All posts by Mitch Mitchell

I'm an independent consultant in many fields, so I have a lot to share.

Protect Your Computer From Malware

Some days ago one of my web clients calls and leaves and interesting message on my phone. He says that his hard drive has crashed and he’s lost everything that was on his C drive. The message asked me to call him as soon as possible.


by Tara Hunt via Flickr

Of course by the time I got that message it was late, and I knew he went to bed early. I called him the next morning and throughout the day, as it was Saturday, and never reached him. So I sent him an email, which I knew he’d get on his phone, and told him to reach me Sunday. He did, we talked, and he brought his computer over and left it with me.

The first thing I did was to hook his computer to my monitor and other stuff. Then I disconnected my wife’s computer from the network and booted his up because I wanted to see what it would do. It booted up just fine, and when it was loading suddenly I saw this message saying the C drive had been compromised, and that he could buy some product to help fix the problem.

I’m assuming most people reading this blog know this already, but he had malware on his computer. The reason I disconnected my wife’s computer from the network up front is because I was betting he had malware. There’s no such message ever telling anyone that their C drive has crashed; it just doesn’t work that way. If it had crashed the computer wouldn’t boot up, instead emitting these little beeps that drive someone like me crazy because of their pitch.

How did he get the malware? I have no clue, and neither did he, but often I see this type of thing when someone goes to a website that’s been compromised, they get an initial warning saying something might be wrong with their computer and to “click here” to check it out, and there you go. The uninitiated will fall for it almost every time, and my client would truly be considered one of the uninitiated.

The trick then is to get rid of the malware. His computer couldn’t access the internet, as figures, so I went to my laptop and downloaded a copy of ComboFix, which works wonders with XP computers; there’s no equivalent yet for Vista or Win 7so I’d have had to do a search on how to get rid of it for his particular issue, but for XP ComboFix is the way to go. I loaded it, then it went online to look for updates and it was ready to go.

What you’ll sometimes see is it saying you have some kind of scanner or virus program running. In this case it said he was running Microsoft Essentials, but I know I’d turned it off and I’d also disabled it under msconfig, and rebooted before running the program, so I knew it wasn’t running. ComboFix will still run, but it’ll tell you that it might not work as well; so be it. The program will create a restore point, then do its job, which could take awhile or it might work fairly fast. In this case it took about 25 minutes, but it killed the malware.

The next thing I did was install CCleaner, which a few people mentioned in my post on clearing out browser history, and ran it in both ways. By that I mean I first ran it to look through all the browsers on his computer to clean things out. Good thing I did because it discovered two dormant viruses that it took care of. Then I ran a registry check and it found over 1,300 bad entries, which I cleared up and then ran it again to fix whatever was left.

After that I added an antivirusand a firewall. Thing is I thought I’d added it to his computer last year when I repaired it, then remembered that this was actually a new computer of only a few months that I hadn’t seen before.

What are the lessons here? One, if you get a warning on your computer and it’s not from a program you know you’re running, don’t click on it. Two, if the message belies the action, such as a message telling you that your hard drive has crashed and yet you’re computer is still running, it’s malware. Three, at the very least disconnect your computer from the internet (if you’re running cable like I am) to help keep things under control. Four, make sure your computer has antivirus and firewall protection.

Oh yeah, a number five; if you go through something like this and have to ask someone else to fix it for you, ask them to clean things out while they’re in there and don’t gripe about the price, since you should have asked up front what it might cost. Even though I didn’t just sit there watching stuff running, it did end up taking me 3 1/2 hours to clean out all the junk on his computer, including all these programs that were automatically running because they’d inserted themselves into his start up files, large temp files from software loads, etc. When he got his computer back that sucker was once again humming like it was new.

You’ve got to protect your hardware; you probably need your computer more than you think you do.
 

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The Muppets – The Review

Nobody is a bigger Muppets fan than I am. I can’t count the number of posts I’ve done on them on this blog, or the number of videos I’ve shared. Heck, I’ll probably be sharing one at the end of this post. Last weekend I went with my friend Scott to see it in Rochester; this is my review of the movie.

The storyline begins with new characters, a couple of brothers where one of them is a Muppet (go with me here) and one human, and his very cute girlfriend. The humans were played by Jason Segal and Amy Adams. The Muppet brother, named Walter. doesn’t see himself as a Muppet, just a misfit in the world, but he considers himself the biggest Muppet fan and really wants to be one of the gang. When Gary (Jason) decides to take Mary (Amy) to Los Angeles to celebrate their 10th anniversary of being boyfriend and girlfriend, Mary thinks it’s to get engaged until Gary tells her that Walter’s coming as well so that he can take him to visit Muppet Studios.

When they get there, the studios are decrepit, and when Walter goes off on his own, he overhears a conversation by a rich oilman who’s planning on buying the theater and drilling for oil that’s underneath, telling everyone else that he’s turning it into a museum to get his hands on the property. Walter, Gary and Mary go off looking for Kermit, who they find living in his mansion alone, tell him what’s going on, then finally convince him to try to get the gang together to put on a show to raise $10 million to save the theater and the studios.

That’s the basic premise; I’m not going to say how it all ends except to say that, in an odd way, it ends just like one might expect a Muppets movie to end, but without what I’m calling the type of quirky goodwill and smiles that I expected. As a matter of fact, I have to truthfully say that I was letdown by this movie a lot, and that’s depressing to me.

Jason Segal had a hand in helping to write the movie, and supposedly he’s a major Muppets fan as well. However, I felt like he missed just what the Muppets were all about. After all, he wasn’t born until 1980, which means he wasn’t even alive when the TV show or the first movie came out. Not that people can’t become fans of something later in life, but I think his age made him miss just what the Muppets were all about.

This movie missed all the stuff that made the Muppets funny. There were no corny jokes except by Fozzie Bear. There were no running gags. There were no puns. There were no surprises such as being in the wrong place at the wrong, or right, time. There was a robot, and none of us could figure out where that came from, and the robot drove the car. None of the newer Muppet characters were named in the movie, and only one, Pepe, the giant prawn, got a true scene in the movie.

And there was a lot of sadness in this movie, way more sadness than happiness. Walter was sad that he couldn’t find his place in life. Mary was sad because she didn’t think Gary would ever see her as a woman. Kermit was sad because everyone had disappeared and he didn’t even have the dream anymore; this was probably the most depressing thing of all because it’s always been Kermit who believed in everything. Miss Piggy had moved on, but she was sad because she and Kermit hadn’t ended up together. Everyone else had failed in life except for Gonzo, who was rich, powerful and respected in plumbing yet yearned for show business (what he does was probably one of the few truly Muppet inspired gags of the movie).

And the music… well, I liked the opening song, but I’d have to admit I wasn’t enthralled by much of the rest of it, though there was a nice touching scene of the gang doing Rainbow Connection. When the first movie came out I went and bought the album the very same day and played it incessantly for weeks (well, when my roommate wasn’t in the room at least lol).

This wasn’t a bad movie, just not what I expected from a Muppet movie. As much as the critics panned and fans stayed away from Muppets From Space, I actually thought that movie had some charm and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Will this movie actually spark interest in the Muppets again? I’m not sure, and that’s disappointing. It could have been so much more, and I’m not sure the updated version had the same spark as what I remember (and I have the movie, another movie, and the 1st 3 seasons on DVD so I know lol). I hope so, but if it happens I also hope someone remembers what made them what they were in the first place. By the way, this was a nice tribute to Jim Henson, as they made sure to show pictures in the background with him and Kermit; nice touch. Okay, yes, here’s a video:


 

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When Your Cause Isn’t Worth The Fight

I found this interesting. I was reading a blog post by someone I interviewed for my business blog back in September, Angelique. Her post is titled Angelique Suspended from Google Plus. She was suspended because she doesn’t like to use her last name, feels it doesn’t support her brand, and of course Google+ expects people to use real names; they didn’t appreciate her last name being “Creativity”.

I found it interesting, as well as her follow-up post, for a few reasons (and I didn’t comment there because it’s a Disqus blog, which y’all know I hate).

One, I had the same discussion with her when I did the interview on my blog. I had found her last name and added it to the post, and she was deeply shocked and implored me to remove it. I hesitated at first because I have a set format for doing interviews on that blog, as opposed to interviews I do on this blog, and I felt it would throw off the continuity in some fashion. In the end I relented because I felt I might have been making too big a deal of continuity for the blog, just because it’s a business blog. It didn’t hurt anything.

Two, I had this conversation on someone else’s blog earlier this year as that person was also complaining about it. Since it wasn’t a Disqus blog, I responded that I understood the issue because how would they determine to list people with names that everyone knows that aren’t real, such as Lady Gaga or Will.I.Am? If they came onto G+ and used their real names, no one would know who they were, and if they put up their real pictures G+ might think they were perpetrating a fraud in some fashion and ban those accounts anyway, if you know what I mean. To date I don’t know if that issue has been addressed.

Three, I thought about my own blog. I have a policy where I won’t accept keywords as a true name of a comment poster. I need a first name of some type, and it can even be a nickname (cue Sire), but I need something to call you if I’m expected to possibly respond to your comment. If I don’t have that then I delete the comment, no matter how good it might be; the policy is just above the comment box and if you miss it, then it’s on you.

And finally four, as soon as you start to gripe about it in some fashion you almost have to catch yourself and say “it’s their playpen, so it’s their rules“. This doesn’t mean you can’t complain to yourself, or in your blog, but if you decide to complain to someone else you’re wasting your time and energy.

I’ll go personal on this one. I don’t think it surprises anyone when I complain about a Facebook change that I don’t understand, when suddenly I can’t find something. I do that for two reasons. One, I know that if I’m complaining someone else is complaining as well. Two, I hope that someone can provide a fix or idea of how to get around in some fashion. For instance, I griped when they seemed to get rid of a way to get to pages that I had subscribed to, which meant people weren’t going to find my page either. Someone finally gave me some guidance in finding it, and it’s still in a ridiculous place, and I moved on, knowing that there wasn’t anything I could do to change it.

Last year Google decided this blog doesn’t qualify as an Adsense purveyor based on a post I wrote almost 2 years ago on the topic of cleavage, a very tongue in cheek post with no nudity and what I thought was a very interesting point, and one where even if I’d agreed to remove it they weren’t going to reinstate this blog. I didn’t bother with it, just as I didn’t bother responding to them when I lost my page rank on this blog (I did get it back earlier this year). Google never responds to anyone other than possibly sending an automated message, so what would have been the point?

In other words, we all have choices to make when it comes to dealing with someone else’s rules. We either follow them or we don’t. This means we either participate or we don’t. You don’t get freedom of choice when someone else is paying for it; you don’t get freedom of speech in someone else’s space. At least you don’t get either unlimited.

What Angelique is fighting is the same thing some Egyptian students tried to fight Facebook with when they were protesting the government and were worried that their names would get them in trouble. The rules are the rules; no exceptions. If Facebook wasn’t going to change for students whose lives were in potential danger, Google’s not going to change for her, even if she’d written lots of positive things about them. Goodness, Facebook banned Salman Rushdie for awhile (you might need to have a NY Times password to view this one) and he’s well known.

You want them to change? Work on your website and blog, get it ranked really high, participate a lot in social media so a lot of powerful people know who you are, then take your shot. Now there’s a goal worth reaching for. 🙂
 

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Where Do You Come Up With This Stuff? – Guest Post

Most of you know that Mitchell Allen of Morpho Designs and I are pretty good friends. We play email chess together and work on encouraging each other to do great things. He’s also one of the most creative writers I know. I’ll admit that I may not always understand it, but it challenges me, which doesn’t happen all that often. I asked him to write this guest post on his thinking process and, well, how he comes up with his stuff; this is his response.

Mitchell Allen

I often get asked this question when I post a piece of fiction. I love answering the question because, over the years, I can see how my answers evolve. I take more credit for the process than I used to. Yet, I’m quick to acknowledge that elusive spark when I’m at a loss to explain where that stuff came from.
Continue reading Where Do You Come Up With This Stuff? – Guest Post

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Are You Keeping Your Browsing History?

Have you ever wondered why, when there are raids on businesses and individuals by the police, they always take the computers with them? It’s not always because they hope to see what files there are on those computers; they want to see what your browsing history is like, see what you’ve been looking at, to see if what you might be accused of is sitting right there waiting for them.


via Flickr

Back in the day we all worried about cookies.txt, a file that supposedly tracked all the websites you went to and a file that was easy for virus folks to access. That’s not a big issue anymore but it doesn’t have to be because they can steal pretty much anything they want from your browser, no matter what it is.

We all hear about security, but very few people take any real time to look at their settings or even just take a look through some of their programs to see what’s in them, or what they might be doing. For instance, if you never clear out your temp files, or files of programs you upload, someone with even a little bit of savvy can see what you’ve added and when, because many programs leave something residual behind, and sometimes those files are large.

Let me ask you this; beyond a day or two, why would you ever want to keep your browsing history? I had this conversation with my wife and she said it’s because she sometimes doesn’t remember a site she visited and needs to go back through to find it. I asked her why she doesn’t just bookmark those pages instead; she said she hadn’t thought about it, and now that’s what she’s doing. It became a topic because, like many people, she sometimes does some searching through her computer at work, and even though the IT people have ways of seeing what people do, I knew she’d be appalled if her coworkers had easy access to seeing what she might be looking at, even if it was work related.

We all have our secrets, things we’d rather not get out, or things that we just don’t want to deal with anymore. Every once in awhile you come across something that you weren’t searching for; I know I have since I do a lot of research online. Months down the line, if I were ever accused of something and there was someone who was very diligent in knowing how to find stuff, well, who’d want to have to try to remember what you were really doing at that time and then try to have to explain it? Doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong, but in today’s world the concept of being innocent until proven guilty is gone, no matter what law enforcement tells you. Ever notice how the press talks all about people when they’ve been arrested for something, yet never publishes anything when you’ve been exonerated?

Think about changing your settings in your browser so it will erase your history at some point, and don’t go too far out. I’ve set mine to erase all browsing history after a day; if I don’t go searching for something after 24 hours I probably won’t need it, and I can always find it again. Something for you to think about to help protect your privacy.
 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Mitch Mitchell