pc

Internet Explorer and why you must avoid it.

I'm a crusader against Microsoft Internet Explorer.

It is the most flawed, broken, dangerous piece of crap that Microsoft ever built. I do not say this lightly. I've written many articles on the subject and they are reproduced below.

The top cop at the NSW Cyber Crimes Task Force put it best in a public lecture where he said the two things Australians can do to protect themselves on the Internet are; 1. don't click on links in email and 2. don't use Internet Explorer.

Internet Explorer (IE) is the web browser that comes with Windows and is the way most newbies view the Internet. But it is NOT the best, safest or only way to surf.

Most web pages contain more than just text. To help your web browser display them (as the designer intended) the web site downloads program code to your PC. This is normal.

With IE, this program code is called Active-X and it is like getting Hitler’s brain transplanted into your head, the evil is inside you and has full control. Java is like reading a book on bomb making, you can choose to follow the instructions, or you can think better of it and ignore them.

There’s lots of other glaring security problems with IE. And Microsoft’s approach to security is to ask the user - “To view this web site you need to install this Active-X component, click here to install” well of course everyone clicks here because you wouldn’t have gone to the web site if you didn’t want to view it! How are you supposed to know if the Active-X is safe or malicious?

So stop using IE and check out Firefox (or Opera or Safari or Chrome). Your surfing will be safer and you will find they work better too! Of course, you will find the odd web site that insists on IE, and if that’s your bank or someone you trust, IE will always be there, because you can’t remove it from Windows.

The first thing you can do to make yourself a whole lot safer on the Internet is to stop using Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). You know that blue E icon? Stop using it. There are other web browsers you can use and all of them are better.

The Microsoft browser is built in to Windows and for a lot of people that’s all they use. This must change and in fact it has changed. IE has dropped to less than half of all Internet users. Most people have got the message and are using those other browsers. Firefox is the popular choice.

The mainstream press reported yet another bug in IE recently. And rightly so. This most recent one was a bad one. Visit one wrong web page and Bingo! Your computer is taken over and infected with malware.

IE continues to have major security flaws. All these years later and the bad guys are still finding new ones. Over and over again.

In my humble opinion, the whole stupid design sucks badly. In short, the plug-ins (add-ons) for IE are Windows programs. And Windows programs can do anything – wipe your disk, change your settings – anything. And then Microsoft had this horrible after thought – how do we stop them? We opened the gate and after the bad guys had been pouring in for 10 years, then Microsoft decided to do something about it. It’s like allowing anyone to graft anything directly onto your brain – no questions asked.

In contrast, the other browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari to name a few) don’t work that way. They will accept a wish list (from a web site) and decide if the instructions make sense before following them.

At this point, all the programmers reading will be screaming at me. Yep I know that is a massive over simplification to say the least. But I’m trying to boil this down so everyone can get the extremely important message that IE stinks. Go with me here folks.

Understand that if you surf the Internet with Microsoft Internet Explorer, you ARE way more likely to get infected.

Best news? The other browsers are free and easy to use. And I have found them ALL to be better to use. Go change now if you haven’t done so already.

Just in case you didn’t get the memo - Microsoft Internet Explorer is my pick for the most crap security risk of all time. And if you needed another reason to abandon it forever - try this.

Apple’s web browser, Safari, is getting an upgrade. The current version 3 is pretty darn good and runs rings around IE, well doughnuts really. Now Apple has version 4 out as a public Beta (test drive).

In the world of Apple, an UPgrade generally offers more features, more speed and is better than the previous version. Safari does not disappoint. It is around 4 times faster than before and even then it was still the fastest browser out there for my money.

Yep, pages come up faster, look shiny and generally work better. And the cover flow view shows all your recent sites on one screen in a way that has to be seen to be believed.

Yep, I like it.

For Windows or Mac. Free. www.apple.com

Microsoft has released Internet Explorer version 8. And you might like to know if my opinion has changed or if this version is better, safe to use or gets the tick of approval.

It doesn’t.

Another fundamentally broken insecure piece of garbage from Microsoft. In all fairness it does have some nice new features and it is more secure than the previous versions. It still is no way as secure as any of the other browser you should be using.

I won’t bore you with a deep technical discussion.

Just use Firefox.

Firesheep

There’s a lot of buzz about Firesheep, heck it even made The Mercury. So high time I covered it.

Basically this is a consumer hacking tool that anyone can use. One click and it lets you into someone else’s Facebook page! You start it up, it shows you a list of all the Facebook users near you (even has their photos) and you click on anyone to hijack them - easy.

The technique is not new. What is new is that it is a simple plug-in for Firefox and anyone who can click a mouse can use it with no special skill or knowledge.

What Firesheep does is to intercept the non-secure cookies that Facebook (and Twitter, Amazon, Google, Yahoo, Myspace, Flickr and many more) use and then hijack the session. This lets you into the web site logged in as the other person. Its as if they walked away from their computer without locking it and you sat down. Anything they are logged into, you are in too!

Now, it doesn’t tell you their password, so you can’t go changing it to lock the victim out. But you can change their privacy settings, post embarrassing photos, articles and the likes. Or just snoop.

And remember this isn’t just Facebook, it is a lot of web sites.

What’s the catch? You do need to be on the same network and on a hub not a switch. But any open (or WEP) wifi meets this criteria. Many home networks have hubs and some older business networks. The IT people may even have installed a hub just to monitor network traffic.

What’s not vulnerable? Switched networks and WPA encrypted networks. These isolate each user’s traffic by design so the non-encoded cookies don’t pass by every user like they do on a hub network.

Bottom line, if you are on open wifi at a coffee shop, airport etc, you CAN be snooped on very easily. It is not just hackers anymore, the general public can do this too. If you have wifi in your home or business, you absolutely need to read up on wifi security and understand the basics. You've been given a chainsaw and it is vital you read the instruction manual before attempting to use it or you might get hurt.

Why is it a Firefox plug-in? No, its not a security flaw in Firefox that is being exploited here, its really bad design in web sites like Facebook. They are the ones sending your confidential data around with no encryption. Firefox provides a cross platform (Mac, Windows, Linux, Android) way of distributing this hacking tool. It could have been written in Java or any other language, the author just wrote it in Firefox. Like I said upfront, this is nothing new. Just re-packaged for the masses to use.

Expect chaos.

Since writing this, Facebook now allows you to keep your connection secure (https://facebook.com) but I notice that some FB apps and web pages switch you back to non-secure. FB hasn't quite got it right. You should select "Browse Facebook on a secure connection" under my account, settings, account security.

Network attached storage (NAS)

Review - Synology DS411j Network Attached Storage (NAS)

The problem with data is that it expands to fill all available space. With all the documents, presentations, videos, movies, TV shows, porn etc you need a big hard drive to save it all.

In the past I made do with several 1Tb drives in USB caddies attached to various computers around the house. So the photos were in \katrena\shared\photos and the TV was in \jsmini\shared\TV and the backups were on the Time Capsule and the blah was on the bling and yada yada. A mess!

I've been on the hunt for a storage solution for some time. At work we play with EMC and squillions of terabytes of space but the cost is a little out of my home budget. One of our team does have a second hand EMC in his garage but he's a (single) looney and "she who must be obeyed" wouldn't stand for that.

My first choice would have been a Drobo. Leo, Cali, Alex and the rest of the TWITs are of course big fans of Drobo. The attraction is that you can add drives of any size at any time and it just figures it all out somehow. Very Mac-like. But in Tasmanian dollars the Drobo is more than $500 before you start buying drives. Ergh.

The friendly and helpful staff at NybbleIT (151a Liverpool St, Hobart) introduced me to the Synology range. In the past I've been highly disappointed with consumer NAS products. I had a Netgear I loathed and a D-Link that sucked badly. The Iomega range isn't too bad but the price is disgraceful at around $2500!!! So I didn't hold much hope for this one I have to say.

Surprisingly the Synology is well made for the money, all steel with nylon slides. I got the DS411j which holds 4 drives. You do have to power it down to add or change them, but what it lacks in 24x7 availability it makes up for in features.

Yes, this is a box that holds up to 4 SATA drives and has a network port. Once configured the drives can be "glued together" to make one (or more) bigger drives that you can see on your network. It does not need any computers to make it go, it is all self contained. So you can place it anywhere you have power and a network cable. I think I'll move ours into the shed just in case the house burns down.

You do need to use drives of the same size. Luckily all of mine are 1Tb so I added 3 of them and set it up as RAID 5, meaning everything is spread across all 3 drives with double up so if one drive dies, my data does not. This gave me about 2Tb of space to use. (3 x 1Tb less 1Tb for backup = 2Tb)

The server side is easy to set up with a simple web browser interface. It supports Windows, Mac, Linux and a bunch of other stuff I'll never use. It streams really well and the TV shows play back smoothly across the network even while other stuff is going on. The Beyonwiz sees it as a network server, the PC sees it as a Windows server and the Macs see it as a Mac server. Its easier to use than it is to describe, trust me.

Security is easy to set up, you can do individual users so the kids and the porn are isolated.

Over the next few weeks I moved all of our data off the mish-mash of drives scattered across our home and consolidated it on the Synology. That freed up another 1Tb drive which I added to the RAID 5 today. With no loss of data, it expanded the RAID and we now have 3Tb of space.

Yes, there are options to expand an existing RAID without destroying the data. You can add hot spare drives and upgrade the RAID level to provide safety in case of a disk failure.

The next move will be difficult as I'll have to back it all up somewhere and add 2 or 4Tb drives, but I figure that day is along way off for now. There are two USB ports on the back and I suspect you can add external drives there if you had to.

So I would recommend the DS411j. If you are an avid downloader and need more space, you could look at the larger models that hold more than 4 drives. But for the average home, this one is great value. With SATA drives so cheap now, its easy to populate it with big drives.

Dropbox

Since I wrote this article over a year ago, Dropbox has become pervasive. In short it's everywhere. As well as being cloud based storage, it is the "sync and store" solution for mobile devices like the iPad, iPhone, Android, laptops and web based warriors. Frankly, if you are not using Dropbox, why not?

If you work at home and don't lug a laptop around, install Dropbox on your work and home PC and your files will be waiting for you when you get home. Any changes you make are automatically synchronised back at work. And they keep backup versions in case you changed something and messed it up. Try doing that at work, you'll be groping for backup tapes and doing restores.

Think of Dropbox as a file server in the cloud.

There are files that are too big to email. Imagine popping in to your local Australia Post office with a pallet load of bricks and asking the nice lady behind the counter how many stamps you need.

If your file is larger than 2Mb, don’t email it, the chances of it getting through are low.

Enter Drop Box. It allows you to save files into the cloud (the Internet) and access them from any PC. You can share files, or keep them private, or both. I use mine to store my (encrypted) 1Password file which is very private and also I have a public folder for the common utilities I like to share. I have a semi-private folder just for EMC so I can share the log files with my senior engineer at EMC, no one else can see those files.

There’s a DropBox client (program) for Windows, Mac. Linux and iPhone. This allows you to have a folder on your computer that syncs to your DropBox. The files are store both on your computer and in the cloud at DropBox and kept in sync for you. So you can access them even if you have no Internet.

Use it to move files around, use it to backup to the cloud, use it to give several computers access to your files anywhere in the world. Just use it.

And best of all, its free. You get 2Gb storage for free and can buy a premium account if you need more. Since Drop.io died a death of Facebook, DropBox is my solution.

www.dropbox.com