Monday, April 6, 2020

Amazon Prime member? WARNING!


I have an Amazon account AND an Amazon Prime membership.
I received an email and I want to show it in a screen shot:


On first glance nothing really alarming, right?
BUT:
The sender email address (labeled From:) looks to me totally wacky and the Reply-To address (labeled To:) IMHO is equally unlikely.
The warning bells in my mind started to ring loud and clear.
 
My wife and I use the same Amazon account all the time and thus I know that the payment method is correct and that it works.

Even saving the attached PDF document to my computer and then scanning it with Malwarebytes did not show any alarms or warnings.

So I opened the file in my PDF reader to check it out in more detail.

The PDF document contains a link and a BIG button to supposedly go to Amazon's account and payment method web page.

BUT this is what the link and the button actually would have sent my web browser to:
https://t.umblr.com/redirect?z=https%3A%2F%2Fam1zn-updtaeinfmtaonsupdtee-verifyconfimationss76757855.com%2F%3Fsigninn-&t=NmVmZTU1YjdlNTBkODkzYjc0NTg1NzM0MTI2YWNhNWJkOGNiZGRjZSxjYTVkNGQyNzY5ZjI4OGQ2OGFiZjQ2ZDJmOTg3NjZlMTZkNTI5M2Y3

What a crazy nightmare - and for me a clear indicator that something was VERY WRONG!

I went to Amazon.com and checked in my account settings and voila, my Prime membership is paid for until September and the payment information is correct.

Naturally I will report this to Amazon.

MY conclusion as far it concerns you? 
 
Be super vigilant, never trust an email and do NOT be complacent!

Yes, IMHO it is complacent to "just click" on the big button or the link in the PDF file rather than verifying the claim made in the PDF file independent of the email and it's attachment!

Stay safe, stay vigilant and pay attention to the details!

Thursday, March 5, 2020

About Trackers


General information about Trackers and Tracking Cookies:

The Guardian has some interesting reading about trackers and tracking cookies.

Yes, the Guardian article is from 2012 and these technologies have evolved and become more sinister and secretive.

HowToGeek.com is a very reliable web site with all sorts of good how-to advice. Their article from 2016 The Many Ways Websites Track You Online is worth your time.

But if you want a shortcut without the background knowledge then go and install in your Firefox web browser the extension named DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials.

Here are four more articles from well reputed sources about this extension:

Stay safe!


Sunday, January 19, 2020

Windows 7 - RIP

As you surely can imagine recently I have quite often gotten the question  
What should I get if I buy a new computer?
Here is verbatim the reply that I sent to all such requests if the question came via email:
Thanks for asking.

It may be best to look for a new computer during special sales events.

For computers I recommend to look at Newegg.com or Amazon.com. Both definitely have a MUCH larger selection than any brick-and-mortar store can possibly offer.


Any new computer IMHO should go through my Set-Up job to be safe and protected on the Internet and to be free of unwanted, unneeded and sometimes outright malicious programs.

Here are some of the IMHO important technical details to currently look for:

  • 8GB or more of RAM (main memory)

  • Windows 10 Professional or Windows 10 Home
    (Pro is in some technical settings more flexible than Home)
  • Buy only a computer(s) with a SSD! SSDs are MUCH faster than HDDs!
    Storage capacity of the SSD is okay if it is about three to four times of the
    amount of space currently used on your C: drive or larger.

    Classic HDDs are in many cheap offers but it's clearly an outdated technology.
Currently I have the best experiences with computers from Dell and/or HP. And here are two warnings on what NOT to do:

  • If you are looking at new machines do NOT buy any additional warranties or similar!
  • Do NOT buy Microsoft Office!
    MS sells you a subscription with yearly payments; good for MS but bad for you!
Feel free to contact me directly with any questions you may have.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

PuPs - Again and What are they?

Potentially
unwanted
Program

That exactly is what PuPs are. Now that formulation with "potentially" is a protection against frivolous law suits; every PuP does something, in the opinion of it's author definitely something positive and useful. The word potential protects everybody who has to or wants to name these programs from lawsuits.

In my opinion EVERY PuP out there is outright malware and it is sad that existing laws and court decisions force us to use the word potential at all.

I happened to run across a good article (IMHO at least) about PuPs. You can find it here.  Yes, it's three years old and I believe I have already linked to it in an earlier article. I hope you don't mind to get the suggestion to refresh your memory.

The article I linked to in the previous paragraph refers to an even older article about one of the major sources of PuPs on our computers, the so called Download Portals.
IMHO a refresher about this might be recommended as well.

Stay safe.


Sunday, November 4, 2018

The UGLY underbelly of the End User License Agreement


All of us - well, almost all of us have been conditioned to accept the so called "End User License Agreement" (EULA) for next to everything. Sometimes we agree unknowingly just by turning a new gadget ON; my classical example for that is Windows 10 with it's 12,000 words long EULA.

EVERY app on our phones,
EVERY program ever installed on our computers,
EVERY so called "smart" or "connected" TV in our living rooms,
EVERY supposedly "intelligent" device that recognizes "Google Hello" or is "Alexa enabled",
EVERY of the many useful things that require an Internet connection and an app on a smart phone
and many more things too numerous to list here can be used to spy on us.

Hard to believe? Please listen to this 12 minutes long TED talk, maybe it will change your view.

Stay safe!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

URGENT ALERT - Please read!


Updated 2018-12-17 to include ALL current versions of MS Windows!

Users of ALL versions of Windows:

Please DO NOT manually check for Updates any more, now and in the future!
Insufficiently or untested updates have very recently caused many home computer systems to break and/or show erratic behavior or they have led to file loss!

Microsoft has quietly modified the technology hidden behind Windows Update. The gist of it is that when you check manually for Updates your Windows operating system will be given all available but eventually insufficiently tested updates! 

As a way of avoiding that to occur Microsoft has begun to check much more thoroughly if every given update is fully compatible with the individual computer's hardware. They give that update to a given computer only when the previously mentioned checks and tests end positively.

But all this happens only in the course of the regular, automatic update process! 

If you manually 'check for updates' your computer will get ALL available updates without these compatibility tests!

You can find an interesting article about this general problem here at HowToGeek.com. This article talks about all major operating systems including iOS and Android for cell phones. But you will find Windows 10 and Microsoft mentioned many times. Just overlook everything that does not pertain to Windows. Windows 8 and 7 are now treated the same way!

So again and to summarize:

Please DO NOT manually check for Updates any more,  now and in the future!

Stay safe!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Why I Don't Like Windows 10 and MS


In quite a few articles on this blog I have referred to, quoted from or linked to one of the web sites I regularly draw information from; I am talking about Tech Support Alert aka Gizmo's Freeware.

Two days ago they published an article titled "Windows 10 connects to these websites after a clean installation". Since many of my customers are not very technically minded let me quote some points that I consider to be the important details. 

IMHO it is, to say the least, misleading to use Microsoft's wording "telemetry" when our Windows 10 systems talk to Microsoft [MS] all the time without ever having asked our permission. They even don't ever tell us about the simple fact that they do that; you have to be a technology geek and read lots of very technical stuff to even become aware of what is going on.

The article lists 20 web sites that Windows 10 connect to when you start a brand new Windows 10 system. All these sites collect technical information about our computers and about us. As a simple example: Why does MS want or need to know where I am? That is information I personally would only disclose to the police if they ever wanted or needed to know that.

Here is list from above mentioned article. I have added the bold typeface in Line 1.
Windows 10 connects to one or more websites in these categories:
  • Cortana and Search
  • Certificates
  • Device authentication
  • Device metadata
  • Diagnostic data
  • Font streaming
  • Licensing
  • Location
  • Maps
  • Microsoft account
  • Microsoft store
  • Network connection status indicator (NCSI)
  • Office
  • OneDrive
  • Settings
  • Skype
  • Windows Defender
  • Windows Spotlight
  • Windows Update
  • Microsoft forward link redirection service (FWLink)
All this can on slower Internet connections add significantly to the time it takes for the system to start up. I have experienced that quite often when a sluggish or outright slow system all of a sudden works with normal reaction times after all that got turned off.

And to top it off, the program I use to turn off this talking back to MS is from a well reputed company and totally free.

Any questions or comments? Pleas use the Comment feature of this blog.

Please stay safe.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

This is well done - WATCH OUT!


For many years I use PayPal; I just received this email:




Something made me more suspicious than I usually am so I moved the cursor to the "Verify Your Account" button. And YES, that button translates to a shortened link - as you can see in the second red square.

Why would a well reputed company like PayPal ever use a shortened link?

I admit, the email looks convincing and even sort of professional.

Before I hit the Delete button in my email program, I took above screen shot for this blog post.

Stay safe!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Old Scam - New Clothes


A scammer from India came up with a new twist of an old ruse.

 Look at this screen shot of the offending email as shown in my email program:

Btw. following references to the blue or red squares do in no way refer to BattleBots. 😉

In the blue square we have the sender's email address. I believe that NO administrator in the whole wide world would ever use an AOL email account for his official business. Some criticism of AOL can be found here.

In the first red square you see my cursor on the VERIFY NOW link and because of that you can see in the second red square the textual representation of what web page that link would actually send my browser to - if I were sufficiently un-attentive to click my mouse in that situation.

The target web page is on a server in India at "managershub"! You don't see that? Learn how to read URLs.

And I don't even use what the scammer refers to as a "Web-mail system".

To top it off there are three simple spelling errors or typos in the short text of the email; unprofessional to the hilt! 

Sum total: An old but time honored scam in a new dress - but not even a fancy dress.

Again it comes down to the first of my ten commandments for safe computing:
Thou shalt read and think(!) before you click.
Stay safe!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

URGENT ALERT! For users of any Apple thinghy!


Hi y'all and thanks for reading this.

If you or someone in your household has any piece of equipment from Apple, like an iPhone, iPad, iPod or the like then
 this is for you!

Since iPhones a.s.o. are so common nowadays the crooks are targeting you. Look at the email I just got in a partial screen shot of the Thunderbird screen:

 

I have marked the give-away items with colored rectangles as follows:

Blue: I don't have an Apple account! Ha, ha, ha.

Purple: The email does not even come from Apple!

Green: My cursor pointing to the "Verify..." button.

Red: The URL (web site address) that the "Verify..." button actually is pointing to; it has NOTHING AT ALL to do with Apple.

To be addressed as "Dear ejheinze@att.net" is so unprofessional this alone would be reason enough to click on the Delete button!

The item in the red rectangle I see only because I told my email program to show this and because the cursor is on the "Verify..." button. I believe none of this needs further clarification. Should you have any questions please feel free to ask me, preferably in an email.

A general remark: 
If the program you use to read your emails
does not show you any of the information in blue, purple and red
then you potentially endanger your computer!

Any Questions? Please feel free to ask me, preferably in an email. 

Stay safe.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome vs. Firefox


And again it is a customer's question that triggers me to write on this blog. The customer, thank you Steve H, asked simply "What is your opinion of Microsoft Edge vs Firefox?".

Here is my reply:

I strongly advise against using any web browser from Microsoft!

I collected some articles for your enjoyment that can give you some background for my various reasons. The articles quotes are in no particular sequence.

Test Link

Microsoft Edge introduces new security risks in Windows 10     https://betanews.com/2015/07/30/microsoft-edge-introduces-new-security-risks-in-windows-10/

IE, Edge Users at Risk from Serious Browser Security Flaw      https://www.tomsguide.com/us/edge-ie-flaw-no-fix,news-24565.html

Windows 10 users ignore Edge for a reason     https://betanews.com/2015/10/19/windows-10-users-ignore-microsoft-edge-for-a-reason/

Windows 10's new browser Microsoft Edge: Improved but also new risks     https://blog.trendmicro.com/trendlabs-security-intelligence/windows-10s-new-browser-microsoft-edge-improved-but-also-new-risks/

Before you ask let me please preempt the question about Google Chrome vs. Firefox:

So far the main argument for Chrome was "it is faster". That was and is a phony argument that shows a deplorable lack of knowledge by the people using it. I'll give you an example.

Let's assume from the moment you click on a link to having the new web page in front of your eyes it takes all together 10 seconds.

90% of that time is needed to get the many little files that comprise a web page from the server these files reside on to your computer. We and/or the web browser have no way to make that faster.

The last 10% of the time is used by the web browser to "convert " the many little files into the picture we see; this process is called rendering. And that actually was where Chrome was faster.

MS Edge, the new version of Firefox and others have closed and/or eliminated that speed gap.

If Chrome were 30% faster in rendering the web page that would be only 0.3 seconds. Even in a direct A/B comparison we would not be able to experience that difference.

Additionally: The Chrome web store, from where you'd download any browser extension you might want or need, has been plagued by rogue extensions (only one example here, there are many more!). You may find way too late that the extension you downloaded and installed was rogue.

So for me it is clear:

No to Google Chrome and ANY Microsoft browser; IMHO the only well supported alternative is Firefox.


Stay safe.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

FINALLY - Microsoft comes to (their?) senses


FINALLY something IMHO long overdue is going to happen:

Microsoft will start to remove the worst of the bad ones!

Please read the details here.

You don't need to call me if after March 1st. your "Optimizer program" has gone missing. I will wait and see what else they (Micro$oft) will declare "coercive" and then remove.

Stay safe!



Friday, January 5, 2018

Meltdown and Spectre bugs in our CPUs


Have you read about and eventually been concerned about these bugs?

First and foremost: Please DO NOT confuse cloud storage of data with cloud computing; these are two very different animals. If you use cloud storage you and your data are NOT directly affected! And as far as I know these attacks are difficult to pull off in the first place and I don't personally know anybody who actively uses cloud computing.


Here is a good and fairly easily to read article that explains the details much better then I ever could.

My short synopsis: If you are using a regular home computer I believe you are and most likely will remain safe. These bugs MIGHT affect companies that run their software, web sites, email systems and what not on Cloud Services like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Computing, and/or Microsoft Azure.

Don't get overly alarmed but install updates as soon as they are available, especially updates for the Windows Operating system and your web browser.

Stay safe.



Happy 2018!

A happy and healthy New Year yo all my customers and - actually- - to everybody else who happens to  read this.

Stay Safe.
Eike Heinze

Sunday, December 10, 2017

It's Amazon vs. Google. Did You Know?


Have you ever or are you sometimes watching a YouTube video or two?

Have you ever or are you sometimes looking at something or even buying something on Amazon?

If you can answer any of above questions with Yes then you should read this article.

It shows very clearly why I always say that, no matter what companies say, we, the paying customer, are a voiceless, powerless "necessary evil". They just don't give a hoot about us.

Their talk of "how important" their customers are and how they care for us and how important it is for them "to serve the customer" is nothing but marketing hullabaloo and all too often they just plainly lie to us.

Never the less, I will stick with my Amazon Prime account and I will keep using Google's services.

For now at least.

Stay safe.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Attention Everybody ...

... with an AT&T, SBC Global or a Yahoo email account:

Likely every direct or indirect Yahoo user got this or an email similar to this:


DO NOT CLICK on the RESET link! This email is a scam!

As you can see my cursor was on the RESET link in the text when I took this screenshot.

Please look at the red framed box in the left bottom corner. You can easily see that the link would take you to helpdeskhomezone.com, a web site that obviously has NOTHING AT ALL to do with Yahoo! It is your guess what might happen if you do click on it.

Just the line where these crooks address me, "Dear ejkheinze@att.net" is another simple giveaway. No even vaguely reasonable company would address a customer like that!

Again, check every link in emails in this way BEFORE you click!

THINK TWICE and stay safe!

Friday, November 24, 2017

This is where I stand...


Despite being "only" a guest in the USA there have been quite a few times when I have been asked about my opinion of the so called "flag protest issue" in the NFL.

Here is a short video that gives my answer better than I ever could.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 20, 2017

(GRAND-) PARENTS: Real and Present Danger!


Yes, I know, it has been way too long since the last time I had to say something.

With the holiday season immediately upon us and the crazy sales already in full swing:

You please, please have to read this article about the risks associated with the newfangled so-called "internet connected" toys.   

Other than that I wish everybody a HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Stay safe - and help keeping your kids and grand kids safe.

 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Why Me?

One time too many I have been asked by a caller why he should hire me rather than take his computer to Best Buy; here is my complete reply. I apologize for the bad style (way too many paragraphs begin with "I"!) but I am not a native English speaker.

In general
  • my main interest is cleaning your computer of all viruses and malware and securing it and your web browser against getting infected again in the future

  • I have over 25 years of experience with Windows PCs plus over 23 years of experience as a computer programmer and database dministrator

  • I do not mince words but rather say it as I see it

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

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

  • I abhor industry shenanigans and trickery and warn my customers

  • I work on Windows PCs only and do only house calls up to 30 miles from my residence. There is no extra charge to appear at your door and I charge no mileage fees.
I neither sell material goods nor any software;
I sell only my experience, my know-how and my time.

I do not charge sales tax.

I have NO contractual ties to any product;
I do not get any kickbacks from any manufacturer, wholesaler or dealer, no matter where and what you eventually buy.

I have absolutely no hidden financial interest or other commercial bias; there is no added or hidden cost for the home user.

With two rare exceptions I use and install only freely available and functionally proven programs.
Even a proven alternative to Microsoft Office® is officially available free of charge.

I have worked professionally as a programmer and database 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
For 11 years I was once every month the “computer guru” on a call-in talk show on WTKM radio out of Hartford, WI.

If you are interested please send an email to ejhprivate*AT*gmail*DOT*com

I will reply and send you my brochure with more information as a .pdf file;
if you rather want a paper copy please give me in your email your name and address and I will send you a letter.

The information in the brochure should enable you to decide whether you want to hire me to repair and secure your computer.

Thank you for your interest.



Saturday, August 26, 2017

Email Scammers At It Again


And again the email scammers are at it again. Most likely I got this email (see below) because my email address is publicly available thanks to Yahoo having gotten hacked about 2.5 to 3 years ago. It took a lot of public pressure until Yahoo well over two years after the fact finally admitted to hack #1 and then to hack #2
Disclaimer: Both articles I just linked to are to be read carefully because they were, partially at least, written by journalists that are not computer technicians and/or with sensationalist attitude. The facts of the matter are not in question though!

I have many, many customers with email addresses ending in @att.net or @sbcglobal.net". At least theoretically they all could be affected likewise.

If you think something along the lines of "... but he has an email address ending with @att.net, why is he concerned by Yahoo having been hacked ..."? Well. many years ago AT&T didn't want the hassle of running their own email servers so they subcontracted Yahoo to do the technical handling of the email accounts of all AT&T customers; that includes in Wisconsin email addresses ending with @sbcglobal.net and country wide many others.. Thus all AT&T customers could be affected.

I have checked on Have I Been Pwned and yes, my email address is in both big customer files that got stolen from Yahoo. That "pwned" by the way is pronounced as "owned" and that is what it means. In geek speak it expresses that your computer - or here my email address - is 'owned' by somebody else who can do with it as they please.

Luckily my password did not get exposed but after I learned of the hack I changed it anyway, just to stay on the safe side.

Now to the current reason why I write all this. I got this email:


  1. Sender Address: btinternet.com translates to BRITISH TELECOMMUNICATIONS PLC
    NOTHING AT ALL to do with AT&T.
  2. You see that I had my cursor on the "Click here..."  link and
  3. because of the cursor on the link you can see in the left bottom corner of the email window the the link goes to bit.ly, a well know link shortening service.
    Now THAT IS suspicious, for me at least.
And did you see the errors in the text? Failure should begin with a lower case 'f', the period behind AT&T Mail is wrong and clobbers the whole sentence and "Your Mail; version ..." does not make any sense at all. It is almost like I could say "Bad English, bad actor". 
Summary of all the above: DELETE!

Please, DO NOT be curious, DO NOT click on the link just because you want to see what happens; just delete the email and sleep in peace.

Stay safe!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

How to Protect Yourself and Your Computer on the Internet


Sometimes I am still amazed by the degree of how clueless  some people are as far as the most basic ways are concerned to stay safe on the Internet.

I don't want to repeat myself here and I don't want to sound like a broken record either. Oops, many younger readers would not even know what that means...

Anyway, here is a good and easy to read but admittedly fairly long article titled 

Basic Computer Security: How to Protect Yourself from Viruses, Hackers, and Thieves

My regular readers will recognize that I quite often link to articles on How-To Geek. At least the articles about computers are an easy read and correct on top of it.

Stay safe.



Saturday, July 22, 2017

Why NOT TO USE Internet Explorer


About one to two times every month I encounter customers who react clearly with doubt or outright disbelief when I tell them NOT TO USE Internet Explorer. IE is Microsoft's web browser with roots in the mid 1990s. That is in computer terms ancient!

Finally I found an article on maketecheasier.com that explains the "why" in easily understandable terms. You find it here. Enjoy the read and please, please pass the word to your relatives and friends.

And if you are only a little bit like me you want to turn off  IE totally. You find instructions on how to do that here.

Stay safe.




Friday, July 21, 2017

The Skinny ...

... about the latest outbreak of Encrypting Ransomware.

The original of this text was written by Ken Dwight, aka The Virus Doctor. I am an alumnus of his Virus Remediation Training and make this text available for my customers with his kind permission. Thanks Ken.

As with malware in general, encrypting ransomware is continually changing.  Most of these changes are evolutionary and somewhat predictable.  As such, they don’t call for any significant changes in the methodology to be used in dealing with them.

Some recent developments in specific families and strains of encrypting ransomware are
significant enough to justify an update to the IT Support technician’s strategies and tactics for handling them effectively.

There are primarily two families of such ransomware that warrant this attention.  Multiple names have been assigned to these families, but this discussion will use the names that are most frequently found in credible press coverage of these outbreaks.

WannaCry was released into the wild on May 12, 2017.  According to most reports, it infected at least 200,000 computers, in more than 150 countries.  This ransomware spawned its own Wikipedia entry, at
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WannaCry_ransomware_attack.

The more recent attack, erroneously known as Petya, but more accurately referred to as
NotPetya, first struck on June 27, 2017.  There are no estimates of the total number of computers infected by this malware, or the number of countries represented.  But it clearly targeted businesses and organizations in Ukraine, with some 80% of the infections found there.  This ransomware also has its own Wikipedia entry, at
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_cyberattacks_on_Ukraine.

These two families of ransomware have several characteristics in common.  Probably the most notable is the widespread coverage both received in the general press.  While malware generally goes unreported in the non-trade press, these attacks were the exception to that rule.  Fueling the press coverage was the revelation that both of these attacks were based on exploits developed by, and subsequently stolen from, the U. S. National Security Agency (NSA).

Interestingly enough, I have not seen any of these infections first-hand, nor have I received reports from any graduates of my Virus Remediation Training workshops that they have encountered computers encrypted by either of these families of ransomware.  Considering the fact that hundreds of IT Support Techs fall into this category, in most of the United States + 7 foreign countries, I can only speculate that the actual infection rate is much less widespread than the press coverage would lead one to believe.

Another common denominator between these two infections was the fact that the vulnerability in Windows that was used for both of these attacks had been patched by Microsoft in their March, 2017 Windows Updates; any computer with that update applied would not have been infected by either of these pieces of malware.

Two NSA exploits were used in both of these attack scenarios; they are named EternalBlue and DoublePulsar.  A free EternalBlue vulnerability scanner is available for download from http://omerez.com/eternal-blues-worldwide-statistics/.  As of mid-July, 2017 more than 10 million IPs have been scanned; the majority of hosts scanned (53.82%) still have SMBv1 enabled, and 1 out of 9 hosts in a network is vulnerable to EternalBlue.

The WannaCry malware included a “Kill switch” which was discovered by a malware researcher and activated to disable the infection from spreading any further.  No such kill switch has been found for NotPetya, but a “Vaccine” has been developed to protect against it.  More details from Bleeping Computer at https://www.bleepingcomputer.com/news/security/vaccine-not-killswitch-found-for-petya-notpetya-ransomware-outbreak/.

Another important difference between these two families of malware involves the type of
encryption they perform on the victim’s hard drive.  WannaCry, like most encrypting
ransomware, encrypts each individual file.  It also changes the filename to end with an extension of .wcry.

On the other hand, NotPetya encrypts the entire hard drive and replaces the Master Boot Record with its own version.  While the encryption is taking place, the malware displays a screen that looks like a chkdsk operation is being performed; when the whole-disk encryption is complete, it forces a reboot.

Upon the reboot, the modified MBR causes the ransom note to be displayed, with instructions to pay $300 USD in Bitcoin; after 72 hours, the ransom increases to $600 USD.  Because of the modified MBR, at this point it is not possible to boot into a normal Windows environment.

As of this writing there is no means to pay the ransom; even if the ransom is paid, there appears to be no way to decrypt the hard drive or restore it to normal operation. Consequently, there is no reason to even consider paying the ransom.

Back to WannaCry, there have been some reports of successful decryption after paying the ransom. But here again, I have no first-hand (or even second-hand) reports from victims of this family of ransomware.

Those are the most recent, high-profile developments in the field of encrypting ransomware.  But it’s a pretty safe bet they won’t be the last.  This category of malware continues to evolve and become more sophisticated and more insidious.  It has crossed the threshold of being a billion-dollar industry; that success will attract more and more criminals who are lured by the promise of  easy money.  Our prospects for future employment remain secure!
That was it.

All my customers are advised to weekly initiate a check for Windows Updates. If they followed that advice their computers  were protected and they don't need to care about these two overly "hyped up" virus outbreaks.

Stay safe.
 


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Your Attention Is Required - NOW!


Virtually ALL my customers use
   -  Microsoft Security Essentials on Windows 7 and
   -  Windows Defender on Windows 8.x and Windows 10.

A really BAD bug has been uncovered that warrants your immediate attention.

Please follow the instructions in this article or alternatively you can do the following:
  1. Open Windows Defender (MS Security Essentials on Windows 7)
  2. Click on the Update tab
  3. No matter what the program says click on the big button Update Definitions
If there is any update for Defender or Security Essentials it will be downloaded and installed.

Stay safe.


Friday, May 5, 2017

"Security" software breaks Windows


It gets fun again - my life I mean; the rest of this blog post is dead serious, please make no mistake.

For years I have recommended NOT TO USE products from Webroot. I remember too many bad experiences with and infections on computers that were presumably "protected by Webroot".

In NBC's words:
An antivirus service used by tens of thousands of businesses and millions of home users shut down an untold number of computers around the world Monday after it mistakenly identified core parts of Microsoft Windows as threats, the company confirmed.
Similar events have occurred in the past; sadly they are much more common than we would like and the public hardly knows about it. Some well known companies in the "computer security" or "anti virus" business have had similar snafus. Here is a quote from a blog post at Bleepingcomputer.com:
... Such mishaps have been reported for years to include major anti-virus/security vendors such as Panda, avast, AVG, BitDefender, Kaspersky, Malwarebytes, McAfee and Symantec. In most cases when these issues occur, the anti-virus vendors and security tool developers take quick action to correct the problem and provide support to those users who have been affected.
To call such blunders a "mishap" is not a euphemism, IMHO it is outright glossing over or covering up a major blunder.

Things like this should not happen and they don't need to happen, they are major avoidable blunders. In every case we can only speculate about the "why" and I don't like to speculate.

What does all the above tell us? IMHO very simple:

Do not trust a single word in high gloss, pretty brochures.
Do not believe the words in computer related advertisements on TV.

What you find in high gloss publications is mostly marketing hype and likely not really trustworthy. And when certain "security" software seemingly out-of-the-blue suddenly is being hyped over the moon in TV advertisements it IMHO is time to run for the hills. It tells me that very likely a marketing campaign has to cover up some so called "mishap".

-----

So far I have used the acronym IMHO three times in this blog post. Generally there are always at least two ways to look at something, as we say around computers YMMV. If you have a different opinion - or maybe simply think I am a dumba.s then I ask you to please leave a comment, state your case or blow off steam below. 

Thank you in advance.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Nothing New?


I got an email from a long time customer who asked me
... where have you been? Not on the Blog in three months...
Here is my reply to him:
Thanks for checking the blog.
There is nothing new -- and that means no bad news and that is good news, right?

It still is the "old" story"; ransomware is at the top of the list of nasty programs.

The only way to
avoid that junk fairly reliably - but not guaranteed - is NEVER to click on any attachment to any email! 

Save the attachment to your desktop, upload the attachment to VirusTotal.com and have it checked there.

Even only one negative result is enough for me to tell the sender to check his attachments himself and stop sending out potentially infected junk files.
And DO NOT click on links in emails! Check if the link goes to the correct web site! Rest your cursor on the link and look at the left bottom corner of the browser window; there you should see the text of the target URL ( = Internet address) that your browser will take you to if you click on that link. Learn to correctly read these URLs!
 
Stay safe!


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

WOT and the darned Purists at Mozilla


WOT vanished from many of my customers Firefox web browsers. I got some questions about that so here is my diatribe.

Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox web browser, is a European organization and over there they have a MUCH more narrow view of privacy issues. That is a double-edged sword.

WOT has a few month ago modified their end user license agreement to conform more closely to what the add-on all can do. No surprise to me that they collect some information on the things you search for and where you then click on. Google does that for years and nobody gives a hoot.

WOT finally made it public and Google and Mozilla went ballistic pulling the WOT extension (add-on) from their web sites. I am pretty livid but they don't listen to you or me.

WOT in the meantime has changed the wording of their end user license agreement and you again can get and run WOT in Goggle Chrome.

The Europeans don't seem to see the value of WOT for the normal non-geek end user and remain stubbornly on their negative stance towards WOT. 

And Mozilla even tricks people into disabling or removing WOT - despite the fact that there is no even remotely similar functionality available anywhere else.

It is a shame but I have to tell my customers that they have to use Google Chrome for their web searches if they want the advantages of WOT, naturally with WOT and a good Ad-Blocker installed. These get installed from within the web browser, they are extensions.


Currently IMHO only Adblock Plus from adblockplus.org and uBlock Origin qualify as "good" ad-blockers.


Supposedly WOT and Mozilla are working on a resolution but that already takes many months.

If you have an affected computer and on the desktop is a folder named "Old Firefox Data" I may be able to resurrect WOT; but that definitely would be a trial and error thing that I can not guarantee. But at least I can do it remotely. 

Stay safe.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Music Fans Take Note


Here is a quick tip for anyone who wants to build his/her own music library without over time paying a small fortune to Apple by using iTunes.

Please read this article on How-To Geek and get informed about alternatives to iTunes

Stay safe.

Monday, January 9, 2017

How to stay safe in 2017 - Short List



Here is a short list of in my experience the most important steps you can take to keep your computer and your data safe. have I have added e few remarks for clarification.
  1. Update your software.
    Not only Windows but all other regularly used programs as well;
    for a Windows PC this includes (but is not limited to)
    -   Adobe Flash (beware of fake download sites!)
    -   Adobe Shockwave
    -   Web browser(s)
    -   Email client
    -   Java (if installed; mostly Java is not needed at all!)
    -   Office programs
    We always have to keep in mind that some programs still don't update automatically and quietly in the background! Checking manually hardly ever has hurt anything.
     
  2. Back-up to an external hard drive.
    Done regularly and correctly this currently is the only protection against ransomware viruses!
     
  3. Use a password manager.
    For single machines see Keepass, for more than one machine see LastPass and include all cell phones and tablets in the count!
       
  4. Use a unique password for every account.
    Everybody has many, many accounts; you need a password manager!
     
  5. Use random passwords
    Easily done only with a password manager!
     
  6. Turn on two-step verification everywhere you can.
    If you have a cell phone that you really use, otherwise this is pretty useless.
     
  7. Read and think(!) before you click.
    "My" first commandment for safe computing.
     
  8. Enable full-disk encryption
    On a single home computer? Only protects your data when the machine gets stolen.
     
  9. Put a six-digit PIN on your phone and set the phone to wipe it's contents if the PIN is guessed wrongly too many times.
Do you have questions to any of that? Please feel free to ask them in the comments, I will reply. Maybe not immediately but I will.

Stay safe.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Welcome 2017


A Happy, successful and healthy

NEW YEAR 

to all my customers 

and everybody else who might happen to read this!


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

How I Transfer Files From An Old To A New Computer


As long as the "old" computer is basically still working transferring all your user files (documents, pictures, music and videos) is no issue at all as long as they are stored in Windows' standard locations.

After the new computer is up and running I take the disk drive physically out of the old machine, attach it externally to the new machine and copy the files directly across to the new computer.

This way there is only one copy process which saves time compared to copying via an external drive which requires copying the same data twice.

After copying the files to the new machine I will urge you to safely keep the disk drive from the old computer for at least a year as an insurance against data loss.

Imagine you need a certain file after several months, you know the name of the file but it just is not where you thought it should be. It is on the old disk drive because that is the only place files could have gotten stored on the old machine; so that is where we have to search for it.

I hope that clears eventual confusion.

Stay safe.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Still on Yahoo? Time to RUN!


Are you still using Yahoo! ® ?

It is high time you run, fast, far and NOW!

Just read this article by Rob Schifren. He is the driving force and creator of TechSupportAlert.com, a very long running and very reliable source of information about free software and many more things about and around computers; computers used here in the widest sense of the word, that is including Apple Mac, Android devices and much more.

From the many contacts with my customers I have an idea about how many people re-use the same password on several (or all) web sites.

PLEASE heed the warning and AT LEAST establish a new STRONG password for your Yahoo account.

IMHO it would be better if you switched to a different service altogether. If you have and use a Yahoo email account I recommend to switch to Gmail.

Gmail can automatically import emails from Yahoo if you want to give your email contacts time to adapt to your new email address.

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

Stay safe.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

About Scams - Beware!


It saddens mw but it has to be said again and again:
Microsoft WILL NOT CALL you because your computer "has been reported" or anything similar.
Please take the few minutes to read this article from the How-To-Geek on common scamming tricks and what to do about them. This article talks about some other commonly encountered scams as well, not only the Microsoft or Tech Support based scams.

It always is good to be well informed. The time to read the HTG article is time well spent; it can help you to avoid the most common traps.

Stay safe.

Monday, November 21, 2016

NO to Google Chrome - Here is Why

Here is a quote from this article on The Register:
Chrome leads the browser pack with 504 reported vulnerabilities followed by Internet Explorer with 289 and Firefox with 171. Some 1035 flaws were reported across all browsers including Opera and Safari, up from 728 in 2013.
"Reported vulnerabilities" are in layman's terms known weaknesses in the program code of the web browser that have been or could eventually be used to hack through a given web browser into computers.

Why would a person want to willingly live with more risks than less?

This seems to me to be a good time to talk about the most common argument for Google Chrome, at least as far as I hear from my customers. The argument is "Yeah, but Chrome is faster". Mostly I get that from younger people or grandparents who quote family members or friends thereof.

That argument is "true" only to a laughably small effect that IMHO is totally irrelevant.

Every web page is made up of often numerous files; these files have to be transferred from the server computer of that web page into our computer. The time this transfer takes is solely dictated by the real life speed and performance of our Internet connection. Our computer and the web browser have next to no influence on that transfer.

Only after all the files that comprise the web page are on our computer the web browser can begin to build the visible web page on the screen. Yes, in doing this Google Chrome is faster than other browsers but this is maybe 10% of the total time it takes from us clicking on a link to the web page appearing on our screen.

Let me do the math for an extremely slow example: Assumed it takes 10 seconds from click to visible page (which is quite long!). 90% of this time is waiting for the transfer of the file(s), that is 9 out of 10 seconds; only 10% (equals 1 second) is what the browser takes to actually do it's job of giving us something to look at. Even if Google Chrome were 20% faster than another browser that would amount to being 0.2 seconds faster over all. That difference is well below what humans can perceive!

My point is: "Faster" is by no means "better"!

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

Stay safe.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The newest Scam - Beware


The newest telephone scam I heard of is the Microsoft Licensing Scam. You may get a phone call or a voice mail saying something like this (phone numbers deliberately obscured):
“This is to notify you that your Microsoft Windows license key has been expired in your computer so Microsoft Corporation has stopped the services in your computer. To renew the Windows license key, please call 866 XXX XXXX. Let me repeat. This is to notify you that your Microsoft Windows license key has been expired in your computer so Microsoft Corporation has stopped the services in your computer. To renew the Windows license key, please call 866 XXX XXXX. I will repeat 866 XXX XXXX.”
The message obviously was from a computer generated, sort of "mechanical" voice and the stilted English suggest a non-native English speaker behind the whole thing.

Any messages about licensing issues truly from Microsoft would pop up on your computer's screen only during installation or activation. And we all know, if only from experience, that a Microsoft license for the Operating System comes with the computer when you buy it and it is good for the lifetime of the machine.

In Windows services are programs running in the background; they are required for even basic functions of the computer. A computer would not work at all without the required services running in the background.

In the case I read about the recipient happened to be a very, very experienced Windows user; the gentleman called back the 866 number from the message; he said about that call:
"Because the number was toll free, I called it just to see what would happen. An answering machine invited me to leave a message and my number for a callback — I declined.
Please remember: Any and all phone calls claiming to come from Microsoft or any company associated with Microsoft are scams. Don't even talk to these people! Do not give them your phone number or ANY OTHER information.

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

Stay safe.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ransomware IS on the Loose, NO JOKING!


Today I met with a customer who recently I had pointed to my blog posts about ransomware. He sort of poo-pooed my words and pointed me to his safe habits.

With his permission I looked in his (very big) Inbox with about 1,000 emails. I looked only for mails with attachments and found quite a few.

I grabbed randomly one of the attachments, a ZIP file by the way, and saved that file to the computer.

Then I went to Virustotal.com, uploaded the file and had it tested. The results speak for them selves, here they are:


Clearly this file contains a downloader and a variant of the encrypting ransomware Locky. And who knows what the downloader would do to the machine if it ever gets to run.

Currently DO NOT directly open ANY attachment from an email, no matter how "good" you think you know the sender or what ever excuses your brain comes up with.

Always save the attachment to a place on your computer you can easily access like the desktop.

Then in your web browser go to virustotal.com, browse to the file - in this example on the desktop, upload the file and if virustotal.com comes up with anything then delete the file AND the email it came from!

Better safe than sorry!

And before you ask, some of my previous articles about ransomware are here, here, here, here and here.

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

Stay safe.