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Viruses 101: Keeping Your Computer System Healthy
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Winter is upon us, bringing cold temperatures, the flu and other nasty viruses. But some little buggers are seasonal independent and live right at your fingertips on keyboards, in your emails and on unfamiliar websites. Unfortunately, these digital critters can’t be cured with mom’s chicken soup and bed rest — but there is hope.

A computer virus or “malware” can act in many ways, but it simply is a software program capable of reproducing itself with the intent to destroy, steal data or just disrupt your ability to use your computer. According to Kaspersky Security Network, a leading security company, 73,619,767 computer attacks were identified in 2009. In comparison, an actual health pandemic, Swine Flu, had 25,584,595 reported cases worldwide.

While you’re trying to accomplish a computer task, nothing is more annoying than having a pop-up window tell you how to enjoy more pleasures, or having it dismantle your ability to search the web to find information about your infection and find a remedy.

But worse still is that some of these viruses can cause serious damage. It’s estimated that the “I Love You” virus, which stole passwords and emailed them to hacker sites, caused $10 billion in damages. Computer worms, which replicate themselves through networks and Trojan horses, can allow backdoor access into your system, causing such damage that sometimes people can’t even retrieve their personal documents or photos, and some must rebuild their computers from scratch.

And new threats come out daily. As most of you know, the first line of defense is to install a reliable virus protection program on your computer. But it’s just as important that you setup the automatic update configuration, so that the software stays current. So is running regularly scheduled scans.

The best way overall to prevent viruses from attacking your system and wreaking havoc, however, is to pay attention while you work. A little common sense goes a long way in prevention. Here are some simple ways to protect your system from infection.

  • Don’t open any email or attachments from people you don’t know. If you do know the sender but the subject seems unusual or misleading, stay away from opening any attachments or selecting any links. Send the person a separate email asking him or her if they actually sent you the questionable email. You wouldn’t open your door without verifying who is on the other side, so do the same with emails. And definitely don’t select the link or attachment. Verify it or delete it.
  • Know what antivirus software is on your system. You’d be surprised how many viruses are spread because a pop-up appears on the screen “notifying” you that a virus had been found and tells you to select “OK” to clean it. This can be a trick and the announcement is actually the virus. A good line of defense is to familiarizing yourself with your software so that you know how it acts when it really finds a virus.
  • Stay away from pornography websites, sharing sites known as peer-to-peers, crack key generation sites, and other red light cyber districts. These neighborhoods are filled with pesky vermin looking to embed themselves in your system. These type of sites frequently present problems because they offer illegal content or are setup specifically to deliver some form of malware.
  • Don’t hit “cancel” on a pop-up that looks suspicious. Instead, Windows users should right click on the taskbar, select “Task Manager” and then end the browser program. Many times the virus engineers make both the “cancel” and “OK” buttons launch the virus. Sneaky guys!
  • If your system is infected, run your virus protection program first, if you’re able, to see what it finds. Then check the websites of some of the major virus companies, such as Trend, BitDefender, or Kaspersky, for information about your infection. There are many tools from the major companies that you can run to clean your system. Two great independent free tools I recommend are Malwarebytes and Spybot. But there are many more available and usually a combination of them works to do the job.
  • If all else fails, you can try and restore your computer system to a previous date. But that is the subject of a whole other article.

Finally, a quick search on Google can guide you and offer some additional prevention and cleaning methods. Just keep in mind that if it looks fishy, it probably is, and stay away from the bad side of cyber town. Prevention goes a long way.


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Microsoft Office Web Apps Officially Launched
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Microsoft has officially launched the free, online version of its upcoming Office 2010 suite. Called Microsoft Office Web Apps, users now have a cloud-based option to create and edit documents from anywhere around the world--and without the need to save them locally on an HDD or USB drive. Users simply need to set up a Windows Live account and head over to in order to use the online-only tools.

Although the retail desktop version of Office 2010 is probably more robust and feature-rich, the online equivalents of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote do the job of manipulating Office-based files rather well. The main Office menu lists your recent-most documents while providing buttons to create a Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote document to the right. There's one single advert in the bottom right corner, however it's not loaded with heavy Flash or floats around like an annoying fly.

The only drawback is that the online suite saves the files using *.docx, *.xlsx etc. as seen with Office 2007 and the upcoming 2010 suite. Many consumers and businesses who are still using older versions of Office (2003) are accustomed to the *.doc format. Why are they using the old software? Hardware compatibility issues possibility, maybe a resistance to change. Nevertheless there's a tool to convert *.docx to *.doc, however it's somewhat of a hassle.

The new online tools are linked with Microsoft's SkyDrive service launched almost three years ago. This is a file storage and sharing service that allows Windows Live users to upload files to the computing cloud and access them through a web browser. Consumers have 25 GB of storage for free, personal use--files sizes are locked down to 50 MB each. Apparently an ActiveX-based tool can also be installed to allow drag-and-drop uploading from Windows Explorer.

Microsoft Office Web Apps can be accessed through Internet Explorer 7 or later. Non-Microsoft browser support includes Google Chrome, Firefox 3.5 and higher, and Safari 4 and higher. Although iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch users can't create and edit files, the stock Android web browser actually does work with the online suite without a hitch. The latter is somewhat surprising given that Google and Microsoft seem to be at odds, and that Office Web Apps is in direct response to Google's own online office tools, Google Docs.


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Mozilla fixes a big security hole in its flagship web browser.
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Monday Mozilla released an update to its Firefox Internet browser addressing a critical bug that could allow a hacker to remotely execute arbitrary code on a user's system. The company said in this blog post that the v3.6.2 patch was released ahead of schedule--this may be due to an upcoming hacking contest that targets browser vulnerabilities.

According to the company in this security advisory, researcher Evgeny Legerov of Intevydis reported that the WOFF decoder contains an integer overflow in a font decompression routine. The flaw could result in too small a memory buffer being allocated to store downloadable font. A hacker could use this new-found vulnerability to crash the browser and allow remote code execution.

In addition to the critical update, the patch also addresses several other security and stability issues. "We strongly recommend that all Firefox users upgrade to this latest release," Mozilla said. "If you already have Firefox 3.6 you will receive an automated update notification within 24 to 48 hours. This update can also be applied manually by selecting "Check for Updates..." from the Help menu. "

It was also suggested that Firefox 3.0 and 3.5 users upgrade to the latest version.


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Hack Expert Says Windows 7 is Hard to Hack
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One of the world's top hackers Charlie Miller has said that Windows 7 is a harder nut to crack than OS-X.

Despite all the advertising from Jobs' Mob which says otherwise, Miller told One IT Security that Windows 7 is slightly more difficult because it has full address space layout randomization. It also has a smaller attack surface with no Java or Flash installed by default.

Even before Windows 7, Microsoft's stuff was harder to crack than OS-X because it had a data execution prevention. Recently however it is easy to get around these protections in a browser in Windows.

Linux is just as easy to hack because the vulnerabilities are in the browsers.

Generally most of the problems for both Windows and OS-X are based around Adobe Flash. He agrees with Steve Jobs that you have to be barking to run Flash on any operating system.

Miller has made his name hacking OS-X and the iPhone. He said most of his hacks can be found in fairly common Mac hacking books.


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Fake Antivirus: 5 software titles you should definitely NOT install
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We take a closer look at some of the more common scareware traps; what to look out for, how to identify the fakes and 5 rogue security software packages you should try and avoid at all costs.

Bogusware, scareware or rogueware - whatever you prefer to call them, are all different names given to describe roughly the same thing: rogue security products that masquerade as the real thing.

According to numbers published by the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG), more than 485,000 rogue security samples were detected for 2009 - an astoundingly large figure, when you consider that is more than double the statistical total for 2008.

More so, June was a watershed month for malware: 152,197 examples of anti-malware products were analysed overall.

The APWG estimates more than 200 gangs throughout the world are responsible for the bulk of rogue security software applications floating around the internet, although only 10 of these gangs are responsible for more than 77% of the rogue malware infections.

How they work

Generally, web surfers are prompted to download rogue security software via an advertisement that pretends to offer authentic anti-virus or spyware scanning tools.

Other methods also include drive-by-downloads via infected websites and fake BitTorrent downloads carried over popular P2P networks.

In some cases, the extent of infection only extends to credit card fraud: users are asked to register for a lifetime product licence by entering their credit card details.

But in other more sinister cases, fake malware products can install hidden Trojans onto the user's computer unsuspectingly and then log email actions, bank account passwords and other personal data by sending it covertly back to the gang operating the scam. This data is often used in numerous identity and banking fraud schemes.

Where will you most likely come across rogue security software?

At first, it was assumed that most of the software applications were only showing up on porn, P2P and warez sites. Now that's changing. In recent months, mainsteam websites such The New York Times came under attack for hosting an advertisement on its site that redirected readers to a fake anti-virus package.

Google plays a key part in the dissemination of not-so-honest links. Fake anti-virus applications still routinely show up in the pretext of Google adwords and in search results when you are searching out new anti-virus suites to download.

Downloading antivirus products over Bittorrent or P2P can be just as dangerous - many so called genuine products (such as Norton 2009 for example) can contain Trojan horses that work in the same way to infect machines.

A quick Wikipedia search will often tell you plenty of things about your program of choice. It comes down to a great deal of common sense, including downloading from trusted sites, reading reviews and taking some time to consider why a flashing ad is prompting you to install a mysterious antivirus scanner. If it's too good to be true, it probably is.

Removing and cleaning rogue invaders

Not all mainstream software security packages will pick up and detect the latest scareware. This has much to do with the concept of polymorphic malware, a type of viral threat that constantly changes its own binary structure to evade detection, making it extremely difficult to be picked up by traditional signature based scanning.

As most rogue security titles are polymorphic by nature, their malware signatures are often dynamic, which makes it very hard for some antivirus software to detect.

To keep one step ahead of the security companies, malware programmers regularly change their name and logo to keep up with the latest signature scanners. As a result, many of the same rogue software titles compete under different titles, names that sound much like the real thing including "MS Antivirus".

Smaller spyware scanners tend to do a good job specialising in removing the fakes and these include programs such as Malwarebytes Anti Malware and Spyware Doctor. Combo-fix is a bare-bones piece of freeware used for catching spyware and malware and is a effective free alternative to cleaning vulnerable machines. HijackThis can sometimes be used to delete registery information if spyware scanners cannot clean all aspects of an infection.

5 rogue security software titles to avoid:

1) SpySherrif

How it works: This piece of malware does it best work by informing computers of false threats to their system. It's mostly found via web typo's (Toggle) and via infected software downloaded over P2P networks.

Threat value: SpySherrif is extremely difficult to remove by traditional security scanners. In additional to credit card fraud, this piece of crafty spyware can block internet connections, create multiple administration accounts, stop critical programs from responding and block access to several useful websites that might be used to clean any malware infection.

Also known as: System Security, SpywareStrike, SpyShredder and Spybot - just to name a few.

2) WinFixer

How it works: Frequently launches pop-ups that offer trial versions of anti-virus suites that can scan machines for non-existent infections. To remove the fake Trojan, users must purchase the program.

Threat value: Used mainly to extort users through credit card fraud.

Also Known as: WinFixer goes by many names, titles that sound much like genuine security suites. These include WinAntiSpyware, AVSystemCare, WinAntiSpy and Windows Police Pro. There are among 20 other given names for WinFixer.

3) MacSweeper

How it works: Known as one of the first rogue security applications to target the Mac Operating systems. It's easy to catch too: web typos, drive-by downloads and piggyback downloads hidden in other applications.

Threat value: This one has been busted by the big security firms already and there are instructions for removal available online. The usual credit card fraud aspect applies and encourages users to pay for a full trial version.

Also known as: KiVVi Software, Cleanator.

4) Green Antivirus 2009

How it works: Green Antivirus is unique because it places a spin on the traditional fake anti-virus suite, by adding a moral incentive to users. The fake program often promotes to donate $2 of each downloaded software title to a particular charity in need. This is done to make the software appear more legitimate.

Threat value: Credit card fraud warning.

Also know as: Green AV.

5) MS Antivirus 2009

How it works: With a name bearing the false credentials of the biggest software company in the world, this particular rogue security suite is particularly well positioned to take advantage of number one branding. Works in same manner of other rogue security suites by offering to scan computer for free.

Threat value: It's Microsoft OS dependent, so you'll need to be on a Windows machine to be a viable target. However, once downloaded, the malware can disable genuine virus scanners and make it difficult to remove.

Also known as: Extremely popular and ever changing its name, it's also known as Windows Antivirus, Win Antivirus, Antivirus Pro and Antivirus Pro 2009 - among many many others.


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Microsoft to Release Free Web Based Office Applications
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Like Batman and the Joker, it seems that Microsoft and Google are slowly becoming archenemies. Google's weapon of choice? Its free Chrome operating system, aimed to take on Microsoft's next Windows platform. It's speculated that Google announced the new OS last week in order to steal some of the sparkle away from Microsoft's latest free product, the Office Web Applications (web versions of PowerPoint, Excel, and Word), announced today.

However, Microsoft still walked away with a slight rise in shares, up 2.7-percent by mid-day according to Reuters. "Microsoft is finally making the conversion through the Web-based world. First, we saw that through Bing. Now we are seeing that through Office," said Jefferies & Co analyst Katherine Egbert.

But will the web-based Office make money? The company is counting on it, hoping that consumers will follow the software to its ad-supported websites. However, the online software may hurt the sales of the retail version; the home version, Microsoft's most popular Office title, retails for $150.

"Microsoft is in a tough spot. Their competition isn't just undercutting them. They are giving away the competitive product," said Sheri McLeish, an analyst with Forrester Research.

Microsoft's free Office Web Applications are due in August.

With the incredibly large Office user-base, we suspect that Microsoft would have an instant hit on its hands with Office Online. So far, Google Docs hasn't really become the hit that Google hoped it would be. Time will tell.


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Volunteers donate time, money to get WiFi at Bridgewater library
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Mike Aucoin answered the phone in his Bedford Street computer sales and repair shop.

The woman was calling Charlie’s Computers looking for a cost estimate on setting up a building for wireless Internet, or WiFi access.

For anyone else, the work Aucoin did would have cost about $1,000. But this caller wasn’t anyone else.

It was Mary O’Connell, associate director of the town’s struggling public library, which has weathered years of cuts to services, staff and hours — losing its certification and operating 18 hours a week with a skeleton staff.

O’Connell wasn’t looking for a handout, but Aucoin did the job for nothing, along with other volunteers who paved the way for free WiFi at the library to go live last Thursday.

“It’s really unfortunate what’s going on, so the last thing I want here is for it to have gotten worse,” said Aucoin, who owns Charlie’s. “I wanted to help them out.”

A local electrician, William Burden, donated his services to help wire the building, O’Connell said. Money raised by the Friends of the Bridgewater Public Library helped purchase equipment.

“We really did not have the money to provide this,” O’Connell said. “We’re thrilled to be able to compete with the cafes.”

Thanks to a series of “access points” installed in the ceiling — devices that magnify the wireless signal — anyone with a laptop or handheld computer should be able to use the Internet throughout the building, Aucoin said.

And if you can’t make it to the library the scant four days it’s open, good news — the signal is strong enough to work even from a short distance away outside.

Although the library received eight new computers last year, O’Connell said she hoped WiFi would attract some new library users and accommodate those who come there to work using their laptop computers.

“We’ve had a lot of people come for the past five or six years asking for WiFi,” she said.

Bridgewater’s library has been struggling since 2007, when the town nearly halved its library budget for the next fiscal year.

Ten people were laid off, all programming was eliminated and all positions were reduced to part-time. Hours of operation plummeted from 63 to 15 per week.

In February 2008, the state decertified the library because of insufficient funding. Since then, residents have not been able to borrow or reserve materials from nearly every other library in the region.

Staff and trustees were able to return to 23 hours per week, but midyear budget cuts forced them to limit it to 18 hours per week.

O’Connell said if this year’s proposed budget passes, there is “a distinct possibility” the library’s hours will recede back to 15 per week.

Jessica Scarpati can be reached at

(Note: Changed incorrect spelling of last name from Aucion to Aucoin)

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What is Badware?
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Badware is software that fundamentally disregards a user’s choice regarding how his or her computer will be used. You may have heard of some types of badware, such as spyware, malware, or deceptive adware. Common examples of badware include free screensavers that surreptitiously generate advertisements, malicious web browser toolbars that take your browser to different pages than the ones you expect, or keylogger programs that can transmit your personal data to malicious parties.

While some types of badware seem more annoying than dangerous, the consequences of badware infections can be quite harsh. Badware can cause computers to become slow, unresponsive, or even unusable. Personal information gathered by spyware can be abused, and financial or other personal data that falls into the wrong hands can lead to identity theft. Some forms of badware steal resources instead of information, perhaps by adding your computer to a network of hijacked machines called a botnet, that can then use your computer to send spam and phishing emails or even to help distribute more badware.

Badware producers are constantly developing new, creative ways to install badware onto your computer. Badware distribution has been expanded beyond traditional channels like email viruses to harder-to-avoid methods like automated “drive-by downloads” that are launched by compromised web pages.

Badware can be difficult to avoid, especially because it is not always obvious when your machine is affected. Some manufacturers bundle badware with other applications without disclosing that it’s part of the package. You can even be infected with badware simply by visiting a website that has been compromised by attackers; these attackers embed ‘drive-by downloads’ in otherwise legitimate websites, which then silently install applications on your computer, completely without your knowledge or consent. These programs are usually also hidden on your computer, making it difficult to identify and remove them.

Why do badware producers go to the effort of producing harmful software? Badware has become a booming industry, with an estimated annual value of over $2 billion USD. Some badware is produced for outright theft, while other badware is designed to support shady marketing schemes which drive web traffic or product sales. An estimated 59 million Americans currently have spyware or other malicious badware installed on their computers.

Badware production and distribution is only profitable if enough computers can be infected to support the costs and risks associated with developing software that exploits consumers. We hope that by educating users to avoid and remove malicious software, we can help reduce the profitability of badware business models.


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Conficker Gets Update, Does … Something
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Conficker has started doing its thing apparently. Its thing has yet to be defined but everyone should panic anyway, okay?

Exactly one week after it was supposed to get its ducks in a line, reports began to trickle in claiming that Conficker had began updating via P2P between infected computers and dropping a mystery payload on infected machines.

According to PCWorld, researchers at Trend Micro reported that infected machines had begun receiving a binary update which tells Conficker to start scanning for other computers that haven't patched the Microsoft vulnerability the virus exploits.

The new update also tells Conficker to contact,,, and apparently to confirm that the infected machine is connected to the Internet, Rik Ferguson of Trend Micro told PCWorld. What’s more Conficker also blocks infected PCs from visiting specific sites. Previous Conficker versions wouldn't let people browse to the website of security companies. This new update is timed to stop running on May 3 although it’s unclear if this deadline will pass as uneventfully as the last.


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New Website!
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Welcome to the new We plan to post information about the latest threats and ways you can stay protected as well as many other tips and tricks for improving your day to day computing. In the meantime you should sign up for our e-mail list for periodic updates and coupons.

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