also fighting it out in promising new fields as varied as Web maps, online video and cellphone software.


“The fundamental Google model is to try to change all the rules of the software world,” says David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School. If Google succeeds, Mr. Yoffie says, “a lot of the value that Microsoft provides today is potentially obsolete.”


At Microsoft, Mr. Schmidt’s remarks are fighting words. Traditional software installed on personal computers is where Microsoft makes its living, and its executives see the prospect of 90 percent of computing tasks migrating to the Web-based cloud as a fantasy.


“It’s, of course, totally inaccurate compared with where the market is today and where the market is headed,” says Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft’s business division, which includes the Office products.


Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Anti-virus test results poor

Monday, 17 December 2007

Anti-virus companies BitDefender, Symantec, McAfee, Sunbelt and Microsoft were among the few to pass the latest Virus Bulletin VB100 computer security test, where security software was tested against 100 already-known Windows 2000 viruses.


To pass, companies needed to identify 100 malware samples as well as avoid reporting ‘false positives’ (false positives are ‘clean’ or ‘harmless’ computer code that is misdiagnosed as a virus).



In theory, because VB’s sample viruses are already well-known and should all have been patched by security vendors, no companies should fail the VB100 test. In all, 17 out of the 32 antivirus products failed to pass certification. Products from Sophos, Trend Micro and Kaspersky were among those that failed to protect fully against a collection of outdated viruses.



Kaspersky missed one virus, Sophos missed eight. Trend Micro missed four, despite having previously passed 13 consecutive VB100 tests.



Other products that failed included PC Tools' Spyware Doctor, which recorded two false positives, and Norman Virus Control, which missed 14 samples and recorded six false positives.



Meanwhile, security vendors and software testing organisations met in Seoul, Korea last week to form the Anti-Malware Testing Working Group, a coalition set up to agree standards for behavioural tests on security software.


XP security support will continue until 2014


I'm not sure where people are getting the idea that security support for XP will end shortly. Here's the official policy, from http://support.microsoft.com/gp/lifepolicy.


"Microsoft will also provide Extended Support for the 5 years following Mainstream support or for 2 years after the second successor product (N+2) is released, whichever is longer."


Extended support follows mainstream support and does not include hotfixes and service packs, but it does include security updates, paid support incidents and, if you sign an extended hotfix agreement, which a lot of large customers do, pretty well any kind of support you'd like, including hotfixes.


According to the MS lifecycle, XP will be in mainstream support until April 2009 (probably within a year of the release of Vista's successor), and in Extended Support, WITH security updates, until April 2014. That's assuming that the replacement for Vista (the N+2 version of Windows) is released before 2012. If they take longer, XP support will last longer.


See http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle/?LN=en-us&x=10&y=14&p1=3223 for the dates.


Al cook



Microsoft's Vista named #1 tech disapppointment of 2007


Posted Dec 18th 2007 2:28PM by Brian White

Filed under: Bad news, Products and services, Microsoft (MSFT)

Is Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows Vista computer operating system really that bad? According to PC World, the five-year, $5 billion operating system from the world's largest software company was the tech industry's "worst disappointment of 2007." Ouch.


Although a statement like that will surely get readers fired up on both sides, users of the Vista operating system have to ask: is it really that bad? Although many of the changes in the Vista operating system are "under the hood" and not really all that recognizable to the average PC user, the brunt of criticism about Windows Vista is the 5 years and nearly $5 billion spent on the operating system. And so the question is asked: is this the best Microsoft could do?


Sure, the requirements of a PC to run Windows Vista at optimum speeds are quite a bit higher than from the older Windows XP, but that means Windows Vista on recent PCs will perform much slower than on brand-new machines. Is that a fault? Depends on your point of view. How about the non-compatibility of older software with the newer Vista operating system? Is that a disappointment? Perhaps, perhaps not. How about the costs for Windows Vista outside of having it installed on a newer PC? $199 and up -- is that too high of a cost for what is being perceived by many customers and reviewers as a "minor upgrade?"


Tip: Increasing the Speed of a Vista-Operated PC




Published: December 27, 2007


If you have a spare U.S.B. flash drive with at least 256 megabytes of free space on it, you can use it to give your Windows Vista-operated PC an extra cache of memory to help increase speed, using the Windows Readyboost feature. Just plug the drive into a U.S.B. 2.0 port, and if it is fast enough to work with Readyboost, the system will prompt you to set it up. You do not have to erase any existing files on the drive and can indicate how much space you want to use for storage. The feature also works with Secure Digital cards. Full instructions for using ReadyBoost are at http://snipurl.com/1vmik.



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