CryptoLocker Invades a PD

I have written about the CryptoLocker virus and other security problems countless times in this blog and here is yet another recent real life example of what can go wrong with computer security, even when police departments are involved.

A U.S. police department was so determined to get back important files that had been encrypted by the rampaging CryptoLocker Trojan it decided to pay the ransom being demanded by the criminals.

It sounds like a far-fetched and probably serious breach of law enforcement protocol, but according to a local news report, this is exactly what the police department in Swansea, Mass., decided to do when “several images and word documents,” were found to have been encrypted by the malware.

The department had followed the instructions given by CryptoLocker and on Nov. 10 bought two bitcoins worth $750 which resulted in the criminals sending the decrypt key, police said.

The “Trojan” is so complicated and successful that you have to buy these bitcoins, which we had never heard of,” said Swansea Police Lt. Gregory Ryan in an admission to the press many will find quite staggering.

Ryan didn’t say why the files were so important that a police department saw fit to pay a digital ransom to criminals, but insisted “It was an education for [those who] had to deal with it,” and that at least the infection had not caused damage to the system the department used for booking official reports and logging photographs.

“We were never compromised,” Ryan said, a statement that many would deem inaccurate.

Only last weekend, the UK National Crime Agency put out an alert that the criminals behind CryptoLocker were now targeting UK SMEs on a large scale. Their recommendation is that affected businesses do not pay the ransom, not least because there is no guarantee that they will even receive an unlock key.

There is growing concern about the scale and success of the CryptoLocker campaign which, it is worth pointing out, is far from the first malware to use the technique of locking or encrypting victim’s files. A key element of CryptoLocker’s recent success is that it has started demanding untraceable bitcoins for payment rather than more conventional money channels that were easier to block or trace.

Another weakness is that there is often no central place for affected individuals to report infections, nor seek advice. Consequently, some victims pay up. The citizens of Swansea, Mass., now know that this helplessness includes their local police department.

“With the FBI stating that this type of activity should not be encouraged by paying the ransom, it is surprising to see that the local police department paying to regain access to the files,” commented Gavin Millard, EMEA technical director of security firm Tripwire.

“What is more concerning though, is the apparent lack of security and backup procedures on systems that could be storing critical and highly confidential documents.”

I have written this countless times on this little tech blog. Never ever open attachments that you did not specifically ask for. When in doubt, contact the sender by phone to verify that the attachment is legitimate. Otherwise you may be in the same sinking boat as the police department in this article.

How To back out of IE11

During the past week or 2 Microsoft has added Internet Explorer 11 to it’s list of “critical updates” which can be a real problem for many of us. Many of the internet sites we visit such as banks and other important service providers simply are not ready for Microsoft’s newest browser, and Microsoft should know this. Unfortunately IE 11 (Internet Explorer) was unwisely (if you ask me) added to the most resent critical update list. This means anyone who has critical updates setup to automatically download & install is “rewarded” with the newest internet browser.

Now don’t get me wrong IE 11 has some great new features such as the new Developer Tools, better standards support and better HTML 5 video among other security improvements.

If you find, that after this update occurs IE crashes and does not behave normally or that some of the sites you regularly visit start misbehaving you should downgrade IE 11 to IE 10 or IE 9.

To do this open the “Control Panel” and “Programs and Features”. Then click “View Installed Updates” on the left panel. Be patient as this can take a few moments to load all the updates. Under “Microsoft Windows” select “Internet Explorer 11” and uninstall it.

Once you have completed this you will be asked to reboot the PC. Do this and log back into Windows. Internet Explorer will revert back to either IE9 or IE10, depending on which one you were using at the time of the upgrade.

At some point down the road, hopefully soon, IE 11 will work fine with just about everything we use, but for now, many of us will experience problems with the new browser and downgrading it is really the only solution.

Do You Know a Virus from a Worm?

Here is a question I am asked all the time. Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a Virus and a Worm? Perhaps you – yourself have stepped into my office and asked this very question.

Well very simply a virus is a program that replicates, which means it spreads from file to file on your system and from PC to PC. In addition, it may be programmed to erase or damage data.

Worms are generally considered to be a subset of viruses, but with certain key differences. A worm is a computer program that replicates, but does not infect other files. Instead, it installs itself once on a computer and then looks for a way to spread to other computers.

In the case of a virus, the longer it goes undetected, the more infected files there will be on the computer. Worms, however, create a single instance of their code. Moreover, unlike a virus, a worm code is stand-alone.

To sum this up, a worm is a separate file while a virus is a set of code which adds itself to existing files.

Skydrive Introduces Itself to Apple

Microsoft’s cloud storage solution, “Skydrive” has been my favorite for a couple of years know. Their free service includes 7GB of space which is 5GB more then Dropbox. I had also used a Windows phone for about a year and one of the best features was the direct photo to Skydive upload feature. When I switched over to the Android Galaxy Note 3 this was probably the feature I missed most.

Microsoft is obviously working to expand it’s presence in the mobile platform world with their Windows Phone and Surface tablets. On the software side of things Skydive is one of their biggest successes. Until now the camera to Skydive feature was only available to Windows Phone users.

Last week Microsoft announced a major update to its Skydrive app for iOS, which brings with it more advanced photo storage features, and enhanced Facebook sharing options. This isn’t the first Skydrive app for Apple’s mobile operating system, as Microsoft has had a presence inside the App Store for a couple of years, steadily updating the Skydrive app in the meantime.

Now, with the recent release of iOS 7, Microsoft thought the time was right to give it a complete makeover, bringing it visually into line with the new, minimalist look of iOS. One of the most significant feature alterations is the ability to automatically share pictures taken with your iPhone or iPad onto your Skydrive. Much like Android’s auto-upload to Google+, you can choose whether this is done over 3G/4G or Wi-Fi, plus you’re given the option to lower the resolution of the picture to help make the most of the available space.

Pictures shared through Skydrive are then visible on your Windows computer or tablet, along with images captured from any other device connected to the account. Viewing the pictures through the app, it’s possible to share them directly to Facebook, and Microsoft has added a few new options to make this easier. Single or multiple images can be shared, either to an existing or new album, and can be marked for public or private viewing in the app itself.

Finally, the Skydrive app now integrates with Office Mobile and OneNote for iOS, meaning there’s no more messing around with the Quicklook viewer if you need to examine or edit documents saved in Skydrive. The new look Skydrive app will be ready to download for free from the iTunes App Store today.

I expect that these features will be bright to Android shortly as well.

The Future of Wearable Technology

It has been about 2 months now that I have been using the Galaxy Gear Smart Watch. For the most part my experience has been a good one and I enjoy using the watch. With the holidays approaching and everyone looking for great tech gifts I wanted to recap very clearly my impressions of this and then write a little bit about my thoughts on the future of wearable technology in general.

The Galaxy Gear

The pros of this device are that it is great way to keep up to date with email and text messages without needing to grab your phone constantly. You can of course customize the watch display in various modes to include the date, current weather conditions, steps walked and more.

There is also a camera on the wrist band which can take pictures and short video clips which are automatically sent to your phone as well. The quality of the images are low at about 2mp which is to be excepted.

Because it is connected to your phone through Bluetooth it also acts as an extension to your phone. Incoming calls can be viewed to see who is calling without reaching for your phone and you can even accept or reject the incoming the call from the watch, You can even carry on a conversation with the watch.

The cons include the watch band which I have found is bigger then is should be which is probably the result of the camera which is in the band. Also the battery needs to be charged about every 2 days and there is a dock/cradle which you must use. I mentioned the ability to talk (on the phone) through the watch, however this is very difficult if not impossible in crowded places or if you want to have a private conversation. The last negative point I will mention here is that the Galaxy Gear currently only works with the Samsung Galaxy S II and III and Note 2 and 3.

In conclusion if you have one of the supported phones and you like some of the benefits I mentioned here you might enjoy checking this out. There is some real good uses here and it is always a conversation piece when people see it.


Every time I sit at the pub people ask, “hey is that – that smart watch on TV” and just about everyone I have met is curious about what it does. This leads to my prediction which follows.

The Future of Wearable Technology

First is there a future here? The answer is yes and although we are in the very early stages of finding what works (the smart watch) and what does not (google glass). The “google glass” kind of freaked people out. Who wants to have a conversation with someone who’s attention is obviously somewhere else and who could be taking pictures of you and even recording the conversation. However wearable technology is actually a natural fit for watches and I believe that this is the area where we will see a successful evolution and acceptance by consumers.

The smart watch will be the first successful and profitable wearable technology and this will probably occur during the next two years. You will see this when the watches get a little smaller and can act independently from smartphones.

Microsoft’s eBay Store

I give Microsoft this. Microsoft has tried many innovative things over the past few years. This week Microsoft who already of course has their own retail website, not to mention over 75 Microsoft Store brick-and-mortar locations in the U.S. and Canada. Microsoft obviously has plans to expand their retail presence, and their latest effort in doing is the announcement of their very own store on eBay.

According to the Microsoft blog,” By working with eBay, a top global shopping destination with more than 124 million active users globally, even more customers can now purchase their favorite Microsoft first-party products including Surface and Xbox, as well as accessories. Our customers can expect the same safe online shopping experience, return policy and free shipping from the Microsoft Store on eBay that they’ve come to expect on”

Right now, the eBay page for Microsoft does seem to arrive with a limited supply of products in comparison to the main Microsoft Store site. It is still selling the previous generation Surface and Surface Pro tablets at a discount, instead of having the most recent Surface products on sale. While everyone is looking forward to the Xbox One this weekend, the eBay page is still pushing the aged Xbox 360 console. I hope Microsoft updates their new eBay store soon because this is a great idea but the catalog needs to be updated if it to find success.