Main Line Commodore User Group

Newsletter


September 2006 Issue 304

VILLANOVA UNIVERSITY, ST. AUGUSTINE CENTER, ROOM 110

MEETING STARTS - 09:30 - SEP 8 th


UPCOMING MEETING:

We'll open with our Q&A to feed your thirst for useful knowledge. We will also try to deal with any computer-related items, for problem solving as well as for learning. We hope you'll be there!

We expect to devote the main meeting time to an especially unusual topic! We are regularly exposed to the subject of Windows PCs vs. MacOS PCs, but most of us never actually get the chance to cross compare - just listen to the proponents of either platform denigrate the other. However, John M is a regular user of both systems and he will show off one of the most talked about items in the Mac arena - the "Mac Mini". So come prepared to see and ask about this small marvel of technology!

After the roughly noon break, we'll have our advanced time. Pete W who in real life is an instructor at U Penn deals with student "assignments" and tries to make their prep and turn-in as problem-free as possible. He'll show & tell about email vs. web servers for this special but common task. [EJV]


THAT OTHER 25TH ANNIVERSARY !!!

Last month, I highlighted the 25th year since the arrival on the scene of the first computer virus. Usually, that much space would have done the job; but, in the last week, several sources published an excellent short history of that event. Learning that the author of that first virus was 15 years old at the time - and is now, at age 40, a practicing IT professional with quite a few noteworthy notches on his gun handle, I'm opting to cover that in our newsletter and keep it in a spot [continued on p.2]

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ANNOUNCEMENTS & COMMENTS
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That Other 25th - [from p.1] where I know we'll all be able to recollect and resurrect it for years hence! So, if you'll hop to p.4, you can read the published info, in case you did not see the article elsewhere. Good reading [EJV]

More on the malware front - in addition to the historical info just mentioned, the folks who followed in Skrenta's footsteps are continuing to devise more routes to scam us into problems and broaden their cross-platform work by taking approaches that are not Windows, or Internet Explorer, specific. Take a glance at p.4 and remember to "watch where you click!!"

OUR WEB SITE (hosted by Bee.net) - a reminder that our faithful webmaster, Pete Whinnery, continues to update the web page and will be most appreciative of feedback on it. Also, he'd like ideas to further improve this web site; so don't hesitate to suggest things you feel will help make it better.....

REGULAR REMINDERS

  1. our email listserv is run for the member's benefit; so please do not hesitate to post notices or problems to it. If we can't solve the problem remotely, we can be alerted to it ahead of a meeting where more hands-on may do the job.
  2. attendees know that we have a very fast internet connection from the VU meeting room (we have hit 800+ KBps, that's really moving - tho past performance is no guarantee of the future!). If you have a BIG download, you can bring along a CD-R/RW and get it quickly done before or after the main meeting.
  3. a half dozen or so of the regular attendees usually partake of lunch at the Country Squire Diner in Broomall at Route 3 and 320. So, after the meeting, why not join us? It is a good time to get a little more help (or give it) and just have fun chewing over our common interests.
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LAST MONTH'S MEETING

Well, we had a bit bigger turnout in August with 14 attendees. Hopefully more folks will show up in our future meetings, which are a very congenial environment for getting (and giving) help. Here are a few of the meeting highlights:

MAIN MEETING PROGRAM

We had a bit better turnout (14) in August and had a very active and topic-filled Q&A. Space won't let me say much; so try to listen to the meeting recording.

The program, with John M as presenter, went ahead in spite of the last minute loss of the USB turntable that was to be shown as a tool in converting your old vinyl records to digital recordings. John had prepared his demo in a way that did not need the turntable, as he had prepared files that were the kind of output the turntable would have given.

He reviewed the types, and costs, of tables still available, their merits, cartridge types and some tips on their use.

Then came some tips on preparing the records and capturing the audio. Finally, some further demo on click removal. noise reduction, the means to deal with "equalization", etc. When you get ready to tackle your pile of records, come on back with your questions!

For this and the advanced demo (follows), we have to thank John again for a well done job!

ADVANCED MEETING

For the second hunk of program, John M magically reappeared on the scene to give us some insight into the latest from VMware, the folks who bring us a very powerful virtual machine freeware! I don't have enough space this month to say anywhere enough. Listen to the meeting recording, if you can - and watch for more at future meetings on this technology It is incredibly powerful and has a very useful future for regular computer users (not just the IT types) in widening platform frontiers and helping preserve access to archived info and programs!!!

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MISS THE MEETING?

Remember that recordings of the meetings (made and worked up for the web by John M) are online for you to download and listen to. Go to our web site (http://mlcug.org/) and scroll a bit down the page to locate the audio files. As of this writing, these audio files from August 2005 to August 2007, and they are accessible from the web site, as MP3 files. You can download and listen any time you choose! [EJV]

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USING FIREFOX: TIPS AND TRICKS Al Gottlieb Using about:config

The Firefox about:config screen is used to change the operation of your preferences. You get the screen by opening the Firefox browser and typing "about:config" (without the quotes) in the address bar. When the screen opens, it will look like the picture below.

[see the picture at the bottom of p.6]

Most preferences that you're concerned with will already exist. Those preferences will probably be "Boolean" which can be turned on or off (true/false) by double-clicking on the Preference.

So, for example, suppose you're tired of opening a new window to list the results when you search in Google or Yahoo or any other search engine. You can have Firefox automatically open a NEW WINDOW listing the search results:

  1. Open Firefox and type about:config in the address bar
  2. When the about:config window opens type "browser.search.openintab" in the filter box at the top
  3. Double-click the "browser.search.openintab" line and the value will change from "false" to "true"
  4. Close the about:config window
If the Preference isn't in your browser version, you'll have to create it. Preference creation is simple - right-click anywhere on the about:config screen. A dialog box will open (see figure below) then click the "New" and "Boolean" buttons

A dialog asking for the screen name will open. Then, just type in the Preference name "browser.search.openintab" (without the quotes) and follow the directions to create the preference. Obviously you assign the value "true" to the Preference.

If you're not happy with any preference that you change, it's easy to return to the default state by simply right-clicking on the option in about:config and selecting Reset.

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WILL THE STORM EVER END?

The Storm Worm is turning out to be one of the most resilient attacks in history. The creators use spam messages to entice users to a malicious Web site. The site uses JavaScript to launch exploits against your browser and programs.

If this attack fails, you're encouraged to download the virus manually. The virus turns your machine into a zombie.

Spam messages associated with the Storm Worm have taken many forms. Last week, it was coming as confirmation messages from various sites. It has also taken the form of e-card spam. The messages originally warned of a European storm. Now, they entice you with a YouTube video.

Folks, the creators of the Storm Worm have planned the attack carefully. And they're staying ahead of security warnings. Make sure your security programs are updated and Windows is fully patched. And be careful where you click.

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MALWARE'S FIRST 25 YEARS!

Note: the text of this item was extracted from articles of the last few days. Some additional material on the subject will be included in next month's issue to finish off this historical tale, and let us watch for the next 25 years for similar "favors"! ---------- What began as a ninth-grade prank, a way to trick already-suspicious friends who had fallen for his earlier practical jokes, has earned Rich Skrenta notoriety as the first person ever to let loose a personal computer virus.

Although Skrenta, over the next 25 years, started the online news business Topix, helped launch a collaborative Web directory now owned by Time Warner Inc.'s Netscape and wrote countless other computer programs, he is still remembered most for unleashing the "Elk Cloner" virus on the world.

"It was some dumb little practical joke," Skrenta, 40, said. "I guess if you had to pick between being known for this and not being known for anything, I'd rather be known for this. But it's an odd place holder for [all that] I've done."

"Elk Cloner" -- self-replicating like all other viruses -- bears little resemblance to the malicious programs of today. Yet in retrospect, it was a harbinger of all the security headaches that would only grow as more people got computers -- and connected them with one another over the Internet.

Skrenta's friends were already wary of him because, in swapping computer games and other software as part of piracy circles common at the time, Skrenta often altered the floppy disks he gave out to launch taunting on-screen messages. Many friends simply started refusing disks from him.

So during a winter break from the Mt. Lebanon Senior High School near Pittsburgh, Skrenta hacked away on his Apple II computer -- the dominant personal computer then -- and figured out how to get the code to launch those messages onto disks automatically.

He developed what is now known as a "boot sector" virus. When it boots, or starts up, an infected disk places a copy of the virus in the computer's memory. Whenever someone inserts a clean disk into the machine and types the command "catalog" for a list of files, a copy gets written onto that disk as well. The newly infected disk is passed on to other people, other machines and other locations.

The prank, though annoying to victims, is relatively harmless compared with the viruses of today. Every 50th time someone booted an infected disk, a poem he wrote would appear, saying in part, "It will get on all your disks; it will infiltrate your chips."

Skrenta started circulating the virus in early 1982 among friends at his school and at a local computer club. Years later, he would continue to hear stories of other victims. These days, there are hundreds of thousands of viruses.

The first virus to hit computers running Microsoft Corp.'s operating system came in 1986, when two brothers in Pakistan wrote a boot sector program now dubbed "Brain" -- purportedly to punish people who spread pirated software. Although the virus didn't cause serious damage, it displayed the phone number of the brothers' computer shop for repairs. With the growth of the Internet came a new way to spread viruses: e-mail.

"Melissa" (1999), "Love Bug" (2000) and "SoBig" (2003) were among a slew of fast-moving threats that snarled millions of computers worldwide by tricking people into clicking on e-mail attachments and launching a program that automatically sent copies to other victims.

Compared with the early threats, "the underlying technology is very similar [but] the things viruses can do once they get hold of the computer has changed dramatically," said Richard Ford, a computer science professor at the Florida Institute of Technology.

Later viruses spread through instant-messaging and file-sharing software, while others circulated faster than ever by exploiting flaws in Windows networking functions.

More recently, viruses have been created to steal personal data such as passwords or to create relay stations for making junk e-mail more difficult to trace.

Virus writers now motivated by profit rather than notoriety are trying to stay low-key, lest their creations get detected and removed, along with their mechanism for income.

"Believe it or not there's exponentially more malware today than there ever was," said Dave Marcus, a research manager for McAfee Inc.'s Avert Labs. "We find 150 to 175 new pieces of malware every single day. Five years ago, it would have been maybe 100 new pieces a week." Symantec Corp. formed the same year Skrenta unleashed "Elk Cloner," but it dabbled in non-security software before releasing an anti-virus product for Apple's Macintosh in 1989. Today, security-related hardware, software and services represent a $38 billion industry worldwide, a figure IDC projects will reach $67 billion in 2010.

"Malware writers can't assume you are on PCs or won't want to limit themselves to that," said Dave Cole, Symantec's director of security response.

That's not to say Skrenta should get the blame anytime someone gets spam sent through a virus-enabled relay or finds a computer slow to boot because of a lingering pest.

Fred Cohen, a security expert who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation in 1986 on computer viruses, said the conditions were right, and with more and more homes getting computers, "it was all a matter of time before this happened."

Several viruses preceded "Elk Cloner," although they were experimental or limited in scope. Many consider Skrenta's the first true virus because it spread in the wild on the dominant home computers of its day.

"You had other people even at the time saying, 'We had this idea, we even coded it up, but we thought it was awful and we never released it,' " said Skrenta, who is now heading Blekko Inc., a month-old startup still working in stealth mode. And where was his restraint? "I was in the ninth grade," he said. [EJV]


MLCUG Meetings  2007  Steering Committee Meetings

			September 8 			        September 12
			October 13 				October 17
			November 10				November 14

		* = SECOND Wednesday		** = FOURTH Wednesday
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