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Techno Corner

Arun Marballi

Now that we have successfully negotiated the minor road bump created by the earlier kick-in of the Daylight Saving Time, there is a follow-up action that will be necessary for the computers and other devices that had to be manually adjusted for the earlier than normal one-hour increment.

Many of these devices will automatically increment again when the first weekend of April rolls around because they have been designed to do so.

This means that they will need to be decremented one hour to offset the previously programmed automatic one-hour increment. And then in fall, we will have to follow the same procedure in reverse when the hour “falls back.” This is starting to get too complex and the benefits are so questionable that even the Congress, that enacted this law two years, may consider rescinding it if the benefits in energy saving are not significant – perhaps we should just stop tinkering around with the clock – period!

Getting to the more mundane topic of identity theft, last month I explored the vulnerability posed by the collection of tax returns with all the included sensitive information on the tax preparer’s computer. Continuing on the same theme another device that we all use – the innocuous digital photocopying machine – has been identified as a potential vulnerability in connection to the information contained in the documents that are scanned/copied using them.

The reason these machines present this risk is that unbeknown to most users, when a document is copied, the machine actually scans and stores an image of it on an internal hard drive. The hard drive in digital photocopiers is similar to the drives that are typically found in personal computers and any information stored on them can be accessed by anyone who has access to the machines.

Most people use coin-operated or other shared photocopiers and so could be exposed to information retrieval by unknown persons. Now add to this the fact that copiers, printers and fax machines are based on similar technology – one involving the transfer of an image from one medium to another – and sometimes these machines are Wi-Fi or Bluetooth enabled, thereby making it possible for someone to access data stored on their hard drive wirelessly, and suddenly we see our exposure compounded quite significantly.

The good news is that multifunction printers have become common and in fact most home users today own one. Multifunction printers are an excellent means for obtaining low-volume copies of private and confidential documents. The bottom line is that one should think twice before walking into a Kinkos or using one of those coin-operated copiers in the supermarket for getting a copy of a sensitive document – even if one uses the self-service machines for making the copy.

On a more ominous note, there was a report in The Sunday Times of London detailing the uncovering of a plot to bring down the Internet in Britain by attacking a high-security network “hub” in London. Although this attack was thwarted, it is an indication of where the terrorist organizations are focusing in their attempt to get at our largely information-based economies.

Getting back to our familiar home turf and further to my earlier notes on Windows Vista, let us take a look at one of the security features that are built into this operating system. With Windows XP, Microsoft brought to the forefront the use of User Accounts for logging on to the computer to carry out any computing task. Prior to Windows XP, one merely switched on the computer and the machine was ready to carry out our bidding.

However, in Windows XP, either your User Account had or did not have Administrator privileges. Now I have often stated that it is a poor practice to be carrying out our regular computing tasks while being logged on as a User with administrator privileges.

This is because as an Administrator you have unfettered access to all the resources of the computer and this presents the possibility that you could inadvertently run or download something that could damage the computer’s internal resources. However, if you are not logged on as a user with administrator privileges, then occasionally, you may not be able to carry out a task because that task requires you to have administrator access.

Now, Windows Vista solves this problem with a feature called User Account Control (UAC for short). With UAC enabled, you can be logged on as an administrator without endangering or compromising the security of your computer. All users (administrators and non-administrators alike) carry out computing tasks with normal user access.

Whenever the task requires any elevated privileges, Vista will prompt the user to type in the administrator credentials and valid credentials will open up access to the internal resources. This means it is no longer necessary to flip from one logon to another to carry out administrator-only tasks – a convenient security feature indeed!

Arun Marballi has worked in the Information Technology arena for more than 20 years with extensive experience in software development, process design and network/workstation management. For comments, questions, tips or suggestions, e-mail


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