Category Archives: Viruses

After Windows XP

Given that Microsoft is no longer providing security patches to Windows XP, many users have a choice on what to do with these old computers:

1) Upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8. Download the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor from Microsoft to see if your computer can run Windows 7. If it does, you can consider this option.

2) Get a new computer. Most companies upgrade computers every 4-5 years. If you’re running Windows XP, your computer is at least this old. Therefore, money spent on upgrading the computer might be better spent on a new computer that will have all new and improved components. Hard drives eventually die so it is possible that there may not be much life left in the computer.

3) Just keep running XP.  While some security analysts are afraid of unknown future attacks that could be coming to XP, other security experts say that this is vastly overblown. The majority of attacks lately have been against applications (Java, Flash, Acrobat) that run on the operating system, not the operating system itself. Take some precautions with this approach. Make sure Windows Firewall is enabled. Run anti-virus software. Because Microsoft isn’t patching Internet Explorer on XP, use a non-IE browser such as Firefox or Chrome. Think about what you use the computer for. If your job depends on the computer, continuing to use XP is more risky than if you are just using it as a kids play computer.

Retire Your Windows XP Computer

It’s almost time to retire your Windows XP computer. On April 8, Microsoft will stop patching Windows XP with security updates. This means that it could be insecure computer when connected to the Internet.

XP has lived a good life. But if you’re still running it on an old computer, consider upgrading. Now you have more choices than ever. You could get a PC (with Windows 7 or 8), a Mac, an iPad, or a Chromebook. Or, if you  want to save some money, you could install Linux on your existing Windows XP computer for a fast secure web browsing computer.

Ransomware

We’ve seen a recent rise in “ransomware” that infects and encrypts computers, then demands money for you to get your data back.

I reported back in March 2011 having seen ransomware demanding $200. Today, it is asking for $300 within 10 hours.

The name of the virus is CryptoLocker. The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team has a good write up on CryptoLocker.

To avoid this ransomware, we recommend using a Mac which can not be infected. Or just keep your PC antivirus up to date and avoid clicking on links on email or websites that you are unsure about.

First Real Malware for Mac

Flashback

Flashback is the first malware (malicious software or virus) for the Mac that people should worry about. It can infect computers through a vulnerability in Java. It’s estimated that 600,000 Macs have been infected, about 1% of Macs in use. Flashback collects personal information such as bank and login information. To see if your Mac is already infected, follow the instructions from Macworld.

Unlike with Windows PCs, this phenomena is new to Macs. The closest previous infection I remember was when a torrent version of Apple iWork ’09 contained a trojan. But that just impacted people who downloaded the pirated torrent. Flashback is far worse since someone can get it by just visiting a website.

Protection

It’s easy to protect yourself against malware and viruses on a Mac. There is no need to buy anti-virus software which doesn’t really help much on a Mac. Instead, take these steps that deal with the exploits of Java and Flash.

1. Perform Software Update

Apple’s updates automatically patch Java and remove Flashback. Open System Preferences and go to Software Update, Check Now.

2. Disable Java in any web browser you use

Safari
Go to the menu item:
Preferences -> Security -> Web Content
Uncheck Enable Java

Chrome
Go to the URL:
chrome://plugins/
Click Disable for Java

Firefox
Go to the menu item:
Tools -> Add-ons
Click on Plugins and click Disable for the Java Applet Plug-in

3. Install a Flash Blocker

My favorite is ClickToFlash, the Safari Extension which gives you access to Flash content if you click on the Flash window. This has the additional benefit of hiding annoying Flash ads.

Another tool I use is FlashFrozen, available for $0.99 through the Mac App Store. This handles all Flash running on your computer. It is especially useful for Mac laptops which can have their batteries quickly run down by errant Flash sites.

 

UPDATE: Oracle (the owners of Java) have released their own Java updates now. If you have Java installed on your system, you should get the latest Java SE Development Kit from here:
http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/java/javase/downloads/jdk-7u4-downloads-1591156.html
After installing, go to Utilities – Java Preference. From there, drag the latest Java to the top. As of this writing, that is Java SE 7. Uncheck the older Java versions. The next time you start a program that uses Java, it will now use the newer Oracle Java that has the latest security patches.