Fix constant “Failure configuring Windows Updates, Reverting changes…”

Windows 8 and 8.1 Windows Updates can become stuck and not install. Upon restart after unsuccessful installation, your PC or Laptop can go into an eternal loop of “Failure configuring Windows updates. Reverting changes. Do not turn off your computer”

If this happens, unplug all your USB devices (yes…your keyboard and mouse, too!)

Allow a restart to occur (or worst case hard reboot your machine)

Once you see the request to log in, plug the mouse and keyboard in.

Open a Command Prompt as an Administrator Type “net stop wuauserv” then Enter

Type “net stop bits” then Enter

Navigate to C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download and delete the contents of that folder.

Navigate to C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\DataStore and delete the file DataStore.edb

Navigate to C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\ DataStore\Logs and delete the contents of that folder.

Reboot.

You should get to the login successfully now and can troubleshoot Windows Update more fully.

-Michael

Drive-by download malware infestations

Many clients have asked me “how does a PC get infected when only surfing the Internet?”

There are many ways to contract computer malware. One of the most devious is to get infected by simply clicking on a compromised link or visiting a malicious or compromised website.  This can launch an attack on your PC via  a “Drive-by download.”

What is a Drive-by download?

This is malware downloaded onto your PC without your knowledge delivered via your web browser. Hackers use legitimate web technologies such as Javascript to try to subvert your system.

What can I do about it?

Be wary of links in emails or social media. I’m very wary of “chain emails” and emails I didn’t expect.

Be extremely careful when clicking on search results in a web browser. Hackers know how to make their results appear legitimate and take you to a compromised site where the links are infested with Malware ready to inject onto your PC.

Keep your web browser updated.

Keep Java updated.

Most importantly, keep your antivirus definitions up to date.

Be careful where you click!

This is how easy it is to edit a URL and trick a user:

Click on this address and it’ll take you to my website: http://www.msn.com  . The URL looks like MSN, but the hyperlink was edited to take you to my site. Hovering your mouse over the URL will show you the real URL. Look at the URL and make sure it’s legit before you click on it.

-Michael

Being prepared in case a laptop is stolen from you

News of a home or office break-in and theft is very disconcerting. Recently a client of mine delivered the bad news that his home laptop was stolen after a break-in.

His laptop and data are now out in the wild somewhere. I immediately shut off his access to the corporate network, but all of his data is now available to a thief and there’s no way to realistically get the laptop back.

There are many tasks and time before my client feels some sort of closure on this loss.

If you have a laptop, please consider:

  1. Encrypting your laptop with whole disk encryption (available on Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 8).
  2. Purchasing and using a Kensington laptop lock (http://www.kensington.com/us/us/4482/locks#?x=1&fac369=798) to slow down a perpetrator.
    KensingtonLock
  3. Purchasing LoJack Laptop location software (http://lojack.absolute.com/en). This enables you to locate and remotely erase your personal data from the hard drive.
  4. Keeping a list of all your email accounts, corporate logins (i.e. VPN), web logins (eCommerce sites i.e. eBay and banking) so you can readily change your passwords in the event of a theft.
  5. Know what’s on your laptop in case of a theft. If you have sensitive data on your laptop, know who may be affected in the event of a breach or theft. If sensitive data is stolen you’re required to notify anyone affected.
  6. Have a plan on how to deal with data loss.  If your data on your laptop is impossible to replace, is it getting backed up?

-Michael

Beware of Flashlight Apps on Smartphones

A few clients have asked me about reports about flashlight apps installed on smartphones “spying” on you or “infecting your phone.”

Short:
Many flashlight apps have been found to track your location information. Some sell that information to advertisers. You should know what information ALL of your phone apps track and share. These apps aren’t installing viruses, it’s their nefarious data gathering which is in question.

 

iPhone
If you’ve purchased a flashlight app on iTunes, I recommend deleting it and using the built-in flashlight.

Android
If you’d like a safe flashlight app for your Android, you can download one here: http://snoopwall.com/privacyflashlight/index.html

 

Long:

Not all flashlight apps are spyware, but many are. In fact many apps on your cell phone track very personal information: your location; URL’s you enter on your phone; your email address. The app developer may or may not sell that data.

Before installing an app, you should look over the disclaimer which is presented to you. If it isn’t displayed, you can go to the developer’s website. You should know what you’re inviting onto your smartphone.

A flashlight app should never need to know your location. Other apps need to know where you are in order to function. Apps such as Google Maps, MapMyRun, need to know your location. A flashlight app doesn’t. Other apps have no business knowing where you are.

If you have an iPhone, you should look over the “Location Services.” Go to Settings>General>Privacy>Location Services and view the apps which have access to your Location Data. This data, may or may not be used by the app developer to sell to advertisers. Apps on the iPhone can have Location Services set to “Always,” “Never” or “While using.”

Many “free” apps available on iTunes or Google Play (Android) tell you they’re going to track your information and sell it “share with advertisers.” It’s your choice whether to allow an app which tracks you onto your phone.

The issue with the “spying” comes from the “Brightest Flashlight Free App” on the Android tracking your location and selling it to retailers.  Brightest Flashlight Free was sued by the FTC. https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/cases/131205goldenshorescmpt.pd

The flashlight apps in question also have Android permissions to get information off your phone, but aren’t infecting them with viruses or malware. The flashlight apps are the questionable software themselves since they’re gathering location information.

-Michael

Slowing down the hackers

While we can’t prevent sophisticated hackers from getting in, we can slow them down, or make it more difficult to access your network.

If a hacker gets in, what does the hacker find? Some would say there’s nothing on their network that is worth stealing. I don’t endorse that view. I bet that there’s some file, email, or record on your PC which has a list of passwords. If a hacker were to access that list, the he would open more doors to your data and your world. It may not be cash laying on your network, but your personal data and passwords are very valuable.

This isn’t a time to unplug from the Internet. We need the Internet for communication and commerce more than ever. This moment is a time to reflect on our usage of the Internet and evaluate what we’re doing to protect your network, PC’s and personal data.

Never use simple passwords
I know many of you roll your eyes when I say this, but simple passwords are easily hacked. At least put a digit and a capital letter or symbol in your password. It should be at least eight characters long.

Firewall
You should have a firewall capable of resisting intrusion.

Full Disk Encryption
This makes your data fully unavailable if someone were to steal your laptop or PC. After full disk encryption, your data is only available after a password is successfully entered.

Internet Security Software
You should have software capable of identifying threats before they reach your PC. Simple free antivirus isn’t sufficient these days.

Updates
Windows, Adobe Reader, Java and Flash updates should be checked and updated when the updates are available. The updates are fixes for vulnerabilities in the respective programs. Unpatched, these applications leave weaknesses which hackers use to attack your systems.

Keep personnel data secure
Personnel data is rich with information hackers want to obtain. Birthdates, Social Security Numbers, home addresses, passport info are frequently in personnel files. Keeping this data under wraps should be a highest priority.

Backups
Backup, backup, backup. Ideally, backup both locally and remotely (in the cloud).

Never send
Never send personal data (Driver’s license number, Social Security Number, Birthdate) in an unencrypted email. Email is easily picked off the Internet by thieves.

Be wary
Better to judge a site, link or email exhaustively, than to take a huge risk in simply clicking and launching an attacker vector for a hacker. If in doubt, please call me before you click on a mysterious link.
-Michael

What is “the Cloud”

“The Cloud” is a term for computer services offered to a user by way of a remote computer. The term is used to describe many Internet services.The term is frequently used in place of “the Internet.”

You are more than likely directly using “cloud-based services” in your daily routine. Typical services are websites, antivirus, email and file backup. Smartphones are common examples of cloud computing where data files are stored on remote computers and accessed by the phone. The text in this blog is hosted on a web server in the Cloud.

The term was derived by computer and network diagrams depicting the Internet literally as a cloud. This term has remained, but the services have become very diverse. File storage, hosted applications, security applications, text messaging, databases are all commonly hosted “in the Cloud.”

-Michael

Don’t get Spearphished!

Spear phishing is a hacker technique to get you to click on a malicious link.

Malware used to be sent in infected documents.  Today’s Antivirus apps check these common infections and prevents the malicious payloads from getting through. The hackers now have to work harder. Now many hackers send official looking emails laced with malicious links.

These “spoofed,” or fake emails, are difficult to discern their verity. They look real. They have the appropriate logos, but they’re a trap. I’ve seen them appear to be from FedEx, UPS, FTD and Xerox.

When the user clicks on a malicious link in the spear phish email, the user is sent to a site or infected code is injected onto their PC.

Antivirus or Anti-malware software won’t check the verity of links sent to a user. It’s up to the user to use caution when clicking on a link.

  1. Never open Emails you didn’t expect to receive.
  2. Never click links inside of joke emails or emails you didn’t expect to receive.
  3. Clicking on links on non-work related sites especially social media sites.

-Michael

Important applications to keep updated

The Windows operating system itself and important add-on applications should always be updated.
Adobe Reader, Java and Adobe Flash are key add-ons installed onto just about every computer. Keeping them patched is good for the overall hygiene of your PC.

Often I’ll work on a desktop or laptop and find that these key utilities aren’t being updated. Usually the user is hesitant to click the “run update button” because he’s been burned in the past after clicking on a request to run only to find out malware was unleashed. Understood, but these utilities need to be updated. Being familiar with them will, hopefully, make this easier.

These utilities are on most PC’s. Hackers find “exploits” or ways to hack into PC’s by using vulnerabilities found in these key applications. Patching these applications helps protect your machine from these exploiters.

Having up-to-date antivirus software isn’t enough.

Please keep the following applications patched:

Windows
To run updates go to the Start Menu, then select All Programs then Windows Update. (You can also type in wuapp.exe in the Search box at the base of the start menu). Then run all the updates.
Adobe Acrobat Reader
Start Adobe Acrobat Reader, then go to the Help menu>Check for Updates
Java
Go to the Start Menu >All Programs> Java> Check for Java Updates
Adobe Flash
You can check to see if Adobe Flash is installed on your PC by going to this URL:
https://helpx.adobe.com/flash-player.html then clicking the Check Now button.

-Michael