Tag Archive for Alerts

Google’s Malware Alert

Many news media outlets have been making it sound like Google was accidentally spreading malware. Even the Wall Street Journal said “One Million Google Users Hit with Malware”.

Actually, Google was just notifying people that it had detected malware on their computer. Google’s system wasn’t actually searching your system — which would be an invasion of privacy — but it was detecting a specific malware program that is known to redirect traffic to Google’s systems.

In other words, Google was detecting software, other than the users browser, which was communicating with Google’s servers.

I have yet to learn what the purpose of this malware was, but I have some thoughts on it. It may have been trying to burden Google’s servers with additional traffic. Or it may have been targeting Google’s ad network.

I suspect if they were targeting the ad network they might be trying to make fraudulent clicks on the pay-per-click Adsense and Adwords network. If you’ve seen “Ads from Google” on a web site, such as the ones you see on this blog, then you should know that Google pays the site owner every time someone clicks on an ad. This is usually just a few cents, but they can add up. The fraudulent clicks take money from the advertiser and Google.

Any software that can compromise Google’s Ad network would affect Google’s reliability and reputation. Since ads are Google’s big earner they can’t allow that to happen.

So while the Wall Street Journal reporters in the video above think Google could be come a first line of defense against malware, Google was just watching out for themselves and their advertisers.

Emergency IE Patch Released Today

Microsoft typically releases its updates on Tuesday evenings, but today they will be issuing a special patch specifically for Internet Explorer. The patch will be released at 1:00 PM EST. Windows XP users can get the patch downloaded and installed by going to http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/. Windows Vista users can get the patch by either by going to http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/ or by clicking “Windows Update” on their Start menu.

What’s the patch for?

The patch fixes a flaw which allows thieves to remotely take over a computer and steal passwords and — potentially — financial information.  The scam works by secretly planting malicious code on hacked Web sites.  The code causes Explorer to crash briefly, then allows thieves to take over the infected computer. Microsoft said one in every 500 computers that use Internet Explorer — up to 2 million computers worldwide — may be infected.

Initially the problem was though to be unique to the current IE7 browser, but it has since been discovered to exist in versions as old as IE5, and even in the upcoming IE8 browser.

Is this a virus?

No, this isn’t a virus. This is an “exploit”.  There is a flaw in the programming of a specific area of the Internet Explorer’s code. It is connected with a HTML web site programming tag called “span”.   The flawed code mishandles the span code, and there are programmers out there exploiting this flaw. The patch fixes the flawed code.

Also, Symantec, the makers of Norton Internet Security and Norton AntiVirus released antivirus signature “Bloodhound.Exploit.219” and “IPS signature 23241 – HTTP MSIE Malformed XML BO” to protect users against this exploit. These updates were released on Decmber 10, 2008. Yet another reason to keep your anti-virus software and subscription up-to-date.

How Do I Update My AntiVirus?

Norton updates can be found here.
McAfee users can use the Virtual Technician here.

Be aware, if you renew your antivirus subscriptions every year, then your computer is likely to be protected already. Modern antivirus programs update automatically at least 4 times per day so long as your computer is connected to the Internet.

My AntiVirus Is Fine, Do I Need The Patch?

I strongly encourage you to download the patch. Multiple layers of protection work better that single layers.

Post Comments or Questions with the link below. Keep up-to-date with Skylarking: By Email or RSS Newsfeed or on Twitter. You can also send questions with my email form.

Cell Phones and Cancer

I received an email this morning from a friend in NYC. He sent me a copy of a memo with the subject line “Important Precautionary Advice Regarding Cell Phone Use”. It was attributed to a Dr Ronald B. Herberman at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cancer Institute (UPCI). He asked if I had “Any Comments?” about the memo.

First, I’d like you to know, that my friends, clients, and associates often contact me when they read of some threat or danger from technology or Internet usage.  Some write to warn me, while others ask if it’s “just a hoax”.  (See my post regarding the “UPS Email ‘Partial’ Hoax” and my own web page “Email Hoaxes: How Spot Them, How To Check Them”.

Back to the Memo of the Day. Was It Real?

Eager to help my friend, I did some research about Dr. Herberman’s memo.

  • The memo had a link to a page at the “Center for Environmental Oncology” at the UPCI. (http://www.environmentaloncology.org/node/201). I clicked the link and checked the address bar of my browser.  The link address and the page address matched.
  • Dr. Herberman’s name was listed on the web page, too.
  • Though the web page wasn’t a verbatim copy of the memo my friend sent, there was nothing to contradict the memo either.
  • I went to Google and I searched for “Center for Environmental Oncology” and the address for the center listed with Google matched the address in the memo and the web site.
  • I emailed a Information Contact at the UPCI asking them to verify that Dr. Herberman had actually issued such a memo. They notified me that my request had been forwarded.
  • I also did a search for “Dr. Ronald B. Herberman”. The first two results linked to “UPMC Cancer Centers” and “the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Pittsburgh”.
  • Additional links among the Herberman search results listed the very same memo I was researching. Those sites included Time magazine and The New York Times among others.

I had learned two things:

  1. This memo didn’t look like a hoax
  2. I need to watch and read the news more often

Enough Already, What Did the Memo Say About Cell Phones

FROM: Ronald B. Herberman, MD
SUBJECT: Important Precautionary Advice Regarding Cell Phone Use

Recently I have become aware of the growing body of literature linking long-term cell phone use to possible adverse health effects including cancer. Although the evidence is still controversial, I am convinced that there are sufficient data to warrant issuing an advisory to share some precautionary advice on cell phone use.

An international expert panel of pathologists, oncologists and public health specialists, recently declared that electromagnetic fields emitted by cell phones should be considered a potential human health risk.

To date, a number of countries including France, Germany and India have issued recommendations that exposure to electromagnetic fields should be limited. In addition, Toronto’s Department of Public Health is advising teenagers and young children to limit their use of cell phones, to avoid potential health risks.

More definitive data that cover the health effects from prolonged cell phone use have been compiled by the World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer. However, publication has been delayed for two years. In anticipation of release of the WHO report, the following prudent and simple precautions, intended to promote precautionary efforts to reduce exposures to cell phone electromagnetic radiation, have been reviewed by UPCI experts in neuro-oncology, epidemiology, neurosurgery and the Center for Environmental Oncology.

Practical Advice to Limit Exposure to Electromagnetic Radiation Emitted from Cell Phones

  1. Do not allow children to use a cell phone, except for emergencies. The developing organs of a fetus or child are the most likely to be sensitive to any possible effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields.
  2. While communicating using your cell phone, try to keep the cell phone away from the body as much as possible. The amplitude of the electromagnetic field is one fourth the strength at a distance of two inches and fifty times lower at three feet. Whenever possible, use the speaker-phone mode or use of a hands-free ear piece attachment may also reduce exposures.
  3. Avoid using your cell phone in places, like a bus, where you can passively expose others to your phone’s electromagnetic fields.
  4. Avoid carrying your cell phone on your body at all times. Do not keep it near your body at night such as under the pillow or on a bedside table, particularly if pregnant. You can also put it on “flight” or “off-line” mode, which stops electromagnetic emissions.
  5. If you must carry your cell phone on you, make sure that the keypad is positioned toward your body and the back is positioned toward the outside so that the transmitted electromagnetic fields move away from your rather than through you.
  6. Only use your cell phone to establish contact or for conversations lasting a few minutes, as the biological effects are directly related to the duration of exposure. For longer conversations, use a land line with a corded phone, not a cordless phone, which uses electromagnetic emitting technology similar to that of cell
  7. Switch sides regularly while communicating on your cell phone to spread out your exposure. Before putting your cell phone to the ear, wait until your correspondent has picked up. This limits the power of the electromagnetic field emitted near your ear and the duration of your exposure.
  8. Avoid using your cell phone when the signal is weak or when moving at high speed, such as in a car or train, as this automatically increases power to a maximum as the phone repeatedly attempts to connect to a new relay antenna.
  9. When possible, communicate via text messaging rather than making a call, limiting the duration of exposure and the proximity to the body.
  10. Choose a device with the lowest SAR possible (SAR = Specific Absorption Rate, which is a measure of the strength of the magnetic field absorbed by the body). SAR ratings of contemporary phones by different manufacturers are available by searching for “sar ratings cell phones” on the internet.

From Batya
C/Net Reviews
10 lowest-radiation cell phones (United States)

Manufacturer and model SAR level (digital)

  1. Motorola Razr V3x 0.14
  2. Samsung SGH-G800 0.23
  3. Samsung Soul 0.24
  4. Nokia 7390 0.26
  5. Motorola Razr2 V8 0.36
  6. Samsung SGH-T229 0.383
  7. Nokia 6263 0.43
  8. Samsung SGH-i450 0.457
  9. Samsung SLM SGH-A747 0.478
  10. Samsung Access SGH-A827 0.486

You should also know that “The current U.S. standard for radiation exposure from cell phone towers is 580-1,000 microwatts per sq. cm. (mW/cm2), among the least protective in the world. More progressive European countries have set standards 100 to 1,000 times lower than the U.S. Compare Australia at 200 microwatts, Russia, Italy, and Toronto, Canada at 10, China at 6, and Switzerland, at 4. In Salzburg, Austria the level is .1 microwatts (pulsed), 10,000 times less than the U.S. New Zealand has proposed yet more stringent levels, at .02 microwatts, 50,000 times more protective than the U.S. Standard.”

— end of memo —

What Distinguishes This Memo From A Hoax

HOAXES have:

  1. No links or contacts to back them up.
  2. Phrases in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.
  3. Egregious spelling and grammatical errors.
  4. Phrases such as “Send this to everyone you know” or “This has been confirmed”.
  5. A hoax would have said something such as “Don’t use your cell phone! You’ll get CANCER!”
  6. Hoaxes ask you to “Tell everyone”.

This message attributed to Dr. Herberman does none of the above.

  1. It has a legitimate link to the Center for Environmental Oncology (www.environmentaloncology.org) at the University of Pittsburgh
  2. The message on the linked web page, while not the same message, backs up the content of the email message.
  3. Dr. Herberman’s name is on the page along with the other members of the international expert panel.
  4. Dr. Herberman is a doctor at the Univ. of Pittsburgh’s Cancer Center (http://www.upci.upmc.edu/about/bio-herberman.html)
  5. It isn’t trying to scare or alarm anyone as a hoax would. It only asks people take “precautions” with cell phones.
  6. It isn’t asking you to “Tell everyone”.

Thanks Dr. Herberman. And thanks, too, to my friend for sending me the message. Time for me to get a new headset.

If anyone has a question, please email them to me using the Contact link, or, if it relates to today’s message, please use the Comment and Question link below. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.