Author Archive for Blink 7


Using Firefox and Modify Headers Plugin to View Blocked Video Streams

The Internet has grown immensely as a source for favorite television shows. Much of this growth is due to the underground BitTorrent scene, where users can download and share entire seasons of both current and classic television shows. However, downloading copyrighted material often violates several copyright infringement bills – most notably the US-based Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). For the non tech-saavy and for those who do not wish to break the law, there are several network-based websites where viewers can legally watch the latest television shows, such as ABC’s Full Episodes website. Also, single TV shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report stream clips or full episodes on demand.

"The Daily Show" Website Blocks Video Streaming in Canada

Unfortunately, many of these shows are only available in the USA and only in some cases are the same programs available in other countries via alternative webistes. Similarly, the BBC does not allow its streaming video to be accessed outside the U.K. Even cyberspace can’t escape complicated licensing schemes, it seems.

Typically the response has been to resort to BitTorrent but there is a faster and slightly (though not necessarily entirely) more legal alternative.


Make sure Firefox Web Browser is installed (version 1.0 – 3.6 acceptable)

Installing Modify Headers Plug-in

Open a new FireFox window and surf to the following URL:

Download the Modify Headers plug-in for Firefox

Click on Add to Firefox


Click on Accept and Install

Installing Modify Headers Plugin for Firefox

If a software installation window pops up then click on the Install Now button

Installing Modify Headers Plugin for Firefox

Wait for the plugin installation to complete. Click on the Restart Firefox button

Using the Modified Headers Plugin to View Geographically-Blocked Video

Surf to the web page with the blocked video

Confirguing Modify Headers Plugin for Firefox

On the menu, select Tools –> Modify Headers

Confirguing Modify Headers Plugin for Firefox

If you are running the Modify Headers plug-in for the first time, enter the following text in the two text boxes at the top of the pop-up window:

First text box: X-Forwarded-For
Second text box:

Leave the third text box blank. Click on the Add button

Confirguing Modify Headers Plugin for Firefox

Ensure that there is a green dot next to the new header (signaling it is active)
(alternatively, you could click on the Configuration and make sure Always On is checked; this way, the plugin is always active)

Confirguing Modify Headers Plugin for Firefox

Refresh the Firefox window containing the blocked media. The video should (hopefully) start to play properly.

Regards to Andy Mason, who created the original YouTube tutorial.

How Well does it Work?

The Modify Headers plug in is one of many methods that can be used to view geographically-blocked video. Modifying headers does not mask a user’s actual geographical origin and defeating this hack is mostly up to the developers on the streaming media servers. No one workaround is perfect and readers are encouraged to post their experiences using this workaround on various streaming sites (don’t forget to include your country). The following tests were conducted in Canada –

  • The Daily Show – Works like a charm. This show was used to develop both the original YouTube tutorial (tested in the UK) and this blog post
  • Hulu – Sends a strange message advising to check internet stream. It is a different message than the typical geographic restriction, so it might be related to my firewall.
  • Pandora – Does not work. Redirects to the same restriction notice.
  • ABC Full Episodes – Works
  • CBS HD Videos – Does not work

Silentbanker – Online Fraud Just got a Whole Lot Smarter

The media often feeds public hysteria with scare stories about online banking fraud and other types of internet scams. While most are rooted in truth, the attacks are often simplistic and easily blocked via a combination of server security measures and user vigilance about sharing personal information. Moreover, financial institutions assure consumers that their latest security precautions and best use education will protect from the majority of devious attackers who wish do plunder bank accounts. But what if there were a trojan/virus/malware so sophisticated that it could steal your money in the middle of a transaction without the customer, bank or even the secure connection method detecting suspicious activity? Enter the Silentbanker.

What is a “Silent Banker”?

The Silentbanker is a sophisticated Trojan horse program that installs itself on a target computer and intercepts confidential information entered during online banking sessions. Stolen information can be then transmitted to the attacker or used to steal money from the victim’s account. There have been several flavours of Silentbanker, with the more recent versions using rootkit software to avoid detection by antivirus programs.

Once installed, Silentbanker can perform several man-in-the-middle attacks on infected computers

  • Cookies and authentication certificates can be certified before being encrypted, allowing the attacker to authenticate a login using stolen information. Both simple logins and two-factor authorization can be defeated. Even transaction authentication number (TAN) protection can be targeted
  • While processing a money transfer, silentbanker can intervene to change the destination account to the attacker’s account, causing the victim to transfer money to the attacker without any warning
  • The Trojan continually updates itself by downloading configuration files containing host names and authentication routines for hundreds of banks worldwide

Silentbanker can work over an SSL connection, making the browser’s verification that the victim is on a “secure” (https://) connection meaningless.

How to detect and Remove Silentbanker

Silentbanker can be manually removed but experts recommend this only be performed by seasoned computer users. As of writing, the following security programs claim to detect and automatically remove Silentbanker:

  • Norton Antivirus
  • Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware

How to Protect against Silentbanker and Similar Attacks

The simplest and only 100% effective way to protect against Silentbanker and similar Trojans is to never bank online. This solution is infeasible for some (e.g. those who are a great distance from the nearest branch) and highly inconvenient for others. Moreover, cutting off the online banking channel would not protect the consumer from the myriad of other bank-related fraud schemes that have little or nothing to do with consumer internet usage.

However, there are still actions users can take to greatly reduce the chance of being targeted by Silentbanker and its future derivatives.

1) Use only trusted machines. If possible, use only one private computer to access online banking. This machine should be one the user can scan regularly and install the software mentioned in the other following suggestions. Public computers (kiosks, libraries, Internet cafes, etc) can be very risky depending on the administrators’ security policies. Corporate computers are usually protected by blanket security solutions but the IT department may not be quick enough at rolling out patches and updates.

2) Do not use Internet Explorer for secure web transactions. Silentbanker manifests as a BHO (browser helper object) that only works with IE. Despite the many security patches issued by Microsoft, IE remains susceptible to this type of attack. Alternative browsers include Firefox, Opera and Google Chrome.

3) Install anti-Malware / antivirus software and update it regularly. Please see the article “Challenges of Internet Security – Your Best Weapons” for more information.

4) Install a firewall. Also see the above article for more information.

5) Create a Windows restore point. Once you are sure your computer is free of Silentbanker and similar programs, create a system restore point

  • Click on the start button and select Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Restore
  • Click on the radio button “Create a restore point”. Click on the Next button
  • Verify and record the date of the restore point (Windows usually stores several). Click on the Next button
  • Confirm the summary information. Click on the Next button

Windows will save all the systems settings and create a restore point. If your machine is infected in the future, enter the same System restore tool and select the “Restore” radio button. Select the date you recorded earlier and Windows will reverse any system changes back to that date, effectively erasing the infection

Two warnings related to #5:

a) Restoring the system to an earlier date will also reverse any software upgrades or installations performed since that date
b) Restoring the system can also restore other viruses and other malware. Windows prevents antivirus systems from cleaning data inside the system restore folder. It is recommended to either (1) BEFORE creating the new restore point, temporarily disable Windows’ restore feature so that the antivirus software can clean older restore data, or (2) Delete all the windows restore points before the “clean” one that was just created


Challenges of Internet Security – Your Best Weapons (Part 1)

Online computer hacking has evolved from harmless pranks to big business: gangs of data thieves operate from Russia and China with near impunity. Tens of thousands of stolen credit card numbers are offered for sale on a weekly basis with a single card number selling for as little as $0.40. Home computer users have been overwhelmed by a continuous stream of viruses, trojans, spam, spyware and adware that threaten to introduce unwanted data or steal sensitive data – all while slowing PC’s to a crawl.

A cottage industry has developed for computer “experts” who promise to clean and tune-up home computers for prices ranging between $35 and $100 per treatment. Many of these would-be entrepreneurs are using software tools (often free to download) that can be installed and operated by the average user.

In the first of a two part series, we will look at two indispensable tools for securing your computer or home network. While this series is geared towards internet security, most of the tools described are useful even on machines with no internet access.


  1. Neither the author of this article nor the original host websites (Blink7, Cynics Unlimited) are directly affiliated with the authors of any of the software mentioned. All software recommendations are based on available test results, personal experience and feedback from users who have sought technical assistance from the author. No compensation was received for any mention or endorsement of software products.
  2. Of course none of the following tools can guarantee a 100% safe computer. Hackers, virus-creators and unscrupulous advertising companies are always developing new ways to get around existing security measures and attack/survey the contents of our machines. True network security “experts” are few in number and not all are working for the good guys. Still, there are several classes of consumer-based tools and software packages that will improve the defenses of the average user. Despite some of the annoyances related to installing extra software to “monitor” user activity, consumers should welcome the opportunity to reduce possible instances of data loss, identity theft and other privacy intrusions.

Weapon #1 – Antivirus Tool


Strictly speaking, a computer virus is a tiny software program than can replicate itself and transmit from computer to computer via executable code. Targeted transport programs range from the standard .exe file to a macro program embedded in a Microsoft word file. Computers can be infected via local networks, Internet transmission and removable media (including floppy disks, USB keys and burned CD’s). In every day conversation, viruses are classified together with worms, malware, trojans and adware as self-installing, unwanted software capable of delivering a payload to an infected machine. The payload could be innocuous (a simple message), irritating (pop up advertisements) or downright dangerous (deleting files, formatting hard drives). Regardless of payload, these all consume disk space and sap computer resources during execution.

Antivirus software detects and attempts to eliminate viruses by scanning the computer’s memory and files for “signatures” of known viruses. Most antivirus tools have a database of known signatures (sometimes known as virus definitions) that must be updated continually. Files infected with a virus can sometimes be cured but in other cases need to be quarantined or deleted. Some antivirus programs remain active in memory to prevent infections by known viruses and equivalents.


Viruses and similar programs consume resources and cause havoc, period. Antivirus software can prevent small inconveniences like having to reload windows and larger inconveniences such as data loss. Most major packages are easy to install, require minimal configuration and automatically update virus definitions (internet connection required).

Costs and Risks:

Antivirus software can also use computer sources, especially if running continuously in the background. Not all antivirus software is equal and some packages have even proven to be viruses themselves. No single antivirus program performs all types of scans but it is generally not recommended to run more than one package on a single machine. Antivirus programs cannot actively monitor internet traffic and provide only minimal protection against non-viral threats (eg adware embedded inside user-installed software).

Recommended Software:

Choosing an antirvirus programs has taken on nearly religious connotations but the two leading free programs are produced by AVG and Avast. Norton Antivirus and Kaspersky Antivirus dominate the commercial market, though BitDefender Antivirus provides a slightly cheaper and higher-rated alternative.

Weapon #2 – Personal Firewall


Similar to the heavy wall used to prevent a fire from spreading throughout a building, network firewalls apply a series of user-defined policies to prevent the movement of malicious or unwanted data into an individual computer or an entire network. Some firewalls can also be configured to prevent certain data from being transmitted away from local machines. Firewalls regulate network traffic flow through the use of “zones” – computers within a trust zone may be able to communicate freely but computers within a less trustworthy zone (usually called the Internet zone) may only be allowed to communicate with trusted-zone computers in certain instances. Data packets containing information not approved by the firewall’s policy are altered or discarded.

The typical consumer-level firewall is software-based and combines network layer filtering with application-layer filtering. Network layer filtering policies filter traffic based on packet-specific attributes such as IP address (source and destination), port and transportation protocol. Application layer filtering policies evaluate traffic by learning the user’s applications (such as a web browser or FTP program) so it can prevent misuse of standard data ports or attempts to sneak data through the wrong port.


A firewall can be the single most useful tool in preventing all types of threats. A properly configured firewall can stop a virus from entering a local network, prevent websites from automatically installing malicious software and stop local spyware from transmitting local data to an outside source. Firewall software can indirectly alert a user to potentially harmful programs when requesting a policy decision on whether to allow a previously-unseen program to connect to the internet.

Costs and Risks:

Even the best firewall is only as good as its policy and few people have the expertise to set up a bullet-proof network system. Recent firewall programs, such as ZoneAlarm, have improved user friendliness by automatically configuring settings for well-known software programs and requesting user decisions via pop-up windows when a previously-unknown program attempts to access the network or perform other low-level operations. Some users may become annoyed by the constant questions and simply turn the firewall off. Other users may inadvertently allow access to a malicious program or prevent necessary access for a legitimate program, putting the local computer at risk. A poor policy is just as dangerous as no policy at all.

Recommended Software:

Matousec’s comprehensive firewall tests resulted in a second place rating for Comodo Internet Security 3.5 (Nov 2008). This highly-configurable firewall is available for free and contains no functionality limitations. Some users have complained about Comodo’s tendency to ask many detailed questions they cannot answer. Changing program settings can alleviate this problem, though the commercial firewall Online Armour 3.x may be a more novice-friendly alternative. ZoneAlarm Pro is another popular program that receives generally high ratings on security tests.

P2P and Bit Torrent users may wish to consider adding Peer Guardian 2 to supplement their preferred firewall program. Peer Guardian blocks all internet communication with IP’s found within several blacklists (P2P, spyware, government, ads). If you’re trading MP3’s on Limewire, chances are you don’t want Media Sentry to know about it.


Cuil Runnings Part 2

Part 1 of Cuil Runnings described the self-proclaimed Google-beating search engine and summarized industry’s initial response after launch. Their reception was … frosty, to say the least. Was the response justified? Several tests were performed using common search types to determine whether Cuil is fit to replace Google on discerning desktops.

Test 1: Music Group

For engineers, these ex-Googlers did a poor job of estimating the initial server load but let’s not be petty – it’s only day one. The search results matter most and in particular page 1 of the search results (which is where most people look). Total number of search results, while often used as a selling point, mean very little in practical terms since most surfers only look at the top 10 or 20.

Cuil Search Engine Test 1: 4Hero

My first test was done using a moderately popular music group, the British RnB / Drum n Bass outfit 4Hero. Cuil really showed its best side for this example: firstly, the results displayed in a three-column magazine style (two-column displays are selectable). To the right are a series of categories related to the group 4Hero, including albums from the group and related artists. If you were to click on the link titled “Goldie” (another Drum n Bass artist) Cuil would search for “4Hero Goldie”. This accessible drill down display will be indispensable for people doing actual research.

Test 2: Ancient Civilization

Cuil Search Engine Test 2: Nubia

Inspired by the implications from the first test, I keyed in an ancient civilization –Nubia- to determine how easily research could be accomplished. Again, the category drill down was available on the right but this time a result filter was available above the search results. Since Nubia is a pretty broad topic, Cuil gave the option to filter the existing results on major subtopics like Ancient Nubia and Rhadopis of Nubia. Cuil’s interface is closer to an interactive encyclopedia than a straight search engine.

Test 3: Direct Website Reference


Cuil really fails when it comes to identifying name of actual websites. This is important because a worrying number of people still find websites by entering the English name in a search engine and clicking on the first link they see. I tried that with Jack’s NewsWatch and no link to the site root exists on the front page. In fact, the first link on the list is to Jack’s new-found nemesis at StageLeft. The average site-owner probably doesn’t want a large % of potential search traffic going to his detractors. A significant % of the search results were also coming from third-party services like HaloScan and blog aggregators. Conversely, Google’s first link went directly to the front of Jack’s site, with lesser quantities of the parasitic sites in later links. The same test was performed with other blog sites (Cynics Unlimited, Crux of the Matter, Blue Like You) and only Google linked to the root of the actual site within the first page. The first search result for Small Dead Animals links to a site attacking the blog owner. The first search for Blink 7 links to Blink 182’s band site.

Cuil was much better at identifying major websites like CNN, but that’s hardly an indication of a search engine’s ability to determine link relevance.

Test 4: Recent News Articles

Cuil Search Engine Test 4: Recent News ArticleTesting Cuil’s ability to retrieve the latest news stories involved writing two tests per article. First, the full title of the article entered verbatim into the browser to determine whether a link to the actual article or reprint of the article appeared on the first page. The second test was completed using key words. The tests are listed below (key words in brackets)

  • Associated Press: Bush OKs execution of Army death row prisoner (keywords: Bush Ronald Gray Execution)
  • Reuters: Zimbabwe crisis negotiations deadlocked (keywords: Zimbabwe negotiations)
  • Canadian Press: Bell Canada to cut 2,500 jobs to lower operating costs ahead of takeover (keywords: Bell Canada job cuts)

Cuil returned no results for the title of the AP or CP articles. The Reuters subject line returned an excerpt from a Zimbabwe site unrelated to the article in question. Amazingly, Cuil had no results at all for they keywords related to the AP article, meaning not even info on traditional websites. The CP keywords returned several Wikipedia pages about Bell and one WSWS article about Bell cutting jobs … in 1999. Conversely, Google found all of the articles by title and keywords within the first page. Cuil may be indexing more pages than Google but surely aren’t doing so with great speed.


Cuil’s interface is beautiful and intuitive. General-purpose researchers and students will quickly take to its OLAP-style interface and numerous search refinement options. The search engine itself needs help, however. Cuil was not intuitive enough to recognize all by the most ubiquitous site names while third party sites and junk aggregators pushed actual site content out of the top listings. Cuil performed abysmally at retrieving current events or recently-updated sites, which is unacceptable in a 24-hour news environment. As of now, Google has little to fear.


Cuil Runnings Part 1

Cuil Search Engine

Cuil (pronounced “cool”) is the creation of Google alumnus Anna Patterson, who is working in conjunction with her husband (former IBM employee Tom Costello) and two other ex Google engineers. Patterson’s last major search engine effort was purchased by the mighty Google in 2004. Costello’s previous efforts include a 1990’s search engine called Xift and IBM’s WebFountain technology. Monier is the former Chief Technology officer of AltaVista – considered by many to be the best search engine in the pre-Google webverse. This group has credentials. They also have funding, to the tune of $33 million in venture capital investments.

Cuil’s self-purported advantages over the competition (read: Google) are as follows

  • More Links. The Cuil search engine claims an index spanning 120 billion web pages, dwarfing both Google’s most recently reported figure of 8.2 billion web pages and the industry’s estimate of 40 billion pages
  • More privacy. Cuil promises not to track the habits of individual users, purporting to track general web trends instead. This feature seems designed to appeal to the privacy experts who have complained about Google’s invasive data gathering efforts.
  • Content-based rankings. Cuil’s engine reportedly places more emphasis on the content of the page than which pages link to it. This is a potential advantage to both users more interested in research than buzz and content providers who concentrate on quality rather than social networking to build their sites.

Survey Says …

Alas, many engines have come and faltered in light of Google’s massive 62% market share (USA). How well did Cuil hold up on its opening day? Not too well, judging by reports in the IT media:

“If you are going to roll out a new search engine, please try to make one that has more going for it than a silly name and cheap, misleading PR. Thus we have Cuil, the search engine rolled out this last week by some ex-Google folks who see a market opportunity. While all the people involved seem competent and have great resumes, the site itself out-and-out stinks”
John C. Dvorak

“Cuil went live last night and then went down after only a couple of hours of operation due to an apparently overwhelming response which lead to a server melt down. At the time of writing this article they were back up again, but you’d have thought that with all the hype around their launch they would have been better prepared?”
New Zealand Herald

“What’s the first thing people check in a new, more-powerful Internet search? Their own name, of course. The SAI staff ran our own names through Cuil’s search. It hadn’t heard of some of us, while for others it returned our bylines next to pictures of… other people.
SAI’s commenters noted that searches for terms like “penguins” or “failure” returned zero results.”

Silicon Valley Insider

Cuil’s lackluster performance is explained briefly in an equally critical CNET article

“Cuil isn’t set up as a massively parallel search network the way, say, Google is. Tom Costello had explained this to me a bit when we talked last week. Each of Cuil’s search appliances is specialized to a particular subcategory of results. There are machines that understand and index sports; others are experts on medicine, etc. As these search machines get overloaded, Sollitto said, they drop offline for some queries, and the machines left online return less-than-relevant results that then appear at the top of users’ pages.”

Overall, it can be said Cuil’s launch was one of the least successful in recent tech history. Is the criticism fair, however? Proceed to part 2 to find out!


Excel Tutorial: Using Conditional Formats for Traffic Lighting

Note: This will be the first in a series of downloadable tutorials. Each tutorial runs in a self-contained browser with all files and software embedded [where legal]. If you would like a specific topic covered, please leave a message here.

Download: Mirror#1

Traffic Lighting on Excel

Simplicity is key when presenting statistics to management or customers. Data analysts are often tempted to put as many details as possible on the standard “one sheet” template; however, too many numbers on a page can cause confusion about where to initially focus. When reducing the number of statistics on a page is not an option and summary stats are not appropriate, traffic-lighting is a quick and effective method to highlight trends or draw attention to information that need to be addressed.

-Example Excel File
-Full tutorial


Live: Tycho @ The Drake Hotel

Quite often, the best music is discovered by accident. Local artist and longtime friend Aia asked me to videotape a concert he was promoting at the Drake Hotel. Aia was opening for Tycho, a California-based graphics artist and music producer well respected in IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) circles. IDM is a highly experimental genre that can be difficult on the untrained ear; however, Tycho’s audio-visual performance was both accessible and inspiring. The artist’s website describes his music as follows:

Tycho is the music project of San Francisco based artist and producer Scott Hansen. As Tycho, Hansen blends swirling melodies into vaguely triumphant arcs that crisscross between stuttering beats and vocal samples, creating rolling sonic landscapes that extend off into the horizon.

To my ear, Tycho manages an impressive feat in layering lush, hyper-melodic sounds capes over throttling beats without crowding the frequency spectrum. Often, the beats evolve along with the melodies and at times embrace the boom sound associated with early-90’s hip hop – yet the melodies remain intricate and soothing enough to be “chill-out” music. At times Tycho’s retro-warbling is reminiscent of Scottish outfit Boards of Canada, while other times resembling the Japanese electronica featured heavily in anime. The sum of the parts is nonetheless original.
Continue reading ‘Live: Tycho @ The Drake Hotel’


The $699 Memory Stick


When buying electronics, two factors remain relatively consistent –

  1. If it’s new, it costs a lot more
  2. If Sony is involved, it costs a lot more

Yet, even these two truisms fail to account the the $699cdn (roughly the same in American dollars) price tag placed on a (third-party!) Memory stick currently being advertised at Staples. Granted, 4GB cards are relatively new but can be obtained for less than $150 if you are fortunate enough to have an SD slot. Given Sony’s penchant for being proprietary and expensive, perhaps we should not be so hasty to give up on HD-DVD?


Hamachi Patch for AOE 3 (all versions) and AOM

Some time ago I wrote a tutorial on how to make Age of Empires 3 work with a freeware Virtual Private Networking (VPN) program called Hamachi. There have been many questions about where to find the AOE3VPN.exe patch referenced in the tutorial. Some people were unable to find it from the supplied Google search bar.

The good news is that a much-improved patch is available from Crea-Doo:


Version 1.63 of the Age of Empires loader makes the startup even easier by providing a GUI to select between using a Hamachi IP address and the machine’s public address. Override ports, sound settings, bypassing the intro video and direct IP connectivity can also be toggled. Best of all, support is not limited to basic Age of Empires III. The following “Age of …” games are supported:

Age of Mythology
Age of Mythology – The Titans
Age of Empires III
Age of Empires III – The War Chiefs
Age of Empires III – The Asian Dynasties
Age of Empires III – Napoleonic Era (mod)

A quick test with the new Asian Dynasties expansion booted to the menu screen without the intro video and connected to Hamachi effortlessly. Age of Mythology is no longer on this system but I’d be interested to hear if anyone has luck connecting Hamachi to the notoriously picky game.

The Age of Empires Loader works with The Asian Dynasties Expansion


Tutorial: Spotting a Phishing Scam in your Email

Phishing, in practical terms, is an attack used by hackers to gain access to private information such as credit card numbers, social insurance numbers and user passwords. Rather than breaking down a physical or technological barrier, phishing is a social engineering attack where targets are typically duped into providing this information directly to false versions of legitimate websites run by the hackers. Personal information can then be used for fraudulent purchases, resale to third parties and even identity theft. While there are no universal statistics on the number or nature of phishing scams, most security websites agree on the following –

-Financial Services is the most targeted industry sector overall
-Paypal, Ebay, Amazon and the major banks are the most targeted companies
-North America is both the primary target audience and the region were the largest number of phishing sites are hosted
-Websites are by far the most popular portals through which to gather information, although an increasing number of phishing scams instruct targets to call a telephone number

Below are screenshots from a phishing email I recently received. Have a look at the warning signs –
Continue reading ‘Tutorial: Spotting a Phishing Scam in your Email’

Further Research