Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Computer(s) And "Friends"

And again it was a customer's email that brings forth another post on this blog; thank you G. G. With his kind permission here is his email:
I recently have run into a situation about which I don’t know what to do.

For the last few years I have occasionally let a friend, who does not have a computer, use mine.  This would be a few times per year.  Basically he wanted to go on Craig’s List, so he used my second address, with his own password for a Craig’s List account. I didn’t really question what he was doing, because I know one can sell and buy on Craig’s List.

What I found out is that he was posting sexually explicit ads on Craig’s List.

While the screen shows all the ads have been deleted, I cannot figure out a way to get them off of my computer.  An email to Craig’s List was of no help, it just told how to delete the ads, but not how to permanently remove them from my computer.

I’m finding this to be a difficult situation, not only because of the mechanics of getting rid of something I don’t want on my computer, but because of the personal factors involved with someone who was a friend, and trying to weigh in if that relationship can be continued.  Any help that you can give will be appreciated.  

And here is my reply:
Dear Mr. G,

I have heard of similar situations like yours and you have my sympathy.

To your question about cleaning up your computer: I can most likely help. I can try to do that via remote support or in a house call, that is your choice. Although since sexually explicit material is involved I would strongly prefer a house call. Working locally on the computer will allow me to disconnect the computer from the Internet which will allow deeper analysis and cleaning and protect the computer and your Internet connection from eavesdropping.

Additionally and because you asked me I will voice some general ideas:
  • NEVER let a "friend" or relative (children, teenager, nephew/niece, grandchildren!) use your computer in/with your regular user account.

    If you are a "normal" home user you most likely always work in an administrator account; that can incur added risks.  If you follow this link to the explanation of administrator account please ignore the outdated line "Applies to Windows Vista". These basic concepts apply to all modern operating systems.
  • For other people on your computer always create "standard" user accounts.
  • NEVER trust that anybody will behave responsibly and that they will follow basic rules of safe computing.
  • NEVER let anybody (and not for ANY reason) use an identifier that is tied to your person (email account). It may happen that you will have to answer to the FBI if the person for example uploaded child pornography.
  • Only allow any third parties (whether visitor or family!) to use your internet connection (wireless network, cell phones, tablets a.s.o) when you can be certain that your internet connection is secured beyond browser and operating system based measures.
    One option of several is described here.
Above advice may seem harsh but consider your situation. Naturally I can not "advise" you on how to handle the situation with your "friend".

My very personal and for you irrelevant opinion is that this person has proven beyond doubt that he is not a friend, maybe not even an acquaintance worth my time. But I am certain you will find your way of dealing with this aspect of the situation.

Additionally and independent of all the preceding I want to ask your kind permission to re-work your question and my answer into an article on my blog. What has happened to you is so "typical" that it lends itself to wider attention. Naturally your text would be quoted completely anonymously.
So much for the customer's letter and my response.

All the above was meant to be the whole post on this issue and then the heavens made me meet with a friend who had given his computer to someone when last fall they were on a hunting excursion.

In this case there are no sexually explicit materials involved but the computer was majorly infected with PuPs, this nasty new kind of malicious programs that I talked about here and here. And here are a few more examples of how we get tricked to allow this stuff to be installed.

I want to add here that you should never activate the Guest account that you find in many versions of Windows. Crooks and hackers know about this account and will be happy to exploit it if they find a computer with activated Guest account.

Update 2/19/2015
I forgot to mention that all good will and the best intentions by us and by others are null and void if my
10 Commandment of Safe Computing are ignored!

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

2015-02-02 WTKM Talking Points (February 2nd 2015)

Confirmed sensation: Microsoft will allow all Win 7 & 8 users to upgrade to Win10 for free – for one year (only?). But then the licensing will kick in? A rented operating system? Home user be careful! Microsoft does not give anything away for free; that is the first concrete step to get us all to accept a licensing model, that means yearly payments. This way Microsoft will in the medium and long run make oodles of money more than by selling the software.

New dangerous bug in Adobe Flash Player is exploited via Facebook! Current version is!The catch: Many fake updates around! Mostly the user is tricked to download/install a fake plugin that then installs a keylogger to collect log in info & passwords. User beware!

Renewed warning: CryptoWall (new CrypotoLocker variant) spread through advertising networks.

When you see advertisements your computer is already infected!It is more important than ever to have a backup routine in place AND TO DO IT!

Finally: Microsoft takes on scam tech support phone call organizations (PDF).
If MS succeeds I expect the crooks to move off-shore and do the same from India.
Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit attorney Courtney Gregoire has an article and a video about these scams on this blog.

If anyone calls you and claims to be in any way affiliated with Microsoft IT IS A SCAM!
Here is Microsoft's own advice for such a case:
  • Do not purchase any software or services.
  • Ask if there is a fee or subscription associated with the “service.” If there is, hang up.
  • Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you can confirm that it is a legitimate person you personally know and trust and/or are already a customer or when you personally  initiated a support call with Microsoft.
  • Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone claiming to be from Microsoft tech support.
  • Take the caller’s information down and immediately report it to your local authorities.
EBKAC errors are the most common ones and no program protects against that!

The supposed hack attack on French news media after the Charlie Hebdo shooting was no attack at all. It was a simple server cockup.

In Canada it is now illegal to install computer programs without consent. Why not in the US?

375 of the 500 largest companies do not protect their web sites from typosquatters. That causes real danger when you mistype a web address in your browser. Be careful!

As usual I welcome suggestions right here in the blog.
Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"Tests" of Security Software

Again it is a customer question that triggers new information on this blog; Thank you Frank C.

The customer asked what I think about the results of a test of Security Software in Consumer Reports' June 2014 issue.

I am not subscribed to Consumer Reports and the contents of their publication is not available online. Luckily the customer had attached a pdf file of the article. Without permission from CR I can not publish it here.

Needless to say that Microsoft Security Essentials/Windows Defender ended up on one of the last places in the rankings. That is very relevant to me because all my home customers use either one of these anti virus programs.

Here is my reply, almost verbatim from the email.
Thank you for the question. A few points in no special order as a reply.

Who actually ran these tests?
And who financed them?
Consumer Reports certainly does not have a proper test lab; that takes years to develop and a big lot of money to finance and run.

I have seen dozens and dozens of "tests" that were paid for by manufacturers of "security software".
And guess what, the result was always that their specific product ended up on top of the list.

Microsoft Security Essentials and Windows Defender on Windows 8 are not "security" programs, they are classic anti virus programs. Anti virus programs protect against getting virus infected files on your computer. And in my limited experience of 12 years and ca. 6000 distinct home customers these two programs do an excellent job at that.

To compare the two MS programs 1:1 against security suites is ridiculously wrong and done to dupe the un-informed into wrong conclusions.
Security suites try to supervise every click and input in web pages.
An endeavor that brings additional computing burdens but is doomed to fail because most errors are or are a result of an EBKAC (Error Between Keyboard And Chair).
Please see an irreverent remark below.

Most security suites are a very noticeable additional work load even for well equipped computers.

Just today I had been called to "slow" computer. After removing the PuPs the machine was still sluggish. After removing an older version of Norton Internet Security (about 4 years old)  the computer suddenly worked just fine. It was a BIG perceivable difference; I have seen that many, many times. This effect is not specific to Norton, it applies to many brands of security suites; in my experience especially (but not limited) to AVG, Avast, Norton, McAfee and Trend Micro.

Many of these "tests" do not talk about the curse of free security suites, that is false positives. Erroneously marking a benign program as malicious leaves the non-geek home user clueless and helpless.

Avast especially has last year broken quite a few computers with insufficiently tested updates.

only one of the programs in the CR test can even detect Poweliks, the worst and best hidden virus currently around.

AFAIK the only AV program that currently detects Poweliks is MS's Security Essentials/Defender! Although I use third party tools to remove it completely and terminally.

Re. EBKAC errors:IMHO no software in the world can protect irresponsible people from themselves.

We need to pay attention to the details and we need to heed #6 of my 10 commandments for safe computing.

Frank, please do not take the last paragraph personally; it only reflects general observations that I make all too often.
Please let me know in the comments what you think; thank you in advance

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Monday, January 5, 2015

2015-01-05 WTKM Talking Points (January 5th 2015)

Warning: New CryptoWall ransomware variant; spread through advertising networks.
When you see advertisements on the internet your computer
already needs to be cleaned!

Is you Adobe software up-to-date? Per 2014-12-31 current versions are:
Reader 11.0.10
Flashplayer (for both IE and plugin versions)
Windows 8 will have to upgraded to 8.1 by Jan. 12, 2016 (See MS blog here>).

Still more malicious PowerPoint files. Be careful; no patch yet.

Adobe's Digital Editions 4 desktop ebook reader secretly sends encrypted data back to headquarters – data that details a user's reading habits.

To stay safe use: My “typical” customer uses:
Anti virus program     (MSE/Defender)
Secure DNS server     (router vs. computer & only if set up correctly)
Firewall                     (not with HIPS (Host Intrusion Prevention System)
Sandbox                      ???
EBKAC errors are the most common ones and no program protects against that!

Yearly maintenance suggestions:
  1. Backup the whole system as it is via image backup on an external disk drive
    - Vista: Backup data (evtl. free 3rd party program)
    - Wind 7/8 Excellent built-in backup tools (non-MS instructions Win7, Win8)
  2. Check physical HDD health (SMART, HD-Tune, PassMark DiskCheckup)
  3. Check logical HDD health (admin command prompt, chkdsk c: /f)
  4. Check for updates (MS sites for Vista /Win7, Win8)
    - Operating system and all Microsoft software
    - ALL regularly used programs (web browser, mail program, PDF reader, Adobe Flash, - Shockwave, - Air, Java, office software, games, media player a.s.o.)
  5. Check ALL your passwords (read this article!)
    - Use password software (Roboform, KeePass, LastPass)
  6. Verify your system is clean (ESET online scanner, Malwarebytes & my instructions)
  7. If you have a wireless router make sure that WPS is turned off! (background)
  8. Really clean out debris files most thoroughly (see these instructions)
  9. Defragment the HDD (Win8: "Optimize";  Vista/Win7Win8)
A big Thank You 
to WTKM listeners,
to all my customers,
for having me on the air!
HAPPY NEW YEAR to everybody!

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Urgent Alert - Caution!

I just saw that Micro$oft offered as an optional update the Windows 10 Technical Preview!

Are they completely nuts?

I am afraid that many of my customers will not be sufficiently attentive and just think oh, an update, and hit install.

That will become an awful mess because they likely will ruin their perfectly well working Windows 7 or Windows 8 computers.

PLEASE, please check every optional Update and hide the "Upgrade to Windows Technical Preview".

You hide the update by a right click on it and then left click on "Hide Update".

I hope and pray that you see this post early enough to avoid this huge (2.7GB!) and totally superfluous update.

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Monday, December 1, 2014

2014-12-01 WTKM Talking Points (December 1st. 2014)

USPS hacked. Personal data of 500,000 full time and 178,000 part time employees stolen including SSN numbers! Plus names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses and other information of people dialing in to one of the USPS’ call centers between Jan 1st. and Aug. 16th of this year. Credit card information was not compromised.

Microsoft's own language says it:
"Remote code execution if an attacker sends specially crafted packets"
"remote code execution if a user views a specially crafted web page using Internet Explorer"
Original quotes from MS bulletins for November's Patch Tuesday.
I preach for many years: Don't use IE.

New flaw in VERY IMPORTANT and ubiquitous security software got quietly patched. In this context a prominent MS security researcher said:
"It is of critical importance that all versions of Windows are updated ...”
Sad that we still need to be reminded – and sadder yet that some still don't do it.

Warning: New CryptoWall ransomware variant; spread through advertising networks.
When you see advertisements your computer
already needs to be cleaned!

Microsoft's newest “... Security Intelligence Report” makes it clear: Not up-to-date or expired security software does NOT protect in any way!And I thought that was a no brainer; Silly me.

Adobe pushed out its own Patch Tuesday updates. .. [they] released Flash Player fixes that squash four pretty bad flaws.

Poodle: An understandable explanation and instructions on what to do are here.

Windows 8 will have to upgraded to 8.1 by Jan. 12, 2016 (See MS blog here).

Win 10 Technical Preview updated to build 9879.

Still more malicious PowerPoint files. Be careful; no patch yet.

Adobe's Digital Editions 4 desktop ebook reader secretly sends encrypted data back to headquarters – data that details a user's reading habits.

Hot off the press this morning: TheWeather Channel web site open to simple, primitive attacks if you click on any link in that web site!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

2014-11-03 WTKM Talking Points (November 3rd. 2014)

Poodle bug:

The gist of it is: SSL is buggy, outdated security (encryption) protocol and only still supplied for backward compatibility. You can protect your computer relatively easy.
An understandable explanation and instructions on what to do are here
Google and Microsoft will kill SSL in upcoming browser updates.
MS warns explicitly to upgrade older versions of IE. 

Windows 8 will have to be upgraded to 8.1 by Jan. 12, 2016 (See MS blog here).

Windows 10 Technical Preview got updated to build 9860.
Very big (= LONG download and install times, think hours; In a VM or an a computer with only 2GB think many hours)!

Windows 10 will probably bring significant security improvements and/or new security features.

Brace yourself, the good old password will be “reborn”. Look up Two Factor Authorization. You likely will either have to carry some gadget or a smartphone to be able to log on to your computer.

Surely sounds tedious but it's MUCH safer.
Computer prices in stores have crept up; about + $100 compared to three months ago.. Do dealers prepare for Black Friday "rebates"?

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Monday, October 13, 2014

How To Spot Socially Engineered Emails

For quite some time I wanted to give information about how to spot spam emails. That is quite a sizable field and I wavered too long. This time to my  and I believe to your advantage the wait pays off.

I discovered that KnowBe4.com already had done an excellent job and published the result as a one page fact sheet much better and more concise than I could ever have done it. The paper is called Social Engineering Red Flags. This link should show the information in your browser or in your reader application for PDF files.

I recommend to print it as a handy reference guide.

And here is a real life example; just this morning (10-20-2014) I received an email that looks on first glance like it came from Facebook, optically quite convincing. It is such a "classical" example that I took a screen shot to show it to you:

For me it goes without saying that I do NOT just click on a link in ANY email, no matter who the sender is supposed to be, no matter how "familiar" it looks.

The first clue is the sender address. Bad, simple forgery, not even an attempt to disguise the forgery; maybe that is even the miscreant's real email address. This is one of the times where I regret not to be a security researcher because I would love to mess a bit with this guy.

Then I did what for me by now has become second nature: I rested my mouse on the link (see the cursor). The translation of where the link would have taken my computer to in the status line (bottom left corner of the picture) confirmed my suspicion: The link goes to a web site in Russia. Did you see "http://pemoht-tb.ru/rand..."? ".ru" is the country code for Russia!

If you handle your email with programs or techniques that do not show you all the information from this example then you live dangerously. Imagine a teenager; they would blindly click on the link and voilĂ , the computer is infected and maybe you even loose all your files!

Oh well, more work for me... (tongue in cheek!_).

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Java - Yes or No?

On January 14 2013 I wrote about Java. This artcle should explain what Java is.

There mainly are two opposing views about Java on home computers around.

The first one says that Java is needed so rarely that it should not be on a home computer at all.

The second one just delivers it pre-installed on all computers sold over-the-counter in case you need it.

My personal view about Java is the following:
Have it installed for the (maybe rare) case that you need it.
My reasons are:
  • If we are about to do something and get interrupted we tend to react somewhat frustrated. At this time we are very likely to get directed to the "wrong" web site for the download and we will probably get some sort of "blind passenger" or gunk software that we really neither need nor want.
    You doubt that? See the real life examples in this article.
  • Over the years I had several very frustrated customers calling me and asking why Java was not installed. In every single case some well meaning but ill advised relative, friend or computer technician had removed Java.
  • The few MB of disk storage space that Java needs are not an argument anymore; we are in  the age of 500GB and 1TB disk drives that a home user never will fill up. It is many years since I have seen a really full disk drive.
The price we have to pay is simple:
Keep Java up-to-date - and use common sense!

In What To Update from September 18 2011 I wrote:
Here is the list of the most important things that have to be kept up to date.
Added for this article:If you don't have any of these programs installed just ignore the entry in this list:
  1. Windows (better: all Microsoft software)
  2. Security programs
  3. ‏Firefox web browser 
  4. Firefox add-ons
  5. Java
  6. Adobe Reader
  7. Adobe Flash
  8. Adobe Shockwave
  9. Thunderbird email client
  10. Thunderbird add-ons
My conclusion:
  • It is very easy to keep Java up-to-date when you do that regularly anyway and are not stressed.
  • At a time where you will be frustrated and impatient (you want to get back to what you were doing when you got interrupted!)  you are more likely to get tricked to inadvertently allow some unrelated gunk to get on your computer.
For the non-technical home user I install Java and admonish the user to keep it up-to-date.

Naturally it always is my customer's computer so in the end the customer has to decide if they want to live with or without Java. Uninstalling Java is easy:
Control Panel > Programs and features > Highlight Java > Right Click > Click Uninstall.

Please uninstall all versions of Java that you eventually see. Old out-of-date versions are a HUGE security risk!

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

2014-10-06 WTKM Talking Points (October 6 2014)

Windows 10 announced. I am really impressed by the preview that I have running.

PLEASE check your Firefox web browser and Thunderbird email program for updates.
needs to be at least at version 32.1.2 and TB at version 31.1.2
A really serious bug in some common, standard encryption code was updated.

hellshock bug in Linux/Unix:
At first I assumed the worst, we’d have to buy new routers. But home routers are not at risk!
We do not have to worry about Android or Apple phones from this - so far at least and if we use common sense.

If you have a cloud-enabled NAS device you are potentially at risk. Switch off remote access until the manufacturer releases updated software.
Mostly enterprise systems running Linux or Unix are at risk.
It is a good idea to check your home router for firmware updates anyway.

For-Pay Windows maintenance tools worthless

Home Depot got stripped of 56 million customers credit card data

  • It ignored security warnings from staff
  • It failed to update Symantec Anti Virus since 2007
  • It did not consistently monitor its network for signs of attack
  • It failed to properly audit its eventually-hacked payment terminals
  • It's executives reportedly told pleading staff that "we sell hammers"
  • Former unnamed HD security staff were so concerned of the poor state of IT systems that they warned friends to 'use cash' instead of credit cards.
JP Morgan (Chase bank plus nine! othe banks) attacked. Chase alone got stripped of 84 million customers personal data but no logins stolen. Personal data? Including SSNs? No word...

Have these banks been as sloppy as Home Depot? See above.

As I repeatedly have said: Management, management, management.

Can your account be pwned? Check on Have I been pwned? Well, HD and Chase cases probably not yet included.

Why do people create virus programs? MONEY!
CryptoWall alone cashed over six months more than $1.1 million

Apple Mac security programs: Only three of 18 very good, a few good. Fuhgetabout the rest. 17,000 Macs in just one botnet.

Marriott fined $600k for JAMMING guests' Wi-Fi hotspots
Posh hostel borked guests' networks to sell their pricey WiFi

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Windows 10

Wow, Microsoft, I am impressed!

I have done my first baby steps on the Windows 10 Technical Preview that was released today.

All I can say is:

         Windows 10 is Windows 8 done right!

I can hardly wait for next year's final release; we do not have an  official release date yet; it will be some time next year.

This is the system I will upgrade my everyday "work" computer to.

EVERYTHING of "old" software I tried so far works flawlessly, even system utilities, Libre Office and Google Earth. And the system is only a "preview" that still has some rough edges..

Running the risk to repeat myself, I am impressed.

Do you still have Windows Vista running on a a well equipped machine or one that could easily be upgraded to at least 4GB of RAM? Windows 10 is the system to upgrade to!

Be warned, do NOT attempt an in-place upgrade, always do a full install! This advice has nothing to do with Windows 10, it comes from experiences with six generations of upgrading Windows to newer versions.

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog. Please no hidden adverts for commercial software and please only language that your little kids could hear.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why Me?

Recently I got asked by a prospect one too many times why he or his friends should prefer my computer services over some other person or big company. Thank you Larry P. for the question. Here is my answer:

I sell only my experience, my know-how and my time.

I have worked professionally as a programer and administrator
     with computers since July 1st 1964
     with Microsoft software on CP/M computers since 1977
     with PCs since February 1982
     with Microsoft Windows since version 3.1 in 1992

I neither sell material goods nor any software.

I do not charge sales tax.
I have NO contractual ties to any product, manufacturer or wholesaler.

I recommend and install only freely available and functionally proven programs.

No added “hidden” cost for the home user.
Even a proven alternative to Microsoft Office® is officially available free of charge.

I do not get any kickbacks from any manufacturer, wholesaler or dealer.

I have absolutely no hidden financial interest or other commercial bias.
I receive absolutely no kickbacks of any kind, no matter where and what the customer buys.

I prefer real-life usability and experience over personal opinions and commercial “tests”.

I abhor industry shenanigans and trickery and warn my customers.

I can explain technically complex concepts in layman's terms.

I do not mince words but rather say it as I see it.
 As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Wipe or Repair

Over time some computers tend to slow down compared to how they worked when they were new; that even can lead to the computer “freezing p” and become totally unresponsive. There are many potential reasons for these effects. Here are a few examples:
  • During regular use temporary files do not get deleted when no longer needed.
  • Too many “background” programs accumulate and run unnecessarily.
  • Unscrupulous companies, programs and web sites literally trick the user into installing unnecessary and often outright pernicious programs, so called PuPs.
When this this gets too bad some people just buy a new computer but in most cases this is not necessary. Other people ask a computer repair shop or technician for help. And here is where it gets tricky for the end user who usually is not a computer geek.

Provided that the hardware of the computer in question is still working correctly these “repairs” can be done in two fundamentally different ways:
  1. The computer can be wiped or reset to factory-new state as it was originally delivered.
  2. Offending files and programs can be removed and eventual damage repaired.
Among computer repair technicians the question “repair or wipe” is one of the most controversially discussed topics of all. More often than not these discussions in online forums are based mostly on beliefs and habit than on facts.

My personal take at this question is this: It very rarely is in my client's best interest (or mine!) to wipe and reload the operating system. I know this in stark contrast to what businesses like Best Buy and others say and do but I write this for my average clients, home users that want their computer “to just work”.

A successful repair is, among others, defined by:
  • All viruses, malware, PuPs and so on have been completely removed.
  • The cleanup is actually accomplished in about 2 hours.
  • After the cleanup the computer runs reliably at normal speed.
  • For a reasonable period of time the computer remains free from malicious software - provided the user cooperates and avoids mistakes that are all too common.
Especially larger support organizations routinely apply the wipe-and-reload method. They usually claim one or more of the following reasons as their justification:
  • It’s the only way to be sure all infections are removed.
  • It’s the fastest way to resolve the problem.
  • This process also gets rid of other clutter.
IMHO much more to the point, this one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t require much skill, training or experience on part of the technician who is doing the work; thus the bigger organization saves money on training and wages for better qualified employees.

Most certainly the wipe-and-reload solution is not in the customer’s best interest; here are some of the reasons:
  • The rarely understands that their computer will look and feel very different after a reload.
  • The customer will have to manually reload drivers, reset the fonts he got used to and now “wants”, select colors, margins, standard folders and file associations; he/she may have to install printer(s) and apat other system settings that have been building up over time since the computer was new.
  • Some programs or data files will get destroyed or lost; if they are infrequently used that may show up only weeks or months after the “repair”.
  • The user will be without the computer for as long as the reload takes which could be several days.
  • Very sophisticated viruses may return after a reload unless very specific measures prevent such reinfection, for example after MBR and/or BIOS infection.
Here are some of the reasons why this approach is not in the technician's best interest, especially if I am the technician doing the cleanup:
  • If I “wipe and reload” then the client doesn’t need me, he/she can do it themselves or,
    worse yet, use the techie kid next-door to do it for the cost of a pizza.
  • Some programs, drivers, settings and user data will get lost.
  • The computer will not “look and feel the same” as it did before the repair.
  • The work involved will require much more time than I can honestly charge.
The only way to resolve issues caused by viruses or malware is to find and remove all such nasty programs, their activation methods and associated files and to repair eventual damage to the operating system.

A good cleanup must include improved preventive measures to avoid future success of another malware attack.

I am fully aware that this sometimes is next to impossible; modern malware almost always relies on social engineering tricks to get on a computer. In the end it depends on the user to always follow my Ten Commandments Of Safe Computing, now more than ever before.

Again opposed to common methods I prefer the on-site visit for a clean up job. Only on-site I can convey to the customer some training, show him/her the time proven tools and methodology I recommend to follow and get a feeling for how well they understand my appeals to use common sense.

There are situations when wipe-and-reload is appropriate, for example and IMHO if all these conditions are met:
  • You have a recent full-image backup of that computer.
  • There are only one or two user(s) set up on the infected computer .
  • There is no (or very little) locally-installed software on the infected computer.
These conditions are hardly ever met in a home environment. Only if these conditions are met I will consider a reload. In eleven years of “fixing” home computers I have had to reload the operating system only on two occasions.

I see no acceptable alternative to intelligently and methodically removing all malware infections and repairing any damage they may have caused. 

And I am well aware of the fact that on rare occasions malware may have done so much damage to the operating system that there may be no other way but to wipe and rebuild; but, as I said, luckily these cases are becoming more and more rare.

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Monday, September 8, 2014

2014-09-08 WTKM Talking Points (September 8 2014)

Linksys and Cisco routers unsafe! Updating does NOT help.
Any other router: Turn WPS off (known since 2011)

Cloud Storage: Another example of lost access and no recourse.

For-Pay Windows maintenance tools worthless

Infectious” USB drives on the horizon. So far only drives with a certain type of controller but that might change.
But they don't tell us what brand controller is affected.

14 antivirus apps have security problems.
    After finding basic boo-boos in security software researcher says vendors just don't care.
Avira, BitDefender, ESET and Panda (
among others) in “hall of shame”.

The skinny: The more a security app does the bigger the attack surface
the more it slows down the computer.

Why do people create virus programs? MONEY!
CryptoWall alone cashed over six months more than $1.1 million

Did Home Depot get hacked? Whether yes or no,
currently do not use ANY card at any retail stores.

Firefox enhances security with new version 32. Upgrade!

Mac security programs: Only three of 18 very good, a few good. Fuhgetabout the rest.

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog. 
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Monday, September 1, 2014

Details on CryptoWall

This article assumes that you are familiar with my previous article CryptoLocker - Revisited.

Detailed information was released about CryptoWall, one of the CryptoLocker variants.

Between mid-March and late August CryptoWall infected almost 625,000 systems; on these systems it encrypted more than 5.25 billion files.

The US seems to have the most CryptoWall infections: 253,521 (or about 40 percent), followed by Vietnam with 66,590 infections, the U.K. with 40,258, Canada with 32,579 and India with 22,582.

The US likely got targeted more often because CryptoWall's got distributed through spam emails sent from the Cutwail botnet which targets English language computer users.

Researchers collected data directly from CryptoWall's  payment server such as the exact number of paying victims and the amount of payments. Of nearly 625,000 infections and over about six months 1,683 victims (0.27%) paid the ransom for a total of $1,101,900.

CryptoWall seems to have  a home-made problem by accepting payment of ransom by Bitcoin only. Many average computer users will have problems paying with Bitcoin and reseachers assume that this is part of the reason that only 0.27% of CryptoWall's victims paid compared to 1.3% of CryptoLocker victims; CryptoLocker allowed payment by MoneyPak as well.

As sad as it is, these numbers clearly show that cyber crime pays.

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

CryptoLocker - Revisited

In December 2012 I wrote for the first time about the back then new relatively virus CryptoLocker.
In October 2013 I wrote again about new variants of this virus. Now I have new information that warrants to visit CryptoLocker again.

This family of viruses is by now one of the most destructive threats I have seen. Much of the news regarding CryptoLocker is rather negative but there is at least a bit of positive news as well.

CryptoLocker has evolved

Very shortly after the original CryptoLocker had appeared the first variant was discovered; on first glance it appeared to be similar to the original version. It almost was a look-alike, the method of infection was the same, the encryption seemed the same and the message on the infected computer's screen was very much like the original's. There were only two obvious differences: The original CryptoLocker demanded $100 for information to decrypt the user's files and it offered two payment methods (MoneyPak or Bitcoin); the “look alike” demanded $300 and accepted Bitcoin only.

Time consuming and detailed analysis uncovered significant internal differences. Specialists found that the second version most likely was written by a different programmer or even programming team. It was written in a different programming language and many other internal differences were discovered as well.

In the meantime we know of at least six other virus programs that work similar to CryptoLocker. They are called “encrypting ransom ware” (in the following ERW), they are actively distributed, modified and improved. Most likely they were created and are being run by different groups of malware creators and distributors. Some names I have run across:
  • CryptoLocker (the original)
  • CryptoLocker 2 (the first imitator referenced above, my naming))
  • Critroni
  • CryptoDefense
  • CryptorBit
  • CryptoWall (see this new article for details)
  • CTB Locker
  • PrisonLocker or PowerLocker
  • TorLocker
The newer versions of ERW viruses have become increasingly sophisticated, hard to detect and difficult to remove.

How these infections spread

Many infections happen when the user attempts to opens an e-mail attachment that then in turn launches the ERW. By now almost any file type can be abused in this way; you just can't trust so called “safe” file types any longer.

Over time I have received many emails about supposedly failed deliveries of goods. Some of these emails were made professionally and looked at first glance almost authentic. It made no difference whether the email seemed to be from DHL, FedEx, UPS or the US Postal Service; there always seemed to be some legitimate sounding reason to open the attachment.

In all cases attention to detail and applied common sense protected my computer better than any security program could have done; I simply avoided that one fatal click to open an attachment.

Another increasingly often encountered way for ERWs to spread are “drive-by downloads”. They come from compromised websites and compromised web servers. These sophisticated attacks take advantage of known vulnerabilities in almost ubiquitous software like Windows, Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, Java and so on. Since these vulnerabilities are known there is only very little excuse to get caught by a drive-by download. To get the computer infected by a drive-by download is very unlikely if the user keeps all software up to date.


On the positive side we have to my knowledge three options, some free and some with premium versions for a charge. These programs do not interfere in or conflict with common anti virus or security software. I warn against running any two of these programs concurrently due to the likelihood of conflicts with each other.

1. CryptoPrevent
2. MalwareBytes Anti-Exploit
3. HitmanPro Alert with CryptoGuard

If you are interested to learn more please follow the links.

To make it perfectly clear: I am convinced that the best protection is our own attention to detail, caution and applied common sense. No software in the world can replace our watchfulness!

ERWs on non-Windows computers

To make a bad situation even worse there are reports of ERWs on other, non-Windows platforms like tablets and smart phones with the Android operating system. There was talk about a popular NAS system (Network Attached Storage) being targeted as well. Only Apple systems seem to be not affected, so far at least; as we all know that can change any moment.

A bit of good news

Fairly recently, I believe it was in early August 2014, two software companies announced that they have jointly developed a method to decrypt at least some of the files that were encrypted by the original CryptoLocker. The companies and their web sites are The companies offer their program free of charge to people who still have files encrypted by the original version of CryptoLocker who wants to attempt to recover them.

The companies are FireEye (www.fireeye.com) and Fox-IT (www.fox-it.com). These companies apparently did not crack the encryption, they gained access to some of the command and control servers where some private keys were stored that the original CryptoLocker virus had used.

Much detailed sleuthing, dis-assembling, re-engineering and analysis of the original virus enabled them to write a program called DecryptCryptoLocker that can decrypt affected files when the were encrypted using any of the recovered private keys. At https://www.decryptcryptolocker.com/ you can read how this works. There is a decent chance that this program will recover encrypted files but there is no guarantee.Some so far encountered obstacles that may prevent decryption are:
  • It works only on files encrypted by the original version of CryptoLocker infections; it may or may not work on files encrypted by later versions of ERW.
  • Nobody knows if the servers accessed by FireEye and Fox-IT contained all private keys CryptoLocker had used.
  • The original CryptoLocker was effectively eliminated late in May, 2014; any later infections will most likely have used different sets of private keys.
Despite these obvious limitations of the procedure FireEye and Fox-IT deserve a lot of credit and big kudos. Anybody who still has files encrypted by the original CryptoLocker should try the procedure and see if it works for them.

My personal conclusion

It is primarily user behavior that protects the computer by always keeping Windows and all other regularly used programs up to date. If all this is accompanied by attention to detail and applied common sense then the computer will most likely remain “healthy” and safe.

In the worst case scenario, that is after your computer got hit by CrypyoLocker or a look-alike having a recent clean backup will be the best medicine against sleepless nights.

As usual I welcome suggestions and comments right here in the blog.

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