Attack of The 4K Polymorphic Virus

We left off with some basic rules you can follow to protect your computer. But what happens when you do everything right and computer bug sneaks past your prudent precautions? The answer, of course, is more programs. The military has several defensive weapons to ward off sea, land, air, and yes–space borne attacks, just as you need to have multiple programs to help defend against attacks coming from the Internet, email, and wireless connections.

You need protection against email attachments, phishing links, bots, hidden Visual Basic scripts, malware, viruses, worms, macro viruses, boot sector viruses, master boot record viruses, Trojan Horses, polymorphic viruses…It’s enough to make you want  to toss out the tech and go back to mailing in your manuscripts.

So just what should you buy? Fortunately there are software suites you can purchase that will protect your computer from the onslaught. Most likely you’ve heard of Norton and McAfee. How about Trend Micro and AVG?

All four of these software vendors offer a variety of protection products and each has an all-inclusive package. But do you really need everything? If you don’t use your computer to shop online or do banking and are not storing any account information, then you may not need identity protection. If you don’t have children, how important is the parental control and Internet monitoring features to you?

Most authors I know are budget conscious and only spend what the need to. Don’t let the plethora of program choices overwhelm you.  Before you purchase any software, write down exactly what your computer is used for. I suggest putting a legal pad or composition notebook next to your keyboard and log your computer usage for a week to ten days. This amount of time should allow you to capture all of your tasks. Once you have this information then you can research product offerings and buy only the protection suited to your needs.

If you only use your computer for writing and submitting drafts, social networking, and occasional web surfing, then you may only need to purchase basic virus protection and a firewall. If you live on your computer and your entire financial, social, and professional life is stored on your hard drive, then you may need to buy the all-inclusive suite. If you have a laptop that you connect to various networks while you’re moving around town, you’ll need to have a good software firewall. (Soapbox Alert) Never, under any circumstances, connect your laptop to a publicly accessible network–this includes hotels, coffee shops, libraries, restaurants, and even the wireless at your friend’s house–without having an active firewall running. It only takes seconds to infect your computer and it is far more inconvenient to have to reload everything than it is to not connect. (End Soapbox Alert)

A couple of cool things. Trend Micro offers a web-based scanner called HouseCall. It downloads a little app and then scans your PC. This can be very handy if you think you have a virus, but your antivirus software doesn’t find anything. If two complete computer scans, by two different software companies, don’t find anything, chances are you’re not infected. This handy tool gives you a sanity check. AVG offers a free version for basic file protection. Be sure to read the license agreement for any free software. Most free software is for home and nonprofit use only. So if you use your computer as a tool to write for profit, then you may not qualify for the free license and will have to pay. For software developers the software license is akin to a copyright. They expect to get paid for what the write, just like we do.

Another source of antivirus software is your Internet provider. It’s in their best interest to keep infected computers off their networks. Infected computers can generate a great deal of network traffic and impact overall performance. To keep from having cranky customers they have taken a preventative approach. You can check your provider’s Internet Services page or call their customer service and ask.

A note about pricing. This is not the type of software you buy once and never pay for again. Unfortunately new threats are being cranked out every day and you’ll need to have an updated antivirus database to defend against them. When you buy the software, you typically get updates for one year. Meaning in twelve months you’ll have to buy a renewal agreement (usually less than the cost of the software) in order to continue receiving updates. Updates to these databases come out daily and the local copy on your computer needs to be updated at least once every 24 hours.

And warning about performance. You will notice a performance hit when you install antivirus software. Any program is going to require CPU cycles and memory. This is another reason to only purchase and install what you need. Be sure to read the system requirements very carefully. The performance hit should not be that great and after a while you’ll no longer notice it. If you install antivirus software and have to wait three seconds after every mouse click then something is wrong. Check your settings and contact your computer guru if necessary.

A properly protected computer will allow for uninterrupted writing day after day. Now stop reading blogs and get back to that work in progress.

 

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Just a Friendly Update

Did you know theWriteTechnology is on Facebook and Twitter?
While the accounts are linked in some fashion, they will not be blasted with the same content. Only the blog posts will go on both.
Facebook will highlight (insert shameless plug adjective here) theWriteTechnology postings, websites that may be of interest to writers, and occasionally I’ll highlight other writers websites/blogs/Facebook pages. Hopefully there will be some lively discussions as well. Right now I’m using a page I created off of my Facebook account. I may move this to a separate account in the future. We’ll see how the Facebook integration goes. For those of you who have done either, please leave comments as to the pros and cons of each.
As for Twitter, I promise not to tweet every little thing I’m doing every hour of the day. Updates will be limited to one or two a day. Unless (and there’s always an exception) there is an event or conference underway. Then I reserve the right to tweet my thumbs off with writing related material. Otherwise look for inspiration quotes, writing related websites, conference reminders…pretty much anything writing related –technical or not– goes here.
Of course you can always opt to just read the blog. But if you choose not too…
…you can find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/theWriteTechnology
And as much as I would love for you to hang out on my blog, leaving comments; or following theWriteTech on Twitter and retweeting all my twit-wit; or checking out my Facebook page, remember you need to put the mouse down, step away from the Internet, put your butt on a chair and write, edit, and submit.

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Cold & Flu Season

Did you get your flu shot yet? It’s that time of year when nasty little microscopic critters try to invade your body and assault you with aches, pains, and mucus. It’s not fun writing when your sick but somehow writers push through to meet deadlines. But what about your computer?

For your computer the cold and flu season is 24/7/365. That’s right, every second that ticks by could be the last healthy one your computer experiences. Even seasoned computer professionals can fall victim to an unwanted infection. I know of two technical professionals who experienced a virus in the last month. Even with corporate firewalls, restrictive Window policies, and some of the most expensive antivirus software money can buy, they were still infected.

For the purposes of brevity I am not going to get into the definitions of worms, Trojan horses, virus, root kits, bots…and the list goes one. If you are interested in the differences, please visit www.us-cert.gov/reading_room/virus.html or read this white paper at the www.sans.org website.

Now do not think since you own a MAC product or use Linux, or have an Android device, or a Blackberry, or Windows Mobile, or a phone using Symbian OS, you are safe. Oh no. Some individuals are so bored they will hack into anything they can access. For you mobile users, this means never leave Bluetooth or WiFi connection running when you are not using it. Nasty things can happen. Just this year I was at a tradeshow and my Android phone started spontaneously dialing numbers. After I turned off WiFi and Bluetooth, it stopped.

You must remember that your technology is always under assault. Always. People earn a living by finding illegal ways to infiltrate your devices. However, there is a lot you can do to prevent and limit a breach.

Let’s cover the no-tech required rules first. Here are some guidelines:

If you receive an email or IM out of the blue stating you have won money or a valuable prize, delete it immediately. At best it’s a scam to steal your identity. At worst clicking on the link will install a virus, bot, or some other nasty program you don’t want.

  • If the email is from someone you’ve never heard of and has the phrase “Check this out” or some other wording to get you to click on a link. Delete it immediately. Do not click on any links.
  • Official looking emails from your bank or credit card company asking you to verify your information are bogus. No exceptions to this rule. Never, never, and I say never click on a link to update our account information. Financial institutions will send you a postal letter. These sites may look identical to what you are used to seeing by they are not legit.
  • You receive an email from a person you know with an odd-looking link embedded. Such as http://10.97.203.58/AdfiEfU5.zz7.php. Delete it immediately and contact your friend. Chances are they have been infected. On the odd chance that it was a legitimate email, they can send it again. Remember, virus can infect a computer and then email itself to everyone included in the local contact list.
  • Do not insert a CD, DVD, or USB drive of unknown origin into your computer. Older versions of Windows and even Windows 7 can be set to automatically run programs stored on media. There was a case where a product sold in retail stores, that had software preloaded on it, installed a virus on customer’ computers. The PC used to create the software image was infected, thereby infecting the software stored on the product. Always scan the contents of these media types before running applications.
  • If you get a pop up on your screen, read it. What did I say? That’s right, read it. All of it. Do not just automatically click OK. These pop ups can install bad mojo. They can also install Adware, advertising software that doesn’t do any harm, but can slow down your PC. These pop ups can also install a custom toolbar for your web browsers. Again, no harm, but it impacts your performance. Always read the text. If you don’t understand what it’s saying write it down and click the little ‘X’ in the upper right corner or cancel. If something goes wrong you have a record to give to your computer guru. Believe me when I say, a record of the exact text displayed can be a huge help in diagnosing a problem.

To illustrate the points above, here is a copy of an email that was sent to a group distribution list at my day job. This is a type of email is called phishing. The instigators of this type of attack are betting on your ignorance. The embedded link could be used to install software on your computer or display a form that asks for personal information.

Here is the email in its original form. However I replaced the To: address with a fictitious group name.

From: William Rowe [mailto:violenta37@zilkha.com]
Sent: Thursday, December 15, 2011 9:05 AM
To: One Gullible Group
Subject: Bank of America: Bill payment issue

To: Dear Bank of America customer
Account: CHECKING
Date: 12/14/2011

The most recent ALERTS for your account are now available to
download online.

Please follow the link to read URGENT ALERT message here:
http://iranconsulate.net/irsgov/reports/complaint/Q27K4XFO2MTM

Set up Alerts to be notified 5 days before your payment is due
to help avoid late payments. Sign in to Online Banking and select
the Alerts tab to activate the Credit Card Payment Due Alert.

Want to confirm this email is from Bank of America? Sign in to
Online Banking and go to Alerts. The Alerts History lists the
Alerts sent to you in the past 60 days.

William Rowe

—————————————————————————
—————————————————————————

Email preferences
This is a service email from Bank of America. Please note that
you may receive service email in accordance with your Bank of
America service agreements, whether or not you elect to receive
promotional email.

Contact us about this email
Please do not reply to this email with sensitive information,
such as an account number, PIN, password, or Online ID. The security
and confidentiality of your personal information is important
to us. If you have any questions, please either call the toll-free
customer service phone number on your account statement or visit
the Bank of America website to access the Contact Us page, so
we can properly verify your identity.

Privacy and security
Keeping your financial information secure is one of our most
important responsibilities. For an explanation of how we manage
customer information, please visit the Bank of America website
to read our Privacy Policy. You can also learn how Bank of America
keeps your personal information secure and how you can help protect
yourself.

Bank of America Email, 8th Floor-NC1-002-08-25, 101 South Tryon
St., Charlotte, NC 28255-0001

Bank of America, N.A. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender
A¿ 2011 Bank of America Corporation. All rights reserved.

Now lets dissect it.

At first glance it looks very official, even has a company disclaimer at the end. However I know it’s fake because:

  • I do not have a Bank of America account. Surprisingly, some people will click on the link anyway.
  • The link displayed is not the BoA’s website, www.bankofamerica.com. Even if it did show the correct address that does not mean it will take you there. The real link can be hidden, much like you do when embedding a link in a blog post. Just click on the BoA link and see where it takes you.
  • The email was sent to a group distribution. What if it was sent to a single email address? Remember the guidelines above? Banks do not and out these types of emails. If you still have doubt then call the customer service number listed on your monthly statement.
  • The From: address is not from BoA’s registered web domain. In other words does not end with @bankofamerica.com.
  • At the end of the disclaimer, on the last line, there is a funky upside down question mark. This means they scrapped the disclaimer off a website or this was drafted in a foreign language and translated to English using translation software.

In the next post we’ll look at various types of software you can use to protect your computer.

Do you have a favorite anti-virus software suite? Please leave a comment listing the name and why you like it.

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Basic File Backup and Sharing

Last entry I touched on Evernote. This entry I’ll discuss a file service called Dropbox.

Dropbox has been around for a few years. It’s not flashy and feature rich, just basic file storage and sharing. However, it does these services quite well. There is a free option with tiered pricing so you only pay for what you need to use. The basic free service offers 2GB of storage. The next tier is 50GB for $9.99/mo or $99/yr. You can see all of their pricing options here. I use this service on a limited basis for a number of years and have not exceeded the 2GB basic limit.

So what can this service do for writers? It provides a basic, no frills way to store files in the cloud and access them on various devices. Dropbox has clients for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows, MAC, or Linux. Or, if you prefer, simply use any browser to access it from an Internet capable device.  Additionally there are third-party apps that utilize Dropbox for cloud storage. Unfortunately, as of this writing, that page of their website is being rebuilt. Two iPad apps I use, Mindjet (a mind mapping tool) and Notify, (a freehand note taking app) use Dropbox to sync files with. If I lose my iPad, I can still access my data.

Dropbox allows you to store files or create folders to organize your files. These folders can be shared, allowing others to collaborate on your current work in progress. These folders can be automatically synchronized to everyone’s computer, assuming they are using one of the Dropbox computer clients. A handy way to ensure everyone is working with the latest files. The service keeps an archive of your files for one month, permitting you to undo your last edit. Or if your computer happens to have a bad day and starts randomly deleting files, you have a back up.

Speaking of backups, you can use the Dropbox folder on your PC to store your current work and Dropbox will automatically sync it with cloud. A simply, no cost, way to back up your files. If your computer blows up, get a new one, install the Dropbox client, and download your files. If you wish to backup your entire computer, including your operating system, there are other services that are better suited to that task.

How do I use Dropbox? Mainly as a parking spot for files that I need to access on various platforms or transfer between devices. Utilizing the benefits provided by my day job creates paperwork I have to submit to HR. I scan these documents and store on Dropbox. I then pull them down and store them digitally on my home network. The service also comes in handy to retrieve documentation for the projects I have to support. I can store project information in the form of a PDF or Microsoft Word document and then access it using my laptop, Blackberry, iPad, or personal Android phone. This can come in handy for traveling. Dragging hundreds of pages of documentation along for a plane ride, can be a pain. Not only in low back from all the extra weight you’re carrying around, but with today’s baggage fees, it can hurt the wallet too.

Do you use Dropbox or another service like it? How do you use the service to increase your productivity?

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The (re)Launch

Let’s try this again. A couple of health issues impacted my timeline on launching this blog, but they are no longer an issue. It’s time to move forward.

First, I would like to ask for idea submissions. I can blog about tech all day long, but I want to address issues other people are having. Additionally, I want to hear how other authors are using technology to be more productive. Please submit ideas or area of technology you are having trouble with to comments@theWriteTechnology.com.

One thing I intend to do is write this blog entirely in the cloud. Today, a writer should be able to write, submit, and publish from anywhere she chooses. There is no reason to be tied to a desk or tethered to an office or home network connection. Writing should be done from where the writer chooses. She should pick her comfort zone. Be free to choose a new writing location each day. Technology should free us, not bind us.

This entry was drafted using a service called Evernote. It works on all platforms. For the nontechnical types that means it can run on iOS, Android, MAC or a Windows PC. Most of this entry was created with an iPad 2 (using a Bluetooth keyboard) with an assist from my Android phone and some final editing from a Windows laptop. The point is, no matter what device I have access to, I can get to my draft and continue to work. This is particularly useful if you find yourself in waiting rooms or waiting in the car or sitting in the stands while the kiddies practice soccer.

No Internet or 3G connection? No problem. The paid version allows for offline notebooks. Once a notebook is downloaded you can work on it offline and resync it when you have service again.

You can record live audio and take pictures and send them directly to your Evernote account. If you are doing site research this can be a quick way to capture information.

If you are collaborating on a project, share you notebooks via the web. Everything is stored in the cloud and is instantly updated. You can attach you work in progress in its native file format too. I use Microsoft Word and have Documents To Go for Android and iPad allowing me to view and edit attachments.

There are other services out there, Google Docs being the obvious competitor, but few if any offer the flexibility of Evernote. Is Evernote the perfect writers companion? That depends on the writer and what the writer needs. It does work for me.

We’ll dive more into Evernote and other mobile apps on future posts. There’s a lot out there. Some of it will work for most people, some of it will only work for a few. Always go with what makes you most productive. After all writers should spend their time writing.

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Quick Update

I attended the Oklahoma Writers Conference this past weekend and as always it was most productive. The speakers and attendees provided several good ideas for future posts. Some agreed to provide content!

For theWriteTechnology, I have created a Facebook page (search for theWriteTechnology) and Twitter account (@theWriteTech). Both are blank so no need to rush over there, content is forth coming. I’ve also link the Google Apps with this account and have created email addresses, contact emails will be posted soon. The integration with Android was bit trickier than I anticipated. Why do the instructions never work as written? Even technical people are presented with a challenge now and then.

I’ve been working on this in five to thirty minute spurts. However, I’m just about at the point where everything will be ready for content and posting will begin on a regular basis.

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A New Blog

My name is Richard and I’m a writer.  No you’re not in a writers anonymous group, this is my new blog.

I’ve always been fascinated with writing.  My first story was written way way back when the (geek alert) Motorola 68OO was still a top of the line processor for what passed as computers.  The story was about a kid who hacked a computer system for fun and found himself in a lot of trouble.  The acoustic coupled modems, the floppy disks, the 48K of RAM, the well woven plot…but I digress.

A few years back I decided to pursue fiction writing and I have written hundreds of thousands of words since.  I have a stack of stories, some need to be edited, some are in various status of submission, and some will never see the life outside my office. And no, I am not currently published. During this journey I quickly discovered it was best to connect with other writers and draw on their experience.  After all it is the ultimate teacher. Interacting with other writers and listening to their challenges was a bit of an eye opener.

One of the first critique groups I participated in always involved, at least one writer, going on a rant about their computer or some form of tech they used to create their story. I kept thinking, writing should not be hard. I was always taught, a writer writes. Period. But these people were spending as much time fighting the tools of writing as they were writing. I saw a need.

I helped were I could, verbally, through email, and eventually started teaching a class at Tulsa Community College. So what qualifies me to help writers when I am yet to publish? I have an extensive and eclectic work history with technology. I’ve written several users manuals, how-to guides, basic instruction sets, more reports than I want to think about, and a few white papers. I have taught hundreds how to use applications, about network infrastructures, and some how to use their first computer. None of these endeavors would have been successful if I had spent more time fighting technology than using it to create the text.

There are several blogs, websites, (insert social media here) out there that address this subject. I now add my voice to that community. The plan is to post entries focused on using technology to create. This blog will explore other blogs, other websites, there will be how-to’s for applications, we’ll discuss eReaders, iPads, smartphones, smartpens, electronic submissions, and even some  older technology such as fountain pens (some were very high-tech for their day). And some entries will be devoted to reader problems.

The writing community has always helped me out when I needed it. This is my way of paying it forward.

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