East Valley Tribune: Data Doctors

Data Doctors

Sunday 12/28/2014
Is someone spying on me?

Question: How do I know if the Detekt tool is safe to use?

Answer: Detekt is a somewhat controversial free scanning tool recently released by a German security researcher that is designed to uncover certain types of spy malware.

The researcher, Claudio Guarnieri, released the tool in partnership with several human rights and privacy advocate groups, such as Amnesty International and Electronic Freedom Foundation.

With the amount of coverage and scrutiny being given to this tool by the security research world, I think it’s less of an issue of how safe it is and more of an issue of how useful it is.

It primarily focuses on two types of malware generally used for silent surveillance by governments and intelligence agencies, so this is not your garden variety malware detection tool.

There are thousands of surveillance software tools available that the Detekt tool will not detect because it was really designed as a simple tool for journalists and activists to check for a very specific type of malware.

Since its release, the author has gone on to stress that it’s more of an awareness campaign than an antivirus tool as it’s intended to expose known illegitimate state surveillance.

Other security researchers have detailed the technical shortcomings of the tool which only runs on certain versions of Windows.

Unless you believe that you’re being targeted by a government or spy agency, the tool isn’t really of much use as most of us are more likely to be compromised by a random act of hacking.

Random acts of hacking generally occur when security software and system updates are not kept up to date.

A rigged website, file attachment or social media posting can silently exploit known security holes and execute a “drive-by download” to make its way into your computer.

If you’re concerned about general privacy protection against the silent monitoring of your computer, there are several tools available that will do a much better job than Detekt.

Both Zemana AntiLogger and SpyShelter provide anti-key logging, anti-webcam logging, anti-screen logging and anti-sound logging tools.

These programs are designed to detect and block commonly used malware that attempts to silently record your activities and works in conjunction with your antivirus program.

Cybercriminals employ logging malware to steal valuable information, such as usernames, passwords and financial account credentials that are silently sent to them as log files.

Many other anti-logging programs available simply look for the telltale activity generated by spy software, but both of these programs employ real-time protection to prevent exploitation in the first place.

Both companies also offer keystroke encryption, so even if a key logger sneaks past, the resulting log files will look like encrypted gibberish.

Both companies offer a limited feature free version or a full featured Pro version that includes the entire protection suite for about $30 and trial versions that allow you to try, before you buy.

• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio.

Posted in Columns, Money, Data doctors on Sunday, December 28, 2014 8:45 am.

Thursday 02/13/2014
Windows XP users: Read this before doing your taxes!

Question: I know Windows XP is about to be retired, but is it safe enough for me to do my taxes or should I upgrade it first? — Ralph

Answer: Your mindset to upgrade your operating system before you start preparing your tax return is a pretty smart approach given the recent warning from Microsoft that Windows XP is six times more likely to be hacked.

Since Windows XP is really old (2001) and after April 8, 2014 will no longer get security updates, you may as well put yourself in a more secure position for something you’re going to have to do anyway.

This is not to say that you can’t do your taxes on a Windows XP system, but since it’s so much easier for hackers to silently slip in, you should make absolutely sure that it’s clean before you start inputting sensitive information.

Making sure any computer running any version of Windows is clean before preparing your taxes is always a good idea, but especially critical for Windows XP users.

If your computer takes forever to startup and randomly gets hung up when you’re surfing around the Internet, these are indications that you have excessive processes running or unnecessary browser add-ons and some of them could be hidden malware.

A well maintained Windows XP system will only have 35-40 processes running after a clean start. You can check this by rebooting your computer and hitting Ctrl-Alt-Del to bring up the Task Manager. You can see how many processes are running by looking in the bottom left corner of the Task Manager window.

If you have more processes running than that, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re infected, but you should have a qualified technical person examine the system to make sure a hidden program is not running in the background.

If hackers can silently gather up your Social Security number and related tax information, not only can they steal your identity, they can file a fraudulent tax return before you do, which you won’t discover until the IRS notifies you that duplicate returns have been filed.

Tax refund-based identity theft is on the rise because criminals can have the fraudulent refund direct deposited into a temporary bank account way before the under-staffed IRS figures out what is going on.

This type of exploit can take advantage of you whether you installed the tax program on your computer or you use the online tax preparation services because it’s just recording your keystrokes.

This malware is known as a key logger and can often evade antivirus programs because it just looks like a regular program that was installed without your knowledge.

It’s a simple way for remote hackers to easily gather the information they need for ID theft during the tax preparation season.

If you’ve ever installed a legitimate program and later discovered a toolbar or other additional programs were installed at the same time, that’s the same process used by key logger programs only they don’t announce their presence.

If you have kids or teenagers that use the same computer that you use for your tax preparation, you should be especially concerned as they tend to be much more willing to install new programs which also increase your chances of hidden malware.

• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to evtrib@datadoctors.com.

Posted in Data doctors, Blogs, Money, Opinion on Thursday, February 13, 2014 8:15 am. | Tags: Windows Xp , Antivirus Software , Microsoft Windows , Malware , Microsoft , Software , Computing , Task Manager , Operating System , Windows , Internal Revenue Service , Data Doctors Computer Services , Ken Colburn

Saturday 11/30/2013
Data Doctors: Why do I look like a spammer?

Q: I am having an increasing number of emails that are sent from Gmail, not being received and not in their spam folder. If I send it from my Cox address, they receive it. This is very frustrating. Any ideas? — Eileen

A: It sounds like you may be one of the millions of legitimate senders who have become the casualty of the spam wars.

Spammers are getting more creative so it’s getting harder for spam filtering technology to tell the difference between spam and ham (legit messages).

To put it into perspective, most companies that analyze the global spam percentages put the number at 70-plus percent for the current year.

This means the vast majority of messages are spam (seven out of 10) and so it’s almost like your guilty until proven innocent.

Most spam filters use a scoring system to decide whether to mark a message as spam and if your account is deemed to be a regular repeat offender, it gets blacklisted.

Tracking down the exact reason that your Gmail messages aren’t getting through can get very complicated and involves too many entities for you to have much luck filing a report with a particular company.

Let’s start with some basic mistakes that many people make that drives their spam score up.

If you have an email signature that automatically gets added to your messages, make sure there are no images (which can make it look like image spam) or web addresses in the signature.

If you include a web address that has been blacklisted or is on the suspected website list, your spam score will go through the roof.

If your address has been tagged as a “known spammer,” it won’t ever appear in the users spam folder because the message gets filtered by a global filter. The only messages that will appear in your friends spam folder will be messages that the global filter thinks is possibly legit mail.

There are also a whole basket of words that will trigger a high spam score if you use them in the subject line or they appear a lot in the body of the message (checkout Hubspot’s Ulitmate List of Email Spam Trigger Words http://goo.gl/xAmgri).

It’s also possible that your address has been used repeatedly in spoofing scams by spammers, when they falsely use your address as the sender of junk messages.

You can try having your friend send a simple text message to your Gmail account that you reply to; if the reply gets through to them, make sure that your friend tells his or her email program to “always allow mail from this address” and have your address in their address book.

In some cases, your home or business IP address could be the problem because it’s been blacklisted. If you want to see if your IP address is a potential cause, visit the Blacklist Check at What’sMyIPAddress (http://goo.gl/9V0dXT).

If none of those things work, try creating a new Gmail account to see if those messages get through. If they do, your best bet is to transition to the new Gmail account and leave the spam tagged account behind.

You can set Gmail to receive messages from the old account but always reply as the new account (instructions are posted here: http://goo.gl/Nn8UmK) so you don’t miss anything that goes to the old account and everyone will automatically get your new address.

• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to evtrib@datadoctors.com.

Posted in Money, Data doctors, Blogs on Saturday, November 30, 2013 3:30 pm. | Tags: Gmail , Spamming , Email Spam , Spam Filtering , Email , Anti-spam Techniques , Spam , Email Filtering , Spam Filtering Technology , Email Address , Email Marketing , Ken Colburn

Tuesday 09/17/2013
Data Doctors: Switching from iPhone to Android

Q: Now that I know what the new iPhone is going to have, I’m really leaning towards getting the Samsung Galaxy S4 but I’m concerned about switching to a whole new platform. How difficult is making the switch to an Android phone after being on an iPhone for so long? — D

A: This question was answered on September 13, 2013. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

Apple’s iPhone used to dominate the smartphone market when it came to innovation, but the recent years have seen a handful of competitors developing extremely compelling alternatives, with Samsung’s Galaxy S4 being one of the most compelling.

Today’s Ford vs. Chevy or Windows vs. Mac question has definitely become iOS vs. Android as the smartphone market evolves.

Just as when a diehard Ford owner switches to a Chevy or a long-time Windows user switches to a Mac, there is the initial learning curve which can often create a good bit of frustration.

Since you’ve been a long-time iPhone user, you are used to how things work, where they’re located and how they get changed.

I’m actually right in the middle of this transition myself (I recently switched from an iPhone 5 to the GS4) and I too was a long-time iPhone user.

There are some basic things to consider before you make your decision, starting with apps. Spend some time looking at the apps on your iPhone to see which ones you can’t live without and make sure the same app or an equivalent app is available in Google’s Play Store.

Most of us rarely use 90 percent of the apps on our phones, so this may not be that big of an issue or it could be a deal killer if you have mission critical apps.

The more you live your life in the Cloud (Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) the easier the transition will be. Your music, video, contacts, messages etc. are pretty easily transferred to a GS 4 with Samsung’s Smart Switch utility (samsungsmartswitch.com) but don’t expect perfection.

You’ve also accumulated lots of iPhone accessories, cables, car chargers, docking stations and cases that you’ll have to replace when you switch, so be sure to include that in your calculations.

If you approach the change from the standpoint of figuring out how to make an Android device work like an iPhone instead of learning how the Android works, you’re going to be even more frustrated.

Notifications, settings, configurations, where the back button is and a whole host of subtle differences will have you somewhat disoriented for the first few days and likely wondering what you were thinking.

I tell you this so you can manage your expectations, but it’s kind of a breath of fresh air when you push through the dip.

If you can approach this as if you had never owned a smartphone before (try to leave your Apple baggage at the door), you’ll acclimate much faster to the Android way of doing things.

There are lots of subtle things that are just a little more intuitive for me once I got used to the workflow differences and the Internet is filled with Android how-to guides for former iPhone users.

If you’re going to switch smartphones, than you’ll also be switching from some of Apple’s services to the Google equivalent (Drive, Calendar, Chrome Browser, Google+ for photo backups, etc.)

The more invested you are in Apple’s ecosystem, the more involved it will be to make the transition, so don’t expect it to be quick or painless.

If you’re open minded about change and are willing to spend the time it will take to make the transition, you’ll be just fine. If you’re not good with change, get frustrated easily or just don’t have the patience to learn a bunch of new things, you should probably stick with an iPhone.

Posted in Money, Blogs, Data doctors on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 5:52 pm. | Tags: Apple , Iphone , Smartphones , Computing , Electronics , Technology_internet , Android , Smartphone , Ios , Google , Samsung , Technology , Cloud Clients , Motorola Droid , Apple Inc. , Iphone 5 , Ford , Play Store , Twitter , Facebook , Gs , Car Chargers , Inside

Ken Colburn
  • Ken Colburn
  • E-mail: evtrib@datadoctors.com
  • Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio
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