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A newly discovered fundamental flaw in USB design means increased security risks for PC users. The issue derives from the fact that USB, by design, is incredibly versatile. The designers of USB technology (the USB Implementers Forum) sacrificed security in favor of versatility.
Essentially the flaw, dubbed BadUSB by Security Resarch Labs in Berlin, takes advantage of the fact that every USB device has a controller chip to manage the connection between your computer and your device. The controllers have firmware which can be reprogrammed to change the function of the device. This reprogramming can do a whole host of malicious things and is almost impossible to detect. More importantly there doesn’t appear to be an immediate fix.
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As with most of my blog posts, this one was prompted by a recent experience with a customer. This customer called complaining of a computer that was nearly unusable. Among other things, it had fallen victim to a virus. Upon receiving the computer it was obvious that there was a lot of dust inside the computer tower. Since my stock of compressed air had run out I decided to wait to open the beast until my stock was replenished. After doing all the software work necessary to get this computer back on it’s feet I decided to go after the dust monster lurking inside.
To say that this was the dirtiest computer I’ve seen would be a slight overstatement, although it was definitely in the top five. The CPU heatsink was covered with a quarter inch thick patch of brown dust, which I estimate was blocking 75% of the airflow through the heatsink fins.
I know that there may be a large number of you who have no idea what a heatsink is, so I’ll explain. If you’ve ever held a notebook computer in your lap for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with how hot they can get. The CPU (Central Processing Unit, or “processor”) is responsible for the majority of this heat. A heatsink is a block of metal fins, typically copper or aluminum, which dissipates the heat produced by the CPU with the help of a fan. Imagine the heatsink is like the radiator in your car, what would happen if it was blocked or broken? I’m reminded of the classic Tom’s Hardware video where they show you exactly what happens when you remove the fan from a CPU(linked below). Without proper cooling some CPU’s can reach temperatures of over 600°F, thereby destroying itself in a puff of smoke.
Although having dust caked on your heatsink is not quite as drastic as removing the heatsink altogether, it still isn’t good for your computer. Computer’s that cannot properly cool themselves will inevitably fail much sooner than they otherwise would. Heat is the enemy of any electronic device, and dust is heat’s nasty little sidekick.
We all know smoking is bad…
It’s not news that smoking is bad for you, but did you know it’s bad for your computer as well? If you hadn’t already noticed the color of the dust removed from the heatsink… IT”S BROWN. Brown dust is not normal. Dust inside of a computer is typically a shade of grey. Brown dust is a direct result of cigarette smoke being pulled through the computer as it attempts to cool itself.
As cigarette smoke is drawn through a computer the nicotine and tar form a sticky film on nearly every surface in the computer, especially the hot heatsinks. This causes dust that may have flown by to become trapped. Then more nicotine and tar layers on top of the fresh dust. It’s a never ending cycle. The reason that the dust shown above was able to hold together in a nearly perfect little square patch is because of the nicotine and tar holding it together like glue.
It’s also noteworthy that smoking near your Apple computer actually voids it’s warranty…
Enough with the finger wagging…
So what can you do about the dust? Well you can actually take care of this problem yourself, if you feel comfortable opening up your computer tower. In the links below there is a detailed set of instructions for taking care of this problem. You can also find instructional videos on youtube.
The main points to remember are:
- Do not use a standard vacuum cleaner; The static charge created by normal household vacuum’s is very bad for your computer.
- Use no liquid other than Isopropyl Alcohol on internal computer components.
If you’re in the greater Knoxville area of East Tennessee Install Heroes will come out and perform a system tune up, virus scan, and dust removal on your desktop computer for as little as $50.
What about my laptop?
Desktop computer have much larger openings for air and dust to enter through, and they have much larger empty spaces inside them as well. Because of this, laptop computer rarely have dust inside them. While you may not have to worry about dust inside a laptop, there are a lot of products geared toward keeping the outside of your laptop clean. I recommend Monster Screen Cleaner ($19.99) for laptop screens, or screens of any kind really.
So, if you think your desktop computer may have been attacked by a pack of wild dust bunnies; Call and we’ll come to the rescue!
Today’s blog post is a two part story.
Procrastination, Assuming, and Laziness…
It’s very rare that I consult a customer about repairing their computer without discussing the importance of backing up their precious data. I often say that your hard drive is a mechanical device, and like all mechanical devices it is prone to fail.
The biggest threats to the safety and integrity of your important documents are procrastination, assumption, and laziness. People tend to think that they always have tomorrow, and they assume that since they’ve never had a problem with their hard drive that they never will. This is called the normalcy bias. Or they just don’t take the time to do it themselves, or hire someone to do it for them.
Whether you’re a procrastinator, an assumer, or just plain lazy; your data is not safe if you don’t have it backed up. I can attest to this fact. If you’ve been paying attention to our site, you may have noticed that it was down for a few days. This was due in part to the fact that we did not have a backup of our website. If we had, the site would have been down for a few hours instead of a few days.
But alas this is a two part story, so:
Malicious Human Behavior…
Viruses, malware, spyware, phishing attempts, identity theft; all implementations of human maliciousness in the digital age. As I mentioned before, some of you may have noticed that our site was down for a few days. I hope that none of you noticed that in the weeks before the problems with our site, installheroes.com was hacked. After a bit of research we determined that the hacker deposited a virus on the site to infect our visitors. They also setup a fake insurance website within the structure of our site in an attempt to steal personal information from people infected with their virus.
We apologize to anyone who fell victim to this malicious hacker. As a public service we’re providing links so that you can learn what phishing is and how you can protect yourself. Those links provide some great information that will help you protect your identity and personal information. Another great link to educate you on protecting yourself is Stopbadware.org.
So what’s the point? Sometimes it’s not a problem of faulty hardware that causes you to lose your data. It could be a novice user on your computer accidentally deleting your family pictures, it could be a malicious virus corrupting your data, or it could be a hacker trying to cause problems. No matter what precipitates the loss of your data, it is ultimately your own fault if you don’t have a backup.
So while you’re thinking about Earth Day this weekend, take a moment to develop a plan to backup your data. As always, if you need help; Call and we’ll come to the rescue!