Friday, March 31, 2006

Why Your Mac Will Need Antivirus as Much as Your PC Does

In recent weeks, my work has reminded how fragile the ecosystem of our computers can be. Spyware, adware, viruses, worms, and trojans (all called malware) can all throw a computer into turmoil. It used to be just a Windows thing, and still pretty much is. Apple computers and machines running Linux would see the occasional malware, but most of them were just to prove that Linux and Mac users shouldn't get too comfortable, and were never released into the wild. Those that were enjoy little success as the *nix systems (Mac included) are inherently more secure as some actions necessary for the success of a virus require interaction from the user ie username and password as if to ask,"are you sure you want to do that?"

I'm afraid that Apple's move to Intel processors made the job of writing viruses for OS X a little bit easier. Intel makes a good processor, their (and AMD's) wild success is the main reason they can be exploited for reasons not dissimilar to the million monkeys at a million typewriters theory. Before you get too upset, let me explain myself: there are just tons of x86 compatible computers out there, and tons of people have the ability to develop software for x86-based machines. Hacking, smashing the stack, overflowing buffers, and all the other nasty tricks are just a small step beyond the scope of typical programming projects, and with the temptation of the Dark Side available to literally millions more developers, more viruses will be written for Intel and compatible architectures.

So, with this in mind, we see that many programmers already know the dirty tricks that work on x86's, and Apple will now be using x86 processors. So those dirty tricks will be arriving on your Mac's doorstep soon.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Mac Wireless/Wired Network Auditing Tools

Kismet for Mac (Kismac)

Every geek that's been around the block once or twice knows that Kismet is the Swiss Army Knife of wireless network auditing tools - not only does it act as a "stumbler," but it can perform brute-force cracks on WEP and WPA encryptions.

I haven't tried it personally as I don't have an Apple laptop (mine's a Toshiba that dual-boots between XP and Red Hat 9.2), but the reading I've done so far indicates that there is limited driver support for Wireless adapters (hmmm, that's why I don't use Kismet on my laptop, I'm too cheap to go out and buy a Prism branded Wifi adapter), but it fully supports the Airport card, and partially supports the Airport Extreme. An added bonus - the above link is to the version that supposedly is made for the Intel-based Macs.


From the creator's site: MacStumbler is a utility to display information about nearby 802.11b and 802.11g wireless access points. It is mainly designed to be a tool to help find access points while traveling, or to diagnose wireless network problems. Additionally, MacStumbler can be used for "wardriving", which involves co-ordinating with a GPS unit while traveling around to help produce a map of all access points in a given area.


Nmap is the most venerable of command-line network scannng tools. Ports are available for Windows, OS X, Linux, and likely for Atari, Comodore, and Amiga systems if you look hard enough. This tool can map networks, and map the open ports on the systems that comprise that network. As if that's not enough, it can enumerate the services running on those ports (banner grabbing), and identify the remote OS through a techniue called "fingerprinting."

Not for the faint of heart (or the feeble-minded), nmap has more options that about any command-line app that I've run across.

Friday, March 24, 2006

ISO's Agogo!

Windows XP CD Image Power Toy

This power toy is a Windows 2000/2003/XP compatible ISO recorder and burner. For those of us who don't know what that is, you can probably safely ignore this post. But for the rest of you, this tool does the work of what is sometimes fairly pricey software. It adds several options to the Windows context menu for managing disc images - either creating ISO's from the selecting folders or files, or, if one has right-clicked on an ISO, will provide the ability to burn it to a CD. For Vista users (I guess you're the earliest adopters at the time of this writing, as I've never laid eyes on it), the developer has thoughtfully included DVD burning abilities.

Free Hardware Firewall!

Well, actually, it requires its own PC with at least 2 network adapters (preferably popular name brand units as the choice of drivers is large, but finite), but that PC can be 10 years old! No, really, this is an excellent use for that old desktop computer you've been thinking of giving to Dear Aunt Sophie, she's so smart and persistent, I'm sure she'd love to get on the Internet! But really, you'd love having an IPCop more as it has a built-in firewall, proxy server, and Intrusion Detection System (IDS). It comes as an ISO, so download the afore-mentioned power toy if you're a Windows Weenie (you know who you are). If you're a Mac user, you have to use the Disk Utility app to burn it (don't worry, its easy!). If you're a Linux user, you'll likely know just what to do.

From the beginning, I loved the access to cool statistics about my web usage, the IDS logs tickled me pink, and lastly, there's a zillion add-on modules that can do everything from content filtering to time-based access control. Heck, the content filters even have the ability to update from an open-source blacklist project. Bluecoat systems typically gets $60.00/year for 5 users for that!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

As promised, Windows Application Auditing Freeware

WinAudit is a freely available app from those nice folks at Parmavex Services across the Pond in Great Britain. This nifty lil' tool will snap on a rubber glove and give your PC a very thorough examination - telling you more than you ever wanted to know about your PC. I tend to pare down the options to installed hardware, software, and sytem uptime.
Netzup is a frightfully clever app that works remotely, exploiting null connections, IPC$ shares, and the like. It can silently install applications and execute programs. Also, can also enumerate the remote PC's registries and gather a list of installed software for auditing purposes.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Free Exchange E-Mail Archiving Solution (oh, and more Mac stuff!)

Mailarchiva - a freely available, Open Source, MS Exchange compatible e-mail retention system. I haven't downloaded and installed it yet, but I will soon!

More Mac Games! has oodles of freeware games and applications - my faves being Neverball - that venerable old Linux game, and Linium, a new twist on the old game of Jezzball.

Mac Antivirus - ClamXAV
This has a simple GUI, and all of the functionality you need to keep your Mac virus free. Except for automatic scans. And on-access scanning. And automatic updates. Alright, its pretty basic, but compared to other Mac antivirus offerings, this one ROCKS. Oh, and it's free.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Free Windows Network User Accounting

Well, I've been trying to find an affordable, easy to use, Security Event Management (SEM) system for my customers, and have had absolutely zero luck. Apparantly, affordable, easy to use, and SEM only occur in the same sentence on my blog. Systems I looked into costed from around $1,000/year (this is for 10 PC's and a server) to upwards to $100,000 (I didn't look at that one for long), and seemed overwhelming to say the least. What I need is a system that does a few things:
  1. Tells me who logged onto which computer, when, and when they logged off.
  2. Tells me if somebody logged on during a time they do not typically log on, or if someone used a computer that they don't normally use.
  3. Watches a few directories on the server, and lets me know which and when files are accessed, changed, or deleted.
  4. Is simple enough to use that any Business Office Manager or Facility Admnistrator can use it.

Actually, the title of this post is my first glimmer of hope that I may be able to cobble together this solution from freeware and Open Source components.

Free Windows Network User Accounting is a PHP-based system that works on any server that has Exchange or Apache (Windows or otherwise!). The downside is that noobs will not necessarily enjoy installing PHP in their servers, which is a requirement to run this app. Next up, one will need a way to run scripts on Windows machines at logon and logoff (Hello Group Policy!). And finally, you will need to figure out how to add a new directory to your internal web server. I spent roughly three hours making this work, but it works great! My one complaint (aside from the difficulty of installation) is that the page takes a noticeable amount of time to render, but that may be due to some misconfiguration on my part, as this was the first PHP server I had set up.

Later, I'll share the FREE installed software auditing apps I've found. One works remotely, and one works locally.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

OS X Essential Web Sites

OS X was reently named by the March 2, 2006 issue of Network Computing (p. 54) that "OS X is top-of-the-heap in useability, even beating out Windows." I agree, and sometimes feel that I bear an onerous burden in supporting Windows. So let's have some fun with our Apples tonight!

This web site kinda beat me to the punch and put a lot of great open-source OS X capable applications, including music, web browsing, and a personal favorite - Democracy, which runs on Windows, too. Many of the apps that I am pointing out can also be found here.

The blog, Tao of the Mac, is a bit cerebral for most end-users, but for the techies out there, this guy is good reading.

This site has open source apps for most every platform imaginable - much like Sourceforge, this web site has lots of great multi-platform apps and games. Something for everyone! On the down side, navigating this site can be confusing, and the apps are often very technical in nature.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Yet More WinXP Gems

I was working today, and realized that there are two more tools that users shouldn't be without.


This handy app extends Windows' contextual menus to include options for creating and opening almost every kind of compressed file you can imagine. Archive types include: .arj, .zip, .tar, .tar.gz, and their very own .ice (fabulous for compressing plain-text files, I found it to be about 300% more effective).

SnadBoy's Revelation

This Win2k/XP/9x tool can reveal passwords hidden behind the stars, dots, and asterisks used by Windows. Invaluable when you forget your Outlook, Outlook Express, and dial-up passwords. I'm sure that it works with a lot of other apps, too.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Essential Freeware for Windows Users

I know that Microsoft is considered an evil empire and shouldn't have any place on a web site devoted to Open Source and Freeware, but let's face it, internal combustion is widely used although there are viable alternatives available. Most of the end users I support can't use Linux or OS X because nobody developes the kind of applications they need (office management systems and medical records systems). So, here's some essential Windows security freeware:

Windows Defender

This was MS Antispyware. I think I liked the old version better - it seemed a bit more techie, and much more stable. Beta 2 works fine on my laptop computer, but my dekstop gags on it. Admittedly, my laptop is 3 years newer than my dekstop, but they are both running WinXP and the desktop is typically very stable the rest of the time.

AVG Free

This antivirus app is for those of you who aren't computing in a networked, managed environment. Also, it is available for Windows XP and for Linux! Maybe they'll port it over to OS X soon - hint, hint. The pay version has a very nifty central management consol
e (AVGAdmin) that has uses way beyond the typical AV console - such as figuring out which users were using which workstations when.

Windows OneCare Live

Free (for now), and soon to be an incredible deal (3 PC's for $49.95 per year). Thumbs up to the ease of use and comprehensive coverage, thumbs down to the draconian firewall and poor interface and manageability.


A good Microsoft-developed registry cleaner that seems to still work (for the most part, read on, gentle reader), despite the fact that it was made for Windows 95, 98, and NT. I know it still works well in Win2k and XP SP1. XP SP2 had problems and would not run it.

It is best for fixing registry bloat - that is, removing invalid or unnecessary entries. This can speed boots and generally speeds things up. I've also had improvements in stability.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Welcome to Darnitol's Mac, Linux, and Open Source Software Blog!

My Mission: To create a blog that will help me find these freeware gems in the future, and to help all of you find these freeware gems in the first place. I hope that this will be more than a list of open source softwares, it will be a dialog, directory, and occasional sounding board about open source programs, operating systems (both open-source and commercial), and security.

Why am I qualified to accept this mission? Well, I use several PC's with several OS's - among them are Win2K3, Suse, and FreeBSD servers, and Windows XP, Mac OS X, RedHat (well, Fedora, now), and Suse desktops. Additionally, I'm a cheapskate. My friends (figuratively speaking, as I don't really know any of them) that write Open Source and freeware programs provide me with invaluable resources - typically free as in beer, although some of the open-source server offerings are free as in puppies - that I now cannot live without.

My job involves providing my hardware, software, and networking expertise to small healthcare organizations. Most of these groups depend on public funding for their survival, so they typically cannot afford the latest and greatest commercial applications and OS's. Fortunately Open-Source, Freeware, and low-cost alternatives are not only available, they are useable, and often times comparable to the commercially available apps that they mimic. So don't forget to make a donation, either of time (programmers!) or of money (the rest of us!).

Open Source and Freeware Apps - Multiple Platforms
If you can't find your platform on these guys download pages, you're way more geek than I!

IMHO, the premier office suite for the next decade! Cross platform compatibility is only a minor feature when compared to the easy to use, functional applications that come as part of this package from Sun and Friends.
  • Writer - Excellent word processor with features and useability rivaling MS Office (any version).
  • Calc - Compares well to Excel - again with the MS comparison, but they're unavoidable, aren't they?
  • Impress - MS PowerPoint, anyone?
  • Base - Similar in form and function to Access. Admittedly, I haven't played much with it, so I'll have to say more on it later.
  • Draw - nice buiness drawing system - think Visio

Mozilla Firefox

If you use a Windows OS, its become difficult to use Internet Explorer without picking spyware. If you use a Mac, IE is no longer supported. If you use Linux, well, IE is not a consideration. A while back, I found a browser to get excited about, and remain so, no matter which platform I use. All politics and prejudice aside, this is the best browser available.

Firefox has lots of useful (and useless) plugins. Oh, and its searchbar is able to use almost any search engine.

Google Earth

Sadly, this fabulous app is unavailable for anything but Mac OS X (I upgraded to Tiger jut so I could run this) and Windows. Overlooking that, this program is just fun. You are presented with a virtual Earth that can be looked at from every angle. The web site has a wonderful collection of fun and informative tools, like near-real time weather maps, and extra maps and plugins.