Monday, November 25, 2013

Cryptolocker Virus Warning!

Recently there has been a dangerous new virus going around which poses significant risk to both personal and business computers alike. Cryptolocker, as it is commonly known, is a new virus variant which seeks to encrypt all useful files on a computer and then hold the user for ransom to unlock them. This virus preys upon users who click or preview an attachment in an email; typically disguised as a bill of lading from a shipping company. Once the attachment is opened or previewed, it will utilized a vulnerability in older versions of java to execute and encrypt not only the entire contents of the offending computer, but all files over a network which that computer has access to. The virus is difficult to detect and is sophisticated enough to evade capture by even modern anti-virus solutions. Worse yet, if you are infected, removal of the virus removes the encryption key needed to unlock your files, rendering all of your data completely useless.

Once a machine is infected, anything with the following file extensions will be encrypted (you will notice these are just about all useful files):
*.odt, *.ods, *.odp, *.odm, *.odc, *.odb, *.doc, *.docx, *.docm, *.wps, *.xls, *.xlsx, *.xlsm, *.xlsb, *.xlk, *.ppt, *.pptx, *.pptm, *.mdb, *.accdb, *.pst, *.dwg, *.dxf, *.dxg, *.wpd, *.rtf, *.wb2, *.mdf, *.dbf, *.psd, *.pdd, *.eps, *.ai, *.indd, *.cdr, ????????.jpg, ????????.jpe, img_*.jpg, *.dng, *.3fr, *.arw, *.srf, *.sr2, *.bay, *.crw, *.cr2, *.dcr, *.kdc, *.erf, *.mef, *.mrw, *.nef, *.nrw, *.orf, *.raf, *.raw, *.rwl, *.rw2, *.r3d, *.ptx, *.pef, *.srw, *.x3f, *.der, *.cer, *.crt, *.pem, *.pfx, *.p12, *.p7b, *.p7c

Recovery from such an attack is limited to 2 options. Pay the ransom (a dangerous idea by basically dealing with criminals) or restore from a backup. This emphasizes the importance of maintaining incremental backups on a regular basis. Even more insidious, unless the backups are themselves encrypted (a common feature available in business class backup solutions) or the backup system is separated from view of users on the network, then the backups themselves risk being encrypted.

Prevention, as most risks in the virus landscape, involves layers of preventative measures. The most important is awareness and common sense when handling email attachments. Only open attachments which you are clearly expecting to receive from an individual, and even better, contact the individual who sent the attachment to verify they sent one. Also, turn off any preview options within Outlook to prevent accidental selection of emails from automatically opening bad attachments. Organizations should review their business critical data, and ensure that access is limited to key individuals, rather than globally through group policy. The last thing you want is for a weekend book keeper to take down all of your data because they had access to more than just the accounting network share. Users should be compartmentalized to access only what is necessary to perform their job function. Finally… backup, backup, backup, backup. It cannot be stressed enough that maintaining good, encrypted, incremental backups on a regular basis is not just a good idea, but critical for any business.

Or contact your account manager for network assessment.

Chris Bodenhamer
Sierra Computer Group Dispatch

Monday, November 11, 2013

Clouds Are Made of Vapor

There's been lots of discussion regarding cloud versus closet reliability.  I recall years ago when Microsoft ran a campaign about five "9"s referring to the reliability of cloud solutions.  Despite a few remarkable exceptions, the last few years have quieted these claims by Microsoft, Google and even Apple.  The web does fail.  And in lots of different ways.

Here's an interesting example:

How allowed a complete stranger to delete all my files

As you can see, even when all the hardware and all of the software work fine, there's still the human element.

The best advice is still to keep your content close, or in the closet.  This solution will give you better control, performance and flexibility.  And if you back it up to the cloud...

Do it at least twice.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Rotate Your Second Display

Have you noticed how web content and computer displays are pointed in different directions?

If you open almost any webpage on a laptop or desktop computer you'll see blank white bands along the sides.  Even worse, you won't see much vertical depth of content.  This is because most documents and web content scroll vertically; yet most displays are presented horizontally.  And the sites that ARE formatted horizontally, are so wide they are difficult to read.

Why is this?  It's because of the movies.

Since movie and TV's 1080P format with their 16 by 9 aspect ratio is now the sweet spot in volume display manufacturing, we have this strange situation where computer content does match the display presentation.

This is why you see people rotating their phones and tablets so often.  Unfortunately with a laptop or desktop computers it's a bit more clumsy to rotate the display.  But the very factor that has cause the problem (volume price point), provides a reasonable solution - buy a second monitor and turn it vertical.

This is actually easier than you might think.  There are lots of optional vertical monitor stands, and most computers (including laptops) already have a second video port.  So get a second display, turn it sideways, configure Windows screen settings and poof!  The problem is solved.

Give it a try.  It's like having a whole new second computer - and one that actually fits your work.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Windows XP End of Life

On April 8, 2014, Windows XP will have reached its end of life.

What does this really mean for you? Well for one, there will be no more support from Microsoft. You may be able to find a technical article on your problem, but Microsoft will no longer field phone calls, answer e-mails, or respond to forums regarding Windows XP.

Microsoft will also discontinue supplying security patches via Windows Update to PCs running Windows XP. This also means if a hacker or virus writer finds a new hole in Windows XP, Microsoft will not fix it, leaving your PC vulnerable to attack. Even if you were to clean the infection, the attack could continue as you would not be able to block it from happening again.

For those of you with a Point of Sale or other payment systems running on Windows XP after April 8, 2014, you will no longer be PCI compliant, which may create a legal liability.

Now I am sure some of you are thinking that your home PC running Windows XP won't be a problem. Think again. As application compatibility for Windows XP disappears, you will have problems. What happens when your bank requires that you use Internet Explorer 9 to access you bank account? Windows XP only supports Internet Explorer 8 and older. You will not be able to install Internet Explorer 9. How about that new version of Office 2013? It's not compatible with Windows XP. As you can see Microsoft as well as other software developers will have moved on from Windows XP. You will be left to only run old software.

 If you haven't already done so now is the time to start planning an exit strategy for Windows XP.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Secure Mobile Communications

Rod Coleman

It seems mobile technology security has been fighting a losing battle lately.  This development could have a significant positive impact on tech privacy.

The explanation:

The Threat of Silence

The solution:

Silent Circle

If you give it a try, post your experience here in comments: