Adobe AIR 1.0

Adobe has been making news today for releasing version 1.0 of their AIR framework. AIR is a new way to develop and run programs, it’s a combination of a web page but runs without a web browser.

Adobe Air It has a long list of security features to make programs seem safe. And because of how internet applications work experts agree it won’t be long until this new technology is exploited.

One thing to be careful of is when AIR warns you about “self signed” applications. This means that no reputable company has verified the person who wrote the program. So if you download an AIR application and you get warned about it being self signed, the safe bet is to deny it.

If you’re tempted to play with AIR applications just be conscious of where you’re downloading programs from. They won’t remain safe for long.

Free Online Health Check from F-Secure

F-Secure is a security software company that has been making good products for a long time. They have published a new tool that scans your computer for vulnerabilities and provides a report on what programs you need to update.

The application runs inside Internet Explorer and requires Window XP or Vista. Try it out here,

Note that this doesn’t replace anti-virus software. It only checks which programs on your computer are vulnerable to attacks and need to be updated.

Whole Disk Encryption

briefcase lockIf you carry a notebook outside of your home or office then Whole Disk Encryption is a technology you should be interested in. It’s also called Full Disk Encryption. First let’s identify the problem.

Most people who carry notebook computers (laptops) keep sensitive files on the machine’s drive. Business documents, business databases, contact lists, emails, chat logs, password lists, etc. The most common situation is someone carrying confidential documents on the computer.

If the notebook is lost or stolen then whoever holds the notebook computer has access to the files. Login passwords aren’t enough to protect the documents, they’re easily recovered by anyone.

A more worrying trend is for international business travellers who carry confidential data on their notebooks. passportThere have been many instances of airport customs staff not only inspecting the notebook for banned items but they’re now looking in the notebook’s hard drive and looking through any documents stored there. Their excuse is that they have to search for anything that’s a threat to national security. Irrespective of why they’re doing this the point is that someone else can gain access to your files at airports. Read this article for an example. And for examples of lost or stolen notebooks see here.

Most large companies are now telling their staff to wipe all documents off notebook computers before travelling. This is excellent advice.

Another solution is to use whole disk encryption. This is a software technology that encodes the entire drive so that it’s unreadable without a password. At present this technology is rarely used on notebooks.


  • It’s not possible for someone to extract files from a lost or stolen notebook computer
  • You don’t have to remember to turn it on or to prepare anything before you leave home or the office. It’s always enabled


  • Not all encryption programs are free (read below for some good news on free software)
  • It slows down the computer
  • You have to enter another password before using the computer
  • It doesn’t protect you from malware (trojans etc). You still need a good antivirus system
  • You must have a backup of all your data at home or at the office. If something goes wrong with the computer then there’s no way to recover the data without a backup
  • Security is only as good as your password. If you use your car number plate or some other easy to guess password then it’s not really secure. You need to use a good password.

notebook in the park So with more disadvantages than advantages you’re probably put off. It depends how valuable your files are. If you’re a lawyer carrying around all your client’s documents then your files are probably quite valuable, and you should be doing everything in your power to stop strangers getting at them.

How does it work?

The technical explanations are beyond the scope of this article. It’s enough to know that it encrypts all of the drive. Older encryption programs encrypt some files only and smart hackers can usually recover all or part of documents. Therefore the “whole disk” part of the encryption program is important. The disk is completely unreadable and unusable without the password.

What whole disk encryption programs are available?

Recently there has been some progress on this and there are now good free versions including ones for Mac notebooks, as well as commercial solutions.

Free Windows Solutions:

There are quite a few solutions, below are the more popular ones available today.

  • BitLocker – it comes with Windows Vista Enterprise, Windows Vista Ultimate, and Windows Server 2008
  • TrueCrypt – a popular open source solution (see notes below). Available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

Commercial Solutions:

Below are low cost commercial solutions. There are many expensive enterprise level solutions not listed here.

  • PGP – This program has been around for a very long time and is trusted by many people and companies. On the 13th Feb 2008 a version was also made for Apple Macs.


If you take your computer outside of a secure environment (home, office, etc) and you have anything on there you wouldn’t like others to have then whole disk encryption is a must.

As for airport customs and other law enforcement agencies, a lot of countries have laws making it possible for them to demand your password. So while you can keep random strangers from reading your data it’s really up to you how you comply with legal requests to hand over data. At least you have a choice.


Open Source: in security it’s often a good thing to make programs or algorithms open source. It enables the programming community or security community to review the code and find any possible bugs as quickly as possible. It’s also a form of full disclosure. With commercial solutions you have to trust a company that they didn’t include a backdoor for whatever reason. With open source solutions everything’s exposed for public review.

New Vulnerability in Adobe Reader

It’s not news that PDF files can contain viruses. As useful as PDF files are the flaw is with the reader program, called Adobe Reader (previously called Adobe Acrobat Reader).

It’s possible to embed code in PDF files and it’s been shown that this code can download malicious programs from the internet and install them on the computer. At the moment the latest malicious code comes from Netherlands, and as with all things on the internet it can move or spread quickly.

If you have one of the following programs then you’re at risk. According to Adobe’s notice it affects all platforms (Windows, Mac, etc).

  • Adobe Reader 8.1.1 and earlier versions
  • Adobe Acrobat Professional 8.1.1 and earlier versions
  • Adobe Acrobat 3D 8.1.1 and earlier versions
  • Adobe Acrobat Standard 8.1.1 and earlier versions

The vulnerability has been fixed in version 8.1.2 so update all your computers to avoid this one. Antivirus software can also protect you if you keep it up to date and use a well established product.

Another fake anti spyware site

All these fake sites and applications are becoming a bigger problem. The latest is called removal-tool . com (warning, do not try going to this site). It appears to be a collection of spyware removal tools except that it actually tries to install quite a few different bits of malware on your computer. It’s a malicious web page in disguise.

wolf The web site looks nice, contains a blog, a news section, and reviews. The authors went to some effort to make it look convincing. Most of the links on the site even work. It would be difficult to tell that this site will compromise your computer.

Good anti virus software these days has the option to filter all web pages and they stop most of these sites before your web browser starts loading them. It’s a good investment.

Another technique to avoid these traps is to use a less popular web browser such as Firefox or Opera, or to use a less popular operating system such as Mac OS or Linux.

At the moment the majority of malicious code is designed to target Windows and Internet Explorer. That’s not to say that other systems are immune, malware is just less common on them.

HP Laptop Support Software

HP laptops come with some software to keep them updated and to help HP provide support. Lately there have been a couple of vulnerabilities discovered in these tools.

A support feature on HP computers is something called HP Virtual Rooms, an online collaboration suite. There’s a flaw in the ActiveX control that it uses and it’s possible to create a web page that lets someone install programs on your computer.

The file at risk is called HPVirtualRooms14.dll. If you have an HP computer you can check the properties of this file (do a search for the file), if it’s version then it’s at risk.

The best defence is to have a good anti virus package, and to update this tool when HP get around to releasing an update.

notebook computerThe second HP vulnerability is with HP’s Software Update utility. This utility keeps the computer patched, which is always a good thing to do. Except that it also has a vulnerability and the computer can be compromised by visiting a web page with malicious code.

The program affected is called HP Software Update Client, version

Again, use a good anti virus program and update the update tool when HP releases a fix.

MSN Worm

There’s another bit of malware spreading through MSN’s messaging network (MSN Messenger and Live Messenger), known as the IRCBOT-RB Trojan, also called a worm because of how it spreads.

trees and a worm It works by showing people a message with links to pictures on MySpace and Facebook. It includes messages such as "Wanna see my pictures before i send em to facebook?". Clicking on the link takes the user to a web page with malicious code.

This particular worm/trojan changes the message into different languages, depending where the user is located.

Once infected a user’s machine waits for instructions from the malware author and will let them control the machine at will.

A New Skype Vulnerability

Skype, the popular internet phone software, has a new vulnerability with the way it handles video links. There aren’t any reported exploits yet but as always it’s only a matter of time.

Skype is susceptible to this vulnerability if all of the following happen:

  • Your computer uses Windows
  • You use Skype version or older (versions 3.5 and 3.6)
  • You do a video search from within Skype
  • The search takes you to a page that’s been hacked

The damage from this is still unproven but it’s fair to say that if someone can write the required malicious code they could use it to any effect they like (such as installing spyware on your computer or taking over its control).

Skype has responded with disabling adding new videos to their Dailymotion gallery. This will slow down the chance of an exploit spreading. And Skype will release a new version soon to fix the vulnerability.

Skype’s report is located here.