Leaky Computers

April 10, 2008 at 1:45 pm | Posted in Computers, Security | 4 Comments

Back in December, I wrote an update on Firewalls and security. When you explore how secure your computer is, new issues that can be exploited come up regularly, hence the regular security updates by all vendors. Many programs have the annoying habit of wanting to check in all the time for updates, especially during your computers boot-up. So we end up turning off or disabling such nags and bogging. But then we have to watch for updates. In a previous post, I talked about keeping your computer current and secure. More recently, i tried the new install version of Secunia Software Inspector (which I again don’t want running all the time). It checks a LOT more software. On my system it found a few old things I had installed to test and forgotten about. They had become albatrosses. And it found more stuff much in need of update. https://psi.secunia.com/ Well recommended.

Its also widely suggested you use a more secure (and less targeted) browser like Firefox. Throw in NoScript and Stop Autoplay Addins and you can control what runs and plays on your computer, allowing only the good guys. Stop Autoplay reduces issues with embedded media like Flash. I also recommend the free SiteAdvisor Addin (for IE and FF) as it will give you a heads up if a site has a history of problematic downloads, spams, and so forth. The bad neighborhood sign.

Stanford University has a little demo page of a recent issue of ‘DNS rebinding’. I tried it out and was fine in Firefox with NoScript. But look with IE and 3 vectors opened. I was telneting in a few seconds, thus opening a command doorway. If you’ve ever used Telnet, you know its a way to remotely access & control a system. If you get a pick list here on this link, you’re vulnerable on a web page thats infected with the exploit. http://crypto.stanford.edu/dns/

I’ve noticed lately that some people are getting more complacent about security – they keep Windows and a firewall and anti-virus up to date. They feel covered, right? Not really. The attackers are getting more sophisticated, using web pages to attack, like the above. They are breaking into name brand web sites and placing their compromised pages to infect you. And they don’t even have to attack the site itself. They can get in through sites that feed the pages, like advertisers, weather, stocks, and so forth. One of my co-workers get a web page virus the other day but she was protected so it was blocked. You may not even realize its happened if you are not properly secured and current.

Just look at all the spam email you get. If this was coming from real sites, they would have been shut down. This is mostly coming from banks of average joe computers that have been compromised and are now used as zombies to spread their warez. The crackers run the computers remotely to do their bidding, taking advantage of the decentralized nature of the internet, and the very low default security of an off-the-shelf computer.

If you’ve not been by recently, you may also want to browse Steve Gibson’s site. The firewall leak test is now an application. He’s a little eclectic. For example, you can sign up for his newsletter but he hasn’t sent anything in years. He also tends to rant a bit and go into very great detail. But he offers some great free tools and lots of explanations. http://www.grc.com/

Computer security is not a huge deal. The rules are just like ‘real world’. Don’t go into any nasty neighborhoods. Be careful when you talk to strangers. And make sure you’re door is closed and locked before you go out. Get your car a tuneup once in awhile. Keeping your tools up to date is simple with the right tools, as I suggest here.

Hopefully, one day soon, Windows will be like Linux. With Linux, it checks all of your applications from one place (there are hundreds), updates any that need it and the most you have to do is restart the network or similar service. No rebooting unless you’re changing hardware. Much faster and easier to stay current.

Have fun. The web is an amazing place.


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  1. Web of Trust is an alternative to SiteAdvisor for preventative online security. WOT is a tool for website reputation rating that lets Internet users share their knowledge of websites with 18 million sites rated already. The ratings are based on standards of trustworthiness, vendor reliability, privacy and child safety.

    Reputation data is recalculated every 30 minutes, so it is fresh. Myself and others have noticed that the user driven approach often gives more accurate ratings than automated ones, especially for “vendor reliability” and “child safety”, where human input is crucial.

    Please give it a try. Web of Trust


  2. Thanks Deborah

    Personally, I’m not a big fan of pop-ups but I can see where it would be superior for family computers and such. SiteAdvisor also has user feedback which you can use to evaluate further. I have noticed some sites where theres disagreement from the main rating. But SiteAdvisors automated testing of downloads is very good – don’t have to wait for someone to be a victim.

    I would try to get your product in front of WindowsSecrets, Gizmo, SFNL, TNPC, and some of the other tech rags. They’re seen by thousands of techies who help others with their systems. The editors at WS have rated site verifiers a few times. In one comprehensive test, they rated a couple of others above SiteAdvisor but another editor there prefers it. I tried a few but I like SA’s set of features. Other ones have slightly different approaches, as does yours.

    What would be cool to me is a central data repository. The growing number of these tools means a growing number of duplicate data sites that multiple vendors must stay up to date on. Its similar to the issue with anti-virus vendors. They have the added disadvantage of using different names for the same thing.

    A lot of this would not be the issue it is if ISPs were a little more responsible. If there was AV at the uplink, it would not have spread to users computers. And now the leaky spamming computers are all supported by dumb ISPs. Everyone says its not their job, so it lands on the least prepared to deal with at the least effective, most distributed point in the system.

    Ah well – this is also one of the advantages of a decentralized system. Something some people hope to change in the “new internet”…


  3. The continuing argument re ISPs and their responsibility, I fear, won’t be solved soon. The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) has always maintained that it can’t be held responsible for illegal traffic because it is “merely a conduit” of such material. So, alas, we all do our part to make surfing safer for everyone.

    We’ve just released a beta of WOT 3 that we hope will do that. This release introduces the Website Reputation Scorecard, a useful new feature which shows the underlying data of a website’s rating. The scorecard allows users to write comments and share their knowledge in a more concrete way.

    Please download the WOT 3 beta version, and let me know what you think.


  4. Sorry, but I won’t have time to try it. From the example I looked at, the style is not what I’m interested in. I have quite enough popups without adding something else to warn me.
    But good luck with the product. I think a Site Advisor tool should be standard equipment for any surfer.


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