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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Technology: Ransomware - The Virus That Can Hold You Hostage

We are living in a day and age in which our computers can hold us hostage; demanding ransom in exchange for release.

I am talking about ransomware – one of the biggest threats the internet holds for us.



But just what is ransomware and what is a ransomware attack exactly?

Ransomware is a form of malware (malicious software or virus) which encrypts documents on computers and across networks. Once infected, the victims of ransomware can very often only regain access to their files/computers by paying a ransom to the criminals behind the attack, hence the name ransomware.  An infection often starts by a simple attachment click, making this type of virus a very serious and worrying problem indeed.




A whole new era of cybercrime 

According to an article by Danny Palmer on zdnet.com entitled “Ransomware: An executive guide to one of the biggest menaces on the web”, which is the main source of the information used in this article, “cybercriminals didn’t use to be so obvious [in the past]. Hackers would do everything possible to avoid detection as it was in their best interest not to alert their victims of their doings”. However now, ransomware attackers shamelessly announce to their victims their intentions, holding them hostage via their data, until they pay up. It is said that cybercriminals pocketed over a staggering one billion dollars from ransomware attacks in last year alone!




How long has ransomware been around for?

Although ransomware occurrences have increased drastically in the last two years, it is by no means a new phenomenon, the first cases of which appeared as far back as the 1980’s already! According to Palmer, how this virus worked back then was “the virus was sent to victims on a floppy disc. The ransomware then counted the number of times the PC was booted and once it hit 90, it encrypted the machine and demanded the user ‘renew a fictitious license’ with 'PC Cyborg Corporation' by sending $189 or $378 to a post office box in Panama.



How Ransomware evolved

The early versions of ransomware (such as the floppy disc version mentioned above), was quite easy to overcome because it relied on very basic cryptography in its functioning. However, these days the cryptography involved in the sophisticated ransomware in use now is so advanced that the mere mention of the word ‘ransomware’ is enough to make the corporate network world cringe.





What are some types of ransomware in existence today?

Today there exists many different types and forms of ransomware; some of which are more menacing in nature (and difficult to remove) than others. On example of an incredibly menacing form of ransomware is Locky, which often features in newspaper headlines due to the severity and cunningness of its nature. But just what is Locky exactly? According to pcrisk.comLocky is ransomware distributed via malicious .doc files attached to spam email messages. Each word document contains scrambled text, which appear to be macros. When users enable macro settings in the Word program, an executable file (the ransomware) is downloaded. Various files are then encrypted.” What further makes Locky so successful is the fact that those behind it often update the code that runs it, with changes which makes its detection near impossible.  Other equally menacing ransomware viruses doing the round include Cryptowall and Cerber. Just do an internet search on these if you wish to find out more.






How to avoid being infected with ransomware? 

Danny Palmer has this to say regarding ransomware attack avoidance: “With email being by far the most popular attack vector for ransomware, you should provide employees with training on how to spot an incoming attack. Even picking up on little indicators like poor formatting or that an email purporting to be from 'Microsoft Security' is sent from a obscure address which doesn't even contain the word Microsoft within it might save your network from infection. There's also something to be said for enabling employees to learn from making mistakes while within a safe environment. For example, one firm has developed an interactive video experience which allows its employees to make decisions on a series of events then find out the consequences of those at the end. This enables them to learn from their mistakes without suffering any of the actual consequences. On a technical level, stopping employees from being able to enable macros is a big step towards ensuring that they can't unwittingly run a ransomware file. Microsoft Office 2016 -- and now Microsoft 2013 -- both carry features which allow macros to be disabled. At the very least, employers should invest in antivirus software and keep it up-to-date, so that it can warn users about potentially malicious files.





How to rid yourself of ransomware

The zdnet.com article by Danny Palmer goes on to offer this valuable advice/information on how to rid yourself of a dreading ransomware infection: “The 'No More Ransom' initiative -- launched by Europol and the Dutch National Police in collaboration with a number of cyber security companies -- offers free decryption tools for ransomware variants to help victims retrieve their data without succumbing to the will of cyber extortionists. The portal offers decryption tools for ransomware variants including Crypt XXX, MarsJoke, Teslacrypt, and Wildfire. It's updated as often as possible in an effort to ensure tools are available to fight the latest forms of ransomware. Another way of working around a ransomware infection is to ensure your organisation regularly backs up data offline. There are those who say victims should just pay the ransom, citing it to be the quickest and easiest way to retrieve data -- and many organisations do pay. But be warned: if word gets out that your organisation is an easy target for cybercriminals because it paid a ransom, you could find yourself in the cross-hairs of other cybercriminals who are looking to take advantage of your weak security. And remember that you're dealing with criminals here and their very nature means they may not keep their word. There are stories of victims paying ransoms and still not having files returned.”




Can ransomware infect other devices, such as a smartphone or android device?

The scary answer to the question above is yes it can. In fact attacks against such devices have increased massively of late since many people are unaware of the possibility of attacks, only realising the reality of them, once it is too late. It is a fact that any device that is connected to the internet can be a potential infection risk, including our modern day smart televisions!




For more on ransomware and to read the full article by Danny Palmer, visit the following link.

Till next time, be safe

Debbie Nel

Xxxxxxxx

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Monday, 6 March 2017

Health: Scientists Discover A New Organ!

Just when you start to think that you know it all, science has a wonderful little way of popping up and surprising you with some new, unknown little fact. 


One such fact is the announcement of a recently discovered organ in the human body. What makes this discovery so amazing is the fact that it (the organ) has always been there, hiding within our digestive system. 


Named as the mesentery, this new organ was originally believed to be made up of various fragmented, separate structures, however recent findings have proved that is in fact one continuous organ.


Although we now have much more knowledge and understanding of the mesentery, its actual function is not yet quite fully understood. Scientists however believe that studying it might be able to aid in the understanding and treatment of various digestive and abdominal diseases as well as other disorders and health concerns such as diabetes and obesity, which makes it quite revolutionary in the field of science, as well as the future of human health. 

The mesentery also serves to link our gut to the rest of our body, whilst keeping our intestines in a particular arrangement so that when we move about, they stay intact. Without a mesentery our intestines would run the risk of collapsing into the pelvic area.


Since the discovery, that the mesentery is in fact one continuous organ as opposed to just being a set of separate structures, medical textbooks and journals (including the world renowned Gray’s Anatomy) have been updated to include the new definition. Even new med students have started learning that the mesentery is a whole distinct organ. 

Till next time

Debbie Nel

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Health: An Alternative Healthier Sweet Tea Recipe

The popularity of sweet tea is rising in both America and internationally. However the high sugar content in most sweet tea recipes makes them incredibly unhealthy.



But don’t despair! There are alternatives to the traditional recipes that won’t put you into a diabetic coma or make you pack on [too] many pounds. 

If you are a lover of “All Things Southern” then be sure to try this recipe: 




Debbie’s Honey Bee Sweet Tea
What makes this recipe healthier is the fact that it makes use of natural honey as opposed to refined sugar. The ingredients are:



3/4 Cup of raw honey
2 Iced tea bags (any variety will do so pick your favourite)
3.5 Litres of purified water 
4 Litre glass jug / pitcher
1/8 Teaspoon baking soda
Lemon (to taste) – Optional
Ice for serving



Method:

  1. Boil 1.25 litres of the purified water (in a kettle or on the stove)
  2. Remove water from heat and steep tea bags in it for 6 to 10 minutes
  3. Remove the tea bags from the water and add the ¾ cup of honey and the baking soda to the mix and stir again. 
  4. Add the rest of the water (1.25 litres)
  5. Pour the mix into the glass jug / pitcher (once the mixture is cooled enough so the pitcher does not crack or explode from the heat) and place in the fridge
  6. Once chilled / cooled, serve with ice and lemon (to taste)


Note: 

1.A trick to making the perfect sweet tea is to add the honey (or sugar if you opt for the unhealthier option) while the water is still boiling or just as it is removed from the heat (note: Do NOT add honey/sugar to an electric kettle; pour the water out first).
2.Another alternative to using honey is to use maple syrup. Although it is viewed as being a bit unhealthier than honey, maple syrup is still a better option than using refined cane sugar.
3.Be sure to stir the 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda into the mixture whilst adding the honey/sugar (when the mixture is still nice and hot) as this will help to remove the bitterness from the tea. 
4.If you like your tea flavour stronger, just add another teabag to the recipe. 






Enjoy!

Debbie Nel

xxxxx

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Monday, 13 February 2017

The #debnelv3monthchallenge conclusion photo reveal

As you all know, I ended my #debnelv3monthchallenge a bit earlier than originally anticipated, since I was more than happy with the results I had reached as of the 2nd of February 2017 already.


This challenge was really great fun and I gained so much personally from it. I urge every single one of you out there that are reading this right now to at least give it a shot. What do you have to lose (except for weight that is)?


To recap briefly, I prepared for his challenge by firstly letting my overall appearance go and by gaining several kilograms. Once I was ready to begin my challenge, I gave myself three months in which to lose the weight and look/feel better.


I then planned out a weekly meal plan and exercise routine. The meal plan consisted of basic fruits and vegetables with only fish products as a source of meat (cutting out all red meat in the process). The exercise routine consisted primarily of aerobic/dance style workouts which I did on average for 20 to 40 minutes per day.


I upped my daily water intake and I treated my hair and skin with various oils and other organic remedies.  I also tried to minimise my stress levels and make use of yoga and meditation to centre myself.


Was I successful in what I set out to achieve?


Well you be the judge of that


Remember to keep checking my postings and blog to see when I release my e-book in which I shall be sharing all my hair, skin, diet, meditation and exercise tips, tricks and hacks. I have no idea when this shall be unfortunately as I have been incredibly busy as of late with all my writing endeavours, not to mention my impending Academics Can Kill Your Sanity.com website launch. One thing I can promise you all though is that the e-book will be finished and released in due time.



Thank you all once again for sharing in the experience of this challenge with me.

Let me know what you think of my results

Take care

Debbie Vermaak Nel
Xxxxx

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Friday, 3 February 2017

Lifestyle trends: “Going Underground” Has A Whole New Meaning!

Normally if we hear someone speaking of “going underground”, we would assume that person means “going underground” in the sense of disappearing out of society for a while. However, the term “going underground” can literally mean you plan on living underground! What might surprise you even more is the fact that the concept of living underground is not a recent one and there even exists an underground town in Australia known as Cooper Pedy, which has been around since 1915!  You can read more about the town by visiting http://www.cooberpedy.net/ 


Interested in building an underground house of your own? If so, there are many companies that specialise in green building. For example you can visit http://kirknielsen.com/project/underground/  if you wish to view such a company. Incidentally they are the same company that built the structure you see below.


Many tourists flock to The White Cliffs Underground Motel in New South Wales Australia every year. Now I am not sure about all of you but I sure as heck won't be able to stay here! Hello claustrophobia! 


Cooper Pedy is by no means the only underground town around, in fact there are at least nine others scattered in different parts of the world. A good example of one being Dixia Cheng, situated in Beijing China. This city originally started out as an underground shelter for use during disasters and attacks.


A few years ago the concept house featured in this photograph below (known as Casa Brutale) was designed by a company known as Open Plan for Architecture. It was meant to be built overlooking the Aegean Sea in Greece but to my knowledge, up until now the company has not managed to find an investor for the project. 


If going underground is not your thing, you can always choose to live in a cave like Angelo Mastropietro. His house which he affectionately named The Rockhouse Retreat is all the rage!


So what do you think? Is underground living for you? 

Till next time

Debbie Nel

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Thursday, 2 February 2017

Healthy Lifestyles: Total Transformations - The #debnelv3monthchallenge conclusion

Hello all. Some of you might be wondering why I never posted a "week 10 and 11" update to my #debnelv3monthchallenge. Well there are two reasons for this. Firstly, I have been incredibly busy as of late with the impending launch of my Academics Can Kill Your Sanity website. Secondly, I have decided to end the above-mentioned challenge a little earlier than originally anticipated.


My previous D-Day was set to be the 13th of February 2017, however since I am more than happy with my progress I have decided that it is time to quit.  This challenge was originally started in order to prove a point to someone else but I can really say that I have actually amazed myself in all that I have gained from it personally.


The first thing I learnt is that by following the right eating habits and having a regular exercise routine, a person really can feel a million times better with recharged energy and a renewed zest for life! I have always been a bit of a fitness freak but I have never before taken it to the level I did now during this challenge.


I have also learned that I was too thin to begin with before starting this challenge. My original weight was 55kg before I packed on the pounds needed to embark on this journey with all of you. Although my doctor has been telling me for years that I was actually underweight according to my height and other factors, I chose to ignore him. However I have come to see for myself that he was indeed correct!


I originally gained just under 11 kg for this challenge (10.9kg to be exact) and for a while I had a bit of lag in shedding the pounds (with factors such as Christmas not helping much). This lag did a lot of good though, in that it helped me to really "see" what I looked like at pretty much every kg loss.


I henceforth came to the conclusion that the weight that suits me best is 59kg in that it is the weight class at which my eyes don't look sunken and my jawline does not appear so thin. As far as my other goals are concerned, I am very happy to report that these have all been reached with no problems. My skin is back to the way it was originally and my hair has never looked better.


I shall be keeping my photo reveal date as 13 February 2017, unless something else hampers my schedule.


That's it for now. On a last note though I want to add a message to all the ladies out there: - It does not help you look like a stick figure as it really does not suit anyone and it's not worth the price of your health.


Till next time, take care

Debbie Nel

xxxxxxx

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Monday, 23 January 2017

Lifestyle trends: Van living!

In the past when we thought about vans, we thought of them in the lines of being transport for mass amounts of people or even as little take away businesses at best.


However these days vans have become a lifestyle trend for many in that vans have become the housing solution of choice for quite a few couples! Even families with children are choosing to live in vans!


But just why has this trend picked up though? Well for various reasons actually.  For starters the cost of living/housing has become so expensive that humanity has decided they need a cheaper alternative and what could be cheaper than living in a van?


Others have decided that they are tired of living stressful lifestyles and opt to live in vans due to the freedom and stress free existence that living the life of a van nomad will grant them.


Since van living is so cheap, many bloggers and other “internet employees” have opted to live in vans so that they can quit their day jobs and just survive on the small incomes their online jobs supply them with. In fact, some are even calling van living the “New American Dream”! 

This is all good and well but I must say that to me, van living is a sure way to live the “American Nightmare”! Why I say this is simply because we are living in the 21st century. An era filled with crime, especially rapes and murders. Therefore I do not see living in a van (or any mobile home for that matter) as being a smart life choice. 



This rings true for any country in the world and not just America (since van living has turned into an international modern day trend). It is simply just not safe enough anywhere anymore for people to go around living in vehicles that offer little to no security whatsoever. 



The idea is nice, this much I will say, but unfortunately reality is a bitch.

Till next time.

Xxxxx

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