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October 31st, 2011

$50,000 to solve a few puzzles for the DoD?

I’m 38 years old, lived my first 33 years in the USA, read and studied amply about US government agencies over the years (especially during my ultra-paranoid conspiracy theory phase in my early 20s), and yet, until today, I had never heard of DARPA.

According to Wikipedia, however, the agency has been around a while — longer than me, in fact:  << Its original name was simply Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), but it was renamed to “DARPA” (for Defense) in March 1972, then renamed “ARPA” again in February 1993, and then renamed “DARPA” again in March 1996. >>

It sounds like an agency with multiple personality disorder, but I guess it’s essentially a branch of the Department of Defense (DoD) that focuses on technological R&D.

Why am I telling you about it? Because I know a lot of readers of this blog are sharp-minded (maybe even genius-level) non-Luddites, who can actually understand what the guys in our Virus Lab talk about when they post here… and would jump at the chance to prove their skills  (and win some money in the process). Read more…

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October 31st, 2011

Following WordPress into a Blackhole

When we looked into the recent wave of WordPress site hacks, our investigation took two separate paths: uncovering the TimThumb vulnerability and the Black Hole Toolkit used to exploit it.

Now it is time to talk more in detail about what  the Blackhole Toolkit is.

For starters, the Blackhole exploit kit is used to spreading malicious software to users through hacked legitimate sites. It was most likely made by Russia developers. The big clue for this is that operators can switch between Russia and English languages. The full version of this toolkit costs around $1500 on the black market. However, bargain hunters  can find a stripped down version for the  free online.

But, much more important than acquiring Blackhole is finding out how to get rid of it. More precisely, simply finding out if you have been infected. So, how can website owner recognize that his page was infected and has been blocked by an antivirus program because it is being misused as a redirector to site with Blackhole exploit kit? And how do they compromise your site?

Read more…

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October 25th, 2011

Happy 15th Anniversary to Download.com

Launched in 1996, Download.com is the leading (and safest) download portal for software of all types. The portal has been offering our avast! Free Antivirus for 10 of those 15 years, so we would like to say CONGRATULATIONS, and we look forward to the future. ;)

AVAST Brand Manager Miroslav Jirku says, “Download.com is definitely an important distribution channel for us, because it’s well known in the USA. avast! Free Antivirus is Download.com’s 2nd most-downloaded software for 2011, which is really a great success for the whole avast! team.”

Indeed, in addition to being its 2nd most-downloaded software of 2011, avast! Free Antivirus is also Download.com’s 5th most-downloaded software program of all time.

Read more…

October 25th, 2011

Computer girls make a comeback

In much of the 20th century, women’s professional careers were largely limited to teaching, nursing or secretarial work. But from the 1940s through the 1960s, a blip occurred that has stirred the interest of workplace researchers and college career counselors. As the computer age was born, women were a driving force, and in fact, the very first programmers were women.

The Computer Girls article from Cosmo 1967

The Computer Girls, Cosmopolitan Magazine

Nathan Ensmenger, an “information revolution” historian and professor at the University of Texas at Austin, unearthed an article from the April 1967 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine called The Computer Girls. The article described a career in computer programming as offering better job opportunities for women than many other professional careers. “It’s just like planning a dinner,” Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, herself a computer science pioneer and original coiner of the term “debugging”, explained to Cosmopolitan readers. “You have to plan ahead and schedule everything so it’s ready when you need it. Programming requires patience and the ability to handle detail. Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming.” Read more…

October 19th, 2011

The last frontier – Infected…

I’m not sure if I mentioned this already, but my wife went for a week-long holiday with friends last Friday therefore I’m quite busy babysitting this week, taking care of the kids and household, and, not surprisingly, running out of steam. That is my excuse for just having a very short post today.  But back to the subject:

Do you know what is the ultimate irony in the life of a virus analyst?

This is when he needs some books about coding (actually, a book on subject “language of math”) and the special online shop that deals with this kind of literature is itself infected…   The bug name is “VBS:Obfuscated-gen” and because the site is still infected, I won’t disclose its name. Who knows.  You might get tempted to go look around the site for some math or coding literature.

… and Michal (the victim) thank you for the tip ;)

October 19th, 2011

Not a Luddite – I just think old stuff is rad

The recent passing of Steve Jobs prompted several conversations in the office, or at least in the Marketing/PR department, about old technologies and how/where they’ve gone. We’re amazed if/when we stumble onto a computer with an old floppy-disk drive nowadays, but in 2006 when I moved to Prague I actually brought a few old 3.5″ disks with me, as they had some stuff on them that I’d not yet saved elsewhere. I remember that by 2009 I had a difficult time finding anyone – even among my IT friends – who had a floppy drive, and fortunately I was able to find one at Anglo-American University Library, where my librarian friends were kind enough to let me use it, to at least save everything to an external USB drive.

In spirit, I could be like Henry David Thoreau, living out my days reading and writing by lamplight in an old cabin in the woods (not at Walden Pond, but somewhere in neighboring Slovakia’s High Tatra Mountains), with no electricity or plumbing. But I really do like electronic gadgets, even though I may be many years behind the mainstream in terms of adoption – i.e., I’ve still never played with a smartphone or a GPS device, and foursquare is to me a game I played in elementary school.

Dream state

What I would rather play with is my ’81 Gibson Les Paul through an old tube amplifier… making it louder until the volume knob is around 7… and then dialing in that sweet distortion one finds between 7 and 10 (at least on my little ‘60s Epiphone amp) and playing until sunrise, until my fingers start to bleed. Read more…

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October 18th, 2011

Are you avast! Free antivirus users? Here is your bottle of champagne.

The first company I worked at was called “CPC”.  Our product portfolio was excellent and the CPC acronym had some historical meaning but we all knew the real meaning was “Charts Producing Company”.  We were making presentations and preparing for presentations all the time.  As I said, the company portfolio was excellent so I didn’t really mind.  Plus it was the first job.  And, I can also say that I have learned something useful there too:  If you present to any audience, it greatly helps if the audience is not sleeping.  I know this is not a profound bit of wisdom, but it really works!

Read more…

October 18th, 2011

Back to the Future?

I bet most of you have seen the ‘80s Back to the Future trilogy.  Back then it had great special effects, hi-tech equipment, impressive cars and tricks, but there was also a great theme in which the main hero goes back to the past…

You might be wondering how does it relate to avast! antivirus? Well all of us have a bit of nostalgia for the past, a time when we didn’t use PCs and there were no viruses. :)

So, the other day I asked my colleagues in our marketing/PR department: do you remember your first PC or the first virus you caught?

I was surprised what kind of discussion it has opened and how excited everyone was about it. So here we go (in alphabetical order):

Jason – Copywriter

First pseudo-computer I owned was Atari 2600 (circa 1984-5).

First real computer I ever used (at school): Commodore 64 (circa 1986-7) with a cassette-tape drive.

First real computer I actually owned was an HP desktop I bought in 1997 (with Windows 95 and McAfee antivirus (avast! engine!!)). I had it until 2002, when I upgraded to a Gateway desktop with Windows XP, which I think came with Symantec/Norton(?)… which I did not renew, instead using free antivirus software (ZoneAlarm, AVG, avast!) from then on.

Milos – Marketing Director

I was a poor kid from a poor village.  No computers.  Just socialism.  Left and right… everywhere you looked. Firsthand experience was the computer lab at school when I lived for a while in Modesto, California, in 1992/1993.   PC,  Macs and – listen carefully – Amiga.

I hated Mac because the only way to get the floppy disk out was through the software-eject button.  So when it crashed – and it was crashing all the time – your disk was in there and impossible to get out.

The PC on the other hand was excellent.  Crashed equally as often as the Mac, but there was a miracle hardware button, and when you pushed it the disk was out!  Lovely.

And of course the Amiga… I learned how to animate and draw on it.  It was THE computer for graphics!

Read more…

October 17th, 2011

Up-to-date. Or not?

“AVAST virus database has been updated” is probably the most recognizable part of avast! antivirus for most users.  It is common knowledge that having up-to-date security is important.  Actually having any software up-to-date is important.  Installing the updates and patches can prevent new vulnerability exploits from happening and is as important as having good antivirus installed.   Obvious, isn’t it?  Well, not quite as this statistic shows.

Read more…

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October 14th, 2011

In Praise of Cupcakes

From a box or from scratch, they’re easy to make
Just mix up the batter and put in to bake

A personal treat, no sharing required
In frosting, sprinkles or candies attired

Peel back the paper of each yummy delight
And devour it all in three or four bites

I praise thee, Oh Cupcake, you make my heart flutter
A heavenly mixture: Flour, sugar and butter

Whimsical cupcakes are a trendy product and hugely popular in the US these days.  Maybe it’s because cupcakes are the perfect guilt-free dessert:  Single-serving sized so there is no need to feel guilty about not sharing and just small enough so there is no need to feel guilty about eating the whole thing either. Every town has a cupcake shop or two, cupcakes are featured in movies (the main character in Bridesmaids was a cupcake artist), and there are at least three TV shows dedicated to making cupcakes, one amusingly called Cupcake Wars.

There are many websites about cupcakes as well, and that’s where the delightful cupcake’s image gets tainted. In the past few days, the AVAST Virus Lab research has identified at least five websites and blogs about cooking which are infected with Trojans, malicious script tags, encrypted redirectors, and other types of malware. Read more…

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