UK Internet censorship move by Virgin Media and Talk Talk

Although widely described as being a block on Internet porn, the scope covers a range of material. In the case of Talk Talk, there are 9 adult categories, including self-harming, gambling and suicide sites.

Content in these categories will be blocked by default. This means that Talk Talk will be deciding what is appropriate for you to access. It is possible to opt in to receive this content, however, Talk Talk now have a list of people who could be considered “sordid” or undesirable. If the police want to view this list, we move further towards a Big Brother society.

Make no mistake, I am in favour of protecting children from internet nastiness, but I don’t believe private corporations should decide what is nasty. The job should primarily be that of the parents, or by the government if it is clearly illegal. Parents should be aware of what their children are doing, and if they don’t understand, they need to ask. If you give smartphones and laptops to children and they take them to their bedrooms, or out and about, you will have no idea what they are looking at. They will find ways to get around censorship. A better solution is to give the choice when people sign up with a provider, and to contact existing providers and ask if they want it or not. However, the bigger issue is the relationship between parents and children, and knowing what your children are doing, and who they are talking  to.


Viruses have won, antivirus is no longer much protection

When look at customers’ computers and find malware, I am constantly asked “Why is there malware when I have antivirus on the computer?”

It is used to be because the user’s antivirus had expired or wasn’t updated. In the last couple of years, however, I have found dozens of infected machines with up to date antivirus.

The truth is, the nature of malware has changed. They used to be in the form of executable files, which had signatures that antivirus could pick up. Now, in the typical mode of infection, malware usually runs scripts on websites that find vulnerabilities in legitimate programmes, causing those programmes to be weakened or malfunction. Java is one of those programmes, and is a legitimate programme, so antivirus is happy with it. However, Java is a programme that has full system access on a pc, although in theory this is restricted. The exploits remove this restriction. This allows network connections to be opened internally to contact malicious sites, which bypasses most firewalls, because “outbound” connections are allowed. The exploits can also modify Windows (and Macs) settings, further weakening, just like the wooden horse of Troy, when the soldiers smuggled inside opened the gates of the city. This can also disable antivirus or prevent antivirus from loading on start up. Because this is done via a legitimate programme, the antivirus is none the wiser. Opening network connections to malicious sites also allows the malware to update itself, similar to Windows Update.

By turning off antivirus and auto-updating, less subtle malware can be downloaded which can have free reign. All that is needed is a single vulnerability. Many of these vulnerabilities are discovered long before patches are released to fix them.

My conclusion is that antivirus is not an effective protection against malware. The most effective protection is users being educated in safe behaviour. The status quo is like a flock of lambs wandering into a wilderness occupied by starving wolves.

How to spot a bogus email or “phishing” attack

There are many dodgy emails we receive in our inboxes. Often, they appear to come from a bank, PayPal or even the police. Typically, they ask us to click on a link to update our details. Often, they warn of dire consequences if we fail to obey. They will close our account, it will cost us money, the police will come knocking on our door!

This is quite scary for people, so I will give 4 pointers on what to look for to detect genuine emails from the fraudulent ones.

First rule: trust no-one. I mean an email that comes in, even from a friend, might have been initiated by a virus on your friend’s computer.

Second rule: Is the message using your full name? I received a few messages claiming to come from banks or PayPal, but start “dear customer.” If it really is your bank or PayPal account, they will address you by name.

Third rule: Were you expecting an email from said organisation? If you signed up for an account a minute earlier, then you would expect it. If it turns up out of the blue, put your cautious hat on.

Fourth rule: Don’t click on links if you can help it. If it claims to be from one of your accounts, instead of clicking the link, why not just log into PayPal (or whatever site) the way you usually do, by going to their website via your favourites/bookmarks.

Vista Black Edition – this is counterfeit, avoid

In the last 48 hours, I have had two customers come to me with computers with Vista “Black Edition.” This is a hacked version of Vista, aimed at gamers and hackers. It is not genuine, is not supported by Microsoft and if you have paid for a copy, you should go back to whoever sold it to you and ask for your money back. There can be problems with Windows Update and this can leave your computer wide open to viruses and other malware. As the software is modified by someone from outside Microsoft, there is always the risk of some dubious third-party code being put in, such as a “backdoor” allowing the computer to be exploited by a remote attack. A genuine licence for Windows 7 only costs around £80, and if you have a product key printed on the computer, you can install a genuine copy of Windows for that key anyway, so there is no reason to go counterfeit. If you have counterfeit Windows installed, give me a call on 01646 602248 to find out how to remove it and install genuine Windows.

Don’t destroy your debit card if your account is compromised

I watched a TV programme the other day “Don’t get done, get Dom” (BBC iPlayer link will expire in a few days which delved surprisingly deep into the issues surrounding “Chip and Pin” debit cards.

When your bank account is breached or compromised by fraudsters, one of the things the banks tell you to do, is cut up your card, and cut through the chip. This, is in fact bad practice, as this chip contains transaction logs for every time the card is used. If a fraudster obtained your card information, there is at least one known way of making a copy so a fake card can be used. By destroying your card, you destroy evidence which could prove your innocence, and point to the use of a counterfeit card.

Security researchers at Cambridge University have demonstrated how it might be possible to trick the card into thinking it’s doing a chip-and-signature transaction while the terminal thinks it’s authorised by chip-and-PIN. This doesn’t work at ATMs(Cashpoints) but could work with counter card devices used in shops and banks.

Other vulnerabilities are discussed here

Moral of the story, don’t cut up your card.


How to filter out the crap without government censorship – OpenDNS

Governments around the world are trying to legislate to bring in censorship to control what they consider inappropriate. Although they claim this is to combat crime, measures they want to introduce can also put in place a mechanism to restrict freedom of speech and expression. You may have trust in the current government, but can you be sure that a future government will not be more oppressive?

An alternative is to use a company like OpenDNS. The good thing about this, is you can stop using them at any time, and you know what is going on. You can simply change your DNS settings to point to their servers, and it will block any blacklisted sites, such as sites with viruses, or spam sites. If you don’t like it, you can always change the DNS again after.

Current servers to point to are

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For help in doing this, drop me (Adam) a line on 01646 602248.

Critical Windows Updates

This month’s Windows updates from Microsoft include 4 critical updates which fix flaws that could allow the PC to be taken over simply by visiting a specially crafted web page. Your anti-virus may or may not offer any protection, therefore I advise people to install these Windows updates.