Technology Tips

Walmart Offers $99 Tablet PC On Black Friday

Come Black Friday, you’ll be able to get a tablet PC for less than $100

The Nextbook 8, a PC tablet that runs the latest version of Microsoft Windows, will be available for just $99 on Black Friday at Wal-Mart. It’s currently selling for $149.

There are some tradeoffs to buying a $99 Windows PC tablet — it has no built in mouse or keyboard, the processor isn’t all that great, and it only has 16 GB of memory. But the good news for consumers is that PCs are hitting bargain basement prices across the board.

The average selling price for an entry level Windows PCs during the last three weeks of October was $430. That’s the lowest pricing for Windows computers in history. Prices were about 10% higher during the same time last year.

Those super-low prices are helping drive up slumping PC sales significantly higher.

PC sales were up 16% over last year in the first week of October, all driven by the sub-$300 PCs.

Black Friday pricing has come very early to the Windows notebook market. The real question is what will the Windows PC market look like when we come out of the 2014 holiday season?

Microsoft has been subsidizing some PC prices to make them more competitive against Google’s Chromebooks. Google’s laptops only connect to the Web, but the increasingly popular devices can be had for as low as $150.

Meanwhile, Apple took its highest share of the U.S. PC market in its history last quarter, after it sold 5.5 million Macintosh computers.

Microsoft might be shooting itself in the foot with its extremely aggressive pricing. Sales of Windows laptops that cost more than $300 have fallen 10% in the past three weeks. That means fewer customers are buying the more expensive touchscreen laptops and tablet/laptop hybrids that make Windows products stand out from the competition.

Industry analysts forecast a significantly weaker PC business, less able to support the upcoming Windows 10 release, less able to compete with a surging Macbook market, and less able to clearly differentiate what makes a PC a compelling choice against a tablet or a smartphone.

You can check out the new Nextbook here: http://nextbookusa.com/productdetail.php?product_id=22

Trick or Treat From Microsoft

Seems like Microsoft wanted to play their own version of “Trick or Treat” on Halloween. Last Friday, October 31st, Microsoft stopped providing Windows 7 Home Basic, Windows 7 Home Premium, and Windows 7 Ultimate licenses to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), including its PC partners and systems builders. This means you’ll only be able to buy a computer running Windows 7 as long as current stock lasts.

The only exception will be business computers running Windows 7 Professional, which will continue being sold for at least another year. The Windows Lifecycle chart for sales below summarizes the important dates we know.


The two asterisks for Windows 7 Professional in the last column point to an important note: “Microsoft will provide one year of notice prior to the end of sale date.” Since Microsoft hasn’t updated the chart yet with a new date, we can safely say Windows 7 Professional will still be sold until October 31, 2015, if not longer.

So if you still want a Windows 7 computer, for whatever reason, expect to be paying for Windows 7 Professional. As inventory runs out, you may even be charged a premium for a “business machine,” because OEMs know they can get away with it.

It’s also worth noting that Mainstream Support for Windows 7, including for Windows 7 Professional, will end sooner than that, on January 13, 2015. Microsoft could decide to extend Mainstream Support, so as to avoid selling it with only Extended Support offered, though it has not given any indication yet it will do so.

For those who don’t know, Mainstream Support includes free incident support, warranty claims, fixes for non-security as well as security bugs, plus design changes and feature requests. Extended Support consists solely of security updates.

Microsoft’s main goal now is to get Windows 10 out the door. That being said, it wants to keep its current customers, especially enterprises and businesses, satisfied. After all, one day they/we will be considering upgrading from Windows 7 or Windows 8 to the latest and greatest.

Another Win For The Little Guys

When we first heard about the CryptoLocker malware a year ago or so, I thought, as cybercrime goes, that’s about as bad as you can get.

CryptoLocker is a very malicious form of malware: unlike a virus infection, it totally blocks access to your data but leaves your computer and your software running just fine.

Then the demand, “Pay us $300 within three days, and you’ll get your data back. Otherwise… it’s gone forever.” The $300 payment buys you the 2048-bit RSA private key needed to unscramble your encrypted data.

But, as malicious as CryptoLocker and now CryptoWall 2.0 are, there is another contender in this game of hacker warfare.

Fake support calls
Fake support scammers are the people who phone you out of the blue (whether you are on the Do Not Call register or not) and, not to mince words, scare you heck out of you spouting lies about malware on your computer.

For $200 – $300 or so, the same price point as CryptoLocker, the scammers will fix your computer, but any “fix” you get is as bad or worse then the “problem” you didn’t have in the first place.

Many people have reported that these guys don’t just call once if you fail to cough up the $300. They often call again and again, with the calls getting more insistent – outright threatening, by many reports – and with no real hope that they will stop.

Dealing with the scam
It’s easy for us to say, “But all you have to do is hang up, so this scam could never work.” But it’s also easy to see how a well-meaning but not very technically savvy user, especially someone without a network of family or friends to ask for IT help, could be scared into paying up.

Imagine the questions that worried users might ask themselves:

  • Didn’t the caller say he was from Microsoft?
  • Didn’t he say that a virus on my computer was attacking his company’s servers?
  • Didn’t he find evidence of it in my system log, just as he predicted?
  • Isn’t most computer support done over the phone and online these days?
  • Isn’t this the third time he’s called, with the symptoms getting worse every time?
  • Can’t you get sued for a cyberattack because you didn’t have a virus scanner?
  • Won’t it end up costing $300 anyway, or even more, if I go to my local shop instead?

Demanding money with threats is what it sounds like to me, amounting to extortion or blackmail. And these guys have your phone number!

FTC takedown
With that in mind, it’s always a good thing when fake support callers get bagged and thanks to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Uttam Saha and Tiya Bhattacharya, who ran a company called Pairsys in Albany, New York, have been shut down by court order.

That may not sound like much, as I’m convinced that there are still MANY other individuals and groups perpetrating this scam but in this case, the settlement with the FTC will see the scammers’ operation shuttered and their assets frozen.

Indeed, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said:  ”We are pleased that the court has shut down the company for now, and we look forward to getting consumers’ money back in their pockets.”

There’s a lot of money to recover: the FTC claims that the pair have pulled in about $2,500,000 in the past two-and-a-half years.

Is it real punishment?
Of course, just giving the money back isn’t really a punishment for these 2 crooks, because they weren’t supposed to have it in the first place. It’s still a direct result for the FTC’s internet crime fighting efforts, so, “Well done, Bureau of Consumer Protection.”

The next question should be – how do you think the courts should punish fake support scammers?

Dealing with fake support calls
So if you have friends or family who have been pestered to the point of worry by fake support callers, here’s a short podcast you can tell them about. The podcast makes it clear that these guys are scammers (and why), and offers some practical advice on how to deal with them.

Avoiding fake support calls
https://soundcloud.com/sophossecurity/avoiding-fake-support-calls

The Antivirus Industrys Dirty Little Secret

The Antivirus industry has a dirty little secret that they really don’t want anyone to know. Despite their claims, their products are not all that effective.  Many of them are only protecting against at best 80% or 90% of the threats out there in the wild at any time.

Let’s look at that a bit more in detail. AV products need to protect against two general types of threats: ones that are known and threats that are unknown.  The ones that are known have an identified signature so that anti-virus programs can detect the threat and get rid of it. This is called reactive detection.  Then, there are threats that are still unknown, usually new threats created by the bad guys. AV products need to protect against those in a proactive way, and antivirus software can be scored looking at how many of those new threats they block.

This type of scoring on both reactive and proactive detection is actually being done by the antivirus industry’s premier site for insiders: Virus Bulletin.  They have created so called RAP averages. RAP stands for “Reactive And Proactive”.  They test all antivirus products every few months, and measure how each product does in both reactive and proactive detections of a large amount of threats.  And they create a graph where these scores are plotted for all tested products.  The proactive score is on the X-axis, and the reactive score is on the Y-axis.

The results are not pretty. One major antivirus industry player is routinely scoring no better than 75% reactive combined with a 70% proactive.  And people wonder how come PCs still get infected by malware. Check out the test results. Click here to see the most recent graph at Virus Bulletin: You can check there how your antivirus vendor is doing also.  https://www.virusbtn.com/vb100/rap-index.xml

The bad guys know this and count on it. Simply having anti-virus protection alone creates a false sense of security.  It’s just as important for all employees undergo regular Internet Security Awareness Training and to enforce compliance.  Just one employee in a weak moment, clicking on a phishing email, can cause untold grief, losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and potentially massive legal bills. Businesses and consumers definitely need both an endpoint security software solution AND education on the perils of using the internet. We use and recommend Threat Tracks VIPRE Antivirus business edition as it scores very well in the RAP tests and isn’t a resource hog negatively affecting computer performance.

Whatever Antivirus product you ultimately use to protect your computer – remember, the protection is only as good as the updated virus definitions. ALWAYS check and verify that your AV has the most up-to-date definitions to maximize your protection.

Should Windows Upgrades Be Free?

Later today, Microsoft is holding an event in San Francisco to unveil the new Windows operating system and most likely launch some sort of technical preview. We don’t yet know if it will be called Windows 9, Windows Threshold, or simply Windows, but no matter what the official name of the new OS, the price for upgrading to it should be free.

You can thank mobile devices in general, and Apple specifically, for the shift in OS pricing. When the latest greatest version of iOS or Android is released, the issue of cost never comes up. It’s simply expected that the upgrade will be free.

The culture of free upgrades on mobile devices was driven in large part by Apple, and Apple is also the company that extended that model to its desktop OS. Apple was already providing new versions of Mac OS X at a fraction of what Microsoft was charging customers to upgrade to the latest Windows release, but last year, when Apple launched Mac OS X “Mavericks,” it also made the upgrade available for free. I expect the same with the upcoming release of OS X “Yosemite” this fall.

That’s a tough act to follow. Mac OS X is certainly not a threat to Windows, but it has gained much more mainstream relevance and has been chipping away at Microsoft’s share of the desktop OS market. Microsoft can’t really just ignore the fact that Apple is offering Mac OS X upgrades for free and then continue charging hundreds of dollars for the latest version of Windows.

Multiple Windows 9 reports have suggested that Microsoft is considering releasing the upcoming platform as a free download to certain existing Windows users. The Windows 9 upgrade will be available free of charge to all existing Windows 8 users once it’s released. Apparently, users will be able to easily install the Windows 9 update after downloading it from Microsoft, which is how Apple’s OS X updates have been rolled out to Macs for a few years now. For what it’s worth, some of the recent Windows 9 leaks did say that Microsoft already has a tool in place that will allow users to easily perform software updates.

It’s not clear whether other Windows users who are on older versions of the OS will get any other special offers, and actual prices for Windows 9 have yet to be revealed. Microsoft is reportedly interested in moving many people from the older, and no longer supported, Windows XP and offering Windows 9 as a free download might be a great incentive for some.

Recent leaks, including many online videos, have revealed some of the major features coming to Windows 9, including the return of the Start menu, the Cortana voice-based search assistant that’s currently available only on Windows Phone, the Notification Center, support for multiple desktops, and several other user interface enhancements.

Providing a free OS upgrade takes the wind out of the sails of most complaints. One of the biggest protests users have about upgrading isn’t the operating system itself, it’s the idea that they’re being “forced” to upgrade just to line Microsoft’s pockets with cash. There will always be challenging issues with any new operating system — you can’t please everyone — but the backlash would be greatly reduced if no money exchanged hands. Customers would give Microsoft a lot more leeway and be much more forgiving if the latest, greatest version is free.

Operating system adoption is also subject to inertia. When a new version of an operating system is launched, the more people download and install it and the greater market share it wins, the more likely it is that more people will continue to download and install it. If the OS upgrade is available for free, it’s much more likely that demand will be higher, and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that drives adoption.

Microsoft doesn’t need to charge for Windows upgrades. Technology changes over time. Hardware crashes and dies. There will be customers who will cling to their 10-year old hardware, but many will still buy new PCs to replace broken hardware, get a faster processor, or take advantage of the latest USB or Wi-Fi components. Microsoft could provide free upgrades to the latest version of Windows for existing owners of licensed copies of Windows but still continue to charge OEM manufacturers for installing the OS in new PCs (Microsoft does give the Windows OS away for free for devices with screens smaller than nine inches).

The latest versions of iOS and Android are free for those with existing iOS and Android devices, but they aren’t available for all existing iOS or Android devices. iOS 8 is only compatible with the iPhone 4s and newer, the iPod Touch 5th generation and newer, and the iPad 2 and newer. Anyone with an older iOS device must now replace their hardware in order to get the benefits of the latest OS.

Microsoft is a corporation that exists to bring in revenue and provide value to its shareholders. It’s not operating as a non-profit. As such, Microsoft has a vested interest in ensuring that as many businesses and consumers around the world continue to depend on the Windows OS so that it can sell its other products and services — and it could help that cause by providing Windows upgrades for free.

Do you agree? Share your thoughts with me….

 

Too Much Spam?

Five Reasons Why Clicking “Unsubscribe” May Be A Bad Idea!

When you get on a mailing list you don’t want to be on, it’s easy to get off – just click on the “unsubscribe” link. But should you? Maybe not. When you unsubscribe, you’re giving the organization that sent you the message information about yourself that you may not want them to have:

1. You have confirmed to the sender that your email address is both valid and in active use.

If the sender is unscrupulous then the volume of email you receive will most likely go up, not down. Worse, now that you have validated your address the spammer can sell it to his friends. So you are probably going to get phishing attacks from them too.

2. By responding to the email, you have positively confirmed that you have opened and read it and may be slightly interested in the subject matter, whether it’s getting money from a foreign prince, a penny stock tip or a diet supplement. That’s very valuable information for the mailer and his pals.

3. If your response goes back via email – perhaps the process requires you to reply with the words “unsubscribe,” or the unsubscribe link in the message opens up an email window – then not only have you confirmed that your address is active, but your return email will leak information about your email software too. Emails contain meta information, known as email headers, and you can tell what kind of email software somebody is using (and imply something about their computer) from the contents and arrangement of the headers.

4. If your response opens up a browser window then you’re giving away even more about yourself. By visiting the spammer’s website you’re giving them information about your geographic location (calculated based on your IP address), your computer operating system and your browser. The sender can also give you a cookie which means that if you visit any other websites they own (perhaps by clicking unsubscribe links in other emails) they’ll be able to identify you personally.

5. The most scary of all: if you visit a website owned by a spammer you’re giving them a chance to install malware on your computer, even if you don’t click anything. These types of attacks, known as drive-by downloads, can be tailored to use exploits the spammer knows you are vulnerable to thanks to the information you’ve shared unwittingly about your operating system and browser.

So how do you avoid unwanted email without unsubscribing?

If the message is unsolicited then mark it as spam.
Marking something as spam not only deletes the message (or puts it into your trash) it also teaches your email software about what you consider spam so that it can better detect and block questionable messages in the future and adapt as the spammers change their tricks.

Good News for Cryptolocker Victims

All 500,000 victims of Cryptolocker can now recover the files encrypted by the malware without paying a ransom. The malicious program encrypted files on Windows computers and the hacker demanded a substantial fee before handing over the key to the scrambled files.

Thanks to security experts and law enforcement, an online portal has been created where victims can get the decryption key for free.

The portal was created after security researchers grabbed the hackers hardware and got a copy of Cryptolocker’s database of victims.

“This time we basically got lucky,” said Michael Sandee, principal analyst at Fox-IT – one of the security firms which helped tackle the cyber-crime group behind Cryptolocker.

The Timeline

In late May 2014, law enforcement agencies and security companies seized a worldwide network of hijacked home computers that was being used to spread both Cryptolocker and another strain of malware known as Gameover Zeus.

This concerted action seems to have prompted an attempt by the gang to ensure one copy of their database of victims did not fall into police hands. What the criminals did not know was that law enforcement personnel  and the security firms were already in control of part of the network and were able to grab the data as it was being sent.

The action also involved the FBI charging a Russian man, Evgeniy Bogachev, aka “lucky12345” and “slavik”, who is accused of being the ring leader of the gang behind Gameover Zeus and Cryptolocker.

The Gameover Zeus family of malware targets people who bank online, and is thought to have racked up millions of victims.

Cryptolocker was created by a sub-group inside the larger gang and first appeared in September 2013, since then, it has amassed about 500,000 victims.

Those infected were initially presented with a demand for $400 – $500 or an equivalent amount in the virtual Bitcoin currency. Victims had 72 hours to pay up or the specific keys that would unlock their files would be destroyed.

Analysis of the back-up database indicates that only 1.3% of all the people hit by the malware paid the ransom.

Despite the low response rate, the gang is believed to have netted about $3m from Cryptolocker alone. Many of those caught  did not pay because they were able to restore files from back-ups. However, others are believed to have lost hug amounts of important files and business documents to the cyber-thieves.

Security firms Fox-IT and FireEye – who assisted in the efforts to shut down the Gameover Zeus group – have created a portal called Decrypt Cryptolocker via which any of the 500,000 victims can find the decryption key needed to unlock their files. All they have to do is submit a file that’s been encrypted and from that file we can figure out which encryption key was used,” said Greg Day, chief technology officer at FireEye.

People wishing to use the portal should submit a file that does not contain sensitive information to help verify which key they need.

Here’s the link:

https://www.decryptcryptolocker.com/

Disgruntled Windows 8 Users

Disgruntled Windows 8 users: there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel. ZDNet reports that Microsoft is planning to release a Windows 9 “technology preview” sometime between the end of September and the beginning of October. In order to install the preview, you’ll have to agree to receive automatic monthly updates, but the preview will be publicly available for anyone interested in testing out the Threshold operating system.

No information was revealed regarding what the technology preview will consist of, but we know that Windows 9 will feature a host of updates and improvements over Windows 8. The return of the Start menu is certainly at the top of the list, but Microsoft is also expected to bring Cortana to the new OS. The voice-activated digital assistant was met with excitement when it was announced earlier in the year and could be a major attribute for Windows going forward.

Microsoft released several previews for Windows 8 before the official launch, but the company was working on a very different release schedule at the time. In fact, it was more than a year after the first Windows 8 developer preview was released that the OS went on sale. On the other hand, Microsoft is expected to release Windows 9 in the spring of 2015.

For additional information check out the following links or simply Google Windows 9:

http://www.zdnet.com/windows-9-microsoft-faces-four-daunting-challenges-7000032902/

http://www.techradar.com/us/news/software/operating-systems/windows-9-release-date-news-and-rumours-1029245

Bad USB

Computer users pass around USB sticks like electronic business cards. Although we know they often carry malware infections, users depend on antivirus scans and the occasional reformatting to keep thumb drives from becoming the carrier for the next digital epidemic. But the security problems with USB devices run deeper than you think: Their risk isn’t just in what they carry, it’s built into the core of how they work.

That’s the takeaway from findings security researchers Karsten Nohl and Jakob Lell plan to present this week at the Black Hat security conference, demonstrating a collection of proof-of-concept malicious software that highlights how the security of USB devices has long been fundamentally broken.

The malware they created, called BadUSB, can be installed on a USB device to completely take over a PC, invisibly alter files installed from the memory stick, or even redirect the user’s internet traffic. Because BadUSB resides not in the flash memory storage of USB devices, but in the firmware that controls their basic functions, the attack code can remain hidden long after the contents of the device’s memory would appear to the average user to be deleted.

These problems can’t be patched by antivirus or anti-malware programs because it’s actually exploiting the very way that USB is designed. So, if you’re concerned about this security exploit, you have to consider a USB infected and throw it away as soon as it touches a non-trusted computer.’

The problem isn’t limited to thumb drives. All manner of USB devices from keyboards and mice to smartphones and USB Cameras have firmware that can be reprogrammed—in addition to USB memory sticks. It even possible to impersonate a USB keyboard and suddenly start typing commands.

The malware can silently hijack internet traffic too, mimicking a USB network card and changing a computer’s DNS settings to redirect traffic to any servers it pleases. Or if the code is planted on a phone or another device with an internet connection, it can act as a man-in-the-middle, secretly spying on communications as it relays them from the victim’s machine.

Another major concern is that the infection can travel both from computer to USB and vice versa. Any time a USB stick is plugged into a computer, its firmware could be reprogrammed by malware on that PC, with no easy way for the USB device’s owner to detect it. And likewise, any USB device could silently infect a user’s computer.

BadUSB’s ability to spread undetectably from USB to PC and back raises questions about whether it’s possible to use USB devices securely at all. We’ve known all along that if you give someone access to your USB ports, they can do bad things to your computer. What this appears to demonstrate is that it’s also possible to go the other direction, which suggests the threat of compromised USB devices is a very serious problem.”

There’s even some speculation that the USB attack may in fact already be common practice with the NSA based on a report about a spying device known as Cottonmouth, revealed earlier this year in the leaks of Edward Snowden. The device, which hid in a USB peripheral plug, was identified in a collection of NSA internal documents as surreptitiously installing malware on a target’s machine. The exact mechanism for that USB attack wasn’t described.

The short-term solution to BadUSB isn’t a technical patch so much as a fundamental change in how we use USB devices. To avoid the attack, all you have to do is not connect your USB device to computers you don’t own or don’t have good reason to trust—and don’t plug untrusted USB devices into your own computer.

In the long term, USB manufacturing companies could change their process and implement code-signing protections on all of their devices.

In the immediate future, BadUSB-created cracking tools will be able to create compromised devices that will have the potential to be a new and deadly attack vector for hackers.

You can read more about these USB threats here:
Norton/Symantec: http://us.norton.com/yoursecurityresource/detail.jsp?aid=usbdrives
ZDNET.com: http://www.zdnet.com/badusb-big-bad-usb-security-problems-ahead-7000032211/

How To Safely Dispose Of Old Computers

How to safely dispose of computers and other technology devices

When you get rid of sensitive paper documents, it’s a good idea to shred or burn them to help protect your privacy and prevent identity theft. Similarly, it’s important to erase your personal information from computers (desktop, laptop, or tablet) and other devices (smartphone, gaming consoles) before you dispose of or donate them.

If your device was provided to you by your employer, or if you own a small business, you may also risk loss of intellectual property, legal penalties, and potential damage to your corporate reputation.

So, what should you do?

1: First you should back up the files or data you want to keep

Start the process by making a copy of your information somewhere else like a portable USB drive. To create a backup of the files on a computer running Windows, you can use the Backup and Restore feature that’s built into Windows Vista and Windows 7, or File History in Windows 8. If you’re moving your files to a new computer, you can use Windows Easy Transfer to transfer your files from one computer running Windows to another.

2: Choose the best option for removing your data

Simply reformatting a disk or reinstalling the operating system does not guarantee the old data is unreadable. Your two best options for data removal are to use a certified refurbisher (this is the preferred course of action for business computers) or you can do it yourself. The following information will help you choose what is most suitable for your situation.

Microsoft has a listing of authorized technology refurbishers that can help you with data destruction and proper disposal practices. You can see them at this website: http://www.microsoft.com/refurbishedpcs/Disposal.aspx

If this high end disposal service is beyond your needs, you do have a couple FREE download options to Do-It-Yourself:

1: Softpedia’s DP Wiper:
http://www.softpedia.com/get/Security/Security-Related/DP-WIPER.shtml

2: Active @ KillDisk:
http://www.killdisk.com/

The 2 FREE applications mentioned above are tried and true and their websites are not infected with any drive by Trojan attacks. I DO NOT recommend simply opening up Google or any other search engine and searching for Disk Wipe utilities. In testing this, I found that more than ½ of the links I checked were in fact infected with some type of Trojan trying to infect my system. REMEMBER – anytime you search for something “FREE” you’re apt to get more trouble than you bargain for…

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