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PC Rescue Newsletter November 2008
One of the biggest computer issues for years is the proposal to filter Australian Internet access. This has upset computer users and the Internet industry unlike any other controversy. This month we look at the reasoning behind the idea.
Security is the other big issue. The last two months have seen an explosion in the number of security problems found in various software packages and the vendors have been racing to update their programs.
These security issues are a concern and we start with explaining why you should take them seriously.
Attack of the zombies
Security researchers are reporting this month is the worst ever month for attacks on websites. This is where vandals and crooks try to either break into websites or take them off line.
The most common form of attack is known as a Denial of Service (DOS) attack where a bunch of rogue computers swamp the target site with messages. This is similar to constantly calling a phone number so no-one else can get through.
These sort of attacks are carried out by zombie computers; computers that have been infected with a virus or similar that allows hackers to take control of them.
Once the bad guys are in control, they can use these computers to do things like traffic pornography, host pirate software or attack other computers.
So you have to take precautions against your computer becoming a zombie. We have instructions on our Protection Kit page and you'll need to use some common sense, run an anti-virus and make sure you keep your computer up to date.
Every second Tuesday of the month is Microsoft's "update Tuesday". This is when they send out updates for all their software packages and if you have automatic updates enabled, you'll find a message asking you to install them.
It's essential you do this. Every month there are serious security issues addressed and there are hackers out there actively using these weaknesses to get into people's computers.
This month there are four important Windows updates and two for Microsoft Office. We recommend installing all of them.
It's not just Microsoft affected by the current deluge of security problems. We've recently seen similar issues with Apple QuickTime, Real Player and Firefox.
Like Windows, many of these programs will automatically update and you should install those update when prompted.
However it can be difficult to keep up with what programs are up to date. The free Secunia PSI utility will scan your computer programs and tell you which ones should be replaced. We highly recommend this program.
We first mentioned the Secunia tool 18 months or so ago. Since then there's been a few updates to the program itself, so it's worthwhile downloading the new version.
The death of spam
Another use of zombie computers is to send spam. By using dozens of anonymous infected computers, the spammers can avoid detection and blocking lists.
The BBC this week reported the results of a US study on the profitability of spam networks. Seven researchers used a zombie network to send spam messages advertising a fake pharmaceutical website .
Out of nearly 350 million messages sent 28 people attempted to buy something which the researchers estimate would have returned about $US 100 a day. Not bad money, but hardly worth the effort of setting up a fake site, arranging the merchant facilities and getting on to the Storm botnet.
The return also assumes all the potential purchases were genuine. There’s a good chance many of them would have been fraudulent which would have further eroded the returns. If those returns are typical, then we’re probably seeing the end of the mass spam.
We've long recommended AVG as a free anti virus scanner but in recent times we've found the quality slipping with various update problems and some strange decisions about the features.
This week the update function hasn't been working properly and now we find one of their updates incorrectly reported a critical system file as being a virus.
Grisoft's reaction to this and the other problems has been poor and so we've decided to move away from AVG as our preferred free virus program. Our new preferred free program is Avast!
We'll still be listing AVG and AntiVir as alternative free anti virus programs in our links section as some computers may have problems with Avast!
If you are currently running AVG, please note we aren't recommending you uninstall it. If it is working for you and you're happy then by all means stick with it.
However, if you do decide to switch anti virus programs, don't run both at once as it will slow your computer and might be worse than the cure. You must uninstall the old program.
While its important to not to have multiple anti virus programs on your system, it's also good practice to keep all types old programs off your system.
Uninstalling software should be easy. Open the Control Panel by clicking Start, settings and Control Panel. In the Windows 95, 98, ME and XP Control Panel, click Add/Remove Programs or in Vista choose Programs and Uninstall a Program.
In this screen you will get a list of programs that are installed on your machine. Click the one you want to remove and the uninstall process should start. You may have to answer some questions during the process.
That said, it isn’t always that easy. If the program is damaged, then it may not uninstall. Some programs are simply badly designed and won’t obey the rules. When that happens, you'll need to call for support.
The issue that's focussing the minds of the IT industry at the moment is the proposal to force all Internet access to go through a government approved filter.
After a trial in Tasmania, the government is now looking at trialling it nationally. Optus and iiNet have agreed to take part in the trial.
This proposal is by far the most controversial issue in the Australian IT industry for years. The amount of venom on both sides has phenomenal with the minister, Senator Conroy, accusing opponents of the proposal as supporting child pornography recently.
The pros and cons of Internet filtering are quite substantial and we'll be looking at the issue on tonight's ABC Nightlife spot. If you can't tune in, we'll be summarising the issues on the web site in the next few days.
Jargon of the month: Blacklist
A blacklist is something you've decided you don't want on your system. For instance, you can blacklist certain email address or topics from your email program so you don't see these messages.
Blacklist lie at the core of Internet filtering. The main technology proposed for the Federal government's proposed Internet filter includes keeping a blacklist of inappropriate websites to stop families inadvertently going to them.
Blacklists involve some work to keep up to date and this is one of the criticisms of the proposal.
Comments and suggestions
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©Technology Publishing Australia, 2008