Operating System Security(the joke is on us) part 2

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Oh boy oh boy here we go again yet another round of Microsoft patches. Why must we the small business owners have to deal with this stuff. For those business owners whom don’t have the time to research everyone of these patches, meaning what they will or will not break as in other software within the Windows system. If you are running a server this can be very daunting although there are those whom simply don’t care and just go on about their business because they don’t have any crucial software that needs to be up and running 99.9 percent of the time. But for those who do such as their office servers running either Small Business Server, Windows Server 2003 or SQL Servers this can be a total pain in the butt.

You come in to work the next morning and find that you can’t connect to your network printer or oops you can’t find that share drive you’ve always connected to and the database connection to Sharepoint server is no longer available; Not saying that these patches can cause any of this to happen although Microsoft has not confirm that they would not either.

Regardless our recommendation is to actually get a test machine running such Windows servers or Windows operating system just to make sure that everything is working correctly before you go an update all of the workstations/servers and break something.

Microsoft while trying to help patch their security holes actually go about breaking other things which you might need. So again the “joke is on us”. Why? You may ask; because we can’t get away from this even if we tried(only if you are using a windows system environment). Some of you may disagree and say that this happens on all operating system but no your wrong it does not. And I’m not bashing Microsoft here I truly think that they are doing a great job at trying to patch their software which is so insecure. But I don’t blame them I blame you the users because just like those people in bad relationships you guys keep coming back for more or stick around for yet another round of abuse.

Windows will never be secure simply because it is just a badly designed and flawed operating system. If you are going to use Windows servers for your business please get a testing machine to test all your software deployments and patches which may come from all of your software vendors including Microsoft, it is just good practice.

Here is some resources which give you some information about these patches.

Oh and just for those of you whom don’t or just won’t believe what I’m saying here is a bit of some bad news. The Windows 32sys flaw has been carried on to Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008.

http://blogs.technet.com/b/msrc/archive/2010/08/10/update-on-the-publicly-disclosed-win32k-sys-eop-vulnerability.aspx

Man having Windows servers is a total pain in the butt… But hey we support them too.

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Dell to upgrade its Ubuntu OS

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On our last post we discussed operating system security and how Linux is much better at handling user permissions and its complexities. Well Dell also thinks that Ubuntu/Linux is more safe to use than Windows for regular home user and business users alike.

This page http://www.dell.com/content/topics/segtopic.aspx/ubuntu?c=us&cs=19&l=en&s=dhs&~ck=anavml shows you what you can and can’t do with Ubuntu and it also gives you a comparison between Windows and Ubuntu. Looking at the comparison it looks like your average home user can use Ubuntu with no problems. So why aren’t more of you using the system.

Lets see we can think of several reasons:

  • Windows Specific software requirements
  • Don’t know about Ubuntu
  • PC accessories incompatibilities such as web cams, microphones, scanners, wireless routers or digital cameras
  • PC hardware not supported

All of these reasons are invalid with the exception of two. Unless you require Windows specific software then you have an excuse not to switch over or use it in a virtualized environment such as VMWare (http://www.vmware.com/) or Virtual Box (http://www.virtualbox.org/).

With Ubuntu you can use your PC accessories as they have drivers available for them in fact on most of those items we mentioned above you can just plug them in and they work. Unless the item has just been released within the past 48hrs then we say you might have an issue due to the fact that the developers have not had a chance to implement the driver into the operating system or is a very obscure product. But we say is pretty safe to say that your accessories will work say about 80% of the time out of the box.

As far as PC hardware is concern Ubuntu works with most market hardware in fact the darn thing works on a MAC and that is truly an accomplishment; try installing Windows on a MAC hardware and your in for a world of hurt as Windows drivers are not available for MAC hardware components.

Now we think is pretty safe to say that the reason as to why most people don’t try Ubuntu besides the Windows only software requirement is because they don’t know about it. Well if this is the case head on over to the Ubuntu web site (http://www.ubuntu.com) and see what it has to offer. We think that if Dell which is the third largest PC manufacturer in world offers it then it means that is pretty good. Looking at those Dell comparison it makes no sense for home or even business users to spend a ton of money on software for Windows when they can get the operating system and its 20,000 plus catalog of software for free right from the OS it self. This means no need to run out and get and install cd/dvd or download software from some obscure site. We have been using it for a couple of years now and we recommend it to our clients all the time as it is safer and more reliable than Windows.

Operating System Security(the joke is on us)

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Recently with the debacle of the Gentoo Linux distribution falling prey to a Trojan due to negligence on the part of the repositories administrators(see here: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/06/14/linux_game_backdoor/ and here http://www.gentoo.org/security/en/glsa/glsa-201006-21.xml) . The Windows crowd has been spreading all kinds of dis-information or rather some severe FUD(Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) with regards to this event. The truth is that NO operating system is safe be a desktop computer or server running Windows, Linux, MAC OSX or Unix and its variants.

The reason why these folks are getting all crazy about it is because when it comes to Linux this rarely happens. Since Linux advocates put security as the main reason to switch from Windows to Linux now that this has happen they can point the finger back at them and say “uh huh you see I told you Linux security was nonsense”. The absolute truth is that Linux is safer than Windows by leaps and bounds due to the nature of how the Linux OS is built. The Linux OS is built with multi-user from the ground up meaning that every user runs in its own separate space within the system with its own set of processes and have no root or administrative access to critical system processes. Which means that if a particular user were to ever get an infected file (virus) or a trojan or any other malware it would only live within that particular user space and can’t affect anything else. Windows on the other hand was not built this way and no matter how many versions of it they release they are still not built that way. Yes they now have a UAC (User Account Control http://www.neowin.net/news/main/09/01/07/windows-7-whats-up-with-the-uac) but this is still not built the same as most Linux distributions are. The Windows system relies on a central registry so if something goes wrong with one part of the system it most likely affects the rest of the system. So these folks apparently either don’t or can’t comprehend this or they just turn a deaf ear to it; which is fine but then they should not get upset when their systems get compromised and its all over the news.

When using any OS one should make sure that secure practices are in place to install software and that these softwares are coming from a reputable vendor. In the case of a Windows system a Network Administrator should make sure that all the software has been signed by the vendor with a digital certificate and that Microsoft has verified such said certificate. On the Desktop side for home user this is not as easy as most home users have no clue as to what this is. So they just download everything and anything that has an .MSI or .EXE extension which is the reason why they get all kinds of malware and viruses and soon their PCs become part of Botnets (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botnet).

On the Linux side software is distributed through repositories which are verified by the company who distributes the OS such as Ubuntu and Canonical. Canonical makes sure that all their software in their repositories are verified and that they have a GPG signature(http://www.gnupg.org/). Which means that all the software distributed on the repositories are safe and can be installed. Now if a user decides to go outside of this repository then it is up to the user to make sure that the software is reputable and that it too has a digital signature and it can be verified. And the same thing can be said for MAC users as well. Although we are not 100% sure if MAC OSX users actually have repositories or even have digital signatures for their software. But Apple applies this concept to the iPhone/iTunes through their application store.

The best thing to do for Windows users is to install a good anti-virus and software that can check for rootkits within the system (What is a rootkit? See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rootkit). You can also set strong passwords for your user(s) accounts and try to be very careful where you download software from. In the case of web infections this is a tough one to deal with; our best advice is to use FireFox or Google Chrome instead of Internet Explorer regardless of the stupid commercials Microsoft has been displaying on TV about IE.  It is not safe no matter what they say. And keep your system up to date with the latest software. Although this can be a bit tricky as Microsoft can sometimes break your system on patch Tuesday so here you take your chances.

For Linux folks they have wrote a good article here on ZDNET (http://www.zdnet.com/blog/btl/five-tips-for-improving-linux-security/35798).

MAC OSX users pay close attention to Apple updates and install them as soon as they are available.

Remember if you are going to go outside of a trusted software vendor or repositories please make sure you can verify who they are.

Google Chrome Web Browser Version 6

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The new version of Google Chrome web browser has been released (http://www.google.com/chrome/intl/en/more/index.html). This new version uses the WebKit engine (http://webkit.org/) to render its HTML/CSS and JavaScript pages. It also boosts support for lots of CSS3 features such as the ones found here (http://tinyurl.com/35lupzz) plus lots of HTML5 features as well. The browser also lets you import your Fire Fox bookmarks and it allows you to sync your bookmarks across PCs which have the Google Chrome browser already installed(very cool feature).

Google Chrome Start Page extesion

Speed

The one thing that has really impressed us about the browser is its speed. We have tested the browser across several operating system such as Windows(XP,7), Mac OSX and Ubuntu 10.04 and it is fast. Very quick to start up and loading the actual web sites. The only other web browser out there that is faster than Google Chrome is Opera 10.10(http://www.opera.com/browser/). This new version also features a faster JavaScript engine which makes JavaScript driven applications to perform much faster.

Security

In terms of security the browser is very solid just like Fire Fox 3.x(http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/personal.html). It actually warns you if you have stumbled into a web site which could harm your PC. This however does not mean you should throw away your anti-virus software specially if you are on a Windows PC(regardless of the version your are running).

Google Chrome Feedly page

Extensions

In this area just like Fire Fox the browser shines as it already has tons of extensions for you to choose from and they work extremely well. You can also find most extensions which are available for Fire Fox such as Feedly or Pixlr Grabber. In terms of developing extensions Chrome makes it easy to do so, you can take a look at this article here (http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/write-chrome-extension/).

Conclusion

In our opinion if you have not tried Google Chrome you should for three reasons.

  1. Faster web browsing experience
  2. Better security
  3. Lots of extensions to choose from.

If you are currently running Internet Explorer (6,7 or 8 ) and you don’t necessarily need it for any specific web applications then we say dump it like your life depends on it as it lacks support for various CSS 2.1, CSS 3 and HTML 5 features which are rapidly being deployed to new web sites. On this merit alone Internet Explorer should be dropped like a bad habit (not to mention security issues).

If you are running the latest version of Opera or Fire Fox then you should be OK as both of these browsers keep adding more CSS 3/HTML 5 functionalities. But if your adventurous then give Google Chrome a shot you just might like it. Take a look at some of the capabilities of Google Chrome here http://www.chromeexperiments.com/ and you can download it here http://www.google.com/chrome?hl=en.

Microsoft Tags, what could this be?

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Finally Microsoft has done something which could put them on the map to catch up to Google in terms of bringing relevant information to users all over the world.

Microsoft Tags (http://tinyurl.com/3x3ts9g) is a service which the company has recently released and get this “it is a free service” to use. It works by placing tags in the real world such as a billboard or any landmark then people with mobile devices can access this information. This means that if for example you are in the realty business and you place these tags on some of the properties you are selling you could access more detailed information about such properties on your mobile devices.

This reminds me of the Minority Report (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0181689/) which would scan people’s eye retinas to serve them personalized ads (I see this coming very soon to the U.S). I believe that such a technology already exists in Japan and it could make its way on to the U.S.

However this being great and all that Microsoft has finally done something innovative. I wonder if this service/technology will only be available to Windows 7 mobile phones. I really doubt folks with Android phones will be able to use it. I somehow don’t see Microsoft sharing or allowing other mobile devices accessing this information. So lets not put our hopes up on this one folks.

It would be great if they did make it available to everyone just think of the possibilities in terms of how much information people would be able to access on the spot. Think of it in terms of students conducting research studies or if your at a museum or at a historical landmark and being able to get all the information about a particular piece of art or place.

This is the kind of innovative technologies Microsoft should be focusing on instead of trying to keep its tight lock on the world with its Windows/Office products.

I would be great if they would make it open source with a GPL license.

No matter how much reorganizing gets done nothing can stop the downward spiral!

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Over the years Microsoft has always given us mediocre products such as Windows(yes this means all versions including 7). Yet for some reason consumers buy these products; to me this does not make much sense. Why buy a product that breaks and you constantly have to call your tech support team(this means your geeky family member or geek squad). Now don’t get me wrong most people use Windows and its family of software because they have to not because they want to.

Microsoft since its early beginnings came across a wonderful business concept(sarcasm) called vendor-lock in. Every single product this company sells has some type of vendor-lock scheme. From Windows servers and home operating systems to their office products all 100% vendor-lock. So what does this mean? That there is not a chance in the world that you can safely move to a different operating system without loosing some data or not being able to move it at all. Yes this utterly sucks I know.

So now the giant wants to reorganize its gaming and mobile divisions(http://tinyurl.com/36bpk25) to catch up with the current trends. Oh yes sure that expensive new mobile phone(http://tinyurl.com/y7ktelj) they recently launched will do the job. This new gadget will get us all on Twitter and on Facebook. But wait a minute we are all there now and we all can use our not so expensive mobile devices. So again a little too late. As far as their gaming division goes, well lets just say it bleeds money and to think that this is the best division they have within the company. So if this division is loosing money(So far billions of dollars) what does this mean for Microsoft?

It means that their old way of thinking has got to go and that as a company it has to adapt to current trends pronto. No this does not mean lets wait and see if this or that becomes a trend. Apple (no better than Microsoft) has taken chances with new products and sure they failed a bunch of times. At one point the company was on the brink of going belly up but they hung in there. Microsoft needs to take a look at Apple and apply that formula to their products.

Here at the office we had an Xbox 360 for our gaming sessions. Guess what? Yes you guessed it we got the three red lights of death after an Xbox update(sounds a lot like the Windows blue screen of death). So we got ourselves a PS3 . Now we can game on-line and not pay a single cent. So now we have a better product while saving on a monthly fee.

Oh but wait I don’t know about you but I’ve been burned so many times by Microsoft products that I don’t think I could ever go back to purchasing or using them. Just look at what happen to IBM they too had this mentality back in the early 70’s and 80’s and now although the company is still in business it does not command the type of power it once had. And all because it forgot about what got them there in the first place us consumers.

So no matter how much reorganizing Microsoft does to their divisions they will achieve nothing that will be beneficial to us consumers unless they change their way of thinking and how they treat their customers and their competition. A little more innovation and smarts would not hurt either. Bang! Bang! Let us know what you think will ultimately happen to Microsoft’s mobile and gaming divisions.