Article – Internet Security and You

Evil-Comp

It’s time once again for a non-gamer article (written by me of course); this one’s about internet security, hacker history and how to protect yourself from malicious cyber attacks. Enjoy.

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“On the Internet, the world is flat.”

Said by Mark Yanalits, an information network engineer, who is a security and malware professional. He has been in the field of Internet security for 15 years.

“You can have a conversation with someone you’ve never met, in another country just by virtue of having the right type of cell phone or browser can pull up a site from Russia, wirelessly,” Yanalits said.

The Internet is a resource, an entertainer, a bridge to other places and even our friends; but people often forget that it can be used by those for ill will as well as good. Those individuals are called hackers.

Hackers are the ones who write malicious software that turns a PC and Mac from a highly efficient machine to a twisted shell of its former self.

While hackers were always a blight on computerized civilization, at their beginnings they were nothing but cyber thrill seekers.

When the Internet was just beginning to form and where desktop computers arrived at the workplace, they interconnected with other companies in other states and countries, the stakes increased.

This marked the arrival of small hacker communities in both America and Europe; with only one purpose, to see if they actually could hack a company system.

Hacker notoriety and personal reputation gained persistence through the ’80s and ’90s

When the millennium set in, desktop computers became really powerful and complex but vulnerabilities became more and more apparent. The vulnerabilities were exploited and hackers were able to gain full control of computer systems.

During this time, the Internet had become more accessible by the masses, and complex computer commands were being simplified by new programs, applications and easy user interfaces.

“Thanks to the speed, density and reach of the Internet and the powerful yet simplified abilities of the new desktop computers; when hackers attacked they did massive damage,” Yanalits said. “You can hack into a main frame computer inside a giant organization in a few seconds”

They did just that-Yahoo, eBay, CNN and Visa were all attacked and crippled by hackers and their own systems’ flaws.

“It was a big wake up call because suddenly on the Internet you had this malicious software created for street cred but had the capability to take down marquee institutions,” Yanalits said.

If they did not do something, big companies would be taken out of commission, and out of business.

“So in turn, those companies put up huge bounties for the writers of those types of software,” Yanalits said. “What the bounties did, and what the high profile arrests did was [drive] all the ‘script kiddies’ [a hacker novice, in it for the fun] out of the business and left people who were committed to use this capability for financial gain.”

Since 2003 to the present, the Internet has only gotten faster, computers have gotten faster and programs even more complex.

This only widens the attack range for computer criminals, which are serious about what they do. In Yanalits’ experience, the type of hackers that users encounter today are smart, calculating and experienced.

“You can go walk into a bank with a hand gun, and you can try and rob the bank, and might net you $11,000/12,000. That is if you don’t get any dye pack explosions or shot by the guard, it’s still a high risk venture.”

On the other hand, criminal hackers (or people who hire them) can build malicious software, get into personal computers and steal a person’s core identity. They can use it to open multiple credit cards in their name. They can easily steal two times the money compared to an armed robbery.

“The attractiveness of being able to perpetrate a crime from a distance gives a lot of incentive to engage computer crimes using the internet, because you don’t have to take the risk of actually being there,” Yanalits said.

Yanalits warns, it not just about money for computer criminals.

“The theft now, isn’t just a theft of money; it’s the theft of anything, and anything has currency,” he said.

Da'Hackers

If that was not bad enough, a skilled hacker can turn a user’s computer into a ‘BotNet’ if they’re not careful.

A BotNet is a small piece of user hacked computer (kept small so to not draw attention to the owners), where it is groomed and tuned up by ‘BotNet herders.’

These herders combine it with thousands of other BotNet computers and rented by buyers to deliver spam or attack other computer networks

“Suddenly it’s like a herd of cattle, hundred feet wide with spaces in between, goes down a narrow channel 25 yards wide,” Yanalits said, while describing what a wave of BotNets attacking a system, effectively crashing it.

So not only can hackers possibly steal everything you have, but they can also use your computer to attack some one else.

It almost makes you want to turn the computer off for good. Do not worry! Yanalits has some solid tips to prevent hackers from getting the better of you. The first of which is to keep software updated.

“The biggest threat to a person’s computer in present time is not keeping your computer ‘patched’ with software patches, including operating systems patches, from the vender of the software you’re using.”

So computers users should check often for security updates, or enable automatic updates, of whatever they are running to make sure their computer patches are up to date.

“The second thing owners of computers have to be aware of is not to be ‘sloppy’ and add a great deal of software to computer systems. Each program carries its own set of vulnerabilities beyond the computer operating systems that you’re installing.”

Meaning if you downloaded or installed a lot of applications like various Web browsers, media players, demo files, etc, each one of them could have a security weakness that hackers can use to get in.

“The most secure home systems are the ones that try and run with the lowest amount of additional software on top of it.”

Use Web based e-mails like hotmail and Gmail, do not receive and read them on a computer with Outlook or Thunderbird. Those are also applications with a possible weakness for hackers to exploit, plus it is e-mail so it is a double whammy.

“All home machines should be behind a firewall [A software firewall like Zone Alarm or a hardware firewall like router] if people don’t have the know-how to set it up then they should either find someone to pay to help configure it or should call their internet carrier,” Yanalits said. “Keep and groom it, on a daily basis your anti viruses software, keep it on a consistence state of scanning; every day if possible.”

Never leave personal information, such as finance, or tax records, on your computer, if you do get hacked and they find your information it will only take things from bad to worse.

Also clear your Web information from your browser “Keep clearing your Internet browser caches and don’t store pages in ‘history.'”

The final and most important tip is to be skeptical and think of yourself as your ‘human firewall.’

Know what sites and links are OK, and which to avoid because now hackers will use those users as well; do not open unknown email attachments, free music offers, and random virus, etc.

“The Internet cannot be trusted, because everyone on the Internet is a ‘dog,'” Yanalits said. “You have no idea who you’re talking to on the other end. The bad software is not coming to your computer; your computer is going to it.”

Where does the time go?

Time's-flys

I know, I know, I hasn’t posted in a couple of months. But between wrapping up my collage semester and playing the massive onslaught of games this fall (only finished half of them)I just didn’t have the time. Well to make up for it; here’s a article I wrote about a local library in my area. Don’t worry, it has something to do with video games. Anyway enjoy, and stay tuned.


Dewey Decimal meets Donkey Kong

Libraries – centers of information in the world since the time before Common Era.

Providing people places of quiet learning and scholarly studying to all, free of charge.

Even with the intention of the computer and the creation of the internet, the library still remains as the undisputed.

The times though keep changing, and the Point Park University Library changes with them. Soon along with classic books like ‘Moby-Dick’, ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Death of the Salesman’ they with include the rental new age media of video games.

Its Gustave Flaubert meets Gears of War.

Phil Harrity, access service coordinator, and Liz Evans the director of the university center library were the main advocates for this new service. They were happy to provide information on the service as well.

While the details of game renting are not finalized yet; Evans and Harrity both believe it will resemble the way they rent out DVDs. The games will be on shelves, in locked cases. They will be separated by the console systems (Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Wii) capable of playing them.

The time limit for keeping a rented game is also undetermined; however it’s leaning towards seven days. And the renter can re-rent the game (and any book or DVD) at their website up to three times.

Harrity and Evans said that at this time they don’t plan on selling any accessories (RWY wires, battery packs, extra controls, etc) nor do they plan on renting consoles to the students. The consoles especially for the reason that there are too many things that can go wrong, and it would too expensive to fix or replace.

“The day we went to ‘The Exchange’ and bought $1,300 worth of video games” Evans remembers “I’ve went home and said to my youngest: we’re bought all these video games for the library. He said that’s cool. Then I said we’re going to buy the systems and then loan them out. He looked at me and said ‘Are you crazy? Things are going to happen (to the consoles) and then what are you going to do?’”

A ‘console lab’ won’t be in the foreseeable future either; one of the factor’s for this is noise. The university center is still in part a library, having a console lab would disturb more than a few students doing research for essays and the like.

The other issue is space.
“Most people think the whole building is the library, it isn’t. We have to share space with other classes, offices, the TV studio and the auditorium. Another lab just wouldn’t fit.” said Evans

What they will provide is reading material in the form of ‘Game Informer’, video game centered magazine and Wizard, a magazine dealing with not only video games but comics, and pop culture.

Finally, and as always, they will lend an ear for students at the library; if someone want the library to stock certain item, game, book, DVD, or service they can suggest it anytime. If they are capable, they will provide.

Now all this covers the what, as for the why?

“We are doing this for the students.” Harrity said “Especially for the students who live in campus and have noting to do in the evening.”

Downtown Pittsburgh is an city that is it not known for its nightlife, most shops and services close down around 5:00 o’clock. With the renting of games (along with DVDs and books) the library staff hopes to give students more entertainment options.

Now at first, there were those who believed that video game rentals in the library weren’t such a hot idea. Over time, however those detractors soon saw how important this program is for students; in fact Harrity believes that video games will help support the rental of books and DVD.

Video games today use a lot of source material from early works of fiction. The ‘God of War’ game series takes a lot from ancient Greek and Roman history; while the ‘Call for Duty’ series closely follows the events World War II.

The way Harrity see it, if a person wants to know more about the background of a game they easily find that information in a book, DVD or online, and found in the same place they rented the game.

A one stop-shop for information and entertainment.

The library staff believes that students will have no trouble finding out about the new feature once it gets started. They expect a lot of word of mouth; but will also advertise on their website and sent out flash e-mails to all students.

What really will get the word out for them is the soon, upcoming all night game-a-thon. A collaboration of the library, the point park I.T. department, Gamestop and even the school own video game club.

The date is still undetermined, but what is guaranteed is that there will be fun to be had for all who attend. No matter if it’s rocking out to a heavy metal ballet, getting a hard fought 1st down or saving Sera from the Locust Horde.

At the end of the day what the library is doing is only following suit of other libraries. Who more and more of them are including the rental and sale of video games along with their traditional services. Why those libraries are doing it for their community is unknown, but Evans ultimately knows why Point Park University is doing it.

“The library here is for the students of Point Park, we will do whatever we can to make the student’s time here at Point Park, productive and enjoyable.”