External backups can guard against new hard drive exploit

A recent high-profile exploitation of cloud storage service Dropbox and blogging platform WordPress has made it possible for hackers to hijack a person's hard drive for malware delivery. Users must be diligent and procure a backup medium such as a high-volume optical disc, as well as an external DVD drive to burn data to it, in order to protect their stored data from similar issues. Along the way, data archiving tools may also help to move old items to another location so that the PC ultimately runs more smoothly.

The attack is initiated by a Word document that tricks a user by masquerading as an important business file, according to TechNewsDaily contributor Paul Wagenseil. This tactic, known as spear-phishing, takes advantage of the security and ease-of-use that some consumers associate with Dropbox, which has marketed itself as a virtual hard drive.

"[T]he attackers could mask themselves behind the trusted Dropbox brand, increasing credibility and the likelihood of victim interaction with the malicious file from either personal or corporate Dropbox users," wrote the authors of a Cyber Square report that originally identified the hack.

After opening the document, a user is directed to download a similar embedded PDF. However, the latter file contains malware that exploits a vulnerability in Adobe Flash Player. The malware is downloaded to the user's hard drive, which then becomes a staging ground for remotely controlled communications with a WordPress blog.

In response, the WordPress site would then return complex strings directing the malware to other IP addresses and ports. Although it is unclear what the fully instructed malware can do, Cyber Squared pointed out that similar attacks from the same group of hackers often steal data and intellectual property from hard drives. Creating redundant disc-based backups with tools like a Blu-ray burner can lessen the impact of data theft.

Keeping a computer safe and speedy
In addition to accumulating secretive malware, hard drives can also become bogged down by extraneous  files that can pose similar issues by making a computer nearly unusable. Speedy SSD drives and data archiving solutions are efficient remedies for these issues.

Writing for The Economic Times, Karan Bajaj examined some of the common causes of PC slowness, including unsorted registry items and an excessive number of desktop shortcuts. Similarly, duplicate and out-of-date files should be deleted or moved to another medium using an archive tool. Like HDD fragmentation, these items result in inefficient, overcrowded drive storage. SSD drives can eliminate the fragmentation issue entirely and improve performance.

Slim laptop usage increases need for external optical disk drives

The PC's days as the unquestioned consumer computer market leader are quickly fading away, with tablets, laptops, smartphones and netbooks becoming more popular. While PCs can never offer the mobility that these options do, they do provide consumers with an unparalleled comprehensive set of features. The ease with which users can upgrade their machine's internal components has always been one of the PC's strong points. Not only do mobile options usually lack this capability, but they typically are devoid of such accessories as optical disk drives to upgrade. As the laptop market moves toward slimmer models, these longstanding features are being dumped in favor of sleek and lightweight designs.

However, there are moments where that lack of functionality can adversely affect consumers. For instance, an individual who recently purchased a newer model laptop may, like many other users, find that he or she has difficulty using the Windows 8 operating system. According to ZDNet, the OS has demonstrated a lower adoption rate than even Windows Vista at this point in its lifespan. The unwieldiness of Windows 8 has driven consumers to consider alternative options as drastic as switching to Mac products or downgrading to the OS's predecessor, Windows 7. However, as PCWorld recently explained, this is no easy task and may not even be possible on some systems without a boot disc.

For users who have invested in a slim laptop lacking an internal optical drive, this presents even further challenges. Without the capacity to read a boot disc, they will be stuck using Windows 8's interface. However, consumers can connect an external DVD drive through the USB port to add disc-reading capabilities to their machine. This way, users can install their Windows-based operating system of choice without purchasing an entirely new solution.

Using TRIM for aftermarket Mac SSDs

In addition to speedy performance and immunity to fragmentation issues, SSD drives also have long life​ spans. Still, the flash-based NAND storage used in many SSDs has a few design oddities that can slow down performance after prolonged or heavy usage. Fortunately, TRIM commands can clean up an SSD for more consistent long-term functioning, although end-users must ensure that both their drive and their computer operating system support these protocols.

The biggest potential weakness in using an older SSD resides in how it communicates with its host computer. For example, deleting a file typically results in a PC or Mac indicating that the space once occupied by the item is now free and writable. However, the computer's approach to storage management is not mirrored by the SSD, according to Tom's Hardware contributors Manuel Maserio and Achim Roos.

The drive continues to regard freed space as occupied, since its storage is designed for new items to simply overwrite old ones. As such, by default it does not permanently delete anything, which does not cause any problems until it runs out of storage blocks that have never had any data written to them. At that point, it begins overwriting data on old blocks, a process that can cause performance issues that TRIM is designed to mitigate.

"This is where the TRIM command comes into play," explained Maserio and Roos. "When a file is deleted, the operating system sends a TRIM command to the SSD, marking those sectors as invalid data. At that point, the drive knows not to perform garbage collection on them."

Without TRIM, an SSD could prematurely wear out its NAND cells by keeping blocks in garbage collection for long periods. Writing for Techgage, Rob Williams stated that a TRIM operation on the entire SSD can nearly bring it back to original performance levels.

TRIM and Macs
TRIM is now standard for SSDs, and commands are easy to implement in Windows and Linux PCs. However, managing TRIM can be complicated in the case of installing an aftermarket SSD on a Mac. On older MacBook models, a user can install a second drive by swapping out the computer's internal optical drive, but only OEM SSDs have TRIM support from OS X.

There is a simple workaround to the issue, which TechRadar contributor Matthew Bolton explained in an overview of Mac-compatible SSDs. Mac users can install a software solution called Trim Enabler, which lets most drives communicate properly with the operating system.

Malware trends demonstrate importance of backup drives, SSDs

Malware can be detrimental to both the performance and storage integrity of a computer, underscoring the importance of procuring a backup medium for sensitive data and SSD Drives for quicker access to files. With a few such hardware adjustments and preventive measures, a PC can be brought up to speed and better equipped in the event of failure.

In many cases, PCs run slowly due to malware infections, some of which directly target the hard drive. One such strain was documented by Geek.com's Lee Matthews, who stated that some attackers utilize fake disk defragmentation tools in order to diagnose non-existent issues on HDDs. After a user downloads the tool, it intentionally hides files and then instructs users to buy a chargeware solution to get them back.

"This malware goes beyond mere sensational alerts, however," wrote Matthews. "[I]t moves files from All Users and the current Windows user's profile into a temporary location, making it appear as though problems with the hard drive are causing files to disappear."

Malware one of many possible causes of PC slowness
Replacing an HDD with a more stable SDD can protect a user from this specific type of threat, which essentially misrepresents how a machine documents the read/write processes of traditional drive heads. However, guarding against the full range of problems requires comprehensive antivirus and security software, as well as backup options that provide recourse in case of complete system failure.

A recently identified piece of ransomware threatened such a scenario by disguising itself as an FBI warning. It implored a user to pay a fine or risk going to jail, while locking all on-board computer storage.

"If the infected computer is powered on and connected to the internet, Trojans have complete control of the computer and every piece of stored data," stated a news release from the Brown County (Wisc.) Sheriff's Office excerpted by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer Gitte Laasby. Having an external backup strategy, such as storing important documents on Blu-ray discs an external DVD drive, could provide a way to access files that a user would otherwise have to ransom. 

Writing for PC Advisor, Matt Egan stated that it can sometimes be difficult to know why a computer is running slowly, with broadband issues and hardware problems joining malware as likely culprits. While installing a new processor or additional RAM can be difficult for PCs and impossible for recent Macs, upgrading to an SSD is a simpler solution that can pay immediate dividends in increased speed. HDDs are a common cause of performance bottlenecks and should be replaced if possible.

Blu-ray reigns supreme with video game players, makers

Like the home entertainment market, the video game industry has typically served as a battleground between competing media formats. For example, in the 1990s, the Nintendo 64 and its then industry-standard cartridge format was challenged by newcomer Sony's CD-based Playstation. Ultimately, the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of Sony's chosen format resulted in greater sales.

More recently, Microsoft favored a DVD format for its Xbox 360 system while Sony pushed the state-of-the-art Blu-ray media for its Playstation 3. Although Microsoft saw more favorable sales numbers in the United States, the Playstation 3 closed the gap worldwide before overtaking the competition and becoming the overall leader. A report released by the International Data Corporation found that the global number of shipments of Sony's product totaled 77 million by December 2012, edging out the Xbox 360 by approximately one million units.

To some extent, Sony's decision to use Blu-ray media may have contributed to its system's success. The ability to play Blu-ray movies in addition to games has driven a number of consumers to adopt the Playstation 3. In addition, the format's larger storage capacity allowed developers to fit increasingly complex and advanced games onto a single disc, whereas Microsoft's offerings increasingly spanned multiple discs.

Blu-ray continues its reign into the future
It would appear that Microsoft has conceded the superiority of the Blu-ray format, as it recently announced that the Xbox 360's successor, the Xbox One, would include a slot load Blu-ray drive. TV Predictions speculated that the reason for this inclusion could be that Microsoft's leaders feared that they would alienate a large demographic of potential consumers who supported Blu-ray technology.

According to survey of 8,800 Playstation 3 owners conducted by The NPD Group, video game players expressed a preference for disc-based media such as DVD and Blu-ray over digitally streaming alternatives, Home Media Magazine reported. TV Predictions' analysis concluded that failing to provide these users with Blu-ray operability would be a costly mistake for Microsoft.

"Studies like [The NPD Group's] probably told Microsoft that gamers still like discs and that the new Xbox One would be more successful if it included a Blu-ray drive," the source stated. "If Microsoft did not include a Blu-ray drive, it could have encouraged more prospective console shoppers to get PS3 and PS4 (when the new console is launched)."

With both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3's successors opting for Blu-ray compatibility, it would appear that the video game format battles have subsided. For the foreseeable future, Blu-ray discs will continue to be the media of choice for video game players and designers. 

Hard drive sales outperform expectations

Analysts have predicted far reaching ramifications for the faltering PC market. As consumers trade in their desktops for alternative solutions such as mobile devices, many industry experts predicted that the hard drive market would suffer along with PCs. However, recent reports suggest that consumers are still looking to external hard drives to address their storage needs. 

According to Reuters, hard drive manufacturer Western Digital announced that its forecast for fourth-quarter earnings outpaced analysts' expectations by as much as six cents per share. Since the third quarter of 2012, the company's revenue has risen 24 percent to $3.76 billion. In addition, hard drive shipments rose 36 percent to 60.2 million units. 

Furthermore, Mark Miller, an analyst with Noble Financial Capital Markets, told Reuters that demand for storage solutions is growing at an annual rate of 30 percent.

"It appears the hard drive business is not suffering as much," he told the news outlet. "That is because of the growth of the cloud and digital data."

However, investment research website Seeking Alpha had a different interpretation on the continued sustainability of the hard drive market. Their analysts suggested that consumer interest in high-definition media formats such as Blu-ray was driving hard drive sales. Users who want to download and play high definition movies, television shows and video games will need much larger hard drives to provide the storage space required to house those files. 

Highest Quality 1080p Blu-ray Playback Software on a Mac

If your Blu-ray collection is growing and you’d like to use your Mac mini as a home theater box, or watch your movies in 1080p while traveling with your MacBook Pro, then Macgo Mac Blu-ray Player will be a game changer in your entertainment lifestyle.

Macgo isn’t the only game in town, but they were the first to create a Blu-ray playback software for Mac. As far as we can tell, the Macgo software is also the highest quality visual output for Blu-ray playback on a Mac, an important factor since we don’t want degraded video from our 1080p movie. The Mac Blu-ray Player can play Blu-ray movies from disc or ISO files, as well as Blu-ray folders (BDMV folders). Storing your discs as ISO’s is a great way to easily access HD movies from your home theater environment.

Using the software is simple; your only pre-requisite is you have a Blu-ray drive plugged into your Mac. We’re happy to say the DIGISTOR External Blu-ray drive works great, and can play movies from a Single USB Cable (we’re looking at you MacBook Air). The system requirements state you should be running at least OS X 10.5 or above.

If you just need a nice media player, you can use Macgo permanently to play back MOV, MKV, AVI, FLV, WMV, MP4 and many more. We give Macgo high marks for quality playback, and high definition audio output along with multi file support.

The regular price is $59.95 but at the time of this writing Macgo is having a sale for  $39.95, 33% off the regular price. Macgo gives a trial download so as long as you have a Blu-ray drive around or some Blu-ray ISO files ripped to your Mac its risk free to give it a try. Or if you’re just looking for a new media player we still suggest grabbing the player from Macgo’s download page.

Source: Macgo Website

Blu-ray Sticking Around in the PlayStation 4

It wasn’t mentioned in the long-drawn-out Sony PlayStation 4 announcement, but the new PS4 has been confirmed to be “Blu-ray based. The same as the PlayStation 3.”

We guessed that Blu-ray would be included, but the 2 hour long presentation didn’t make this clear. We were told that the PS4’s goal was to have “Everything, Everywhere!” indicating a huge emphasis on streaming technology. Streaming games from your PS4 to your PS Vita, as well as streaming to another friends house so they can help you defeat that boss battle you can’t get past. But what about the physical media?

Perhaps Sony also thought it was clear: the only good answer to large graphically intense games has to be Blu-ray disc! With the invent of video games on Blu-ray gone are the days of embarrassing multi disc titles on Sony consoles. “The new FF game is how many discs?!?” a common exclamation amongst DVD and CD based games. It’s still a sigh of displeasure when an Xbox 360 title has more than one disc required to play.

Sony has clarified that the PlayStation 4 will indeed continue to use Blu-ray for physical media in an interview with Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida. He is asked directly about there being no mention of physical media on the PS4 during the announcement. His reply? “Oh yeah. It’s going to be Blu-ray based. The same as PlayStation 3.”

Via: gameinformer

New Codec Helps 4K and UltraHD Video come to Blu-ray Disc

The ITU has approved a new video codec called H.265, creating a new standard for high definition video storage. The new format allows higher quality video to be compressed in a smaller file size, meaning a 4K (4096 × 2160) or UltraHD (3840 x 2160) resolution movie will eventually fit on a current generation 50GB Blu-ray disc.

The current standard using H.264 is widely used for Blu-ray disc movies as well as online streaming content for videos up to 1080p. Most of the videos on your iPad are all encoded with H.264 also. The new H.265 standard, also known as High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) is designed to bring even higher quality video and higher resolution to these same playback arenas.

See link below for the press release.

Source: ITU

New Year’s Resolution – Backup and Archive your Photos

The holidays have come and gone and if you are like me that means plenty of new photos and home video from family gatherings, parties and travels.  For most of us the end of the Holiday season also means it time for some New Year’s resolutions.  Well we are a few weeks into January now and I’ve already broken most of my resolutions, but one that you must not break is to finally backup and archive all of your photos, video and data.

We hear so many horror stories from people who have lost all of their photos, videos or other personal data because they were not properly backed up or archived.   There is no shortage of backup products available on the market today, so there is really no excuse to not have some sort of protection in place for your valuable data and files.

With so many available options to back up your data, choosing the right solution can be overwhelming.  The most important decision to make is simply to not procrastinate and do something!  Whether you decide to use an external hard drive, flash drive, online backup provider or RAID solution, it is imperative that you perform regular backups for continuous protection of your latest data.

For long-term storage of your photos, videos, music and other data files you will want a permanent archive.  This can easily be accomplished with easy to use products from DIGISTOR such as the Personal Archive Recorder and REWIND Archiving Software for PC and Mac.

Remember, you can always lose weight, eat better or learn a new language next year; but without a proper backup and archive you can easily lose your most precious photos, video or data forever.