Backdoor Bot, Anyone?

Although I have a difficult time understanding it, this same thing keeps happening. A client calls with an immediate problem. A computer used primarily for business has become slow and now does not seem to work at all. The client urgently needs to check email.

A quick visit and I discover that this essential machine seems to have been treated like a holy relic that is self-protecting, self-maintaining, and not subject to decay. The latest case involves an ancient machine that had originally been shipped with Window Millennium, but it had been updated to W2K somewhere along the line. McAfee once protected it, but that had expired years ago. Sure enough, it was sluggish.

The client wanted me to get her a new computer, transfer here data, and make the new one look like the old one.

When I got her computer back to my office, I kept is isolated and installed RKILL and Malwarebytes from a flash drive. A complete scan found only 35 infections (nowhere near a record!). These included several varieties of Trojans and a backdoor.bot. The last one bothered me the most since she does online business, and that could have been compromised.

Given that this person is unlikely to be consistent in backing up data or otherwise protecting data, and data is essential to her business, I set her up with an internal-external backup drive and did an initial backup. Then I set the schedule for automatic backups to mesh with her schedule. Since she normally turns the computer off at night, and since I did not expect her to remember to leave it on once a week, the default backup time was changed to be at a time when it was likely to be on, but not when she was likely to be using it.

Then I setup her new computer with a good anti-malware program and suggested several good surfing habits.

All this probably sounds boringly familiar to anyone who has tried to tutor or help maintain computers. But I still do not understand it. No one runs their automobiles without oil. No one uses a cell phone or texts while driving. Everyone wears seat belts all the time… oh… maybe there is a pattern here.

Are some things so important in our lives that we feel forced to attribute super powers to them? Cars and computers are essential. We do not want them to fail or to have an accident, so we simply adopt a mental attitude that suggests everything is okay. Taking preventive measures would be to admit we are vulnerable. That self-deception works fine until…

Floppy Disks And Ejecting USB Drives

Today I spent a part of my lunch time working on a PC that is to go to a friend of the family. It’s an AMD Sempron based system — nothing to write home about. But with the additional RAM I plan on adding, it will be perfect for the person that is to receive it.

He is at a turning point in his life. Once a contractor/house flipper, he is now going back to school due to certain physical limitations that prevent him from doing this anymore; I was all too happy to save him a mint in having to buy his first computer.

One of the classes being taken by this person, however, has me a bit perplexed. Apparently some of the software tools provided are via floppy disk. Yes, you read this right. The school is using software that is based on the ancient floppy media!

While the school at least has the sense to have students transporting their work home with them on USB Flash drives, the floppy drive means I have to pull apart one of my very old junkers to salvage an old drive for just this purpose. Sure, I could buy one from any of the various online shops out there, but the whole point of this was to give this guy a leg up on technology — not a trip down media memory lane.

[awsbullet:floppy drive disk]

MyPocketXP – Windows XP On A Flash Drive

Gnomie Arend Dittmer writes:

Hi Chris,

Love to watch your YouTube postings and hear your perspective on all things technology. I was wondering if you could take a product I have recently come up with for a test drive.

The product is called MyPocketXP. It is an appliance that includes a UI and virtual machine configuration software, a WindowsXP installation on a virtual hard disk and an 8G USB flash drive that stores all of this. The product runs with Microsoft Virtual PC and VMware Player and works on all versions of XP and Vista.

OK… so what’s the big deal? Anybody can install a virtual machine and pack it on a USB drive.

Well, yes … the key problem with just putting a virtual hard disk of an OS on a USB drive is the USB drive’s longevity and the OS performance. Flash drives have limited number of write/erase cycles they can sustain — even more important — write performance is very slow, particularly for random access, which is what you see with an OS in operation. I have tried running Windows XP directly from the USB flash drive and it was pretty much unusable.

MyPocketXP configures Virtual PC/VMware Player to write to the hosts system’s file system which means at least 3x improved write performance. After MyPocketXP is shut down, the user can decide if the changes should be written back or not. MyPocketXP also separates user and system data and stores them on two virtual hard drives. In a typical use case you install your applications and then never write back changes to the ‘system’. This way your installation always stays ‘clean’ and viruses never survive a reboot. The Windows license is a legit OEM license so this is fully legal and MS gets its share.

MyPocketXP is easy to use. It has its own launch menu so that the user does not have to interface with Virtual PC or VMware. It autodetects VMware and VPC, automatically configures the VM, and starts up with the click of a button. If there is no Virtual Machine platform installed, the installation of Microsoft Virtual PC can be launched from the launch menu (The setup.exe is downloaded in a guided download when MyPocketXP is inserted into a system for the first time).

You can check out more at mypocketxp.com.

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When It Is Dead, It Is Dead

Recently I had someone ask me about getting a USB Flash drive working so they could copy some sort of video file to it. Sounds simple enough, however after awhile it seems like one might consider the possibility that when a drive is not allowing data to be transfered to it, then it may be dead.

Obviously this would need more testing, especially when not dealing with solid state drives like a USB Flash Drive, but the fact is that many portable drivers border on disposable in my opinion.

With this in mind, why do people spend so much time trying to work with a USB Flash drive that clearly demonstrates that it is broken? Based on my own experience, I have found the following reasons to be the most common.

  • Critical data that is already on the drive that needs to be recovered.
  • Lack of funds at the moment to simply rush out to purchase a new one.

Despite those two reasons above, I remain steadfast in saying that if there is no data on a Flash Drive of consequence, stop spending ridiculous amounts of time fooling with it. Just accept the loss and move on. My feeling is if the drive is showing up, seems to be working based on what you see in your device manager (Windows), chances are it is simply a great time to get a new one.

Am I wrong? Should we all spend tremendous amounts of time on something so easily replaceable? Hit the comments, share your thoughts.

Flash Drive Frustration

Today, OLAWOLE asks:

I have an 8gb flash drive and tried to copy a 5gb movie to it. I could not! Can you tell me why please?
Second, I tried to convert the flash drive to NTFS and it was not successful either. What is the cause please?

While I cannot state for sure what the problem might be, the following possibilities come to my mind:

  • Is the drive formatted as FAT32? This is by far not ideal for large file transfers. If memory serves, the file transfer limit is 4GBs per file for FAT32.
  • To convert the drive to NTFS, you can try the following advice in this video.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.metacafe.com/fplayer/1010783/format_usb_flash_drive_fat32_to_ntfs.swf" width="350" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Do you have an IT-related question? Perhaps you are just burnt out on writing on the walls with crayons? Whatever the comments may be, drop me a line, and you too can “Just Ask Matt!” Please address comments to the comments section above, my email address is for questions – thanks!

Do You Have A CrashPlan?

Previously, I spoke of providing a decent backup solution for new computer users who are making a new PC purchase. Well, after doing a little research, I found a solution that is not only cross platform, it is dead simple to use. It’s calledCrashPlan.

I first set up CrashPlan on my Ubuntu notebook. After extracting the folder, I executed the installer script with a double click, choose the option to run in the terminal and go with the default choices presented, then reboot. It’s pretty easy. From there I went ahead and installed the app again, this time on the Mac. Immediately my notebook showed up on the Mac as a back-up location as well as the remote backup service option provided by CrashPlan.

See, what makes CrashPlan is that it does NOT require you to trust its remote storage services at all – you choose where. Whether it be a friend’s PC remotely, or another PC on your own LAN. I am also loving the fact that the data is secured using encryption, should you wish to. Also another bonus: any realtime backup eliminates any attached viruses. Now that is impressive.

Wait, what about Time Machine for the Mac? Well, read this and decide for yourself. As for Windows users, setting up another local backup server in your home makes a lot of sense. Thanks for making this truly cross platform guys, I am really impressed.  I mean, just take a gander at these features!

Top 5 Uses For A Pen Drive

Gnomie Scott writes:

Hey Chris, just wanted to share my own personal views on the top 5 uses of a USB pen drive.

  1. As a small backup solution. It’s now a widely known fact that on most modern computers, you can install Windows XP (or if your pen drive is large enough, Vista), to a USB pen drive. So if for any reason (that is not hardware related) you can’t boot to Windows, you can still boot to an installation of Windows, plug in an external hard drive and pull off any information from the hard drive before formatting.
  2. For Windows ready boost. In Windows Vista, ready boost allows you to allocate a pen drive as RAM. Now I’ve not tried this yet, and I can’t see it increasing speeds massively, however, a pen drive can be used as what me and the guys at work call ‘poor man’s RAM.’
  3. Portable apps. If you head on over here you will find a utility that allows you to put a whole load of programs on your pen drive and use them portably — the most convenient of which seems to be Mozilla Thunderbird. The idea that I can synchronize all my contacts and details from my main computer and take them with me is worth it on its own regardless of all the other great applications you can have on the move using portable apps.
  4. Moving files from one PC to another. Plain and simple, if you’re not a power user, or know nothing about networking, a flash drive could be the way to go in order to move files from one PC to the next. This will of course be limited to the size of the pen drive, but with sizes higher than 16 GB now available, that will soon be far less of an issue.
  5. Booting to Linux. If you’re like many of the Vista angry users and want to find out more about Linux, then this could be the way to go. Installing a Linux distro to a pen drive will allow for the use of the hard drive and all the files on it. Sure you could use a live CD, but then you would lose the ability to use that optical drive within the Linux environment. This is particularly useful for those running on laptops or PCs with only one optical drive.

Flash Drive Flash Dance

Today, John asks:

Hey Matt,

I’m a bit confused with the Readyboost feature in Vista. I’ve set a USB flash drive to function as a Readyboost drive, but when I go back in to look at the setting, it does not stay selected. Do I have to set this feature with each reboot? Is this normal?

To my knowlege, no. But I may be wrong here. My understanding is that following this path will give you the desired results. With that being said, I did find out that there are others having issues with this as well. Now I have no idea whether or not you are using one of the sticks that Vista refuses to use, but it sure sounds like it to me. Therefore, barring someone else posting another thing to try, I would give this a shot.

Just a little registry hacking and you should see RB working for you after following all of the instructions closely. Good luck!

Do you have an IT-related question? Perhaps you are just burnt out on writing on the walls with crayons? Whatever the comments may be, drop me a line, and you too can “Just Ask Matt!”

Enable Bitlocker Drive Encryption When Using A USB Flash Drive

To use Bitlocker Drive Encryption without hardware cryptography, you need to first configure the computer policy to allow you to use USB key mode rather than TPM.

  1. Click Start and type mmc in the Search field.
  2. From the list of programs, click mmc. Click Continue when prompted.
  3. From the File menu, click Add/Remove Snap-in.
  4. Click the Group Policy Object Editor from the list and click Add.
  5. Click Finish.
  6. Click OK.

Navigate to: Computer Configuration \ Administrative Templates \ Windows Components \ Bitlocker Drive Encryption. Open Control Panel Setup: Enabled advanced startup options. Select the Enabled option and the Allow Bitlocker Without a Compatible TPM option. Click OK.

  1. Your next step will be to enable the Bitlocker Drive Encryption within the Control Panel using the steps described below.
  2. Open the Control Panel, select Security and click Bitlocker Drive Encryption.
  3. Click the Turn On Bitlocker option for the operating system volume.
  4. Choose one of the available options to save the recovery password. The recovery password can be saved to a USB drive, in a folder or it can be printed. This password is required to move the drive to another computer. Therefore, it is crucial that it is kept in a secure location.
  5. Once you have selected the password recovery option, click Next to continue encrypting the operating system volume.
  6. Next, verify that the Run Bitlocker System Check option is selected. Click Continue.

The computer will restart and proceed with the volume encryption.

[tags]bitlocker, drive encryption, usb, flash drive, Diana Huggins, Microsoft, Windows[/tags]

SanDisk Cruzer Titanium USB Flash Drive – Tough And Rugged

For years I would carry around, on either a floppy disks or CD-R, some of the tools I needed to repair Windows-based computer systems. This worked well, but would require that I made sure I had my case with me when I went on a service call. And sometimes I would be in a rush and guess what? I forgot the case!

Then came USB flash drives. The first batch of these handy devices were limited in storage capacity. I was able to get some of my tools (software) that I used, but not all of what I needed. And the soft plastic shells were easily crushed, destroying the unit.

So I needed a tough and rugged unit with at least 2B of storage for my business. What I found is SanDisk’s new Titanium USB flash drive. SanDisk states that these little units have a crush rate of up to 2,000 pounds. Now that’s rugged.

I have been using the USB flash now for the past several weeks and like it very much. The one thing I didn’t like was the price. I bought mine for $75 from Tiger Direct.

But it’s a new product, so you have to expect that it will sell for a premium.

[tags]sandisk, cruzer, titanium, usb, drive, rugged, tough, storage, flash drive[/tags]

Should I Use A Flash Drive As My Primary Backup?

Anne writes:

Is it safe to use a Flash drive as a backup for data and photos? My mom wants to put all her photos on one instead of burning them to CD. I didn’t think a flash drive was a good idea for that kind of storage. What can I tell her?

Flash drives (aka, thumb drives or USB drives) are great devices for storing and transferring data, but as a primary backup system it doesn’t quite give your mom the level of protection that I would recommend.
Continue reading “Should I Use A Flash Drive As My Primary Backup?”