20 January 2017

Viruses in Indian cybercafe's

Happens all the time. Take a pen drive with a word file to get a printout at a cyber cafe or a shop where they do printouts, and you come back with a virus infected pen drive.
At least this used to be ok as long as the virus didn't do anything to the file. You could still take the printout. Now-a-days, there's a bigger problem: The virus copies all the files into a hidden, unnamed folder and all you see is an empty pen drive. How are we to take a printout now?

Sadly, the popularity of Microsoft Windows and the availability of pirated copies is one factor that contributes to the spread of these viruses. What's worse, the cyber cafe owners refuse to believe that their computer has a virus!
I wonder when people will realize that pirated operating systems are very likely to have backdoors and more malware? Something you have to be very aware of when you type your passwords in cyber cafe's.

Having an antivirus is not enough. I've seen numerous cases where antiviruses are unable to detect viruses and worms. An antivirus detects virus signatures (a certain pattern of characters that a virus file contains). When the creators realized this, they started creating viruses that would alter their signature whenever they copied themselves to another disk, using an encryptor and decryptor. Then came polymorphic viruses which could change the signature of the encryptor and decryptor too. Antiviruses also use heuristics (virus behaviour like replication, overwriting files etc) to find viruses.

The alternative

The better way to stay safe, is to use an operating system which is heavily monitored by a community of voluntary software programmers all across the world. People who are dedicated to maintaining security and privacy.

One such operating system is Linux. Although some of the other variants of Linux were good earlier, I now dislike the interfaces of Fedora and CentOS.
One good Linux operating system you could use is Ubuntu. It's as good as Windows, it is safe and it is free of cost. Ten years ago, you could email the Ubuntu community and they would send you an Ubuntu CD for free by post. They've stopped that now of course, but you can still download Ubuntu and either burn it onto a CD or create a bootable pen drive from which you can either try Ubuntu or install it into your computer.

The best part is, that you don't even have to install Ubuntu to try it out. Just create a liveCD or do the same in a USB stick and you can run it to see if you like it.

Do note that if you have an old computer that cannot boot from a pen drive, then you will have to burn Ubuntu onto a CD or a DVD to create a bootable disk which can be used to try or install Ubuntu.

A message for Cyber Cafe owners in India

Enough of viruses and malware. Please install Linux on all computers you have.
If your users still want to use Windows, then you can install Linux and have a free Virtual Box in Linux inside which you can install Windows.

Some users would want to use Microsoft Word and Excel on the computer. Linux has an alternative named Libre office which comes pre installed with Linux.
If you don't like Libre office, you can always use the awesome Google Docs, Google Sheets etc.

One thing I would advise you should check though, is the compatibility of your printers and scanners with Linux. Do this before you install Linux, by trying out Linux with the Live CD option. Take a few sample printouts and scans and see if everything works fine. If any old printers need drivers to be installed, you could either contact the vendor and ask about linux drivers or search the internet using the device model number and I'm very sure you would find free drivers which you can download and install for Linux. The modern printers I think would work without any extra drivers. Do try it out.

Why I'm writing this

I went to a cyber cafe to take a printout and ended up with a virus that messed up the pen drive's partition table (and also hid the files, so I couldn't take the printout). Came home and had a hard time restoring the partition table.
For anyone who encounters this error:

"The driver descriptor says the physical block size is 2048 bytes, but Linux says it is 512 bytes."

Use this command to fix the blocks on your pen drive:

sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/id_of_your_device bs=2048; sync

Most likely, the id_of_your_device would be "sdb". Make sure you confirm that, because if you choose "sda" and it happens to be your hard disk, all the data on it will get permanently erased. 

The dd command is used to: Convert and copy a file, write disk headers, boot records, create a boot floppy. dd can make an exact clone of an (unmounted) disk, this will include all blank space so the output destination must be at least as large as the input. In this specific case, these posts will help you understand the meaning of the bs and 2048.

Did that, and the disk is as good as new!

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