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Free Download: How to Make a Custom Shutdown Button for XP/2003

As promised, I wrote a step-by-step article illustrating how to create your own custom shutdown button that will work with XP and Windows 2003 Server. Even if you don’t have shutdown problems, this handy little button makes shutting down your computer a one-click proposition.

Download the instructions (PDF)

Cheers!
The Geek

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Filed in: Computers, Freebies, How To
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Computer Won’t Shut Down? Try This

I get a lot of “Ask the Geek” emails from people whose computers won’t shut down properly, either hanging up or rebooting endlessly. (Sometimes, nothing at all happens and you have to press and hold the power button.) Rather than trying to answer each question, I figure it’s time I made this tip available to everyone and posted it here. You see, trying to diagnose what may be causing shutdown problems is difficult without my being at the machine. There’s a Microsoft article, “Resources to help troubleshoot shutdown problems in Windows XP,” that describes the process. Not simple.

But, there is a simple way to force your computer to shut down that often works like magic. It’s a command built into Windows XP called, appropriately, “shutdown.exe.” Just click Start–>Run and type “shutdown -f -s -t 0” (without the quotes – the last character is a zero) and hit Enter. Your PC will shutdown immediately.

I am working on a step-by-step article, complete with screen shots, that explains how to make a custom shutdown button using the shutdown.exe command. I also plan to record a short video with commentary. I’ll let you know when these are done and how you can get them.

Cheers!
The Geek

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Filed in: Computers, How To
9

How to Handle a Trojan Horse on Your PC

I was checking my web site logs last night and was pleasantly surprised to find lots of traffic coming from download.com. One of their writers, Jessica Delacourt, included a link to my bootable thumb drive virus scanner in her article “Beat back that Trojan Horse.”

Ms. Delacourt presents several ways of dealing with the damage caused by a Trojan infection. The article is excellent and I highly recommend it.

And, Ms. Delacourt, thanks for link!

Cheers!
The Geek

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How to Secure Your Computer: Maxim #5

To say nothing of Microsoft Windows, there are few, if any, application software packages that are free of security vulnerabilities. The SANS Institute publishes its Top- 20 Internet Security Attack Targets on a regular basis and Secunia currently lists 14,043 pieces of software and operating systems with vulnerabilities. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that most reputable software companies, when informed of a vulnerability by security researchers, promptly issue a software patch to fix it. These are widely available to the public for free download or through update features built into the software packages. Windows allows you to turn on Automatic Updates (which you should do). Check the Help menu in other software packages for the update feature.

There’s more bad news, however. Most people don’t keep up with patches on their systems except for Windows updates. Which brings us to computer security Maxim #5:

A vital part of PC security is keeping up with software patches for ALL of the software on your system, not just the operating system. Where it is available, use the software’s automatic updates feature.

Cheers!
The Geek

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Filed in: Computers, How To, Security, Tips
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How can I turn my IDE hard drive into a USB drive?

Marcella asks:

Both my desktop computers have died (electrical surge), and I’m using my laptop. I need a device that I can hook my desktop hard drives to and access/retrieve the files. All the storage devices I’ve found operate from an existing computer setup and need an O/S to run. Does a device exist that I can just attach my hard drives to and retrieve/store/access my files? In short, I don’t care about the computers, only about retrieving my data.

As a matter of fact, you can convert your drives to USB drives with a relatively inexpensive kit. Then you can plug them into your laptop and access all the data and even use the external drives as backups for your laptop. Here’s one link: http://www.usb-ware.com/tt-firewire-400-usb-2-drive-kit.htm.

Cheers!
The Geek

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Update: How to make a bootable thumb drive virus scanner for NTFS

Please note: the information in this post is outdated. This post has been superceded by “How to make a bootable thumb drive virus scanner for NTFS: 2008 update.” Please do not post a comment saying that this post is out of date–I just told you that! Go to the latest post.

Some nice folks have recently told me about broken links in the article. Thank you! The NTFS4DOS tool I specified is still available. Datapol is still alive, apparently having been acquired by Avira, the German company who makes the free — and very good, I might add — antivirus program, Antivir. Here’s the full orignal article with all of the links checked and fixed:

My latest Kool Tekkie Tool (KTT, pronounced “kit”) comprises a thumb drive made bootable with Datapol’s NTFS4DOS; the latest version (3.16b) of FRISK Software International’s F-Prot Antivirus for DOS is run from the command line. Both of these utilities are free for personal use, but require payment if you plan to use them in a commercial setting: NTFS4DOS is only $25; F-prot is $29 for a 20-user license.

NTFS4DOS is, in itself, a KTT. It allows you to make an NTFS-capable floppy disk or thumb drive and comes with chkdsk and defrag utilities to boot. First, make your drive bootable by following the instructions in my LockerGnome article, “Kool Tool to Make Your Thumb Drive Bootable.” (The original link to the HP utility in that article is broken click here to download the HP utility.) CAUTION! This will completely erase your drive; be sure you have your data backed up before you start. Then, download NTFS4DOS and run the setup. From the NTFS4DOS program group, select “Create NTFS-capable boot floppy.” Select the drive letter of your thumb drive and click Next twice. Your thumb drive is now bootable and NTFS capable.

Next, download F-prot, the latest virus signatures and the latest macro virus signatures and extract them to a folder on your thumb drive. You’re ready to go! Plug it in and let’s take it for a spin.

Make sure you set your PC’s BIOS to boot from your thumb drive. On most machines, you do this by making “USB” or “Removable Device” first in the boot order. If all goes well, the PC will boot to a startup menu. Choose NTFS4DOS; you’ll see the drives being mounted and if you are using the freeware version, the screen will scroll to the NTFS4DOS title screen; you will have to answer “yes” to the question “Do you use this version of NTFS4DOS for private usage only? (Yes/No):” You’ll see the mounted drives at the top of the screen and the C:\> prompt at the bottom. Change to the folder where you stored F-prot and run f-prot.exe to do a virus scan.

Pretty Kool, eh?

Cheers!
The Geek

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How to Secure Your Computer: Maxim #3

In How to Secure Your Computer: Maxim #2, I stressed the importance of having a NAT router between your PC and the Internet. While that is without question the first, most important security step, it alone is not enough. The router itself is a weak point unless you have it properly configured.

All routers come with a default username and password configured. These defaults are well known and published on the Web. Three of the more widely-used consumer routers, Linksys, D-Link, and Netgear, have recently been shown to be vulnerable to a JavaScript web page attack. Go to the wrong site and if your router has the default password, the attacker can change its settings to send you wherever they want you to go. You’ll think you’re looking at your bank’s login page, but it will be a fake look-alike that steals your account information as soon as you log in.

Always change the default username and password of any configurable device you put on your home network.

Cheers!
The Geek

Note: If any of what I say in these Maxims is over your head, please find a friendly Geek to help you, or post a comment here asking for clarification.

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How to Secure Your Computer: Maxim #2 (or, How Not to Invite Attackers Into Your PCs and Networks)

In my previous post, How to Secure Your Computer: Maxim #1, I said that the best security measures are useless if you invite attackers into your PCs and networks. Several people have taken me to task on that statement, saying that they always practice safe surfing, never click on links in emails, etc., etc. I listened intently and acknowledged that they’re doing the right things, mostly. But when I asked what type of router they were using, I drew a few blank stares.

The on-by-default Windows firewall notwithstanding, anyone who has a PC plugged directly into their DSL or cable modem is at serious risk of having their PC hijacked and their personal information stolen. A PC connected directly to the Internet is visible to anyone who cares to look for it, a sugar-coated invitation to criminal hackers and spammers. An inexpensive router using network address translation (NAT) serves as an excellent hardware firewall, making your computer virtually invisible. And what they can’t see, they can’t get. With that in mind, here is Maxim#2:

A first, important step in securing your PC is to install and configure a NAT router.

Cheers!
The Geek

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