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Ransomware, Windows Vista, Ubuntu and General Computer Oddities

Over the weekend I had the fun of fixing a laptop that had become infected with what is known as ransomware. This is a particularly nasty form of virus which renders the computer useless by displaying a graphic on screen and making all other functions of the computer effectively unusable.

The displayed graphic proclaims that the computer has been used to perform illegal activities and carries several authoritative logos and says that the user must pay a fine in order to get the use of the computer back. This is of course not an official action and the money from the ‘fine’ actually goes to the people behind the virus. Suffice to say, payment of the fine does nothing to fix the computer either.

I have fixed a laptop from this virus before. It’s a fairly crude and unsophisticated implementation and I found it possible to get round it by using the safe mode boot and locating the processes behind it and manually removing them. It did take me all day though.

Not wishing to spend the same amount of time again I decided to try and shortcut the procedure and make use of Microsoft’s offline removal utility. Supposedly all I needed to do was create a CD on my computer from the downloaded ISO file and boot the sick laptop from it.

Ooops

It all sounded so easy.

I should add at this point that the laptop in question was brought to me because the owner doesn’t have money to waste and had taken the laptop to PC World to investigate and had been told the virus had killed the hard disk and the cost was going to be no less than £75 to look and £50 to fix, or something. Plus the cost of the hard disk of course.

No idea what they were going to do with the customers data.

Before trying the Microsoft fix CD I did boot the laptop and confirm the presence of the virus, but did nothing else to try and fix it.

Sadly, the Microsoft CD reported and failure to run after displaying a logo and the status bar for a short time. No indication of what may or may not have been done to the computer, just an error saying it could not load something.

After that the laptop would not boot again, giving as error saying there was no boot partition or OS found. Maybe this was the error that PC World ran into. It did seem odd that I had one good boot and then after running the MS disk I could not boot the laptop again. It could be just bad luck, I have no idea. What I did know though was that I was sure the hard disk was not dead.

Copy That Data Off

Thankfully I have the means to attach a laptop disk to my computer and attempted to copy the data off the laptop to my network storage. I probably should have done this first. It turns out the disk was split into two partitions. My computer, however, was only able to read the secondary partition, which had most of the data on it. The system partition was unreadable. My Windows 7 disk manager showed the partition to be RAW instead of NTFS and would not read any data from it. The same was true of my Windows 8 computer.

Linux to the Rescue

A bit of web searching later set me onto the tip that the Linux Operating System would be able to read the disk. This would be my first foray into the murky world of free OS software but I was prepared to give it a go.

I headed off to the Ubuntu website and created a DVD from the easy to download image. The helpful thing about this is that you can boot from the DVD and run the OS direct without having to install it onto any disk. On starting up Linux displayed to me all my available disks, including the two partitions on the suspect disk and all the data. More than that, it also connected to my network and enabled me to copy the data from the system partition to the same network disk that I had already copied the data to from the secondary partition.

What impressed me most about this experience was that Windows 7 had copied the data at a rate of less that 400kb/s while Ubunu was copying the data at a rate of about 700kb/s, almost twice as fast. In both cases, the data was being copied from a laptop disk in a caddy attached to my computer via a USB port and onto an external disk that is connected to my router via a USB port at the back of the router and presented as a storage device on the network.

I will point out that in situations like this, both Windows and Ubuntu feature the same stupidity that has bugged me about GUI Operating Systems for a long time. When someone (me) is copying a large volume of data from one drive to another there will inevitably be the occasional item requiring clarification. Say a system file, or hidden file, which the OS wants confirmation that the file should be copied along with all the other. This I don’t mind. What does bug me is that the copy process stops at that point and waits for the response. The copy should continue in the background and any further errors should get added to the message dialog while the OS continues to process the task in hand in the background as requested. At this point in the history of computers basic usability items like that should exist in ALL operating systems, yet developers continue to fail the users this way.

Now to Install Vista

Data safe, now it was time to recover the OS. Sadly, no matter what I tried, I was unable to get the RAW partition recovered to a point that I could boot the laptop again and look into removing the virus so I had to revert to the next best option, install Vista again.

One small problem, I have no disk or licence key.

After yet more searching about I managed to discover that this brand of laptop (Acer) includes a hidden rescue partition than can be accessed by pressing ALT-F10 during boot. How wonderfully helpful.

About an hour later Vista is restored onto the original partition. This is probably the best way to remove a virus like this anyway. Or any virus for that matter.

The Update Mountain.

This is where the fun really started. Vista is now, ahem, a few years old and there are numerous updates so the first job was to install Microsoft Security Essentials, scan the drives and then get on with the updates.

First rotation: 104 updates.

Yes, Windows Update said that’s how many updates needed to be installed and so I left it running and did other things.

On completion, one of the updates was the ridiculous Browser Choice Screen, I won’t go into the history of it, but it’s a bloody stupid thing and the judges that made MS create it are even more stupid. That aside, the choice screen presented me with a choice of browsers and so I chose Internet Explorer, so off it went to install it.

Except it wouldn’t because apparently a required update was missing in order for IE9 to install. Helpfully a link was provided for me to download and install Vista SP2, which is needed for IE9. SP2, it told me, includes all previous updates. So why did I just have to install 104 updates I wonder.

Except that wouldn’t install because SP2 requires SP1 to be installed first, and a link is provided. SP1, apparently also includes all previous updates.

Riiiight. Okay.

SP1 and SP2 get installed, along with the chosen browser. Its several hours later now and into the evening. It is also a bank holiday weekend, this should be so much easier.

Second rotation: 136 updates!

But I’ve just installed 2 Service Packs! Yes it really did install that many updates!

Being helpful, I have a spare licence key for Office 2007 and install that for the owner. I also install Office 2007 SP2, which it seems does not require SP1 first. Unless the Office install I have comes with SP1 embedded, I don’t actually recall.

Third rotation: 41 updates.

Yes, after installing all the Windows updates and then Office and its SP2 update, there were still more to come.

In total the amount of time installing updates was longer than the amount of time it took to confirm the virus, copy the data and recover to factory install.

Sometimes working in IT is fun, sometimes it leaves me wondering ….

 

News reporting on Extremism

For a long now I have been deeply uncomfortable with the level of news reporting that we are subjected to these days. On a fundamental level I disagree with the concept of 24 hour news channels because they constantly regurgitate news events and repeat what was said only a short time previously. When something news worthy does break, there is such a rush and scramble to be the first there with the news and accuracy of often the first casualty.

I am old enough to remember a time when TV news was restricted to scheduled news bulletins and if a story is still breaking at the time the reporting on it would simply be that ‘we are getting reports of …’ and then there would be a promise of facts when they arrived. On rare occasions there would be an interruption of a broadcast programme for some really big news. In all cases, there was a confidence that the news organisation in question had put effort into facts first.

These days, there is such a scramble for being first with something new and almost any old thing will do and this past week we have seen news in the UK that has made me feel sick and angry. It’s the story of a soldier, killed by extremists in broad daylight. It was a disgusting act, committed in front of people by a pair of radicalised individuals.

Early reports were confused, who was wearing what, who was shouting what, was it a soldier, was he dead, was he run over by a car first, were the perpetrators on the loose or in the area,  were they Muslim, were they British. Gone are the days when important information is gathered first and then reported, the attitude now is that being first with the report is all that matters, facts can be corrected later. Mobile phone footage, no matter how disturbing, is show in the absence of a news crew and members of the public are interviewed in absence of a reporter with facts. That’s not to say that there aren’t times when the public have something valuable to contribute.

There will always be something intelligent and considered opinions of value from members of the public, what is important is that what is shown on the news is worthy of being shown on the news and all too often this is not the case. This takes me back to my original point of why 24 hour news channels are a bad thing, quality comment and reporting is sacrificed in the name of something different. Personally I’d rather the news channels just stopped reporting for an hour or two because that is far preferable to repeating old news items and incorrectly reporting on breaking news.

Wall to wall stories.

 

The issues I have with 24 hours news reporting become even more apparent when there is a significant story, like that which happened in Woolwich this week. The news programmes will constantly show the same clips, the more dramatic the better and you don’t get much more dramatic that a man standing in the street with bloodied hands, brandishing a knife and shouting threats about never being safe. It is sickening and, despite my mature years, it really is not something I wish to see on my TV screen and certainly not repeated several time in a half hour period.

Because of the connected world we now live in, news of this sort of thing very quickly travels through social media and this is where news organisations really do have a responsibility to the public. Incorrectly reported facts very quickly get repeated around the world and later corrections don’t follow with the same enthusiasm. When challenged on this, the typical response from a news organisation will be along the lines of “this is a very fluid situation and a breaking story of high public interest so it is important that we let the public know what is happening and sometimes we will get it wrong and will always put a correction later”. Frankly, this is a lazy cop out and news organisations should put extra effort into accuracy when it is such a big story. More than that, they have a responsibility to consider public response.

In this specific case there was footage of a man, having recently murdered, spouting a message of hate and in the background can be seen the body of a dead human, while members of the public mill about. It was not pleasant and certainly does not belong on general broadcast. The facts will suffice, the pictures are not required. This isn’t a case of me being prudish; it is much bigger than that.

In this age of almost constant terror reports, this sort of event simply adds to the tension and hatred of those who would seek reprisals. In this country there is a growing feeling of resentment towards immigrants and religious extremists. Often there is little distinction drawn between the two groups. Events like the killing of Lee Rigby only serve to fuel those feelings and when a news organisation blanket reports on the horrific nature of the crime and shows deeply insensitive images and video those feelings get magnified. It is hardly a surprise that social media sites were flooded with highly charged rhetoric.

My criticism of news reporting is not just of this event, it is a problem that has existed for a long time and each time I see how the events are reported and see how people respond to the events I wonder if maybe this time the reporters will see that they are actually contributing to the problem. Each time I wish that they would tone down the nature of their reports and give more attention to other stories.

Each time I am disappointed and I am left convinced that the reporting of terrible news is actively contributing to the problem of extremism in the world today.

Report on it less and fewer people will know about it and fewer people will wish to take revenge or even replicate and maybe, just maybe, there will be a little less hate and a little more hope.

Apple iPad – Not that great

Sometime last year, following the death of my wife’s laptop (https://vteclimey.wordpress.com/2008/09/11/samsung-r700/) we purchased the then latest iPad hoping that for half the price of a high spec laptop it would provide most of the functions we were used to.

First look

Initial ownership of the iPad was rewarding. It is easy to handle and the touch screen is responsive and accurate. There are a whole host of apps available, mostly entertainment related. Sitting on sofa casually browsing the web or emailing friends while watching TV is panacea that marketing departments and iPad fans will no doubt like to promote, however that didn’t translate in reality.

Typing on the iPad is not a casual experience and if you want to avoid having your arm in an awkward position and a twisted back, you will need to sit properly. Reading The Times app or a news website is one thing, but composing emails and blog posts is not as easy or as comfortable as using a real computer.

Being Used

My daughter was very keen to play games on it and was initially absorbed in games on it, both apps and websites. The latter being where serious problems started. Many kid friendly websites utilise Adobe Flash and my daughter, having been used to them on the laptop naturally wanted to continue to enjoy them. Game apps also became very boring too. Handing the iPad as a movement controller was too awkward for her because she is young and the iPad soon gets heavy. Also touching the screen for game control requires having it on a surface and so the locations she can play on it are limited.

It wasn’t long before the iPad would never leave the kitchen and would be used mainly for email, reading The Times and updating Facebook. There would be occasional times where creating document content, such as presentations or displaying images. These would not be without their frustrations though as the iPad will not view remote content on a PC and nor can it view digital RAW photos from a dSLR. Transferring photos to the iPad for display required multiple steps and was therefore only done when there was no other option. Creating presentations on a touch screen device is possible but not intuitive and not easy, so tend to take three times longer than on a PC.

Simple tasks also became a frustration, like saving and opening PDF files for the purpose of using them as a script for a presenter. This was one area where it was hoped the iPad would excel over a PC and frankly the frustrations that would often result meant that printouts are far simpler and the iPad just isn’t worth the hassle.

Conclusion

Nice though the iPad is, it’s useful functions are limited and as a device to create and consume content it simply can’t match the flexibility and a real computer. As a casual browsing device for reading and playing it works, but not at a price that exceeds £400! It simply is not worth it at that price.

So, its gone on ebay this week and good riddance I say.

Americas Gun Obsession

 

Not long ago America suffered yet another tragedy in the form of a shooting at a school. I’ve not checked, but it seems like this sort of event now happens every couple of years in this land of the free.

This latest tragedy, at Sandy Hook, seems to be the worst ever because of the ages of the children involved and the numbers killed. The other highly publicised school shootings, the relatively young and troubled perpetrator seems to be a common theme among this form of shooting.

Personally, I am glad to see that at last America seems to be taking a more serious look at its gun control measures. Of course the issues behind this kind of event are far more complex than a simple gun control law. However, I struggle to see how there is any justification at all for Americans (or any other nationality for that matter) to have automatic weapons in their homes. I can’t conceive of any situation where an automatic weapon in a domestic residence can be seen as a good thing. This kind of gun is a military assault weapon; it does not belong in a home and should never be there.

I really do hope that this time the powers that be in the American government have the guts to see something through that limits what weapons are available to the general public. A domestic equivalent of an automatic assault weapon is an obscene invention and the sooner it is withdrawn from market the better. Sadly, I have also seen the rhetoric offensive by the gun lobby and this is a fight they don’t wish to loose, clearly there is a lot of money to be made from selling military arms to a gullible American public.

I struggle with the need that so many Americans appear to have for guns. It’s not just automatic weapons, its rifles and pistols too. Some of these are very powerful and when you consider uses such as hunting and protection, a lot are overkill for the purposes required.

I get why weapons are wanted; shooting them is thrilling. Aiming at targets and getting better and competing with your buddies is highly entertaining. Hunting is thrilling too and there is a valid argument for protection.

However, when I read what the gun lobby are saying I do not see considered and intelligent dialog, I see protectionist defence and a desire to resist any change because it will be the start of a slippery slope to totals bans. It is clear that they intend to build as much fear from control as they can so that they can drive as many sales as they are able, both before any change in law and also to create public opposition to any change. After all it is in the best interests of their profit margins for there to be no change.

One of the more idiotic arguments is that to protect children from this sort of thing, there should be armed adults in schools. Basically, the claim is that to solve the problems associated with crime more guns are needed. Are the people making these arguments really THAT stupid? Sadly I think they are. Let’s examine the school shootings issue a bit further. To stop unstable people taking guns into school and shooting people it is proposed that guns are put into the hands of adults in schools. These guns will have to be permanently on hand because locking them away in a cupboard is useless and having then loose in a drawer is even more stupid. Having a gun fight in area crowded with kids sounds scary, but could be argued is safer that having someone shooting without obstruction. Until there is a double tragedy and the armed protector hits innocents in the shootout, or even worse, goes postal. Wouldn’t this person be the first person to die in these cases anyway, having been taken by surprise by the shooter? So really, too many problems with that idea to satisfy the argument that it is a better option than taking the guns away in the first place. The gun lobby should go the whole hog and suggest that all school children are given their own guns so they can protect themselves. That is about the level of intelligence shown by them in this argument.

Conspiracy Nonsense

Like many around the world I have seen some of the videos on the subject. The ones featuring Piers Morgan have been immensely humorous, but not in a good way. It is depressing that the flimsy justification and illogical ramblings by Alex Jones and his disciples are taken seriously by such a huge swath of the population.

Worse than the silly ramblings and shouty nonsense, there is now, predictably, a fully developed Sandy Hook conspiracy train with the classic mind control taking centre stage. Never mind that it is simply not possible to control people to that level. Of course the claimed purpose here is to create a public that is anti-guns and so make gun control easier to implement. If there was an underhand section of government that had this sort of power, they would just implement the gun control they wished to have, why go through the insane and stupid charade of creating this sort of event? Such clear thinking escapes the conspiracy nut, sadly. If there really was a conspiracy to take away guns, there are better ways to do it.

The trouble with thinking than Sandy Hook was a conspiracy is that it creates a trap where all other shootings need to be classed similarly; otherwise there is no logical reason for it to be a sole nefarious conspiracy on a list of sad tragedies. Over how many years have these tragedies been happening and still no progress on taking away the guns? In fact there are more guns than ever. Either the conspiracy is not working very well, or there is no conspiracy at all.

Britain’s Guns

Among the comments on the web about this latest school shooting has been comparison between gun laws in America and Britain. Defensive Americans point to Britain’s own tragic school shooting in Scotland in the 1990s. That was an horrific event and one I remember happening. The subtlety that the American commentators forget is that this shooting was almost 20 years ago and is a single school shooting event in Britain over a very long period of time, compared to how many in America in the same period? Britain has a society with far fewer guns, and guess what, we have far, far fewer mass shooting events.

America; it is time to stop pissing about and take away the guns. It won’t stop gun crime dead, but it will reduce it immensely and it will save more lives than increasing the number of guns ever could.

Guide Dog Puppy: One Year Old

I’m long overdue an update on the progress of Tout, the guide dog puppy that we’re caring for, or ‘Puppy Walking’ in preparation for his training as a Guide Dog.

One of the major early frustrations we had to deal with was his constant desire to chew. The skirting boards around the house took the most damage from his growing teeth, but other items did also suffer, basically anything with wooden legs. For a brand new house with many brand new furnishings, this was indeed a major annoyance.

We were advised that spreading Vicks vapour rub on high risk areas worked because he would not like the smell. This did in fact work, but it also meant that if he felt the need for a chew he’d go to another place that had not been attacked before and was free of the Vicks. The result is several spots around the house that will require putting right sometime next year.

This constant chewing was the biggest single thing we wanted to see in a behaviour change following the Puppy’s castration, an operation he had several months ago. Thankfully this was the case; recovery from the operation was a couple of weeks and he did seem very sorry for himself for some days. There was a small amount of chewing afterwards but it rapidly declined and has not happened again.

Other than that, there is no other obvious affect in his behaviour. He is still very keen on walking, very distractible when out, very excitable when people show him attention and very submissive towards other dogs.

It’s the going crazy round other people that has become the current challenge. It doesn’t matter if its visitors to home or people out and about, he just craves the attention of other people and loses all ability to concentrate while they are in his line of sight. At home its relatively easy to manage by moving to another room. However, he will make his disappointment known by constantly whining. Its clear that this is a dog bread that craves human contact, probably a result of breeding selection.

Distraction by people when out and about is more interesting. The biggest frustration is when he’s working well on a walk and he’ll be good and focussed when approaching someone and then that someone will ruin it all by clicking at him and putting out their hand. This simple act will utterly kill his focus and can take some time to get him back on track again because he is now looking for this response from all other people we’ll meet.

It is not all bad, the above is just the worst bits and are but a small part of the experiences we have with him. He’s made great progress in his time with us so far and as the time for him to move on to his real training approaches, the family to pondering what it will be like to be without him again. He is mostly a very obedient dog and seems to really enjoy being out and working. He is fit and healthy and out Guide Dogs rep is happy with his progress. The training that we’ve done with him works and he does appear to learn quickly when its repeated often and he’s encouraged well. Training problems typically stem from us humans getting frustrated and impatient. Patience is something that we have definitely had to learn during this year of puppy walking, which is not a bad thing.

A Sampling of London Hotels – Part 5

The final part of my review of London Hotels…

Lord Jim

There must be a competition that I don’t know about that offers prizes for the Hotels whose name makes the biggest impossible promise. This hotel certainly is in the running.

It all started when the Hotel took the money out of my account a full 10 days before my first night. Until this point, the worst I had to suffer was a couple of Hotels that requested full payment on check-in. This is bad enough and something I consider out of order, so having the full amount for 3 nights taken 10 days in advance was disappointing and guarantees I’ll not be considering this place again.

The room was acceptable; nothing special, but at least it was clean and tidy.

Breakfast was all too familiar; a basic continental with no cooked option, disappointing.

Grange Strathmore

Initially this hotel promised much; a very large and spacious room with a comfortable bed, decent sofa and coffee table.

However, on close inspection the room had pealing wallpaper and dust in corners that had obviously not been cleaned for a very long time.

The biggest shock came when cooked breakfast came in at a hefty £24! At least there was Tomato Juice on offer, and the breakfast was pretty decent, just not £24 decent. I’ve paid £10 for a lot better.

Barkston Gardens

Another hotel going under renovation; this time some very serious work was going on and each of the rooms was gradually undergoing a major redesign.

As a result of the works going on, the kitchen and restaurant were out of action, so there would be no chance to critique the breakfast.

The newly refurbished room however, was very good. The room had a wonderfully large walk in shower. The desk had a set of technology ports for plugging a laptop in and getting the display on the large TV in the seating area. Other touches included a light in the wardrobe which came on when the door was opened, and a speaker in the bathroom so that you could still hear the TV whole cleansing your dentures. Small touches and arguably not very important, but at the price bracket my expenses allowed, they stood out as being unique.

* This is the end of my extended stay in London and so until a new project gets me there again, there will be no more reviews on London hotels.

A Sampling of London Hotels – Part 4

My review of London Hotels continues ….

Umi Hotel

This is another hotel with a fancy name that doesn’t quite live up to the implied expectations.

The biggest disappointment was seeing the sink in the room rather than the en-suite. Granted, the en-suit was only big enough to fit the toilet and shower. A spend on re-design would have solved that issue and it needs doing.

Heading to the dining room for an evening meal I found the chairs uncomfortable and the food average. I would choose to eat out in the evenings the next nights. Breakfast was better, the chairs were still uncomfortable but the food was better. Nearly £10 for an English breakfast is what I class as steep, but it is within the normal bounds to be expected from London hotels and not the most I have paid. What I did think was the ultimate piss-take was to charge me a further £2 to have a second cup of coffee with my breakfast.

Venture Hotel

Don’t bother. You really don’t want to hear about the mold and the filth.

Edward Hotel

This hotel was undergoing renovation at the time I stayed, so while the entrance looked clean and new and airy and welcoming, upstairs showed sign of many builder passes and there was a lot of dust sitting about. I understand that building work means that there will be much dust so this isn’t necessarily a negative. I assume that on completion the stairs and corridors will be updated to look as good as the entrance and the renovated rooms.

I stayed in a recently renovated room and it was very comfortable. New fittings everywhere were modern and of excellent quality. LED lighting showed a commitment to energy efficiency while still producing quality light. The only negative was that my room was not visited and clean and the bed made while I was out during the day.

Due to the renovations, the hotel kitchen was out of action.

Somerset Hotel

Overpriced and grotty is the best I can say about this. I have stayed in much better for a lot less.

The room was poorly equipped with not even a wardrobe, let alone a kettle with tea and coffee supplies. Coffee was available from a machine in the dining area; it’s a good job it was free because the coffee produced was utterly foul.

Breakfast was meagre and disappointing.

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