Tuesday, November 19, 2013
The Marine Corps.' annual Toys for Tots campaign is in full swing. Bring your new, unwrapped toy or book to any GCF branch today through December 5th to put a smile on the face of an underprivileged child this holiday. Children between the ages of 9 to 12 are often overlooked. Let's not forget them this season!
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It's the holiday season. Decorating. Festivities. Goodwill. Shopping. Fake FedEx and UPS tracking notices.
We've seen the ploy before. An email alerts you of a package coming your way. Open the attachment for tracking information. Those that do get a payload package delivering malware rather than holiday goodies.
So every year we issue the same alert. Don't open an unsolicited attachment.
Legitimate tracking notifications from both FedEx and UPS include the name of the vendor and date the shipper received the package. They embed a link into the message body for those that want delivery details. Not an attachment.
If you did make a purchase from the listed vendor around that date, it's safe to assume the message legitimate. Any doubt, track the package through the vendor's website.
Because the stakes just went up for those that open unsolicited attachments.
The malware du jour is called CryptoLocker. It began appearing in September and has already morphed into different forms. While fake tracking notices are the most common distribution method, it's also delivered through fake emails designed to appear identical to those of legitimate businesses.
There are also reports of the malware appearing in computers previously infected by botnets used by cyber crooks. ZeuS and Zbot victims are finding their nightmare hasn't yet reached its end.
It affects systems running Windows 8, 7, Vista and XP. If one computer on a network becomes infected, mapped network drives could as well.
CryptoLocker encrypts files on the victim's computer. Not only on your hard drive, it can find and encrypt files on your shared network drives, USB drives, external hard drives, network file shares and even some cloud storage drives.
It uses a method called asymmetric encryption. Asymmetric encryption uses two different keys for encrypting and decrypting messages. Both parties know the public key, but only one has the private key. It's more secure than standard encryption methods.
It holds your data hostage. Victims have three days to pay the attacker through a third-party payment method, either Moneypak or Bitcoin. A countdown clock is installed on the victim's desktop that ticks backwards from 72 hours.
But the crooks got greedy. On November 1, they launched a customer service feature to help those that wanted to pay the ransom but couldn't do it in the time allotted. They realized there was more money to be made by being flexible.
The price for your data? About $200 if you pay up within 72 hours. Those who need an extension will get their files back for about $2,232.
You can track your "order" for the decryption key online. But it isn't reachable through a web browser. You have to download and install their special software to get there.
The Department of Homeland Security and some antivirus vendors urges victims NOT to respond to extortion attempts by paying the ransom. Instead, report the incident to the FBI at the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Yet when your files are being held hostage, you do whatever you can to retrieve them. Especially if you're running a business that depends on the captive data.
Antivirus software can detect and remove the malware. However, in so doing, it removes your ability to pay the ransom. So newer versions of the malware change the desktop background to include a URL where the user can download the infection again for instructions on how to pay the ransom.
Data that had already been encrypted would not be affected by the re-infection, but any new files added since would be.
Tools have already been developed that can help block CryptoLocker infections. CryptoPrevent automatically adds a Software Restriction Policy Path rule to your computer that blocks executables from running on a specific path used by malware authors. Download a free version at FoolishIT.com.
Should you become a victim, the first thing you should do is disconnect from your network and external drives to avoid encrypting more files. If you have System Restore enabled, you can set the system date back and restore your files from a backup or shadow copies after killing the culprit. Don't remove the infection from the %AppData% folder until you know you will not have to pay the ransom.
Once you delete the Registry values and files, the program will not load anymore. Know that CryptoLocker spawns two processes of itself. If you terminate one, the other process automatically launches the second one. You'll have to terminate both at the same time.
A web search will turn up details on where affected files and values are located. Don't try this at home unless you are tech savvy and understand the risk involved. Zapping the wrong file will render your computer totally useless.
Lesson 1: Don't open attachments you aren't expecting.
The Man, The Legacy
Unless you're living in a cave, you know that Friday, November 22 marks 50 years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy. We've been inundated with television shows and news stories rehashing every detail of every conspiracy theory conjured up over the past half-century. Plus those that have newly surfaced thanks to today's technology that can dissect, analyze and critique every frame of film or sound clip available from that infamous day.
We won't do that here. Instead we'll reflect on JFK and his legacy.
Those who remember the day will never forget what they were doing when they heard the news that our president had been shot. I was in school, our teacher cried as she broke the news. We said a prayer together, we were allowed to do that in a public school back then without offending anybody.
I got home to find my mom crying as well. We had just learned the gunshot was fatal.
Camelot had fallen.
It was an era of intense national pride. Still in the wake of WWII, America was once again flourishing. Resources devoted to war efforts were redirected towards strengthening our economy and modernizing our infrastructure. Jobs were created.
Our young, vibrant First Family symbolized the hope and future of our country. America had become a powerful nation, determined to grow beyond Earth itself. We were going to the moon.
Not bad for a country living with the threat of Cold War. Not even the routine bomb drills could shake us out of our comfort zone.
Born into a wealthy family, Kennedy was the second of nine children. He made the most out of the luxury and privileges that come with his station in life.
His father, Joseph, served as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1934 and ambassador to Great Britain in 1937. As a student at Harvard University, Kennedy traveled in Europe as his father's secretary.
He joined the U.S. Navy in 1941 and sent to the South Pacific two years later. He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism by helping some of his crew to safety after a Japanese destroyer struck their PT boat.
Kennedy left the Navy and entered politics. He easily won his first run for Congress and later a Senate seat. Next step - the presidency.
The 1960 presidential election was the first to feature televised debates. His television performance and energetic appearance could have swayed the nation heading for the voting booths. John F. (Jack) Kennedy had become the nation's youngest president and the first Roman Catholic by a narrow margin.
His inaugural address urged Americans to work together in the pursuit of progress and the elimination of poverty. He famously told the people to "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." He closed his speech promising to deliver the same high standards of strength and sacrifice he was asking of the people.
The Kennedy years were not smooth sailing. His leadership was tested during the Bay of Pigs mission, the erection of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban missile crisis, mounting Cold War tensions and a conflict in Vietnam.
The Peace Corps was launched during Kennedy's administration. But during his short time in office, he was unable to bring his biggest priorities to fruition. His goals were to cut income taxes and pass a civil rights bill.
Kennedy's domestic program, the New Frontier, promised federal funding for education, medical care for the elderly, economic aid to rural regions and government intervention to halt the recession. He promised to end racial discrimination.
He proposed substantial tax reform and individual tax rates reduced from 20-90% down to 14-65%. He wanted corporate tax rates reduced from 52% to 47%. After his death, the individual top rate was reduced to 70% and corporate to 48% through the Revenue Act of 1964. Kennedy was a firm believer that the soundest way to raise revenue in the long term was to lower rates.
His New Frontier programs were voted in under President Johnson in 1964-65.
Kennedy struggled with health issues throughout his entire life, something he vigorously tried to hide from the public. He maintained a friendly relationship with members of the press, hoping they would keep his secrets. All of them.
The shocking news of his assassination and continued controversy about conspiracies signaled the end of innocence to many people. The U.S. was thrust into a decade of turmoil.
The Vietnam War and racial riots brought our nation to its knees. Uprisings, mayhem, and violence filled the streets of our country.
As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's tragic assassination, let us turn our imagination to what could have been. Think about where we might stand as a nation if we took his words to heart. What we could achieve by working together in the pursuit of progress, and government delivering those same high standards of strength and sacrifice.
A man can die, but a dream lives on.
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