Prevent Ransomware: Update Java NOW

Whether you have a Mac or are running Windows or Linux on your PC, you should update java immediately. Read on to find out why…

Sure. We’ve all had spyware. Ads, popups. Annoying.

But what about having control of your computer taken from you by malicious hackers… and then being forced to pay a ransom to get it back?

Kinda makes a pop-up ad seem like a welcome annoyance by comparison, doesn’t it?

Prevent Ransomware: Images courtesy of redjar and MC4 Army via Flickr

This type of modern cybercrime attack is known as ransomware. And although it isn’t really new, it hasn’t been seen in the wild nearly as its annoying cousins. As it has evolved, ransomware has grown in its complexity, not to mention in the compelling nature of the demands being made by its creators. Some of the more sophisticated versions involve threats to report you to the police for your illegal downloads (you can use your imagination here) if you don’t pay, and even official-looking “fines” that appear to be messages from law enforcement.

Why This Is Urgent

Recently, a vulnerability in Java was identified. Java runs on virtually every PC (Windows, Mac and Linux) and a substantial number of mobile and other devices as well. There are many applications that rely on Java in order to function, and it’s hard to picture a world without it. Mashable estimated the number of computers affected at 850 million.

Java is owned by Oracle, which updates the software platform from time to time in order to provide feature enhancements and to fix security vulnerabilities. The most recent vulnerability to be discovered actually allows hackers to take control of your computer and download ransomware to it, not to mention the other exploits they develop.

Chances are really good that your computer is running some version of Java 7. Any version of Java 7 other than the just-released “Update 11” contains this vulnerability and should be patched right away. Without patching it, you run the risk of a “drive-by” download of ransomware (or some other bad-behaving software). Often this happens without your knowledge.

This vulnerability was discovered and publicized on January 10th by a blogger named Kafeine. Until it was patched, the only option available to prevent exploits was to uninstall Java from your computer and/or disable it in your web browser.

Thankfully, Oracle announced today that the vulnerability has been patched with the release of Java 7 Update 11. All users are advised to download and install this version right awayMost users only need the version labeled “JRE” as the “JDK” version is primarily only necessary for software developers.

The following tweet went out from Oracle’s official “Java” account at 4:43PM Eastern:

Once again, my recommendation is that you download and install Java 7 Update 11 (the JRE version) right now.

P.S. If you are reading this because you have a computer that is locked up with ransomware, don’t pay the ransom. Use one of the many available tools to remove it. Here’s a good place to start for free.

SOPA and Your Right to Free Speech

Note: This post was originally published on the Nourish The Dream blog.

SOPA: Are You Prepared To Be Silenced?

Here at Nourish The Dream, we are incredibly passionate about the success of small businesses and entrepreneurs. We work tirelessly to produce events and resources that will help “nourish the dream” of business ownership and success in the lives of people. And that’s why we feel it’s important to bring SOPA (and its evil twin: PIPA) to your attention.

Depending upon when you read this, the links above may not be working. That’s because Wikipedia is “going dark” for the very first time (at least for its English version) in its history in order to protest this outrageous piece of legislation.

Why Sound the Alarm?

On the surface, the idea behind these bills is honorable and even noble: to stop the illegal downloading & sharing of content protected by copyright. The biggest beneficiaries of this action are relatively obvious: record labels, movie studios and others who create content which is ordinarily sold but which is being pirated (something which, I would like to note, is already illegal).

The egregious nature of the legislation comes not from its ostensible purpose but from its far-reaching, dangerous implications. Specifically, as the legislation is currently drafted, it gives incredible powers of internet censorship to the US courts. Further, it places ridiculous demands upon search engines to no longer provide links to sites which are accused of violating copyrights.

Picture a world where Google is required to police its search results at any given moment for links to websites which have not been proven to be guilty of violating copyrights. Picture a world where your small business website can be shut down at will by anyone willing to throw out a complaint.

In short: the legislation as drafted violates the free speech rights of US citizens via censorship without due process of law.

What About Piracy?

First let me say that we make our living creating content and enjoying the wonderful protection of copyright law. Without copyrights, it would be very difficult for our parent organization to recognize revenue from the training products it creates. Similarly, here at Nourish The Dream, we value very highly the ability for us to create and distribute CDs, MP3s and (soon) DVDs of materials to empower, train & equip the business owners and entrepreneurs we exist to serve… and to, in turn, achieve revenue from those sales to fuel our mission and to give us the ability to create new & better products as we go.

It is therefore of no small significance to us that there be appropriate tools in the hands of legislators and law enforcement agencies to go after piracy and shut it down where possible. We fully understand that no retailer would leave their shop doors unlocked at night with no one watching. There are evil people in the world, and the “honor system” doesn’t always pan out well in the end. Hence the need for proper protections for those who create items of value.

All of that said, SOPA & PIPA do not place appropriate powers in the hands of the right parties to solve the issues they purport to address. Rather, they place undue power in the hands of a few while effectively crippling the business model of many valuable companies who contribute to an open, free (as in speech) internet.

Looking for something to do about it? Visit AmericanCensorship.org or sign this petition on WhiteHouse.gov.

Civic Fundraising and the Blue Light Special

Tough economic times wreak havoc with the law of unintended consequences.

Time to Pay Your Road Usage Tax!

After noticing what seemed like a significant increase in the number of traffic stops lately in and around the Sarasota area, I decided to do a little research. After all, maybe it’s just me. And even though I haven’t been pulled over myself, it seems like more and more often I’m hearing in random conversations about people getting pulled over.

It turns out that in the midst of a statewide budget crunch, lawmakers in the State of Florida are expecting an extra $32.5 Million in 2009 thanks to increased traffic fines.

Great.

So… tourism is down. The housing market is in the toilet. Business is suffering. Here’s a thought: let’s extract it from the taxpayers without calling it a tax.

So… State and local governments do what they’re incentivized to do: adjust their levels of roadside fundraising.

Is there a conspiracy to do this? Probably not. But who needs a conspiracy? There’s a wide-open fundraising channel that appears to be underutilized. Every municipality and county that is getting squeezed will naturally gravitate towards it.

So this brings up a fundamental question:

Is speeding a public safety issue or isn’t it?

After all, if all of us decided tomorrow that it really represented such a fantastic risk to our well-being and we decided to stop speeding, public safety officials would be thrilled, right?

Wrong. Your driving behavior helps make up for budget shortfalls.

As with all other “sin” taxes, what we forget is that we, the people, have put ourselves in the speeding business. We are now, as a society, financially dependent–at least partially–on something that is supposed to be a danger to us all.

But of course we don’t really believe it’s dangerous. Sure… the testosterone-crazed teenage male with a freshly-minted driver’s license flying through a school zone at 100 mph is dangerous. And naturally, they take his license and lock him up.

But the soccer Mom who’s not paying attention to her speedometer as she races from one place to another… is she really a public safety hazard? Probably not.

But she’s a great target for a fundraising effort… one that makes her feel stupid and ashamed. One that carries a gun. One that distracts law enforcement officers from fighting crime and turns them into monkey grinders.

And, as unintended consequences do, this one multiplies. Now we have multiple law enforcement officers gathering in one place to pull over the drivers who don’t move over while their colleagues are performing their sideshow.

And of course, this fundraising activity is dangerous… not because the State has decided that speeding drivers are a scourge that must be stopped, but because the State has chosen to keep its law enforcement officers in harm’s way to extract additional money from the drivers.

You might call me a cynic.

But I remember owning a 1974 Chevrolet Caprice Classic. It was already an “antique” (as automobiles go) when I bought it, mind you. But that car had something unique that the 1973 model did not have: a catalytic converter. Why? Because someone, somewhere decided that automobiles were creating too much pollution. So the Federal government mandated these devices to reduce pollution. Simple solution to a problem that was harmful to society. Require the automakers to put a device on the cars to reduce the problem.

When was the governor invented?

I rest my case.

So… if the State of Florida (and the local counties and municipalities) want to tax drivers whose speeds creep up, fine. But let’s call it what it is: a road tax. Let’s kill this whole “public safety” charade. What a joke.

It’ll probably make the officers who really are concerned about your safety on the roads feel a lot better about their jobs. After all, the people they report to are certainly incentivized to keep you driving “dangerously.”