Bits from Bill

Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Kyra Phillips, Control Freak Sister-in-law

Oops, always make sure you turn off your wireless microphone before calling your sister-in-law a control freak.  That was a hard lesson recently experienced by CNN’s Kyra Phillips.

It would have been bad enough, but her powder room conversation went out live during one of George Bush’s press conferences.  This is really funny.

Click here to view video

Brothers have to be, you know, protective. Except for mine. I’ve got to be protective of him...Yeah. He’s married, three kids, but his wife is just a control frrr-eak."

Kyra, thank you for the laugh and lesson.  You’re welcome to come to Pytlovany Point if you need some place to go this year for Thanksgiving dinner.


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Sunday, August 27, 2006

New Computers Open to Attack

There’s finally a reason to purchase a new computer.  No, there isn’t a new secure version of Windows. There’s a new chip from Intel which works like having a two processors in your machine. Its called Intel® Core™ 2 Extreme. According to Intel's benchmark data the performance is almost double for most tasks although they only claim a 40% increase.   I have to admit, everything I’ve tested has been at least 50% faster which is wonderful.  One Visual Basic program I created to analyze WinPatrol PLUS requests used to take 2–3 hours, now runs in under 10 minutes.  I’m sure increasing my memory to 4 GB also helped.

There is one danger however that you must consider.  Most new computers may include Windows XP SP2, but they may lack a year of weekly security updates.

Just a few of the 50 some security updates that need to be done
Note the scroll bar which indicates a long list of updates

What you see above are just a few of the over 50 security updates I needed to install on my new Gateway FX510 system.  If you get a new computer or you have a student with a new laptop you MUST make sure they install any available Windows updates. It should be the first task you do after installing WinPatrol on any new machine.

Until you install all available updates, you won’t want to visit any unknown websites.  You won’t want to leave your computer on all night connected to your cable modem.  You won’t want to let your kids visit their friends on MySpace.



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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pluto No Longer a Planet

It’s not always easy growing old and dealing with change.  The truth comes out slowly with things like… “Don’t put butter on burns”, “Its no longer a sin to eat meat on Fridays”, and your mother lied when she told you to wait a half hour after eating before you could go back in the pool.

It’s easy to accept new discoveries but when “they” just change their mind it’s annoying.  Yesterday, the International Astronomical Union decided that Pluto was no longer a planet.  Apparently, coming up with a definition for a planet has been as vague as defining the term Spyware.
The new definition says.

"a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.”

Pluto overlaps Neptune’s path with its oblong orbit. As such, it has been disqualified.
neptune and plutos orbit

It will take me a while to digest this but as long as the Walt Disney company doesn’t over react, I think I can handle it.  Originally named “Rover” before the popularity of Planet X, Mickey’s dog turned 77 this year.


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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Update for MS06-042 on hold

Microsoft has acknowledged that last weeks security update didn’t go as smoothly as they hoped. The plan had been to provide a fix today as part of its regular Tuesday update but things are on hold for now. Apparently, the folks at the Microsoft Security Response Center found that testing the fix required more than just one week.

(More Info from Microsoft)

As a developer I can only guess this is a nightmare situation for the folks at Microsoft. There still exists an exploitable flaw in last weeks patch, yet it may be another week before we see a fix.  And even then, I may think twice about updating immediately.  It really depends how many threats appear in the wild trying to use this vulnerable code.

Microsoft Security Advisory (923762)

Meanwhile, my recommendation is to implement Microsoft’s “workaround”.

1.Start Internet Explorer 6.
2.On the Tools menu, click Internet Options, and then click the Advanced tab.
3.In the Settings box, click to clear the Use HTTP 1.1 check box under HTTP 1.1 settings, and then click OK.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Planning a Geek Cruise

Living in the great northeast and being really old, I plan any vacations during the winter months so we can thaw out a little. We really like Aruba but due to all the media running around last year we spent some of February in Puerto Rico. Last week I received an Email from PC World that offered an interesting choice for this winter.

It was called PC Paradise and offered an eastern Caribbean cruise via  While enjoying the cruise a number of classes are offered with speakers like Leo Laporte, David Pogue, Harry McCracken and other well known experts. We’re been talking about doing a cruise and I’m thinking this should be tax deductible business expense!

Classes include topics like “20 Things You Didn’t Know Word Could Do”, “The Undocumented Vista”, “Vista Security 101–2” and “Best Freebies of 2007” which I hope will include WinPatrol.  So it looks like I’ll learn a little more about Vista while Cindi relaxes around the pool and at the Spa.

Click for More Info and maybe we’ll see you on the Lido deck. Otherwise, watch for photos and my review of the cruise next February.



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Saturday, August 19, 2006

VirusRescue Warning

Earlier this year, I predicted this would be the year of the rootkit. So far it’s turned out to be the year of the Fakeware. I've written about Rogue/Suspect Anti-Spyware products. Spywarrior, Suzi Turner wrote last December about the Top Ten roque anti-spyware in 2005.  SpyAxe topped the list and variations of this scheme have continued to spread through out the year.

The newest culprit is called VirusRescue and it’s not hard to get infected.  The scheme goes something like this. You’re tipped off about a cool, funny or adult video that you really want to see.  When you go to view the video, you’re told you need to download a “codec” which is required for that particular video format.  This isn’t unusual except, this video codec infects your system.

A few minutes later you’ll receive your first pop-up alerting you that a virus has been detected. Of course, you can remove the virus by purchasing VirusRescue for $29.95.  The VirusRescue web site looks legitimate and someone who claims to represent the company claims it’s not Fakeware. (More Info at Security Cadets)

There is some real evidence that VirusRescue is just another version other rogue programs like SpyAxe, SpyFalcon, SpywareStrike, WinAntivirusPro, SpyHeal etc…   (More Info from SecurityTicker)

For a complete forensic trace of all the bad guys and their names…(Info from B.I.S.S. Portal)

WinPatrol users have reported some of the following most common filenames popping up so Scotty can remove them; ISAddon.dll, IESPlugin.dll, ISAmini.exe, ISAMonitor.exe.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Fire Safety Reminder

Hundreds of Bloggers recently wrote about the Dell Laptop fires and the Dell/Sony Battery Recall.  While most Blogs repeated the same facts, I thought it was a good time to remind everyone that fire prevention and computers should always be taken very serious.

This should be a wake up call to anyone who has more then one power strip under their desk. I have had a number of positive comments from readers and thought I’d do what I could to make it as easy as possible.

Below are a number of products you can purchase today from Amazon and never leave your chair.

Stop Drop and RollStop Drop and Buy this book
Written for kids, its still easy enough for geeks and office managers to understand.

First Alert Smoke and Carbon Monoxide AlarmSmoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm
You have one right?
True Story: A woman once wrote complaining about an annoying beeping ever since installing WinPatrol. Turns out it was a low battery on her smoke detector. Thanks to Dave for helping me debug that one.

First Alert Twin Value Pack Fire Extinguishers
One for your kitchen and one for your home office.

Fire Safe Media ChestFire-Safe® Media Chest
Of course you do regular backups, but where do you store the backup media?

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Gateway Extended Warranty Startup

I'm the owner of a new Gateway FX510 computer, complete with the latest Intel® Core™2 Duo Extreme Processor. I will write more about this new speedy Intel CPU but today I'm evaluating what junk comes pre-installed in the system Startup Program list.

Even though I had worked with Gateway from 1996 to 2004 I surprised myself with this purchase. Most of my friends at Gateway are gone after the company restructured and I expected my next purchase to be a Dell. Turns out Gateway offered the system I wanted and I’m optimistic that Gateway has reopened their US based support centers in South Dakota.

As expected, the Startup Programs list had its share of useless crap but not as much as I’ve cleaned out of recent Dell laptop purchases for family members. (More Info)

Click for a larger view of Startup programs
Click for large view

The list above includes a few things I’ve added like WinPatrol and TiVo. It really isn’t a horrible list although a few items like Recguard and Reminder don’t even exist on the hard drive.  Very sloppy.

The real surprise for me was a program called Gateway Extended Warranty.  If you look at this program with WinPatrol you’ll see it was created by BillP Studios.  This was one of the last projects I did for Gateway although it’s not listed on my Gateway page.  I’m sure many will find it ironic considering my favorite program, WinPatrol, is designed to help you get rid of startup programs just like this one. 

Essentially, the Gateway Extended Warranty program runs on startup and checks how many days have gone by since you first opened your computer.  If it’s been near 60–90 ( I forget exactly) it will pop up a message letting you know and helping you to purchase an extended warranty.  If not, it just exits.

Leaving this program in your startup list won’t hurt your performance but it will slow down your boot time.  It won’t hurt my feelings if you remove it.  If however you want to be reminded that your warranty about to end,  its a handy application.


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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Another Bad AutoUpdate

If you’re a web master you may not be happy with last week’s automatic update from Microsoft. It seems changes made to Internet Explorer 6 may cause it to crash when users visit your web site. (More Info)

If you’ve read my previous entries you’ll know I think auto-updates are evil. It seems like almost every Tuesday Microsoft is pushing out another security update. This week even the Dept. of Homeland Security went public encouraging users to obtain the latest security update.(More Info)

Meanwhile, I’ve been recommending setting Automatic Updates to
“Notify me but don’t automatically download or install them”.
“Download updates for me, but let me choose when to install them”

Given the frequency of failures, I usually wait at least a week before installing new updates. That gives the world time to beta test Microsoft’s new code and find any errors.

The last big one was a failure of certain HP applications. This week its a problem viewing web sites which use HTTP version 1.1 along with compression. IE will just crash.

Even before this recent failure others have been discussing the problems of upgrades and quick to market software.

InfoWorld: Ed Foster wrote about “The Source of Bad Software
Sunbelt BLOG: Deb Schinder wrote, “Are You an Upgrade Renegade?”

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Dell Batteries and Fire Safety

Last month I wrote about the dangers of overheated lithium batteries in laptops after news broke of a dramatic fire at a conference in Japan.

Dell laptop explodes and catches fire

This week Dell has announced the recall of over 4.1 million laptop batteries and recommend users stick with AC power until their battery can be replaced.  If you have a Dell laptop and want to find out if your battery is recalled click below.

For phone support numbers click here.

The batteries were actually manufactured by Sony and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure these batteries can be found in other notebook computers.

Check your smoke detector

This should be a good time to review your fire safety procedures and push the button on your smoke detector to test its battery.  If you’re reading this, you probably have a number of electronic devices along with wires and power strips under your desk.

Fire Escape Plan

Do you even have a smoke detector, small extinguisher or escape plan?

Do you have a separate location for backups or a fire proof media safe?

This stuff is more important than watching funny videos at YouTube or reading other Blogs so I encourage you to make it happen today.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

AOL Search Data Reveals All

Earlier this year the Justice Department requested search data from a number of companies. Google made headlines as one of the major search engines who refused to supply any search data and went to court to protect it. (More Info)
The government was surprised because after all, they weren't asking your user names, just an ID that could show trends from individual users. The research was on how people find child porn so how dare Google refuse. Right?
AOL Saved  Searches 
Well, not all companies refused. In fact, some imbecile at AOL made the mistake of posting search data online where anyone could download it.
I've spent the day analyzing over 2 gigs of AOL search data and I can only say "thank you Google". I was able to access the data and I’ve imported it into an nice, neat Access database. I am amazed at how easy it can be to actually identify a real person based only on their Search terms.  This is really going to make me think twice about what I search for. It certainly won't be on AOL.
The New York Times identified AOL user #4417749 as Thelma Arnold, a 62 year old widow who lived in Liburn, GA.  All they had was the topics that she searched on. How could that be possible? ( Read More )
It’s been hard to stop playing with the data and write this Blog article.  I have also identified a number of people who found and purchased WinPatrol after searching on AOL.  I now know more about these folks than I really want to.

For instance,  User #3276143 found WinPatrol by searching on “Startup program removal downloads”.
He also searched on “Jenny Craig diet”, “free preview sex movies”, “pocavalleybank”, “tractor supply”, “” and the really strange one “amc pacer”.

User #6303071 is into knitting, clay pot cooking, opusinteractive, tom cruise and appears to be having “withdrawal symptoms from percoset”.

Curtis, or User #1424792 lives in Dayton, loves mini pecan tarts, bubble puzzles, was in the marines, purchases supplies for the Lane Metropolitan Community Church in Cleveland. I wish him luck on the new bathroom vanity he’s working on and replacing the damaged floppy drive.  That might also explain why he’s been searching for toilet icons.
Who owns my search requests?  Does AOL, Google or anyone have the right to keep this information for over three months? 
Does keeping this data compromise our privacy?  You bet your ass!  Even using an anonymizer service won’t protect you. Do I want anyone to have access to this data?  Hell NO!

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Monday, August 07, 2006

AOL Legitimizes Spam

I guess I knew it was only a matter of time before AOL added me to those users who have just about had enough. As one of the architects of America Online I've always recognized their value over the poor treatment of customers.  AOL has made huge changes in hopes of increasing their user base but they continue to shoot themselves in the foot trying to be profitable. If they lose me that’s certainly not a good sign. 

While the internet community is laughing at the most recent embarrassing, “I want to cancel AOL” video, AOL has started to encourage and legitimize E-mail from vendors who pay the toll.  The Email below arrived today as AOL Certified Mail via their Goodmail Email system I wrote about earlier this summer. (More Info)  According to previous reports paid up to 25 cents for each user who gets this unsolicited Email.

Recent sample of AOL legitimate SPAM

I can say without any doubt,  I never signed up on to receive their spam, nor did I ever give them permission to use my Email address. I could have sworn there was a law against this.

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Another Tuesday Windows Security Update

Microsoft has another important one coming tomorrow, August 8th, 2006. If you allow the update tomorrow you should expect a reboot to occur.

Security Updates

 Ten Microsoft Security Bulletins affecting Microsoft Windows. The highest Maximum Severity rating for these is Critical. These  updates will be detectable using the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer and the Enterprise Scan Tool. Some of these updates will require a restart.

 Two Microsoft Security Bulletins affecting Microsoft Office. The highest Maximum Severity rating for these is Critical. These updates will be detectable using the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer. These updates may require a restart.

Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool

 Microsoft will release an updated version of the Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool on Windows Update, Microsoft Update, Windows Server Update Services and the Download Center.
Note that this tool will NOT be distributed using Software Update Services (SUS).

Non-security High Priority updates on MU, WU, WSUS and SUS

Microsoft will not release any NON-SECURITY High-Priority Updates for Windows on Windows Update (WU) and Software Update Services (SUS).

Microsoft will release two NON-SECURITY High-Priority Updates on Microsoft Update (MU) and Windows Server Update Services (WSUS).

Click for More Info

Unless your habits invite problems I typically recommend waiting 5–7 days before installing  updates.  Given the changes being made to Office, a tool you may use a lot, I would go for the full 7 days.  Let everyone else test the changes for a week. You can set your Windows Update settings to automatically download or just let you know the updates are available, but it doesn’t mean you have to install them.


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Sunday, August 06, 2006

You Can't Trust Photos

Sometimes it’s good to read the Disclaimers at any site you visit.
For instance, the news service Reuters says…

“Although Reuters makes reasonable efforts to obtain reliable content from third parties, Reuters does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views or opinions given by any third party content provider.”

Reuters may have to rethink what “reasonable efforts” are after an obviously altered photo was widely distributed and could still be found on Yahoo News earlier today.

The photo on the right below was originally accepted and published by the Reuters news service.  As anyone can see more smoke was added by cloning tool, the photo was stretched and sharpened by a photo editing program, probably Photoshop.

Faked Reuters Photos
Click on Photo for larger view

The photo is smoke rising from downtown Beirut after a bombing by the IAF.
Click for more info

Reuters PR says, they have suspended the photographer, Adnan Hajj until investigation is completed.

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