TechByter Worldwide

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28 May 2017

We Have Been Warned (Again)

Apparently Britain's National Health Service hasn't kept its computers updated and patched. They weren't alone as a massive ransomware attack crippled some 200,000 computers in more than 150 countries. An anonymous investigator posting as "MalwareTech" found a way to shut down the attack temporarily and the expected second round never materialized, but security is up to you.

Fortunately, that second wave never materialized. This section was intended for use in the 21 May program that was canceled abruptly because of a medical emergency. If you're interested, there are details about that at the end of today's program.

In the program on 23 April, I wrote about exploits released by Shadow Brokers. The exploits were created by the US National Security Agency. Microsoft noted that patches had been provided for all of the exploits described. But patches made available does not mean patches actually installed.

Those whose systems were compromised had failed to install the patches or were using outdated and no longer supported versions. While this may sound like blaming the victim, I consider it to be more like starting a cross-country trip in a car that you know has bald tires, faulty brakes, and a leaky gas tank. Those of us who use computers need to accept responsibility for keeping those computers in good working order.

Microsoft routinely makes security updates available and sometimes even forcefully installs those security updates. Although I was certain that all updates were in place on my computers, my first action was to check for new updates as the scope of the attack became apparent.

Anyone who's running a version of Windows earlier than Windows 7 and organizations that are running Microsoft Exchange versions older than 2010 are not protected. More recent versions will be secure if they have been updated, so now would be a really good time to check for updates and, if any exist for your computer, to install them.

When the exploits were revealed a month ago, Microsoft security group manager, Philip Misner, said "Customers still running prior versions of these products are encouraged to upgrade to a supported offering." At the time, Microsoft also noted that those who are running the company's free antivirus software or have Windows Update enabled should be protected. Because of this unprecedented attack, Microsoft has released unprecedented security patches for users of Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 even though those products are no longer supported.

The malware has been named "WannaCry". It encrypts files on the user's computer and then demands $300. If that amount isn't paid in 6 hours, the price goes up.

Who Are the Victims?

Initially, the expectation was that most of the victims would be people who were still using Windows XP. According to Kaspersky Labs, that's not the case. Nearly all were running Windows 7. About 60% of the victims have Windows 7 (64-bit) and nearly 32% have Windows 7 (32-bit). Windows 7 Home users accounted for about 7% of the victims. Add that up and you'll get 99%.

Windows 7 users should have been safe if they had installed all patches Microsoft had released, so the speculation is that many users missed (or ignored) a patch released in April. That patch specifically addressed exploits released by Shadow Brokers that hadn't previously been corrected.

In addition to Britain's National Health Service, other affected organizations included the Russian Interior Ministry, colleges and universities in China, international firms such as FedEx (which didn't officially advise customers until about 2pm on Saturday), and communications agencies in many countries.

The malware actively seeks out other vulnerable computers on a network. So an infected machine taken into an office and connected to the network would attempt to affect all other computers that are attached to the network.

Despite the large scale of this attack, it was essentially a monetary failure for the crooks. But just because this attack wasn't as bad as it could have been, doesn't mean the next one will be.

Large or Small, Libraries Still Matter

Maybe you don't think of libraries as high-tech operations, but they are. Many have high-speed internet access that patrons can use for free. E-books are commonly available. On-line database searches. Some libraries even run classes to help people use their tablet computers and smart phones. So libraries definitely fit the high-tech classification and they are essential.

This is one of those non-political topics that has somehow been politicized in recent years. Public libraries receive support from tax dollars, just as police departments and fire departments do, but to some they seem unimportant and no longer needed.

Nothing could be further from the truth. This is primarily an opinion piece, an editorial. The idea occurred to me when my wife mentioned that the Worthington library displays what they call the Binge Box. As Phyllis put it, "They have usually 5 movies around a theme. Fun if you aren't a Netflix person and want to hibernate for a couple of days." Libraries evolve and keep up with the times.

Benjamin Franklin is probably best known in the library community for founding the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731. It was America's first lending library and can lay claim to being the predecessor of the free public library.

 Click any of the smaller images for a full-size view. To dismiss the larger image, press ESC or tap outside the image.

Press ESC to close.Lending libraries purchase things and lend them without charge to those who have a library card. The card is free in most cases. Exceptions include some of the largest libraries that charge a fee to people who don't live in the area. The New York Public Library, for example: Any person who lives, works, attends school or pays property taxes in New York State is eligible to receive a New York Public Library card free of charge. The New York Public Library used to charge an annual fee for non-residents, but that seems no longer to be the case; short-term cards are available for visitors to the city.

The New York Public Library's reading room.

But this is about local libraries and local users.

Libraries once housed only books, but then came films, records, and (more recently) CDs, DVDs, and -- at some libraries -- artworks and even home appliances. The main thing that libraries house, though, is knowledge and perhaps that is why funding for libraries has become politicized.

Press ESC to close.The Worthington Public Library's reference and non-fiction area.

I live in an area that is served by many excellent libraries: The Columbus Metropolitan Library (23 locations), Worthington Public Libraries (3 locations), Upper Arlington Public Library (3 locations), Westerville Public Library, Ohio State University's Thompson Library, and the State Library of Ohio, to name some of them. Most of the libraries are part of a consortium that gives patrons of one library access to resources in another library. Throughout the country, some library systems are stronger and others are weaker -- but they all exist to store and share knowledge and entertainment.

Press ESC to close.In some cases, the knowledge is available without even having to leave the house. Britannica Library, Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, Gale Virtual Reference Library, Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, Oxford English Dictionary, and World Book Online are among the resources available to me from home. The Oxford English Dictionary on-line subscription would cost $300 per year and Britannica Library would cost $70 per year.

Some might point to Wikipedia, which is a valuable resource in its own right -- one that I pay a (small, optional) monthly fee to use. But it's not Britannica. It's definitely not the OED. Having access to these resources from home is a value not to be overlooked.

Press ESC to close.The Columbus Metropolitan Library's children's area.

Or maybe you'd like to have access to America's Obituaries and Death Notices for genealogical research, the Columbus Dispatch back to 1985, National Geographic articles back to 1888, the New York Times back to 1851, US newspapers from across the country, or Zinio's full range of digitized magazines. They're all available.

The list is enormous. Birds of North America, on-line courses from, Science Online, Consumer Reports, Medline, homework help for students, resources for scholarly research, and thousands of electronic books, audio files, and videos (some for downloading and some for streaming) from Digital Downloads, Freegal Music, Google Books, and Hoopla.

And more. A recent newsletter from the library described the Artful Summer: "During The Artful Summer, make the Library your creation station, where experts will lead sessions on sculpting, painting, drawing and more! Oh, and don't worry, there will still be plenty of opportunities for you and your kids or grandkids to meet animals, talk books and play games." Some libraries even make it possible to obtain a passport -- something that usually involves standing in line for a while at the post office. All you need is an appointment.

Oh, Wow!

Press ESC to close.I mentioned, which is probably the premiere instructional website, is available because I am a Worthington Library patron. Lynda was acquired by LinkedIn and then LinkedIn was acquired by Microsoft. If you sign up for, you'll pay $30 per month for access to the plan that includes downloadable practice files and the ability to watch the sessions off-line. Instead of $360 per year, would you prefer to pay $0? Your public library may make these programs available. It's worth checking.

Clearly I've been talking about the libraries I use -- Worthington, Columbus, and occasionally Upper Arlington and Grandview Heights. Your library may offer this access. It may offer access that I don't have. All libraries matter. Every one of them.

Your public library is probably supported by tax dollars, often in the form of issues that need to be voted on. The next time there's a tax issue on your ballot, I hope you'll support it. You can also help by donating books -- not to be used for lending -- but to be sold. If your library accepts books, either directly or through a friends of the library organization, the proceeds from selling the books will be used to supplement tax dollars.

We need libraries, today more than ever.

Short Circuits

Last Week's Unexpected Absence

Ironically, on Monday of last week, the program was well ahead of the normal writing schedule. The second item was complete and the first item needed only to be updated late in the week. Because of a medical emergency, there wasn't time to complete even the small remaining amount. You may be interested in what that emergency was. If not, this is the last item.

The shortest possible version of the story: My older daughter suffered acute liver failure on May 15, was unconscious from Tuesday through Friday, had a liver transplant operation Friday evening, and is now exceeding all expectations on her recovery track. (That’s a 250,000-word novel in a single sentence.) I'll start at the end of the story and then go back for the beginning.

Elizabeth has had migraine headaches for years. Medication to treat migraines can damage the liver. She also took Excedrin and sometimes Tylenol, which both contain acetaminophen, which can cause liver damage. There also seems to be some correlation of migraine headaches, particularly severe ones, with fatty liver disease and that condition was present, too. Although the additional Tylenol hit may have been what pushed the liver into failure, it appeared that it would have happened sooner or later in any event.

A pathology report we received late in the week confirmed that the liver was diseased well before the time that her husband found her unconscious on the floor late Monday afternoon, the 15th. Doctors at Fairfield Medical Center in Lancaster reported that her temperature and blood sugar were both dangerously low and they also noticed an elevated amount of acetaminophen in her blood, diagnosed poisoning, and started treatment. To succeed, this treatment must be started within a few hours of the onset, and that probably had been on Sunday. In other words, it was already too late.

She was awake, but confused, Monday evening. By Tuesday morning, she seemed to be more responsive when she was transferred to Ohio State University Hospital, but she was less responsive on arrival and by early afternoon, non-responsive.

OSU ICU doctors and liver specialists continued the treatment that had begun at Fairfield, but began to address the possibility that the liver would not recover. Most of Wednesday was spent meeting with various groups that deal with the transplant process. We found that acute liver failure automatically pushes the patient to near the top of the waiting list because it is an immediately life-threatening situation.

By Friday morning, hope was fading that the liver would regenerate on its own and a compatible liver had been found in Columbus. Ten or more members of the medical, surgical, and intensive care teams discussed the case an recommended that we proceed with the transplant. The two primary concerns were brain swelling that would be fatal and the potential inability to find another liver if her condition deteriorated.

Her husband, his family, and our family agreed with the recommendation. Less than an hour later, a surgical room had been prepared, the liver had arrived and been evaluated, and Liz was taken for what was expected to be a 6 to 8 hour procedure. In fact the surgery took less than 4 hours and the surgical team was delighted.

She was expected to be unconscious for perhaps several days in the surgical ICU, but was awake and alert less than 24 hours later. Within 48 hours she had been moved to a normal room.

Given her condition and mental attitude, it would be easy to think that Liz's operation had been to remove her tonsils, not replace her liver. She'll be taking extremely expensive immune-suppressant drugs for the rest of her life, but at least now she has a life. Last week that week that was very much in doubt.

We have seen the best and the worst of the US medical system: Talented and caring doctors and nurses who not only took excellent care of Elizabeth, but who also explained what the challenges were and what they were doing about it in a way that we could understand. And now the challenge of paying for it all and for the immune-suppression drugs she will need to take for the rest of her life. It's going to be tough without insurance.

I'll close this on a positive note: Lifeline of Ohio makes it possible for us to write a letter to the donor's family to express our gratitude for their family member who, in death, provided the liver that is now part of my daughter and will give her another chance at life.