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Tips for a Healthy Computer

Driver ErrorOur computers have become a mainstay in our homes and offices, and we rely on them to perform well to keep the rest of our lives motoring along at peak efficiency as well. One of the most common problems people encounter with their computers has to do with their drivers. These tiny bits of software are responsible for many of the communication connections within our computer systems. When communication is hindered, the entire system can be affected. We have some tips to keep your computer in top health by keeping your drivers in top form.

Click Here To Download Your Drive Analyzer Report

First, make sure you perform periodic updates on your drivers. Just like the rest of your system, drivers need to be equipped with the latest and greatest technology to allow them to communicate effectively with the rest of your updated system. In some cases, you will know your driver is due for an update because your computer will slow down or a particular piece of hardware no longer works as well. However, it is best to perform updates before these types of problems arise, so maintaining a regular update schedule may be the best approach.

Next, make sure your system remains clean by removing unused and outdated drivers as necessary. Just like any other excess files cluttering your system, unused drivers can take up valuable computer space, which can slow down the performance of your system. If you have an automated driver program, this software will often remove these unwanted drivers automatically for you. For more about these programs, click here:

Click Here To Download Your Drive Analyzer Report

Keeping your drivers working at top capacity makes a big difference in the performance of your PC. You can handle these tasks manually or invest in an automated driver software program that can take care of these jobs for you. Check out this automated program here:

Click Here To Download Your Drive Analyzer Report

Filed in: Answers, Software, Tips
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Preface to “14 Golden Rules of Computer Security”

It isn’t getting any better on the Wild, Wild Web, despite state and federal government attempts to arrest and prosecute those responsible for electronically-perpetrated criminal acts. Spyware and malware of all kinds are increasingly more stealthy and difficult to remove thanks to rootkit technology. With the advent of Web 2.0 and its emphasis on sharing and collaboration through such social networking websites and services as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and the like, web-based attacks are more prevalent than ever. These sites are based on active, dynamic content and rely on special programs that run in your web browser to perform their magic. These programs can be modified by malicious hackers to steal your passwords, bank account information and virtually anything stored on your computer.

New laws have done little to deter or eliminate spammers, largely because many of them aren’t located in the United States. Despite the few high profile cases in the news, the truth is that few spammers are ever caught. Considering studies that show some spam campaigns can produce as much as $3.5 million in a year, it’s easy to see why today the spam problem is worse than ever–some estimates place the amount of spam email at 80% to 90% of all emails sent.

These days, everyone is at risk of falling victim to cyber-crime, even those of us who know and practice computer security on a daily basis. The average person who goes to the local big box electronics store and buys a PC or laptop for use at home is often lulled into a false sense of security because their purchase is bundled with some “security suite” by some big-name company. They go home, take everything out of the box, plug it all in and usually end up getting infected with all kinds of nasty things in very short order.

I put this book together in hopes that it will make a difference, however small, in how people look at computing and the Internet. Maybe it will save someone from the hardships of financial loss caused by using a compromised PC to access their bank and credit card accounts. Maybe it will save someone from having to pay a big bill to a technician to clean up a severely infected computer. Maybe, just maybe, it will help take some of the profit out of spam and malware. One can always hope.

At the very least, I hope that you, Dear Reader, find this information useful and that it helps make your computing experience more enjoyable.

Ken Harthun

Note: Any discussion of security, cyber- or otherwise, must be based on the concept of a security baseline – the bare security essentials without which all else is futile. The articles that follow assume that a good baseline already exists, whether the computer is just out of the box, or has been running for awhile What’s a good PC security baseline? I propose these four bare security essentials: “a NAT router; a good antivirus program; a good anti-malware program; and, a good software firewall.” These days antivirus, antimalware and a software firewall are usually combined into a single suite. I choose to align with Windows Secrets’ Security Baseline page: “a hardware firewall that’s built into your [NAT] router, security software that guards against all types of malware threats, a software-update service to ensure that your applications are patched against the latest exploits, and a secure browser.”–KH

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Internet Safety in the Digital Age

Let me introduce a very special guest blogger, Mr. Paul Shirey. Paul is a young man (13 years old) who definitely has a handle on what this Internet thing is all about. In fact, given that people of his generation have this kind of savvy, I think there’s hope that the Internet will evolve from it’s current state of “Wild, Wild, Web” into something more akin to a world wide communications and information portal that is safe for everyone to use. It’s quite possible that you’ll be hearing more from this young man as a future mover and shaker.

You can contact Paul through his website at http://www.teenradiojourney.com or you can leave a comment here. Here’s his article.

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In the digital age,? most of us, if not all, depend on the Internet to get us through the day: some jobs are even 100% online. Well,? sometimes the Internet isn’t all that great, and might be infected with malicious files. Luckily, there are ways you can defend yourself against the Internet terrorists of the digital age.

Online Accounts

The number of online accounts you have can really affect the chances of your accounts being hacked and your identity stolen. The more accounts you have, the more at risk you are. If someone steals your identity and commits a crime in your name, it is possible that you could be the one that ends up behind bars, and none of us want that to happen.

There is a simple way to keep your online accounts secure–don’t use the same password for every online account you have. Imagine this: One day your computer gets infected with malware called a keylogger. Keyloggers record everything you type on your computer. If the hacker behind the malware can find out one of your online passwords before you get the malware removed, that person would have access to all of your online accounts because you used the same password for every account.

Though using the same password for every account you create can be helpful for you (because you won’t have to remember what the password is for every account), it is a serious security threat. There are some very simple ways you can stop this bad habit.

1. If you don’t have a lot of online accounts, use a series of passwords and rotate them between accounts. This way it would be harder for someone to hack into your accounts, and your account could even be temporarily suspended from too many log in attempts.

2. Using a password keeper is an excellent way to create multiple passwords, and most of them have password generators built into them. Even though it might be a little bit annoying to have to copy and paste passwords all the time to log in, it could really be a life saver. You wouldn’t necessarily have to create a generated password for all of your accounts, just the ones you couldn’t afford to get hacked like your bank account or PayPal account. You can download a free password keeper by going here http://keepass.info/. This password keeper can even go onto a USB stick.

Spam

Spam is another way internet hackers gain control of people’s computers and lives. There are some very simple ways you can tell if an email message is spam.

Contains mostly links and is in plain text.

Comes from a free email service like Gmail or Yahoo

Your email client tells you that it is spam

Spam can be very hard to filter out; some spam may even make it through the spam filter. One example of spam that is very tempting is emails that say that you have one a large amount of money. If the email is in plain text and the email address is from a free email service like Gmail or Yahoo, its spam. Delete it and forget it.

If your email client tells you it is spam there is a very small chance that it might not be spam, if you are at a business building using business email, chances are that a lot of non spam emails go to spam due to high filtering settings. You do however need to be able to tell spam from non-spam.

Password Changes

Sites like eBay or PayPal that are heavily encrypted send you an email when your password is changed, even if you were the one that changed it they will still send you an email for security reasons. If you do get one of these emails and you didn’t change the passwoord, you need to contact them immediately.

Imagine that you are opening the door of your house to go inside after a long day at work, but you forget to disarm your security system. The alarm will go off and the alarm company will call you. You tell them that it was only a false alarm and give them your pin number for the alarm system, and they reset the alarms.

So,? going back to the site, the alarm going off when you enter your house is just like you changing your password on a highly encrypted site. The website will contact you just as the alarm company would, except with the website, you usually don’t need to tell them if you changed it or not.

Free Items

Have you ever seen those ads on websites telling you to click to win a free item of high value like a MacBook Air or an expensive car? Well to tell you the truth the website that you clicked on that ad from is just trying to make money, because advertising is how most free websites run. However, that form you will out to get the free item is just collecting your personal information, and you could start receiving tons of spam in the snail mail.

Online Shopping

Another way hackers can attack computers is through online shopping. My rule is the site either has to be approved by internet security companies like McAfee, or use PayPal for orders. I usually will only shop at an online shop if they use PayPal because the only information the store will see when you pay with PayPal is your Name and/or email. That’s a lot better than giving them your credit card number.

The best thing you can do to defend yourself while shopping online is by making sure the shopping website you are buying from is secure. Though eBay and Amazon are very secure, if they were to get hacked it is likely that websites like these would shut down part of their system temporarily until they are sure that the problem is fixed.

Downloads

Downloads can be handy, but if you download multiple programs every day, you could be even more prone to getting a virus. You need to be extremely careful when downloading files from file sharing sites, unless you truly know the person that is hosting them, or were redirected by a software company that you trust.

Sum it up

The key to internet safety is this: if a website or email doesn’t look safe, either don’t go to it,? or do searches on it to see if it is safe. Don’t just look at one search result; look at multiple ones so you are sure that the website is secure. There is a neat little antivirus programs that can keep you safe on the internet, and will even warn you if you try to open an infected webpage or email, and then clean any infected files. You can download this antivirus program by going to http://www.avast.com/. If you already have an antivirus program you trust go ahead and download McAfee Site Advisor http://www.siteadvisor.com/.

Whether you like it or not, you need an antivirus program, it might make your PC a bit slow(er) but it is worth it, you never know when your computer could be threatened in an internet infection.

Paul Shirey

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Prevent Online Banking Fraud with a ROBAM

What’s a ROBAM? you ask. Check out this post: Protecting Your Business from Online Banking Fraud. SANS says, “The number one recommended mitigation [to online banking fraud caused by infostealer infections] is to use a read-only bootable alternative media (ROBAM) as an isolated environment for financial transactions.”

You can use a USB thumb drive instead of a CD if you do the following:

1. Download your alternative Linux OS choice (I prefer Ubuntu or Knoppix) in .iso format
2. Download UNetbootin from http://unetbootin.sourceforge.net/
3. Create a bootable USB thumb drive using UNetbootin
4. Set the properties of the drive to “read only”

This should have the same effect as using a Linux live CD.

I haven’t tried this, so comments welcome.

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Have You Checked Out the Password Meter?

Unless you’re a subscriber to my list, you probably haven’t noticed the new page I added recently: Password Meter. It’s over there to the right just under the link to the Leave Feedback page. Go ahead, check it out; punch in some of the passwords you use and find out if they’re really as strong as you think they are. I bet you’ll be surprised.

This meter is one of the best I’ve ever seen because it takes into account all of the best practices I endorse for creating very strong, un-guessable passwords.

Let me know what you think in the comments section and if you like it, bookmark it using the button below.

Cheers!
The Geek

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Clean Your Windows Registry

You may have noticed that your computer has gotten slower over time. Some people think that computers are supposed to slow down and become harder to use the older they are. These people will tell you that the only way to recover the performance of a new PC is to reformat and reinstall your operating system. This is a myth. Making your computer run like new doesn’t require reformatting or even reinstalling Windows. The number one reason that computers slow down is because of the registry.

The Windows registry is a huge database containing the computer’s configuration information, that is, the name of each program, where it is located, and any other relevant data. As more and more programs are installed, uninstalled, and modified, more and more entries get added to the registry. Eventually the database becomes so huge that it’s almost unmanageable, resulting in long access times that slow your system to a crawl. The solution is to clean out the registry.

The free Registry Risk report explains the most efficient ways to clean the Windows registry, what a corrupt or unorganized registry can mean for your computer, and other valuable information. If you’re computer seems to run extremely slow or crashes often, the solution is a registry cleaner.

Registry cleaners are programs which scan the Windows registry to find outdated, invalid, or empty data sets and delete or fix them. There are many good ones available and most of the ones I’ve tested are reliable and safe to use. Most of them are unlikely to mess anything up and can scan you system in as little as five to ten minutes.? For more information, you’ll want to get the free Registry Risk report.

After you get your copy of the report, you’ll be given to opportunity to get a free scan of your system registry compliments of Registry Easy.

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Click Here To Download Your Free Registry Risk Report

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FTP Password Thieves – Are You The Next Victim?

Guest article by Arindam Chakraborty. You can check out his blog here: http://arindamchakraborty.com

**********
Just read this article a moment ago, and thought I should let you, since it affects webmasters in a big way:

http://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/news/article/0,289142,sid14_gci1357912,00.html

There are seven ways to minimize your changes of getting hacked:

a) Use Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) instead of FTP. Normally, this requires SSH access. The downside is that (from what I know) most web hosting companies don’t provide SSH access to their shared hosting customers! However, some do offer jailed SSH, which should be work as well! If you are on a VPS or Dedicated server, you should already have SSH access.

b) Use strong passwords: I use Roboform‘s password generating tool for this purpose! Usually its default settings work me, but if you need stronger passwords than what the tool offers by default, you can always customize the available options!

c) Keep your PC protected with Firewalls, Antivirus tools, Malware detectors, Anti-Spyware tools, etc. If you are looking for recommendations, here is a good forum thread to get you started:

http://forums.majorgeeks.com/showthread.php?&t=44525

Remember that different security tools work and behave differently on different systems, so it might take a few months of trial and error before you find the “perfect” solution for yourself!

Above all, UPDATE these security tools regularly!

d) Always download software programs from trusted sources, such as:

http://download.com

http://www.tucows.com/

e) As soon as you have downloaded a file, scan it with an antivirus tool to make sure it is not infected, especially if it happens to be an executable program!

f) Stay away from bad sites. If you visit sites that host porn, warez, keygen, etc., you cannot blame anyone but yourself in case you get infected with Trojans and viruses!

g) Avoid downloading files from Peer-to-Peer (P2P) connections: With most P2P networks, the uploaded content is hardly monitored, so your chances downloading a Trojan are very high. Another possibility is that of identity theft. You may be happily downloading some stuff using Limewire, while a couple of thieves are busy stealing your IP address, passwords, or other secret information they can use to harm you in future! Remote attacks are also a possibility!

If you really want to use P2P networks, use a strong P2P firewall and an IP address hiding tool to protect yourself; I am not sure if these security measures would cause you any inconvenience, though! Myself I have avoided P2P networks all my life. I miss out on a lot of goodies because many of them are required to be downloaded from P2P networks, and for heaven’s sake, no matter what happens, I would never do that! :D

Here is a helpful article on Peer to Peer networks and how they work:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peer-to-peer

Also, keep in mind that even if you follow the seven steps above, there is no guarantee that you would be totally protected from FTP password thieves! However, these security measures would certainly minimize the chances of attacks!

Arindam Chakraborty

Filed in: Password, Security, Tips
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“14 Golden Rules of Computer Security” Nearing Completion

My new eBook, “14 Golden Rules of Computer Security” is almost complete and will be ready for downloading shortly. Written with the non-technical person in mind, the book is packed with proven, practical advice on how to stay safe on the Wild, Wild Web including bonus articles about creating strong, easy-to-remember passwords and email security tips. I give you tons of links to free and low-cost tools as well as special discounts for software and services by some of the best computer security companies in the business. It’s a must-have for every computer owner.

Based upon my popular “How to Secure Your Computer” series of web articles and fully updated with late-breaking information on safe searching and social networks, “14 Golden Rules of Computer Security” will help you develop your own secure computing practices and save you from the hassle of dealing with unpleasant malware attacks.

The book will cost $9.95 for the general public, but all Ask the Geek subscribers will be sent a download link and password for a free copy, so be sure to sign up. (If you already closed the subscription panel, you can sign up by clicking here or on the Sign Up! link on the Pages sidebar.)

Sign up today and then watch your email for the release announcement and download instructions.

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How to make a bootable thumb drive virus scanner for NTFS: 2009 update

NOTE! The BLTDVS Toolkit in its original form is now obsolete. The current state of the art has yielded self-contained USB installer tools for most of the popular antivirus rescue CDs.

I have updated this article: Make an Anti Virus Bootable USB Thumb Drive with the latest information and put two versions of popular rescue CD USB installers in the revised BLTDVS Toolkit which is still available for download from the original location when you sign up for my newsletter list.

Once again, in May 2009, I have had to revise this article because Avira’s updates no longer work (thanks, Cindy, for your help in pointing out the problem to me). This new revision supercedes all previous articles I have posted on this subject; specifically, these two:

http://askthegeek.kennyhart.com/2005/12/how-to-make-bootable-thumb-drive-virus.html

http://askthegeek.kennyhart.com/2007/03/update-how-to-make-bootable-thumb-drive_20.html

“How to make a bootable thumb drive virus scanner for NTFS” is the second most popular article on this site, outranked only by “My Computer Won’t Shut Down!” and I thank you for visiting Ask the Geek for advice on these issues. Because of the continuing popularity of the thumb drive virus scanner, I want to make sure you have up to date and relevant information. The two articles listed above are outdated.

The original DOS-based version of the thumb drive virus scanner used F-Prot Antivirus for DOS, one of the best and most popular DOS-based? scanners for nearly 20 years. Unfortunately, F-Secure is no longer updating the virus definitions for that version. In fact, the F-Prot virus signatures are now almost two years old, making them virtually useless. Other vendors are following suit. I’ve had quite a bit of feedback asking me if I could solve this problem and provide an updated method of offline virus scanning.

The good news is that, yes, I’ve solved the problem, thanks to the fact that several vendors offer free bootable rescue CDs for download. Most of these run under some flavor of Linux and after a bit of hacking, I found it’s a simple matter to make a bootable thumb drive from the images.

Note: Avira has changed the ISO image *again* since this article was first posted. I have had comments from some people that the new ISOs just don’t work right on the thumb drive. As of May 2009, the VDF updates cause the old version to fail. I have revised the steps below and updated the BLTDVS toolkit. 

I chose the Kaspersky Rescue CD from Kaspersky Lab for my latest incarnation of the thumb drive virus scanner. Since it runs under Linux, it has native NTFS read/write support making it unnecessary to use any third party tools like NTFS4DOS (which is still available, but no longer supported by Avira).

Here’s how to be up and running with your own copy of my latest tool in just a few minutes. I’ve made it easy by providing everything you need, except the rescue CD image:

  1. I no longer require that you make a donation, but would appreciate it greatly. I’ve worked hard to keep the BLTDVS toolkit up to date and will contintue to do so.
  2. I do require that you sign up on my list. That is the only way to get the download link and password for the BLTDVS toolkit. Once you sign up and confirm your subscription, the welcome email will give you instructions, a link to the new toolkit, and the password.
  3. If you bypassed the fade-in sign-up form when you arrived at this page, you can click here to go to another sign-up page or click on Sign Up! in the toolbar to the right.
  4. Download the BLTDVS toolkit from the link I send you.
  5. Extract the folder to the root of your hard drive.
  6. Download the Kaspersky Rescue CD ISO image
  7. Move the CD ISO image to the BLTDVS_toolkit folder?
  8. Plug in your thumb drive.
  9. Open the BLTDVS_toolkit folder and navigate to the DriveKey folder.
  10. Run HPUSBF.EXE (command line version) or HPUSBW.EXE (windows version) and format your thumb drive using FAT or FAT32. Deselect the “Create a DOS startup disk” option.
  11. Open the BLTDVS_toolkit folder and copy or move its contents to your thumb drive. Don’t move the actual folder.
  12. On your thumb drive, double-click avrescd.bat. This will extract the necessary files from the ISO image to your thumb drive. Be sure you specify the right drive letter for your thumb drive.
  13. Once the files have been extracted, makeboot.bat will be called automatically. See the caution in the next step!
  14. CAUTION! This step is dangerous! Heed the warning message. Please verify the correct flash drive letter is being displayed before proceeding. Do not run this file on your hard drive or your current MBR will be overwritten rendering Windows unbootable. (This isn’t a complete disaster, but it takes some geeky knowledge to fix it.)? NOTE: If you are usingVista, you may see a “failure to update the MBR” error. In this case, right-click the file and specify “Run as administrator.”
  15. Hit any key to exit. You now have bootable Linux thumb drive virus scanner that will handle NTFS drives as well as most other formats.

One really cool feature of the Kaspersky program is that it will allow you to update it over the Internet as long as you’re plugged into your network. It doesn’t work well with a wireless connection (which both of my laptops have), but I haven’t had a bit of trouble getting an address and updating when I’m plugged in.

Another great feature of the program is that it has a built in file manager, so you can also use it to recover files from an infected hard drive without having to boot into the native OS.

As always, feedback is welcome. I want to know how this tool is working for you.

(Thanks to PDLA ©2007 http://pendrivelinux.com and Lance ©2008? http://pendrivelinux.com. Syslinux is ©1994-2006 H. Peter Anvin http://syslinux.zytor.com for the files used in this tool.)

Cheers!
The Geek

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IE8 Running Slow? Try This

Though I haven’t had any problems of my own, I know a couple of people who installed IE8 and then complained about it running very slowly, sometimes completely bogging down their systems. This type of behavior usually signals a problem with system resources, but thanks to Ed Bott over at ZDNet, there may be a simple fix. His article, “Is IE8 really fat and slow?” gives a simple command that may help (restart your computer after running the command):

regsvr32 actxprxy.dll

That re-registers the ActiveX Interface Marshaling Library, an obscure DLL that most people (even Microsoft experts) had never heard about. (Update: 27-Mar: Note that if you try this using Windows Vista, you must do this from an elevated Command Prompt window; type cmd in the Start menu Search box, right-click the Cmd.exe shortcut, and then choose Run As Administrator.)

According to Ed, when one of his colleagues did this, the results were stunning and IE8 was stable as well as performing faster.

Let me know if you’ve had any trouble and if this tweak helps.

Cheers!
The Geek

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