Banking Safely online

Although most people have now forgotten about the recent GoZeus & Cryptolocker virus outbreak along with the largest co-ordinated response to a Cyber-threat, the risk of a virus, trojan or other malware stealing your banking credentials is still just as real. So I thought I would share with you three ways to access your online banking safely.

Firstly using Apple’s iPad. There have been long and lenghty debates on Apples security model however there are certain benefits to the “limitations” in the way Apps work on the iPad. One of those is that until recently true multitasking wasn’t possible, but even though it is now, Apps cannot unilaterally interoperate with each other – only specific types of interaction and only with the users permission. This means its virtually impossible for for one app to spy on another app. So if you use Apple’s Safari or Google’s Chrome, you can be sure that your details are not being stolen. In addition, the only thing that will run on an iPad are Apps that have previously been through Apple’s vetting process and been approved. This means it is incapable of running the viruses, trojans and malware designed for a traditional PC

Google’s Chromebook is basically Google’s Chrome web browser on a  purpose designed and built laptop. Although there’s little fanfare about it, the firmware is digitally signed and verified at every boot verifying it hasn’t been tampered with. No other malware can inject themselves into the boot sequence and once running delivers an assured safe environment. Again like the iPad, it is incapable of running the viruses, trojans and malware designed for a traditional PC. You can currently purchase one of these in PC World or Currys for £179 which makes them somewhat of a bargain as they are a great, cheap ‘most of the day’ laptop (6-8 hours on a single charge)

I have written before of the virtues of Microsoft’s SurfaceRT or Surface 2 and here is no exception. Although it looks and feels like a traditional windows 8 machine, the simple fact that it doesn’t have a traditional Intel processor and cannot run traditional windows applications (only those available through the built-in Microsoft Store) also means it cannot run the viruses malware and other infections that plague traditional computers. It offers up to 10 hours of battery life and has the flexibility of a traditional computer with USB ports, video out, bluetooth and expandable memory – you could truly use this as your only machine.

To be clear, there are no guarantees in life. I’m not saying it’s impossible for any of these to have malware specifically written for them, however today if you used one of the above for your banking and important work (if not everything else!) you would be immune from more than  99.99% of the viruses, trojans and malware present on the internet today, and I’d be happy to discuss the remaining .01%

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Cloud Storage

In 2004 Google launched Gmail with a (then) whopping 1GB of storage for your email. This was arguably the first cloud service and it offered users the tantalising opportunity to “never have to delete your email” everything would always be there for you to search and you’d never have to regret deleting an email again. Since then, cloud service providers have taken off in a big way offering users storage for their data, services like email and video calling, web publishing, and much more.

Where these services really excel is when they manage to integrate their services into the mainstream user environment allowing you to take advantage of their service without having to think about it. Dropbox are a great example of this. Their folder synchronisation allows users to store data in a local folder on their computer that is silently replicated online with just the changes and updates being replicated. This allows you to gain access to your files wherever you are. Since then everyone and his dog are starting to offer cloud storage for user. Most companies offer users a modest amount of online storage with a tiered pricing allowing users to buy more if they need it on a monthly basis.

Well now we are on the verge of a storage revolution. Microsoft has recently announced that anyone who has an Office 365 subscription will have their complementary 20GB of storage increased to 1TB (that’s 1 Terabyte!). This is not only for existing users, but anyone who now buys Office 365 will have 1TB of online storage available to them. This is a massive amount of storage and for most people will be more than you will ever need.

To make this even more compelling, OneDrive functionality is built into Windows 8.1 allowing you to set the default locations for office and applications to your online storage. In addition, you can set Windows to locally “cache” the contents of your OneDrive.

What this means is that  you get the ability to use the files as if they were locally held – fast and offline on your PC when you are not connected to the internet AND you can gain access to them wherever you are in the world AND you can edit them in an online Office if you are not near your machine.

Lastly (as if that wasn’t enough) most home users have a ‘sketchy-at-best’ backup regime. If their computer fails, is lost or stolen then its goodbye to their “digital life” – photos videos, documents & music. However OneDrive is like having an online back saving your files in the event of a catastrophe.

So for £7.99 a month you will get the full version of Microsoft Office on 5 computers (enough for the whole family) with 1TB of OneDrive online storage for each (yup thats a total of 5TB of storage) and the ability to edit your documents online. This will surely set up the whole family.  Alternatively for £5.99 a month you can get the package for a single user and computer.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect. It’s doesn’t backup multiple coipies of your files at different times and if you delete a file from OneDrive it will be gone, but it still provides a level of safety and convenience that’s currently unparalleled.

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GOZeus & Cryptolocker

I hope by now you have seen the various news articles on the Cyber threat “GOZeus” or Game Over Zeus. What’s interesting is that this is the largest joint operation between Government and the private sector working together collaboratively to combat what can be regarded as the single largest cyber threat to the UK public we have ever witnessed.

Behind the scenes the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), the Centre for Protection for National Infrastructure (CPNI), UK Computer Emergency Response Team (UK-CERT) together with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other private organisations have been coordinating a response. In many senses, the success of this will set the scene for future collaboration projects.

What’s interesting is that this is probably the first time the public have been given an “early warning” of a specific threat with the ability to act and do something about it.

Interestingly, this is not a new threat. The cryptolocker virus has been around for a while with many victims caught in a quandary : with my personal files completely encrypted and beyond my reach, do I pay a painful amount of money to unscrupulous individuals who I shouldn’t trust, in the hope they might honor their part of the deal and decrypt my files?

GOZeus

Unfortunately the right answer is a painful one and aligned with the government’s approach to terrorism – never negotiate or give in to their demands. If you do, even just once, you set a precedent and provide an incentive to the attacker to continue in their endeavor.

However although it is easy to understand this perspective and agree with it today when you still have access to your files, photos, music and home videos, it becomes another matter entirely when you are put under duress. We all think differently under pressure and the threat of loss, and this is what our perpetrators are counting on. For the cyber attacker, the metrics of scale are tipped in his favor. For a newly crafted virus to be delivered to thousands or millions of machines is relatively straight forward and generally speaking until the first discovery of the virus (which only starts to happen when something awry starts to happen) all anti-virus programs will be completely oblivious to the infection. If millions of machines are infected (as they are now in the case of GOZeus), it only takes a a small percentage of victims to respond to make the attacker millions of pounds. Cryptolocker charges £300 to unlock your files so 4000 victims agreeing to this nets the attackers £1.2 million.

Keeping your cyber-self safe hasn’t changed much over the years. Install and keep up to date an antivirus product, turn on a firewall, periodically back up your files off your computer to another location, don’t open email that have come from someone you don’t know or trust and refrain from the temptation of visiting web sites that purport to offer something that looks too good to be true. Following this simple advice will help reduce your exposure to these risks dramatically and although they will not guarantee you remain virus free, they will

Unfortunately too many people don’t follow these sensible guidelines and experience the pain of clearing up after a virus has

The other option is second is to use a device that cannot be infected. You could for example use an Apple iPad or Microsoft Surface RT tablet which has a different processor and cannot run programs or executables that a normal windows computer can. The Surface provides the same user experience that any other Windows machine does, coupled with the benefits of a tablet and the security of a machine that cannot run traditional windows viruses.

The following are free tools that have been specially developed and made available to you by a number of internet security software companies that will scan and remove the GOZeus and Cryptolocker threats. You can use any of these tools regardless of the make of internet security software you normally use.

Symantec
http://www.symantec.com/security_response/writeup.jsp?docid=2014-052915-1402-99

F-Secure
F-Secure Online scanner (Windows Vista, 7 and 8)
http://www.f-secure.com/en/web/home_global/online-scanner
F-Secure Rescue CD (Windows XP systems)
http://www.f-secure.com/en/web/labs_global/removal-tools/-/carousel/view/142

Kaspersky
http://support.kaspersky.com/viruses/utility#kasperskyvirusremovaltool (if you think your computer is infected with malware)
http://support.kaspersky.com/8005 (WindowsUnlocker utility for if your computer is infected with CryptoLocker)

Sophos
http://www.sophos.com/VirusRemoval (Windows XP (SP2) and above)
Heimdal Security
http://goz.heimdalsecurity.com/ (Microsoft Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1.)

Microsoft
http://www.microsoft.com/security/scanner/en-us/default.aspx Microsoft Safety Scanner (Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP)

McAfee
http://www.mcafee.com/stinger

Trend Micro
http://www.trendmicro.com/threatdetector
(Windows XP, Vista, Windows, Windows 8/8.1, Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008, and Windows Server 2008 R2).

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Who needs a laptop?

Some 16 years ago while I was working for a large Multinational Pharmaceutical, I made a wild statement – that in time, desktop computers would no longer be the main choice of consumers. I believed that the development of fast, powerful light laptops at the request of large enterprises would usher in an era where consumers started buying them as their main computer of choice. After all – why not? They take up less space, you can take them whoever you want to go, you can easily pack them away, they don’t suffer the consequences of power cuts (as they have a battery, its like having a UPS built-in!). In fact there are so many compelling reasons that when you look at “Consumers” as one large enterprise you can see how manufacturers would flock to research what they might want and why laptops have been flying off the shelves for years.

Apple caught the next vision – the transition from laptop to tablet, and with the invention of the iPad had a killer product. Since it’s launch consumers have been buying tablets as if they’re the answer to a problem they didn’t know they had. Everyone wants one and as time goes by they are getting more and more powerful with Apps that can do almost anything (and in many cases – things laptops have never been able to do!)

However most notably they have created a new divide. While laptops are the jack of all trades, Tablets are the king of content consumption. In other words for 70% of what we want to do they’re fantastic (reading books, watching films, getting email, browsing the web etc) but very few of us would buy or pick up a tablet for content creation. Let me just say before I continue that there are some fantastic apps available for content creation, but on the whole, most people who create documents, presentations, school work etc all use a laptop to do it on because the typical tablet just doesn’t do it all that well. The figures speak volumes – 96% of iPad owners also have a laptop.

What if you had a tablet that worked brilliantly at both? It worked like a tablet most of the time, but it also worked like a laptop when you needed it to? Microsoft have today just launched the Surface Pro 3. Building on the Surface Pro 2 it runs the full-fat version of Windows 8.1, with core i7 processors, as much storage as a laptop, lighter than a MacBook Air – even with the keyboard and lasts longer than an iPad Air’s battery. That’s apart from the new and really quite innovative features of integrating OneNote!

I believe that the time of the next evolution in computing is upon us – the transition from Laptop to tablet. Today you can buy a tablet that can do everything a laptop can do – so why would you buy a laptop?. Go take a look and then ask yourself a question… Why do you need a laptop?

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It’s a Kevin Bacon (a no brainer!)

As I write this, I don’t think many people have quite realised what Microsoft have done, and I’m sorry but I’ve only just realised the significance too…

For more than 90% of people, their PC is used for email, web browsing and to a certain extent, word processing, home banking and for some – creating and presenting stuff using PowerPoint.

We have seen quite a paradigm shift in the last two decades away from the desktop computer to laptops – with most students, home users and businesses purchasing laptops as the price has tumbled. We are now seeing the same transition again from laptops to Tablets with benefits of longer battery life, instant on and far greater mobility again with prices tumbling so that pretty everyone can afford a tablet of one sort of other.

However there have always been those who needed “Microsoft Office” the industry standard productivity suite. Today it still costs £389.99 for the full subscription free version of Microsoft Office Professional (Word, Excel, Outlook PowerPoint, Publisher, Access and OneNote). This also means you will need to pay to upgrade this version in the future when Microsoft releases its next version.

So how about the deal of the century? The “No-Brainer” to use Kevin Bacons expression? How about a full version of Microsoft’s office with no subscription costs, a £100 off and and they’ll throw in a tablet for free?

SurfaceRTThis is effectively what Microsoft are doing with their SurfaceRT Tablet. Today you can buy the original SurfaceRT Tablet (from Microsoft, Currys, John Lewis and may others for as little as £239. This comes with a non-subscription (perpetual) version of the latest version of Microsoft Office 2013. full access to the Microsoft store. And with 8 hours of battery life, not only can you connect keyboards, and mice, but also external screens, or TV’s. In fact even if you buy the newer Surface2 RT you’ll still only pay £359 – less than Microsoft Office on it’s own!

Sure there are people who need to run applications that are not available in the Microsoft Store, those who want to do video process conversion, or Photoshop editing and the SurfaceRT will not be able to run these and clearly isn’t the device for them.

But for 90% of home users and a whole host of business users, this HAS to be a compelling option delivering superior productivity and mobility for a price that’s really hard to argue with!

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Testing the waters

On one hand I like to be an early adopter and I have had a habit of embracing new technology quickly. On the other I lean on experience that tells me the grass isn’t always green on the other side. I was a windows XP fan for a seriously long time and anyone who has used Windows Vista will tell you that for all of the visual and aesthetic improvements that it brought, it consumed resources like they were going out of fashion. Machines that were once stable, usable, functional and reliable became slow, laborious, and at times painful. The arrival of Windows 7 was a sigh of relief as it was described by many as “Vista that works” or “What Microsoft should have released”, as it was far quicker than vista, used less resources (and therefore worked better on less powerful equipment) and has been a strong replacement for Windows XP.

As the family technologist, I am invariably the one who has to support and run not only the household computers and related equipment, but also those of my extended family and friends with this in mind, windows 7 has been faithfully and reliably providing a stable environment for some years across a plethora of equipment (and I would say that we probably have more than most in our household).

Since windows 8 arrived, I have resisted installing it (despite having purchased a few copies of it). However I have now decided to test the waters.

20130521-081549.jpg
Early signs…..
Unlike most people, I have the resources to allow me to install and try windows 8 on spare equipment without the pain of losing my normal environment (and data) if things don’t work out. I have taken the plunge and installed Windows 8 Pro with MediaCentre on a Dell Latitude and so far so good!

After a clean install of Windows 7 on a spare hard disk, Windows 8 performed a flawless upgrade finding and installing drivers for everything first time. Once installed, additional apps including Skype, Twitter and Chrome all installed from the Microsoft Store quickly and seamlessly. There are only two small observations that bother me so far.

The first is that I’m not us how I feel about windows using my email address and password to sign into windows. This creates an unease about authentication in my mind. You can disable it and have it operate more independently, however this will be at the cost of integration and ease of use. The second (which is not Microsoft’s fault) is that Google has removed support for ActiveSync – with the net effect that the google gmail connector in Mail is now broken and won’t allow you to integrate your gmail account to the system in the same way that you can with a hotmail or outlook account (to include calendars and contacts). This is a shame as I suspect that there will be a huge number of gmail users who would have seen the benefit of this.

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Beanies!

20130405-134717.jpg. There are certain creature comforts you enjoy at home that you seek out when travelling. For Bec and I Starbucks is one such place. There’s something about being able to walk in, order a familiar drink and a bit to eat and then chill out for a while reading, chatting or having time to yourself.

There’s no Starbucks here in Morzine where we’re skiing but an Tina & Jamie English decided some 7-8 years ago that they’d like a lifestyle change and moved out here to Morzine with the family and 3 years ago opened “Beaines”

Beanies ski shop and coffee bar is a fantastic venue offering great home made food, fantastic drinks, a great environment to sit back and chill out, free WiFi, and all without being expensive. Their hot chocolate and mocha uses real Belgian chocolate granules, and the whole experience causes you to want to come back for more! It’s is definitely my favourite place to hang out here in Morzine and I will be back next year when we return for some more skiing!

Check out Beanies on Facebook

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