Category Archives: Malware

Windows 10

Wish me luck. I’m upgrading to Windows 10 over a wireless connection, ‘braving the storm on a skiff made of electrons’.

— ranthony (@ranthony) August 6, 2015

Microsoft Windows 10 Pro

I had no problem upgrading to Windows 10, that is the shocking news in this article. I didn’t  loose any data in the change because I haven’t relied on Windows software to do anything aside from run my computer in well over a decade now. I use Chrome or Firefox to surf.  Irfanview to view photos. Google Docs to write documents.

There is malware protection native in Windows 10 as there has been since Windows 7, they just don’t tell you where it is and that it is running anymore unless you go looking for it in notifications; notifications which are now on the taskbar at the bottom of the screen.  In the series of buttons on the notifications bar that comes up when you click on it, you will see one called settings. This can also be found from the Start menu which Microsoft wisely put back after taking it out of Windows 8.

Settings is where all the functions which used to be found in Control Panel are now located. Rather than have some arcane vernacular unique to Windows, Microsoft has elected to make their OS more like the other OS’ on the market making the learning of multiple platforms less tedious.  A wise decision on their part since most people now use an Android variant as their OS.

No one likes change.  The Wife complains every time her software is updated and she is my go to tech for hardware.  I don’t do hardware, but software I have few problems with.  Windows is now more like the other three OS’ that I use.  I find that 10 is a major improvement from 8 or 8.1.  It has been the least painful upgrade I’ve done in a lifetime of using Windows (starting with 2) DOS, Linux and when I’ve been forced to, Apple products.  It found all the drivers necessary to run my hardware before attempting to install new software.  For the FIRST TIME EVER I did not have to go out on another system and track down drivers that would have been available had the OS simply checked in advance before replacing the previous software.  I didn’t have to do anything other than restart the system and everything worked perfectly. I was as shocked as you are right now.

This is my basic rule of thumb when modifying anything on a computer; backup the data! Always backup your data because it will inevitably be lost.  Every single time I’ve upgraded in the past, this has been a true statement.  This is the first time that I felt no pain at all in changing to a new OS. I’m seriously waiting for the other shoe to drop.  It couldn’t possibly be this easy.

I hear your fingernails being dragged through the dirt as you try to desperately cling to the version of Windows you have now. Don’t deny it, you are terrified. Here is a newsflash for you, you will eventually have to upgrade. There is no avoiding it. On the other hand, there is no need to upgrade now. At some point your hardware will fail and you will be stuck using the latest version of whatever, and you’ll wish you had familiarized yourself with the software previously so as to ease the transition.

Here’s a bit of wisdom from my days as an architectural CAD guru. When AutoCAD transitioned to a Windows-based format the pushback from users who liked the DOS-based version was deafening. Professionals in the design business were swearing up and down that they would never switch to the new version; and yet within a year, all of them had changed programs. Some of them changed to non-AutoCAD drawing systems and had to learn a whole new program anyway, but none of them still used AutoCAD 10. There was no point in continuing to use it because the nature of collaborative design dictated that they had to move with the times. They had to do what everyone else was doing or be left behind. Be driven out of business.

Embrace change. That is my advice. Upgrade or switch to using Linux. You’ll thank me for it. 

Adventures With Malware

I’ve been testing running Windows as a smart consumer for the last couple of years. Having bailed on attempts to run Linux without becoming a programmer; and having very little inclination to become a programmer just to run a computer as a user (although that mindset is slowly, ponderously, altering) I decided to just see if I can make Windows work in the limited fashion I’ve been using it of late.

Rather than installing 15 different programs to sniff all my information exchanges from the various networks I utilize as I have seen others do in the past, I decided that I would rely on the native scanners and firewalls that come with Windows now.

Confession time.  I don’t actually run Windows 8, 8.1 or whatever they’re calling the new Windows these days. Microsoft, cleverly figuring out that consumers skip every other release of their OS’s, have skipped calling their new 0S Windows 9 even though that should be the number on the release, and are calling it Windows 10.  Now, I haven’t figured out what version of Windows that Microsoft will deem LTS (long term support) next, so I’m not spending any of my limited funds on an OS that they put out simply to smother some fire that they inadvertently started.

I run what was on the system when it was sold to me (although I’m in the process of converting the laptop to Linux) and that version is Windows 7. I liked XP, stuck with it for as long as I could. XP was the last version of the OS that Microsoft deemed LTS, as was Windows 2000 before that.  Windows 7 has been a nice stable platform for several years, so I’ve stuck with it.

Starting in Windows 7 there were native malware and virus detectors.  If this wasn’t the first time, then it was definitely the first time I noticed them or was willing to rely on them.  Virus scanners seem to be in bed with malware writers of late; witness McAfee being offered on sites that are clearly on the fringe of respectability, when McAfee once upon a time was a legitimate virus scanner that I couldn’t live without.  Now if you rely on them or a Norton product, you’d be better off not finding the internet, if either of them actually let you on it.  So relying on a native Windows application that offered to screen malware and viruses seems as legitimate as actually paying someone else to keep your system virus free these days.

Realizing I was giving up ever visiting a porn site, or sharing a music file, video or anything more sophisticated than email, I set to work.  The native program in Windows was/is called Microsoft Security Essentials, and for the last two years, that has been the only program that I’ve run on this system that does anything related to malware screening or virus scanning.

When I go anywhere on the internet, I use a third party application to do it.  I never allow Windows to do anything aside from run programs which are native to this computer. This is a habit formed since I first started using Windows back in the 3.11 days.  Internet Exploder, er Explorer, has always been the most utilized vector for spreading malware, so I never use it on a website that I don’t trust completely.  Trust like the vault at my bank (and I don’t bank) So I use Firefox or Chrome, or whatever non-native browser that looks promising today, to go to websites.

Having been an MMO player for the last 5 years, I haven’t had a lot of use for porn or music anyway. MMO’s (Massive Multiplayer Online games) are notorious for sucking up all your free time.  The most challenging vector to manage, when dealing with online gaming, is how you get your addons updated. This is because every game has some cheat or other that you have to add to it in order to make it easy enough to complain about in online forums.  This process required a bit of legwork and investigation each time I changed addons or games.  There are addon managers that aren’t too shady, so if you are careful about what you click, read everything and check every toggle before you agree, you can generally lease your entire life to online games and not worry about anyone else stealing it.

Lately I’ve noticed that I’m beginning to have trouble reading.  This is the biggest challenge I face, being a compulsive reader.  Every now and then the eyes fail to track properly, the mind wanders and I miss a paragraph of text, forcing me to curse loudly, backtrack and start over.  Consequently I’ve taken to downloading a lot of content from Audible and various streaming media sites, taking care to make sure that the programs I’m using are pretty solid.

Most audio is only available if you buy it in advance. This is a battle I’ve been fighting since the days of MP3.com and corporate music’s foolish belief that they could stand in the way of file sharing.  To this day I strip audio that has restrictions on it, if I have a need to move it from some system that is recognized to one that is not.  Fortunately for Audible and my limited non-MMO free time, most of the systems I fiddle with these days are recognized by Audible or have Audible apps on them.  Consequently their heads-entirely-up-their-asses DRM remains on many of the latest works that I’ve purchased from them.  I don’t know why they still keep DRM on their files, Amazon has offered native unprotected MP3’s for years, which is why Amazon is about the only place I will buy music (rumor has it that iTunes now has unprotected MP3’s as well.  Too late Apple!) and Amazon now owns Audible.

But they do and I roll my eyes and live with the frustration.

Still, it presents an obstacle to sharing files with family members once you’ve purchased them.  Technically you can share them, according to Audible.  But you have to share them on systems that are recognized, and you have to authorize the hardware with the software, hold your mouth the right way, sacrifice your newborn and leave a pint of blood.  Just a bit of a hassle.

Consequently I have resisted buying audible content that I actually have credits for, if I know I’m going to want to share that content with family members later.  That resistance has now officially ended my Microsoft only malware testing period.

The Wife expressed an interest in a particular work recently. Having just given a pint of blood last week trying to share an Audible file, I went out and found an unprotected copy of the work she wanted, rather than try that again. I did notice some odd behavior in the dialogs, but that reading problem I mentioned caused me to miss exactly what the prompts said.

Hilarity ensued, if hilarity involves 30 plus hours of digging malware out by the roots.  Malware writers are a humorous bunch. They piggy-backed a lovely bit of work in on my foolishness.  Calls itself Unideal. But it’s not just Unideal. It’s also Youtubeadblocker and a few other names aside.  Installed itself as a false virus scanner under yet another name. Runs banner ads across websites sponsored by Robin Hood. Specifically places ads in areas that Ad Blocker takes ads out of.

What is the moral of this story?  I don’t think there is one.  File sharing was never a crime for me, because the things I share I either end up paying for anyway, or never would have paid for in the first place because it wasn’t something I wanted after listening to it once.  The one time I’ve been caught torrenting (by HBO) was the time I was a paid subscriber (won’t be doing that again) who couldn’t actually watch the programs I was paying for due to faulty transmission by my cable provider. If you enjoy HBOGO now, you should write me a thank you letter. That service exists because of people like me.

DRM-free label
defective by design

Were it not for DRM on Audible books, I would have simply used credits that I have on my Audible account to purchase the work my wife was interested in directly. But because of suspicion and doubt, the nagging insistence that if payment is not secured in advance no payment will be made, you must step outside of the protected boundaries of commerce and make back-alley deals with less than desirable types.

Were it not for the backwards nature of copyrighted works, and the DMCA that protects them, it would be possible to take material that the copyright owner has abandoned on a previous format, update it to current formats and be able to charge for the time and effort spent transcribing the material (a service which does have value) without opening oneself up to punishing fines for daring to think that abandoned works deserve to be preserved.

Perhaps there is a lesson here about keeping your software and hardware up to date, but as a disabled person living on a fixed income, it’s a bit much to ask me to purchase new hardware and software every few years just so I can keep current.  I have a test license for Windows 10 which has been made available to me, and in the next few days I may be testing that software after I get my second drive running a version of Linux I can count on.

Microsoft, It’s Just ON the Computer You Buy

If I had a nickel for every free marketeer that waxed poetic about the greatness of Microsoft and how we owed Bill Gates thanks for the computer boom, I could probably challenge big brother Bill for the title of richest man in the world.

But I don’t buy the scenario.

Microsoft doesn’t hold monopoly marketshare because they have a superior product. Microsoft wins because it is supplied on a PC system at no significant charge. It’s a lot like payroll deductions. Most people don’t notice the difference between net income and gross income. They don’t do their own taxes, balance a checkbook, etc. That’s why they support things like socialized medicine; it will be free to them because they don’t count the costs that come out of their pocket before they even know what they had. There isn’t a cost to them at point of purchase, so they think of it as free.

When you buy a computer system, there is a lump sum fee that you pay. There is no detailed record of what everything that goes into your computer costs. There is a software upchage of about a hundred bucks on the average windows system. I can buy a complete computer system with a Linux OS on it for 150 to 200 bucks. Windows systems are generally much higher than that.

If people had to pay for the software upfront, this would all be a different story. Microsoft would not have the marketshare they currently have. The MPAA and the RIAA would not have been able to advance their agendas because there would be no monolithic software giant to enforce their will. There wouldn’t be the problem that currently exists with viruses and malware, because there wouldn’t be a Swiss cheese OS out there that is specifically set up to be hijacked.

[The average windows system is shipped with a default user profile created, and an administrator account invisible on top of it. None of the accounts are password protected, and the average user doesn’t know about the admin account that anyone can log on to. When you plug the box into the network, it’s a simple thing for a cracker to ping it, load his software onto the system through one of a hundred or so open ports, log on to the administrator account remotely, and hijack the system. It generally takes about 15 minutes for this to occur, according to the last article I read on the subject. Systems set up to be hijacked.]

It is the massive market share (and sweet deals for exclusivity with Microsoft) that has gotten peripheral suppliers (like cameras and scanners) to program their drivers for Windows only. There was a time when driver disks had multiple OS options on them. I almost never see that anymore. It’s not the fault of Linux programmers that peripherals aren’t recognized, it is the fault of the manufacturers who don’t support anything but Windows; and will in fact build their hardware to rely on Windows (as in the case of some printers) to the exclusion of everybody else.

It’s a corporate disease, much like a free-government-provided disease.

Why Should You Use Firefox?

Bob Rankin over at the Internet Tourbus (a subscription I’ve maintained for nearly as long as I’ve been on the ‘net. 1997, I think) is asking for feedback on whether or not Firefox is ready for prime time, and why should you use it.

I’ve had quite a bit to say on the subject of Firefox over the years. A good portion of it on this blog, but I apparently have neglected to get into my main reason for using it, security.

It’s hard to conceive of any program less safe to surf the Internet with than Internet Explorer. I have used Firefox / Thunderbird for more than three years. I wouldn’t use MicroSoft software to connect to anything for any reason. I only risk the operating system because I need software that isn’t available on other platforms.

The security holes that MicroSoft’s propaganda arm (known as the tech reporting industry) keep harping on concerning Firefox have been patched. If you download the current version you shouldn’t have any trouble; not to mention the benefits of built-in pop-up blocking and spam filtering.

[MS is running scared from the threat that Open Source (of which Mozilla is part) presents to their business model. With good reason. I’ve also been using Open Office almost exclusively for the last couple of years. It’s every bit as good as MS office is, and it’s getting better. Linux and KDE are going great guns. I dual boot a Linux/Windows box currently; most of the programs I use can be installed in both operating systems. When I get a decent Linux CAD program I’m giving up Windows]

As someone who remembers working with Wordperfect and Lotus 123 on 386 DOS boxes (not to mention the playing around with the original MacIntosh) I think I can say I speak from experience. Not to mention the fact that I’m married to the #1 PC repair geek in all of Austin, and so can speak from experience on the repair side of the business, concerning the far greater risk involved in running Internet Explorer rather than Firefox. We routinely install Firefox on clients systems; and when I’m doing the work as a favor for a friend (in other words, for free) I do myself a favor and delete the icons (when uninstalling isn’t possible or feasible) for MicroShaft programs which are a liability, so that they don’t re-infect themselves and waste more of my time.

Why do I say this? Because half of the systems that come back for more work, when I question their owners, are re-infected because the owners went back to using Internet Exploder (the other half are because they don’t update their virus/malware scanners properly) I have never yet gotten a system back that was infected through the use of Mozilla software. These are just the facts.

The other reason to use Firefox is it’s ease of use and customizability…

[Yes, I know that Internet Exploder 7.0 does most of the same stuff Firefox does. Is it a coincidence that Firefox code is available for anyone to see, and IE’s code is not? You decide]

…If I want a toolbar for a particular purpose, it’s generally available at the addons site. There are far more addons than any one person will use, and the extents to which the browser can be modified are quite impressive. Right click customizations for searches (I use it in Thunderbird as well) as well as tool bars for many different popular destinations on the web. The most useful one, in my opinion, is ForcastFox; which is weather, right in the frame of the browser. Too cool.

The extensions work for all versions of Mozilla (including Netscape based on it) although you may have to dig back into the archives to get extensions for older versions…

When I read Rankin’s call for feedback, my first response was “What, you aren’t using it?” My second response was “Why wouldn’t you use it?” Download it today, and give it a try.