My Thoughts On IT…

Brian Lewis's Thoughts on all things Information Technology related

June 14—Time to update your PCs…

Tuesday, June 14, Microsoft will issue 16 security bulletins through the regularly scheduled monthly release cycle to address nine Critical vulnerabilities and seven Important vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows, Office, Internet Explorer (IE), .NET, SQL, Visual Studio, Silverlight, and Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server. Additionally, the company will release statistics on the decline in Autorun-related malware infections. 

The clock is ticking so install your patches today and stay “clean”!!!

clip_image002Microsoft Virtual Academy

At MMS we launched the Microsoft Virtual Academy (www.MicrosoftVirtualAcademy.com).  This training portal offers quick and easy access to presentations, webcasts, whitepapers and other technical content about Microsoft’s Cloud technologies.  It is free and you learn at your own pace while earning awards and recognitions for answering evaluation questions, while connecting with thousands of other IT Pros.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

I previously wrote about the weak passwords most people choose to use. See http://mythoughtsonit.com/?p=279 for a refresher.

There are all kinds of attacks against our passwords. From shoulder surfing to keystroke logging to rainbow tables. What we had going for us is that a brute force attack where a computer guessed all possible combinations of possible passwords took years. Well that timeframe has been greatly shortened with the use of your video cards GPU. GPUs are optimized for mathematics. This gives us some very realistic video in games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The GPUs have been getting faster and faster which means better video in game play. It also means that when these processors are used for other tasks such as offline password cracking they do it very fast.

A scary example, from a ZDnet article, illustrates how much this speeds up cracking a password:

Take a password consisting of seven characters, mixed-case/symbols random password like ‘F6&B is’ (note the space), that’s gotta be tough for a bruteforce attack. Right? A CPU will take some 75 days to churn through the possibilities, while a GPU is done with it in 7 hours.

What took 75 days is now only 7 hours – yikes! It is a known issue that short passwords were going to become easy to break as machines get faster and faster. It is just happening faster than previously thought. You may want to move to random 15 character passwords sooner rather than later.

Here is the full ZDnet article: “Cheap GPUs are rendering strong passwords useless”
http://www.zdnet.com/blog/hardware/cheap-gpus-are-rendering-strong-passwords-useless/13125?alertspromo=&tag=nl.rSINGLE

Microsoft has just made a standalone version of System Sweeper available. This tool is similar to the rescue CD tools I blogged about yesterday. Microsoft’s is also Free.

This tool is a malware recovery tool that boots from a CD or USB stick.

The tool, currently in beta, is called Microsoft Standalone System Sweeper, and promises to help start an infected PC and perform an offline scan to help identify and remove rootkits and other advanced malware. You can download it here: http://connect.microsoft.com/systemsweeper

It is available for both 32-but and 64-bit Windows systems and uses the same antivirus engine as Microsoft Security Essentials. Both versions first download a 576k wizard that builds the CD or USB boot stick. The wizard downloads about another 200 meg to create the boot CD, USB boot stick, or ISO.

Here are the screenshots of the wizard running. Click on them for a larger view.

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sick-computerInfected machines are not a prevalent as you might think. Estimates are that it is under one percent of all connected Windows Machines are infected with worms and viruses. If you have a machine that you think has a problem then a Rescue CD is what you need. These are tools that enable you to boot up your machine from a CD or USB key and check for Rootkits, Spyware, Viruses, and worms.

Here are a two free ones that will help you remove the nastier Root-kits & Trojans:
(Download the ISO file and burn a CD. Then boot your system off of the CD)

Another option that I like is the Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset. It is a for charge product that is a core component of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack for Software Assurance. It helps IT teams make PCs safer to use, keeps employees productive, and enables desktops that are easier and less expensive to manage. Administrators can easily recover PCs that have become unusable, rapidly diagnose probable causes of issues, and quickly repair unbootable or locked-out systems, all faster than the average time it takes to reimage the machine. When necessary, you can also quickly restore critical lost files. I have a previous blog entry on how to get your hand on this with a TechNet or MSDN subscription. You can also get it off of your volume licensing download site. 
http://mythoughtsonit.com/?s=dart

win_logoIn various presentations I have done in the past 6 months I have been asked what I could tell about “Windows 8” or “Windows vNext”. My answer was a tongue and cheek “I have never heard of it”. Well as of today, June 1st 2011, I have heard of Windows 8 and you can too!

Check out the “Windows 8" press release is here: http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2011/jun11/06-01corporatenews.aspx

Make sure to watch the Video in the above press release! It is also on Youtube here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p92QfWOw88I

If you want to know more about “Windows 8” you should attend the developer conference that will be held in Anaheim California from September 13th – 16th. It is called “BUILD”. You can find out more and sign up for the conference at the website:  http://www.buildwindows.com/

I hope you agree… This is getting exciting!

win_logoIn various presentations I have done in the past 6 months I have been asked what I could tell about “Windows 8” or “Windows vNext”. My answer was a tongue and cheek “I have never heard of it”. Well as of today, June 1st 2011, I have heard of Windows 8 and you can too!

Check out the “Windows 8" press release is here: http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2011/jun11/06-01corporatenews.aspx

Make sure to watch the Video in the above press release! It is also on Youtube here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p92QfWOw88I

If you want to know more about “Windows 8” you should attend the developer conference that will be held in Anaheim California from September 13th – 16th. It is called “BUILD”. You can find out more and sign up for the conference at the website:  http://www.buildwindows.com/

I hope you agree… This is getting exciting!

imageMAP 6.0 Beta
The Solution Accelerators team just announced that the Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit 6.0 Beta is available for download. This is the latest version of our free planning tool.

This next release of the Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit—version 6.0 Beta—includes assessment capabilities to evaluate workloads for both public and private cloud platforms. With MAP 6.0 Beta, you now haveT the ability to identify workloads and estimate the infrastructure size and resources needed for both Windows Azure and Hyper-V Fast Track. MAP 6.0 continues to have all of the assessment tools that version 5 had. So you can evaluate your hardware readiness for running Windows 7 or Office 2010. It also has the capability to do a software inventory so you know what you have in your environment. Other new features to MAP 6.0 Beta is the Office 365 client assessment, enhanced VMware inventory, and Oracle schema discovery and reporting. Expanded assessment and discovery capabilities from MAP help you streamline planning for your next migration project. Plan what’s next with MAP.

Join the MAP 6.0 Beta: Join the beta review program for MAP Toolkit 6.0. We’d like your feedback too. Visit Microsoft Connect to download the beta materials. http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=219168

Tell us what you think! Test drive our beta release, and send us your constructive feedback. Send your feedback and questions to the MAP Development Team. We value your input; this is the perfect opportunity to be heard. MAP 6.0 will be available for beta download through mid-July 2011.

The Current Version of Map (Map 5.5) is available here:
http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/en/details.aspx?FamilyID=67240b76-3148-4e49-943d-4d9ea7f77730&displaylang=en

MAP 5.5 Documentation and how to videos are here:
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/solutionaccelerators/dd537566.aspx

asus-ux-smallIntel has announced a new class of PC dubbed the “Ultrabook”. This is a thin and light notebook that is fully powered. Ok, so what is the difference between these and the current thin notebooks like the Samsung Series 9? (Which I really want BTW) The difference is that Intel has created the specification and chipsets to go with it. The have a 22nm Ivy Bridge 2nd generation Intel Core processor for this package. This will allow the system to be packaged into a shell less than 20mm (0.8 inch) thick, and sell for under $1,000. The Ultrabooks will also incorporate tablet features. I am not sure what “tablet like” features are but I would expect it to mean touch enabled on the screen and instant from a sleep mode. One of the first Ultrabooks available will be the Asus UX21 Ultrabook (pictured above) which is 17mm at its thickest point.

In my humble opinion, it is about time that thin and light yet capable notebooks become a focus area of the vendors and at a reasonable price. The Samsung Series 9 is a great machine but at a list price of $1649 it is out of the budget for many users. So I think these machines will fly off the shelves. Intel agrees and expects that these new Ultrabooks will account for 40 percent of consumer laptop sales by the end of next year(2012). To me this is a great development! I love to see competition at work and I am looking forward to an Ultrabook!

asus-ux-smallIntel has announced a new class of PC dubbed the “Ultrabook”. This is a thin and light notebook that is fully powered. Ok, so what is the difference between these and the current thin notebooks like the Samsung Series 9? (Which I really want BTW) The difference is that Intel has created the specification and chipsets to go with it. The have a 22nm Ivy Bridge 2nd generation Intel Core processor for this package. This will allow the system to be packaged into a shell less than 20mm (0.8 inch) thick, and sell for under $1,000. The Ultrabooks will also incorporate tablet features. I am not sure what “tablet like” features are but I would expect it to mean touch enabled on the screen and instant from a sleep mode. One of the first Ultrabooks available will be the Asus UX21 Ultrabook (pictured above) which is 17mm at its thickest point.

In my humble opinion, it is about time that thin and light yet capable notebooks become a focus area of the vendors and at a reasonable price. The Samsung Series 9 is a great machine but at a list price of $1649 it is out of the budget for many users. So I think these machines will fly off the shelves. Intel agrees and expects that these new Ultrabooks will account for 40 percent of consumer laptop sales by the end of next year(2012). To me this is a great development! I love to see competition at work and I am looking forward to an Ultrabook!