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How can you get better performance with your Internet connection?

You’ve seen the scam artist advertisements for software programs that do nothing more than install junk-ware on your system.

TV Ad for software that did little to help novice PC users

The thing to remember is that many times your PCs Internt connection is slow becausee of your DNS provider.

Now you might be thinking “what is DNS John?” and I would tell you that this is a good question .

DNS means Domain Name Service. It operates on your computer’s port 53 and acts as the phonebook for the Internet. Here’s how…when you want to order a pizza for dinner, you may have to look up the number to the pizza place online or from an ad that they placed on your doorknob. You do not instinctively know the phone number to the pizza place and that’s okay. It’s normal.

Well in the same way you do not have every phone number that you may need in a day memorized, computers do not keep a track of every possible web site you might want to go to in a day stored in them either. Sure, some days you may bounce from a cable news site to a cable weather outlet to an Internet storefront and finally finish up at an Internet movie house like Youtube.

All of these have an IP address and yes, the sites you visit the most often you might want to save their IP addresses in your hosts file. This can be found in a Windows system in C:\Windows\System32\Drivers\etc\hosts (and note that this file DOES NOT have a file extension).

You can save them in this format:

tech.jchampion.com            50.87.150.160

Now for you to have a better list of sites that are available worldwide on a DNS server. You are no doubt using one of the ones that your Internet service provider told you to use. These DNS servers may use tricks so that in the event you mistype a domain name, you are redirected to a relatively safe site that is hosted by the ISP or the DNS service provider. Any link that appears on these pages that you click on, make money for the service provider and likely put some sort of tracking cookie on to your computer to follow your movements to similar sponsored sites across the vast internet.

One way to speed up your experience and maybe avoid the whole tracking thing, is to use a new DNS provider. I’ll bet you did not think that you could do that but you can?

Simply go your Internet settings on your computer (Control Panel\Network and Internet\Network Connections and choose whichever icon matches your Internet connection). Right click on this icon and select properties. Now select Internet Connection version 4 from the window that pops up and then click on the properties button that highlights directly below that selection box.

Another window will pop up that will give you some options on things to fill out. Leave the top of this window alone if your Internet/network connection is working fine. What you want to fill out is the section that says “Use the following DNS server addresses” — and now you get to fill in any of a series of numbers you like. It looks like this:

The bottom part of this General IP Properties page that has DNS information is what you'll want to fill out.

The bottom part of this General IP Properties page that has DNS information is what you’ll want to fill out.

The IP addresses to populate those boxes are 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220

Google also has a DNS service that is available for the public to use and you can certainly use their IP addresses, 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 . With these addresses you get away from your ISP’s control but at the same time Google does not provide any level of service to help control or customize your own experience.

A list of other IP addresses for publicly accessible DNS services are listed here — just be sure to check the companies providing the IP addresses that you can use before you use them. You never know what information they could be pushing you to. There is such a thing as DNS poisoning and it is bad.

By bad..I mean that you could think that you are paying for an Amazon or Bank payment service and instead your traffic is directed through JimBob and Bubba-Sue’s scam site that culls your credit card or payment information before passing it along to Amazon or your bank so your purchase goes through and you are unaware anything went wrong, until you see your credit card bill or get that dreaded call from credit card security services.

It’s something to be aware of but do not be afraid. Forge ahead.

My goal in giving you this information is to teach you how to improve things for yourself without needing to spend money on software that does nothing but further bog down your system and worse, entices you to remove files your computer needs to run.

Have fun, be smart, and be independent. There will be more tips coming soon!

 

 

Time to clarify what Geico, State Farm, and OnStar are selling you

No to in-car monitoring

Progressive claims this tool is used for discounts only

“You’ll save with our snapshot discount,” “State Farm has identified you as driving a vehicle with OnStar built into it. We are offering you a discount for having this service.” and there are many other examples of this.

Let us get to the heart of what this is.

For those of you who like to drive all over town but tell your insurance carrier that you drive to work and back only, these devices will root your out and you will receive a hefty price increase instead of the promised price decrease.

Someone would have to be nuts to allow any insurance company to monitor your activity, your driving habits, or let OnStar share your driving information with anyone. Why?

Simple…if you have ever heard of the term “red lining,” which is taking the crime statistics from any community and drawing a red mark on a map and anyone living or working in those areas get to pay higher car insurance rates because you are more at risk than someone who lives and works in a more affluent part of town.

That means that, in terms of odds, you are more likely to have something happen to your insured vehicle. It also means that the insurance company is more likely to see a claim from you.

So enter this world of “snapshot”,”OnStar”, and the various other devices insurers are trying to dangle in front of you attached to a word, “discount”, in order to get you to bite.

And enough people are biting on this lure and companies like Geico, Progressive, State Farm, All-State, and many others are trying to do anything to get you to let them spy on you more than they already are.

But the information that those devices record about your driving habits are tied into your computer. So if you change cd’s or the radio station while driving, if you change lanes without signaling due to a driver or animal moving into your path, or even something as innocuous as braking too severely will count against you and your discount will eventually morph into a significant rate increase.

From the Snapshot provider’s website about the device:

“Data We Collect:
The Snapshot device records vehicle speed and time of day, and when the device is connected and disconnected from the vehicle. It also records the Vehicle Identification Number upon installation. Other information, such as miles driven and rates of acceleration and braking, is derived from the speed and time information recorded by the device.”

Think about this…insurers tie your credit record into your auto insure rate. They tie in things like non-fault accidents into your rate. That’s not to mention the number of times you’ve been uninsured or placed into a high risk pool.

In short…don’t do it. Keep insurers out of your car unless of course, you are the perfect driver and you never drive anywhere except to home and work or home and school.

And for the record…this is, in my opinion, a polite way of asking “can we please put spyware on to your car’s computer to monitor you?”

Are you still using PC Anywhere?

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A Breach is coming your way

Why? Have you ignored the requests from Symantec about ceasing useage of this product because of Symantec’s code breach? If you are unaware…read it from a trustworthy news source.

It’s simple…Symantec had its code stolen. The thieves tried to extort money out of Symantec and Symantec got caught trying to initiate a sting. So the code base for PC Anywhere is about to be made public.

That means that any hacker with a knowledge of compilers can, and will, create a tool to gain entry into your home or work systems. It means that your data is at risk of being compromised. It means that your credit card information and other vital information that could embarass you, that you keep on your computer, is likely to be stolen.

Do you need an alternative to PC Anywhere? You should’ve said so. I’ll cover that aspect tomorrow.

Hackers expose Grindr members intimate images

An app that has been used to target gay and bisexual men and their smart phones has had its userbase hacked. The hackers gained access to and exposed images of some of the site’s users.

While that’s bad…what makes it worse is that many of these members had very intimate images of themselves maintained on the Grindr system. This will no doubt create a problem for many of the site’s members.

Here is a reminder — if you must take adult oriented images of yourself, please remember how easy it is to hack a phone and share those images. Once an image is released on to the Internet, it will exist forever.

So please keep anything you do not want shared with the world, stored on a system that is secured and if possible have the images of yourself encrypted so that even if bad apples gain access to your system, they will have a very hard time decrypting your images and ruining your reputation.

I’m back and posting; more Symantec code stolen; and why your Apple really needs an antivirus

After a nine month hiatus, I am back and posting. No I did not have a baby but I did change jobs. I’m no longer the DOD contractor geek but now I’m a full time college professor teaching, among other things, security.

So let’s get started…Symantec initially said that hackers may have stolen their code base but it was for old products. Well that was not entirely truthful. Symantec’s latest announcement said that source code for Norton Antivirus Corporate Edition, Norton Internet Security, pcAnywhere, and Norton GoBack had been taken. This is in addition to the Symantec Endpoint Protection 11.0 and Symantec Antivirus 10.2 that the company acknowledged two weeks ago.

What does this mean? Well if you are one of the many who use Symantec products, it means that you will need to be very careful about what updates for the Symantec software you download. Some of it could be fake.

Also puncturing a hole in a mythical secure operating system, is F-Secure’s announcement that the number of trojans, malware, and loaders for Apple MacOS products climbed this week.

Last year, F-Secure noted that Apple products enjoyed a roller-coaster ride of security. With some months being better than others. Best bet…if you have a Mac, get an antivirus.

And finally…I will be revamping this site a little now that I have more time to devote to it. Remember that the key to keeping crap off of your home computer is to be smart and not download or visit sites that are known for pushing malware on to user’s PC’s. Use Firefox with the NoScript add-in and above all else…stay away from porn and gambling sites.

A good read from OpenDNS

OpenDNS has taken the time to analyze a popular Facebook scam which they describe as a virus. It’s a good read and worth your time to read and understand.

Facebook is so useful and fun but at the same time without vigilance, your system can be easily compromised, your Facebook login stolen, and your friends harassed by one slip of your mouse.

The article can be found at:

http://blog.opendns.com/2011/05/05/facebook-who-views-your-profile-scam/

Also if you’re not using OpenDNS for your home’s network, take a look at how easy it is to setup and use while you’re on their site. The service is free and you can block ads, malware sites, and other types of sites from interupting your browsing session. Their site is OpenDNS.com

Clicking on an Osama picture can be hazardous to your computer

Malware purveyors keep looking for the next thing to convince you to click on download/”Look at this!” type of links. Sunday night’s announcement of Osama Bin Laden’s (I don’t really care if I spell that name right–the terrorist doesn’t deserve for it to be spelled correctly) death and the subsequent details coupled with America’s thirst for blood and gore mean that the pickings are ripe for malware purveyors.

So Facebook users…you’re up first. You are a prime target because most of you are not all that computer saavy and most click on anything that looks tantalizing…afterall if it looks salacious it must be awesome, right? And also if no one knows I clicked on the gory details link, what’s the worst that can happen? After all, there is that big “X” in the upper right hand corner of my browser right?

The FBI knew this was going to happen and issued a press release to the American public warning people about such links:

“The FBI today warns computer users to exercise caution when they receive e-mails that purport to
show photos or videos of Usama bin Laden’s recent death. This content could be a virus that could
damage your computer. This malicious software, or ‘malware’, can embed itself in computers and
spread to users’ contact lists, thereby infecting the systems of associates, friends, and family members.
These viruses are often programmed to steal your personally identifiable information.”

So what does this mean to you, the common user? It’s simple. Until the Obama administration announces it has released photographs and/or videos, there are no such things. You should pay full attention to the FBI’s warning. Click on nothing that you do not know. Click on only those things you were expecting and from trusted sources after using your anti-virus/anti-malware to the fullest.

Finally…if you do accidentally stumble into one of these traps…follow the regular steps to remove malware viruses from your computer. If you don’t know what these are, then you should be extra careful about the things you click on.

The Epsilon Breach Just Keeps Getting Worse

When it first happened, media from CNN, Fox, Time, NY Times, Washington Times, and other popularity driven news organizations did the lazy thing and reported the press release that Epsilon and those companies who turned over your personal information to Epsilon wrote to give the information they wanted you to think was true.

Epsilon Breach Press release

But the information contained in that release, like most press releases, is misleading at best and downright false at worst.

Here’s why…spam and spear phishing are the least of your worries in a breach of this kind. Coupled with other information email addresses, usernames, and companies you deal with can tell a lot about you and give identity thieves and identity sellers, loads of personal information to gain access into your life.

Not to mention that the folks who stole this information want you to turn over your computer to them. While they don’t want the electric bill from running it, they do want to use its CPU cycles, ram, and hard drive space to rent out to spammers, malware providers, adware servers, adult oriented material, child pornography, and let’s not forget about general mischief.

So how do you protect your from all of this sad activity?

1) Never click on links in incoming emails.
2) Use a good anti-virus/anti-malware/firewall.
3) Use common sense. Do not load photos/images just because a friend, an acquaintance, or someone else you may know sent them to you. Using steganography, a user can load javascript loaders, into the cutesie images that are sent to you and those can be used to begin delivery of malware, spyware, or other stuff you just don’t want on your system.
4) Stop sending emails that are meant to be forwarded. These give hackers an idea about which users are more susceptible to attack than others.

Finally–the reason why spam and malware continue to spread is because people are allowing the tools that come with their PC’s to expire, or just think a sofware firewall is sufficient. And let’s not forget the profit margin. Sending spam is quite profitable and people keep opening it, reading it, and responding to it.

It’s so profitable in fact, that many of the original spam factories of the 90’s are now legitimate email marketing companies.

So please…take responsibility for your computing actions. If you cannot afford to pay for the Symantec/McAfee software subscription that comes with your new computer…have a tech remove it and install Microsoft Security Essentials, AVG, Avast, Avira, or some other free anti-virus option.

Two Facebook search boxes are worse than one

FaceBook resource site, AllFacebook.com is announcing today that Facebook itself is denying testing a web search tool and additional search box on your page. The “search box” which looks like this:

Facebook fake search box from AllFacebook.com

Facebook fake search box from AllFacebook.com

 

So now the question is…what is this and what can you do about it?

Well Facebook has a tool created in cooperation with McAfee that can help you locate, isolate, and remove any malware that may be on your system.

http://www.mcafee.com/US/

If you have questions..just ask.

Could it be true? A Mac OS trojan?


Sophos’ Naked Security blog is reporting that they have discovered a Mac OS X backdoor trojan.

Now in plain English…people have flocked to Macs in part because they feel like they are safer and to a degree that is correct. There are fewer viruses, malware, and junk written for the Mac OS in part because the Mac OS X is based on the Unix platform.

That means that it is that much harder for writers of these tricks have to get the same payoff they would get on the Windows OS.

Now the difference between a Mac and a Windows PC is now only software. Mac’s are made on Intel chips, with the same integrated products that may be on your personal Windows computer right now. In fact…check our Franken-macs and see how some innovative users are finding ways to install the Mac OS X operating system on to their home made computers.

So why is it harder to build a virus/trojan/malware/or junk for a Mac? Well in part, think about who you are using your Windows computer as. You are running it as the system administrator most of the time. You are not running this as a plain user which has no installation or administration rights. This means that a piece of software that can load on to a Windows system is pretty much guaranteed on installing itself with Administrator privileges and thus it can run without your knowledge or permission.

Microsoft tried to correct this with a clunky User Access Control (UAC for short) but so many people complained because it wasn’t convenient enough and that it balked at everything they tried to do. Well imagine how that would have happened in a plain user scenario. The user would not be allowed to install anything so they probably would never be pushed to grant permission for an image to load or for a javascript to run.

But running your Windows PC as an Admin means you will likely never know that software with bad intent has landed on your machine. So where does that leave you?

Yup…wishing you had a Mac. But now Mac users are having to think a little harder and find a tool that will help protect their system. Most rely on just the MAC/Unix OS to protect them and their data but a trojan, which is a piece of software pretending to be something useful, can gain a foothold on your system and begin chipping away at your Mac’s known insecurity levels.

So what’s a Mac user to do? Well there are many Mac anti-virus programs available. Many are available for free.

My research has indicated that iAntivirus would be the best bet because it’s definitions and routines are meant solely for the Mac OS and will not include any Windows information.

There are other freebie anti-virus tools for you as well: ClamAV, Avast, BitDefender, and others. Norton/Symantec makes what my research shows as the weakest protection for your Mac.

What about the guys who are getting credit for uncovering this trojan, Sophos? Well they are useful to the consumer but they are expensive and they are designed to be a business/enterprise anti-virus that home users can use. So you should ask yourself…do I need enterprise level protection in my daily activities?

Plus you should do your own research. Don’t take my word on everything…read some for yourself and because your own expert and advocate.

You can find all of these anti-virus tools on CNet’s Download.com

Download.com’s AV list