Be careful when using public Wi-Fi Hotspots

According to the findings of a global survey from Online Security Brand Tracker, conducted on behalf of ESET (April-May 2011), nearly 50% of Internet users are using portable devices as their primary connection. The most popular devices used for Internet connectivity are notebooks (41%), followed by netbooks (3%), smartphones (2%) and tablets (1%).

When you’re in an airport, you open your laptop to read or send e-mails, looking for a free Wi-Fi hotspot. And there it is! You almost always find one and connect to send and read your e-mails etc. What you do not take into consideration is that the free Wi-Fi may have a privacy cost associated with it: the data of your connection, your personal details and other important information can be stolen when you send your message, without having any idea that such a thing could happen. Before you know it, you’re calling Lifelock for identity theft protection because your personal information has been stolen, and soon, your identity.

What should make you suspicious is when there is a Wi-Fi hotspot with a name that is not recognized or resembles an official or even a celebrity name. Also, the user must be particularly cautious in hotspots that do not need password protection for access. The ‘magic’ of the data theft happens through a proxy technology, which monitors the Wi-Fi communication and captures and stores a copy of all your data on the hacker’s laptop. This process will slow down the traffic speed of your connection but in cases of networks with many users it is difficult to say with certainty whether the slow traffic is due to the theft of your data or because there are many users connected simultaneously.

Each time the user performs a task on the internet, whether buying staff online, checking your bank account or checking of email, the computer must send the login to the network, which is a goldmine for fraudsters on the internet. Under normal conditions the connection to a secure site (such as your bank site) must start with “https” instead of “http“, which means that traffic is encrypted. Some sophisticated hackers can even steal your encrypted communication (by proxying your connections through their own computer). For this reason, extreme caution is required when giving personal information and passwords in a public WiFi hotspot.

The threats to be aware while using public Wi-Fi:

  • Evil twin login interception: networks set up by hackers to resemble legitimate Wi-Fi hotspots.
  • 0-day OS / app attack attempts: attacking your computer and applications in order to get access to it using unknown and unpatched vulnerabilities.
  • Sniffing: software or hardware that can capture and record the traffic passing over a network.
  • Data leakage (man-in-the-middle attack): Cyber-criminals who can modify network traffic, leaving the impression that the user navigates the website of a bank for instance, while, in reality, traffic is passed first through the attacker’s computer.

Comparing Windows 8 with its predecessors

What Art Thou, Windows?

Love it or hate it, Microsoft Windows is a part of your life, at least in some way. It matters not if you personally use Linux or Macintosh. And unless you barter goods for services even if you don’t use Windows, Someone you are interacting with does. Even then, chances are they are using the venerable operating system.

It is a matter of future history that Windows 8 will land on planet Earth, and it will impact you. Let’s take a brief tour to see what is coming at you, one way or another.

The computers of yesteryear were character-based. Technically, we just didn’t have the spare machine power for a Graphical User Interface (GUI). Xerox had a research center known as PARC (Paolo Alto Research Center). They also had a small investment and a small computer company that sounded more like an orchard. They call themselves Apple Computer. At this research center, they daydreamed up things such as: the mouse, ethernet, and the GUI.

In the time period when Steve Jobs was considered a black sheep the Apple Board of Directors. He was ousted and worked on the NeXt computer. As CEO they had brought in the marketing maven John Scully, who wanted to go directly at IBM. IBM and Microsoft were in bed together. Bill Gates strong-armed Scully for licensing of GUI patents in exchange for MS office on the Mac.

Mr. Gates was having a fight with IBM over what to do with the next-generation operating system (OS/2), which included the GUI. The short story is IBM and Microsoft got a divorce. Windows sitting on top of a character-based operating system (DOS) stayed with Microsoft, while IBM got OS/2.

With hardware technological advances growing by leaps and bounds Gates wanted out of the limitations of DOS. He snagged Dave Cutler from DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) to work on NT. To this day Microsoft vigorously denies that stands for New Technology.

NT was created to address a multitude of issues with a DOS-based Windows. The two biggies being segmented memory, and the nonexistent security. Game programmers hated NT. The digital equivalent of checkpoint Charlie, every step of the way, crushed real-time game performance. Microsoft gadfly Alex St. John (an avid game developer in his spare time) solved that with DirectX.

In an effort to slide the consumer over, Microsoft released its last space Windows calling it Windows Me. It looked like NT-based Windows 2000 (really NT version 5) buying game developers a little more time to adopt DirectX. On the server-side Windows 2000 was the first iteration to adopt LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol). They called it Active Directory (AD).

Next came NT 5.1 which marketing called XP. It was the first time Microsoft offered Windows as either 32 or 64-bit code.

At this point Microsoft had a challenge. XP was carrying legacy code deep in its bowels from the mid-80s. A great deal of the tribal knowledge had either retired or died. They wanted to clean up NT’s act. The internally numbered NT 5.2 became the disaster known as Vista. While the effort was valiant, it broke a tone of applications. To make matters worse, they wanted to clean up the open door security that made it previously so easy to connect everything together. The challenge was it made it easy for the bad guys too. So Vista became a mother hen, are you sure? End users despised it.

So much so that when Windows 7 came along planet Earth was fearful of Vista: the sequel. That’s too bad because technically Windows 7 modernized security and had considerable improvements in everything from features to actually reducing resource needs by eliminating legacy garbage and have given time for application developers to catch up.

So here we said at the close of the year and Windows 8 is not even yet in beta. Yet there are some of us who have been living in Windows 8 since its release in late August 2011. The verdict?

So far Windows 8 looks like hot stuff. It’s resource needs are less than Windows 7. And they seem to be managing the impossible of addressing the demands of the desktop and a tablet-based computer. Microsoft is even going so far as to support the super low power processors known as ARM. Often these are found in smart phones and tablets.

Clearly they are looking to match Apple, which is merging OS X and IOS. OS X runs on desktops, while IOS is for iPhone, iPad, etc.

Microsoft claims that whatever runs on Win 7, it will run on Win 8. Overall, our experience of that has been true. Only a few applications have really choked. And it’s early in the game.

A word of warning to you. If you’re still on XP, plan for a complete reinstall. There will be no migration path. The underlying code has simply changed too much. It would be easier to convert your car from gasoline to diesel. If you’re thinking of staying on XP, think again. The operating system is over 10 years old, and has security issues that simply cannot be addressed. Forewarned is forearmed.

There is a recent vulnerability affecting Microsoft Windows (XP, Server 2003, Vista, Server 2008 and Windows 7) and there is no patch available from Microsoft yet. See description of the vulnerability below. The famous Duqu worm has been silently exploiting this vulnerability in the wild. The Duqu Virus has been also named as “Son of Stuxnet”. As you might recall, Stuxnet virus was targeting Siemens industrial control systems (SCADA) last year (June 2010) and has created havoc in many systems.

The Duqu Virus is a clone of Stuxnet and attacks victims usually through a Microsoft Word attachment in emails. If the victim opens the Word Document, the PC is infected and the attacker can even take control of the computer.

Microsoft has been working to find a permanent patch for this vulnerability. Until then, they released a temporary fix here.

Description:

The Microsoft Windows Kernel is susceptible to a vulnerability due to improper handling of TrueType fonts. This vulnerability is being actively exploited in the wild by the Duqu worm.By enticing the target to view a document with a malicious font, the attacker can exploit this vulnerability in order to execute arbitrary code on the target machine with SYSTEM-level permissions.

Status:

vendor confirmed, updates not available

References:

Microsoft Security Advisory

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/security/advisory/2639658

Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures

http://cve.mitre.org/cgi-bin/cvename.cgi?name=CVE-2011-3402

HTC Sensation XE with Beats Audio

We all listen to music on our phones these days. Funnily enough there was a time not so long ago when this was  considered a big thing and most phones weren’t cut out for music playback or could only hold a couple of songs. Ever since the iPhone we have all expected to have iPods or decent MP3 players on our phone and HTC is hoping to lift that notion up a notch with the new Sensation XE.

The Sensation XE is a collaboration between HTC and the now HTC owned company Beats Audio – set up by Dr Dre. The company is renowned for making headphones for the street with an orientation towards bass. These headphones are at the top end of the scale with more street cred than Bose, but with a set up orientated towards urban and beat styled music.

The HTC Sensation XE is a phone based on the original HTC Sensation that was launched a few months back. The XE comes with a number of radical improvements that in our opinion have transformed the phone from a good phone to a great phone and certainly one worthy of your money as much as the Samsung Galaxy SII.

The phone comes with a pair of Beats in ear headphones which are by far a greater attempt at music playback than most other kinds of headphones bundled with phones. This means the device offers the Beats bass experience. The new Sensation also comes with Beats software on the phone which helps create the effect and makes an overall more complete music player than the software which is bundled with most HTCs.

We found the Beats audio to be easily turned on and off and to provide excellent soundscapes for urban beats and music that had that orientation. More mid-range timbres were drowned out to an extent but we did love the idea of the Beats audio. The phone can also be used with normal headphones, though the software doesn’t work with normal headphones – a bit of a negative. What is worse is that Beats headphones cost a princely sum, which can also be a bit of a negative.

The Sensation comes with a dual core 1.5GHz processor making it one of the fastest smartphones ever created, allowing it to take care of the most impressive of applications or the greatest levels of multitasking. This processor offers a great deal more speed and performance than the original Sensation, which was underclocked to 1.2GHz, even though the XE comes with the same 768MB RAM.

The device also keeps the best features of the original including the qHD screen that really looks the business indoors, offering amazingly detailed images and which is excellent for browsing. It may not be quite as good as the Super AMOLED Plus screen of the Galaxy SII, however it is still excellent. The phone also comes with the wonderful Sense 3.5 on top of the same Android Gingerbread found on the original Sensation.

This new Sense 3.5 doesn’t change things massively, however it does create a sleeker feel to the phone and the device is a little bit prettier because of it. The animations and other little things that give the HTC its own feel are better than ever and this really works well with the power.

The phone also looks that bit different from the original. The device is still milled from one piece of aluminium, though it now comes in a black and red livery and looks all the better for it. The new colours have given it spark and aren’t gaudy as many smartphones can be. The phone gets a red ear piece and a Beats logo on the back and it is all tastefully done.

Now, the Beats audio is also all about substance and a bit of style too. The phone gets new earphones, which are excellent and wonderful Beats software, which really makes the phone that bit better overall adding to the3 sum of its parts. The audio sensation is great and the bass abilities of the device are great thanks to the excellent cans and the nice software.

Overall this is a rare triumph of style and substance and the Sensation XE is an excellent device.

Is Video Conferencing Effective

A number of organizations are hesitant to adapt the latest communication methods and prefer to stick to the Stone Age methods of communication. They find it hard to adjust to the current ways due to technophobia and also the costs that come with investments. Communication methods are changing and with each passing day, there are new ways that are adapted. The latest introduction is the use of Android applications and iPads that enhance portable communication. It is now a reality to communicate at any time of day or night without even reporting to the office. Many workers have access to computer either through the mobile phone or through the computer. In the organization setting, many companies are adapting the use of video conferencing and free video chat to eliminate the huge transport ad accommodation costs that are incurred along the way.

There are many companies that have adapted this method and they are reaping great rewards. They find it easier to communicate with different parties they transact with. If they are looking to work with some of the big organizations, they will choose this method since most organizations use his method. They want to know who they are talking to and their presentation skills.

It is also a safe method because the parties that are involved are the only ones that will access the information. Many top companies use this method and especially the top level management board when they want to discuss a private matter in detail.

This method is also applicable to organizations that are involved in lengthy discussions and presentations and they want to inform all their parties at the same time. Video conferencing allows different people to communicate together even when they are miles apart. Technology now allows the compression of video and conversion to different video formats (a good video converter by the way is avs4you), thus video can be transferred via networks easier as it requires less bandwidth.

It is a costly method to implement but if you are not using the method on a regular basis, you can contact some of the leasing companies that hire the conferencing equipments at a fee. However, if you use this communication method on a regular basis, it will be important to buy the equipment to save on costs.

You also need to ensure that you have constant supply of internet connectivity by investing in the bandwidth or WiMAX technology. This way, communication will be applicable at any rime with no worry of interruption due to low internet connectivity.

Video conferencing is effective to organizations that are mainly dealing with long distance or international clients.

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