Exploiting Computer Chip Flaws

In my Jon Masters thriller series, my protagonist Jon has a friend named Ed Ochoa. Ed is a computer genius and often does some cyber-magic to produce secure, and usually unavailable, information that helps Jon out of a variety of life and death situations. Since I only have rather basic computer skills, I’m often searching the Internet for interesting tidbits of cyber information to dazzle my readers with just enough “computer geek” terms to make the story work and to make it as believable as possible.

Jon’s friend Ed often inserts bits of malware into unsuspecting computers to secure information that should remain . . . well, SECURE! Ed’s help for my protagonist Jon is invaluable because Ed’s cyber-magic allows Jon to cut legal corners and secure information that not only saves Jon’s life at various moments, but also saves the world a good bit of global grief from time to time.

Click on either of these book covers for a story synopsis.

In that spirit, I was most interested to read a recent article which detailed how a team of security experts uncovered flaws in the more commonly used, and most up-to-date, computer chips. These flaws allow hackers (such as Ed) to lift passwords, documents and other supposedly secure data from smartphones, PCs and cloud computing services.

There are two specific flaws, called Meltdown and Spectre, that are causing so much concern in the computer world this year. Both involve critical vulnerabilities in today’s computer processors by allowing an interloper to read secret data from stored files in different ways than before.

Both Meltdown and Spectre take advantage of the way computer chips are designed. In and of themselves, Meltdown and Spectre are not malware but rather basic flaws in computer chip technology that allow malicious hackers to use malware to exploit these critical vulnerabilities.

I thought I’d share this information, especially for writers who rely on any form of computer hacking in their storylines. You can be sure that I will tuck this information safely away (alas, maybe not on my computer) for use in a future thriller plot.

Meltdown breaks down the most fundamental walls between user applications and the operating system such that an attacker could use malicious software to easily access computer memory for sensitive data.

Spectre, on the other hand, breaks down the walls between different applications to allow an attacker to trick programs that are considered safe and error-free into releasing their secrets. My computer-savvy character Ed does just that by introducing “Trojan Horse” technology into secure databanks not only to access information but to trick the computers into sending back updated information on a regular basis.

According to what I’ve read about malware that can take advantage of the Spectre chip flaw, the safety checks of accepted best practices for computer security significantly increase the cyber-attack area (the computer chip data surface area, if you will). This makes computer applications more susceptible to the Spectre flaw. It’s said that, although the Spectre flaw is harder to exploit than Meltdown, it is also more difficult to mitigate without specific software patches.

So, for a more believable storyline that may involve computer hacking (or “shortcuts” as my protagonist Jon and his friend Ed would call them), check out Meltdown and Spectre for more tips on computer vulnerabilities.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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Chasing Away Old Man Winter

January, this first month of the new year, always starts off with great hope and promise. Often, however, those feelings of optimism and expectation sour as the weather turns colder and the sun remains behind dark clouds for weeks on end.

The winter months can quickly become times of isolation and our realities devolve into gloominess. It certainly can affect our outlook on life in general. Scientists call it Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD), and we casually refer to this mindset as the Winter Blues. Even the reality of facing the difficulty of sticking to (or already failing at) our new year’s resolutions can give a negative spin to our mood.

Sadly (pun intended), many people become victims to the winter blues and it can happen so gradually that people often don’t realize what’s happening in their personal world until life seems suddenly “all wrong.”

The good news is that there are simple fixes to transform you back into a happy, productive individual. You might try one or two, or several, of these simple mood elevators to get you back on track with your life. All are helpful in one way or another, and to use an old pharmacy term, “Apply as needed.”

Lighten Up!

1) Experience more natural light. This time of the year, we tend to stay indoors where it is warm, but that usually isolates us and keeps us more in the dark. Put on a coat and take a walk. Get out of the house for a short stroll in your neighborhood or in a park. Even lightening up your home by opening the window coverings for an hour a day can help.

2) Some people add a bit more color to their indoor surroundings during this time of the year and many say that helps brighten their moods as well.

3) Scientists tell us that we can revitalize our outlook on life by simply changing the background on our computers to a beach photo or some other happy, expansive scene.

Take Action!

1) Taking a moment to better organize our lives helps brighten the moods of many. It defines expectations and creates a better focus on free time. Clean out some clutter around the house that you’ve been ignoring (or have been stepping over repeatedly) or do some other task that you’ve been putting off.

2) Arrange a to-do list in a realistic, actionable fashion and check off the items when completed. You’ll love the feeling of accomplishment every time you finish one of those chores.

3) Start a new hobby—something you’ve always wanted to do but never found the time for.

Feel the Burn!

Stay active and increase exercise, or start a new exercise regimen (even if you start with just a few minutes a day). The physical and psychological lift will amaze you.

Fuel Your Mood!

1) Increase your intake of seasonal produce. Studies show that the more fruits and vegetables people consume, the happier they become.

2) Eat a cup of Greek yogurt. Probiotic foods are shown to lift your mood.

3) Eat some dark chocolate. Scientists indicate that even one ounce can make you feel calmer and more content.

4) Consider chamomile tea to not only warm your tummy but also to warm your mood. A University of Pennsylvania study found that chamomile significantly eased symptoms of anxiety.

Become a Groupie!

1) Socialize more and surround yourself with friends and family. Seeking out human interaction is a natural mood elevator and minimizes the negative components in your life.

2) Stay positive by surrounding yourself with positive, energetic people.

Give Back!

1) Help others by doing some volunteer work. Philanthropic work is a well-documented mood enhancer.

2) Write a thank you note to someone who has been nice to you or has done you a favor. It will have a double impact by making you feel good about yourself as well as brighten the mood of the person on the receiving end of your appreciation.


Get Professional Help!

When all else fails, seek professional help. For more serious depression, there may be an underlying cause that requires professional guidance. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your life may depend on it.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in A World of Possibility, About James J. Murray, Achieving Perfection, Being Thankful Every Day, Being Thankful For Your Life, Blog Writers, Blogging, Change in the New Year, Changing Your Life in The New Year, Creating Change in the New Year, Creating New Habits in The New Year, Developing Better Life Skills, Failed New Year’s Resolutions, Forging a Better Life, How To Be A Happier Person, How To Become More Optimistic, How To Change Bad Habits, How to Create a Better Life, How to Create a More Enjoyable Life, How to Create a More Productive Life, How to Create a More Satisfying Life, How To Have A Better Winter, How to Implement New Year's Resolutions, Ideas for Creating Permanent Change, James J. Murray Blog, Life Skills, Life-Altering Goals, Making Change Permanent, Meaningful Change in The New Year, Murder Mayhem and Medicine, New Blog, New Life Goals, New Year's Resolutions, Prescription For Murder Blog, SAD, Seasonal Affected Disorder, Skills to Create a Better Life, The Writings of James J. Murray, Winter Blues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

GRAPEFRUIT – The Killer Fruit!

Occasionally, I hear news reports regarding the dangers of eating grapefruit while on certain medications. Recently, a relative of mine was prescribed a new medication and the prescription label indicated that eating grapefruit while taking the medication could be dangerous.

This is not new information regarding grapefruit with certain prescription drugs, but that label warning reminded me that many are still unaware of this very serious drug-food interaction.

The medical community identified this harmful interaction at least ten years ago and now pharmacists routinely attach alert notices to certain prescription medications involved in these interactions.

The new information here is that the number of drugs that can cause such a deadly interaction with grapefruit has doubled in just the last few years. At present, more than 85 drugs interact with grapefruit to cause injury, 43 of which cause serious or deadly interactions.

The list of drugs that interact with grapefruit now includes many blood pressure medications, most of the cholesterol-lowering drugs, certain cardiac drugs, some anti-seizure medications, specific chemotherapy drugs and a few antibiotic medications.

Sometimes a news anchor will warn the public to stop taking such medications and call their physicians for alternatives. That advice may be premature, and dangerous in itself, if there is not another safer medication that can be substituted quickly. The easier solution and a much safer recommendation would be to simply STOP EATING GRAPEFRUIT!

Many of the drugs that interact with grapefruit are maintenance medications, those that patients take every day for chronic medical conditions. If a patient is achieving acceptable therapeutic effects with a drug therapy, it’s considered irresponsible to discontinue that drug in favor of a specific food choice.

As healthy and tasty as grapefruit is, if taken with certain medications it can be deadly.  As little as one-half grapefruit, or the equivalent in juice, can interfere with the metabolism of certain drugs.  A chemical in grapefruit called furanocoumarin causes certain drugs to stay in the body much longer than expected and this creates an overdose effect when subsequent drug doses are given.

Patients have died from respiratory failure, kidney failure and internal bleeding as a result of this accumulated drug effect. The problem remains a public health hazard for two specific reasons.

First, many people don’t read warning labels and, secondly, people don’t associate a food as simple and healthy as grapefruit as having a deadly effect.

And the problem is becoming more widespread as additional new drugs become available that have this potential for interaction with grapefruit.

It’s a much more responsible plan to eliminate grapefruit from the diet than it is to find a replacement drug, particularly if that drug is working well to control a medical condition.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in About James J. Murray, About Medications/Pharmacy, Blog Writers, Blogging, Deadly Food-Drug Interactions, Deadly Grapefruit, Food-Drug Interactions, Furanocoumarin, Furanocoumarin and Grapefruit, Grapefruit and Drugs, Grapefruit as a Public Health Issue, Grapefruit-Drug Interactions, How Grapefruit Kills, Medication Safety Issues, Murder Mayhem and Medicine, New Blog, New Drug Research, Pharmacist Errors, Prescription Drug Safety, Prescription For Murder Blog, Prescription Trends, The Practice of Pharmacy, Using Grapefruit to Kill | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Action-Pack the New Year!


Now, before you roll your eyes at yet another lesson about New Year’s resolutions, here are some practical suggestions to help you make realistic goals and keep yourself on track to meet those goals.

Take a deep breath and smile! The new year is fresh and filled with potential. Whatever unfulfilled dreams you had last year is history. Leave them behind and don’t look back.

It’s time to focus on what you want and need to accomplish going forward. Forget about calling them New Year’s Resolutions. Instead, call them New Life Goals.

Each new year is a golden opportunity to make meaningful life adjustments to create a better personal world. I’ve learned that deciding on the right New Life Goals can be daunting. You may have one BIG change you wish to make or there may be many small adjustments you’d like to incorporate into your life. The principles of change are the same for both: Plan, Execute, Adjust and Repeat.

*The key word here is REPEAT!*

For meaningful change to happen, you must make that change a habit. If you want to be more active, you must get your body used to whatever you want it to do by actually doing that action. If it’s a new thing you want to accomplish in life (like maybe writing a book), you need to practice doing that until it becomes a habit. Start with setting aside a couple of hours a day to write.

It’s said that anything you do as a ritual each day for two consecutive weeks becomes a daily habit. In that sense, after fourteen days you will be in the habit of sitting down to write (or whatever it is you’ve decided as your change) and that becomes a good habit. If you miss doing it one day, it will feel wrong -> and that’s a good thing!

Adjust your life to achieve your goal rather than adjusting your goal.  Create a new habit and repeat it as often as possible to make it a part of your life.

Meaningful changes in your life happen by identifying goals, incorporating them into your life and making that specific change a habit—and it’s a continual process of improvement.

If you’ve identified multiple goals for 2018, you’ve created an extra challenge for yourself. You can achieve all of your goals, but you simply have to work on one before starting another. Prioritize each goal and tackle them one at a time.

Attempting to achieve multiple goals at once can be overwhelming and it sets you up for failure. Achieving meaningful change takes focus. Don’t dilute your effectiveness by focusing on several changes at once.

The important thing to remember is that this is a New Year. The slate is totally clean and you have all year to achieve the goals you’ve identified.

Tackle the one goal that’s most important to you first. Attack it with gusto! Achieve it! Own it!

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in A Holiday Wish, A New Year's Greeting, A New Year's Wish, About James J. Murray, Achieving Perfection, Blog Writers, Blogging, Change in the New Year, Changing Your Life in The New Year, Create a Better You, Creating Change in the New Year, Creating New Habits in The New Year, Developing Better Life Skills, Forging a Better Life, Happy New Year, How To Change Bad Habits, How to Create a Better Life, How to Create a More Enjoyable Life, How to Create a More Productive Life, How to Create a More Satisfying Life, How to Implement New Year's Resolutions, How to Make New Year's Resolutions, Ideas for Creating Permanent Change, James J. Murray Blog, Life Skills, Life-Altering Goals, Making Change Permanent, Murder Mayhem and Medicine, New Blog, New Life Goals, New Year's Resolutions, Prescription For Murder Blog, Skills to Create a Better Life, The Writings of James J. Murray | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



May peace break into your home;

May thieves steal your debts;

May the pockets of your jeans

Become magnets for $100 bills.

May love stick to you like glue;

May laughter assault your lips.

May happiness spread across your face;

May your tears be that of joy;

May the problems you had this past year forget your address.

In short . . .

May 2018 be the BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE!To You and Yours!!


Posted in A Holiday Wish, A New Year's Greeting, A New Year's Poem, A New Year's Wish, About James J. Murray, Happy Holidays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wishing You a Joyous Winter Holiday

Wishing You a Joyous Winter Holiday



Happy Holidays


May You and Yours Be Filled

With Joy and Peace

During This Holiday Season

Posted in A Christmas Greeting, A Holiday Wish, About James J. Murray, Blog Writers, Blogging, Christmas Themed Blog, Happy Holidays, Holiday Cheer, James J. Murray Blog, New Blog, The Writings of James J. Murray | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PRIONS and the Zombie Disease!

Imagine designing a murder mystery or thriller plot using a substance that transformed ordinary people into zombies and then writing a convincing story based on the science of it all.

The victims in your story would have difficulty walking because of loss of coordination skills and severe muscle twitching. They would draw up their arms and shiver. They would slur their speech and constantly be agitated. They would look emaciated and sick because they’d have trouble chewing and swallowing. If this sounds like a zombie description, I’d have to answer a dramatic “Yes!”

However, I would be describing a person with a disease known as kuru. It’s extremely rare, but always fatal. The disease reached its peak in the late 1950s and early 1960s in New Guinea and is primarily a neurological disease that presents when infectious, abnormal proteins invade the brain.

These abnormal proteins are called prions—misshapen protein particles that form when normal proteins misfold and clump together.

The Fore people of New Guinea contracted the kuru disease because of their cannibalistic funeral rituals. They ate the brains of dead relatives during funeral rites. But it’s not the tribe’s cannibalism itself that caused the disease. It’s the fact that the consumed brain matter contained the prions already and they were transmitted orally within the brain matter.

Present day science tells us that prions are amyloid particles that form from normal brain proteins and may contribute to such diseases as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. Scientists describe a prion as the smallest infectious disease-causing agent, but it is also the most indestructible biological entity.

Prions are responsible for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (known as mad cow disease) and its human counterpart, Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. There are no generally accepted treatments for these infections and they are almost always fatal.

Initially, people with prion body accumulations in the brain experience neurological degenerations that exhibit as behavioral and personality changes, dementia and muscle coordination difficulties. The symptoms progress to convulsions and eventually to death.

Besides consuming contaminated brain matter, these encephalopathy diseases can be transmitted via blood transfusions, intravenous immunoglobulin therapies and human growth hormone treatments that have been contaminated with or contain prion bodies. Contaminated surgical instruments and organs for transplant can also transmit prion bodies.

It should be noted, however, that tests for such abnormalities have become standard practice during blood collection and prior to organ transplantation. So how could you design a murder, or a catastrophic epidemic for that matter, around the transmission of prions?

Novelists have, in fact, written and published novels with this science interwoven into the plot—like Cold Plague by Daniel Kalla and The Sixth Extinction by James Rollins. So, you’d have to devise a bit of a twist for your plot to overshadow these successful authors.

Articles that discuss the science behind a would-be zombie invasion suggest that attaching a prion to a virus that could spread and carry the prions to the frontal lobe and cerebellum could be effective, but likely a slow process. It’s been suggested, however, that any virus that causes encephalitis would do—herpes, enteroviruses, mosquito and tick-borne viruses, rabies and even some so-called childhood diseases like mumps and measles.

Dr. Jay Fishman, Director of Transplant Infectious Diseases at Mass General Transplant Center in Boston states that attaching a prion to a common virus is “a fairly unlikely scenario” and, therefore, an author would need lots of creative thinking to make the science work.

I suspect that some clever genetic alteration of a fast-acting virus would be in order here to make such an event believable to create a scientifically based zombie plague or a zombie-like murder, but I’ll leave those specific details up to you.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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