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November 2005 - Page 2 of 2 - Ask the Geek Ask the Geek

Archive for November, 2005

Sony’s DRM rootkit exploited

It’s outrageous that Sony hacked its customers’ PCs with a rootkit, opening a back door for other hackers to commit their mayhem; in fact, it’s almost criminal and I think someone, somewhere should pay dearly for the crime. The damage is done. The attacks are already starting. According to Sophos, Inc., an anti-virus company with U.S. headquarters in Lynnfield, Mass, some low-life Internet criminal is already spamming out a Trojan to exploit the vulnerability introduced by Sony’s rootkit:

The Troj/Stinx-E Trojan horse appears to have been deliberately spammed out to email addresses, posing as a message from a British business magazine. Typical emails look as follows:

Subject: Photo Approval Deadline

Message body:
Your photograph was forwarded to us as part of an article we are publishing for our December edition of Total Business Monthly. Can you check over the format and get back to us with your approval or any changes? If the picture is not to your liking then please send a preferred one. We have attached the photo with the article here

Because of this mess–and because I value my privacy–I refuse to buy any Sony CDs, and I’ll think twice about buying any other Sony products until they make up the damage they have done. The artists who have had their music released on the Sony BMG label should immediately sue and seek an injunction, unless they agree with Sony’s approach, in which case the artists should be boycotted, too.

Filed in: Uncategorized

The Lazy Man’s Way to System Security

A good many people have responed to my various articles on system security (see Eight Steps to System Security — How to Protect Your Computer from Digital Diseases on the World Wide Web for the latest installment). Most of the feedback has been positive, but many of you wondered if there might be a simpler approach, some basic things you can do to protect yourself without too much hard work.

You’re in luck. Call it the lazy man’s way to system security; if you install protection against the the three biggest threats to your online security–infections by viruses, worms and Trojans, malicious software (spyware, adware, browser hijackers) and crackers who wish to secretly access and control your PC–you’ll be protected from the worst of security problems. These are the bare security necessities: a good antivirus program; a good anti-malware program; and, a good software firewall. Simple, and highly effective for most users, as long as you stay away from questionable web sites. (You know the ones I mean!)

Before you ask, the answer is yes, you still need a software firewall, even if you already have a hardware firewall. Most hardware firewalls are configured to keep bad traffic from getting in, but will let most traffic from your network out. So, they don’t keep those sneaky tracking programs from phoning home. A software firewall will at least give you some warning when a program is trying to access the Internet and you can decide whether to allow it. Besides, it gives you an extra layer of protection, just in case.

I still highly recommend you read and apply my Eight Steps, but if you’re feeling a bit lazy today, the three necessities will get you by.

Filed in: Computers, Security

Eight Steps to System Security — How to Protect Your Computer from Digital Diseases on the World Wide Web

It isn’t getting any better on The Wild, Wild Web, despite state and federal government attempts to outlaw spyware. Spyware and malware of all kinds are increasingly more stealthy and difficult to remove; spam is worse than ever despite CAN-SPAM; phishing attacks are harder to detect and more frequent. Just last week, I spent the better part of two days fighting fighting the latest outbreak of the Sober worm and cleaning up the aftermath for one of our clients. In its September 2005 issue, Consumer Reports says, “One Third Of Net Users Damaged By Malware.”

In my job as a systems engineer for Connective Computing, Inc., I deal with the effects of one or more of these digital diseases nearly every day. My two previous releases of this article, Seven Steps to System Security – 2004 and Seven Steps to System Security – 2005, listed the field-proven steps I recommend to everyone I know. But those seven steps are no longer enough; computer users must learn to modify their behavior.

  1. Repeat after me: I will NEVER, EVER click on any pop-up of any kind – NEVER, EVER. Not even on the “X” (it’s usually safe, but why take the chance?). Use the key combination Alt-F4 instead; it safely closes the current window. In the slimy world of sleaze-ware, “No” means yes, “Cancel” means yes, “Close” means yes – ANY click on a button means yes. So many times users ask, “How did I get that? I clicked ‘no’ when it asked me!” Well, sorry, but you clicked. NEVER, EVER CLICK!
  2. Although Internet Explorer has been made more secure than it was, it is still too closely tied to Windows and too big a target. Crackers are still writing malware that exploits IE security flaws. I recommend you use Firefox, Mozilla, or Opera to browse the Web. (You will still be forced to use IE to update your system, but that is the ONLY thing you should use it for.) Whatever browser you use, be sure you configure your preferences to block all unwanted pop-ups or install a pop-up killer like the Google Tool Bar. And while you’re at it, re-read #1!
  3. Patch your system, including service pack 2 on XP. I keep finding systems that are still running XP with service pack 1, probably because they turned off automatic updates. While some argue against it, I recommend you turn them on. And be sure to install any recommended security updates and patches for ALL software on your system, – especially Microsoft Office – not just Windows.
  4. Run a properly-configured, proven firewall. Don’t rely only on Windows’ built-in firewall – it blocks inbound attacks only (see this article) and it has flaws of its own (see this article). It will not stop back door trojans, adware, spyware, and the like from “phoning home” with your sensitive information. (See this article for more info.) ZoneAlarm and others offer free, personal-use-only versions of their products.
  5. Run a good anti-virus program. Choices abound. I use AntiVir Personal Edition (free); other good ones are Norton AntiVirus, Panda Software, and Grisoft’s AVG (free).
  6. Run multiple anti-spyware/anti-adware programs and keep them updated. I recommend: a. Spyware Blaster. This free program blocks adware and spyware from installing in the first place and is frequently updated; b. Ad-Aware. Scan weekly, more frequently if you are a heavy surfer; c. Spybot S&D. Run it on the same schedule as Ad-Aware; d. Microsoft AntiSpyware (Beta) is an excellent product. (See Flexbeta.net test results.) Microsoft intends to keep this program free to consumers. Configure it for real time protection and automatic updates. Go ahead and join the SpyNet spyware reporting community. One of the best commercial anti-spyware applications is Sunbelt Software’s CounterSpy. It is a PC World Best Buy award winner.
  7. Run a spam blocker to isolate junk e-mail. Most malware and all phishing attempts rely on spam. You want to isolate this stuff and delete it. NEVER, I repeat, NEVER, EVER click on a link in any e-mail you are not absolutely certain is legitimate. And to be as safe as possible, always type in the address of your bank, credit card companies, and any other site that you want to keep secure. (See #1 above and apply to principle to links, too!) One of the best programs is Open Field Software’s ella for Spam Control. It uses wizards to “train” it to your personal specifications. It’s free to use with Outlook, but you have to pay for the version that works with Outlook Express. My clients swear by it. Another good program is PC ToolsSpam Monitor.
  8. On Windows XP, set up a restricted user account and use that for routine tasks. Only log on with administrative privileges when you need to install or configure software. This will prevent rogue programs from affecting your system – they won’t be able to install. You can activate the “run as” feature so you can do administrative tasks while logged in as a restricted user. Microsoft Knowledge Base article Q294676 explains how to activate and use this feature in Win2K and XP.

While total immunity is impossible (new infections and variations on existing exploits appear daily), these eight steps will prevent, catch, or clean 98 percent of the junkware out there. As for the other two percent, or if you are already badly infected, you’ll need to hire a geek like me.

Filed in: Computers, Security
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