Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Security for Me: Internet Surfing

One of the biggest problems today is to surf the Internet safely. Contrary to some may think, Internet surfing is not safe unless you personally take care of some things.

Why it is unsafe? Because you can access by mistake a site that has malicious intents and that use vulnerabilities in your browser to install on your computer some viruses or spyware, to crash your system completely or to steal your credit card information or other personal data.

So you need to make it safe...

  • First: always use the latest version of your browser. Internet Explorer is currently at version 7 for Windows XP and newer and it is still at version 6 for Windows 2000 and lower. However that one is safe too. Firefox updates more often, current version at the date of this post is Other browsers also update regularly, so check their vendor sites.
  • Second: always install the patches for your browser and you operating system. While browser patches are obvious in the sense that they fix problems with your browser, the operating system patches are not so obvious. In short, it may not be a problem with your browser at all, but a problem in your system that can be exploited via your browser.
  • Third: install an anti-spyware and an antivirus. See my article regarding those issues at http://lusutheghost.blogspot.com/2007/11/security-for-me-antivirus-programs.html
  • Forth: keep away of strange or suspicious sites. Your browser usually notifies you that a site is malicious and blocks it by default. Please read carefully what your browser is reporting before continuing. Some antispyware and antivirus software may also block some sites. Take their advice and leave that site immediately. However if the antivirus kicks in, the site is automatically blocked with no chance to continue on it, which is a good thing.

There is the myth that Internet Explorer is not as safe as Firefox. Unfortunately this is exactly backwards (but things are improving). Opera is in fact the fastest and the most secure Internet browser. Don't take my word on it (as some my say that I am a Microsoft fan...), take what experts are saying. A good article, with quality and reliable sources is http://mywebpages.comcast.net/SupportCD/FirefoxMyths.html

Another thing is to be very, very, careful when entering your credentials (passwords, credit card details etc.) in forms on various sites. Please double check the site and its intent before proceeding. There are lots of legitimate sites that for example process your credit cards in order to sell you something online, and this is good. But there are even more sites that pretend to sell you something (like man potency pills, "original" software or quality watch replicas at incredible low prices) but in fact they simply steal your information so they can empty your account. No legitimate site will ask your credit card pin code! If you encounter such site leave immediately!

Also some banks offer online banking services where you have to authenticate with either a security device (one time code generators), with security certificates or with one time scratch codes. The later are not so secure as some sites may trick you in providing the next 10 codes in order to "verify your identity". Big mistake to provide those!

Do you have any other tips? Please feel free to comment and share with everyone!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Security for Me: Antivirus Programs

I was thinking in explaining to you what an antivirus software is, but Wikipedia does it better in this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antivirus_software. It is an excellent one, take my word on it. Anyway, in short an antivirus software tries to detect and remove several types of malware. Therefore the best way to protect against such threats is to play a little defense on your own.

  • First, whenever you install an OS, do it with the network cable (if any) disconnected! (well, unless you do a network install...). Viruses are so versatile those days that they can infect your computer while it is still installing. Yes, that does happened! No kidding! How it is that possible? Easy... The OS will activate the network card so it can set it up and configure it. The firewall is usually down and there are no patches installed at this point... This is the critical point actually.
  • Second, always patch your computer! Turn on Automatic Updates in your OS! This is crucial so the updates get installed before a virus hits you on a known vulnerability. Personally, as an "advanced user" I have the Automatic Updates set to notify me about the patches but not download nor install them until I say so... This way I have a chance to review them. But I know what I am doing, and most of the people don't have a clue what a "buffer overflow that could allow remote code execution" is... So, if you fall in the second category, just leave the settings to automatic download and automatic install.
  • Third, keep your firewall running! Read my article on firewalls intro: http://lusutheghost.blogspot.com/2007/07/security-for-me-firewalls.html
  • Forth, keep the antivirus software running and up to date! Leave the automatically updates feature of the antivirus on! Read the instructions on how to do that (it is on by default anyway). Not sure what antivirus to use? Try AVG free. I am not affiliated with them in any way, but the product is good so I recommend it.
  • Fifth, virus is not the same as spyware! So keep an antispyware program running. I recommend Spybot Search & Destroy. Again, I am not affiliated...
  • And finally, keep your mouse cursor away of warning windows that pop up saying that your computer is infected so you need to download the antivirus "X" to clean it. And I mean that! There is nothing wrong with your computer. Those are misleading messages to trick you and manually download and infect yourself with a nasty piece of virus or spyware. Your antivirus software may warn you with a popup that a virus is found, BUT, it will report the file name, the virus found and will NOT instruct you to download anything!

Well... I kind of deviated from the subject, but nevertheless, this info is useful after all... So to go back to antiviruses... what defines a good antivirus? No matter which one you use, if it is up to date then it is a good antivirus! No joke about that, seriously. Keep it up to date and you won't have too much trouble...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Security for Me: Firewalls

Firewalls? What in the world are they? If you look up in Wikipedia you find: "A firewall is a hardware or software device which is configured to permit, deny or proxy data through a computer network which has different levels of trust." Huh? Of course... is something too complicated for you... or? No, it is not. And it is crucial for your computer.

To put it very simple, a firewall is a program that runs on your computer, or a piece of dedicated equipment, that does one thing only: protect your computer or home (or business, why not?) network from unauthorized and unwanted access, while in the same time gives you access to the Internet. It does that by intercepting the information received or sent by your computer before it can do any harm. Therefore, if a connection is not permitted, your computer will never even notice it (except the firewall software of course).

Windows and other operating systems come with built-in firewalls that nowadays are already turned on by the manufacturer. You should never disable it unless:

  1. you really know what you are doing (you are an expert or similar)
  2. your computer is protected by another firewall, like a DLS, ADSL, PPPoE or other broadband router that is recently manufactured and has an active firewall, or even another computer that is securing your network
  3. you are not connected to Internet in any way (it is an isolated network)

Even so, I don't recommend turning it off... never ever... Of course that I recommend to install a better security product that has a better firewall that the built-in one and I never recommend 2 active firewalls on the same machine as they can do more damage than prevent it.

Also, never attach a computer to a network and to the Internet unless the firewall is active.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Security For Me: Broadband @ Home

Got broadband at home? Sure you do! Whatever your connection is, DSL, ADSL, fiber optic etc. you are on a broadband connection. However this means something verry interesting... your computer is part of the local area network of your provider! How come? Basically, when you connect the broadband device it connects to a server (or a central point) at the provider location and puts you on the Internet. But this happens with all users of that provider and being connected directly to the same point it means that the computers will "talk" with eachother at very high speeds (at the maximum bandwidth of your connection). Some providers even use "town speed" and "Internet speed" (usually the fiber optic providers do that, something like 50 Mbps in the town and 1 Mbps in the rest of the world). For such providers, sky is the limit in the speed that 2 clients talk with each other (by the way, a wireless connection in the G band works at 54 Mbps). Now imagine a virus. The infected computer will attempt to infect your computer at very high speeds and it may succeed. You don't want that, do you?
Another problem is that some providers link you to a local switch. All users on that switch can use it at maximum capacity. For example, my own connection is a simple PPPoE one and I have an Ethernet cable coming into my home directly from the local building switch which in direct link to the "area switch" which connects to the fiber optic backbone. With the people in my area I can talk at 100 Mbps... meaning 10x the speed of my home router.
Did I said "home router"? Yes I did! This little device which costs less than 100 USD allows me to connect my desktops and my laptop (via a secured wireless link) to the Internet. As I said before I have an Ethernet cable to connect to the provider. However this is not important at all. I could have a DSL modem and that modem would be then connected to my router.
In our days the routers do an excellent job at protecting your network (if set up in the right way, and they come secured out of the box, but read below). No matter what broadband connection you have, a hardware based device that among others is a hardware based firewall, will secure your network very good. Some DSL and ADSL modems come with a built-in router so you don't need a second one unless you want to go wireless but some modems have that too.
So how do you connect all those? Case 1: without a router:
Provider --- modem --- computer
A modem connects you to the provider network; you may not have it at all if you have a fiber optic connection like I have (my case is: Provider --- computer). The big disadvantage of that modem is that it does not protect your computer, it simply does a media conversion from USB or Ethernet to the provider connection like a DSL line. To secure it just do this case 2:
Provider --- modem --- router --- computer
Insert the router between the modem and your computer. The router has the advantage of allowing you to share the connection to more than one computer.
If your modem has a built in router it already looks like:
Provider --- modem/router --- computer
so you can already share the connection and be secured at the same time.
If you don't have enough free Ethernet ports in the router (or modem/router) just put a normal switch in the picture. The routers allow you usually to connect directly (by expanding the number of ports with switches) 254 computers.
You may want to say that you do have a firewall on your OS. Sure, if you do, turn it ON! Although it does not make sense to have a double firewall, it may protect your computer from the others in your home network. And you want that too.
So how secured is your router? If you don't mess up the setting, very secured. However, some routers come with management ports wide open, so you have to close those by hand. To see what ports you have open, use a site like www.grc.com which will scan your computer (actually your router because it "is in the way"). If you don't use a router then at least turn on the OS firewall or a 3rd party one...
I won't go into details any further. Any more details I will discuss in the comments as replies to your questions. If I see a particular interest on a subject I will consider dedicating it a whole post.

Security For Me: Intro

OK, I know that I was busy and I still am, but I am "cooking something"... the "Security for me" post series. What is all about? How security fits in in every day life, being computer based or not.
First of all I will start by saying why I am doing this. I read somewhere a wise quote (sorry, but I don't remember who said it first): "A false sense of security is worst than having no security at all". So what does it mean? How came that no security is better? Because if you think that you are secure you simply ignore it. Plain and simple. You just don't bother to check that security is in place and how up to date it is. Having no security at all makes you think twice because you know you are not secured. Starting from this I plan to write some security posts that will make you realize the importance of security on one hand and how can you make sure you are secured on the other.
Without any more boring intro, I will now write the first article.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Save the Laptop From Liquids

Rule #1: Don’t drink and type!

If you're tempted to down a soda, water, glass of wine, coffee, or other liquid while typing away at your keyboard, you may end up paying the ultimate price - liquid spilled into your computer from an accidental knock, a few drips or a dropped cup. If this happens, don't panic. Instead, follow these simple instructions as quickly as you can to try to salvage your computer.

  1. Shut it off! Immediately remove the battery and the A/C adapter! The biggest danger at first is the device shorting out.
  2. Turn it upside down immediately to stop the liquid from traveling deeper into the laptop.
  3. Disconnect and remove any and all external devices (while the laptop is still upside down).
  4. Clean up any part of the spill you can get to. Use paper towels or any absorbent material that is lint-free.
  5. Inspect the keyboard. Some keyboards are designed to protect the internals from liquids. Pour out any liquid contained in a keyboard enclosure.
  6. Wipe up anything sticky. This may include the screen, the keys on the keyboard, and any buttons. Use a clean, slightly dampened, lint-free cloth.
  7. Let it restLet it dry. Be completely sure that the parts are dry before you put back the batery or the A/C adapter.


  • Whatever you do, DO NOT power your laptop on to check if everything is OK. Give the laptop at least 24 hours to dry completely on its own before attempting any sort of power on at all.
  • Water and electricity do not mix! Make sure all power is off.
  • If you choose to let the spill dry without cleaning, be aware that any acid present will slowly "eat" the circuit boards, until the device fails.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The power of DIR

Did you know that the DIR commmand can provide extra information to you? Take the /q switch... it will show you the owner of a file:

C:\>dir /q c*.*
Volume in drive C is System...
03/22/2006 01:06 PM 0 BUILTIN\Administrators CONFIG.SYS

1 File(s) 0 bytes

As you can see you have the owner of the file at a glance (BUILTIN\Administrators) in this case.
Another useful switch may be /b which will display only the file names without any other information, so you can redirect the list to a file in order to obtain file lists.
The /s switch will recurse the subdirectories and display the wole folder structure.
Of course that there are other switches to DIR... discover them yourself by typing DIR /?...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Andreea's Messages

Andreea has recorded with the help of a national television 2 messages (in English and Romanian) for her fans that support her in her petition. Those messages are online on Youtube at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxOgNDxFuCY (English)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2V_snS9PtY (Romanian)

Also, I've upgraded the petition at her site to contain also English texts...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Petition for Andreea

Today I helped Andreea Raducan launch her petition to get her gold medal that was taken back at Sydney. I am with her on this petition all the way. The petition is online at http://www.andreearaducan.ro/ (Romanian only for now) and in less than one hour after the site was up, there were already 20 signatures (and we didn't even announced the petition web address...). Let's hope we will get millions soon...

Update: the site was updated to include also the English translation for better word wide coverage.

Friday, January 19, 2007

ways Internet Explorer 7 helps you get more done

Here is a summary of an article found on Microsoft's site (original link). It explains the benefits of IE7 over its predecessors, not over other browsers like you may think. Anyway, my personal tip to you: whatever browser you use, make sure you use the latest version and you always apply the released patches...

1. Find what you need more quickly with tabbed browsing - allows people to manage multiple Web sites from within one browsing window
2. Eliminate printing mishaps with advanced printing features - Remember the last time you tried to print a Web site page? Remember how annoying it was to see that half the information was cut off on the right or left margin? That problem is gone with IE7. Pages will shrink text just enough to ensure the entire page prints properly. Plus, from within Print Preview, you can now adjust Web page margins, change the page layout, remove headers and footers, and increase or decrease the print space as desired. Sure, this one saves time, but it saves me money, too: no more wasted paper!
3. Search the Web directly from the IE7 toolbar - In IE7, if you look for the little Windows flag icon in the upper-right corner that sometimes waves endlessly as IE6 works away, you will never find it. That's because it's been removed to make room for the Instant Search Box. This handy new feature will save time, trust me. It allows you to choose a search provider from a drop-down list (MSN is the default search engine) and lets you add new providers to the list. No more opening new windows or sites when one search engine doesn't return a satisfactory search. Instead, you just select another provider from the menu and IE7 remembers the search term and transfers it to the new search engine you've chosen.
4. Save time with improved RSS Feed support - If you like to surf the Web for news or other changing information, this next IE7 enhancement will also save you a lot of time. Chances are that you've seen the little buttons such as, "Get your RSS feed now!" on your favorite news or sports Web site. If you don't use one of these feeds yet, you probably will at some point because it's becoming popular. RSS feeds allow you to have personalized news, sports or shopping links, headlines, and summaries delivered directly to your desktop. You can subscribe to as many feeds as you wish, and then read them at your leisure all in one place without visiting individual Web sites. IE7 improvements let even mere people read the RSS feed directly in the browser. Instead of surfing individual Web sites for information, just scan the feed for stories that interest you. When you're on a site in IE7, if the RSS Feed icon is illuminated, it means the site offers a feed. Click on the icon, and you can subscribe to the RSS feed by clicking the Add/Subscribe button.
5. Stop being bait with the new Phishing Filter - One of the latest buzzwords on the Internet is "phishing." Anyone who has e-mail and uses the Internet is a potential victim, so listen up. Phishing occurs when an e-mail is sent falsely claiming to be an established, legitimate enterprise. You've probably gotten one of those e-mail messages already: It directs you to visit a Web site, often has an official logo, and asks you to update credit and other personal information. The motive behind it? To trick you into visiting a bogus Web site that you think is authentic and scam you into releasing personal information that will be stolen and used for illegitimate purposes. The sender is sending bait to thousands, hoping a few fish take it. Hence, the term "phishing," a variation on the leisure sport. In IE7, a new Phishing Filter consolidates the latest industry information about fraudulent Web sites several times an hour and warns you when you attempt to visit a potentially untrustworthy site. A security status bar at the top of the IE window pops up in yellow for potential problems, and in red if the Web site is a confirmed phishing destination. If the threat level is red, you will be automatically navigated away from that site. Phishing Filter helps limit security problems. This is primarily a good thing for individuals but businesses will benefit as well: Employees will be less likely to accidentally share business financial information with nefarious sources in the course of their job. With so many of us doing business online these days, it's a good bet that businesses are at high risk for phishing attacks. Busy employees could easily see one of these e-mail messages as a quick request from a vendor, for example, and poof! There goes your business information.