Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Robot Computers" - You May Have One

Robot computers - bots for short - are simply garden variety home or business PCs that have been infected by malicious software that takes them over, on a command from the "bad guys", and directs them to do whatever the bad guys want them to do.   Two activities are most likely: 1. they turn your PC into a spam engine, sending advertisements (frequently in your name) to those in your address book and then to thousands of others.  In case you miss the point, let me give you a clear example:  your friends and neighbors receive eMail from you advertising medications to make the male Penis larger.   2. they use your machine to extort money from online companies.  If a given company does not give in to their demand for money, they attack the company's website with their bot army.  Your computer is one of the soldiers in the bot army.

Many people ask how the malicious software gets on their computer.  Typically a piece of malicious software known as a "Trojan" (from the story of the Trojan Horse) is first.  Trojan software typically gets into your computer because you either invite it in or go to some place that provides it.  Here are some common scenarios:

1.  You get an interesting piece of eMail from a trusted source (whose PC is already infected) that contains a hyperlink.  You click on it and it takes you to a web site that takes advantage of a bug (programming error) in your browser (Internet Explorer for example) that lets it download and run software.  The software it downloads is a Trojan which invites it's owners to download additional software anytime they choose. This is usually referred to as a "drive by" attack since it attacks you when all you were doing was visiting their web site.  Your computer would be less vulnerable (but not impervious) to this kind of attack if you are running Windows Update automatically.  To set this up, click on Start, All Programs, Windows Update.

2. Pop up link:  you are happily surfing the web when suddenly, from an infected web site, a popup window appears saying something like "BEWARE your computer is infected with a virus (actually it is not. yet.). "click here" the window says and we will download antivirus software that will clean it out.  You click and down comes the fake "antivirus" software which is in fact, a Trojan that installs itself and invites its creator to download through it any other software desired.

GUESS WHAT!   a major bad guy, owner of a "bot net" consisting of over 30 MILLION PCs has been busted by the police in Holland.  Here is a link to an article in Computerworld (an Information Technology trade newspaper):

As you can see from the article, the Netherlands police are attempting to warn the owners of those 30 million PCs that their machines have been infected.  Problem is, many folks will ignore the warning, assuming it is bogus.  IT IS NOT!  Follow this link

to see what the warning looks like. If you have seen this on your compter, YOU ARE INFECTED!  What you are infected with is a Trojan.  Of course, the Trojan just provides an entry for the bad guys into your computer.  You can't know WHAT kind of software they have downloaded through the trojan into your PC.  It could be a spam engine, an extortion soldier, a key logger tracking and reporting everything you type from your keyboard, etc etc.  All the Netherlands police can do is tell you that you are infected with something.  You need to scan your computer or have it scanned by a professional.  Believe the warning, it is real.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

US government throwing free speech under the bus - Computerworld Blogs

When I was in college, I and six of my friends were thrown out because the administration caught wind of the fact that we were organizing a demonstration on campus where we would advocate for a number of things including the right to have, on campus, political, religious and social clubs. I know first hand what free speech means and how those in power in any institution would suppress it if they could. Lucky for the seven of us, a good lawyer got us back in within a week. Here are some good current examples of the suppression of free speech in this country. I don't know if we will all be so lucky this time:

US government throwing free speech under the bus - Computerworld Blogs

Friday, July 30, 2010

Information at Your Fingertips - WolframAlpha

Some time ago I (and many others) discovered a new kind of information site on the web, The function of this site was difficult to describe. It seemed to fit in the same category as indexed information like Wikipedia but it was much more.

Today I (and no doubt millions of others) received an eMail from the WolframAlpha team announcing the availability on their site of WolframAlpha "Widgets". Widgets, in the world of computer programmers are tiny programs that can either stand on their own or be incorporated easily into existing programs.

After playing with Widgets already existing on WolframAlpha for a while and building two WolframAlpha widgets of my own I finally understand and can explain the function provided by the WolframAlpha website and by it's new Widgets. Any data administrator and most programmers understand the difference between stored data and derived data. Most would imply the difference by calling the "derived" variety "information" rather than data. The implication here is that there is some added value to the information over and above the data actually stored in a database or dictionary or encyclopedia. The value added stems from manipulation of the stored data according to programmed rules and/or relationships implied by the structure of the database itself. In simpler terms, it is data plus intelligence.

Once you have either located a widget you like or have built one yourself, Wolfram makes it easy to "lift" the code and include it in your own blog or website. I created two Widgets:

this one shows you the effect of inflation on the value of the US dollar:

while this one allows you to locate (on a map and/or globe) where a particular country, state, city, lake, mountain etc is:

Give them a try and see how they work.

As you can see I included the two widgets right in this blog entry. I had to work a very little bit harder to figure out how to include the widgets in the text of this single entry instead of where my blogger template was set up but it turned out to be as simple as a cut and paste.

In the five or so hours I have been playing with this (on and off) 42 more gadgets have been created, stored and indexed on WolframAlpha by people all over the world. Any of them can be incorporated in a website or blog by anyone else, as I have done here with my own creations. This is Web 2.0 at its creative best!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Netflix Terms of Conditions

I just went to the Netflix site to order a new DVD to watch and discovered a notice that I once again had to review and agree to their terms of conditions. Well, I said, if they have changed at least they are letting me know. I then took a look at them - 14 PAGES of legalese. Incredible! Don't tell me it doesn't make any difference because no one reads them - that is a dangerous habit to get into. Red Box is looking really good to me - just drop in your cash when and only when you want to watch something, make your pick and your done - no need to feel you need a team of lawyers.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Introduction to the Internet Class

Today, Friday Feb 12th 2010, Shirley and I will be teaching the Intro to the Internet class at the Socastee SC public library. Slides for the class can be found by clicking here or entering

into your browser's address window and left clicking.

The slides contain many hyperlinks to other resources, including some excellent Youtube entries on the subject. If you check out the presentation, or if you attend the class, I would appreciate it if you would leave comments, suggestions for improvements, etc by clicking on the word comments directly below this post.

Jim White

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Apple's Time Capsule Cooks Itself Dead

Apple has a fantastic, integrated, hands off software/hardware solution for backup. The software is called Time Machine and it is amazingly simple to use with a beautiful user interface. The hardware Apple sells to store the backups on is called Time Capsule. Today I bought my wife a Time Capsule to serve as backup storage for her MacBook. I didn't do quite enough research before buying. I have discovered a web site called where you will find a database of thousands of users whose Time Capsules have died from overheating after an average of 18 months. Poor design for heat removal seems to be the problem. In a forum located here on Apple's site you will find an incredible history of frustrated users discussing the death of their units. Apple so far has refused to acknowledge the problem.

Here is a link to the product page on Apple's web site where they say "you never have to worry about backing up again" and "Its massive 1TB or 2TB server-grade hard drive". Server grade? I don't think so. I ran a data center that had REAL server grade hardware and this stuff would be laughed out of the room. Come on Apple, acknowledge the problem and FIX IT!

We bought our unit at Best Buy to be shipped directly to our house. I won't even take it out of the packaging - I'm returning it to Best Buy as soon as it arrives.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Online Banking Red Flag

To date, fraudulent online withdrawals from customers bank accounts have almost always been "made good" by the bank. The bank would try to recover the money but, if it could not, the bank would "make the customer whole", writing off the loss as a cost of doing business.

It looks like that might be changing. Read this article, then be sure to follow it up in the news. If the bank wins, you may be in real danger using online banking.