Category Archives: tools

So Long, Microsoft, And Thanks For All The Fish

Word Version 1.1a

Word Version 1.1a

I have been using Microsoft software since 1985 when I purchased Microsoft Word and Microsoft Multiplan for my new Zenith Z160 “portable” PC. I’ve used Word continuously for thirty years at home, at work, as a university instructor, and as a published author.

I wrote my first three books in FrameMaker, a superior but far more expensive word processor ($500 per user in 1998) as required by my publishers at the time. But by the early 2000’s most had moved to Word since Microsoft had sufficiently closed the feature gap.

I’m coming to realize that this weekend might be the last time I use Microsoft software – at home anyway (I use a PC running Windows 7 and Office for work).

z160

Zenith Z160 portable computer

I ordered a new MacBook Pro yesterday, and it will arrive on Monday. The MBP comes with Apple’s versions of office programs, called Pages, Keynote, and Numbers. Next week I will try them out on my university teaching and on my current writing project. If it goes alright and I figure out all of the subtle differences, I will probably not purchase Office for the new Mac.

Part of this comes down to economics. Office for Mac costs $150 or more, and the same programs from Apple cost $20 apiece (if you don’t have a new Mac that came with them), or free with your Mac since some time in the past year or two.

I’ll post a review of Pages, Keynote, and Numbers in a month or so after I’ve been using them a while.

Still, I can’t help but feel somewhat nostalgic, as I’ve had Word with me nearly all of my adult life. But as the dolphins exclaim in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

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What does a network scanner bring to the company?

Guest post from Emmanuel Carabott of GFI Software Ltd.

Whenever someone does research on the best methods to secure a company’s network, they are sure to come across articles recommending network scanners. But what value do network scanners really provide any organization?

Network scanners generally provide two distinct important functionalities – information gathering on the network they’re scanning and information on any security issues found on that network.

Information on the network

Administrators need to keep up with the constant changes made to the network. Some might see change management as unnecessary, but this is an essential part of the process to keep a network in excellent shape. There are various reasons why administrators would want to know what software and hardware is running on their network, but the main reasons are security and the need to make sure that the changes administrators make will cause conflicts within the existent network infrastructure. When new software is installed, or updates are made to the existing installation through patching, certain configurations can make the system unusable (blue screens, for example) or unstable. To avoid this from happening, the administrator should keep a test environment which mirrors the network where these changes will be made before they’re pushed onto the live server. If users install new software on their systems without notifying the administrator, the test environments will not match the current network and therefore any pre-deployment tests will be inconclusive and not a true reflection of the current status.

Some hardware can pose a security risk to the network. It is imperative that administrators are immediately notified when a new device is connected to the network so that they can determine if there is a real risk to the company. The company’s security policy might specify that the administrator must be notified before any new hardware is connected to the network but that alone does not guarantee employee compliance. A network scanner, however, can periodically monitor the network for changes and notify the administrator as these happen.

Security issues on the network

A network scanner will also look for a number of security issues on the network it is scanning.

These generally include:

  • Vulnerabilities
  • Missing patches
  • Unwanted open ports

New vulnerabilities affecting the network can arise on a daily basis, often due to changes in configurations, new exploits being discovered, and because of new software being installed on the network. For these reasons alone, an administrator needs a network scanner that can monitor the network for any vulnerability on a regular basis.

Next on the list is patch management.  Vendors continuously fix security issues in their software and then, release patches for the end user to install. Keeping track manually of all patches released can be a daunting task, but a network scanner helps the administrator to stay on top of the problem and apply any patches that are required.

Finally there are applications that communicate through the internet, such as web servers’ open ports for others to connect to. Every open port is a potential security risk because malicious persons will try to find exploits in these connections. It is highly recommended ports that are not in use are closed immediately. An administrator should be informed as soon as a new port is opened on a network machine. This usually happens when an employee may have installed a new application or due to a malware infection. Since the network administrator cannot be everywhere or see everything happening on the network all the time, a network scanner is an essential tool.

A network scanner is a very useful tool for administrator, making his life a lot easier. Having a ‘virtual consultant’ is a much better option that having to check each and every machine manually.

Companies that use network scanners will save time and money, while administrators can focus on more important issues that require manual intervention. Why add more work when tasks can be automated using a network scanner?

 

This guest post was provided by Emmanuel Carabott on behalf of GFI Software Ltd. GFI is a leading software developer that provides a single source for network administrators to address their network security, content security and messaging needs. Read more on the importance of using a network scanner.

All product and company names herein may be trademarks of their respective owners.

Demystifying UTM and NGF

You may be here to understand the difference between Unified Threat Management (UTM) and Next-Generation Firewalls (NGF).

Here’s the punch line: there really isn’t a difference. UTM and NGF are two marketing terms that have been developed to put a label on the advance of products designed to provide various protective capabilities. The two terms do represent a somewhat different point of view; let me explain.

UTM is the representation of products that began to combine previously-separate capabilities like anti-virus, anti-spam, web filtering, and so on. This was an answer to the fragmentation of different discrete products, each with its own small task.

NGF is the representation of firewall manufacturers who began to realize that they needed to incorporate many other types of threat-prevention capabilities into their firewalls, such as (you guessed it), anti-virus, anti-spam, web filtering, and so on.

UTM and NGF were different a few years ago, but as product makers from both ends filled in functionality, they met in a common middle where there’s no longer any practical difference.

  • sidebar from an upcoming book. Copyright (C) 2012 someone.

Include safe computing in your list of New Years Resolutions

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The New Year is a time of reflection, and traditionally a time to consider changing one’s habits.

Our reliance upon computers and networks has exceeded our means to safely use and control them. Every computer user has some responsibility to make sure that their computer and use of the Internet does not introduce unknown and unwanted risks. By following these recommendations you will greatly reduce your risk to fraud, identity theft, and other risks related to Internet usage.

1. Change your passwords. Use strong passwords, which cannot be easily guessed by others, even those who know you. Do not share your password with any other person. If needed, store your passwords in a protected vault such as Password Safe or KeePass. I recommend you not use an online vault for password storage: if their security is compromised, so are your passwords.

2. Scan for Viruses and other malware. Configure your anti-virus software to scan your entire computer at least weekly. Make sure that your anti-virus software is checking for updates at least once per day. Also scan your computer with one of several online virus scanners at least once per month.

Panda: http://www.pandasoftware.com (look for the ActiveScan link on the home page)

Symantec: http://security.symantec.com/default.asp?productid=symhome&langid=ie&venid=sym

Trend Micro: http://housecall.trendmicro.com/

Kaspersky: http://www.kaspersky.com/virusscanner

CA: http://www3.ca.com/securityadvisor/virusinfo/scan.aspx

3. Block spam, and don’t open spam messages. The majority of spam (unwanted junk email) is related to fraud. Spam messages advertise fraudulent or misleading products, or lure you to websites that contain malware that will attempt to take over your computer (without your knowing it) and steal valuable information from you.

4. Get a firewall. If you use Windows, turn on the Windows Firewall. Ask your broadband service provider to upgrade your modem/router to one that contains a firewall (most newer modems / routers do have firewalls or other similar protection).

5. Remove spyware. Obtain a good anti-spyware program and use it to find and remove spyware from your computer.

6. Update your software. Obtain up-to-date copies of browsers and tools on your computer, as many older versions are no longer secure. This includes Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, Java, and other programs.

7. Install security patches. If you are using Windows, turn on Automatic Updates, and configure it to automatically download and install security patches and updates.

8. Use separate accounts on shared computers. If more than one person uses your computer, set up separate accounts for each user. Make each user an ordinary user or power user, but never an administrator. Making each user an administrator makes the entire computer more vulnerable to malware (viruses, etc.).

9. Browse Safely. Change to Firefox and use the NoScript add-on. This is the only combination designed to block the new “clickjacking” vulnerability present in all other browsers. Also consider using Flashblock (works only with Firefox) if you want to control the use of Flash content in your browser.

10. Protect your wireless WiFi network. The old an still-common “WEP” protocol designed to encrypt your wireless traffic has been broken, and is no longer safe. Upgrade to WPA, even if it means buying a new wireless access point.

11. Back up your data. All kinds of bad things can happen, from mistakes to hardware failures. If you cannot afford to lose your data, then you need to copy it to a separate storage device. External hard drives and high capacity USB thumb drives cost well below US$100. You’ll be glad you did, sooner or later.

12. Encrypt your hard drive. Mostly important for laptop computers, but also important for desktop computers. The TrueCrypt tool is by far the most popular one available, and it’s free. If you don’t encrypt your data, then anyone who steals your computer can (and will) read all of your private data.

13. Check your credit reports. Fraud and identity theft can result in thieves opening new credit card and loan accounts in your name. They run up a balance and then never pay the bill, making that your problem instead. Consider a credit reporting service as well, which will alert you to inquiries and changes to your credit accounts, limits, and balances.

Annualcreditreport.com

Federal Trade Commission information on free credit reports

Equifax

Experian

Transunion

Recommended Tools:

Secunia Personal Software Inspector – free tool that examines your computer and alerts you to all of the unpatched and older versions of programs that need to be upgraded.

Password Safe – safe and secure storage of all of your Internet passwords. Also remembers userids and URLs.

NoScript – the only way to control third-party javascript and clickjacking. Works only with Firefox.

TrueCrypt – safe and free encryption of your PC’s hard drive.

Another e-mail tracing service available: SpyPig

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One of my kind readers made me aware of another e-mail tracing service, one that is called SpyPig.

As professional investigators we are highly familiar with ReadNotify, and use it regularly.  We have introduced it into the local legal community, who is accepting it with open arms.

We have not yet tested SpyPig so we are unsure of how it compares to ReadNotify.  At some time in the future we will compare it to ReadNotify.

Clean out your old programs

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Take some time to remove old programs that you no longer use, and upgrade the programs and plug-ins you Secunia PSIdo use to current versions. In Windows XP, go to My Computer > Control Panel > Add or Remove Programs (in Vista it’s slightly different) and remove each program you no longer need. Maybe you have old toolbars and other things you tried out but didn’t like. It’s a good idea to just get rid of them here.

Consider getting a copy of Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI). This nifty program will look at all of your installed programs and tell you which ones are old and unsecure. PSI will also tell you what patches are needed on your system.

Get PSI here: psi.secunia.com

Make a new year’s resolution: safe computing

Father Time

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I have an idea for a New Year’s resolution this year. You’ll still be able to eat what you want and walk by the bathroom scale with no pangs of guilt, and you can leave your mess in the garage and the junk drawer so full you can barely open it.

Make your computing safer in 2008. This is a lot easier than you think. You’ll be protecting yourself against potentially painful experiences such as credit card fraud and identity theft.

Follow these steps. In some cases, I’ll link you back to tips I’ve written in the past couple of years.

1. Protect your computers with a firewall. You might have a firewall already and not know it – your DSL or Cable modem may have a firewall built-in. Look on the label to see what kind of device you have. Log in to your Internet provider’s web site and check whether your modem has a built-in firewall. If it doesn’t, ask to be upgraded.

You can also install a personal firewall program on each PC in your house. If you have Windows XP or Vista, a firewall is provided with Windows but you need to activate it.

Instructions: Activate Windows XP firewall. Activate Windows Vista firewall.

Or, you can install Zone Alarm or Comodo firewall. Both are easy to install and use.

Zone Alarm: www.zonelabs.com
Comodo: www.personalfirewall.comodo.com

Test your firewall to see if it is working: Site 1: (www.auditmypc.com), Site 2: (www.grc.com/) (You can consider these to be trusted web sites).

2. Get the spyware out and keep it out. Spyware is used to snoop on your PC and Internet usage – most people find it offensive and a violation of their privacy. Install one or more of the following anti-spyware programs. Scan your computer now, then scan monthly after that.

Spybot: www.safer-networking.org
Spyware Blaster: www.javacoolsoftware.com
Microsoft Defender: www.microsoft.com

3. Keep your PC’s security patches up to date. Failure to install security patches is a major cause of computer break-ins, especially for home computers, most of which are not protected by firewalls. I recommend you take a look at your Windows Automatic Updates setting and change the settings so that security patches are downloaded and installed automatically (if you are more of a “hands on” computer user, then you should set Automatic Updates to automatically download security patches and then inform / ask you to install them).

Install patches now (www.update.microsoft.com) (you must use Microsoft Internet Explorer for this)

Instructions: Configure Automatic Updates for Windows XP. Automatic Updates for Windows Vista.

4. Make separate user accounts for shared computers. If any of your computers are shared among family members, make separate user accounts for each user. Put passwords on each account and do not share your passwords. Make only one account an “administrator” (you – since you are reading this!) and make all other users a “Limited account”. Turn off the Guest account.

Windows KeyWhen a family member is done with the computer (even for a minute), get everyone into the habit of locking the screen, which requires a password to unlock. Click here for instructions.

5. Change your Wireless network to WPA. I have written in the past about how the old wireless WEP protocol is no longer safe. You need to upgrade your WiFi access point and the computers in your house that use WiFi from WEP to WPA. The WEP protocol that is still the default on most WiFi access points and routers can be easily broken by any clever computer user with a few simple tools.

Instructions: upgrade your router and computers from WEP to WPA.

6. Clean out your old programs. Take some time to remove old programs that you no longer use, and upgrade the programs and plug-ins you Secunia PSIdo use to current versions. In Windows XP, go to My Computer > Control Panel > Add or Remove Programs (in Vista it’s slightly different) and remove each program you no longer need. Maybe you have old toolbars and other things you tried out but didn’t like. It’s a good idea to just get rid of them here.

Consider getting a copy of Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI). This nifty program will look at all of your installed programs and tell you which ones are old and unsecure. PSI will also tell you what patches are needed on your system.

Get PSI here: psi.secunia.com

viruses.jpg

7. Learn more about safe computing. Order a copy of Computer Viruses for Dummies – this is a smaller-format Dummies book that talks about Viruses and also spam, spyware, firewalls, and other steps you need to take to make your computer safer.

Purchase hardcopy from Amazon.com

Purchase e-book