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Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

My Emergency Windows Update Plan

What scares you more? A flaw in Windows that could allow an attacker to compromise your computer or a solution downloaded to your computer which Microsoft has had less a week to figure out and test.  Believe it or not, the 2nd choice scares me more.

Here’s what Microsoft says today at update.microsoft.com:

A security issue has been identified in the way Vector Markup Language (VML) is handled that could allow an attacker to compromise a computer running Microsoft Windows and gain control over it. You can help protect your computer by installing this update from Microsoft. After you install this item, you may have to restart your computer.

According to our friends at Sunbelt this new zero-day exploit was initially found on porn sites last week and has now migrated to Yahoo greeting cards.  Along with other great information, Alex Eckelberry offered my favorite suggestion; Disable VML. “Not having VML support is not a big deal as not many websites use it.”

Click on the Start menu and select Run…
To Disable VML copy and paste the following.
regsvr32 -u "%CommonProgramFiles%\Microsoft Shared\VGX\vgx.dll”

To ReEnable use the following command…
regsvr32 "%CommonProgramFiles%\Microsoft Shared\VGX\vgx.dll”

So here’s my plan.
I have already run the VML Disable command on all my systems.  (Thanks Alex)  I’m going to stay clear of Russian porn sites and won’t be tempted to click on any Greeting cards.  This won’t be hard for me since I don’t typically visit porn sites or trust greeting cards anyway.

Luckily, I also have my systems setup so they don’t automatically download and install Windows updates. I’m not going install todays patch from Microsoft because a week long development cycle just scares me more. I’m going to wait 10–14 days until I’m sure no new bugs are introduced.  At that time, I will Re-Enable VML and install the Microsoft update. Sound Good?

Microsoft Security Bulletin MS06–055

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Happy 5th Birthday Windows XP

It really doesn't seem like it's been 5 years since the introduction of Windows XP. I was reminded today by Rob Pegoraro at the WashingtonPost.com.
(Click to read more)
 Windows XP Launch Party Badge
I had the pleasure of attending the launch party for Windows XP which was held in New York City. The event which included a concert in the park by Sting was held in the shadow of  the 9/11 attacks.

Microsoft moved the launch in NYC to support the perception that the city was indeed safe for visitors. It was a very considerate thing for Microsoft Corp and I applaud them. Security was tight and I almost didn't get in to some events because my badge said "Bill" but my NYS drivers license says "William".Frustrated smile
 
My favorite part of the XP launch was Bill Gates showing how easy it was to get the Blue Screen of Death on previous versions of Windows. The theme seemed to be “Upgrade to our new Windows because our old Windows really suck”.

Unfortunately, the birthday celebration comes just as Microsoft announced they'll be dropping support for Windows XP SP1 and SP1a on October 10th 2006.  This includes security updates. (Click to read more)

I’m actually a fan of Windows XP  and with the exception of a test machine, I won’t be upgrading to Microsoft Vista real soon.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Construction Workers Killed My Server

If you came to visit today and noticed a lack of graphics you can thank someone doing construction in Dulles Virginia, where my WinPatrol and BillP.com server lives.  I know the Dulles/Reston/Herdon area well. Every time I’m in town there seems to be 50 new building and 4 new major highways.

I’m told at this hour they have restored power and now have to wait until the air conditioning brings the temperature back to normal. This is actually the first major outage I’ve had in 9 years so I can’t complain.  Hopefully, everything will be back to normal soon.

 

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Privacy vs. Convenience

A few years ago, the ACLU published a really funny, yet scary flash movie about the risks of losing information we now consider private.  You may have seen it or even shared it with 10 of your friends.  It’s short and worth a another quick view.

Click for Pizza Palace Movie
Click to view Pizza Palace Movie

Thanks to Mike in Schenectady for the link

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Claria is my new friend

It used to be that Claria was a dirty word here at BillP Studios. It’s well known as the name of one of the first companies to try and sneak spyware on peoples computers. I’m sure there are still folks running copies of their old Gator programs. The only other Claria I’m familiar with is Claria Horn Shadwick, an attorney in Kentucky who is well known in the world of Equine sports and education.

Now, there’s another good Claria in the world and it comes from my friends at the Seiko  Epson Corporation.  Epson has announced three new “Ultra Hi-Definition” printers that will use its new innovative Claria ink product. Along with newly designed print heads, the output from these new consumer printers can’t be beat.

Disclaimer: I am partial to Epson having created products with them for many years. It was actually one of the VP’s at Epson who encouraged me to spend more of my spare time developing WinPatrol PLUS. The good news, I’m no longer under NDA so I can tell you about my new Claria friend.

While the ink droplets can now be as small as 1.6 picoliters, I’ve found the real benefit to Claria ink is its resistance to smudges, water and even scratches. The size of the droplet can actually vary on each print using Epsons DX5 technology. 

Epson says photos printed with Claria ink will last 200 years which I’ll admit is hard to prove. You’ll always want to match up the paper you use with the brand of printer. In this case, you’ll want to use Epson Glossy Photo Paper  Either way, Epson is setting the bar high with their three new 6 color ink printers and the competition will be scrambling to catch up.

 

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Orders for TiVo HD Exceed Expectations

I ordered my new TiVo Series 3 on the day it was announced but it looks like I’ll have to wait.

TiVo was nice enough to provide free shipping to make up for it.

Dear TiVo Customer,

Thank you for your TiVo Store purchase. Unfortunately, due to excessive order volumes for the TiVo Series3 HD Digital Media Recorder, your shipment has been delayed. We will be refunding all shipping charges to your account. The credit should post to your account within 3-7 business days.

Please be assured we will be shipping your order no later than Friday, 9/15/06. You will receive a shipment confirmation email with the tracking information at that time. We sincerely apologize for any inconveniences this may have caused. In the meantime, if you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us at (877) 367-8486.

Best regards,

TiVo Customer Support

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Tennis err.. Mouse Elbow?

I’ve had the opportunity to keep Bits from Bill updated recently but you may find it quiet here for a few days. Today I’m having surgery on my right elbow for what they typically call “Tennis Elbow” or technically, Lateral Epicondylitis.

I haven’t played tennis in many years so I suspect this “Repetitive Stress Injury” is due to some other activity. I don’t even play Pickle Ball which is popular here in Scotia, NY.

I think it’s fair to say what I’ve been experiencing is Mouse Elbow.
Click to learn more

Feel free to take this time and read through some of the archived stories or check out some of the Blogs I’ll be reading while I recover.

Some favorites past stories include:

Your Printer Tells All
Christmas Computers
Personal Information Protection Tips
iPod more popular than Iraq
And my first post… Stupid things I’ve done

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Why is a Codec Bad?

A Codec is normally a good thing. It’s short for “Coder-Decoder” and also acts as a compressor/decompressor. It’s named kinda like Modem was for Modulator/Demodulator.

There are various forms but lately you’ll hear it most often in regard to audio or video translation. It seems to be another popular way of tricking people into installing spyware on their systems.  Here’s how it works…

You’re invited or enticed somehow to view a video, or end up on a page with a video, Could be a Paris Hilton or it could be something really, really funny.
Before you can view said video, you must have a compatible “codec” installed on your machine. So naturally, they offer to let you download this magic codec.
Before you know it, you’re infected with more adware and crap than your computer can handle.

If you’re curious for more information you can read articles at
SunbeltBlog: “Another fake codec site”
Vitalsecurity.org: “Fake video webmaster is also pushing Zango”

Meanwhile, know what and where you’re downloading. Beware of the fake codec! 

 

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Time Warner Battles Against Cable Cards

The 1996 Telcom Act  ruled that cable companies must separate encryption functions from basic decoding functions of set-top boxes. That means consumers shouldn’t be required to rent expensive set-top boxes to view cable channels and opens the possibility for many digital TV innovations.  Unfortunately, some cable companies continue to fight.

As a TiVo fanactic, I just ordered the newest Series 3 HD TiVo which was released today. The new Series3 includes dual cable cards and the abilty to record HD video with THX sound quality.
TiVo
The new TiVo is CableCARD certified but Time Warner has found other ways to discourage CableCARD use.  I wont need to rent my TW HD-DVR but a  new Time Warner restriction comes at the same time as my new TiVo Series 3 arrives.

    August 21, 2006

    Dear Valued Customer,

    We would like to thank you for choosing Time Warner Cable to provide your cable services as we are proud to bring you cutting edge, state-of-the-art video as well as voice and data products.  

    As you are aware, the current CableCARD technology enables access only to our "one-way" programming services.  In order to receive "two-way" programming services such as On Demand programming, the Interactive Program Guide, and more, you must have a digital set-top box.  For your review, we have enclosed a brochure that describes the differences in the capabilities of CableCARD-enabled devices and digital cable boxes.    

    As part of our ongoing upgrade to digital programming, Time Warner Cable will be moving "alternate time zone" channels of our premium feeds to a two-way, switched digital technology.  Premium programming services like HBO, Showtime and Starz often offer multiple channels that show the same programming in different time zones.  In the future, those alternative time zone channels will be available only to customers with two-way digital boxes.

    Please note that as early as September 15, 2006, the following channels will no longer be available:

    Channel # Channel Name Channel # Channel Name
    115 Disney West 747 Showtime 2 West
    708 HBO West 748 Showtime 3 West
    709 HBO Premium West 749 Showtime Extreme West
    710 HBO Signature West 750 Showtime Beyond West
    711 HBO Family West 754 Showtime Next West
    712 HBO Comedy West 755 Showtime Family West
    713 HBO Zone West 756 Showtime Women West
    714 HBO Latino West 763 The Movie Channel West
    725 Cinemax West 764 The Movie Channel 2 West
    726 MoreMax West 776 Starz West
    727 ActionMax West 777 Starz 5 Cinema West
    728 ThrillerMax West 788 Encore West
    746 Showtime West


    If you would like to continue to receive alternative time zone or any of the other digital "two-way" channels or services we offer after September 15, 2006, please contact us at 1.866.321.CABLE.  We will be able to provide you with a digital cable box that will give you access to all of Time Warner Cable's programming and features.  

    We thank you again for choosing Time Warner Cable.


Thanks to Zatz Not Funny, Engadget and PVRBlog  for their continued coverage.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Response from MyWebSearch & FunWebProducts

If you look at the Board of Directors for the company IAC Interactive you’ll find a very respectable list. Some you may recognize names like Barry Diller(QVC, Fox Paramount), Edgar Bronfman Jr.(Seagrams), Victor Kaufman(Tri-Star,Sony), John C. Malone (Remember TCI Cable),  Alan Spoon(Washington Post) and Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf(Desert Storm).  They’re all class acts.

Even Kirk Lawrence, Director of Internet Security and Privacy at IAC Search & Media was likeable, respectful and took plenty of time making suggestions on how we could best describe MyWebSearch.  I’m not sure he fully understands our objections to how MyWebSearch operates. I applaud his efforts but they still have a long way to go.

According to Kirk Lawrence…
 The truth is that since Nov 2004, the MyWebSearch toolbar platform does not have the ability to update itself.  If users need an update, they must go back to our site and download a new toolbar.”

Here’s what I found in the MyWebSearch EULA
“We reserve the right to add additional features or functions to the existing Software. When installed on your computer, the Software periodically communicates with our servers. We may require the updating of the Software on your computer when we release a new version of the Software, or when we make new features available. This update may occur automatically or through other means and may occur all at once or over multiple sessions”

Acknowledging past mistakes, Mr. Lawrence told me…
"We ... cleaned up the advertising networks that we use." 

I followed up with with Ben Edelman, who has put great effort into tracking the ad networks that support spyware. 
Ben tells me he continues to see IAC toolbars widely advertised through other vendors' spyware.  "I've even seen IAC toolbars promoted through banner ads injected, by spyware, into other companies' sites without those sites' permission," Ben added.  
Ben points out that users are likely to respond to IAC's banner ads in hopes of getting free smileys (or whatever) with nothing more, when in fact IAC requires users to take the toolbar in order to get the smileys.  All in all, Ben says, IAC's advertising remains pushy and misleading.  In any event, he says IAC's ad networks definitely haven't been "cleaned up" as IAC claims

The MyWebSearch EULA’s starts out by saying  “SHORT PLAIN ENGLISH SUMMARY OF END USER LICENSE “.  I pasted the EULA into Microsoft Word and found the “short” 617 line “summary” consists consists of 11 Pages,8436 Words and 174 Paragraphs. 

Changed to AOL that occur after installing the MyWebSearch toolbar

No where in the eleven pages does it disclose that MyWebSearch hooks into all of the following programs.
Outlook, Outlook Express, AOL Email, AOL Browser, something called Becky!, IncrediMail, MSN Dial-up, Google Talk, AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger and Windows Messenger. This action probably violates the terms of service for most of these applications.

Kirk said…
“My only real concern is that the software is not categorized as "Adware" or "Spyware" since it is defamatory.”

I have updated our PLUS descriptions so it’s now categorized as Badware instead of Adware. Obviously, there are far worse dangers I’d rather be writing about but as long as we continue to hear, “Where the heck did MWSBar.DLL come from?” I’ll keep my eyes open.  MyWebSearch was a bad acquisition by IAC and they should either fix it, or let it die.

 

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Who is behind StopBadware.Org?

I was recently asked by a company called IAC Interactive to review our WinPatrol PLUS decriptions of programs associated with their MyWebSearch toolbar.   I’m always happy to review our PLUS descriptions to make sure we’re providing users with useful information. It wasn’t a threat like we’ve gotten before, it was a request.

Most Anti-Spyware researchers have been critical of MyWebSearch tool bar.  I installed the latest MyWebSearch and quickly understood why.  I have no problems recommending our users remove this and its related programs as quickly as possible.

My first surprise was when I entered a search for “WinPatrol” using their search engine which claims to be a combination of Google, Yahoo, LookSmart and Ask.com. The first two entries were companies with fraud-ware that tricks users into thinking they were the popular SpyBot, Search & Destroy program.  When I checked my settings I found that boxes for Google, Yahoo and Looksmart were Off by default so only Ask.com was being used.

My next surprise came when I read the User License which basically said at sometime they would downloading additional FunWeb products like Smiley Central, Cursor Mania, Fun Buddy Icons, History Swatter, My Fun Cards, My Info, My Mail Notifier, My Mail Signature, My Mail Stamp, Popular Screensavers and something called Smotos. These programs weren’t initially installed when I downloaded the toolbar and there was never any mention of additional programs being installed with the toolbar. (Click here to read)


These new buttons and more appeared in Outlook
New buttons and more appeared in Outlook

The biggest surprise was when I checked out the management at IAC InterActive Corp.
Click here for Management Profiles. Board includes high-power folks like CEO Barry Diller, his wife, Edgar Bronfman, Jr.,  Gen. Schwarzkopf  and others.  At the top of its board listing is William H. Berkman. His profile says, “Mr. Berkman’s family established the Berkman Center For Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.” 

If the Berkman Center sounds familiar it’s because they led the initiative behind StopBadware.org
Last month StopBadware.org declared one of IAC’s programs called Zinky to be Badware (Click here). Now they say “Zwinky is not badware, although it does engage in behaviors that users should be aware of”. (Click here for more info) You decide for yourself if this is a conflict of interest.

Zwinky is a program geared towards kids and also installs the MyWebSearch complete package. Surprise again, the EULA for MyWebSearch says “You must be 13 years of age or older to register or to use the MyWebSearch toolbar”.

IAC Interactive has a huge stable of internet companies and services.
Click here for a list of IAC Businesses.   I’ve been happy with some of their other services so I hope they’ll drop their MyWebSearch and related products as quickly as possible.

 

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Friday, September 08, 2006

FTC Penalizes Xanga.com $1 Million

While other consumer enemies are getting off the hook, the FTC was successful at making the folks behind Xanga.com pay.  Our friends at the Federal Trade Commission released a press release today.

Xanga.com to Pay $1 Million for Violating Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule

While there are some guys out there who are far worse than Xanga I have no patience for companies who turn a blind eye to child safety online. In this case, Xanga violated the Childrens’ Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 or COPPA.

FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras says…
“COPPA requires all commercial Web sites, including operators of social networking sites like Xanga, to give parents notice and obtain their consent before collecting personal information from kids they know are under 13. A million-dollar penalty should make that obligation crystal clear.”

The key to kids safetly online is education.  There are a number of sites devoted to protecting kids online. If you’re a parent check out the following…

Kim Komando's 10 Commandments for Kids Online

And/Or

Safeteens.com

If you’re web site that collects personal information click here.

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Online Help Forums a Must Resource

I was pleased to see that news of our Back to School Special quickly spread through the various online forums.  While one friend of Scotty(Hi TeMerc) was responsible for 75% of the posts, I appreciate all of you who helped politely spread the news.

Referral stats from Sitemeter allows me to see which forums had posts about the promotion. All of these sites are great resources for sharing spyware information and helping users. I wanted to list them here to show my thanks and introduce them. Many of the following are new to me too but are worth checking out.

WorldStart.com
Broadband Reports.com/ DSLReports.com
CNet Reviews
Security Cadets
Wilder Security Forums
Spyware Warrior
LandzDown Forum
PC Pitstop
WindowsBBS.com
CCleaner
Castlecops
SpywareInfo
Gladiator Security Forum
Scot’s Newsletter
Calendar of Updates
Ask Maggy Mae
Temerc Internet Countermeasures

 

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

CNet Reporters Transferred to Guantanamo Bay

Well, not exactly but it appears there’s another case of folks losing their rights and personal freedoms.  While this situation really can’t be compared to the suspected terrorists being interrogated using torture, errr.. I mean“alternate techniques”, I do have a point to make.

The Bush administration has been setting examples that are openly being adopted by corporate America. Hewett-Packard’s chairman Patricia Dunn recently authorized an investigation of board room leaks that quickly went from an internal investigation to a public embarrassment and potential legal quagmire

Investigators hired by HP decided it was easiest to just go after the phone records of reporters with CNet and the Wall Street Journal to find out who might be talking to them. (Click for Full Story)

My point to all this?  It shows how easy it can be for innocent parties to be violated.
It didn’t required the FBI, CIA or court order to access the phone records. It just took a private investigator in Iowa with  a freeYahoo Email account trick AT&T into giving out the information.

How can any of us trust privacy statements from any companies in this current atmosphere?

From AT&T’s  HOW WE PROTECT YOUR INFORMATION

All AT&T employees are subject to the AT&T Code of Business Conduct…
We employ security measures designed to protect against unauthorized access…
For example:

  • We maintain and protect the security of our servers and we typically require user names and passwords to access sensitive data.
  • We use industry standard encryption methods to protect your data transmission unless you authorize unencrypted transmission.
  • We limit access to personal identifying information to those employees, contractors, and agents who need access to such information to operate, develop, or improve our services and products.

Wow!  They require username and passwords!  Oooooo Awwww!
The AT&T “Code of Business Conduct” is what really makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
And how has this worked out?  I’m sure the folks at CNet will be happy to tell you how they feel about AT&T privacy.


 

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

New Students Need Protection

A number of friends have started their kids off to school this fall with new computers.  Naturally, they first ring me up to make sure they can get WinPatrol PLUS up and running so their kids are protected while at school.

WinPatrol PLUS for full protection

Back to School Special
FREE WinPatrol PLUS Info!

I’ve decided that all new students should have access to as much information as possible so we’ve made our PLUS knowledge base freely accessible for the month of September.

No download or software change is required.
No Email registration, or your mothers maiden name required. 
As of today, anyone with the free version of WinPatrol can access PLUS information.

Over the years we’ve built quite the database which has now grown to over 13,000 program files. Our success/request ratio is at 93%. I’ve always tried to make sure the free version of WinPatrol remains valuable and I hope this helps.  If we continue to get such great support it could be a permanent feature.

WinPatrol PLUS Button
If you’re not familiar with WinPatrol you can Click here to view PLUS Info example.

 

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

AOL Doesn't Understand No Thanks!

I suspect most of you don’t care much about AOL stuff but I be one of the few sources of information left who actually uses AOL on a daily basis. I’ve had my BillP screen name for 20 years and thought I’d have it for life.  I’m starting to have my doubts as AOL continues to annoy me.

AOL wants to force DSL down my throat.
This dialog now appears regularly when I sign on.
On other days, I receive the window below which I cropped to fit here.
Every day I say “NO THANKS!”.

You'd think AOL knew I was already using Broadband.

Certainly, AOL can tell I’m already connecting using “True Broadband”, and should be able to remember I said “No thanks”.
Ironically, I use Time Warner’s Road Runner service for my broadband connection to the internet and AOL. 

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Gateway Advertising Adult Sex

I recently wrote about the dangers associated with new computers but today I found an additional surprise to tell you about.  My new Gateway came with quite a few pre-installed programs which I removed using WinPatrol but one I didn’t remove an IE Helpers(BHO) called “BAE.DLL”. This file is a “Browser Address Error Redirector”.

If you request a web page that doesn’t exist  or can’t be reached you’ll typically get an error page called a “404”. What BAE.DLL does is redirect the standard 404 Error Page to a page created in this case by Gateway with Google ads. 

Instead of providing useful information, Gateway just tells you there’s an error and displays a page full of paid advertising.  The type of advertising is very loosely based on your error. Gateway gets a commission on any ad you click on.

 

Page displayed on new Gateway computers

I was a little suprised by the ads above but many others appeared to be ok, yet pointed to sites which were full of adware and spyware.  If you find BAE.DLL or something called GoogleAFE, you’ll want to remove them and stick with the standard IE 404 error page.

 

 

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Kyra Phillips, Letterman Top10

This isn’t so much high tech but yesterdays blog received so much attention I thought I had to do a follow up. 

CNN’s Kyra Phillips new fame is due to calling her sister-in-law a control freak without knowing her wireless mic was still turned on.  Her bathroom chat was broadcast over a televised speech by President Bush.

As special guest on the David Letterman Show, Kyra agreed to read Letterman’s top ten “Kyra Phillips Excuses”.

If you missed it click here.

I often say, “It doesn’t matter what they’re saying, as long as they’re talking about you.” This may have been embarrassing but it has put Kyra on the map.

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