Windows Patch Tuesday – January 2012

For the swiss cheese of operating systems, Microsoft plans to start 2012 with a surprisingly large Patch Tuesday that covers seven security bulletins which collectively address eight separate vulnerabilities. Previous January releases have normally featured only one or two bulletins. The solitary critical bulletin in the batch fixes a remote code execution issue in Media Player. The remaining six “important” bulletins due next Tuesday handle the BEAST SSL issue, which is short for Browser Exploit Against SSL/TLS. The stealthy piece of JavaScript works with a network sniffer to decrypt encrypted cookies a targeted website uses to grant access to restricted user accounts.

In the patch are other various information disclosure bugs, escalation of privilege issues and an update to Microsoft’s SEHOP (Structured Exception Handler Overwrite Protection) technology to enhance the defence-in-depth capability that it can offers to legacy applications. The first six bulletins affect various versions of the Windows Operating System, from XP SP3 up to the newest versions Windows 7 and Windows 2008 R2. The seventh bulletin covers Microsoft Developer Tools.

The “important” rather than critical status for the Beast SSL issue is at least debatable. The BEAST attack affects web servers that support SSLv3/TLSv1 encryption. Microsoft has already published a workaround, which involves using the non-affected RC4 cipher in SSL installations. A patch was originally promised in December but delayed until this month due to problems uncovered during testing. “Despite all of the hype over ‘The Beast’, attacks have simply never materialised and the issue has retained its ‘important’ classification from Microsoft,” notes Paul Henry, a security and forensic analyst at Lumension. Adobe and Oracle have both timetabled quarterly updates, on 10 January and 17 January, respectively in what promises to be a busy month for patching

BING!…your infected

Search engines from Microsoft and Yahoo! Have once again been caught displaying ads that direct users to malicious content, some that infects them with malware that’s hard to detect and get rid of, researchers said. I see that they put as much thought into who is allowed to advertise as they do in making a stable operating system.

Queries such as “FireFox Download,” “Download Skype,” and “Download Adobe Player” typed into the sites returned links promising to deliver the software requested but instead attempted to hijack people’s computers, GFI Labs researcher Christopher Boyd said in a blog post published Friday. Clicking on the links takes users to pages that look like the software maker’s official site, except for the URL.

Users who downloaded and installed the software are in for a nasty surprise.

“As an example, the fake Firefox file installs a rootkit, runs IE silently in the background attempting clickfraud and also performs Google redirects,” Boyd wrote. Microsoft and Yahoo were in the process of removing the malicious ads, he said.

It’s not the first time widely used search engines have been caught displaying ads intended to harm their millions of users. Ad services used by Google and Yahoo have repeatedly been duped into serving content that punts malware and other threats.

Criminals often go to elaborate lengths to pose as legitimate marketers in an attempt to get links to their toxic wares in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

“Microsoft’s Security Team has identified the source of this malware attack and is blocking those sites from loading additional malware,” the company said in a statement. “We are continuously monitoring our sites to protect customers; and also working with law enforcement authorities to find and prosecute the people responsible for these types of attacks.”

Bing Forum thread has Wil from Bing telling a webmaster that it can take between 3 and 6 weeks to have a malware label removed from the search results.

This is in comparison to Google which normally can remove a malware label within 24 hours.

I am not sure if this is a special case or if most Malware reviews take 3-6 weeks at Bing. Wil from Bing said:

Your issue is already being reviewed. Malware re-evaluation requests take 3-6 weeks to finalize our review and create a new reputation ranking of the page/site. A representative will get in touch with you for updates.

When you are presented with Malware via Bing, Bing disables the link but does allow the searcher to ultimately visit the page at their own risk. I’d assume 99.999% of those searchers run.

Bing has a detailed post on Malware on their blog with more information.

Malware and hacked sites are a huge issue in search. Google has been very good at handling it for the most part recently and is excellent at removing the malware or hacked label quickly after the site is fixed. Bing takes 3-6 weeks? Well, that seems excessive. Maybe I am reading it wrong?

This is why I tell people to NOT use Internet Explore. If you must continue using Windows unfortunately, then please by all means use ESET NOD32 in conjunction with HitManPro.

Adobe Flash Update

Adobe has issued a critical software update for its Flash Player software that fixes at least a dozen security vulnerabilities in the widely-used program. Updates are available for Windows, Mac, Linux,  Solaris and Android versions of Flash and Adobe Air.

The update fixes flaws present in Flash Player versions and earlier for Windows, Mac, Linux and Solaris systems, and in Flash11.0.1.153 and earlier for Android. The vulnerabilities are rated critical, meaning they could give hacked or malicious Web sites an easy way to install software on your machine.

Adobe’s advisory says users of Flash version and earlier should update to v.; those using Flash v. and earlier versions for Android should update to Flash Player Users of AIR 3.0 for Windows, Macintosh, and Android should update to AIR  v. The company says it is not aware of any active attacks against these flaws at this time.

To find out if you have Flash and which version may be installed, visit the About Flash page. Windows users who browse the Web with Internet Explorer and another browser may need to apply the Flash update twice, once using IE and again with the other browser (Google Chrome users should already have the latest version of Flash). Again, check the About Flash page with each browser you use to see whether you need to apply this update. To avoid using Adobe’s Download Manager, which tends to add little “extras” if you’re not careful, IE users can grab the latest update directly from these links; 32-bit IE installer, and 64-bit IE installer. Firefox and Opera users can grab the 32-bit installer here and the 64-bit version here. If you don’t know which one you need, you let Adobe’s site choose for you (although the download manager may try to foist other software unless you uncheck pre-checked options).

The installer for the latest Adobe Air version is available from this link.

Some Flash components also are bundled with Adobe Reader, so I asked Adobe whether current versions of Reader also were exposed to these vulnerabilities. Adobe spokeswoman Wiebke Lips confirmed that some of the issues fixed in today’s Flash Player update do impact the Authplay.dll component that ships with Adobe Reader and Acrobat X (10.x) and 9.x for Windows and Mac. Lips said Adobe feels comfortable that its sandboxing technology built into the latest versions of Reader will protect users until January, when the company expects to issue the next quarterly update for Reader.

“These issues will be resolved in the next quarterly security update for Adobe Reader and Acrobat, currently scheduled for January 10, 2012,” Lips wrote. “Note that the Authplay.dll component is part of the ‘sandbox’ for users of Adobe Reader X (Protected Mode) and Acrobat X (Protected View), which would protect against potential exploits.”

Windows Patch Tuesday – November 2011

It is that time again! Adobe, Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla all released updates on Tuesday to fix critical security flaws in their products. Adobe issued a patch that corrects four vulnerabilities in Shockwave Player, while Redmond pushed updates to address four Windows flaws. Apple slipped out an update that mends at least 17 security holes in its version of Java, and Mozilla issued yet another major Firefox release, Firefox 8. If there have been 17 security holes in Java just since the last release If that doesn’t convince a person to uninstall Java, I’m not sure what will.

The only “critical” patch from Microsoft this month is a dangerous Windows flaw that could be triggered remotely to install malicious software just by sending the target system specially crafted packets of data. Microsoft says this vulnerability may be difficult to reliably exploit, but it should be patched immediately. Information on the other three flaws fixed this week is here. The fixes are available via Windows Updates for most supported versions of the operating system, including XP, Vista and Windows 7.

Adobe’s Shockwave update also fixes critical flaws, but users should check to see if they have this program installed before trying to update it. To test whether you have Shockwave installed, visit this page; if you see an animation, it’s time to update. If you see a prompt to install Shockwave, there is no need to install it. Mozilla Firefox users without Shockwave Player installed may still see “Shockwave Flash” listed in the “Plugins” directory of the browser; this merely indicates that the user has Adobe’s Flash Player installed.

The vulnerabilities fixed by this update exist in versions ofShockwave and earlier. The latest version, v., is available here.  I’m sure it has its uses, but to me Shockwave is just another Adobe program that requires constant care and feeding. What’s more, like Adobe’s Flash Player, Shockwave demands two separate installation procedures for IE and non-IE browsers.

Hat tip to the SANS Internet Storm Center for the heads up on the Java fix from Apple. This update, available via Software Update or Apple Downloads, essentially brings Snow Leopard and Lion up to date with the Oracle patches released last month in Java 6 Update 29 (Apple maintains its own version of Java).

If you use Mozilla Firefox or Thunderbird, you may have noticed that Mozilla is pushing out another major upgrade that includes critical fixes to these programs; both have now been updated to version 8. If you’re still running Firefox version 3.6.x, Mozilla has updated that to3.6.24. Perhaps I’m becoming a curmudgeon, but I’m growing weary of the incessant update prompts from Firefox. It seems that almost every time I start it up it’s asking to restart the browser or to remove plugins that no longer work with the latest version. I’ve been gradually transitioning more of my work over to Google Chrome, which seems faster and updates the browser and any installed plugins silently (and frequently patches oft-targeted plugins like Flash Player even before Adobe officially releases the update).

I switched to Google Chrome when it first came out ago. I love it. It’s faster and makes updating easy and effortless. I still have Firefox, but Chrome is my default browser now on all my computers.


How Windows gets malware

When a Microsoft Windows machine gets infected by viruses/malware it does so mainly because users forget to update the Java, Adobe Reader/Acrobat and Adobe Flash. This is revealed by a survey conducted by CSIS Security Group A/S. This group has been collecting data for 3 months on actual infections of computers by drive-by attacks on browsers.  Drive-by attacks are when you go to an innocent website and get a virus anyway.  This is typically from ads or hacked links.

Basis of the study

CSIS has over a period of almost three months actively collected real time data from various so-called exploit kits. An exploit kit is a commercial hacker toolbox that is actively exploited by computer criminals who take advantage of vulnerabilities in popular software. Up to 85 % of all virus infections occur as a result of drive-by attacks automated via commercial exploit kits.

The purpose of this study is to reveal precisely how Microsoft Windows machines are infected with malware and which browsers, versions of Windows and third party software that are at risk.

CSIS monitored more than 50 different exploit kits on 44 unique servers / IP addresses. Figures come from the underlying statistical modules, thereby ensuring an as precise overview of the threat landscape as possible. The statistical material covers all in all more than half a million user exposures out of which as many as 31.3 % were infected with the virus/malware due to missing security updates.

Among the vulnerabilities we have observed abused by the monitored exploit kits, we find:

CVE-2010-1885 Microsoft Help & Support HCP
CVE-2010-1423 Java Deployment Toolkit insufficient argument validation
CVE-2010-0886 Java Unspecified vulnerability in the Java Deployment Toolkit component in Oracle Java SE
CVE-2010-0842 Java JRE MixerSequencer Invalid Array Index Remote Code Execution Vulnerability
CVE-2010-0840 Java trusted Methods Chaining Remote Code Execution Vulnerability
CVE-2009-1671 Java buffer overflows in the Deployment Toolkit ActiveX control in deploytk.dll
CVE-2009-0927 Adobe Reader Collab GetIcon
CVE-2008-2992 Adobe Reader util.printf
CVE-2008-0655 Adobe Reader CollectEmailInfo
CVE-2006-0003 IE MDAC
CVE-2006-4704 Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 WMI Object Broker Remote Code Execution Vulnerability
CVE-2004-0549 ShowModalDialog method and modifying the location to execute code

The report above describes those operating systems, browsers, and applications that are vulnerable in the real world scenarios they have observed.  Here it is slimmed down:

Internet Explorer is the worst offending browser. Mozilla is second.
Windows XP, Windows 7, and Windows Vista are the worst offending operating systems.
Java, Adobe Reader, and Adobe Flash are the worst offending applications.

Salient point is that, fully updated and patched installs let 70% of the infections through. Mainly because the technology is reactive. Even more salient is that only 13% of the successful infections relied on software that was Windows only (10% were IE exploits, 3% were Windows Help exploits) All you folks encourgaging your friends and families to buy Macs for the specific reason of their security are in for a world of hurt in a few years when Mac hits ~30+% market share. Kits are already starting to appear.

Conclusion: 99.8 % of all virus/malware infections caused by commercial exploit kits are a direct result of the lack of updating five specific software packages:

Java JRE 37%
Adobe Reader/Acrobat 32%
Adobe Flash 16%
MS Internet Explorer 10%
Windows HCP (Help) 3%
Apple Quicktime 2%

For the sake of security, I would not run Java, Adobe anything or Internet Exploiter.

We don’t want you getting viruses because it’s difficult to remove and more importantly, expensive and time consuming.

1. Uninstall java. Most end users never have a need for it and don’t update it.

2. Use Chrome to read PDFs or use Foxit. No need for Adobe, but to be fair Adobe’s new sandbox model in version X is resistant to viral infections and exploits.

3. Update flash as often as it says or switch to Chrome.

4. Use ESET NOD32 & HitmanPro for protection

Adobe Pushes Update

How can anyone stay on top of all the attack vectors on a Windows computer? Every machine I touch these days, never gets consistently updated, especially if it is a personal computer. Today I find that Adobe pushes an unscheduled security update.

“As expected, Adobe today released a security update for its Flash Player. The out of cycle update addresses critical security issues in flash player as well as an important universal cross-site scripting issue. Adobe reported that one of the vulnerabilities (CVE-2011-2444) is being exploited in the wild in active targeted attacks designed to trick the user into clicking on a malicious link delivered in an email message. To illustrate the importance of keeping systems up to date, including Adobe Flash products, the fact that the RSA cyber attack was executed using a spear phishing attack with an embedded flash file should serve as a friendly reminder. RSA was breached after an employee opened a spreadsheet that contained a zero-day exploit that installed a backdoor through an Adobe Flash vulnerability.

Also, this just in. “Software maker Adobe Systems has launched Flash Player 11 and Adobe AIR 3 even as the industry is shifting to HTML 5 on the Web that lessens the reliance of developers on Flash.” Flash Player 11 and AIR 3 are scheduled for release in early October. Adobe didn’t give the date, but you should expect release at Adobe’s annual Max conference, between 1 and 5 October. Both support full hardware acceleration for 2D and 3D graphics, which Adobe claims provides rendering performance 1,000 times faster than Flash Player 10 and AIR 2.

Do you know what Flash version you have installed? No? Then use Adobe’s version test page. You can also check here.

Once you have the current version, you may also wish to adjust your configuration. Flash’s settings are rather curious as the controls themselves aren’t located on the computer but are instead accessed through a Flash object hosted by Adobe.

Adobe: “The Settings Manager is a special control panel that runs on your local computer but is displayed within and accessed from the Adobe website. Adobe does not have access to the settings that you see in the Settings Manager or to personal information on your computer.”

Right-clicking a Flash object and selecting “Global Settings” opens a page to Adobe’s Flash Player Settings Manager.

Just as flaws in the ubiquitous Adobe Flash were exploited to infiltrate RSA Security and compromise the encryption keys used in RSA’s SecurID two-factor authentication tokens, Flash may also have been the Achilles heel of Diginotar.

Adobe Flash is nearly universal. With Adobe Flash Player software and browser plug-ins available for virtually every operating system and browser, this zero-day flaw could potentially impact 90 to 95 percent of the PCs in the world.

Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle, connects the dots. “Adobe said that today’s bug ‘could be used to act on the user’s behalf with webmail providers.’ I think we can interpret this to mean that a successful attack using this zero-day bug could allow the attacker to access the user’s Gmail account.”

I implore you to patch Flash as soon as possible.

Software updates: Adobe

Adobe issued it’s monthly update last week, to eliminate 13 security flaws in its PDF Reader and Acrobat products. Adobe’s patches for Reader and Acrobat correct critical vulnerabilities in the programs that could be exploited by attackers just by convincing users to open a booby-trapped file. Updates are available for Adobe Reader X (10.1) and earlier versions for Windows, Macintosh, Adobe Reader 9.4.2 and earlier versions for UNIX, and Adobe Acrobat X (10.1) and earlier versions for Windows and Macintosh.

Affected software versions

• Adobe Reader X (10.1) and earlier 10.x versions for Windows and Macintosh
• Adobe Reader 9.4.5 and earlier 9.x versions for Windows and Macintosh
• Adobe Reader 8.3 and earlier 8.x versions for Windows and Macintosh
• Adobe Acrobat X (10.1) and earlier 10.x versions for Windows and Macintosh
• Adobe Acrobat 9.4.5 and earlier 9.x versions for Windows and Macintosh
• Adobe Acrobat 8.3 and earlier 8.x versions for Windows and Macintosh

Severity rating
Adobe categorizes these as critical updates.

Acrobat users should check out the Adobe security advisory. Heads up for users of older versions of Reader and Acrobat: support for Adobe Reader 8.x and Acrobat 8.x for Windows and Macintosh will end on November 3, 2011.

Online Safety – 5 Secrets

In any given week, I get dozens of requests for help. The #1 question typical is this:  “How do I protect myself online?” These days I’m getting that question in equal numbers from PC and Mac owners who are concerned about the best way to avoid being sucker-punched by social engineering attacks.

Many people think that security begins and ends with antivirus software. I disagree. Should you run antivirus software? As I’ve said before, if you don’t know the answer to that question, then the answer is yes.

So let’s stipulate that you’re running a well-supported, up-to-date security program—whether you use a PC or a Mac. What else do you need to do? In this post, I share the five steps I teach to friends, family members, and clients who want to avoid malware, scareware, phishing sites, and other online scams.

If you’ve been paying attention to the current threat landscape, much of the advice in this post will be familiar, even obvious. A lot of it is just common sense, but some is unconventional wisdom. Yes, of course you should expect to be attacked if you download porn or pirated software. But just staying out of bad online neighborhoods isn’t sufficient anymore.

These days, threats can come from unexpected places: Google (and Bing) search results, compromised websites, deceptive ads, seemingly innocent downloads. You don’t have to be doing anything out of the ordinary to inadvertently stumble across one of these potential threats.

If I had to summarize my guidance in a single sound bite, it would go something like this: Pay attention to your surroundings, don’t be stupid and don’t run around on the web with full administrative rights on your computer. Better yet, give Linux Mint a try

Alright then, let’s break that down.

Step 1: Don’t panic.

To borrow from a classic Monty Python sketch,  the two … no, three chief weapons of online criminals are “fear and surprise…and ruthless efficiency.” Their goal is to appear when you don’t expect them and convince you to act hastily. Online criminals often play on fear (your PC or Mac is infected with malware!) or simple social engineering (try these smileys! oh, and you need this codec—fake, of course—to play an enticing video clip).

The antidote to Monty Python, of course, is Douglas Adams, for whom “Don’t panic” was the secret of successful intergalactic hitchhiking.

When in doubt, stop. Think. Ask for help. If you’re truly worried, pull the plug on your Internet connection temporarily until you can call a knowledgeable friend or drag the machine in to a specialist for a thorough diagnosis.

You should, of course, have a regular backup routine. Mechanical failures (a crashed hard drive or a dropped notebook) can be even more devastating than a malware attack. With Windows 7, you can use the built-in backup program to save an image backup on an external hard drive; you can do the same thing on a Mac using Time Machine. Restoring a full backup is easy, especially if the alternative is spending hours trying to track down a well-hidden infection.

And don’t be paranoid. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard from otherwise smart people who break out all sorts of terrible tools—registry cleaners and system optimizers being the worst offenders—at the first sign of trouble. Those snake-oil programs, in my experience, tend to make the problem worse.

Drive-by downloads and other sneak attacks are, fortunately, extremely rare. Yes, they happen, but the overwhelming majority of attacks aim at vulnerabilities that have been patched months or even years earlier.

Bad guys prey on the weak, technically unsophisticated, and ill-informed who don’t update regularly. You really,really want to avoid being a part of that group. It’s easy:

  • If you use Windows, turn on Windows Update and set it to automatically download and install updates. Those updates include Windows components like Internet Explorer. If you use other Microsoft software (Office, Silverlight, Windows Live Essentials, and so on) enable Microsoft Update, which is available from the Windows Update configuration screen.


  • If you use OS X, turn on Apple Software Update and set it to automatically download and install updates.


And don’t overlook potential attacks from third-party software. On any platform, it is essential to regularly update not just the operating system and its components, but also any popular Internet-connected program.That means browsers like Chrome and Firefox, utilities like Adobe’s Flash and Reader, runtime environments like Java and Silverlight and Adobe AIR, and media players like iTunes and QuickTime (on Macs, the latter two programs are included with system updates).

To make the process a little easier, I enthusiastically recommend Ninite, which automatically updates third-party software using the same URL you use to install the originals. It keeps unwanted add-ons and third-party programs at bay, too.


Since I wrote that post, Ninite has introduced a new product, the Ninite Updater, which “alerts you when any of the 92 Ninite-supported apps become out of date. It doesn’t matter if your apps were installed with Ninite or not.”

Alas, this utility is not free. The single-user package is $10 per year, and a 5-PC family pack is $30 a year. But it might be worth it for the peace of mind.

Home users can find a free alternative in Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI). Although it’s nowhere near as comprehensive as Ninite’s offering, it’s a good way to cover the most important threats.

3. Learn how to make smart trust decisions.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, social engineering is the weapon of choice for online criminals these days. Attacks can take all sorts of forms, from conventional phishing e-mails to sophisticated and convincing malicious download sites. The best countermeasure? Education.

You’re asked to make trust decisions many times every day. Some of those decisions involve programs, people, and businesses with whom you have lots of experience already. But others involve complete strangers, and still others ask you to decide with only limited information.

Any time you open an e-mail message or visit a web page, you face a possible trust decision.

Should you trust the sender of an e-mail?

Spam is one of the primary vectors for phishing attacks and financial scams, but it’s also a way to lure unsuspecting PC and Mac users to sites that deliver malware.

Spam filtering services have become very effective and can do a credible first pass on your inbox. The better your spam filter, the more likely it will recognize a fraud that could have sucked you in.

Based on my recent experience, both Hotmail and Gmail use extremely accurate spam-blocking technology. If your e-mail provider can’t properly filter spam, consider forwarding your e-mail through a Hotmail or Gmail account.

And don’t overlook the client program you use. Microsoft’s flagship e-mail programs, Outlook and Windows Live Mail, display HTML-formatted messages differently when they are in the Junk folder.

Here’s a crude but unremarkable phishing message as it appears in the Outlook Inbox folder. An unsophisticated recipient might be tempted to overlook the bad grammar and click.


But in Outlook’s Junk E-Mail folder that same message is displayed in plain text, without graphics or HTML formatting. In addition, the hyperlinks show the actual target address in the message window. That turns the once-slightly-convincing message into a laughable mess, complete with bogus hidden text.


If the message appears to be from a friend or other known contact, it’s possible that the sending account was hijacked. If you have even the slightest doubt about the actual target of a link, don’t click it. That’s doubly true if it’s from a social network.

Should you trust a web page?

When using a browser, you need to learn how to read the address bar, especially at two key decision points.

First, anytime you are asked to enter your login credentials, your Spidey sense should tingle. You need to be able to spot a website that is trying to masquerade as someone else. If you have any doubt that a login page is legitimate, close the browser window and open a new session by manually typing the domain name and navigating to a login page from there.

Both Internet Explorer and Chrome provide important information in the address bar, displaying the actual domain name in black and muting the rest of the address to a still-readable shade of gray. Here’s how it appears in Internet Explorer 9:

Second, learn how to identify a secure connection, where traffic is encrypted from end to end. Every modern browser displays visual cues (including a padlock icon) when you’re using a secure SSL connection. For sites that use Extended Validation certificates, you get additional feedback in the form of a green address bar, as shown here for Chrome.

The final online trust decision people make regularly is so important it deserves its own page…

4. Never install any software unless you’re certain it’s safe.

The biggest trust decision of all arises when you’re considering installing a new piece of software on a PC or a device. If you have any doubts about a software program, you should not install it. Period.

One great way to remain safe online is to set a high bar for software. You need solid, up-to-date information to help you decide whether a file is safe, unsafe, or suspicious. Then you need information about whether the program is reliable and useful, whether it’s compatible with other software you use, and whether it can be easily removed.

Here are the three key questions to ask about any program before clicking Yes on the installer:

Did it come from a trusted source?

It’s hard to believe that someone would actually say yes to a software installer that randomly appears when they visit a web page. But people do, which is why fake antivirus software is a thriving business. The simple act of clicking No—or forcibly closing an installer window if necessary—can save you hours of cleanup.

Is it signed with a valid digital signature?

In developing the SmartScreen technology used in Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft security researchers discovered a startling fact about the dangerous downloads they were blocking.

[T]he IE9 version of SmartScreen includes a new set of algorithms designed to test the reputation of this executable file. Has it been seen before? Is there anything about the file name or the domain that looks suspicious?

In fact, one of the most important questions to ask is this one: Is the executable file digitally signed? Microsoft’s researchers found that roughly 96% of all those red warnings are attached to unsigned, previously unseen files. The algorithm assumes that a file—signed or unsigned—is untrustworthy until it establishes a reputation. No domain or file gets a free pass—not even a new signed release from Microsoft or Google. Every file has to build a reputation.

In Windows, you can check for the presence of a digital signature by right-clicking a file and choosing Properties. Here, for example, is the digital signature information for the officially released Xvid codec installer, the rogue version doesn’t have a digital signature.


A digital signature doesn’t mean a file is safe. It does, however, mean that you have important information, and a chain of trust, about the person or company who created the file. A digital signature also guarantees that the file hasn’t been tampered with since it was signed.

In some cases, you might be willing to trust an unsigned file. You should only do so if you are confident that it is exactly what it claims to be and nothing more.

What does the security community say about the download?

If running a possible program through one antivirus scanner is good, then checking with 43 separate scanners must be, well, 43 times as effective. That’s the theory behind Virustotal (VT), a free and independent web-based service. In a matter of minutes, you can upload a questionable file and have it checked by a large cross-section of scanning engines using up-to-date definitions.

Here’s what a Virustotal report looks like:


One detail worth looking for when you submit a program is whether it’s been analyzed by VT before. If the executable file you’re analyzing is a well-known, established program, you can bet it’s been examined already. Here, for example, is what I saw when I submitted a signed Xvid codec installer, obtained from a well-known and trusted site:

If you’re uncertain about a file, one option is to set it aside for 48 hours and then resubmit it to Virustotal. That’s usually enough time for antivirus engines to identify a new strain of malware and add it to their definition files.

5. Be smart with passwords.

Has your favorite website been hacked lately? These days, it might be easier to make a list of the high-profile web sites that haven’t been broken into.

Thanks to LulzSec and Anonymous, millions of people have had the dubious pleasure of seeing their usernames and passwords posted publicly on the Internet. Last month, LulzSec snagged more than 1 million accounts from Sony Music and Sony Pictures servers. The usernames, passwords, and personal details stored there were posted on the Internet for anyone to see.

You might not be too concerned that someone can log on to your Sony account and pretend to be you. But what if someone goes to Google Mail or Hotmail and tries your email address and that same password? If you used the same password as the one on your Sony account, the bad guys are in. They can send and receive messages that appear to come from you. They can download your email archives, which can include correspondence from your bank and from online shopping sites like In a very short period of time, they can do a very large amount of damage.

Repeat after me: Never use the same password in multiple places, and be especially vigilant with passwords for e-mail accounts.

It’s a royal pain to create and remember unique, hard-to-guess passwords, but that is nothing compared to the misery you will experience if a determined thief starts messing with your identity and your finances.

Sadly, an awful lot of people reuse passwords, as software architect and Microsoft MVP Troy Hunt found when he grabbed those leaked Sony files, extracted 37,000+ pairs of usernames and passwords, and did some quick analysis. The entire analysis is a good read, but I zeroed in on this part:

When an entire database is compromised and all the passwords are just sitting there in plain text, the only thing saving customers of the service is their password uniqueness. Forget about rainbow tables and brute force – we’ll come back to that – the one thing which stops the problem becoming any worse for them is that it’s the only place those credentials appear. Of course we know that both from the findings above and many other online examples, password reuse is the norm rather than the exception.

Hunt compared the contents of the hacked Sony database with identical addresses from the Gawker breach of last year and found that two-thirds of the addresses on both lists used the same password. This ratio doesn’t surprise me, and I suspect it might even be a little low.

If you’re guilty of this offense, it might seem overwhelming to try to fix your entire collection of passwords at once. So start small, by creating new, unique, hard-to-guess passwords for your e-mail and bank accounts.

What makes a good password?

  • It’s at least 8 characters long, preferably 14 characters or more.
  • It is not a word that can be found in any dictionary or list of common names.
  • It uses at least three of the four available character types: capital letters, lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols (such as punctuation).
  • It’s easy for you to remember and difficult or impossible for someone else to guess.

And one more tip: if you anticipate that you will be entering a password regularly on a handheld device, consider how the virtual keyboard on that device works. Instead of a password like Rh1ZJk#U, consider grouping the different types of characters together for quicker input: RZUUJ1hk#.

The best way to create and manage strong, unique passwords is with the help of a utility tailor-made for that job. To start I visit, and picked a 8-character block from the 63 random alpha-numeric characters (a-z, A-Z, 0-9) block.

Then, to manage I use a free program called KeePass,

What is KeePass?
Today you need to remember many passwords. You need a password for the Windows network logon, your e-mail account, your website’s FTP password, online passwords (like website member account), etc. etc. etc. The list is endless. Also, you should use different passwords for each account. Because if you use only one password everywhere and someone gets this password you have a problem… A serious problem. The thief would have access to your e-mail account, website, etc. Unimaginable.

KeePass is a free open source password manager, which helps you to manage your passwords in a secure way. You can put all your passwords in one database, which is locked with one master key or a key file. So you only have to remember one single master password or select the key file to unlock the whole database. The databases are encrypted using the best and most secure encryption algorithms currently known (AES and Twofish). For more information, see the features page.

Is it really free?
Yes, KeePass is really free, and more than that: it is open source (OSI certified). You can have a look at its full source and check whether the encryption algorithms are implemented correctly.

Software updates: Adobe

Adobe is a vendor that often plays catch-up with security exploits; issuing emergency patches issued to fix zero-day vulnerabilities. But Adobe, like Microsoft, also has a regular Patch Tuesday update cycle. This regularly scheduled update is a way to give users and enterprises a predictable and stable timetable for Adobe updates.

For August’s Patch Tuesday, Adobe has issued update advisories covering to fix a slew of critical security flaws in its products, including FlashShockwave Player and Adobe AIR.

The Flash update corrects at least 13 critical vulnerabilities present in versions and earlier for WindowsMacLinux and Solaris machines (the bugs exist in Flashversions and earlier for Android devices). Windows, Mac, Linux and Solaris users should upgrade to version, and Android users should update to v. According to Adobe, they are not aware of any exploits “in the wild” for the issues addressed in the update. Digging into the vulnerabilities, the vast majority are for memory and five buffer overflows, four memory corruption and three integer overflow issues. There is also a single cross-site information disclosure issue that is fixed that could have potentially led to arbitrary code execution.

To find out which version of Flash you have, visit this page. Windows users who browse the Web with anything other than Internet Explorer will need to apply the Flash update twice, once using IE and again with the other browser (Google Chromeusers should already have the latest version of Flash). To avoid using Adobe’s annoying Download Manager, IE users can grab the latest update directly from this link; the direct link for non-IE browsers is here.

Windows users can furthermore use the Flash Player Settings Manager that is part of the Windows Control Panel to check for updates. Here it is furthermore possible to check the Flash Player version that is installed on the system. The path is Control Panel > Flash Player (32-bit) > Advanced. Users with a 64-bit version of Flash Player installed need to change the 32-bit to 64-bit in the path.

The same flaws exist in Adobe AIR for Windows, Mac and Android. Using an application that requires Adobe AIR (Tweetdeck or Pandora, for example) should prompt you to update to the latest version, AIR 2.7.1. If you don’t see a prompt to update the program, the latest version of AIR is available here.

Adobe also shipped an update to its Shockwave Player that fixes at least seven critical vulnerabilities in the media player program. Adobe is urging users of Adobe Shockwave Player and earlier  update to Adobe Shockwave Player

I should note that you may not have or want Shockwave installed. I haven’t had it on my Firefox installation for some time now and don’t seem to have missed it. I’m sure it has its uses, but to me Shockwave is just another Adobe program that requires constant care and feeding. What’s more, it demands two separate installation procedures for IE and non-IE browsers.

To test whether you have Shockwave installed, visit this page; if you see an animation, it’s time to update. If you see a prompt to install Shockwave, there is no need to install it. Mozilla Firefox users without Shockwave Player installed may still see “Shockwave Flash” listed in the “Plugins” directory of the browser; this merely indicates that the user has Adobe’s Flash Player installed.