PROFITABLE VIRUSES: Spyware, adware and computer worms

ORGANISED crime online has become rife over the last few years with more and more computer and Internet users falling victim to phishing and different forms of viruses and spyware. Gone are the days of hackers creating viruses for sport; we are now entering a new era where viruses are being deliberately developed and spread for potential profit – huge profit.

Image: techtips.comAntivirus software is becoming big business, not only because new viruses are constantly being created or ‘improved’ that can bypass existing antivirus software, but also because people are living in fear of getting a nasty infection and losing all their valuable data.

Many people are also scammed into purchasing antivirus or anti-spyware software by being made to believe that their pc is infected. There are many ways that any computer connected to the Internet can become infected or accessed by viruses and spyware. These are outlined below along with some easy-to-apply suggestions for protecting your digital self.

Malicious Software: Spyware & Adware

Tracking software, such as spyware and adware, work by gathering information from a computer or Internet user without their knowledge. This information is often relayed to advertisers or other interested parties, which will then spam you with adverts and false security warnings. Spyware can get on your computer as a software virus or as a result of installing a new program off the Internet.

antivirus software alertSpyware is often installed without a user’s consent – usually as a result of clicking on a dodgy pop-up window. Spyware that is specifically designed to serve advertising is known as adware, and is becoming rife in the online world. Any software that gathers information about you without your consent is an infringement of your privacy and is considered as malicious. Spyware actually forms part of an overall public concern over privacy on the Internet.

The image alongside is an example of spyware that looks like an active anti-virus solution. Such windows will often direct you to the anti-virus website in an attempt to make a sale.

The presence of spyware is typically hidden from the user and can be difficult to detect. Such software can slowly collect and leak various types of personal information, such as Internet surfing habits, most frequently-visited websites and even credit card information. Spyware is also known to change a computer’s settings, often resulting in slower connection speeds, failure to run certain programs and having your web browser’s activity redirected for potential profit.

“Unlike viruses and worms, spyware does not usually self-replicate. Like many recent viruses, however, spyware - by design - exploits infected computers for commercial gain. Typical tactics include delivery of unsolicited pop-up advertisements, theft of personal information (including financial information), monitoring of web-browsing activity for marketing purposes, and routing of HTTP requests to advertising sites.” – Wikipedia.

Computer Worms

Worms are nasty business as they can independently reproduce and spread across network connections. They can spread via email, instant messaging and file-sharing.

The spreading of worms is most prominent via infected email messages. Any form of attachment or link in an email may contain a link to an infected website. If the user clicks on the link or opens the attachment in an infected email, the worm can quickly infect your PC without you knowing.

Microsoft Outlook is renowned for spreading such emails and users should be wary of any unexpected emails they receive. Email worms are also known to harvest email addresses from an infected computer and can also construct new sender addresses, making it difficult to determine the original source of the worm.

Internet worms work by scanning the Internet for vulnerable machines (i.e. ones that are not properly protected against viruses and malicious software). An attempt will be made to connect to these machines and gain full access to them.

Chat channels are the main target for Internet worms whereby the same method of infection and spreading occurs (i.e. the sending of infected files or links to infected websites). If such links are clicked on, the worm will copy itself into a shared folder – usually under a harmless name.

Spyware, viruses & anti-virus software: Protecting your PC

At this point I could probably sell my own antivirus software to any reader that fears their computer may be at risk. This is often how antivirus companies sell their products. Some are even known to have created viruses and spyware of their own in order to justify the need for their product.

Avast logoThere is a copious amount of anti-virus and anti-spyware software available – some for free and some for a price. Generally speaking, the pricier and most popular products are better, such as Norton, NOD32 and AVG. However, there are free and equally safe options too.

Avast and Kaspersky Internet Security have both become hugely popular as they are both free and efficient. I personally use Avast5 for easy-to-use purposes. Once downloaded and installed, Avast will automatically update itself on a regular basis and keep your PC protected from new threats. However, it is also important to always be cautious when surfing in unfamiliar territory and never open an attachment which appears strange.

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GOOGLE WAVE: An analysis of its untimely downfall + Google Buzz

GOOGLE announced the closure of Google Wave on their blog on August 4 after much hype from loyal Google followers. There has been much buzz as to why Google Wave was a failed project, but the pivotal reasons appear to be three-fold. Excessive hype and expectations, too many features for a single web application, and at the same time, not enough unique features to differentiate Google Wave from existing services (Facebook, Twitter), all ultimately lead to its untimely downfall.

The hype involved a handful of people being invited to test Google Wave and lead to several bloggers discussing it amongst themselves. After almost a year of testing and a plethora of blog entries, a lot was obviously expected of Google’s latest brainchild. However, there were still only a handful of people that actually knew how to make use of Google Wave and in an era of short attention spans and click-happy web-users, the buzz had just about fizzled entirely upon its release.

Google Wave logoThe problem was that for the average Internet-user to get to grips with Google Wave required setting aside a good period of time to learn how to use it, and for many, watching a video tutorial was essential. Google’s software developers even admitted that the service “takes a little getting used to” and that even they were still learning how to use it themselves.

Once Google Wave invitees got the hang of Wave they needed more people to be using it besides themselves in order to get a proper wave going. This proved to be difficult enough in itself, but perhaps the problem was not a lack of users, but rather a lack of appeal.

What exactly is Google Wave?
“Wave's primary feature was to let users collaborate in real time, using an in-box-like interface that resembled a mix of Google's Gmail Web mail service, and its Docs and Spreadsheets product. Each strand of messages, which could include text, links, and photos, was called a wave. Google launched the product with an API for developers to build extra functionality in the form of extensions that users could turn on and off” - Cnet News

I would argue that Google Wave had two other inherent problems. The first being that it did not offer enough unique features – i.e. things that web-users couldn’t already perform using existing Google and other services, and secondly that it tried to achieve too much at once. There also seemed to be a lack of focus with regards to what the product would primarily be used for.

To rope people into any new web service takes time and requires baby steps if you want to get enough people on board in order for the services to be worthwhile and developed further. The web-user trend is to stick with what’s foremost familiar and secondly to make use of the tried and tested. Although Google Wave offered several easy ways to perform familiar tasks online in real-time, the popularity of services such as Facebook and Twitter far outweighed its demand as a new web service.

Google has brought many great apps to the table that are worthy of praise and the Internet would not be the same without them; sadly Google Wave was not one of them. Until a viable market demand is found, the focus should be on improving existing Google services before unleashing something new to the online public.

A bit on Google Buzz

Google had another chance with Google Buzz – a web app released just prior to Google Wave. For those who are unfamiliar with Google Buzz, the service is an extension of one’s Gmail account – appearing below one’s inbox. It can be rightfully argued that Google Buzz is essentially a Twitter clone as it allows friends to provide status updates, embed photos and links, and to follow or be followed by other Buzz users. It now has a few Facebooky features too – these being the options of liking or commenting on other users’ posts and embedding photos and video.

Google Buzz logoThe idea was to discuss “the buzz”, but from many users’ experience the service seems to be primarily used as a promotional tool for embedding links and directing peoples’ attention to them. Facebook remains the popular choice for status updating and the sharing of photos and videos and Twitter is still the first choice for posting something of real value.

I do not imagine that Google Buzz will ever become as popular (or perhaps more importantly – more popular) than Twitter or Facebook – least not until it offers something different to what exists already. Buzz needs to be able to stand on it's own, which isn't currently happening with the ability to Buzz on Facebook or Buzz on Twitter.

Perhaps bloggers and Google Wave testers are largely to blame for the excessive hype and ultimate disappointment of Google Wave. Perhaps it was the product itself that asked too much of web users by way of time and practical use. Or perhaps Google Wave simply did not fill a need in the World Wide Web by offering something entirely unique and different.

Google can surely be forgiven for the failure of Google Wave and hopefully learn from their mistakes. With a history of so many other great services and the downfall of only a few, support for future developments should by no means be tainted by their recent faults. Keep the services coming Google; you ultimately never know what will work online until you try.

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WANTITALL: Bringing U.S. goods into SA at competitive prices

BUYING goods and services online is fast becoming the preferred way to shop around this century, and it’s becoming easier for South Africans as more online stores emerge to serve a South African clientele.

Websites such as Take2 are at the top of Google’s ranking list and it’s easy to see why. Online shopping is quick and easy and can be done from the comfort of your own home and in your own time. The rising popularity of shopping online is evident from the number of new stores that have arrived on the scene, all offering easy ways to find what you’re looking for.

One particular online store that is rising in the ranks is www.wantitall.co.za, which operates in a very similar way to sites such as Take2.co.za and Kalahari.net. Launched in 2006, WantItAll has access to products that are not available in South Africa, which they sell at competitive prices that won’t blow your budget. Here’s a snippet from their website.

“WantItAll was launched in 2006 and has access to over 15 000 000 products which are sourced from all over the world. The site is 100% safe, which means that your personal details and credit card information are totally secure with us and will not be shared with third parties. We offer all customers competitive prices and also run specials on a daily basis.” - www.wantitall.co.za

WantItAll.co.za has access to over 15 000 000 products that are sourced from all over the world. Through an associate agreement with amazon.com, WantItAll specialises in importing items from the United States that can’t be found in South Africa, and offers them at competitive prices.

WantItAll.co.za has access to over 15 000 000 products that are sourced from all over the world. Through an associate agreement with amazon.com, WantItAll specialises in importing items from the United States that can’t be found in South Africa, and offers them at competitive prices.

WantItAll: Getting started

To sign up for a WantItAll account and start shopping takes the average web-user about six minutes, tops. Once you have an account, you’re ready to shop and add goods to either your digital shopping cart or wish-list.

WantItAll will notify you when out-of-stock items in your shopping wish-list are available to order again. Users can also send their wish-lists to family and friends to ensure that they get exactly what they want for Christmas or a forthcoming birthday.

WantItAll shopping specials are on offer daily and available products range from video games and DVDs to musical instruments and baby products. After having a good browse through the catalogue, I also came across several sought-after products that are difficult to find in the country or elsewhere for that matter. This has been made possible through an associate agreement with amazon.com, which allows WantItAll to specialise in importing items from the U.S. that you can’t find in South Africa.

I signed up for my own WantItAll account earlier this week and was pleasantly surprised to see that I got given a R50-off coupon. The online shopping website is also offering free delivery for an order of three or more items. To add cream on top of an extra-chocolaty sundae, they are also currently offering some great discounts within their DVD collection.

WantItAll: Payments and delivery

For South African online shoppers, WantItAll accepts EFTs and direct bank deposits via MasterCard and Visa; and if you have built up a little nest egg of eBucks, these can also be used as payment or part of it. The website has also being verified as SiteSafe, meaning that electronic transfers are 100% safe and secure.

Delivery is to your front door (unless specified otherwise) and delivery charges are generally dependent on the order. Standard delivery charge is R59, but if your order is particularly bulky, or you live out in the gamadoelas, delivery may cost you a little more.

Delivery time is generally between seven and 15 working days after payment has gone through. This is not a bad wait at all considering that your goods will probably be travelling cross-Atlantic. If you are not entirely satisfied with your new toys or goods, WantItAll does offer a returns system.

PROS OF ONLINE SHOPPING

  • Consumers can read reviews of a product online to help them decide whether or not it’s worthy of purchase.
  • Most online products offer user ratings, which give consumers an idea of how others feel about a particular product.
  • No cash is needed to pay for online goods and paying via an electronic funds transfer (EFT) is a safe, fast and painless process.
  • You do not need to travel to the store to pick up your goods; most online stores will deliver your ordered products to your door.
  • Despite being unable to touch the products in an online store, consumers can often see what’s inside the box or packaging without opening it.

Happy and safe online shopping!

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CLOUD COMPUTING: Doing business with shared cloud hosting

WHEN cloud computing and hosting technologies come together, the result is an entirely new breed of hosting that allows for businesses to dynamically alter and scale resources to meet their specific needs. This new model of web hosting also allows for resources to be rescaled at any time whenever the needs of the business change or is demanded by growth. Such flexibility directly translates into monetary savings because the business is only paying for what they need while avoiding downtime due to over-capacity.

These benefits can be obtained through three different types of cloud hosting platforms. One platform is not necessarily better than the other. It depends on the size of the business, their needs, and the scope of their online activity.

Cloud Shared Hosting

Cloud shared hosting is the basic package of the three modern hosting platforms. It is tailored to new businesses with a small online presence. The benefits of cloud shared hosting over other types are that it offers performance and reliability while maintaining high standards of security. It offers low costs and high uptime. This makes cloud shared hosting perfect for blogs, forums, informational websites, and basic e-commerce.

Cloud Servers

Cloud servers are the middle level of the new, modern hosting technologies. They can offer a business every benefit of a dedicated server without the downside of the high cost. The enhanced performance of cloud servers is combined with convenience and flexibility to meet the needs of a business that would otherwise require a dedicated server. Cloud servers can be dynamically scaled and rescaled at any time to meet the changing demands of the business. This reduces cost significantly because bandwidth is on a pay-per-use scale. Businesses never pay for unused bandwidth and there are no overage charges.

Cloud Storage

Cloud storage is the merging of backup technologies with cloud computing. It offers businesses extremely high-performance that is upgraded as technology advances, so the business is never left with an out-of-date product they can no longer use. Cloud storage is completely scalable and is often comprised of storage area network (SAN) disks for fast data throughput and increased reliability. This is a great way to host streaming media along with any and all other files a business possesses. Media can be served directly to any other website owned or operated by the business. Cloud storage is not only perfect for backups, but it also allows employees to access data from across the world.

Doing Business with Cloud Hosting

Cloud web hosting platforms are a reliable solution for businesses that require maximum uptime but cannot afford to pay for more services than they are using. If the future or growth rate of a business is uncertain, cloud hosting packages are the answer. The business will save money by not purchasing unnecessary features while still being given options for future upgrading. Cloud hosting packages give a company the benefits and performance of traditional hosting packages without having to tie up resources into a dedicated server investment that may not be necessary.

Guest post by Charles Homes - a consultant at Hosting.com.
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CRIME WATCH: Pmb suburb uses the web to protect its community

I WAS just a baby in a cot when my parents experienced their first and only break-in in Eshowe. Things didn’t end well for the intruder, who got a severe beating from my dad with a hockey stick before fleeing from the scene.

After a couple of late-night phone calls, my father and a friend were on the scene. They found the family motorbike wheeled halfway down the road and several household goods concealed in bushes along the street.

The next day the police reported that the intruder was in hospital — firmly clutching onto my mother’s pink purse, which he claimed to be his own. A court case followed and my father dropped all charges after learning of the criminal’s unfortunate background.

One might regard it as a mistake to let any criminal off the hook, but our house has never been targeted by criminals since. Perhaps that can be attributed to word of mouth on the intruder’s part.

The unique thing about living in a small town is the strong community watch that naturally develops. Everyone knows everyone, and most residents feel an inclination to watch out for one another’s safety. This is obviously more difficult in larger cities, but one area in Pietermaritzburg has been getting involved in preventing crime as part of a voluntary, web-based initiative.

Lincoln Meade Community Watch

The Lincoln Meade Community Watch website, which operates 24/7.

The Lincoln Meade Community Watch
Innovative methods to stop neighbourhood crime are part of the mandate adopted by the Lincoln Meade Community Watch, which is known for radically reducing crime in the southern suburbs of Pietermaritzburg. Part of its success is attributed to an interactive website used to record criminal activity and disseminate this information quickly to the neighbourhood and police.

Lincoln Meade Features
The website allows users to register by providing a working e-mail address to ensure they can receive instant alerts daily, weekly or monthly. While the site allows users to set privacy levels, it is recommended that users share all their information so that residents in the same street can create a group list and quickly notify each other in the event of an emergency.

Streets and zones
The community watch area is divided into zones and streets. When members sign up they are assigned accordingly. The community watch then scouts the area looking to recruit zone and street leaders who are in charge of co-ordinating among neighbours. In the event of an incident occurring, one can simply log into the system and locate the closest registered residents and contact them. They in turn can be the eyes and ears until help arrives.

Patrols
Members can also offer their time to patrol the streets and can use the system to log their patrol times as well as locate other patrols nearby. They can either join patrols or invite others to join theirs. The system accrues all patrol hours spent and the watch leaders ensure that all patrol contributions are recognised.

News and events
The site allows for news and events to be added on a regular basis. The three administrators who run the site can (at their discretion) e-mail the news to the database or simply leave it on the website. This has proven useful as some residents do not have Internet access. They do, however, have access to e-mail and can stay informed about the latest happenings. Events are logged and e-mailed in the same way using the online calendar.

Incidents reports
This has proven to be the most popular part of the system. Incident reports allow the administrators to feed crime incidents into the system as they happen. These are e-mailed to every member so that residents can stay informed and alert about any crime occurring around them. This includes descriptions of the incident type, property stolen and suspect descriptions. Photographs of previously convicted suspects can also be attached for future identification.

“It is really fantastic to see how many people actually keep this information with them, says Wayne Janneker, chairman of the community watch. “The watch receives calls every now and then of reports of vehicles or suspects matching the incident description. In turn this information is passed around very quickly with further arrests being made.”

SMS database
Additional functionality of the community watch includes an SMS database containing contact information about all residents and patrol member groups. Should there be an alert, such as a robbery in progress, an SMS is sent to residents warning them to be on the lookout.

Simultaneously an operation centre is established that picks up incoming information and liaises with the SA Police Service. A two-way radio network has also been put in place for patrollers to quickly pass on info while on patrol.

Tracking
For tracking purposes, the system allows for SA Police Service Criminal Administration System (CAS) numbers to be added to incidents so it can later be referenced should there be further information provided.

This assists the SAPS and the watch by linking pieces of information together. A brief synopsis of the latest incidents reported is visible on the homepage.

Suspicious vehicles are also listed on the site. Users are able to download a printer-friendly version of such lists to keep with them in their cars or near their doors. If a vehicle is spotted they can contact relevant members. CAS numbers are also assigned to vehicle reports so that residents can inform the SAPS immediately and ensure a swift response.

“The system’s setup has been a vital link in our chain to combat crime,” says Janneker. "We constantly receive compliments from residents thanking us for continuous feedback" 

Future growth
The system currently allows for advertising so that the watch can raise funds to continue its efforts. Membership now consists of over 200 residents and has been building a strong community of crime stoppers over the last three years.

“Our plan for future growth is to get our neighbouring suburbs on to the same system and to release a mobile version of the website for cellphones,” says Janneker.

— Original article supplied.

Do you have a similar web service in your area?

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