The latest sensation that’s sweeping the nation is something called Ransomware. This is a particularly nasty piece of Malware that infects your system through the usual vectors:

  • Visiting infected websites
  • Opening attachments to e-mails
  • Clicking on links that someone sends you via e-mail
  • Applications such as Skype
  • Etc.

Once it’s on your PC – or MAC!! –  it will do things like encrypt your hard drive or generally restrict access to sensitive files or, indeed, the entire system until you pay a fee – read ransom – to get a key or code to unlock your files or system. The ransomware will display a fake message warning you of the problem and claiming to be the Police, FBI, etc. Paying the ransom is the last thing that you want to do because:

  1. You’ll be out however many dollars they want for the unlock key
  2. They’ll have your credit card information
  3. There’s no guarantee that there is not another piece of this malware lying underneath that will re-encrypt your hard drive or lock your system in some way once you apply the original unlock key.
  4. There is the distinct possibility that they won’t even send you an unlock key at all because once they have your credit card information, they’ll have everything they need so to heck with you.

There are ways to remove ransomware and shows you one way to do it. However, since the bad guys are usually at least one step ahead of the good guys, there’s always the chance that you’ll be hit with a new version of ransomware that necessitates a new approach to removal.

The best approach is not let the stuff get on your machine in the first place. To do that, you need to:

  1. Keep a good, reliable, up-to-date anti-virus application running on your system. There are some freebies out there that offer only anti-virus protection. If you want anti-malware, etc. you will have to pay for the full registered version. This is not the time to be cheap as an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
  2. Use a secondary anti-malware application such as MalwareBytes. While there may appear to be a duplication of effort here, there is always the chance that what is missed by one will be caught by the other. You need to be thorough.
  3. Do not open e-mail attachments or links from senders that you do not recognise. In fact, don’t open e-mail messages from people you don’t recognise.
  4. Be suspicious of e-mail links or attachments sent to you by people who you do recognise but who do not usually send you such things. Address books can be hacked.
  5. Avoid questionable websites like the plague. McAfee offers a product that flags questionable or unsafe websites when you do a search. If your security software warns you of a malicious website, don’t go there even if it’s one that you’ve visited before.

Just in case something DOES find its way on to your system, Be Prepared!

  1. Keep all of the installation disks that came with your system or that you subsequently purchased in a safe place that you will actually remember. These things aren’t coasters or toys to let the kids play with.
  2. Keep a list of all of the activation keys for your software products in a safe place that you will actually remember.
  3. If you purchase software and install it via the internet, keep the installation file(s) and activation key(s) in the same safe place as # 1 & # 2.
  4. Keep a list of all of your passwords, etc. in the same safe place as # 1 & # 2.
  5. Find a good, reliable system/file back-up application and actually use it. Once you’ve completed backing up your system/files to a USB drive or whatever, detach the aforementioned device from your system. Do not reconnect it until you need to restore a file or make a new back-up.

That’s enough to get you started. Do not think that simply because you have a MAC rather than a PC that you’re safe. MACs have been shown to be vulnerable to attacks. You may not get what’s currently affecting PCs but you might get something that’s especially designed for MACs.

Whether you’re ready or not, another release of Microsoft Office is in the offing. Tech Republic recently posted a slide-show giving consumers a first look at Office 2013. Yet another new version. Yet another reason to open your wallet. If you’ve just installed Office 2010 on your system then you most likely will be good to go for a while and can wait until Office 16 or 17 arrives. If you’re using Office 2007, it may be time to upgrade and if you’re still using Office 2003, it most definitely is time to upgrade and pony up big bucks for the privilege.

But why should you have to spend so much for the ability to read, edit and create Word documents or Excel spreadsheets?

As it turns out, you don’t. Enter the LibreOffice suite, a set of productivity tools that are 100% compatible with Microsoft Office and are free, Free, FREE.

C|NET offers a highly positive review of Version 3.4 as well as a download of the software and Infoworld calls Version 3.5 “The best Office Killer yet.” If you’re wondering how you’re going to read or create MS Word & Excel documents, the LibreOffice suite is capable of saving files in the various MS Office formats (*.doc, *.docx, *.xlsx, *.xls, etc.) as well as reading them.

The only thing that the LibreOffice suite does not offer is an analogue to Outlook.  If you’re contemplating a move to Linux thus saving scads of cash in operating systems, hardware, etc., there is Evolution – another freebie – that can serve as an excellent replacement of Outlook. There is an experimental Windows port of Evolution available but this project has been an on & off thing for a number of years now. The blog for Win Evolution has not been updated in over 2 years though the latest download is, as of this writing, less than a year old. If you’re committed to Windows, there are other substitutes available such as  Mozilla’s Thunderbird or the Opera e-mail client. There is a review of 11 FREE e-mail clients on

Returning to the topic at hand, LibreOffice is available on the following platforms:

  • Windows
  • Mac: Intel or PowerPC
  • Linux (deb): x86 or x86_64
  • Linux (rpm): x86 or x86_64

For Windows or Mac users, this is a way to experiment with your business tools before telling Microsoft or Apple to buzz off.

So, whether you’re sticking with Windows, OS X or moving to Linux, there are definitely some good substitutes for Office 10, 13 or whatever. By the way, did I mention that they are FREE?

For years, I’ve watched Apple and Microsoft duke it out – either thru corporate ads or via their legions of fanboys – over PC security. You probably remember the “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” ad campaign that Apple launched touting, among other things, that Macs – or rather OS X – just didn’t do virus or malware infections. (Dr. Data repeatedly thought: : Just you wait, Steve Jobs. Just you wait.”)

In the wake of the Flashback Trojan and other attacks – both real and potential – Apple has quietly changed its tune according to an article on the PC World website. What Apple has done is replace the claim on its website that MACs don’t get PC viruses with another stating that OS X is built to be safe. (Take a look at a comparison of the two messages.) Actually, the original claim was quite true; Indeed,  MACs do not get PC viruses. Instead, they get MAC viruses.

In line with that change, came an announcement reported on ZDNet that OS X’s Mountain Lion release would feature silent security updates. The advent of these silent patches indicates that reality has finally caught up with Apple.

Summertime and the lightening comes quickly and often!

I did this a while back as part of a short presentation for my friends at the Charlottesville  Chapter of BNI and since this is the first full day of summer for 2012, I thought that I’d repeat it.

This is the time of year when the chances of thunder-storms goes sky-high and the potential for lightning strikes increases as well. We all know what lightning strikes can do to trees and power lines  but we don’t often give much consideration to all the electronic equipment in our homes. Yes, we use power-strips with surge protection but we often forget to do anything about the phone lines and cable connections that bring the world to our PC’s/Macs. They are just as susceptible to lightning as power-lines. Tech Republic has a brief gallery showing what happened when a PC’s modem was the direct recipient of a power surge due to a lightning strike. The PC had the standard power strip surge protection but it lacked outlets for modems & cable.

So what can you do about it? Many electrical service firms such as Mr. Electric offer whole-house surge protection for a reasonable price including installation. (Don’t try to install one yourself. These devices need to be installed by trained professionals!)  If you already have or plan to get one, don’t leave anything to chance; go to Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy or wherever and purchase the best one you can afford. After all, what’s a few dollars when a stroke of lightning could fry your $700 PC? Even with whole house surge protection, it’s smart to have a back-up in place. An example of one of these multi-protective devices may be found at

Don’t wait. That 40% chance of thunderstorms this afternoon could turn into a 100% chance of an electrical surge.

This is a quick “heads-up” for all you Mac fans out there. It was announced today at the Apple World Wide Developers Conference that upgrades to the latest iteration of OS X – Mountain Lion – will be available from the App Store in July for $19.99. Apple also has a new version of its operating system for mobile devices – iOS6 – coming out in the fall. It. will be available for iPhone 3GS and higher and will support second and third generation iPads.

Brian Cooley opined on CBS This Morning (June 11, 2012) that MacBooks, etc. have almost become a sideline for Apple with their main focus being devoted to the mobile market of  iPhones, iPads and the iPod Touch.

Apple is at it again . . . or rather, not at it again. In the wake of the vulnerabilities uncovered via the Flashback Trojan, Eugene Kaspersky – of Kaspersky Anti-virus fame – had asked Apple to develop a security solution (a.k.a. an App) for iOS, Apples mobile operating system. If you didn’t already know, you have to develop and build an app & then ask Apple “pretty please” if you can put it in the App Store. Apple declined the offer. In essence, Apple puts its fingers in its ears and says “La la la la la – I can’t hear you” whenever the issue of security comes up.

While it is admittedly more complicated/difficult to infect a MAC, the fact that it has been done shows that it can be done and no one likes a challenge more than a hacker. Even as a “good guy” software developer, I relished proving that something could be done when “they” said that couldn’t. Indeed, those were amongst the happiest times in my career. Given that, you can imagine how hackers must feel about this challenge and they are, no doubt, queuing up for a crack at the big MAC.  With the market share for iOS hovering around 30%, hackers are looking at iPhones & iPads as the next juicy target.

If Apple believes that its vetting process for apps before they are made available in the APP Store will save them, the company needs to think again. Websites tailored for access by mobile devices are the perfect virus and malware delivery system. Oftentimes, Apple will deny permission to develop software applications because it conflicts with some product that they are developing on their own. I – as an iPhone owner – certainly hope that this is the case.

The article that spawned this post is available for your reading pleasure at ZDNet’s Between the Lines blog.

For a slightly dated but nonetheless compelling rant about the sins of the Apple, have a look at ZDNet’s A Developer’s View blog.

And I’m not talking about music here. The hackers – and hackettes since this sort of thing is an equal opportunity enterprise – have tasted the forbidden fruit and found Apple’s OS X to be quite tasty.  There is a rapidly spreading variant of  the Flashback Trojan called Flashback.S which is able to install itself  WITHOUT a password.

Like its predecessors, Flashback.S exploits a vulnerability in Java. Apple was supposed to have issued a patch for it but . . .

This article gives a pretty good rundown of the situation and even includes a download which will detect and remove all variants of the Flashback pestilence.

Dr. Data’s advice to all Mac users is to get anti-virus protection . . . NOW!!!  The article lists a number of  both paid and free security solutions for OS X.

You have been warned!

A number of my recent TechnoRants© have dealt with computer security. This latest threat deals with the Domain Changer virus which will impact PC’s , MAC’s and probably Linux machines as well so listen up!

The FBI recently broke up a hacker ring based in Estonia that was responsible for unleashing the Domain Changer virus. The concept for this new bit of nastiness originally turned up in January ’07,  has been perfected in this most recent release and is based on a long-postulated threat to Domain Name servers. So, what does it do?

First of all, I’m not going to try to explain Domain Names. Instead, have a look at the Wikipaedia article on the Domain Name System. The Domain Changer virus has infected at least 86,000 computers and is lying dormant until July 9th of this year. On that day, it will “wake up”,  redirect your browser to “fake” versions of actual websites, slow down your internet speed and disable your anti-virus & other security software. The hackers would then make money from ads on those fake websites, many of which are probably for software to “clean up” your PC and get rid of whatever is slowing it down. The hackers would win two ways:

  1. They would obtain your credit card information
  2. The “software” would load more viruses/malware on your system.
In other words, this is the internet equivalent of “Thank you sir! May I have another?”
How do you know if you’re infected? Go to the Domain Changer Working Group website and read the brief information about the Domain Changer virus. There will also be a link at the top of the home page
that will direct you to instructions on how to Detect an infection. The detection bit is all done via the internet and you won’t have to download any software, etc. There are instructions for Windows XP, 7 and MAC OS X.
If you are infected, there is information about tools  to disinfect your system. Finally, there is general information on how to protect your system from being infected.
If you’re a Windows user and have questions, need additional help, etc. Drop Dr. Data a line and I’ll try to give you a hand.


At least 600,000 Macs were infected by the Flashback Trojan. Did Apple fail to protect its users? Or were users defeated by their own misguided fantasies of invulnerability?

Like ripples in a pond, the ruckus over the “success” of the Flashback Trojan continues to spread. Even though there’s a fix for it and all is – supposedly – well, people are wondering: “How could this happen?” Was it the fault of  Apple? Was it the fault of the user? Was it the fault of both?

If you can remember back to 2006, there was the snarky series of ads – I’m a Mac/I’m a PC”. In one of them, Apple flaunted its perceived invulnerability to all the nasty things that Windows PC get. Apple has been slow to realise and respond to the threat of MAC malware and users have blithely gone about their daily business without bothering to think about the potential danger to their systems.

ZDNet is offering the great debate on just who’s to blame. It is a worthwhile read for MAC users as well as the rest of the computing community.


By the way, Howard is a PC but he does have an iPhone.

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Mark Twain

Statistics can be used or massaged to prove or justify just about anything. If you doubt that, simply take a look at any political ad on TV nowadays.

I keep an eye on the site statistics – more to see if anyone is actually reading any of this – and I have noticed 3 considerable spikes in my traffic. Each of those spikes came immediately after posting something about MACs with the largest spike coming in the wake of my “Welcome to the real world” post . This has led me to the conclusion that there is a significant interest – at least among my “audience” – in MACs or at least my posts about them.

My MAC posts have been on things that simply fell into my lap, so to speak. I’m basically a Windows man who is also interested in Linux. Have nothing against MACs. Just never worked for a company that used them. To me, MACs are a tool just like anything else.

So the question becomes “Should I focus on MACs more?” I’ve always wanted to build a Hackentosh so this might be my golden opportunity. And, coming from 37 years of experience with all kinds of computers, I can probably give a more even assessment than some “Fanboy”. To help me figure all this out, I’ve got a short survey below.

Do you own a MAC?[show_poll “Yes” “No”]
Should Howard start blogging about MACs more often?[show_poll “Yes” “No”]
Should Howard build a “Hackentosh”?[show_poll “Yes” “No”]

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