How to Hack a PC

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HackPC

It’s probably easier for someone to break into your laptop or home computer than it would be for them to get into your phone. If you have your iPhone or Android phone password protected, that device is far more secure from intrusion than your Windows PC is or even your Mac is, for that matter.

A few days ago I put up a post on this blog about how to get rid of this recent virus wreaking havoc on PC’s world-wide called the FBI MoneyPak virus. A friend of mine got hit with it so I took his laptop home with me and managed over the course of several hours to pry this nasty thing out of his computer. You can scroll down and read about how I finally managed to defeat the dreaded FBI MoneyPak virus by hacking into his PC, creating a new account and running system restore from the command line.

 

Anyway, this got me to thinking about how easy it would be for someone to break into my own home computer or my laptop. You don’t have to be as tech savvy as Edward Snowden to hack a PC. Hell, even I can do it and so can you. All you need is some free sofware loaded on a thumbdrive and a small amount of familiarity with the Command Line.

 

For that matter, if all you want to do is steal some files all you really need to do is boot into the PC with any Linux distribution like the ever popular
Ubuntu. Just download the live Ubuntu .iso file and burn it to a CD or a USB stick and use it to boot up the PC you want to hack. The moment you start the target PC start tapping the F8 key to get to the boot menu and use the Arrow key to get to “Boot from CD” or Boot from J Drive or wherever and hit Enter. Once Ubuntu boots up you should have access to every file on the PC. Go to the E: drive or wherever you have Ubuntu and make it half a window and start dragging files onto it. Pretty simple.

 

O.K. let’s say for some reason that didn’t work for you or instead of lifting a few pics or docs you need access to the whole Windows OS. The first thing to try is the Linux-based Trinity Rescue CD. Every self-respecting geek aught to have this free software on a thumb drive. With Trinity Rescue you can boot into any password protected PC, you can clean up the bugs that may have been giving you trouble booting from the hard drive. It’s an amazingly useful little tool that makes hacking a Windows computer a very simple thing to do. Depending on the situation you may need to use the Command Line to create a new Administrator account.

 

I’ve read that another easy way to hack a PC is to buy Kon-Boot for $15 and, supposedly, you won’t have to even mess with the command line.

 

I certainly don’t advocate hacking into other people’s computers without their permission but every now and then someone will forget a password, maleware may lock you or your family member out or other situations might arise where there is a legitimate reason to break into a PC. Hacking a PC is a pretty simple thing to do.

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Phishing Scam

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Here’s a screen shot of an email I received the other day that claimed to be from Bank of America. I noticed right away that this thing was bogus. Look at it closely yourself. The most glaring give away that this thing is an obvious phishing scam perpetrated by someone whose mother tongue is certainly not American English is the header of the document in which the perps use of the phrase: Your Bank of America Accounts Has Been Locked. And even the rest of the text in this phishing spam attack reads like it was written by someone not entirely comfortable with American English.

Naturally I didn’t click the link provided but I did some googleing and found that if I had I would have been sent to a page that looked like a Bank of America page that asked for my Bank of America username, password, security key, date of birth and the last 4 digits of my ssn. If a person were to fill that out and click “next” the page would close and that info would be sent to the crook’s servers giving them all they needed to wipe out that person’s checking and savings accounts.

Google the phrase “Your Bank of America Accounts Has Been Locked” to investigate this phishing scam for yourself.

FBI MoneyPak Virus

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How many of you have heard of or read about the “United States Courts Ransomware MoneyPak Virus”? It puts a pop-up on your Desktop that totally freezes your machine. I mean you can’t do anything. Your computer is permanently stuck until you manage to get rid of this thing. This crapware purports to be from the US Government telling you that you have done something you need to pay a fine for. It tells you to go to Wal-mart or 7-Eleven and use MoneyPak to send money to a particular account and in return they will send you a key that will unfreeze your computer. Sure they will.

I just spent an entire afternoon cleaning “FBI MoneyPak Virus” off of a friend’s laptop. I dealt with Moneypak virus once before about a year ago (it’s actually a trojan) and I easily destroyed it using Hijack This software on a thumb drive. This time was different though. This new version of the Moneypak Virus is apparently capable of deflecting a BIOS directive to boot from any drive other than the hard drive so even when I tried to boot my friend’s PC with the thumb drive I still was presented with the MoneyPak image displayed on the Desktop with no way to close it in order to access anything at all on the computer.

I eventually managed to boot the thing into Safe Mode with Command Prompt as apposed to regular Safe Mode and worked my way to C:\windows\system32\restore\rstrui.exe and was able to run Windows Restore from the Command Prompt. After about three hours the PC finally re-booted into an earlier state before it had been infected. Of course I knew the virus was still on the hard drive so I re-booted into Safe Mode with Command Prompt and ran AVG from there which found and quarantined the bugs that cause the Moneypak infestation which appear to be Trojan Generic10_c.msk, Trojan-Ransom.Win32.Reveton!A2 and Gen:Variant.Symmi.17656

If you Google “FBI MoneyPak Virus” you’ll find dozens of pages claiming that Hitman Pro on a thumb drive is the way to deal with this thing and I tried that but System Restore from the Command Prompt was the only way I could find to beat it.

Mining and/or Investing in Bitcoins

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Should We All Be Investing in Bitcoins?

Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer cryptocurrency that is used to buy goods and services online that in some cases offers total anonymity to both buyer and seller. It is being used to buy and sell illegal drugs and lots of other illicit things anonymously online. It’s also being used to solicit the assassination of politicians. You can also use Bitcoin to buy books, music, clothing and lots of other perfectly legal stuff online as well. Very soon we may all be using Bitcoins instead of credit cards to buy things online since there are no interest charges or fees attached to the use of Bitcoins.

A couple of weeks ago you might have been forgiven for waving off Bitcoins as just another passing fad but Bitcoins suddenly gained relevance this week when the U.S Senate held hearings on Bitcoin and during those proceedings U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Senators that trading Bitcoins for goods and services is not illegal and seemed to give the new cryptocurrency a nod of approval.

Another good reason that Bitcoins are in the news a lot lately is because in January of this year one Bitcoin was valued at around 13 U.S. dollars and today they are worth 700 U.S. dollars. And just in the past week Bitcoins have tripled in value.

Back when Bitcoin was invented by the super-secret, pseudonymous Bitcoin founder Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009, the virtual currency was worth mere pennies.

There can only ever be a finite number of Bitcoins – 21 million, in fact. There are not yet 21 million Bitcoins in existence because the remaining Bitcoins have
yet to be “mined’. Bitcoins are “mined” on computers by folks who are a lot more tech-savvy than me using mind-numbingly complicated algorithms that become progressively more sophisticated as more and more Bitcoins are “mined”. The more Bitcoins that are “mined”, the more difficult “mining” Bitcoins becomes. If you’re interested in “mining” your own Bitcoins, you’d better start sooner rather than later because soon you’ll need a bank of super- computers to dig up even one or two.

Even though it is possible today to use Bitcoins to buy practically anything imaginable, it remains for now far simpler to use a bank card or paypal. Most of the people who are buying Bitcoins today are probably buying them as an investment. It’s very possible that the value of Bitcoins is highly inflated and this is just a bubble about to pop. It’s also just as possible that next November a single Bitcoin could be worth over three times what it is today. And it will be if the current trend continues.

So should we be mining Bitcoins? Should we at least be hoarding a few? Something to think about.

I’m @Scoroncocolo on Twitter.

Big Brother Is Watching

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So is the NSA spying on you? Probably not. Is your Internet Service Provider (ISP) spying on you? Yes they are. And there’s no doubt about it. This article in PC World quotes Dan Auerbach, a Staff Technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as saying that if your ISP chooses to they can “see what pages you looked at on that Web site you visited, and what you wrote in that e-mail”. Even if your ISP isn’t watching your browsing activity in real-time, they are certainly logging it because by law they have to in order to comply with any court ordered subpoena that could at anytime be served on them by any Federal, State or local law enforcement agency and yes even the NSA. Not only is your ISP tracking and logging your every move on the Web and storing your email in their servers, they are also collecting all of your meta-data so they can sell it to marketeers. All ISP’s have been doing this for years.

So who besides your ISP is spying on you? Google is storing mountains of
information about everything you do online even if you’re not logged into your Google account. Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and Apple are spying on you and so are dozens of Internet snoops like StatCounter, Woopra and Google Analytics. And like Google, all of these companies are sharing with governments worldwide but most particularly the U.S. government. According to information released last week by Google the U.S. government made 10,918 requests for 21,683 user accounts during the first six months of 2013.

Plus there’s this. Every time you visit any website it’s like you’re sharing your identity with that website’s administers and anyone else who has access to the files on the servers on which that site is hosted.

If all that’s not enough to make you a bit paranoid, here’s something else to think about. There are literally thousands of highly skilled people employed by
hundreds of companies who are working every day to create the type of software that will bring your online identity into sharper and sharper focus. And they’re not just looking at you, they’re tracking your kids too. So, is there anything you can do about it? Yes there is. You could choose to become invisible on the Internet.

The best way, by far, to become invisible on the Internet is to start using Tor rather than IE, Safari, Firefox or Chrome to browse the Web. The Tor Web browser was born as a U.S. Navy research project in 2002. The Tor browser makes it impossible for anyone or any machine to determine your IP address as you surf the Web and therefore you are totally anonymous.

Here’s how Tor works. The Tor browser runs on a network of routing points that randomize your path through the internet, making it next to impossible to track what sites and services you use. Web sites can’t track you because they can’t see you. Even your Internet Service Provider is unable to track your movements once you’re on the Tor browser. The only thing your ISP can determine is that you are on the Internet and using software that is very likely to be the Tor browser. And as Tor says on their home page: “You are now free to browse the Internet anonymously”.

To download and start using Tor go here and read the literature and follow the instructions.

I’m @Scoroncocolo on Twitter.

 

Silk Road the Bizarre Bazaar

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On October 2, 2013 the FBI shutdown the Website Silk Road and arrested its alleged webmaster Ross William Ulbricht charging him with murder for hire and
narcotics trafficking. Even though Ulbricht, whose sobriquet was “The Dread Pirate Roberts”, is still presumed to be incarcerated a far more secure version of his Silk Road Website went back online November 6, 2013 and is still up today. And I know it’s still up because I have it open in another window as I’m writing this.

I’m sure you know that Silk Road is an online marketplace where some people buy and sell illegal drugs. Although I suppose if you live in Colorado or Washington it would be legal to both buy and sell marijuana using Silk Road but I wouldn’t ever advise it. But window shopping is not the same as buying and there is absolutely nothing illicit or dangerous about visiting the Silk Road Website.

Another reason not to shy away from visiting Silk Road is that they sell a whole lot of other things besides illegal drugs and at some great prices too. For instance, you can buy a Burberry London Winter Down Jacket on eBay for $1,139.00. Nordstrom sells the same jacket for $1,795.00. Or you could buy one on Silk Road for a hundred and twenty-five bucks. Caveat Emptor, of course, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a Burberry London Winter Down Jacket knock-off from a firm called FoxyGirl didn’t turn out to be almost indistinguishable from “the real thing”.

The only way you can buy anything on Silk Road is with Bitcoins. Bitcoins are easy to deal with if you use a site like CoinBase and here is a handy Bitcoin to US dollar, euro, Assie dollar, British pound and Swedish krona converter because Bitcoins fluctuate sometimes wildly in value.

But back to the bargains on Silk Road. A decent pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses are going to cost you at least a hundred and fifty bucks. But you can buy Ray-Bans on Silk Road for thirty dollars. Of course The Dread Pirate Roberts sells pirated software too. You can buy MS Office 2011 from various Microsoft licensed dealers for about a hundred dollars or you could buy a full-blown licensed copy of Office 2011 on Silk Road for 20 bucks. The Ray-Bans? I say, go for it, but don’t buy pirated software. That’s stealing even if it is stealing from the evil empire. But there are tons of legal things to buy on Silk Road making it a very worthwhile visit.

But how do you get to the Silk Road? That’s not as easy as you might think. Try Googling it. You wont find it because you can’t get there from here. The Silk Road is not on the surface Web, it’s in the Deep Web. In order to access the Deep Web where the Silk Road lies you’ll need to download and install the Tor Web browser. The Tor browser is very much like any other Web browser like Microsoft’s Windows Explorer or Google’s Chrome browser or Apple’s Safari Web browser. But Tor is an “onion” browser that routes your Internet connection through a worldwide, volunteer network consisting of more than four thousand relays to conceal not only your IP address but all of your activity on the Web. When you go into incognito mode on Chrome, IE or Firefox, you are by no means immune from detection. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is still logging every site you visit and monitoring everything you upload or download. But on the Tor Browser you are 100% invisible. With all the news about the intrusiveness of the NSA lately many people are beginning to do all of their Internet browsing with the Tor browser. Tor was, after all, created by the U.S. government to keep their online communications secure. But that’s for a different post.

Downloading and installing Tor is so easy that I’m not going to insult your intelligence by walking you through it. You just download it and run it like you
would any other software. You can download Tor from https://www.torproject.org/download/download and you don’t need to pay much attention to the precautionary material on the page if don’t intend to do anything illegal or provided you don’t live in a country that has laws forbidding access to Websites you might get in trouble for trying to visit on Tor. For instance, if you live in China or Iran you might want to run Tor inside a VPN or a Virtual Private Network. For those of us in Europe and the Americas who aren’t planning on breaking any laws, running Tor alone is all we need to do.

You’ll notice that it takes 60 seconds or more for Tor to load so be patient. Once you’ve got Tor running, you’ll notice that it behaves just like any other
browser except that it is really slow. It’s slow because it is bouncing packets around the massive Tor network. Inside the Tor browser the URL for Silk Road
is http://silkroad6ownowfk.onion and once you’re connected you’ll be asked to create a user name and password. Just follow the Dread Pirate Roberts’
instructions and you’ll be good to go. So have fun exploring the Bizarre Bazaar that is the Silk Road.

Addendum to the above posted 11/12/13

Tor has very recently updated. Make sure you’re running the latest version of Tor. If you’ve recently updated Tor and are now receiving the error message: “Firefox is configured to use a proxy server that is refusing connections.” This issue is easy to resolve. The old version of Tor and the updated version should not be placed in the same directory. The simple fix is to create a new folder and drag only Tor-browser2.3.25-14en-US.exe into it and then run that file in the new folder and then the browser will behave perfectly. Of course you can and will probably want to delete all Tor related files outside this new directory.

As you know if you are a Tor user, Tor runs on the back of an old build of Firefox and Firefox by default as do all major browsers run JavaScript. If you’ve got a good firewall and Anti-virus running on Windows, Mac or Lynx JavaScript is pretty safe to leave on with Chrome, FF, and IE but for reasons unknown the official Tor blog is urgently suggesting that users disable JavaScript on Tor until further notice. So once Tor loads and before you start browsing around, click the little “S” to the right of the onion on the right-hand side of the browser bar and then click on “forbid scripts globally”.

Some sites won’t behave as you’d expect them to with Scripts not enabled but that’s a small price to pay in exchange for total anonymity.

I’m @Scoroncocolo on Twitter.

Tracking Chips Embedded in Kids?

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I’ve been following this conversation in the Times and elsewhere about the ethical implications of surgically implanting tiny devices like rfid chips in children? That, to me, is just so unimaginably unwarranted. I can see someone wanting to embed a computer chip under the skin of a pet dog or cat… but a child? The ridiculousness of it reminds me of that beautiful old Jackson Brown song called “Crow on the Cradle” that satirizes the group-think/herd mentality when there was a time that it was assumed that all we needed to do in America to keep our children safe was to arm ourselves and as the song says: “Put a bomber above her where ever she goes” http://bit.ly/1fnkEAZ

The Exorcist Is Forty Years Old Today

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Today, Halloween Day, is the fortieth anniversary of William Friedkin’s Oscar award winning movie The Exorcist that scared the bejesus out of us baby boomers when it first hit theaters in 1973 and has been scaring the bejesus out of our kids and grandkids ever since. I vividly remember going to the Abilene, Texas premier of The Exorcist with a friend of mine named Ron at a theater that was so crowded when the movie began that there were people sitting in the aisles and was almost deserted well before the movie ended. This theater was initially packed because there had been a tremendous amount of interest in this film. People had been talking about it. The local paper had been writing about it and God knows the local preachers had been preaching about The Exorcist for weeks in advance of its arrival in our little God-fearing city.

I went to the Abilene, Texas premier of The Exorcist at some movie theater I forget the name of forty years ago today and I still recall the experience vividly. I went with four friends only one of whom was able to sit through the whole movie with me. O.K., truth is, I thought a time or two about chill’n at the concession stand myself. In fact, far more than half of the folks who had paid good hard worked for money to watch The Exorcist on Halloween night in Abilene, Texas forty years ago to this very day decided to leave well before the movie was half way over. It was an extremely intense experience, no question about it.

Finally, when the credits were rolling with that eerie soundtrack Tubular Bells still sending chills down my spine and goose bumps infecting my entire body, I looked around and saw that Ron and I were two of a few small group of people who were still in the theater. Ron and I sat in our seats until the overhead lights came on. I can’t remember if it was me or if it was Ron who said “O.K. I could use a drink.”

The Exorcist is one of the greatest movies ever made. It is also one of the most frightening movies you’ll ever see. Do yourself a favor and watch it. Tonight would be a good night. It’s HALLOWEEN! Boooowaaaaa!!!

This Yank’s a Bit Odd

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A great many of us noted with sadness the passing away of Lou Reed on October 27, 2013. One of my favorite photos of Lou Reed was one taken in 1973 in the Cafe Royal in the ritzy Piccadilly section of London. The photograph shows Lou Reed having drinks with David Bowie and Mick Jagger. The reason I like this picture so much is that I love the expression on Jagger’s face as he watches Lou Reed reach across the table toward David Bowie. Mick seems to be thinking to himself “This Yank’s a bit odd.”

Mick was right because as much as I and millions of other people around the world admired Lou Reed and appreciated his great talent, he was indeed a Yank who was a bit odd. But oddness is not exactly a scarcity among us Yanks. And so in keeping with Mick Jagger’s assessment regarding the much loved and admired Lou Reed’s oddness here are some more Yanks who many feel are a bit odd.

Sarah-Palin_crazy-lookThis Yanks’s a bit odd.

ted_cruz6This Yank’s a bit odd.

MicheleBachmannThis Yank’s a bit odd.

RobertsonThis Yank’s a bit odd.

TedNugentOffMyMedsAgainThis Yank’s a bit odd.

Got ideas for other peeps who could fall under the category of This Yank’s a Bit Odd? Put ’em in the comments.