Mike Thoene

Archive for February, 2010

FBI to investigate the school who uses laptop webcams to spy on students

by on Feb.19, 2010, under Security

Yesterday I reported how a school in the Lower Merion High School district in Pennsylvania was using web cams on laptops to spy on some of their students. Well, an FBI official spoke to The Associated Press confirmed that they will be opening up this case and giving it a full criminal investigation.

Students who were given the laptops in the school district were given computers that had their web cams remotely activated whenever the schools administrators thought it was time to do so, and apparently this type of event has been going on for the past 14 months but wasn’t really brought to light until a student, Blake Robbins, was punished in school for “improper behavior in his home.” Normally this would be something that might be pushed aside as just an overly strict school, but because the Vice Principal provided a photo of the matter as evidence, he pretty much dug his own grave.

According to Boing Boing, a class action law suit has been filed against the school on behalf of all students issued the laptops.

The school is fighting back with this response to the reports stating that “the security feature was installed to help locate a laptop in the event it was report lost, missing or stolen so that the laptop could be returned to the student.” They claim that they have never once used it to spy on students, and frankly I don’t believe that because why would it have been activated unless it was reported missing? Just for fun? Apparently the web cams have been activated 42 times to find missing laptops in the past 14 months.

To wrap things up, Dr. Christopher McGinley, Superintendent at the Lower Merion School District also said the school was sorry for its actions. “We regret if this situation has caused any concern or inconvenience among our students and families,” he said.

I don’t think saying sorry will cover up this one, Doctor. You are definitely no Tiger Woods.

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Microsoft rep shows up Bing Maps, stunning augmentation

by on Feb.19, 2010, under Microsoft

Microsoft’s Blaise Aguera y Arcas demonstrated some stunning augmented reality integration inside of Bing Maps at the (Technology Entertainment DesignTED conference last week.

Blaise Aguera y Arcas worked on the Seadragon technology at Microsoft which is designed to retrieve large amounts of data using a fast, seamless, zoom based interface. The technology has since been used to power Microsoft’s 3D photo application Photosynth which was popularized during President Obama’s inauguration event. Microsoft has also used Seadragon technology in applications like Pivot.

Blaise’s talk at TED 2010 last week was met with great applause and excitement from the audience. The Microsoft worker demonstrated stunning integration of augmented reality maps. Blaise demonstrated real-time processing of video taken with a smart phone inside street-view type maps. The demo included a live video overlaid on static images of a market inside of Bing Maps. Photosynth and Worldwide telescope integration was also demonstrated as part of the Bing Maps showcase. Although the features are not widely available yet it provides a glimpse of what Microsoft is currently working on.

Thanks again, Neowin.

All in all, I’d say this is definitely going to give Google a run for it’s money. This is simply brilliant. The work put into this is so perfectly done and I can’t wait to have them open it up to the rest of the world. The way they showed the Pike’s Place Fish Market and the guys in their world famous orange suits, and LIVE to boot. It is fantastic that this is the type of technology we are getting into right now. We really are going to have cameras inside stores. Soon we will be able to map out our shopping trip, “Turn left at Aisle 3, right  down the main aisle..”

Magnificent.

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If you have kids who use your computer, please read this!

by on Feb.19, 2010, under Technology

So often, and I mean so often a friendly customer of mine will ask me what could have caused their computer to become surprisingly slow all of the sudden. Some of the times I can tell them that a virus was lying dorment waiting for a particular thing to happen that would spring up this random occurence of slowness. But then again some times I simply ask, “Do you have kids?”

Kids tend to not really know what they are doing when it comes to computers. Sure they are pretty good with them these days and they can probably figure out things faster than most adults, but lot’s of times they just don’t read anything, or maybe they just can’t read well enough to know what they are getting themselves in to.

It’s hard to say how much a kid really knows about computers and technology. With all of the things that they are being taught early in their career of schooling, who knows, right? For the most part they know nothing, they just zip through things really fast without ever seeing a certain window like that, thinking that there will be absolutely 100% no consequence for their action. If they get it right once, they will be the master of the computer and will know absolutely everything there is to know about it, guaranteed.

So that means that when they screw up, it can’t be their fault! Then I get the call. I don’t mind cleaning up after a child’s silly mistake, normally it isn’t anything too crazy or anything too bad. But the fact of the matter is that the kid just doesn’t really know what they are doing, and some programs can install a whole bunch of junk that we simply don’t want to look at it. If your browser looks anything at all like the one on the left, then you know exactly what I am talking about, and quite frankly, I have no idea how you even found my blog. All of those tool bars can be installed in a ninja-like fashion that can get around even the most keen of software installers, they ask to be installed when installing things like Java or Flash, or other applications, even the renowned CCLeaner asks if you would like to install a Yahoo!’s Toolbar.

Toolbar’s are never really a problem too great to remove, sometimes they just take a decent amount of time which can get pretty obnoxious for most people if they just want to get on their computer and get things done. That’s what I am around for! I don’t mind removing toolbars or cleaning up your desktop or getting rid of the thousands of icons that always lurk in your computer’s systems tray (that little area near the clock). These little things could end up having some pretty malicious programs in them, and if you aren’t sure what exactly they are, then you should probably inform your local computer guru about it, he will know the answer and know exactly what is bad and what is okay for you to have on your computer.

You never really know so it is better to be safe than sorry, in the long run it will be better to pay $60 for an overnight computer tune-up, then to pay $1,200 for a brand new computer that will probably just become messed up again for the exact same reason a month later because your child didn’t know what caused the problem in the first place, and neither did you. So it’s good to learn about your problem before finding a replacement so you know what to avoid the next time around.

To clarify my point: Kids screw things up. They probably have spilt milk all over the floor within the last week, luckily it hasn’t been on your computer. Now that would have been something that would be tough to fix! Just relax and know that it is repairable, just like your now clean kitchen floor is. In the end if it really is your little boy or girls fault, it might be a good reason to tell them that they can’t have that slice of cake after dinner.

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A rootkit has been confirmed to cause all of this Windows XP BSOD madness

by on Feb.18, 2010, under Microsoft, Security

Last week, Microsoft issued an update for Windows XP that made them suddenly get the Blue Screen of Death each and every time you tried to boot up. Microsoft had to try pretty hard to figure out what the problem was, and they found out that it wasn’t technically the patch they put out, but it was some malware that was already inside of thousands of users computers!

Windows XP users who were already infected with the Alureon rootkit would be the ones who experienced these crashes, but only after the update from Microsoft was applied.

Microsoft’s Mike Reavey writes on its TechNet blog:

We wanted to provide you with an update on our ongoing investigation into the “blue screen” issues affecting a limited number of customers who installed MS10-015.  We have been working around the clock with our customers, partners and several teams at Microsoft to determine the cause of these issues.  Our investigation has concluded that the reboot occurs because the system is infected with malware, specifically the Alureon rootkit.  We were able to reach this conclusion after the comprehensive analysis of memory dumps obtained from multiple customer machines and extensive testing against third party applications and software.  The restarts are the result of modifications the Alureon rootkit makes to Windows Kernel binaries, which places these systems in an unstable state.  In every investigated incident, we have not found quality issues with security update MS10-015.  Our guidance remains the same: customers should continue to deploy this month’s security updates and make sure their systems are up-to-date with the latest anti-virus software.

Check out Sophos Anti-Virus for removal of the rootkit, or Contact Me if you are in the Naperville area and you aren’t sure what exactly to do.

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Well har-d-har.. Windows 7 maxes out RAM pretty fast, then chokes

by on Feb.18, 2010, under Windows 7

When I pay the money to drop at least 6GB of RAM into my system, I want it all to be put to use. Compared to Windows XP, both Windows Vista and Windows 7 make more active use of system memory. But according to Devil Mountain Software’s community-based Exo.performance.network (XPnet) CTO, Craig Barth, that sort of RAM management results in undesirable performance.

According to the Computerworld report, XPnet found that 40 percent of its Windows XP machines ran into low-memory situations, while 86 percent of its Windows 7 machines are regularly consuming 90 percent to 95 percent of their available RAM.

Barth said that the hungry RAM consumption of Windows 7 result in slow-downs. “The vast majority of Windows 7 machines over the last several months are very heavily-memory saturated,” he said. “From a performance standpoint, that has an immediate impact on the machine.”

“This is alarming,” Barth said of Windows 7 machines’ resource consumption. “For the OS to be pushing the hardware limits this quickly is amazing. Windows 7 is not the lean, mean version of Vista that you may think it is.”

Alarming findings aside, XPnet observed that Windows 7 PCs sport an average of 3.3GB of RAM, compared to 1.7GB for Windows XP and 2.7GB for Windows Vista machines.

We recall that the design of Windows Vista (and by extension, Windows 7) has it consuming more RAM for practical, useful purposes rather than letting it sit idle. Nevertheless, we have contacted Microsoft for an official answer to this memory issue. More to come.

I wouldn’t nesasarily call this a bad thing, it just means that people are beefing up their computers much faster than Microsoft expected, and now that a report such as this has hit the surface maybe the guys in Redmond will do something about it and push out a major update. Maybe something along the lines of Service Pack 1? I know it may seem a little early to pull the SP card but there seems to be certain bugs that need a fixin’. Rest assured Windows 7 is lean and mean, it just isn’t what people thought it would be.

Stills kicks Vista’s ass, though.

Source : Tom’s Hardware US

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