Why Nasty Hackers Target Nice PC Users!!!

February 26, 2007

Last week I was explaining to a client about how hackers operate, and they simply didn’t believe that anyone would want to hack into their systems. After all, they’re a micro-business operating in the south-east of Ireland. In global terms they are a complete non-entity.

One of the great things about the internet is that you don’t have to be a multi-national corporation to have a multi-national presence. A single PC in the kitchen can provide services to companies all over the world. And that’s what makes every PC a target for hackers. The Washinton Post reported on this last week:

“Last month, a number of anti-spam Web sites came under a sustained distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, an electronic assault during which the attackers use thousands of compromised personal computers to overwhelm a target with so much bogus traffic that the PCs can’t accommodate legitimate visitors.

The attacks were made possible by tens of thousands – perhaps millions – of computers infected by the recent e-mail virus known as the Storm worm.”

This is just one example but it explains how important it is for every PC to be properly protected. The Storm worm is now particularly ingenious in the way it works. It hit the internet at a time when they’re were particularly bad storms raging across Europe, which helped it spread, but it can be blocked by most commercial security products.

The problem here is that people will go out and spend €1000 on a PC, and then be reluctant to spend €30 or €40 on a decent internet security product. Even the free products like avast and avg provide good levels of protection. I don’t believe that people are that stingy, so surely the problem is a lack of awareness.

IT Superhero to the rescue

February 21, 2007

I wrote last week about problems recovering deleted files, and got a comment with a couple of suggestions.


Well the good news is, I tried one of them and managed to recover a load of files for my client. She’s delighted to have got back 2.5 years work, and I’m being showered with praise. 

The tool I used was recover4all pro, ($69), and it’s a really simple tool to use. You just download the demo, run it and see what’s recoverable. There are no guarantees at this stage that you will get everything back, but at least you get an indication of what might be recovered. If it finds what you want, you can register online, pay the purchase price and receive an email with the product key. Type it into the program and it will enable the recovery options. Then you just specify where you want to restore to and away you go.

Obviously if you recover to the same drive it could potentially overwrite the files you are trying to get back, so use a different drive. I mapped in a network drive and it worked like a dream.

So many thanks to Lee, (aka Darkan9el) for the tip.

PS The fact that there are tools like this out there shouldn’t make anyone think backups are any less important. I have one very relieved client who certainly appreciates the how critical it is to backup properly.

Harrisson Ford – Security Guru

February 19, 2007

I watched the movie Firewall, starring Harrisson Ford the other night, and one of the things it really highlighted for me was the fact that computer security is not just a technical issue.

Without spoiling the film completely, Ford plays the VP of Network Security in a bank and is forced by the baddies to steal from his own bank or else his family will be killed. Various things go wrong and with MacGyver style ingenuity he manages to…well, watch the movie yourself and see.

 The point is, that no matter how tight your technology is, there will be a way of out-smarting it. So what do you do? You put processes in place to make sure the technology is not your only form of protection. You don’t allow any one person the authority to make critical changes or access critical data without supervision. You seperate the security process from the normal chain of command etc etc.

Actually I once worked in a bank where a security guard refused to allow the CEO on to the presmises out of hours because the correct procedures had not been followed. Big call for the man on the gate to make in the face of an irate executive. The following morning he was called in to the office and commended on having stuck to his guns, (metaphorically speaking).

Anyway, if you get the chance check out Firewall. If nothing else you’ll find out what to you can achieve with a fax machine, an iPod and a couple of pieces of chewing gum.

Why Not Rocket Science

February 15, 2007

I’m still fairly new to the whole blogging thing, and one of the things I’ve read since I started this was that the blog title should be simple and relevant to the content.

This blog is all about making computer security simple and accessible to non-technical computer users. But it just occurred to me that it may seem like I’m saying that computer security is a simple area. That’s not the case at all. In fact there are layers and layers of complexity and specific areas of expertise within the overall “computer security” field.

The idea that you will make your computer or your network completely secure is nothing more than a pipedream. Sadly, there’s no such thing as Total Computer Security. What you can do though is implement security measures that provide an optimal level of protection. This idea of “Optimal Security” is discussed in more detail on my secureyourbusinessnow.com site, (see the blogroll), but basically it means looking at what you are trying to protect, the threats you are trying to protect from, and then deciding on the best security solutions for your needs.

So the optimal security level will vary from one company or even 1 PC to the next. If you have a PC used for your accounts, payroll, client details, etc, it is more critical than a PC used for web-browsing. That doesn’t mean you don’t implement security in some cases. There is a base level of security that should always be in place on any PC, (and unfortunately often isn’t!!!).

What it means though is that you don’t need to be a technical guru to protect your computers to a level where they are relatively safe from attack. In economic terms, you reach the point of diminishing marginal returns, where spending more money, time or effort will not give you sufficient return to make it worthwhile. It’s up to you to decide where that point is, and you do that by understanding your needs, the threats, and the solutions.

All of which doesn’t have to be that difficult, once you remove the hype and jargon, and focus more on SECURITY and less on COMPUTER.

Clear as mud??? Let me know

Recovering Deleted Files – The Outcome

February 13, 2007

Well, I went to my client site today armed with a couple of software tools to try to recover the deleted folders and files. Unfortunately, I was unable to get them back.

There are a couple of reasons for this, (and lessons to be learned for next time this type of thing happens).  

Firstly, some of the files had been recovered from the tape backup. This was great to have but restoring the files to the same drive that they had been deleted from considerably reduced the likelihood of recovering the ones that the backup hadn’t got.

Secondly, the server had been rebooted before the recovery tools were run. Again, this goes against recommended practice. The process of shutting down and restarting the computer will write files to disk and increase the likelihood of the “deleted” files being overwritten.

And thirdly, it’s much easier to recover files from a proper backup than trying to use these tools to “undelete” them.

It is possible that the files and folders are still recoverable, but I think at this stage it would take an awful lot of time, effort and of course money to do it, so it’s probably not worth it. However, as I’ve said before, this is not my area of expertise so if anyone knows of a cheap and easy way to get them back I’d love to hear it.

Recovering deleted files that were Not backed up

February 12, 2007

I mentioned last week about how important backups are, because I have a client who has lost almost 3 years work when someone decided to do a “tidy-up” job on the server.

Well, unfortunately for my client, they hadn’t got all their data backed up. I ran a restore job and recovered a lot of the missing data, but they are still missing some important files and folders.

Tomorrow I’m heading in with some data recover tools to see if we can “un-delete” these files, but I’ve never used these products before. My message to the client was that this is a long shot but we’ll give it a go and see how we get on.

Tune in tomorrow to see how we get on. Same Bat-time. Same Bat-channel.

BTW the two products I’m trying are File Scavenger 3.1 and Stellar Phoenix (FAT & NTFS) 2.1

How To Battle Spam

February 9, 2007

I just checked my spam filtering service, and according to their website, 70% of emails passing through their scanners is identified as spam, with a further 3% flagged as viruses. MessageLabs, a leading player in this field has the number slightly lower at around 55% & 0.5% respectively.

Other industry sources, (probably with a vested interest), often report spam figures up around 90%, but even at the most conservative, it’s reasonable to say that at least 1 in every 2 emails sent is spam.

For some people, (the lucky few), this never becomes a problem, but for the rest of us it can be a real pain. So what can you do about it. Well, the easist way to combat spam is to avoid it in the first place. You can do this by being careful with your email address. Don’t put it on forms, (written or online), don’t share on the internet, don;t give it to people unless you know them very well, etc.

Great advice but not always practical. So what else can you do? Here’s 4 simple steps that can help reduce the problem.

1. Do NOT un-subscribe from an email you receive. It just lets the spammer know you exist so you will be inundated with mails

2. If you do have to fill in your email address online, check out the privacy statement on the website.

3. Read the small print before you tick (or leave blank) the box. Some of these forms are very sneaky. Like when they have two paragraphs with tick boxes. Paragraph 1 says ticking the box means you agree to receive mails etc, and paragraqph 2 says ticking the box means I do not want to receive mails. Unless you take the time to read properly you will be added to the list.

4. Implement a spam filter. It can be either a local one, (on your PC or server), or an external one, catching mails before they hit your network, or both. There are pros and cons to both options but at least use something. You will need to monitor it, particularly in the early days, but once it’s been running for a while the amount of monitoring required decreases.

Spam is becoming more and more of an issue for computer users, but there are answers out there. Don’t sit and moan, do something about it.