Archive for June, 2008

Lenovo targets people who don’t like passwords … or germs

Monday, June 30th, 2008

New from Lenovo, the IdeaCentre K210 desktop.

Among the new technologies the IdeaCentre K210 utilizes is VeriFace3 facial recognition technology that allows the user to log in by having the camera recognize his/her facial image. The K210 is the only desktop PC to offer this distinctive feature. Additionally, The K210 features an anti-microbial keyboard that uses special material to inhibit bacterial growth. This is especially helpful for families that have numerous people using the same keyboard and are concerned with keyboard germs.

For some reason, when I first read that paragraph I saw in my mind some kind of facial recognition system that demand I smash my face onto the keyboard or something.

Tech Mythbusting – Using multiple cores to speed up Vista boot time

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

A couple of Hardware 2.0 regulars pointed me to a tip posted on Lifehacker on how to engage multiple processor cores in Vista to help boost startup performance.

Is turning your Fiat into a Ferrari really that easy? Afraid not.

The first clue as to the reliability of this tip becomes apparent to anyone trying to follow the tip - If you follow the instructions to the letter ('Run msconfig from the Start Search box (or after hitting Win+R), then head to the "Boot" tab, check "Number of processors ..."') you never actually see anything that says Number of processors because you first have to click on a button labeled Advanced options... first.

boot_ini_multi_proc_01_sm.png

boot_ini_multi_proc_02_sm.png

Anyway, putting aside the fact that the instructions are themselves wrong, I decided to press on and tested the effect on my quad-core system. Without making any changes this system booted up in 31 seconds. After setting the Number of processors to 4, guess what? Yep, that's right, it too 31 seconds.

Bottom line, this tip is bunk, and that's because Windows automatically uses all the cores available. This Boot.ini tweak is actually a way to get Windows to see fewer cores in order for developers to carry out testing (it's documented properly here). Messing with this setting on you machine could cause problems.

There's no such thing as a free lunch.

Hit by Gpcode ransomware? File recovery is the only way forward …

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Been hit by Gpcode ransomware? Don't bother waiting around for a tool to crack the encrypted files, instead recover the original files ...

Currently, it's not possible to decrypt files encrypted by Gpcode.ak without the private key. However, there is a way in which encrypted files can be restored to their original condition.

When encrypting files, Gpcode.ak creates a new file next to the file that it intends to encrypt. Gpcode writes the encrypted data from the original file data to this new file, and then deletes the original file.

It's known that it is possible to restore a deleted file as long as the data on disk has not been significantly modified. This is why, right from the beginning, we recommended users not to reboot their computers, but to contact us instead. We told users who contacted us to use a range of utilities to restore deleted files from disk. Unfortunately, nearly all the available utilties are shareware – we wanted to offer an effective, accessible utility that could help restore files that had been deleted by Gpcode.

What did we settle on? An excellent free utility called PhotoRec, which was created by Christophe Grenier and which is distributed under General Public License (GPL).

The official PhotoRec utility site is here.

I'm in agreement with Bruce Schneier:

The single most important thing any company or individual can do to improve security is have a good backup strategy. It's been true for decades, and it's still true today.

To add to that, I'd say that what's really important is being able to restore from your backup.

Can a dead AC kill your PC?

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

I feel for Dwight Silverman:

Since Sunday night, the compressor for the central air conditioning system at my swankienda has been out. You don't want to be without AC in Houston in June, particularly in a three-story townhouse with inadequate cross-ventilation.

Since the compressor died, it's been hotter in my house than it is outside, even with all the windows open. How bad is it? Well, when I went to sleep here on Monday night, it was in the mid-80s outside and 92 in my third-story bedroom, and very humid, of course.

But it's not just the carbon-based inhabitants of the swankienda that Dwight is worried about:

While I, my family and my cats are uncomfortable, I was really worried about my computers. Electronics can be damaged by heat, which is why server rooms are kept icy cold. I've never really investigated just how long consumer desktops and notebooks can handle Houston-style heat and humidity before they're damaged, so I called up the folks at The Computer Hospital and asked some questions.

Senior technician Brandon Dickerson told me that, basically, I didn't have much to worry about.

In my experience you can happily run a PC in temperatures of +100 Fahrenheit (38°C) as long as the PC has ample airflow going through it to prevent hotspots forming and vital components aren't coated in liberal layers of dust. As a rule, PCs handle high temperatures very well ...

But to use a phrase coined by Scott Adams - BOCTAOE - But Of Course There Are Obvious Exceptions. Specifically, I've seen hard drives that were worked hard during hot summer days in hot rooms start to fail randomly and cause errors (sometimes the drives come back to normal, other times not ...). I've also seen several cases of capacitors failing on motherboards and graphics cards. Again, these issues come down ultimately to not enough air flowing through the system, but it can be darn hard to detect a hotspot building up inside a PC without the use of thermometers (an IR thermometer, or a thermocouple, not mercury one!!!).

Think cool thoughts Dwight!

Securely wiping the iPhone

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

With the upcoming appearance of the iPhone 3G, a lot of people will be getting ready to get rid of their old iPhone and replace it with a shiny new one.

But how do you make sure that you're not handing your data over to the next owner?

Nuclear Elephant has the answer:

Since my posts regarding the iPhone restore mode being insufficient for wiping data (and Apple's own refurbishing process also being insufficient), many have emailed me asking for instructions on how to properly wipe personal data off of the iPhone. I've been very quiet about how to properly lift data in a forensic manner, as my goal is to avoid seeing a bunch of evidence erasers pop up in the wild (I've already been approached by Symantec about this). What I will share, however, is the way in which I wipe my own devices before I resell them, which I believe the consumer has a right to do. Mind you, I make no guarantees about this and accept no responsibility for you hosing your iPhone. This is what works for me.

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The entire process takes a considerable amount of time - perhaps an hour or two if you get good at it. It's not something anyone is going to be able to pull off if they hear sirens approaching, and so essentially this is only useful for legitimate consumers selling their devices. I'd also recommend wiping any devices you might happen to purchase, to prevent someone else's incriminating evidence from haunting you should the device ever be examined. What doesn't work is simply filling your device with music. For one thing, there is a significant amount of deleted data sitting in live files, so you'd need to restore first. Secondly, as with all Unix systems, the iPhone reserves a certain amount of space on the disk, so even if you were to cat /dev/zero > /private/var/tempfile, it will fail out before the disk is entirely full. This method overwrites the raw device, which is much more effective. Because the root file system ceases to exist when the operation is complete, this will ultimately just hang, and your iPhone will become non-responsive until you force it into recovery mode. Ideally, this would work a lot better if a special ramdisk was created for wiping purposes. I personally just hex-edited iLiberty's.