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Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Phoneymail.com Points to the Truth

In all my years of answering questions about Spam the response has consistently been the same. “IGNORE IT”. Unfortunately, the old adage, of “Ignore it and it will go away” only works if everyone cooperates.


Everyone in the industry agrees, no matter what an Email says, don’t reply. All it does it confirm that your Email is active and your name will be sold on the spam market. Most experts also recommend creating a free Email address that you can use for any service or store online that requires you to enter an Email address. This kind of Email address can be a throw away and not one that you give to your family, friends or other people you want to reach you.


In addition, tell your friends, “Please, don’t send me an online greeting card or enter my Email address in any form so you can share something with me”.


I was very distraught after a recent conversation with a young family friend. We were talking about Photoshop and she admitted not only having an illegal copy but she purchased it in response to an unrequested Email promotion. I couldn’t believe it. We all know people who may have some kind of pirated material but she purchased this in response to SPAM!


This was a family friend who I had finally trained to ignore any Email that concluded with “Forward this Email to 10 of your friends”. She knew that Microsoft wasn’t going to send her money for forwarding an Email. She knew that people weren’t waking up in ice-filled bath tubs with their kidney’s harvested yet she became one of the causes for all our spam.


I’m really glad she isn’t going bald, overweight or in need of bigger penis or it could be even worse. CNet even did a story last week about a woman who died after purchasing drugs online.


So, please don’t respond to spam. I have started to build a new website to help. If you do get an Email you’re not sure of, just go to http://www.phoneymail.com/


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Monday, August 27, 2007

Things I Learned in Deutschland

As I mentioned last week Scotty took a trip to Germany. Since he’s a geek puppy he wanted to visit LegoLand while in the country. He had a great time. Scotty and Family at LegoLand

For family and friends who knew the purpose for my trip, I can say that the company was great but I won’t be returning with as much as I had hoped.

A few things I learned this trip to Germany...

When I type in http://www.google.com/, it automatically directs me to http://www.google.de/. Even Blogger gave me instructions in German when I tried to sign on. It was a little scary on Wednesday when as soon I signed on everyones Blog crashed for over an hour.

I tried downloading from Amazon UnBoxed so I could watch movies in English but it wouldn’t let me. Apparently, there is no digital rights deal with folks connecting from Germany.

As with every time I travel, I really miss my TiVo’s. My SlingBox didn’t work as planned because of Vonage’s VTech equipment back at home wasn’t set to “port forward” it. The only programs we could find in English were on MTV. I can tell you they don’t show the same things on MTV as they did when I was younger. It appears that all the gains women have made as far as dignity and respect in the 70’s and 80’s have been destroyed by current role models on MTV style shows.

I did find that Autobahn was very safe to drive even at high speeds but driving around town was tricky. Apparently to save energy, they just turn off most traffic lights on nights and weekends.

Sponge Bob sounds really funny in German and his name is changed to Sponge Bob, Sponge Head.( Spongebob Schwammkopf )

I learned that the German government had their computers hacked and I want to go on the record that it wasn’t me.

A young lady turned me on to an interesting site called Uncyclopedia, which is a parody of Wikipedia. Some of the humor is a little over the top for me but they have some funny stuff and I’m amazed at how many topics you can search.

Tomorrow Scotty and I will be returning to the U.S. with a six hour lay over in Charlotte.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Let's Talk About Startup Applets and Services

The only thing I hate more than programs that auto-update without permission are programs that automatically start without getting your ok. One of our new friends, Larry Osterman wrote a multiple part series describing his thoughts on the topic. As a Windows programmer for Microsoft Larry has some real insight on how and why startup applets and many services exist.

If you’re interested, especially if you’re a programmer, the links to each topic are below. You’ll also want to read the comments and replies to comments on each topic.

1) It's my computer, dagnabbit, not yours!


“Applets come in lots of sizes and shapes - they can be services waiting on an app to use them; they can be processes that handle systray icons; they can be helper applications. But they share one common: they all consume resources, sometimes LOTs of resources. And I would rather that these applets NOT consume resources.”

2) Why do people write applets?


“Generally, applets seem to fall into several rough categories:
Updaters
Notification Area Handlers
Helper applications
Services


3) So why are applets so bad, anyway?


“Updaters often to run all the time, even though they're only actually doing work once a day (or once a month). That means that they consume resources all the time that they're active.”

4) Applet Mitigations


“Think about how to reduce the applets impact on the user. Reduce the DLL load in your applet whenever possible - each DLL you load consumes a minimum of 4 private pages (16K on x86) and takes between 500K and 1M cycles to load.”

5) Applet Mitigations – Updaters


“…use the task scheduler functionality built into Windows to schedule your updater. The task scheduler is a remarkably flexible mechanism for scheduling periodic operations. “

6) Applet Mitigations – Notification Area Handlers


“…some notification area handlers are quite well thought out and provide easy access to useful information or commonly accessed functionality (the volume, clock, taskmgr, "safely remove hardware" and RSS Bandit are ones come to mind). Some have questionable value (the network and outlook handlers come to mind), some just don't seem to make sense at all (Quicktime and handlers like the various display driver and printer control panel notification area handlers)”


7) Applet Mitigations - Services
"...seriously consider how much time you spend in your service's start routine. The less time the better (especially if you're an auto-start service). The less work you can do before reporting that your service has started to the service controller, the faster the system will boot. "

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Scotty Visiting Deutschland

Even back in the 90’s when WinPatrol was first developed our biggest fans outside the U.S. were located in Germany. Even now, over 6% of our August downloads were WinPatrol’s German version. We’ve always had great reviews by Stern.de, ZDNet.de, PC Welt.de and many others. Back in my C=64 days some of the smartest programmers I knew were in Deutschland.


WinPatrol Startup in German


Scotty and I are heading to Germany.  Most of today is going to spent with US Airways on my way to the Frankfurt Airport.   We have a three hour lay over in Philly, but at least I know they have decent wireless service there. Hopefully, I won’t have any travel nightmares to write about. 


American’s always have two comments when you tell them you’re going to Germany.  The conversation always comes around to Beer and the Autobahn.  Well, I’m not a beer drinker but yes, they really do have beer in McDonalds.  Yes, you can go as fast as you want on the Autobahn. Just in case someone from Avis reads my blog I won’t comment on how much I really love driving the Autobahn. The best part of the Autobahn is that everyone knows enough to stay in the right lane unless they’re passing.


This isn’t a vacation trip so I’ll be keeping in touch.  I’m sure I’ll also post a photo or two and other news while I’m gone.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Who Owns the Breathalyzer Source Code

You’re caught driving after having a few to many and arrested for DWI. After you sober up, you need to come up with a good excuse or legal position to save your butt. How about blaming the breathalyzer machine? That’s a number of folks have tried and it worked.


Three years ago in Florida, 150 defendants joined forces and demanded complete access to the breathalyzer machine including the proprietary source code that controls the device.  The Intoxilyzer 5000 is manufactured by CMI Inc and naturally, CMI considers the software in their machine to be off limits.  The Florida courts ruled in favor of the defendants and ordered CMI to release the source code. They refused so all charges were dropped.


Last February an alleged drunk driver in Minnesota, Dale Lee Underdahl decided to use the same defense. Again, the courts ruled that access to the technology was the defendants right. In this particular case, the reason behind the ruling is significant!


Not only did the defendant have the right to the source code, but the Minnesota Supreme Court declared that the source code was property of the state of Minnesota.  In purchasing the Intoxilyzer 5000, the state bid was worded so that it owned “all right, title, and interest in all copyrightable material”. 


Hey, do I own the rights to Microsoft Windows source code by purchasing Windows?  Unfortunately, no.  In the Minnesota case, CMI sales department agreed to purchase terms that they didn’t understand. They probably thought they’d find a way around a section where they agree to provide “information to be used by attorneys…”.


This ruling still spotlights an issue that I’m sure I’ll write about again.  Will we see a Zango sue a company like PC Tools and request access to the source code to see why Spyware Doctor deletes it’s software?


What about the source code to your new local voting booth?  Diebold one of the best known makers of voting software has been trying to exit the business.  Nobody would touch it, so now they’ve decided to just change the name of the e-Voting division. The new business will be called “Premier Election Solutions”.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

FlashPix ActiveX ZeroDay Fix

My good buddy Alex over at Sunbelt Software alerted me to a new Zero Day vulnerability that has been announced by US-Cert(United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team). The bug was discovered and demonstrated yesterday by Krystian Kloskowski.


This is the kind of infection that can occur just by going to the wrong web page or reading an HTML document. You don’t have to download or agree to anything for this kind of threat to attack your computer.


The flaw was found in a file “DXTLIPI.DLL” which may or may not exist on your computer. This file is the container of an ActiveX control from Live Picture Corporation known as “FlashPix”.


The only available solution requires a change in the registry so the current version of this ActiveX will not be executed by Internet Explorer.


For those who aren’t comfortable using Regedit, I have created a registry script which will make the change for you. Just run the following to protect your computer. You can also save it to your computer and run it after download.

http://www.winpatrol.com/support/flashpixoff.reg

You'll see the following dialog

This script will set the kill bit for this ActiveX definition. If you’re using Netscape, it won’t run the script, it will just display the text contained in the script. Of course, if you’re using Netscape, you don’t have to worry about it anyway. Wink Wink



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Where Did I Save That File?

I spent the weekend with a friends Vista based laptop, cleaning up the results of a Trojan horse that infected his computer. About every five minutes his browser would open a few dozen sessions trying to go to a web site, s2.truth-is-out-there. The reason for my post isn’t to complain about Vista security and why Defender didn’t detect things like the Trojan “mgrs.exe” found by WinPatrol. I really want to like Vista but I found exploring for various files to be annoying.

A long time ago, Bill Gates talked his vision of making Windows “document centric”. While I didn’t agree with Bill, it was suppose to be the solution to one of the big problems with casual computer users; “Where did I save that file”?

The new Explorer in Vista really hasn’t solved the problem of “Where Did I Save That File”. For the most part, only folder names were changed.
Instead of “Documents and Settings”, Vista has a root folder called “Users”.
Instead of “My Documents”, it’s just “Documents”.
The “My” has been removed from other user folders like Music, Pictures, Downloads and they have been given special placement in the Users folder.
“If” and only if an application developer paid attention to the rules, these changes won’t break their programs

File type extensions continued to be hidden by default. I’m not sure why Microsoft considers a “dot” followed by a semi-descriptive extension so confusing. What I found confusing is trying to find how to change this option so I could see file extensions. Under “Organize”, I finally found “Folder and Search Options”. Using the new Search command line in Vista would be much easier with extensions displayed, instead of just little file type icons.

So far Vista has been taking a lot of heat but most of us reluctant to upgrade have been nice. The only people really evangelizing Vista are the authors of Vista books or those who have something to gain by it. I have the most respect for the online helpers and MVP’s who upgraded to Vista so they could help others in need. Most have learned to like Vista but I don’t hear them encouraging others to upgrade. I really want to be more helpful too, and I really want to like Vista but it ain’t happenin’ yet.


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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Windows Security Updates

Like everyone I have my share of computer problems. After trying to deal with numerous problems, I decided to restore my wife’s laptop back to factory settings and start from scratch. Like many of my readers the first thing I do is to download and install WinPatrol.


The next very first step is to re-install all the Windows security updates that have occurred. This was no minor task.  There have apparently been 82 various updates since we received this machine over a year ago.


Updating all my Windows Security updates


I was very happy that before updating Internet Explorer to IE7 it actually asked permission. For now I’m still sticking with IE 6 especially so it doesn’t confuse Cindi.


Microsoft has notified us that next Tuesday will be a big patch day


·         Six Microsoft Security Bulletins affecting Microsoft Windows with a Maximum Severity rating of Critical. These updates will require a restart and will be detectable using the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer and the Enterprise Scan Tool. 


·         One Microsoft Security Bulletins affecting Microsoft Office with a Maximum Severity rating of Critical. These updates will not require a restart and will be detectable using the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer.


·         One Microsoft Security Bulletin affecting Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows a Maximum Severity rating of Critical. This update will require a restart and will be detectable using the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer.


·         One Microsoft Security Bulletin affecting Microsoft Virtual PC and Microsoft Virtual Server with a Maximum Severity rating of Important. This update will require a restart and will be detectable using the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer and the Enterprise Scan Tool.


I'll be downloading the new updates on Tuesday but I'll be waiting a week before installing them. These are pretty big changes and if history repeats itself, there will be some quirks for some users. If you do experience problems, there is a toll-free number that Microsoft has setup for security patch problems.  It’s 1–866–PC-Safety.


Past Comments on Updates:  “Windows Blackout caused by AutoUpdates

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Customizing Your Application Sounds

I think most folks have forgotten how easy it is to customize sound for many applications using the Control Panels, “Sound and Audio Devices” applet. I suspect most WinPatrol users aren’t aware that this feature is fully supported in WinPatrol and many other applications.

It was a nice surprise when I realized how many people missed Scotty’s bark when it was broken on Vista. It’s fixed now and obvious to me that most people really like to hear some kind of audio feedback when they’re performing certain tasks.

To customize your sounds, just go to the Start Button and select “Settings” -> “Control Panel”. Open the “Sound and Audio Devices” applet and click on the “Sounds” tab. In Vista’s control panel it’s called “Hardware and Sounds”. Besides changing your Windows Startup or Shut Down sounds, you will find a number of applications that may be customized.


Control Panel Applet, Sounds and Audio Devices


While this may come as a surprise to many WinPatrol users, this feature has been supported for a couple years. It was added at the request of some of our visually impaired users who wanted some additional feedback on what kind of alert was occurring.


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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

BillP Studios Always Listens

We’ve had over 100 thousand downloads of the new version of WinPatrol so far and the reaction has been extremely positive. So far, most of our Email is either looking for a lost PLUS code or requesting we bring back the original Scotty tray bar icon.


I guess a lot of people are really used to our old four color Scotty icon. I’ve uploaded a new version with a couple slight changes. If you’ve already upgraded to version 12, don’t feel like you need to run over to our download page to get this new version.


Our new build v12.0.2007.1 has two very minor changes.


1) If you’re using RogueRemover it apparently edits your HOSTS file and uses the IP address of 0.0.0.0 to block sites. The HijackPatrol log will now filter these entries out just like it does the local address 127.0.0.1 and others that might be added by the popular MVP Hosts project.
In English, unless your using RogueRemover, this change won’t affect you.


2) I have added an hidden option to allow the use of the original Scotty icon in the system tray. After downloading the new version, you’ll still need to run a registry script which is available at http://www.winpatrol.com/support/scottyicon.reg
Scotty's original 4 color icon
Again, unless you really care about the icon I wouldn’t go through the bother of downloading our setup again.


If you want to know more about what a HOST file is, check out http://accs-net.com/hosts/what_is_hosts.html. Personally, I’m not a big fan of filling the host file with a large number of once known malware sites. On some machines I do think it will slow down internet connections.


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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Cloning Ben Edelman

I first had the pleasure of meeting Ben Edelman in Washington DC at the 2004 FTC Spyware Workshop. I was immediately impressed with his knowledge and passion.  Ben has a long history of shining a light on unscrupulous activities of adware(spyware) companies.  He has followed the money back to many legitimate companies and helped pull the plug on some dangerous trends in software distribution.


Ben Edelman and PC Pitstop's Dave Methvin
Ben Edelman and PC Pitstops Dave Methvin
Feb 2006 ASC Conference


Recently, Ben has come under personal attack after demonstrating how Adware company Zango is thumbing their noses at the FTC and a previous settlement where Zango had their hand slapped. Last month he showed us how eTrust side steps its own responsibility to monitor vendors it has certified.


What I don’t understand is where are the other Ben Edelman’s of the world? Why aren’t the big security companies exposing the sources of so many unwanted installations?  Why doesn’t the FTC use their fines to set up a shop to monitor future sources of adware infiltration?


While writing this story, I did see that the European Union and some corporate sponsors have set aside over 5 million Euro towards malware research. A three year study starting in January will be called “WOMBAT”( Worldwide Observatory of Malicious Behavior and Attack Tools). The focus of this group will be consolidate the research of global attacks in hopes of predicting future attacks and/or cyberterrorism.


I doubt this group will monitor the attacks of seemingly legitimate adware companies. These companies collect vast sums of venture capital and use it to encourage affiliates to sneak their software on our machines. For now, we may have to depend on a single Ben Edelman to be our watch dog.


 


 

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

WinPatrol 2007 version 12

I am very pleased with the feedback I’ve received from everyone who helped test the newest version of WinPatrol. The new version is officially available today.

Everyone seems to really like our new Scotty icon. The last time I tried to change the main icon there was a rebellion of sorts. All our Vista users are glad that Scotty has his voice back.

I’ve had the most feedback about the new HijackPatrol log which is now available on the Options tab. This new informational feature isn’t intended to replace any other program but provides WinPatrol information in a familiar format. Based on the feedback from testers I’ve included additional information in our log like File Type Associations and Hidden file locations.


New WinPatrol Info dialog


All the new reports are available to both Free and Plus users although access to PLUS information has been improved and is available with a single click. Version 12 carries on our goal of helping everyone answer the question, “What the heck is running on my computer, where did it come from and what is it doing?”

For more information on changes and to download version 12, go to http://www.winpatrol.com/upgrade.html

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