Monthly Archives: June 2014

I smell a rat!

While the sun is out and shining light on the cobwebs in the house I would like to take some time to describe a horror of modern day computing. This horror is akin to having rodents in your house.  They lay claim to part of your house, make nests, breed their young and then they take off around the house looking for something to eat, depositing all sorts of unsightly and unsafe material about the place.   They avoid the house owner and stay unnoticed as long as possible.

This particular threat occurs when an outside person establishes access to your computer system.  Your computer is then available to them to store and remove things as they please.  The motivation behind this is money.  People establish a claim on hundreds , thousands or even millions of computers and then they rent them out to other people for various vile deeds..

This despicable behaviour is carried out by people who are actively trawling the Internet for ways to access computers.  These outlaws are highly skilled in computer terms but have found it pays better to hijack and using, for their own gain, what rightfully belongs to someone else.  These can be very successful criminals, they work outside the law and disregard human rights and normal codes of behaviour.

One of the main activities that they involve themselves in is creating and maintaining botnets.  A botnet is a network of computers that act in unison on command after they have been infected with a malicious program called a bot.  When a substantial number of computers have been infected, and are operated together,  it is then called a botnet.  A botnet has a value, some are more valuable than others, depending on the location of the computers and what usernames and passwords are stored on them.

The going rate at the moment for a normal none specific botnet  is$ .04 cent for each computer that has been compromised. This might not seem a lot, but in 2009 the “mariposa” botnet was discovered which had over 13 million hijacked computers.  Effectively giving this a value of $520,000 per rental.

Any device that connects to the Internet, is potentially exposed to these threats.  Some are more vulnerable than others, and it is important to know how vulnerable your devices are and how to protect them.  If there is noise in the attic, check it out, before the place is over run.

To check if your Windows computer is part of a botnet, current wisdom suggests running an IEcleaner, one of which is available at http://housecall.trendmicro.com/uk/.  Risk of infection in a computer running MacOs or Linux is relatively low at present, but anti-virus software should still be installed.

A word of caution: An IEcleaner will not replace good practice i.e. avoid email that you are not familiar with, do not visit risky websites, virus check memory sticks, keep software up to date, install a firewall, use strong passwords and install and update  an anti-virus program.

Our Data has a Home Sweet Home

Computer updates are provided regularly by software vendors to keep their software up to date and as a computer user you are recommended to install the latest updates so that your computer is running the latest version of its software at all times.

Consider your computer as a house that stores your photographs, emails and other personal and business information.  It is important to look after the structure of this house to ensure the safety of the contents, and their availability when needed.  As with other aspects of the global life style the world of computers contains hazards.  Some of these hazards are caused by mistakes in design, or the inability of a computer system to withstanding a changing environment.  Others are deliberate attacks by people, with motivation varying from simple amusement to wish for world dominance. These software diseases then spread from computer to computer.  These will spread more freely in an unsecure environment.  Installing a computer security system will protect your computer and reduce the risk of spreading viruses.

If we take an example a house in an area that has become prone to flooding.  The house was built first day to withstand a certain amount of rain, but over time as rain became more intense and flood waters rose, the house started to spring leaks and let water in.  This wasn’t because the house wasn’t built right the first day it is just that the circumstances in which the house is standing have changed, and the structure of the house will need to be adapted to cope.   Software updates will adapt your computer system and keep it secure in a changing environment.

It is also commonly known that an open skylight on a rainy day will let water in no matter how well built, maintained and secured the house is.  So it is with computers.  No one can protect your computer system, even when one that is regularly updated,  that is constantly exposed to websites of unknown or questionable integrity.

Wild cats and other animals are discouraged from entering houses and in most cases are completely barred.  Yet people will open email attachments and put memory sticks into their computer without considering the danger. If you do not know the source of a file how can you know what it contains ?.

We have doors on our houses and keys so that certain people whom we trust can come into the house.  Yet people will leave their network open for anyone to come and go as they please, take what they wish and deposit what they wish also.  Protect the security of your network with strong passwords, do not allow access to your network to anyone who does not need to have access.

If a person came to the door of your house and said, you have a problem with your house and I can fix it for you, in most cases people would refuse them access and contact the person who built or sold them the house the first day.  Yet people will give access to their computer system to a complete stranger on the phone. Treat callers who ask for access to your computer in the same way, even if they say they are from a reputable firm.

The random caller to your door who asks for your bank account or other account details, should be given short shrift and sent on their way.  Yet time and time again people give their bank details and other account details to complete strangers just because they asked for them in a convincing manner, by email.

In the month of June alone Microsoft released 66 changes to their operating system 55 of which are critical upgrades, in other words if your computer does not have them installed it is at risk.  The solution to computer security issues is in everyone’s hands.

You’ve Got a Friend

Who knows us better than your own family, some people would say no-one, but in truth there is one set of people who know what we like, where we go, who we want to talk to and with , who we ignore, what excites us and what spurs us into action.  You might not know these people but if you are a regular Facebook user they know you .

To find out how much and what Facebook knows,  download your personal  information from the General Account Settings. The process is simple enough, after clicking on the link,  Facebook will send you an email with a link to a website, you will then need to enter your password.  On doing this your personal account information is downloaded to your computer.  It is in a zip file, so it will take another step to uncompress this file which can be done using Windows explorer or Mac OS.

The downloaded information contains a number of folders and a html file called index.html.  Clicking on this file will open it in a browser.   The information included contains all posts, messages, pokes, photographs as you would expect.  It also includes a record of every time you logged in any ads you have clicked on your location when you logged in and what type of device you were using to login.

Facebook also categorises you under advertising  topics or interests so that they can provide targeted advertising to your page,as they say themselves ” The best ads are those that are tailored to individuals based on how they and their friends interact and affiliate with the brands, artists, and businesses they care about.” Incidentaly it is not possible to opt out of facebook Advertising.

 

Looking at the list  of ad topics you might wonder why Facebook has categorised you in this way. It appears that all these categories are ones that you have expressed interest in while on Facebook.

It seems that not only does Facebook know you better than your family it may also knows you better than yourself.