Monday, June 30, 2008

Is Security Software a Scam

While researching reports of the various vulnerabilities facing computer users, and the monetary incentive of criminal hackers to keep malware on your machine, I came to the realization that we are wasting our money with the current crop of anti-virus software products. One security expert, Greg Hoglund of HBgary called anti-virus programs snake oil because of their expense and inability to detect and remove the modern forms of malware.

Indeed many programs are totally ineffectual in finding the worst threats out there, especially those containing root-kits. Malware payloads are frequently written by several different teams of highly paid, professional software developers. This new form of business, often originates in the eastern European Countries were development and sales of these products is totally legal. Furthermore these "companies" often net profits in the hundreds of millions of dollars so the incentive to keep your machines and networks vulnerable is very high. Although the home user is at risk and is frequently assisting the malware purveyors unknowingly the ultimate target of many of these enterprises is big business. The theft of intellectual property and proprietary information is the real target. The losses from these attacks are staggering, and are measured in the tens of billions of dollars every year.

So what can the home computer user do if antivirus software is ineffectual and the threats are so serious? Several basic fundamentals are necessary these days for safe computing, regardless of whether you are running Windows XP or Vista, Mac or PC. The first and foremost is never operate online as administrator, this is far more important than running antivirus software. This is much easier to do when using a Mac or running Vista, it can be done with XP although it's much more of a hassle. The second thing is to make sure your operating system is up to date, both Windows and Macs have built in software updating built into their operating systems. Safe online behavior is a must, never clicking links or opening attachments in email or downloading pirated music is absolutely necessary, and if you visit porn sites and are running as an administrator you're infected, no doubt about it.

So should you dump your antivirus? Only if you are extremely careful online, and with your computing habits in general? Even then, running an online scan from one of the many security vendors out there will make you feel a little more protected. In reality most people should run some form of antivirus to protect them from the less serious threats out there. All users should also keep an up-to-date, complete backup of all their important data and programs. If a computer gets infected these days it's virtually impossible to trust your computer again until you do a clean reformat, reinstall of your operating system, programs, and data.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Living with Firefox 3

The much ballyhooed final release of The Mozilla Foundation’s browser, Firefox has finally  happened. Mozilla generated a fair amount of buzz with a highly publicized Firefox Download day, where they wanted to break all records for downloads in a 24 hour period. The publicity worked, and over 8 million people downloaded Firefox on June 17th.  For many people including myself Firefox has been our primary browser now for several years. The last version of Firefox had managed  to gain significant market share on Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Firefox 3 has been touted as a vast improvement to Firefox 2’s few shortcomings. The memory leak, a very real issue with Firefox 2 has been fixed. In addition Firefox 3 has been touted as significantly faster than any other browser on the market.

I’ve been running Firefox 3 since beta 3 and have been generally very impressed. The new version still doesn’t run all the extensions and add-ons that the previous versions could, but that seems to be changing quickly.

Since downloading the final release, I have a few issues with version 3. First and foremost, it’s been crashing. Not every time and not on every machine, but it seems to hang when first started on several of my computers, it almost seems to want to “warm up” before it will respond quickly. When it works, it works great, it loads pages fast, and is everything its been purported to be. Oddly the most stable version seems to be the 3rd release candidate version downloaded prior to “Download Day” although it must have been the final code, as no updates are available when I check. The issue with crashing, has made me decide to hold off on upgrading my primary desktop which runs Firefox 2 just fine.

To make things interesting I also tried the portable app version of the browser from, the portable version is even more buggy. I tried the portable app on both XP and Vista machines and the  browser hangs for several minutes before responding. For portable app fans I recommend the new Opera Browser 9.5 which works great. It was very fast as well as stable and can be found here,

So if you are using Firefox 2 and are happy with it, you may want to wait or download 3 and try it, but don’t delete 2 yet, I think in the near future it will be fine. The Mozilla people do great work and deserve your support, Firefox 3 can be found here,

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Can You Downgrade to XP?

A lot of people who recently bought new computers are asking this question. I tend to ask why would you want to do that, as I generally think Vista is a big improvement. But many people still want or need to downgrade to XP for some specific hardware or software application that won't play well with Vista.  Or perhaps they are just more comfortable with XP, and anyway it's their buck, so whatever they want, right?

Well maybe, maybe not.  It seems that a number of the new computers, especially notebooks were designed and built after Vista had released. Device drivers for XP were never written for these computers, especially for the video cards. Many people have tried using generic drivers, but you won't get a great result with these generally. So if you might want Windows  XP buy a computer with it pre-installed on it .  Any new computer today, with the exception of these new ultra portable laptops, will run Vista fine if you want to upgrade or dual boot.