Protecting Your Equipment

Sorry, Apple People, You’re Just Not That Popular

I know, you think I’m less than smart, but let me assure you, I have some idea what I’m talking about. I began as a wildly satisfied Apple ][+ user many decades ago. While others bought “inferior” computers that hit the market, from PET, Commodore, Atari and TRS-80…well, Atari was the bomb for gaming….I was forging ahead. I moved to the Mac line with a 512K, then an SE, a Mac II, then a IIcx. I learned how to make a computer work for humans because of Apple.

However, here’s the reality. Macs aren’t that popular. I support this by playing into the meme that Macs don’t get viruses, ergo, they are superior platforms. Nope, you have that wrong, but there is the genius of not only Apple, but the evangelized Apple faithful that have somehow missed the point of their lack of bad programmings disrupting their lives at the worst moment, as PC users have come to know and still not love.

Here’s the truth staring you in the face, Apple fanatics: You’re not popular with the people who create viruses, and therefore, you don’t get them. It’s not that your computer is in this uber operating system world, impenetrable by mere mortals out to steal credit card and bank account numbers. I know, in just about every single movie where the earth is saved from alines of environmental disaster, Apples are prominently displayed and used in the crucial scenes. I also know some of you believe that to be the real case.

What’s really up is this: The MacOS is built on top of UNIX, which is very secure, but the face that, depending on the link, the Apple market is about 10-12% and therefore, the effort to infect them is not worth the ROI, on one analysis point. Take the next step: How many Macs are used to manage and handle credit card databases, and large customer files? Pretty much none. Besides taking quite a bit of effort to learn the system inside and out, even if they could find ways in through security flaws, they would most likely find intellectual property, but not something they could make money on, like entire user profiles of banking/financial services, a key set of data for identity theft.

Consider, from a business owner’s view point: If you could set up to serve 87-90% of the market for the same effort to serve 10-13%, with the return per customer the same, which direction would you head? There will be a minnow out there (thank you, Scott Weber!) who gets this answer wrong and insists loudly they are correct, but you all know the right answer to remain viable in the market. That’s why you’re also not infected. Far more ROI in spending your energy developing and working the PC market and the associated Windows based server farms. Not to mention, Apple made a run at the server world and built a very cool piece of technology, but like Beta tape, the public went for the lesser versions in the PC based systems using LINUX and Windows.

That all being said, there are those, because the Apple market share is growing no doubt, who are taking up the challenge to infect the Apple Faithful. You’ve been spared due to not being attractive (I’m not talking the aesthetics of the device design, but the ugly fact that Apples aren’t used to conduct serious financial business). That’s my tough love for you. Some are coming after you and the good news is you can now enjoy virus and malware protection as we PC users do.

Now let me, after turning your meme upside down, drop it on (your) its head: If the MacOS doesn’t get viruses, as some smuggly post to Facebook, why, pray tell, would giant anti-virus companies have software on the market to provide anti-virus for the MacOS that doens’t get viruses? Oh, yeah, it would be a very silly and costly idea to serve a market that has no need, right? Software costs money and then, as any product has to return some what of a profit, or it will be dropped from the company offerings for failing to add to the bottom line.

Check this Dogpile search out: Looks like Symantec, ESET, Norton and Webroot, Avast, AVG just to name a few “small” companies trying to sell something “real” Mac users don’t need.

I’m hoping this dose of reality spurs the Apple faithful to break down and admit they have been a tool in the greater Mac propaganda machine, but then get online and download an appropriate software package to protect themselves. Speaking as a complete PC/Windows user for all my own (too) many computers, it’s a pain to get them, I have two layers of anti-malware/virus on all my systems, just to practice as much safe computing as possible. I encourage you Mac types to do the same. I see the helplessness in people’s eyes all the time, when they have contracted such an infection. Trust me, you don’t want to feel that way, let alone missing your working hours while I or your Mac tech (who should have already advised you to get software – if they haven’t, send them this link so they can be better providers for their customer base) conduct the technical exorcism rites.

If you need help in getting protected, contact me and let’s get you into the real world you actually live in.

SSDS: A blessing, a curse and a cautionary approach

Just built another systems up, with a Samsung 840 240GB SSD. While I’m used to spending the next few hours wandering by the bench, clicking restarts, get updates, etc (some of you know the drill well), it was strikingly different last night.

I pieced a small form factor Dell Optiplex together (and saw issues with cable routing and screw heads and fan blades – another post worth making) and fired it up with the install disk inserted.

About 1.5 hours alter, I had gone from Win7/SP1 to all updates loaded (more than 103), and application software loaded (Office, Reader, Flash, and security). Usually I get most of the way there and then it’s a few more overnight hours and a few more reboots first thing in the morning.

I’m getting jealous of these systems, as they go from off to Desktop in about 15 seconds…

Oh, an high speed cable connection (about 39M download) didn’t hurt either, but I’ve used it for builds before, too.

As I was being dazzled at the rapid completion of progress bars, I reflected on a comment from a shop owner here I occasionally drop in on regarding his experience as an early adopter.

Kirk mentioned he had gotten and SSD about a year ago. It was great, but one day it was dead…as in really, really dead. Think about it: While disk errors send shivers up our spines, unless we hear that horrible grinding, and/or screeching noise, we techs have a degree of comfort that the data is not really gone, just accessible as a non-boot drive, and all is mostly right in the world.

An SSD? It’s common failure mode is DEAD! no connecting via a USB adapter (which is ever present with me, like a credit card, when I leave the house), as it’s DEAD!

Blessing: FAST!

Curse: Dead usually really means dead.

Cautionary approach: Back up, back up, and back up. And did I mention backup? Expensive? Not near as much as a data recovery specialist…and I haven’t even done my homework to see if that’s a function out there yet (I suspect it is, and I also suspect it’s costly).

How to resolve the risk? RAID 1. Bite the cost bullet and get two, if you’re going to get one…and than have a “conventional” drive the same size you can clone to, or a partition on a larger drive you can image to….Couple that with an offsite cloud service to ensure a redundant, real time data set is stored for a rainy day SSD drive failure.

Those who know this know I don’t need to say anything else on the topic. In many ways, it’s current common sense, even for conventional, mechanical drives, but it’s one now where a safety net for data recovery from the local failed drive isn’t really there anymore.

UPDATE 3/8/13: As I stated about, the end of life of an SSD drive is way closer than we’re used to when it begins to let you know it’s about to fail, as discussed in this article at MakeUseOf: Can Data Be Recovered From A Failed SSD?

Your Digital World is a complex place, really.

The weekend was interupted by a call from a client who’s computer wasn’t booting. A little bit of over the phone troubleshooting indicated the hard drive was, possibly toast, or maybe just some settings at the basic computer system level had gotten altered. I hoped for the former, but prepared for the latter.

Luckily, the client’s laptop is the same as mine, and can use my restore DVDs. That was the first major hurdle. If the drive was, in fact, non-functional, even the factory restore partition was out of the question. DVDs to the rescue!

Next, I grabbed a utility program that does some heavy lifting for data recovery, so ling as the drive has any ability to be detected by the computer.

A 500GB laptop drive was in the spare parts drawer, matching the size of the potentially dead one.

The “tool box” backpack always has the USB external drive adapter, so it was a matter of grabbing my two working backpacks and heading to the client’s office.

Upon arrival, it quickly became apparent that the hard drive had had a failure that didn’t let it move the read heads into aposition. Because I’ve listened to literally 10s of thousands of drives being tested, I knew wishing it worked and trying over and over to boot, hoping it might come up one more time was a waste of any one’s time.

I pulled the bad rive, put in the spare 500GB and began a factory restore. That went fine, seeing as how I had taken the time to burn a set of restore DVDs. Pretty much every computer comes like that these days, and rarely do I find users who have heeded the nag screen to do it, as they finish the set up on their new system. If you don’t then you’re reasonably certain, if you need your system back today, to have to spend a bit over $100 for a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium. More if you have Professional installed.

After getting through the standard Windows new installation set up, we where now faced with re-installing programs. This is another tough point: Many people can’t remember where their CDs/DVDs are. Also, it’s more common to pay for and download programs right away. If you don’t copy them off your hard disk before such an event, many places limit the time you can return and download the copy at no charge, usually I’ve seen 30 days, unless you pay a fee to have access for a year or more. You need to look around and make sure, especially for the programs you need for your business (QuickBooks, Office, Outlook, etc) and ensure you have the originals and the key codes for them in a safe (and rememberable) place.

The client had the installed programs, so we went right to work restoring those.

Next was data recovery. Having both an online backup system (Digital Life Boat and a 500GB Seagate external drive provided a way to recover most of the data. It was time consuming, just to grab the OutLook mail files, and the basic financial records, but that got the client back to work.

Today I called and we bagan diggin into the files in the cloud and on the backup external drive, which brings me to the title of the post: It really is a detailed thought process you have to go through to make sure you really back up your data. While they had ensured the .pst files for OutLook were on the list, they had a large, large folder of records, dating back far enough to when the computers in use for this client were running Windows 3.1. The file holding a massive amount of word documents, many of which are searched regualry, had been kept at the top level of the heard drive, and never mover into the user document folder area, which began to be a part of digital life with Windows 95. Here’s the bad news: Consumer based backup programs are generally useful for the very basic computer user, and you will see your pictures, videos, music and documents, and usually the items on your desktop all assumed to be what to backup. Things like the OutLook .pst files, profiles for FireFox browsers, and, as in this case, a folder of data sitting outside of the Documents and Settings or User folders not looked at. You must ensure you figure out how the backup system you use will see and backup those files that are important at any level to you. That hadn’t happened.

ensuring your mission critical documents, programs and operating system information is safeguarded against catastrophe is something that is well worth spending some money with an experienced consultant who has had to deal with real world information safety, not just a tech that knows how to install a basic backup program and tell you it’s running. The difference is one will look over your equipment and tell you to back it up, the other will ask what information you use, which programs are crucial to your business and where is the information stored, and also backed up. The answers you give will allow them to provide a coherent and effective answer to help you protect the business you’ve built.

The good news, while not all that good, is many of the most recent files needed are still in the email files as attachments, so the current projects can continue reasonably smoothly.

The bad news is, there isn’t an archive to go dig in to pull old data forward, which, in the client’s industry is a valuable thing.

We can take the almost dead drive to a data recovery service, and I know, without asking for a quote, it will be very expensive. As I told the client, you need to make a business decision as to the approximate value the many Word files are to you, so that can help make the determination to go forward with exactly, laborious data recovery, or if it’s more cost effective to just begin rebuilding from what has been recovered and go from there.

Very much like the cost of insurance: Can you afford a few hours of consulting time more than you can a drive recovery for several thousands?

Concerned you’re not covered? Call your technical business consultant and ask for an assessment to ensure you are, or to make sure you get that way.

My User is being directed into another users folder named TEMP

Malware, BadWare, ScareWare, RansomWare, just make you MadWare. I couldn’t get back far enough to find the cause, but the brief version began with a call well before business hours from a client…

I didn’t get to see all the problems, as he tired to fix it first, before deciding this was something different. The story goes like this: “I had a message on the screen to upgrade [not update] Avast.” He did as directed, and it said it had to reboot. When he came back to the login screen, all three users were presented and he clicked on his own icon. In he went, to a balck desktop, missing all but the public icons. When he started Outlook 2007, it took him to the new install, set up a new account wizard.

He ran a restore point, yet the results were the same. He left me a message.

I go there and began to look for the associated “hide all your icons” malware, but the user documents folder was empty…not even any hidden files, just like a new Windows 7 user would be. Found the Outlook .pst, and it was very small, but there with a new date. His desktop folder had none of his files/icons, so this left me wondering what was up. I pulled up the cmd line and what caught my eye was the initial directory was “C:\Users\TEMP>,” not one named for his user, as he signed in under.

From here, I wondered what was up, so I went to regedit and did a serach for “\users\temp.” I got the result I was looking for (in HKey_Users), but it was the surrounding registry entries that clued me to the fix required: The malware had taken the normal -1000 (first user) and had renamed in with a “.bak” extension, and then in the now existing -1000 user settings, it had used his login in name, but pointed his settings to the “\user\temp” folders, which now explained the absence of any of his files.

I went back to Windows Explorer and confirmed all his files were actually in the user folder bearing his name, and then, being a bit smarter on the problem, noted the temp user folders were, of course, like a brand new user.

The repair was simple at this point: Rename the offending -1000 user with a “.bad” extension on the entry, then removed the “.bak” from his real -1000 user entry. Of course, I first backed up the registry as it was, just in case I would find out this wasn’t the case, and then, with the changes in place, restarted the system and all was now back to normal.

Still can’t tell you the exact cause, but the symptoms were a solid black desktop, and empty files for My Documents/Pictures/etc, and Outlook wanted to create a new install for a new user. All it turned out to be was the infection had copied and renamed the proper user registry entry, and put iteslf in is the user, and, while using the the correct user name, it was sending the coputer to the new “TEMP user name, now new and empty folders.

The reboot after correcting the registry entries worked fine, and that was two weeks ago.

Understanding Your Digital Landscape Seminar 11/16/2010

From the flyer, regarding the Seminar I’ll be conducting to help business owners, who are not technically enabled, to better understand what makes their business function:

Understanding the Digital Landscape

What is it?
How do you find it?
How do you use it effectively?

Computers save us time in everything from information storage and retrieval, calculation, graphic design, and report preparation. E-commerce allows our websites to keep our businesses running 24/7.

A failure at any point, from our office records to our online presence, can quickly snowball into a technological disaster, especially for a small business that doesn’t have an IT (information technology) staff in-house.

Seminar leader Curt Middlebrook, The Computer Whisperer, provides insights into the equipment, computer programs, and office and internet support services out there, and the people who provide them. You’ll learn how to maximize your online efficiency, and how to track the success of your online marketing.
This is a Lunch & Learn program, part of the Pinellas Park/Gateway Chamber of Commerce Success in Business Series. Your registration includes detailed information for evaluating every aspect of your company’s digital landscape, as well as a light lunch.

When : Tuesday, November 16; 11:30 am to 1:30 pm
Where : Park Station, 5851 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park, Room 202

Cost : $19.95 Pinellas Park/Gateway Chamber Members
$24.95 Non-members

Call Chamber Manager Larry Steinlauf at 544-4777 to register.
You must be registered to attend.

Isn’t it Ironic? Mac OS X Virus arrives

A sesimic shift in the PC word has just happened: A Mac OS X virus is here, coming in the form of a Java script off of social media.

The irony? as I was removing a virus off a “real” PC this morning, my client indicated they might buy a Mac, so they wouldn’t viruses. I began with a little business analogy: One day, it will happen. When? When the Macs in the market reach some magical %, the “bad guys” will then take the time to study the Mac OS in detail, to try and exploit it. I also went on to discuss how a business decision, when done right, always looks for the most impact, for the least expenditure of resources. And, as of that moment, it must haven’t arrived (little did I know)…yet. I potulated, that when it did, it would be like a very big tidal wave, particulalry accentuated by the fact that it’s “well known” Macs are invulnerable from attack. Yeah, right.

So any how, for you MacoPhiles…gird your loins, the attainment of 20% of the PC market by Macs announced by Steve Jobs a few days ago, has had an impact on your bulletproofness. Be on your toes, and hope the good guys have anti-virus software ready for you, really, really soon.

Here’s the warning from the articles at ARSTechnica:

A new trojan horse has cropped up that affects Mac OS X (and Windows as well), primarily disguised as a video flitting around social networking sites. When users click an infected link, a Java applet is launched that downloads multiple files, including an installer that runs automatically without users’ knowledge.

While between other appointments this after noon, I saw the article (linked above) and I knew the time has come.

Note, too, you Windows based PC users, you’re a casualty of this new attack, too.

Be on the look out for any video on the social media sites….all of you computer users.

I’ll bring this history, too, because there have been Mac based viruses before. In early 1988, I contracted the “Scores” virus on my Mac II from a download off of GEnie.

That was bad news. The good news is the PC market exploded on cheap Intel based PCs and the bad guys went after them. That has left the Mac world as the untouchables for all these years…until now.

Tuesday Tech Tips

My email box has had some intersting mail the last few weeks.  Actually more than one has had interesting received mail.

I have had many in the last week that say my Facebook account has had changes, needed to be closed down/needed verification….and then “the attached file will fix this,” or words to that effect.

Now, not having a Facebook account yet makes it relatively easy for me to get the antennas up and operating right away, suspecting foul play.

I’ve also received email from “IRS.”  I have always gotten letters from IRS, but…maybe they have popped into the electronic age without personally notifying me.  Same sort of thing:  “Click on the attachment to…”

What does this mean?  For one thing, it’s another wave of computer infections for you and I, the “good guys.”  The thing it also means is if you’re not reasonably alert, a little thing like this may well trip up you up, especially if you do have one of the accounts being mentioned (I’d be especially alert for Facebook items right now).

Thig before you click on that attached file.  “They” (the “bad guys”) are still creative as ever at “marketing” their methods to get you to “buy in,” usually to let your computer become a Zombie SPAM emailer.

Attachments are not bad things, if you know who they are coming from, and what they are supposed to be (sometimes freinds can forward something by accident/lack of fully scanning their own mail first).

Hopefully, mail like this is heading straight to your junk folder, but not all of mine is, so my tip for the day is to stay on top of email that looks out of place.  A hint is if the email for that social media site comes to an email address you don’t use for it, it should be your instant red flag moment.

So…let’s be careful computing out there!