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Safe Computing Tips (and Other Changes)

I want to let everyone know of some new features you’ll be seeing here at Ask the Geek. First off, you’ll notice that there are more pages being posted. These are permanent pages that will always show up on the site, unlike the posts that usually wind up in the archives. I’ll be updating these frequently. The latest page is “Safe Computing Tips” and I suggest you check it out.

You’ll also notice a sign-up pop-up on some pages when you go to them. Please sign up so I can keep you up to date on new content and special offers from select vendors. I promise I won’t spam you with a bunch of useless junk; I will pass on any special offers that I become aware of from reputable hardware and software sellers.

For now, check out the “Safe Computing Tips” and sign up for my list. And be on the lookout for a new page that reviews top freeware, Open Source, and commercial software offerings.

As always, I’m glad to be of service and I look forward to keeping you as a loyal reader. If you ever need anything at all, feel free to hit the “Ask a Question” or “Leave Feedback” links over at the right.

Cheers!
The Geek

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Win an Xbox for Asking & Answering IT Questions

Jenny Mackintosh over at the ITKE Community blog (the folks who host my Security Corner blog) announced a cool contest for anyone who wants to show their tech savvy. The only catch is that you have to register as a community member, but ITKE is reputable, so this isn’t a problem:

Now through the end of April, you can not only show off your IT skills by asking and answering questions on? ITKnowledgeExchange.com, but you can earn the chance to spend some quality time honing your bad-guy-vaporizing skills on your very own Xbox 360.

From today (March 18th) through April 30th, you have a chance to win one of three Xbox 360 consoles. The winners will be the top 3 community members who have the most Knowledge Points earned and have asked 5 IT-related questions (you still earn Knowledge points for asking questions) during the contest period. So tell your friends and co-workers to post their IT questions on? ITKnowledgeExchange.com so you can answer and rack up your Knowledge Points.

You can read my post about it here: http://cli.gs/WPeXGT.

Have fun and good luck!

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Dave’s Computer Tips has a new writer – me!

I’m proud to announce that Dave Hartsock of Dave’s Computer Tips has graciously invited me to write the Security Focus section of his excellent newsletter. Dave has done a great job of putting together a wealth of content. Check out this lineup from the November 1, 2007 issue:

#1 – Newbies Nook – Information for those who are new to computers and computing.
#2 – Problems in Paradise – Answers to reader problems and questions.
#3 – Security Focus – Computer Security by Kenny Hart.
#4 – Getting Starting with Linux – David Kopp points the way.
#5 – Creating Nested Tables – Carol tells us how to do it in Word and OpenOffice Writer.
#6 – My Recommended Software – Need software? Check this list first!
#7 – Useful Freeware – Useful programs that you may find useful. Did I mention they’re free!
#8 – Useful web sites – Websites I’ve visited lately that you may find useful.
#9 – The Lighter Side – Some humor to lighten your load!
#10 – Odds and Ends – A little bit of this and a little bit of that!

Recently, I had a long conversation with Dave and I can tell you that besides just being an all-around nice guy, he definitely has your interests in mind. He’s committed to providing the best information he can on a regular schedule.

It would be great if all of you wonderful Ask the Geek fans would hop on over to his site and subscribe to his newsletter.

And while you’re at it, take a moment to sign up to get my latest posts via email. That way, if you forget to check the site, you won’t miss out on the latest info.

Cheers!
The Geek

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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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Protect your privacy with SandboxIE

Joe from Joliet writes:I’m tired of getting adware and spyware on my computer. Last week, my geeky brother got on my computer and showed me a bunch of web sites I had visited–he even found my webmail password. Is there any way to keep my computer from storing all this stuff?

The Geek answers:Thanks for your question, Joe; it’s a good one. The short answer is , yes, you can fix this; but let me explain a bit about what is going on here. Most web browsers use some form of caching to enhance your browsing experience. Caching is a way of storing the web pages you visit on your hard drive, rather than downloading them every time. There’s no need to download every web page every time you access it because web pages don’t change very often and it takes longer to download a page from the ‘Net than it does to display it from the cache your hard drive. So, depending on how much your browser is set to store in its cache, someone in the know may be able to come along and see what web sites you’ve been looking at. That’s what your brother did. You must have your browser set to remember your webmail password, too. Bad idea if you value your privacy; I always type my passwords into every field.

So, if you’re worried about what someone might see on your system, there is a simple way to prevent anything from being stored in the cache, history and remembered password files. It’s called SandboxIE, and it’s probably one of the best privacy-assurance applications out there because you don’t have to do anything but run IE (or any other browser) in the sandbox. What is a sandbox, you ask? Well, it’s like a secure little section of your computer that is walled off from your operating system; nothing can get out of it unless you let it, and when you shut it down, anything that was there is gone, erased, nada, nothing. Even if the nastiest spyware on the Internet managed to get into the sandbox, as soon as you close it, the bad boy is gone. And so is the history list, the cached pages, EVERYTHING. Pretty slick. See the Wikipedia entry about sandboxes for more info. Steve Gibson, star of Security Now! dedicated a podcast to application sandboxes that you can download here.

As always, if you have further questions, you can “Ask the Geek”!

Cheers!

The Geek

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Kool Tool – Datapol Does It Again

Back in December 2005, I wrote about how to make a thumb drive virus scanner using datapol’s NTFS4DOS, a Kool Tekkie Tool that allows you to read and write NTFS volumes from a DOS command line interface. Now, the good folks at datapol have come up with another winner: CIA DRiVE.net, a very cool remote recovery and offline antivirus utility that no IT pro should be without. There’s a free (read-only) demo available as well as Professional and Enterprise editions. I’m testing the Enterprise edition.

CIA DRiVE.net is the fastest and easiest method to access the drives of a remote computer over the network or the internet. Whether you simply want to transfer data from one PC to another (even in the case that the remote computer doesn’t boot Windows any more), backup or restore data over the network without a working Windows installation or whether you want to be able to perform an offline anti-virus check…with CIA DRiVE.net you get a full-blown solution for managing and recovering remote computers that is nearly…a perfect way to exchange data between computers that don’t belong to the same domain or workgroup.

This isn’t hype; it does everything they say it does. It works over TCP/IP and there’s no need to worry about domain names and workgroups, nor even which subnet you happen to be on; if you know the IP address of the computer you want to connect to, and it’s booted with the CIA DRiVE.net server, you’re good to go. I’ve tried it three ways: with an ethernet crossover cable (much better than a null modem cable); over the LAN in my office; and — this is really slick — over the Internet (you have to open port 45751 in your firewall). No matter how you hook it up, you can do anything to the remote PC that you can do on a local hard drive.

The other techs in my office thought it was pretty cool when I mapped the hard drive on my home computer to my laptop over the Internet and kicked off a full virus scan. Impressive. But there’s more. For those PCs that support it, you can wake them up with a magic packet or force a shutdown or restart. There’s also a user manager that in the Enterprise edition allows you to reset lost WinNT/Win2k/XP passwords that are stored in the SAM and in the Active Directory of Windows Server 2000/2003. If your network card on the remote PC is PXE-capable, you don’t even have to build boot media; the CIA DRiVE.net client has a built-in PXE server and will automatically upload the software to the remote machine.

The boot media maker allows you to make floppies or CDs and also create bootdisk image files: .img for floppies; .iso for CDs. Using an image, you should be able to make a bootable thumb drive, but I haven’t tried this yet. You can make the images available for download, or you can email them easily because they are quite small (less than 2MB).

The free version of CIA DRiVE.net is read-only, but will allow you to see how it works; the Professional version sells for $179 and allows up to 25 remote connections; the Enterprise edition sells for $299 and allows unlimited connections. Obviously, this isn’t a tool for casual use, but it can pay for itself quickly. For instance, saving just one client from major data loss by recovering data from an unbootable hard drive justifies the cost. It might even work on systems where the hard drive isn’t recognized by the BIOS. I haven’t tried it, but if you use the “direct disk access (bypass the BIOS)” option to make a boot disk, it should work in all but the most desperate circumstances.

If you got the feeling that I’m sold on this Kool Tekkie Tool, you’d be right. Check it out.

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Ken’s Kool Tekkie Tools – Foxit Reader

(Well, maybe not just a Tekkie Tool; it’s quite a useful tool for anyone to carry on a thumb drive.)

If you have ever had to read a PDF file on a PC that doesn’t have a PDF reader installed, then Foxit Software’s Foxit Reader is for you. At less than 3MB installed (a single executable file), Foxit Reader is a lean, mean, PDF-reading machine. Compare this with 10-20MB just to download Adobe reader. Don’t get me wrong, I use Adobe’s products on all of my systems; but I also work on systems in secure networks where I don’t have authorization to install software without approval. And since I carry lots of documentation and troubleshooting checklists in PDF format on my USB thumb drive, I’m stymied when I come upon one of these systems.

But not anymore; with Foxit Reader residing on my thumb drive, I can open and look at any PDF file I want. Foxit Reader runs on Windows 95/98/NT/2000/XP/2003 and is extremely easy to use; just double click it to start and then click the open button to open your PDF document. You can also print the document, save as, and do just about everything you would expect. Using the Typewriter tool, you can even type in the document, but you can’t save what you typed, unless you buy Foxit Reader Pro ($39).

Foxit Software carries other related products, including a PDF Editor that is a lot less expensive than mainstream products. Check ’em out; tell ’em The Geek sent you.

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Clipmarks adds new features

In my previous article, “Kool Tool: Clipmarks,” I said, “You might soon find some of the stuff I’m clipping because I’m off to sign up.” Well, I did, and Clipmarks is a very kool tool. Now, it’s even better. They’ve added a whole buch of new features to the service. Here’s a list of the new stuff; you’ll want to check out the Clipmarks blog for all the details:

User Profile
Left-side Clipmarks Navigator
Right-side Chatter
Live Two-Way Commenting
Follow a Tag
Top Clippers For This Tag
ClipRoll

Head on over to Clipmarks.com and check it out…K

Filed in: Freebies, Fun Stuff
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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.

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.” 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?

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How to surf the Web & read e-mail safely as an administrator

Microsoft could regain much of the computing community’s lost confidence (which may be slowly returning) if it would spend more time on public relations than on marketing hype. Case in point: Tech-savvy users have warned of the dangers of running Windows as an administrator and have recommended various solutions, including running with a limited user account (which has problems, not the least of which is that it won’t allow you to install vital anti-virus updates); yet, for over a year, Microsoft has had a workable solution, a little program aptly called “Drop My Rights”. (Download DropMyRights.msi here).

Last November, Microsoft Security Engineer, Michael Howard, published “Browsing the Web and Reading E-mail Safely as an Administrator” on the Microsoft Developer Network website. Basically, you create a shortcut using dropmyrights.exe pointing to the application you want to run as a limited user. Here’s an example (from the article): C:\warez\dropmyrights.exe “c:\program files\internet explorer\iexplore.exe” (yes, include the quotes). You could do the same with any application you want to run as a limited user, Outlook Express or Firefox, for instance. Dropmyrights.exe will affect only the application you launch with it; everything else will run normally in the administrative user context. Howard’s article gives detailed instructions and explanations, but is quite technical , so be prepared for some geek jargon.

Dropmyrights will prevent any ActiveX controls, browser hijacker programs, spyware, adware, etc. from installing, even if you give permission. Mike Healan, over at spywareinfo.com says he has tested this out on some rather nasty sites and it prevented any malware from being installed.

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