Archive for June 6, 2011

Assorted News 36 – Bugs are about, and other stuff :)

Assorted News 36 – Bugs are about, and other stuff 🙂

In this edition:

Not much 🙂 Just some updates re. Viruses and Skype.

Assorted News:
Unexpected increase in virus activity.
Skype goes feral for some.
ACA reviews the Microsoft Calling scam.

General Ramblings:
I win a bunny…
SwitchWise – cheaper power?
A $100 tablet, might be OK…
BitCoin goes Bonkers.

Popular Internet and Phone Prices.

A car that plays LPs.
Ignored by six and a half police.
Prado takes on Bluebird, Wins.

Unexpected Increase in Virus Activity.

I’m starting to see more ‘viruses’ these days compared to months ago. This is not in itself of great concern, but some recent viruses have started to cross the line between being annoying and being destructive.

The biggest problem at the moment is that I can no longer give you sure-fire tips on how to deal with them, because there is almost nothing I can say that will be guaranteed to tell you how to accurately recognise a virus; so for the time being I am changing my recommendation to the following:

If you see anything on your screen appear out of the blue claiming you have more than one virus, press the power button on your computer to turn it off. (Or tell your computer to shut down.)

If the message reappears after turning the computer back on, you probably need help.

(You can safely close any documents you have open before doing so, but do not click any other message on the screen.)

Why do I say to do this? Well, the majority of viruses (technically Malware, true viruses are rare) aim to trick you into installing a fake antivirus program. They can do this by bringing up an animated picture that makes it look like you have viruses. The problem is that even this animated picture might be booby-trapped so that the close button is actually an install button – and there’s no guaranteed way to know.

The other reason for saying this is because there’s nothing stopping the virus from guessing what antivirus program you have and making a window that looks identical. I don’t think they’re doing that yet but it’s only a matter of time. They certainly pick very convincing names these days.

“But what if I have a virus scanner?”

They often don’t work. To recognise a virus they need someone to have seen that virus before and reported it. That takes time, and these new scams change their name and design daily.

“Why do people make these things. Haven’t they got anything better to do?”

No. Imagine you were unemployed and hungry. Imagine you had no job prospects, but endless time to spend on the computer. It’s very rare that you’ll be able to dream up the next FaceBook or Twitter to make some money, so there’s a chance that you too will lose your moral fabric and start buying these viruses in kit form, customising them and raking in the money. The underlying problem is overpopulation and underemployment.

“What else can I do?”

Well, apart from ignoring the social engineering attacks, the most important thing is to keep your computer and the programs you use up to date. The good news is that Windows will generally take care of itself in this department; but you’re still responsible for keeping Flash and Java up to date. (And remember, if you’re not using Java, best to uninstall it. The only common program using it these days is FrostWire.)

If you don’t want to have to care about keeping anything up to date, the best solution is to install Google Chrome and let Windows take care of doing its updates automatically on shutdown. (Chrome automatically keeps all its plugins such as Flash up to date without needing your help.)

The most secure setup I know of for Windows however is to install Firefox along with the NoScript addon. Doing so makes browsing to new pages a bit annoying as you have to manually trust each page if you find bits of it not working. That said, if you mostly visit the same sites regularly it’s not too much of a drag.

Apple computers are still largely immune to traditional viruses, but are no longer immune to the Fake Antivirus problem with a new one called MacDefender raking in the dough from unsuspecting Apple users.

On Windows, the most common activities for the latest bugs are the following:
1 – Hide all your icons and your files.
2 – Disable your wallpaper.
3 – Removes all the icons from your start menu
4 – Kill any program you try to open, including your antivirus
5 – Stop your Internet access.
6 – Possibly actually delete some programs – one instance of this so far.
7 – Possibly actually delete your start menu programs completely – one instance of this so far.
8 – Possibly install a rootkit

Occasionally they do not kill the antivirus completely, and the antivirus strikes back a few days later after an update and kills the malware – but rarely do they fix all the rest of the mess.

Rootkits are most problematic component – if you get a rootkit on your computer it can then be invisibly operated by a third party and that activity will be invisible to your antivirus. Typically it means you think you get rid of the bug, then another one pops up in short order. These can often only be removed by scanning the computer’s hard drive via another clean computer – a time consuming process. In rare occasions, the damage may not be recoverable and the computer has to be reloaded from scratch.

Other options for being more secure:
Buy a Mac. (Not my favorite computer system, but it was designed to be secure from the beginning of OS X.)
Install Ubuntu or use a Ubuntu live CD. (It’s like a Mac, but runs on an ordinary PC – can run on the same computer as Windows without having to wipe Windows.)
If you don’t like installing updates all the time, try Chrome on Windows as it updates both itself and Flash invisibly.
Use your phone or tablet / pad for web browsing since there aren’t yet many viruses for these.

Tablets and Phones will be a target in the future, but in most cases Apple / Google can remove programs remotely without your help if they are discovered to be malicious. Android was designed from the beginning to ‘sandbox’ each program so that they can’t do more than you gave them permission to do when you installed them. (They ask when you install – for example “Use GPS, Access Phonebook, etc”.) The iPhone relies more on Apple / Steve Jobs vetting each program that is submitted to the App Store, whereas Android will let anything in initially. Mind you, Apple is so greedy in demanding 30% revenue from every developer and sale they make through their app, that I can’t condone using them.

Skype goes Feral for some.

Skype is in the process of being purchased by Microsoft, but that isn’t finalised yet.

In the mean time, Skype seems hell-bent on destroying itself.

Some customers have had Skype add a gaming system to their computer uninvited. Others have had trouble with Skype shutting down randomly or refusing to open at all.

Skype has also upgraded to version 5 and changed the interface to a horrible mess with advertising all over it.

For the time being, if you’re having any of the above problems I recommend uninstalling Skype, and then reinstalling an older version from (Your account and contacts are unaffected.)

I don’t know what the future holds for Skype. Microsoft has a tendency to buy-and-destroy, but that’s not always the case. It’s rumoured that they only bought it to stop their rivals, such as FaceBook, from getting it.

ACA Reviews the Microsoft Calling scam.

I get about one call a week from customers who have been contacted by scammers claiming to be from Microsoft. Here’s a video from the ACA that explains the tactics.

SwitchWise: Cheaper Power?

As power bills continue to rise, it might be time to shop around for a cheaper provider. Here’s a website (there are others) that lists all the providers and if you type in the figures from your last bill it will estimate what you could save with a different company. I haven’t made the jump yet, but it’s tempting – especially since my home is heated with electricity 🙂

My Example:

Note: It might be worth reading up on the providers too. The ones with two or less stars are apparently known to be troublesome.

I Win a Bunny…

About a month ago I called in to the old “Guyra Neighbourhood Centre” while killing time between jobs, and checked out their renovations. In doing so I apparently entered a draw to win a large stuffed rabbit, and about a week later I get an email to let me know that hoppingus maddius is ready to be picked up.

I enjoyed the companionship of the 40cm tall stuffed floppy eared bunny simulant for a while, but having an already full house decided it would have a more useful life elsewhere – and thus donated it to the Guyra Hospital. Hopefully it will make the life of some kids happier.

Nice to see the Guyra NHC, now rebranded as “The Hub” has secured some money to keep trading for a while. I don’t know much about what they do, but did see them in the Guyra Argus this week at

Bunny Pic at

A $100 tablet, might be OK…

A few of you have seen the Galaxy Tablet I’m carting around and using daily, and those of you who have asked have been disappointed that they’re not currently available at their $299 price.

Well, I see Big W is flogging a $100 tablet that, while certainly not as good as the Galaxy, would still be good enough if you want to get started in the Tablet world. Like the Galaxy, this one also works as a phone and an “Internet Anywhere” seven inch slab, so if you want Email on the go without carting a laptop around, it could be OK. You could also use it as an MP3 player, a cheapo Camera, possibly a Skype phone, and an endless supply of games – educational and otherwise, etc.

I haven’t seen what store stock is like. According to it’s available until 17th June. Not sure what Optus is bundling, but odds are the TPG $1 per month 10 cent per minute mobile SIM plan or the $20 per month 5 hour or 1.5G ratio plan would suit this device for most people. (Note that it probably doesn’t work on Telstra’s network, so if you’re planning to go bush, it might not suit.) I’ll probably grab one just to play with later this week. Oh, by the way according to it will play Angry Birds – which is free on Android’s App Market 🙂

BitCoin goes Bonkers.

Two newsletters ago I talked briefly about a new ‘currency’ called BitCoins. Recently, PayPal banned buying and selling them through PayPal, and there have also been several reviews of the BitCoin system in the media. When I wrote about them, one BitCoin was worth about 80 cents. They’re now up to abour $15.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the system won’t come crashing down, but nonetheless it’s fascinating to watch 🙂

Popular Internet and Phone Prices.

Here’s a listing of the most likely popular Internet and Mobile plans currently known by myself. All figures are approximate, and town availability is based on likely service quality as well as availability. No guarantee is made to the accuracy of this data, as it is a rough guide only. Install / setup fees may apply. Figures are monthly.


ADSL1 ADSL2 Guyra Armidale
Exetel $34.50/100G $39.50/50GB Yes Yes 6/12 month contract, no excess fees.
$30/5GB No Yes 18 month contract, no excess fees.

Mobile Internet

Mobile Internet Guyra Armidale
Exetel $25/5GB Yes No 12 month contract, Massive excess fees. No warning on usage.
TPG $1 + $27.50/GB Yes No No Contract
Telstra $10/1GB Yes Yes No Contract, Massive excess fees. Requires existing phone plan. Warning on Usage.

Mobile Phone (optional internet.)

Mobile Phone Guyra Armidale
TPG $1 + 10c/min Yes Yes Internet $27.50/GB, No Contract
Telstra $50 for 6 hrs Yes Yes Includes 1GB Internet, No Contract, Massive excess fees. No warning on usage.
TPG $20 for 5 hours Yes Yes Or ratio up to 1.5GB offsetting calls, No Contract, Massive excess fees. Warns on usage.

A Car that plays LPs

Well, actually it’s a van. They surely wear the records out quickly, but are nonetheless amusing to watch! They’re a Japanese toy from the ’70s.

Ignored by six and a half police…

So far the LED Lighting I added to the Bluebird has passed the eyes of six and a half police people. (One I know was off duty.) There hasn’t been any mad skidding of tyres and sudden U-Turns as they’ve passed me by, so I guess it’s a case of so far so good.

Prado takes on Bluebird, Wins.

On a less positive note, someone backed into my car and left a relatively benign dent. Surprisingly they also owned up to it. Since the time to repair is apparently four days, it will be a while before I get it sorted. It’s nice to know that the other person owned up and I will send them a gift when it’s all resolved.

Well, that’s it for another newsletter.

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Michael Kean
Proprietor, Cool Country Consulting.
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