Tuesday, May 1, 2012
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Potpourri Of Perils
Space does not allow for in-depth examination of all the computer threats facing us today. So we'll give you a sprinkling here. You'll be able to find more information on those of interest to you easily enough.
We'll start with Flashback. Security threats to Apple products are nothing new, but you wouldn't know it unless you followed industry news. Apple's operating system is vulnerable to attacks just as easily as its Windows counterpart.
The difference is in numbers. While the vulnerabilities exist, hackers didn't waste much time developing threats when they could focus on a larger haul. Windows PCs far outnumber Macs.
The tide is turning. Not only are Macs becoming more common in the workplace, but the success of iDevices has made them popular household items as well.
The stock market isn't the only place this trend has been noticed. Where there is profit to be made, cybercriminals will be lurking.
The Flashback Trojan poses as an Adobe Flash Update installer. Targets are offered a link to a website promising something too tempting to pass up. Celebrities in the buff, steamy videos, etc. Victims take the bait.
They'll click the link, but must first update Adobe Flash to view the content. But rather than update the utility, they're downloading a Trojan. Once installed, a hacker has access to the computer where they can steal your information or install more malicious code.
This follows on the heels of another Mac threat distributed as a .pdf. The OSX/Revir-B Trojan promises readers a "political hot potato of a PDF." Who could resist such tempting material in this crucial election year?
Security firm Sophos ran its antivirus software on 100,000 Mac computers and found one in five infested with malware. Most was directed at Windows PCs so the Macs showed no symptoms. But they could spread the threat to PC users.
They also found one in 36 of those machines carrying Mac Os X malware, 75 percent of which was the Flashback Trojan. Proper security is crucial to computer safety, no matter what type you own.
On the PC front, the Conflicker worm has reared its head once again. First appearing in fall of 2008, the worm had been relatively quiet. It appeared the patches distributed by Windows had the threat under control.
The worm turned its host PC into part of a botnet used to distribute spam or malware without the user's knowledge. The PCs are no longer doing any real harm. A group of security researchers, The Conflicker Working Group, have been actively securing all possible command and control domains before the hackers do. But the resurgence is proof that they can't let their guard down or the hackers will regain control.
Meanwhile, the FBI warns all computer users to see if they're infected by DNS Changer before it's too late. Both Windows and Mac systems, as well as routers, were targets of malware that altered the Domain Name System (DNS).
DNS translates the web address you input in a browser into a numerical IP address the router uses to find and display the website you want to visit. Cybercriminals distributed software that redirected the router to deliver a site they created rather than the authentic one. The sites were loaded with malicious ads.
The malicious sites were intercepted by the FBI and no longer delivering harmful content. However, the servers were left active so service was not disrupted for those who were still using infected machines. The victim may have never known the difference.
But they will come July 9th when the FBI shuts down those servers. Anyone using an infected computer will get an error message instead of a website. Test your system now. The DNS Changer Working Group has set up a webpage that will flash red if you need to remove the malware with an anti-virus program. Point your browser here. Green means you're good to go. If it flashes red, you'll need to remove the malware to access the Internet once those servers are down.
Tuning Up For Speed
Have you seen those commercials where someone is ready to toss out their computer because of a virus? Others are buying a new one because their old one isn't as fast as it used to be.
There's no need to buy a new computer, or even a software utility, to give your computer a boost. A simple tune up may just do the trick.
Computers store countless files and commands they will never need. Some, like cached web pages, store key page components for faster retrieval next time you visit that website.
Others are created when you attempt a process or view an image or document attached to an email. And certain program files load every time your computer boots up to make software load quicker when you access it.
All bloat your system, slow down performance and leave you frustrated. A few simple steps on a routine basis can make a huge difference.
First and foremost, install an antivirus program and keep it updated. Malware is a leading cause of slow performance. No need to worry about this nuisance if you are properly protected.
Unused programs not only suck up drive space, they may be running in the background without your knowledge. Properly uninstall anything you no longer use. Use the "Add or Remove Programs" link in Control Panel. Windows 7 or Vista users can find some performance tips here.
Unclutter your hard drive using the Disk Cleanup utility. It removes unneeded temporary files, empties your Recycle Bin and deletes file fragments that are no longer needed.
Do you really need programs to launch on startup? Certain system files are necessary, but if you're not using something regularly it doesn't need to be running in the background every time you launch Windows.
From your Start menu, find the Startup group in your Programs menu. If you spot something you don't need, right-click on it and Delete it from the group.
Go back to your Start menu and choose Run. Type msconfig and hit enter. You're looking at a list of instructions given to your machine every time you boot it up. Choose the Startup tab and see if there's anything there you don't use. If you're uncertain of an abbreviation, Google it. Unchecking something important can cause more problems than loading something unnecessary.
Defragment your hard drive. Files and programs you close return to memory. If your machine cannot find enough contiguous sectors to store the file in one place, it scatters them wherever it finds free space. The next time you load the file, it takes longer as the processor needs to locate the appropriate segments.
Running a monthly defrag identifies those scattered file fragments and restores them into one neat, tidy package. Don't risk forgetting this - Schedule a Task in Control Panel.
Registry files can be cleaned up to improve performance. These files serve as instructions to your processor so it knows what and how to load each piece necessary to run a particular program. Some common files are used for more than one program. Others are something used once and never again. But your processor needs to sift through it all before executing a command.
Don't tinker with registry files unless you know what you are doing. Editing one seemingly small line of code can render your computer unstable.
Most antivirus programs include a utility to clean up your registry. Proceed with caution. Using this type of utility allows you to undo any changes you made that cause your computer to respond erratically.
If your problem is more complex, you may need to start from scratch by deleting everything from your hard drive, reformatting and rebuilding it. If your computer came from a major manufacturer, you likely have a restore disc to help you with this. If not, it can be a bit of a challenge.
Backup all of your data before attempting any of these steps. Back it up even if you're not. Your data is only as good as your last backup. And if it's important, you should have at least two copies stored in separate locations.
A little preventative maintenance can be your pocketbook's best friend.
May began with a roar, as the markets rallied and the Dow Jones advanced by triple digits. The rally was fueled by released economic data showing U.S. manufacturing continuing to gain strength. Chrysler also posted a nearly 20 percent jump in sales, while Ford and GM reported slightly lower sales. The good news was that, overall, the auto industry continued its long recovery. Perhaps today's only worrisome indicator was yet another jump in the price of crude oil, an advance that if not abated, could threaten the shaky recovery. But after a week's hiatus, I am sure many are more interested in the finale of our Seabiscuit saga.
60,000 fans packed Santa Anita Racetrack (and millions more tuned in their radio) to see if the impossible could happen. In the days leading up to the race, most in the media questioned Charles Howard's sanity. While it was doubtful the aging Seabiscuit could recover from a career ending injury, it was positively ludicrous that crippled jockey Red Pollard could ride him. One newspaper headline screamed, "Is he nuts???". When asked about their chances in an interview by a major newspaper, Red Pollard would say simply, "Me and ole' Pops have four good legs between us. Maybe that will be enough."
In fact, the odds makers doubted it would be, and Seabiscuit was not a favorite. By a wide margin, Howard's colt and reigning champion Kayak II was favored to repeat his performance and smoke the field. Most thought Howard would pull Kayak from the race to improve Seabiscuit's chances. "Not a chance," was Howard's response - "it wouldn't be sporting." Furthermore, Howard instructed Kayak II jocky Leon "Buddy" Haas to fight to win at all costs. He needn't have, as Buddy was one of the few in the Howard stable who thought Kayak could beat Seabiscuit - and he intended to prove it.
But Seabiscuit was the overwhelming popular favorite. In the paddock on race day, Seabiscuit was saddled to a crowd chant of "Biscuit, biscuitâ€¦biscuit!". Howard, Smith and Pollard shared a few last comments. As is customary for trainer to jockey, Smith assessed the field for Pollard: "Whichcee is the speed, but I don't think he can go the distance. Wedding Call might make a late run, so you watch out for him too - he has some guts. Just stalk them like always." Kayak II was not mentioned - there was no need.
From the moment Smith launched Pollard into the saddle, Red realized it was a mistake. Stabs of pain shot through his leg and he was barely able to stay aboard - before Seabsicuit even took a single step. Red tried to suppress the evidence of his pain, but both Howard and Smith saw it. Yet Pollard told both owner and trainer, "Relax. It will be OK." None were sure of it, the least of which was Pollard.
Seabiscuit walked calmly and with purpose to the starting gate, while Red fought desperately, but unsuccessfully to find a position to reduce his pain. He was furious with himself. How could he ride this race, when he could barely stay in the saddle at a leisurely walk? He cursed himself and his ego. George Woolf should be aboard, and then Seabiscuit would have a chance. But it was too late for that now.
With no other options, Pollard allowed Seabiscuit to be led into the starting gate. It was there that he saw George Woolf aboard Heelfly. The two friends exchanged jabs as was their custom. Woolf wished Pollard luck, telling the duo that he and Heelfly didn't stand a chance. Seabiscuit stood quietly in the starting gate, while many of his more youthful opponents fussed and bucked. "He sensed the stakes," Pollard would later recount. And then, to the roar of 60,000, the starter's bell rang. The starting gate doors opened.
To the announcer's shout, "They're off!" Seabiscuit broke clean, but Red was very nearly ejected. With his leg useless, Pollard hung on with his hands. Seabiscuit felt his jockey come unseated and slowed. As Red slid to the left, Seabiscuit braked under him, trying desperately to keep his jockey aboard. This was repeated, this time to the right. As Pollard tried desperately to stay aboard, the pack steamed ahead. Smith and Howard watched as their worst fears unfolded. It had been a mistake.
Aboard Seabiscuit, Red cursed himself for costing Seabiscuit the race so soon. How could he be so selfish! He pulled himself way up on Seabiscuit's mane, whereupon he found a stable position that subsided the pain. Feeling his jockey finally seated, Seabiscuit accelerated through the first turn. Pollard now thought they would at least finish. Heelfly and Woolf were bringing up the rear of the pack, when the duo pulled alongside. Woolf shouted encouragement. "You can catch them Pop's!", he shouted. Seabiscuit snorted and accelerated. And accelerated some more. The distance between Seabiscuit and the pack was closing at an astonishing rate. In his private box, Charles Howard was on his feet, screaming "Go Red! Go Biscuit!" Tears streamed down his face.
The announcer was now shouting, "Here comes Seabiscuit! Unbelievable!" Barely a passenger, Pollard was unable to steer Seabiscuit through the pack, so he resorted to verbally dictating the path. Another jockey would later recount that Pollard and Seabiscuit seemed to be having "a constant dialogue."
Through the backstretch, Seabiscuit pulled to the center of the pack just behind Whichcee and Wedding Call who were dueling for the lead. Pollard felt the rightness of Seabiscuit's stride and no sign of fatigue - the result of Tom Smith's magic. He could not believe his turn of luck, and now believed they were within striking distance of victory.
Tune in next week for the Seabiscuit finale.
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