Monday, June 27, 2011

Digital Certificates

Getting a digital certificate is becoming more important as browsers start expecting to see everything that is encrypted as needed a digital certificate. And, many things are expecting to be encrypted -- which is a good thing in terms of security. The digital certificate is what proves to your browser that it is created an encrypted link with the right computer. This is important because encrypted connections often contain sensitive information and one does not want to providing user names and passwords to faked site.

The bad news is that setting up a digital certificate is not an easy process. Most people have created "self-signed" digital certificates -- in fact it's almost impossible not to have self-signed certificates. But browsers don't accept self-signed certificates because there is no external proof that you are who you say you are. That's where a public digital certificate is required.

Below is a diagram of what steps are required to obtain and use a public digital certificate. In upcoming posts, I'll describe my experiences and challenges with getting and using my public certificate.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Microsoft System Sweeper

System Sweeper is an important tool that Microsoft apparently uses to scan computers that are manifesting problems that are otherwise not identifiable. I gather that people calling Microsoft for help and still have weird problems will be directed to this free utility. It's a shame that more people don't know about this utility because it finds viruses, trojans, and even root kits.

One of the problems with antivirus software is that once a bad piece of software gets on a computer, it can hide from the av software. This is especially true of root kits -- which dig under the operating system. The only way to find such deeply buried malware is to scan the computer's hard drive before it has been booted. That means booting from another device. System Sweeper comes from Microsoft as a bootable system. The image file one downloads is burned to a CD-ROM. The CD-ROM boots into a specialized version of Windows that has as its own function the running of System Sweeper. So far, most of the people I have given this disk to have come back reporting at least minor problems that they previously did not know about.

I suspect the main reason Microsoft does not make this important tool well known is because most users don't understand the idea of downloading ISO images and how to boot the CD-ROM drive. Because problems on your users' systems will come to haunt your network, it makes sense to make disks for your users and help them run this utility on their home computers.