Protecting Yourself Against WannaCry

The WannaCry 2.0 ransomware is turning out to be one of the biggest security threats of recent times. It has spread in over 150 countries and affected more than 200,000 computers. This situation could’ve been avoided if the users had downloaded Windows security patch released in March. Well, you can still download the update and follow some basic safety measures to keep yourself away from such attacks.

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Ransomware has seen an abrupt rise in the recent years, and the present-day developments are only making this threat more infamous. If you love to keep yourself updated with the latest developments in the tech world, you might have heard about the notorious WannaCry ransomware, which is locking down people’s computers. It also goes by the other names like WannaDecrypt0r, WCry, and Wanna Decryptor.

What is WannaCry Ransomware?

More than 150 countries have been affected by WannaCry ransomware, which exploits EternalBlue vulnerability and uses phishing emails. The NSA was the first to discover this flaw, and it was made public by ShadowBrokers in April. After taking over a computer, WannaCry locks down the machine and asks for about $300 as a ransom. If the user fails to pay the ransom, the price increases with time.

Microsoft did release a patch for this leaked vulnerability in April, but many computer users and network administrators didn’t update their systems. As a result, they are at risk.

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How to Prevent Getting WannaCry and Other Ransomware

This malware is primarily impacting businesses and spreading through their network to control an entire company. But, it doesn’t mean that everyone else is safe.

So, if you’re using a computer which runs Windows operating system, you must take a few precautionary steps.


It is incredibly important to do the following:

  • Always make sure that you install the latest updates & patches for your operating system, especially Microsoft Windows.
  • Make sure you have an up to date anti-virus program running on your computer.
  • Do not click on links or attachments in email unless you are 100% certain it is legitimate and that you have requested it. If you are not sure about a hyperlink or attachment contact the sender directly to ask about it.
  • Do not visit questionable able websites.
  • When you are browsing website be certain to read carefully any dialog box that pops up before clicking on it.

Last but not the least, make sure that you run a backup of your system files regularly. If your PC gets infected and your important files are encrypted, you can get them later.


Microsoft’s Response

While Microsoft quickly issued fixes for the latest versions of Windows last month, this left Windows XP unprotected. Many of the machines attacked today have been breached simply because the latest Windows updates have not been applied quickly enough, but there are still organizations that continue to run Windows XP despite the risks. Microsoft is now taking what it describes as a “highly unusual” step to provide public patches for Windows operating systems that are in custom support only. This includes specific fixes for Windows XP, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2003. You can read my report about this here.

If you want to learn more you can read many of my ransomware related articles here.

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Windows XP Gets an Emergency Patch

If you are still using Windows XP (which you shouldn’t be) Microsoft is actually releasing an emergency patch for the retired operating system.

Why is Microsoft doing this?

Microsoft has taken the unprecedented step of issuing patches for unsupported operating systems, including Windows XP  as a result of the massive WannaCrypt ransomware attacks against organisations across the globe.

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Businesses, governments and individuals in 74 countries across the globe have been victims of more than 45,000 attacks by this one strain of Ransomware in the space of just a few hours.

What is Wannacrypt?

Wannacrypt ransomware demands $300 in Bitcoin for unlocking encrypted files – a price which doubles after three days. Users are also threatened with having all their files permanently deleted if the ransom isn’t paid in a week.

Hospitals across the UK have had systems knocked offline by the ransomware attack, with patient appointments cancelled and doctors and nurses resorting to pen and paper and NHS England declaring the cyberattack as a ‘major incident’ – a total of 45 NHS organisations are now own to be affected.

The Dangers of Ransomware

Cybersecurity researchers have suggested the ransomware attacks are so potent because they exploit a a known software flaw dubbed EternalBlue. This Windows flaw is one of many zero-days which was apparently known by the NSA before being leaked by the Shadow Brokers hacking collective. Microsoft released a patch for the vulnerability earlier this year, but only for the most recent operating systems.

I applaud Microsoft for taking the action of patching their retired operating systems which is an effort to protect all of us.

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Microsoft Puts Another Nail in XP’s Coffin

On the eve of the release of Windows 10 we have yet another reason to stop using Windows XP. Microsoft has reported that it has stopped providing antivirus signatures for the out-of-support operating system.

Even after support for the venerable OS ended in April last year, Microsoft continued to provide its malicious software removal tool and updates to Microsoft Security Essentials – that is, until yesterday.

It has not been possible to download Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows XP since the end of support, but PCs with it already installed have been receiving anti-malware signature updates for the last 16 months. Because the malicious software removal tool is connected with the company’s anti-malware engine and signatures, that has also remained working.

Microsoft has stressed that the two tools were never enough to defend the ageing OS, warning.
“Any PC running Windows XP after April 8, 2014 should not be considered protected as there will be no security updates for the Windows XP operating system.”

“We strongly recommend that you complete your migration to a supported operating system as soon as possible so that you can receive regular security updates to help protect your computer from malicious attacks,” the company said.

Windows XP was launched 14 years ago and has remained a favorite with businesses and consumers since, even after Microsoft stopped supporting it. So the morale of this story is that – if you are still using Windows XP.

STOP and UPGRADE. 

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XP Hack Promises Windows Updates

I guess where there’s a will, there’s a way. I cannot say I am surprised by this story, however I am surprised that Microsoft did not see this one coming.

It has recently been revealed that some Windows XP users are discovering that their now-unsupported operating system can receive updates from Microsoft by making a few simple changes to the Registry.

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Of course Microsoft is not thrilled and is warning people away from the hack. This hack apparently is allowing users to continue obtaining free security updates for Windows XP.

The hack apparently involves altering the Windows XP’s Registry to make it appear to Windows Update as if it were a copy of Windows Embedded POSReady 2009 (WEPOS).

WEPOS is especially designed by Microsoft as an OS that “combines the power and familiarity of Windows XP Professional with a smaller footprint and specific features for point of service (POS) computers.”

In other words, it bears enough under-the-hood similarities to Windows XP to nab its updates.

When ZDNet ran news of the hack and confirmed that it worked, Microsoft contacted ZDNet and issued the following statement:

The security updates that could be installed are intended for Windows Embedded and Windows Server 2003 customers and do not fully protect Windows XP customers. Windows XP customers also run a significant risk of functionality issues with their machines if they install these updates, as they are not tested against Windows XP. The best way for Windows XP customers to protect their systems is to upgrade to a more modern operating system, like Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.

When ZDNet ran news of the hack and confirmed that it worked, Microsoft contacted ZDNet and issued the following statement:

Microsoft’s been stressing the importance of moving away from XP for some time now, but to little effect. However 26 percent of desktop users are still apparently using Windows XP, with XP having only lost only single percentage points of market share over the last three months. By that measure, it will take at least two years for the existing base of XP users to phase out completely. In the meantime, XP users are as likely to keep engineering their own work-arounds as they are to turn to third parties for protection or aid.

In my opinion, after 13 years of service XP is long past it’s prime an should be retired, sooner then later. These workarounds are not guaranteed to do anything other then provide the XP with a false sense of protection.

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Windows 8.1 Gains Ground

I had a feeling this was going to happen and surprisingly to some (not me) it seems that Microsoft’s newest OS Windows 8.1 is actually showing strong growth. I say “surprisingly” but it should not because all the cards are stacked in 8.1’s favor. Windows XP users are being forced to look for a new OS and Windows 7 is actually pretty hard to get hold of and the most recent update of 8 was designed to make Windows 8.1 more appealing to keyboard and mouse users. If Windows 8.1 had not grown market share in April then it would have been pretty much game over for the new operating system. With that being said, 8.1 actually performed very well.

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As was to be expected Windows XP lost a huge number of users, with its share falling 1.43 per cent – from 27.69 per cent in March to 26.26 per cent in April. The downward trend is set to continue, and possibly accelerate, now that Microsoft is no longer providing security updates for the aging OS and flaws like the recent one affecting Internet Explorer make sticking with XP an increasingly dangerous digital gamble. Although Microsoft did patch IE 8 for XP this will not happen again.

There is still a lot of room for growth as far a Windows 8.1 is concerned. However 8 has turned away from the dangerous curve and it will survive, although it will probably never be Microsoft’s most popular OS. This is to be expected because Windows 8 was the first OS to cross the bridge from the traditional non-touch screen to both touch screens and tablets.

I will also say this. If you are looking for a new PC or laptop, spend the money on a touch screen  with Windows 8.1. Without a touch screen Windows 8 struggles, but it was never really intended for use with that limitation.

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XP’s First Scare

And so it starts for all of you XP users out there…

It's time to seriously think about shutting your old XP computer down.

It’s time to seriously think about shutting your old XP computer down.

Microsoft confirmed over the weekend that Internet Explorer (IE) versions 6 through 11 are susceptible to a newly discovered vulnerability, and that cyber attackers have already exploited the flaw. Microsoft said it is investigating the bug, and it pledged to release a fix.

Microsoft will release the patch through either its monthly security update or a special out-of-cycle release. Whichever route Microsoft chooses, however, Windows XP users will be out in the cold – unpatched. As of this month, the company no longer supports the OS. In March, XP still accounted for more than a quarter of Internet users, according to the web-tracking firm Net Applications.

Microsoft has recently acknowledged that cyber criminals have already exploited the bug, but is only aware of a few “limited targeted attacks”. The flaw allows remote code execution if a user visits a malicious website, which means an attacker could theoretically gain the same system privileges as the legitimate user.

Here we are only a few weeks past it’s end of life and security concerns are already starting to plague the 13 year old OS.

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Windows XP Lives in Virtual Mode

It's not perfect but Windows XP will live on in Virtual Mode.

It’s not perfect but Windows XP will live on in Virtual Mode.

With Windows XP firmly in the rear view mirror some of you may find that some old applications will simply not run on Windows 7. Don’t panic and know that you really don;t have to go looking for an old XP computer on eBay. Windows 7 Professional has a little feature known as “Windows XP Mode”. By using this mode old XP applications will usually run OK on a Windows 7 computer. This does not come right out “of the box” and you need to find it and install it, but if you need to run an old XP application it is worth the time.

ENABLE HARDWARE VIRTUALIZATION 

First thing you need to do is, check if your CPU has hardware virtualization support enabled. This is a MUST HAVE for XP Mode to be enabled. To check if your CPU is supported, Intel and AMD both offer utilities to identify your CPU and what features it offers. If your CPU supports virtualization, this feature needs to be enabled in the BIOS.

Check here if you a Intel processor.

Check here if you have a AMD processor.

Not sure what processor your PC has? You can usually find this out by right clicking on your “My Computer” icon and selecting “properties”.  It is usually listed in the basic information area on “system”.

DOWNLOAD WINDOWS VIRTUAL PC AND VIRTUAL XP FROM MICROSOFT

You can download both here.

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  • Install Virtual PC mode first then Virtual XP mode. Both installations are straightforward.
  • Launch the XP Mode. Supply a password for local XP Mode user that XP Mode automatically creates on the virtual machine.
  • Turn ON or OFF the automatic updates option.

When the installation is complete XP Mode will launch in Desktop Mode. This is where you will have complete access to the XP environment.

Be aware that XP Mode It is a completely separate desktop environment from your Windows 7 installation. Both Windows 7 and Windows XP will share a common clipboard and nothing else. This means you cannot drag and drop files/folders from one environment to another. Instead, you can share a USB device between the environments.

There you go. Be aware that Virtual XP mode will use a lot of your system resources so I only recommend running it when you actually need it. Otherwise, once installed you can have acessed to all those old great XP programs!

 

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One Final Shutdown for XP

Today, twelve and a half years after it’s launch, Microsoft resigned its popular Windows XP operating system to the great Recycle Bin in the sky. And yet, despite reaching the end of its life, Windows XP will no doubt continue to live on at least for some us for a little more time.

it's one final shut down for Windows XP.

It’s one final shut down for Windows XP.

 

The OS lived far longer than Microsoft could ever have imagined. Mainstream support for Windows XP ended five years ago, in April 2009, and since then, the company has been providing ‘extended support’ for the OS.

Today marks the official end of the extended support phase for Windows XP (and also for Office 2003). Starting today Microsoft will no longer offer free security patches, updates or fixes of any kind to users of Windows XP across the globe, including consumers and businesses alike.

If you’re one of those people still using a Windows XP PC, what are your options now?

Anti-Virus Software

First – until you actually continue using Windows XP I would choose a third party anti-virus and security suite. My recommendation for this is AVG. Although I am a big fan of Microsoft’s Security Essentials (MSE) it is unclear how this will continue functioning with XP going forward, so I would avoid it in this case.

Upgrade to Version 7

If your computer is less then 3 years old and has at least 4GB of memory (RAM) I would consider upgrading the OS. You can learn about this here.

Purchase a New PC

if you computer is older then 3 years old consider purchasing a Windows 8 PC. You can do this for under $500 if you shop around and are not expecting too much from your computer, such as gaming.

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XP’s Final Day Has Arrived

As everyone who reads this blog surely knows Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP tomorrow, April 8, 2014. This will leave anyone still running the 13-year-old operating system without potentially critical security updates.

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Microsoft really has stuck with this operating system a very long time. Windows XP was released way back in 2001 and, soon after that, Microsoft announced it would support all its products for at least 10 years from the release date. Then in 2007, the company decided to extend support for XP to April 8, 2014 because it was still being so widely used.

With less then a day to go until support ends, estimates suggest that almost 1 in 5 personal computers still run XP. That is crazy. While consumers are entitled to carry on using XP for as long as they like those who choose to do so will be much more vulnerable to cyber attacks.

This is because, every month, Microsoft has released a set of security patches to address any new vulnerabilities that may have been discovered.

The final “Patch Tuesday” for Windows XP, which is tomorrow will bring four bulletins, including a critical fix for a zero-day Microsoft Word vulnerability uncovered last week.

Before I move on to the “what if” for keeping XP know that if you are using a XP machine is is probably at least 6 years old and probably older then that. Microsoft for the most part stopped selling XP to consumers in 2008.

What If You Choose to Stick with XP (which I do not recommend). 

1. Confirm that the machine is running XP. If the home screen hasn’t been personalised you’ll see the familiar XP wallpaper when you boot up, but you can also confirm by clicking the Start button, click Run, type winver, and then press Enter.

2. Choose a new PC. The easiest path to Windows 8.1 is with new hardware and there are offers and deals for consumers out there. Stay up to date on the latest offers on Windows PCs and tablets via the Windows Buying Guide and learn how to choose a new PC.

3. Transfer your files.  There are several options for transferring files, either using cloud storage or using an external hard drive.

4. Get to know Windows 8.1. Once the right PC has been chosen and files migrated, you’ll be ready to explore Windows 8.1. Follow these videos to understand how to get the most out of Windows 8.

 

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The Windows XP Bliss Magic

I have written about the demise of Windows XP many times in an effort to warn you, my readers that it really is time to move on to Windows 7 or 8. If the lack of Microsoft updates and support is not enough maybe this will inspire you to move on to a newer operating system.

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The classic Windows XP default wallpaper, depicting a location of green rolling hills, running in the background is also a thing of the past, or is it. This default wallaper introduced almost 13 years ago with Windows XP still is displayed in all it’s blissful glory on countless computers around the globe.

But where did that idyllic view come from? As CNet Australia reports, the original photo that Microsoft used as the basis for the wallpaper was taken back in 1996 by photographer Charles O’Rear. The actual location is in the wine country of Northern California (you can check out the exact spot on Bing Maps.

O’Rear sent the photo, which he titled “Bliss”, to the Corbis stock image licensing company in 1999, which happens to be owned by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. O’Rear made no alterations to “Bliss” at all when he submitted it to the service. Later, Microsoft paid O’Rear for the rights to use the image as the Windows XP wallpaper. Both O’Rear and Microsoft won’t comment on how much the company paid for “Bliss” but it is believed to be one of the largest amounts ever for a single photo.

The end result is that “Bliss” has become one of the most viewed images in the entire world. Microsoft did crop the original photo and boost the color of the green hills for its use as Windows XP wallpaper but aside from that the image looks just like the original photograph.

This is just another side note to the great success of Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system which is being put out to pasture.

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