The Malware Scanner Lifecycle

Two_Face

You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

Malware comes and goes [mostly comes], but good malware scanners are few and far between.

Very big names have gone into this arena and come out emptyhanded; the battle to keep the computers of the world safe and infection is a three-way fight between platform builders who battle to patch mounds of buggy code, security experts who monitor for plagues and vectors, and bands of rogues who want to keep exploits secret and nefariously useful.

In the midst of the second group lies the home of the malware scanner.  Having largely supplanted the virus scanner over the last decade, malware looking to turn any given network node into a quick buck has faced off against a small army of independently produced scanning systems.

Essentially, they rely on detecting rogue software and feeding a database shared with all other users of the software.  It might be more obvious to develop a unified response (like WordPress’ Akismet spam-blocking agent) — but Microsoft has always taken a hands-off approach to security, save for a handful of years it mounted a half-hearted effort with the Windows Defender program.

Malware scanning is left to the wider market, where the story always goes like this: idealistic IT student makes malware scanner, does it for fun and donations, then slowly sells out as the software gets popular and too big to manage.  And then comes the point where you insist on receiving payment before users can remove malware.  Now your software has itself become ransomware, and rounded the circle from hero to villain.

 

A Flag for North Dakota

Copyleft C008-2015 j5mc.org.  CC-BY-SANorth Dakota’s flag got some rather unsightly changes a few years back.  The long and short of it was the switch to unheraldric blue-on-red lettering and mandatory fringing.  To this day, you can’t find a correctly proportioned 33:26 copy of the flag on store shelves, but to be honest, North Dakota’s flag hardly stands out among the 56 territories and hardly says anything besides “Hey, we’re American too!”

In the 1950s, the North Dakota National Guard stated about as plainly as possible that the North Dakota flag was properly an army unit banner.  They made a Coat of Arms of North Dakota, which they hoped would form the basis for a new state flag, but that didn’t go according to plan right away.

That doesn’t mean that it was a bad idea, though.  My design inherits the core symbolism of the Coat of Arms, on a Canadian pale, adding a nod to North Dakota’s friends and neighbours.  It also looks like a Big N, which is sure to clear up any ambiguity.  The change to green or yellow alone will pop out from the bizarre uniformity of blue state flags.

Blazon:
Vert on a Canadian pale or a bend of the first charged with three mullets of the second

Not geting the Oscars in Grand Forks, ND

ABC doesn’t get a lot of major events anymore, but the Oscars rate among the handful of key live events still held by the network.  In this neck of the woods, you’d have to get ABC affiliate WDAZ on cable, or attempt to nab it over-the-air.  Despite the fact that Grand Forks is the home city for DAZ, because its city of licence is still technically “Devils Lake”, its tower is way west of town.

The result is a weak signal that requires $70+ in antenna equipment and a clear view of the western horizon.  Or in my case, $40 in antenna equipment and 20 minutes of setup before viewing.  If only there was a way to get decent in-town reception of WDAZ.  A DTS node at the top of WDAZ’s microwave tower would do the job nicely.

While WDAZ’s minimal effort in investing in OTA viewers is disappointing, it is also unlikely that they will reap any dividends in the 2016 spectrum auction.  VHF spectrum like DAZ’s channel 8 is not all that desirable any more, as mobile devices and TV alike clamour for medium-UHF frequencies that strike a balance between small antenna size and good building penetration.

The big winner in North Dakota from the spectrum auction is likely to be the station flipper who currently owns KRDK (ex-KXJB, channel 38), which seems highly likely to shut down its minor tragedy of blank air and reruns with a big sack of cash from Verizon or Sprint.  Depending on how much of the UHF band goes up for grabs, much the same may go for KNDB and KNDM — if they can get back on the air in time for the money to fly, that is.  KCPM in Grand Forks is off the air again, BTW — after dabbling with a test pattern on 27.2.

Fixing the click of death in Western Digital Black

I like using laptop hard drives in my desktops.  Something about the lower latency.  Call it a poor-man’s Raptor, if you will.

As it happens, I bought another drive from Western Digital, the WD Black WD5000BPKT, that had a decent 5-year warranty, but one constant and annoying issue:  the onboard power-saving features create an annoying *click* more or less randomly, as the drive seems to attempt a spin-down at strange moments.

I’ve had this issue since day one with this drive, and I’m still not sure I’ve fixed it.  Here are my workarounds so far:

Automatic Disk Access

Directory Listing

No joke – the way I fixed this under Ubuntu 12.04 was to add a directory search to my crontab, scheduling a disk use before the about 4 minutes or so it would take for the disk to spin down.

sudo crontab -e

*/3 * * * * ls /home/

Random Sector Access

I tried switching from this to having the disk read from a randomly selected sector, since I was concerned all those reads from the same place were going to do stress damage of a different kind.  So I thought perhaps I could get the disk to read random sectors on the plate with something like this…

*/3 * * * * sudo dd if=/dev/sdx of=/dev/null bs=4096 skip=$(( -1 + ( disksize * $RANDOM / 65536 ) ))

the command appears to work (that is, do essentially nothing) but the clicking returned rapidly.

Power Management Settings

Under Ubuntu 14.04, neither of these options appears to work.  So I dug down under the system settings to find the disk utility, which Trusty Tahr now simply calls the “Disks” program.

j5mc-wd-black-fix

A few clicks later and I can set the disk’s APM setting to ‘254, Spin-down not permitted’,  You have to do it that way because setting the power management level to ‘255, disabled’ causes the drive to say “LOL, O RLY?” and still spin down anyway.

GNOME Evolution 3.2 e-mail database recovery

Missing e-mails?  Nothing showing up in your folder, but the “Properties” for the folder says you still have hundreds of messages in there?

If, like me, you’ve ever tried to mark 3000 messages as read all at once, you may have crashed the SQL database at the heart of Novell GNOME Evolution.  If your Inbox is suddenly “empty” — don’t worry!  Evolution is capable of rebuilding the database on its own with only a little prompting.

If this happens to you, I’d recommend making a backup before proceeding.  Use Evolution’s backup option ( File > Backup Evolution Data ) or make a tarball out of your e-mail folder [ The default location on Precise Pangolin is ~/.local/share/evolution ]

Also to keep things neat while you mess around, you ought to take Evolution offline ( File > Work Offline ).  This way, you don’t have any new messages filtering in to gum things up.

Now navigate to your Evolution folder [ in this case, the location is ~/.local/share/evolution/mail/local ] and wrench your database file.  You can delete it, but renaming will suffice.

dbwrench

Now Launch Evolution. You won’t see anything to begin with, although some of your messages may trickle in.  You’ll see a small new folders.db file reflecting the rebuild:dbrebuild

Wait a minute or two until Evolution seems like it’s finished.  You shouldn’t see too much.  Now, to really get things rolling, quit Evolution.

Your disk activity will spike as Evolution syncs with all the files still located on your computer, and folders.db will grow in size too.

dbrepopAll your messages should be restored, but e-mails previously moved to the Junk folder will now be back in your Inbox.  Sorry.

I’m still using Ubuntu Precise with Evolution 3.2, so this may be different in a newer version.

Fantasy Coverage Plots: Greyscale Edition

North Dakota Television has caught Greyscale, as it were, so here’s a fantasy coverage map moving the towers and transmitters of KXJB to Pembina, KXND to Bottineau, and KNDX to Killdeer.  Stations placed in these locations would reach Manitoba and Oil Country.  With thanks, as always, to Industry Canada.

Gruel for hipsters

After much fanfare in the nerdosphere, Soylent hit the market this month at the astounding cost of $255 per month.

Its proponents talk it up as if it were the foodstuff to end all, but Soylent is extraordinarily expensive compared to standard staples.  A 30 day supply of red beans, rice, and canola oil runs about $45 from your area bulk foods dealer or maybe $75 from the corner store.  There are an extraordinary number of ready-to-eat processed foods available in any supermarket that cost far less than $3 a meal.

Though Soylent has been painstakingly enriched to provide just enough in the vitamin department, its protein balance is lacking, escaping lysine deficiency only through brute force.  Its use of maltodextrin instead of starch is perhaps its fatal flaw, dooming the formula to its ridiculous price point.

Soylent can perhaps best be described as gruel for hipsters, its primary benefit being that it confers some element of status and edginess to the thousands-year-old experience of silting up your liquid of choice with flour for added nutrition.  Any futurologic claims about revolutionary diet magic or affordability are not supported by the available evidence.

Flags for Minnesota

Minnesota’s flag is a bit of an eyesore, ranked at the bottom of subnational entities in North America.  We can fix that!

Quick, build on these SVG versions!  minnesota_flags.zip

My concept shares a similar central element to the current flag, while being simpler and more distinctive. The North Star is represented by a golden eight-point star, similar to a compass rose.  Here, I’ve included some titling to de-emphasize the South, West, and East points.  The white ring is an element of continuity from the present flag; at a glance, at a distance, they will appear quite similar.

The way the star’s rays pierce the white is technically a violation of heraldry rules about ‘tincture’, but I think it’s distinctive enough  Titling is also generally frowned upon in proper heraldry.  A more revolutionary redesign might also axe the titling and use a less commonly-seen star, say ten points of equal weight for the land of ten thousand lakes.

Of course, I’m not the first to think that the Minnesota flag is terrible.  There was a strong push in the late 1980s to change it, but it didn’t quite work out.  The one with the Green is called the “North Star Flag” and was designed by Rev. William Becker and Mr. Lee Herold.

Lon’s Lair, best in show merchant at A-Cen

Recently, I attended Anime Central in where, among other things, I needed a set of disposable dice so I could run a few rounds of MAID RPG without worrying about my personal set running off. At the Lon’s Lair booth, I was able to pick up a solid set of d6s for less than $2!

As good as its at-con prices were, dice prices on Lon’s Lair website are even more reasonable! So I figured they were worth a shout-out.

My only disappointment was that the booth was mainly selling Chessex sets, and I am a total Koplow fanboy — so I was happy to see that the website is full of Koplow sets for sale!

NYC Resistor pretty darn cool

NYCResistorI had a chance to attend one of the open houses at NYC Resistor — Thursday Craft Night — and it was loads of fun! I had a chance to bounce ideas off other members and attendees, as well as learn a little about knitting! The group has all the shop tools you could want, and huge expertise in LED signage.  All in all, a top-notch group!