* Speed up a slow computer * Clean malware infections * Install new programs or accessories * Repair system errors * Consulting and advice * Solve connection problems * Tame the computer beast

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tis the Season for Phishing Emails

Phishing emails insinuate themselves into inboxes year-round, but the holidays bring out a rash of new scams.
Every day countless phishing emails are sent to unsuspecting victims all over the world. While some of these messages are so outlandish that they are obvious frauds, others can be a bit more convincing. So how do you tell the difference between a phishing message and a legitimate message? Unfortunately, there is no one single technique that works in every situation, but there are a number of different things that you can look for.

1. The message contains poor spelling and grammar

Whenever a large company sends out a message on behalf of the company as a whole, the message is usually reviewed for spelling, grammar, legality, and a number of other things. As such, if a message is filled with poor grammar or spelling mistakes it probably didn’t come from a major corporation’s legal department.

2. The message asks for personal information

No matter how official an email message might look, it is always a bad sign if the message asks for personal information. Your bank doesn’t need you to send them your account number. They already know what it is. Similarly, a reputable company should never send an email asking for your password, credit card number, or the answer to a security question.

3. The offer seems too good to be true

There is an old saying that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. That saying holds especially true for email messages. If you receive a message from someone unknown to you who is making big promises, then the message is probably a scam. After all, why would a Nigerian prince that you have never heard of contact you to help him smuggle money out of his country?

4. You didn’t initiate the action

Just yesterday I received an email message informing me that I had won a contest!!!! The only problem is that I never entered the contest. If you get a message informing you that you have won a contest that you did not enter then you can bet that the message is a scam.

5. You are asked to send money to cover expenses

One sign of a phishing E-mail is that you will eventually be asked for money. You might not get hit up for cash in the initial message, but sooner or later a phishing artist will likely ask for money to cover expenses, taxes, fees, or something like that. If that happens, then you can bet that it’s a scam.

6. The message makes unrealistic threats

Although most of the phishing scams seem to try to trick people into giving up cash or sensitive information by promising the victim instant riches, other phishing artists try to use intimidation to scare the victim into giving up information. If a message makes unrealistic threats then the message is probably a scam. Let me give you an example.
Several years ago, I received a very official looking letter that was allegedly from Bank of America. Everything in the letter seemed completely legit except for one thing. The letter said that my account had been compromised and that if I did not submit a form (which asked for my account number) my account would be canceled and my assets seized. Only thing was, I did not have a Bank of America account.
But what if I were a Bank of America customer? That might've made me think twice. The best thing to do with an email from a bank, or the IRS, that seems to be making demands – is to go directly to their website (by typing in the address, NOT clicking any links in the email!) or call the bank and ask what is going on. They'll know!

7. The message appears to be from a government agency

Phishing artists who want to use intimidation don’t always pose as a bank. Sometimes phishing artists will send messages claiming to have come from a law enforcement agency, the IRS, the FBI, or just about anything else that could scare the average law abiding citizen.
Follow the same cautions as #6 above, either ignore the email or contact the agency directly.

8. Something just doesn’t look right

If something just doesn’t look right, then there is probably a good reason why. If you receive a message that seems suspicious then it is usually in your best interest to avoid acting on the message.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

What's in YOUR Wallet?

If you misplaced your wallet today, would you remember what was in it? I don't mean the cash, that's probably gone, but which credit cards and identifying information were you carrying? And could you remember all of them quickly enough to get them cancelled before someone used them? Or, worse yet, before someone used them to commit identity theft?

I know I'd have no clue.

But there's a quick and easy way to keep track of the contents in your wallet – your photocopier or scanner! Just take out all the credit cards, driver's license, anything important enough to be in your wallet – and lay them all out on your photocopier or scanner. Copy or scan your cards – then flip them all over and do the back. Now you have a record of every card in your wallet AND the customer service numbers on the reverse side!

Now you'll always know what's in YOUR wallet!


Monday, July 30, 2012

Carbonite Online Backup

What is Online Backup?

Online backup solutions provide protection for your computer files so you can get those files back in the event of a data disaster – saving you time, money and stress. Unlike other antiquated methods of data backup – such as external drives & CDs - there’s no hardware to buy, no cables to connect, no training or maintenance required.

Why Carbonite?

Carbonite gives you secure, automatic offsite backup that protects your files from accidental deletion, spills, theft and just about anything else that could harm your data. Once installed, Carbonite backs up your files to the cloud – so you can get them back when you need them most. Because Carbonite works continually, backing up new and changed files whenever you’re connected to the Internet, you can rest easy knowing your backed up files are always protected.

Since 2006, Carbonite has backed up over 200 billion files and today, backs up more than 300 million files each day! Most importantly, Carbonite has restored over 7 billion files that otherwise would have been lost forever.

Safe, secure and completely automatic. Carbonite is The Better Backup Plan ™

Product Highlights:

  • Set it & forget it. Carbonite backs up your files automatically to the cloud - so you never have to remember to back up. No hardware required.
  • Continual Backup. Whenever you’re connected to the Internet, Carbonite backs up your files – eliminating potentially costly backup gaps created by daily or weekly backups.
  • Secure transmission. Carbonite uses the same encryption technology used in online backing and e-commerce transactions.
  • Safe offsite storage. Your backed up files are stored in one of Carbonite’s highly secure state-of-the-art data centers which are guarded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Easy file recovery. If anything happens to any file, Carbonite finds it in your backup and puts it back in its original location on your computer – in just a few, simple steps.
  • Anytime, Anywhere access. You can access your backed up files from any computer connected to the Internet — or even from your iPhone®, Android or BlackBerry® smartphone.

The Plans

With 5 plans to choose from, you can find the Carbonite subscription that’s right for you. From individuals, families and students to home office users and small business professionals, Carbonite has a plan to fit every backup need.


With the Home plan, you'll enjoy all the essentials of unlimited online backup. Subscribe today and your irreplaceable files on your computer - like photos, documents and music - will be backed up automatically, and accessible at anytime, from any computer or smartphone.

Using the
HomePlus plan you’ll receive all the benefits of the Home plan, PLUS additional features that make your backup more complete. With HomePlus, you can include your external hard drive in your online backup, so you can rest easy knowing that all of your important files are backed up safely, offsite. In addition, you also get Mirror Image backup, which creates a local backup of your entire hard drive - including your operating system and software programs.


HomePremier is the most comprehensive backup solution of the Carbonite Home plans. In addition to all the features of Home and HomePlus, you'll also get automatic backup of your video files (instead of having to add them to your backup manually). In addition, you'll have the option to use Courier Recovery - a Carbonite service reserved exclusively for HomePremier customers. Courier recovery allows you to have a copy of your entire backup shipped directly to you – which may be the fastest way to get your files back, when you need them most.


The Business plan is geared toward those looking to backup an unlimited number of computers, external hard drives and NAS devices. Using this plan, you receive 250 GB* of backup space.


Using BusinessPremier, you’ll experience all of the same benefits you receive from the Business plans. Now, in addition to backing up all of the computers, external hard drives and NAS devices in your business, you can also backup your Windows Server. Using this plan, you receive 500GB* of backup space.

* Additional storage packs are available for both Carbonite Business plans

Interested in learning more? Contact us for more details.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Check your computer before Monday!

DNS Changer Virus

In November, 2011, the FBI discovered a virus that would send your computer to fake sites or places that would promote fake products. The FBI arrested the authors of the virus, and put in a bunch of servers to redirect infected computers to safe sites. But they didn't tell us about it.

Now they are shutting down their servers, on Monday. The good news is, out of the approximately 4 million users around the world who were infected 8 months ago, there are only a couple hundred thousand still infected. But that's also the bad news. If you're one of the very few still infected, come Monday morning you will not be able to access the internet.

It's easy to find out if you're infected – type the address http://www.dns-ok.us/ into your web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome). The site will immediately tell you if you're infected.

If you are part of the teeny tiny group that is still infected, that site also gives good advice about how to clean the infection. Or, of course, you could call the Computer Tamer at 805-701-0061.

I urge you to check your computer today!


Saturday, March 24, 2012

A New/Old Scam

We're all familiar with the Nigerian scam (“I am a deposed Nigerian prince and need your help getting my fortune out of Nigeria”) and probably won't be falling for that one (again) anytime soon. But what about the new edition of the old scam – let's avoid that one too.

It all starts when you place an online ad.

It doesn't really matter what you're selling, as long as it's large and valuable. It doesn't matter where you advertise — I've received this email scam when advertising furniture on Craigslist, but I hear it can come from almost any online advertisement.

The first email you receive will be: "I will like to know if this item is still available for sale?"
When you say it is, and invite the emailer to come and view your item, you get this answer:

"Thanks for the response, how long have you owned this item? let me know the price in USD? I am OK with the item it looks like new in the photos I am from Liverpool UK, i am sorry i will not be able to come for the viewing, i will arrange for the pickup after payment has been made, all documentation will be done by the shipper, so you don't have to worry about that. Thanks"

Of course, the price was listed in the ad but, wanting to actually SELL the item, you respond with the price and the condition.

"My shipper will be coming from UK for the pickup, and pls prepare all the export documentations for the pickup. I'm quite satisfied with the condition and price. I will be
paying the PayPal charges from my account and i will be paying directly into your PayPal account without any delay, and i hope you have a PayPal account."

If you let it go this far, and actually give the “buyer” a Paypal account, you'll receive this:
"I have just completed the Payment and i am sure you have received the confirmation from PayPal regarding the Payment. You can check your paypal e-mail for confirmation of payment.a total of 25,982usd was sent, 24,728usd for the item and the extra 1,200usd for my shipper's charges,which you will be sending to the address below via western union."

So here it is. You are being asked to send $1200 via Western Union to the “shipper”. Of course, no payment was ever sent by the “buyer”, so any money you send is out of your own pocket. Expressing concern about the missing payment brings this email:

"You should send the money soon so that the Pick Up would be scheduled and you would know when the Pick Up would commence, make sure you're home. I advice you to check both your inbox or junk/spam folder for the payment confirmation message."

And then you are told, oops – the payment can't show up in your PayPal account UNTIL you send the $1200 via Western Union. The following email sounds so professional and
convincing (not!!!):

"The Transaction will appear as soon as the western union information is received from you,we have to follow this procedure due to some security reason … the Money was sent through the Service Option Secure Payment so that the transaction can be protected with adequate security measures for you to be able to receive your money. The Shipping Company only accept
payment through Western Union You have nothing to doubt about, You are safe and secured doing this transaction and your account will be credited immediately the western union receipt of *1,200USD* is received from you."

Seriously, this is a business email?

But wait...your NEXT email is from the FBI!! It threatens to take action against you for reneging on your payment:

"We use proprietary technology and constantly innovate to help ensure your transactions are safe. In addition, PayPal has over 20,000 staffs worldwide dedicated to keeping PayPal accounts safe, and stopping online criminals. And we work with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) worldwide to shut off fraudulent websites as soon as possible."

That email might make you think you are a criminal, and they are coming after you. You are not – and they are not! Anyone can fake an FBI logo (just copy it from their website). But it sure looks good when someone's trying to rob you, doesn't it?

I've told you the whole story of the scam, so you can just delete and ignore it if you ever receive it.

Please pass the warning on to friends who might fall for it!


Monday, February 6, 2012

Too Many Devices to Charge!!

Did you ever notice motel rooms don't have nearly enough outlets to charge your mobile devices when you're traveling? We usually travel with 2 iPhones, an iPad and a laptop or netbook. So many times, I've left my iPhone charging in the bathroom because I have a laptop or the other iPhone plugged into the only available outlet in the room. It sure makes me nervous to have
iPhone next to the sink, plus it makes it hard to use the alarm clock!

Last summer I discovered the answer to “too many devices, too few outlets.” A mobile charging station! I simply took a power strip, plugged in all the chargers for all the devices, and traveled with that. Didn't have to worry about leaving one of the chargers in the car, or forgetting to charge a device, or the iPhone falling into the sink in the middle of the night.

When I open my suitcase and see the power strip, I am automatically reminded to plug in each device by the number of chargers attached. If one does not have a device on it, I hunt it down and plug it in.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why on earth would I want an e-reader??

I asked myself that for quite awhile before I bought my e-reader, pursuaded only by a sudden drop in price and a curiosity as to what all the noise was about. I've had it for a year now, and I can say truthfully that I have not touched or opened a real book since the day it arrived! I even went so far as to buy Kindle editions of the paperbacks I had already purchased but not yet read.

What happened? Well, I love books. But I don't like clutter. I will generally only read a book once – and then I donate it to the library, or the nearest charity. With my e-reader, I no longer had stacks of finished books in my garage looking for a home. Sure, ebooks on Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes and Noble (Nook) cost just as much as the paper version, and I love the ease of ordering up and jumping right into the next book in a series at 2 in the morning when I've just finished my current book.

But there's more! There are free books available for every e-reader. Amazon has them, so does Barnes and Noble. But we're not limited by those stores – we can also download ebooks from various websites like Smashwords, where ebook writers can self publish their books either to be sold, or for free. Some books are only released in an e-reader edition. And library books! Most e-readers now have the capability to interact with your local library to download a book for a particular period, just like borrowing a book from within the library itself. Not only are they free, you can give them back!

If you're over 40, you'll appreciate the ability to enlarge the font on all of these devices. I regularly keep mine enlarged a bit, but the day I had my glasses repaired, I enlarged the font to HUGE while I was waiting and was able to read comfortably.

You can get newspaper and magazine subscriptions on an e-reader – I don't know about newspapers, I think they'd be a bit small. But I've been subscribing to PC Magazine on my Kindle since they stopped publishing their print edition. Yes, I do miss leafing through the pages of the magazine – but I do like the fact that I can archive them without having to fill an entire closet with old magazines. And I like the fact that my books sync with my iPhone, iPad and computer – so if I don't happen to have my Kindle with me and I'm stuck in a waiting room at the doctor or a line at the post office, I can pull out my phone and read through the wait.

Now if I could only find a way to stop dropping it on the tile floor when I fall asleep reading!


Friday, August 26, 2011

“You have a virus! Click here to fix it…”


There is a particularly nasty bug that tries to trick you into installing it by flashing a notice that "YOU ARE INFECTED" and telling you you must download the recommended software immediately to fix the problem. And when you innocently do that, you have now given the virus permission to install itself on the machine. This virus or Trojan is very difficult to remove and has occasionally been impossible to remove, rendering the machine useless.

There are also a number of pop-ups that warn you that you have spyware and telling you to click on their button to have it cleaned. And when you click, it actually INSTALLS more spyware on your system. The more benign versions try to trick you into buying the “paid” version of their software.

No antivirus program can defend against a virus we have given permission to invade our system.

If you make sure you know what security programs you have installed on your computer (or on company computers), you will not fall prey to these traps. If you know you have, for instance, Norton Antivirus and Ad-Aware antispyware, and another program offers to help you – you know it’s a fake! You also need to be aware of the wording – “Ad-Aware” is an antispyware program, “Adware” is NOT. Microsoft will NOT warn you that your IP address is compromised, and Windows will NOT discover spyware on your system. Oh, and they will NEVER call you and tell you that you are infected, either. Never.

Best practice is to stick with what we know –

For antivirus software, install Microsoft Security Essentials (it's free at www.microsoft.com/en-us/security_essentials/ ) or NOD32 (www.eset.com).

For a another free decent antivirus product, try AVG Free (at free.grisoft.com).

Install only ONE antivirus product – they don’t work better in multiples, they just conflict with each other.

And just don’t click on those warnings…they are meant to scare you (and they do it well!) into infecting your own system.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

How Does Malware Get on Your Computer?

Malware is the word that now covers all the evil bugs that can get into your computer – viruses, Trojans, worms, spyware, adware, etc. “Mal” means bad, so “badware” is essentially anything that can harm your computer.

There once was a time you could avoid malware by simply not opening attachments in email. Then you had to avoid clicking links in emails, so you wouldn't be a victim of a phishing scheme. Drive-by infections on benign websites then became the preferred method of delivering malware. Also infected media has always been a method of malware distribution, starting in the days of floppy disks and graduating to USB flash drives.

All those methods of delivery still exist, but the most common way a computer gets infected today is by invitation of the user! Seems strange, doesn't it, since who would invite an infection into their system?

When a pop-up shows up on your system saying “You are infected – click here to fix” and you click it, you have invited in an infection. This screen is just an image, a video set up to 1) scare you, and 2) make you think it's your own antivirus asking you to “click here”. The damage starts when you click.

This is not your fault – these images are very carefully engineered to look like your own antivirus is sending you a warning. They play on your fear, your responsibility and your familiarity. But it IS your responsibility to protect & educate yourself.

Know your system – if a pop-up says “Windows Security has found infections” and you know you have McAfee antivirus, that is NOT your product warning you. Know the name of your product – McAfee, Microsoft Security Essentials, Norton, AVG, etc. That name MUST be in the warning for it to be legit.

Stop and think before you click – the warning is trying to get you to panic, and if you panic you won't think things through before you “click to fix.” Heck, those warnings make ME panic, they are pretty scary!

If you see one of these warnings, don't click anything – just shut down your machine without even trying to click out of the warning window. Then turn it back on – chances are good you got away. But if you didn't get away, call for help before the infection gets too big or starts to infect your friends.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Which Antivirus Should I Use??

Used to be, one antivirus product was much like another. Whether you chose McAfee, Norton or TrendMicro was just a matter of personal taste – they all did a decent job.

But then they started growing – adding internet security, phishing filters, parental controls, etc – each time one product added a feature, the others did the same, till these antivirus programs were HUGE. They were extremely safe, but you were lucky if you could actually access the internet through all the safety features. And they slowed down everything on your computer.

Apparently these antivirus vendors are trying to pare down their programs now, streamlining so you don't feel like you are running through mud when you use your computer. Even if they do succeed in speeding up their products, there is still a problem – subscription to the products expire every year.

You've seen it - “Your antivirus product will expire in 364 days” - as it starts to count down almost as soon as you've bought it. We ignore the warning since it starts so early, and as a result many users actually miss the expiration date and the product expires. Or we forget. Or we just don't have that $50 right at the time the product needs to be renewed. That means no more updates, and THAT means your antivirus product is essentially worthless within a week. It can no longer keep up with the newer threats because it is not updating, and the newer threats are the ones most likely to bite you because you ARE protected against the older bugs.

When Microsoft Security Essentials was first offered for free by Microsoft, I thought it was a brilliant idea – who better to protect Windows from threats than the makers of Windows themselves? So far, it is turning out to be a great product. Sure, something will get through it at some point, but that hasn't happened in my house yet. Yet! But the consequence I hadn't considered with this free product is that I never have to renew my subscription. Sure, I keep an eye on it to make sure it's always updating to the newest virus definitions (it always has so far), but I don't have to worry about renewing and paying each year. And I like that.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Log In For Speed Scam

If you receive a call from Log In For Speed, or the PC Doctor, it is a SCAM! No one from India will ever call you and tell you your computer is infected and running slowly. They will have you look at your Event Viewer (which is ALWAYS full of meaningless errors) and claim all the errors are viruses. Then they will ask you to allow them to remote into your computer. DO NOT BELIEVE THEM!!!
They will not only plant bugs, they will take your money, your credit card numbers and passwords, and they'll charge you a yearly fee to do it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

It MUST be true, I read it on the Internet!

Twenty-five years ago, I was eating some shelled peanuts and I wondered, “How do they get the shells off all those peanuts?”. So I wrote a letter to the famous nut company, asking them my burning question. A month later, I received a response: “We have a machine for that.”

Today I asked the same question on Google. The following answer was the first item on the Google search page, and it came from Yahoo answers:

Peanuts to be shelled are placed in slotted drums containing screens of different sizes. Rotating peanuts rub against each other until the shells are opened and the kernels fall out. The kernels are sized on screens that permit the smaller kernels to fall through. The shelled peanuts are cleaned again to remove foreign materials. This is done with density separators, electronic color sorters and by visual inspection to ensure that only the best peanuts reach the market. The peanut kernels are then sized, graded and bagged for market. “

This information was handed to me in less time than it took to blink my eyes. We are truly living in an amazing time, when all the information you would want is right at your fingertips!

How easy was that??

But...I could go on my blog right now and write an article that says peanut shells fall off in bulk on the second Thursday after the quarter moon, when placed at the top of a hill where the grass has been trimmed by six sheep who were born in the month of April.

And that could show up in your search results when you look for answers. The truth is, with all the information that is out there on the web, not all of it is true. In addition, just because it is repeated by the same person on five different sites doesn't mean you've heard it five times. It is amazingly easy to put wrong, or just mistaken, information on the web – and to repeat it numerous times.

When you are searching for an answer, don't take the first answer you see. Read several search results and, in addition to seeing several answers that agree, pick an answer given by a site or authority you trust. When dealing with rumors or virus scares, the website www.snopes.com is a reliable authority (but look it up yourself, don't accept “scare” rumors that say they've already looked it up).

The same goes for rumors. It is incredibly easy to spread rumors – good or bad – by way of the internet. This can do unending damage to a politician or private person, as the Internet allows critics to perpetuate even discredited charges. Some critics will say something just because they can, to stir the pot. And many readers will not go past an attention-getting headline (which may have nothing to do with the article, or seems to give the opposite conclusion from the actual content).

The moral of the story? Be careful of what information you accept as gospel on the web. Yes, a miraculous world of information is accessible to us. But it's not all true.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What if your email disappears?

Most users of web-based email services (gmail, hotmail, yahoo, aol online, for example) assume that as long as they're connected to the internet, they'll have 24/7 access to their accounts. And that their providers are faithfully backing up and keeping their accounts safe.

The recent gmail failure proved otherwise. About 30,000 gmail customers lost their email at the end of February. Not only could they not send and receive messages, but all their archived and saved messages were gone.

Google has backups, but days after the failure many customers still had not had their email restored.

I've seen a lot of options for backing up web-based email – backing it up to Outlook, or Windows Mail; fiddling with IMAP settings in gmail; sync Hotmail to a local mail client, and on and on. Seriously, I barely understand what these directions are trying to say.

However, hidden deeply in one of the articles I was reading was the name of a free program to back up web-based email to your own computer. It's called Mail Store, and it's available at www.mailstore.com. Easy to download and install, simple to follow the directions to back up. I had to let it back up my email to my own computer overnight, there is quite a lot, but it did it and was finished in the morning. Did I mention it's free?

I'm sure that if Google ever loses my gmail, they will get it back for me. But I feel a lot more secure knowing that my email is also backed up by me.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tips for Faster Web Browsing

Use a fast browser

Some browsers are faster than others. The top speed in current browsers currently belongs to Google Chrome. The new version of Internet Explorer, IE9, is just about as fast but only available to users of Windows 7 (good thing since we couldn't use IE7 with Windows 7, and using version 8 was like trying to run through mud). Firefox is still dependable – slower than Chrome, faster than Internet Explorer except for version 9.

Get rid of those toolbars

One of the first things I do when tuning up someone's computer is to uninstall all those toolbars in the browser. Everyone seems to add a toolbar to their service – and you have to look very carefully to stop it from installing when you update a program. Seriously, sometimes there are so many toolbars you can barely see the browser window. Go to your Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs (or just Programs in Vista & 7), and uninstall all those toolbars. Have you ever used them?

Use tabs, not windows

Too many tabs will still slow you down, but they are much more efficient than separate windows for every web page you are using. They are more organized, save time searching for the correct page, and in some browsers are actually physically faster.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Brand-jacking – another new email threat!

A new e-mail spam campaign is circulating, “brand-jacking” Best Buy, Chase, Macy’s, Target.com and Evite. Isn't “brand-jacking” a great, self-explanatory word?

Sample subjects include:

  • Thank you for scheduling your online payment”

  • Thank you for your payment”

  • Thanks for planning your event with Evite”

  • Your Target.com order has been shipped”

  • Thank You, Your Anti-Virus Protection Plan has been renewed”

This campaign is directly related to last month’s malicious Amazon emails, and attempts to steal your credit card info, or log-on info for various websites, where you might be storing credit card details.

If you receive an email like this, don't click on the links in the email! If you think there might be any truth to the order or payment, or whatever it is telling you, independently log on to the actual website in question – through your browser, NOT through your email. There you can verify if there's anything going on that might concern your account.

AND...keep all your programs (Microsoft Office, Adobe programs, etc), browsers (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome) and Windows up to date all the time! Many of those updates are released to specifically close the vulnerabilities targeted by those emails.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Beware of "Free Public WiFi"

Frequent wireless Internet (WiFi) users are being warned to never click on the network "Free Public WiFi". It's not actually free wireless, but a rogue network that can lead to the infiltration of a system by hackers. I’ve seen it in airports and various places around town.

"Free Public WiFi" is not the kind of network that will provide access to the web, but is instead a network that will link you up to another person’s PC. By signing on to this connection, you are inviting a hacker into your system.

This problem was allowed to spread by taking advantage of a Windows XP flaw that wasn't fixed until Service Pack 3.

So – if you have Windows XP, make sure to do your updates and especially make sure you are updated to Service Pack 3. Or upgrade to Windows 7. But for sure, don't click on “Free Public WiFi” when you find it in your network options in a public place.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Oh no, the file I need is on my other computer!"

Did you ever find yourself at the office and the file you need is on your computer at home? Or vice versa? Always a frustrating situation. You’ve tried emailing files to yourself and carrying around a flash drive, but you always have to remember to save or email your file every time you update it. Not an easy thing to remember!!

Dropbox is a file synching and sharing program that solves that problem. You can save your file to your computer at home – and the updated version shows up on your computer at the office. Or on your iPhone! You can also save photos or, believe it or not, an Outlook .pst file. You can actually use Microsoft Outlook on more than one computer and have all your mail and contacts will be exactly the same!

And you KNOW how I love free!! You can store up to 2GB of data on Dropbox for free. This is a BUNCH of data! The only time I ever threatened to go over that limit was when I had the bright idea to store movies on it so I wouldn’t have to carry any DVDs when I was traveling. Who was I kidding - I don’t watch movies on vacation! But in case you DO want to store more, they offer 50GB of storage for $10 a month ($99/yr), and 100GB for $20 a month ($199/yr).

I’ve been using Dropbox for about 5 months now and still get a kick out of it. I use it mainly for photos and for my check register, so I can access them from my iPhone. You can share files among all your different devices or share with collaborators easily, all over the web. Take a look at www.dropbox.com.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Beware of Fake LinkedIn and Microsoft Messages

One of your most expensive - and easily destroyed - assets in business is your computer equipment. You want to keep it safe, but sometimes you just don't know where to start!

The following two malware incidents are aimed at businesspeople like yourself - please take a look so you are able to recognize them if you receive these emails:


Subject: LinkedIn Alert

Invitation reminders:
• From [Name Removed] (Friend)


• There are a total of 2 messages awaiting your response. Visit your InBox now.

Don't want to receive email notifications? Adjust your message settings.



And here's the other one:

Subject: Critical Microsoft Windows Upgrade Notification

Dear Microsoft Windows User,

You are recieving this notification because the version of Microsoft Windows you are running is affected by a critical security issue.

In order to protect yourself and other users of the Microsoft Windows operating system, it is highly recommended that all customers upgrade Windows as soon as possible.

To do so, please download the KB396658 upgrade from Windows upgrade by clicking here.

We appreciate your cooperation.

Microsoft Windows Client Support Team

© 2010 Microsoft Corporation


If you receive either of these emails, the safest thing to do is to DELETE THEM! But always remember - don't click links in email. If you feel you really need to go to the site, type the actual site address in your browser (such as http://www.linkedin.com) and see if there are any messages waiting for you.


Monday, July 5, 2010

There IS a quick fix!

There’s a fix for your sluggish or misbehaving computer that works a great deal of the time, takes only about five minutes, and you can do it yourself. No, I’m not talking about throwing your computer out on the boulevard as a semi full of bricks bears down. And I’m not talking about buying a new computer which, while it’s always fun to have a new one, tends to be a bit expensive. I’m talking about the Magical Reboot.

A “reboot” is simply the act of restarting your computer. You’ll click Start, Shut Down, Restart (or some variation based on your particular computer) and wait for the computer to come back up again and reload all its background programs. You will find this cures a variety of ills, and will save you a lot of frustration if you try it before things get too bad, or before you call for help.
I met a fellow the other day who does not “believe” in reboots, believes it is a tech support time waster and refuses to do it. When asked to reboot his machine, he sits back and waits for the amount of time it should have taken and says “Okay, it’s done and it’s still broken.” Hmm…I wonder why? Seems to me no one has ever explained to him why this works!

Here’s why it works – imagine your brain about midmorning: you are overwhelmed with your to-do list, everything is first priority, and you are also distracted by a recent phone call with an angry client. What are you going to accomplish now? Much less, much more slowly than you had anticipated when you started your day.

Then imagine you shut down for a few minutes, take a walk, clear your brain, and write down everything you need to do. Now you are much more likely to be able to tackle your to-do list one item at a time, with a much higher probability of success.

That’s what happens when you reboot your computer – it shakes all the confusion out of its brain and starts over with renewed energy and a clean slate. Often, this is all that is needed to “fix” your computer. Not always, but often.

Also - if you work with graphics,photos, video or music – or if you always leave your computer “on” (as I do), reboots can save the day for you. Reboot early and reboot often!

Monday, May 10, 2010

And your program is freeeeeeeee!!!** revisited

The cost of PCs has come way down lately, including the cost of a decent laptop computer. But the price of Microsoft Office is still a bit steep, and the format of the new versions – 2007 or 2010 beta – are very different from the Microsoft Word & Excel we are used to. They don’t even look like the same programs anymore!!

But remember, there is a free program – OpenOffice!!

OpenOffice is a free version of Microsoft Office Suite. Try it at
www.openoffice.org. It includes word processing, spreadsheet, database & graphics. Saves documents to your local computer.

An online alternative is Google Docs, rapidly gaining popularity in both personal and business environments. Find it at docs.google.com.

I’ve just found a free new photo editing program, called Light Box. I think it’s terrific! Try it at
www.sagelighteditor.com/lightboxfreeinst.exe. I like it even more than the following two programs, which are still good alternatives.

Photoshop Express (at
www.photoshop.com/express) is a free photo editing program from Adobe that you use online. It’s a teeny tiny version of Photoshop - but you upload your photo to their site and do your editing online. It has some great editing tools but does not have an actual “resize” tool – however you can choose to download your photo back to your own computer in a smaller size.

For free photo resizing, Image Resizer from Microsoft is an easy little addition to your right-click menu. The version for Vista is at
http://www.vso-software.fr/products/image_resizer/ and the one for Windows XP can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/powertoys/xppowertoys.mspx.

PrimoPDF (at
www.primopdf.com) is a free online program that will convert many file formats to pdf files.

And for antivirus, I’m currently recommending Windows Security Essentials. It is a free program from Microsoft – light, yet strong. Find it at www.microsoft.com/Security_Essentials/.

**A word of caution – if you’re going to use free software not mentioned above, research it before you install it. A simple web search should tell you whether other people have had trouble with bugs in the program or if it is infested with spyware. If someone you trust has had a good experience with the program that’s generally a good recommendation.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Microsoft's Making Their Own Antivirus Software! Finally!

It makes sense. Almost every target of every virus, worm, trojan - is Microsoft software. And Microsoft is pretty good at knowing what part of their software is being attacked. Other antivirus companies have to wait for MS to tell them when there's a problem - not so if MS is doing the protecting themselves.

And did I mention it's free? Of course there would be a HUGE uproar if Microsoft charged $$$ for protection from problems that they should have foreseen. It would also look like a terrible temptation for abuse - break it so you can be paid to fix it - and I'm sure Microsoft is not interested in developing that kind of reputation.

I've been using Windows Security Essentials since the middle of December, and I'm very happy with it. It gets good reviews, and it's not bogging down my system. What more could anyone want?


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Windows 7 - Vista Without the Pain

No one will blame you for being gun shy. After the Windows Vista fiasco, starting with its release two years ago and continuing until fairly recently, why on earth would you want to buy a computer with a new operating system? Why would you want to upgrade, now that you have finally gotten Vista working right? If XP isn’t broken, why fix it, right?

I have been using the Beta (testing) version of Windows 7 since January, and the release candidate since it came out in May, and I must tell you –


Windows 7 is Vista done right, Vista light. Since I’ve been experimenting with it, I’ve had no trouble with printers, networks, software, and I’ve been thrilled at the stability of the system. I never upgraded my own home systems to Vista even though I had the software, but I’ve ordered and received the retail version of Windows 7 to install on my home computers.

One of the major problems with Vista was compatibility with other devices, such as printers and scanners. These have been resolved, and drivers for these items are already available for Windows 7. There will be some items that may not work with Windows 7, or will need an update, but it’s easy enough to find out what you need by using the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. Simply Google the words Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor, download and run the program, and you’ll know what, if anything, you need to do to get your existing hardware and programs to work with Windows 7.

As always, if you are happy with what you have – whether it be Windows XP, Vista or Mac – don’t worry about upgrading until you have to. But if you want to, or you buy a new computer, Windows 7 will be a pleasant surprise.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Microsoft Office costs HOW much??

So you’ve finally bought the new computer, taken the plunge, taken a chance on Vista, and it’s running sooo much faster than that old one and it’s so pretty. Whew, okay, I guess it was worth the price. But wait – where’s Word? Excel? You mean those don’t come with it???

‘Fraid not. Oh sure, most of them come with a truncated version of the program called Works, but I’ve never been a huge fan of Works. And sometimes you can get an older version of Microsoft Office to work on your new computer, but then what do you do when someone sends you a document written with Word 2007 and you only have 2000? An older version can’t read a newer version.

If you don’t feel like shelling out the big bucks for the newest version of Microsoft Office, there is a very good alternative. It’s called OpenOffice – and it’s free!

OpenOffice, available at
www.openoffice.org, has a section called Writer – you’ll think it’s Word without even having to squint. It also has a spreadsheet program exactly like Excel. The only things it doesn’t come with is Outlook and Publisher, and you can find easy alternatives to those if you need them.

After you download and install OpenOffice, open the Writer program and click Tools, Options, Load/Save, General. There you will find a dropdown list which allows you to specify that the program save documents in Word format, and spreadsheets in Excel format, making them totally compatible with Microsoft Office.

And…if you already have an older version of Microsoft Office installed on your computer, but you occasionally receive documents or spreadsheets from someone who has Microsoft Office 2007 that you can’t open (.docx & .xlsx files), OpenOffice will open those too! I’ve installed OpenOffice on all my computers that have Microsoft Office 2000, and I never have trouble opening a document.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Outlook 2000 - watch your file size!

I've been running into a few circumstances lately where some staff have had their email freeze up, and in two instances they have actually lost all their old emails. I'm giving you some pointers about Outlook 2000 Housekeeping - you don't want to lose your saved emails! These particular instructions apply only to Outlook 2000.
Outlook 2000 is only able to keep less than 2GB in your main email file. Once you hit 2GB, your email will often freeze - not allow you to send, receive and/or delete emails. Here is how to avoid that:

1. Delete or file emails you've finished working with.

2. Empty your Deleted emails on a regular basis (I do it at the end of each day)

3. Making subfolders under your In Box is good for keeping organized, but it keeps all the emails in the same Personal Folders. Make a new Personal Folders file to avoid having your main file get too large (instructions below*)

4. If you are scanning documents to yourself, or receiving emails with photos attached, save the documents or photos to your computer (in a file in your My Documents folder) and delete the email with the attachments.


*To make a new Personal Folder file:

a. From your In Box, click File, New, Personal Folders file
b. Name it something catchy like "Old Stuff", to differentiate it from your current email file
c. You'll notice on the left of your In Box, you now have two sets of Personal Folders. The one with all the subfiles is your current one, the one with only Deleted Items is the new one you just created.
d. Click on the new Personal Folders file
e. Create new folders for it: File, Folder, New (create folders like In Box 2007, Old Transactions, etc)
f. Move emails to those folders -
Click on the other Personal Folders file, the one with your current emails in it
Find an email you'd like to move - right-click on it and choose Move to Folder.
Pick the folder you'd like to move it to.
Click Okay.

To check the size of your email file:
Open My Computer
Doubleclick on C
Doubleclick on Documents and Settings
Doubleclick on your username
Doubleclick on Local Settings
Doubleclick on Application Data
Doubleclick on Microsoft
Doubleclick on Outlook
Your email file has the extension ,pst - it could be outlook.pst, mailbox.pst, or something similar - look for a file with today's date on it.
2GB will be represented as 2,000,000 in the size column. You need to keep it MUCH lower than 2,000,000.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Breaking News" virus emails

People receiving an e-mail with a subject line starting with

msnbc.com - BREAKING NEWS: ... :
CNN Daily Top 10
My CNN Alert
or ANYTHING similar to the above

should refrain from clicking on any of the links within the message, or allowing any software or downloaded components to install from the linked web site.

If you have received the message, but have not clicked on any links within it, or allowed something from the linked web site to install or run on your computer, you can just delete the message. No further action is necessary.

If you have visited one of the web sites referred to in the message and allowed something to install or run from the web site, right click on the red shield with the white "M" in the lower right of your computer, choose Scan Tasks, Scan My Computer. Allow the scan to run till it is completed.

REMINDER: The UPS virus and airline virus are also still circulating - do not open attachments pretending to be from UPS or an airline.

Phishing Alert - IRS Refund Scam

The following IRS refund scam has been circulated by e-mail. This is a phishing scam - the perpetrators are attempting to retrieve your bank account and social security information from you. Please do not click on the link in the e-mail if you receive it, just delete the e-mail.

An example of the e-mail is below.

Wishing you safe e-mailing,

"IRS Notification - Please Read This .
After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $163.80. Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 6-9 days in order to process it.
A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons. For example submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline.
To access the form for your tax refund, please click here
Internal Revenue Service
© Copyright 2006, Internal Revenue Service U.S.A. All rights reserved."

How to Recognize a Valid Greeting Card

We've all been receiving the fake greeting card e-mails lately, and they do contain a dangerous virus. Some publications suggest that we never open any online greeting cards - but that just doesn't make sense to me, greeting cards are a joy. So I checked out the websites at American Greetings and Blue Mountain, and below are their suggestions on how to make sure the greeting card you want to open is real.


Is the eCard I received valid? Unfortunately we are currently aware of some malicious activity being channeled through invalid ecard notifications. If you have any doubt as to whether or not your ecard notice is valid and truly from (BlueMountain.com, Americangreetings.com), you can always follow these simple and safe steps:

*Physically type in our web address, (http://www.bluemountain.com/ or http://www.americangreetings.com/), into your browser
*Go to the ecard pickup link at the bottom of the page
*Enter your specific greeting card code

As of right now, here are some other indicators of ecard notices not from us. If you find any of these attributes in your ecard notice, do not click on anything within that email:

*Our subject line is always: I sent you an eCard from BlueMountain.com (or AmericanGreetings.com). Their subject line varies (i.e. You've received an ecard from a class-mate! or You've received a postcard from a family member!)

*Our "from" line: mailto:services@support.BlueMountain.com(or AmericanGreetings.com); on behalf of (the email address of the person sending you the card). Their "from" line: "BlueMountain.com" or "AmericanGreetings.com" (note that the email address is random)

*Our ecard pickup link: will always have www.BlueMountain.com or AmericanGreetings.com as the start of the URL. Their ecard pickup link: starts with an IP address.

If you believe you have been subjected to an invalid ecard notice, again please do not click on any links within that email. Please forward to (security@BlueMountain.com or security@americangreetings.com) to help further the investigation. You will not receive a response from our security department.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

E-mail Tips – Part II – Using E-Mail Effectively

As I said in Part I, e-mail is magic! Instant communication at its best…but also its worst. It can smooth your way or complicate a situation. It is a reflection of your professionalism. Following are a few tips on how to use e-mail to your advantage – and how to look good doing it!

Use the “Subject” line to get the readers’ attention. Replace vague lines (“Information on 123 Elm Street” or “Info”) with better “hooks”: “Counteroffer #2 on 123 Elm Street,” or “Analysis of recent problems with 123 Elm Street.” And always use a subject – it’s a timesaver if you need to find your e-mail later and helps to identify you to your recipient. Also, a subject will help get your e-mail delivered – did you know that most e-mails with the subject line “Hi” are tagged as spam and are automatically sent to spam filters?

Proofread before you hit “Send”!
Even simple typos will make you look sloppy and damage your professional credibility.

Don’t “spam” your readers. Don’t send them unnecessary or frivolous messages. Soon, they’ll quit opening any message from you.

Think twice before you hit “Send”!
Reading your e-mail through the eyes of the recipient will help you send a more effective message and avoid misunderstandings and inappropriate comments.

Don’t forward chain letter virus warnings. You can safely assume they are all hoaxes, especially the ones that say “I heard this from the IT Manager at a major company” or “this has been confirmed by Snopes” and “forward this to everybody in your address book.” If the content really worries you, send it to your IT Department (me!) and let me research it for you before you send it to anyone else.

Read it again before you hit “Send”!

Did you really mean to sound so angry/impatient/frustrated? Will that help the situation?

Don’t forward chain letters. Do you really like to receive them? If you really want to forward them, give your recipients the opportunity to opt out. Many people have barely enough time and patience to wade through the business e-mails they receive. If a constant stream of jokes from a friend annoys you, be honest and ask to be removed from the list.

Hesitate before you hit “Send”! E-mail isn’t always private. Did you write anything that would be better conveyed face to face?

Be brief, and informal is okay. But sloppy is not! Remember upper and lower case, grammar and spelling. Your writing is a reflection of YOU.

Don’t hit “Send” yet! As soon as you do, your recipient will have a written record from you. Are your facts correct?

Your “tone” may not be conveyed the way you intended. Have you ever attempted sarcasm in an e-mail, and the recipient took it the wrong way? E-mail communication can't convey the nuances of verbal communication. In an attempt to infer tone of voice, some people use emoticons, but use them sparingly so that you don't appear unprofessional. Also, don't assume that using a smiley will diffuse a difficult message.

Don’t send huge attachments. Reduce any photos, flyers, etc to a manageable size before sending. A couple of large attachments, or photos straight off a digital camera (which are huge until you reduce them), can quickly fill up an e-mail box.


Monday, November 10, 2008

E-mails Tips Part I – Safety

E-mail is magic! Instant communication at its best…but also its worst. E-mail can smooth a bumpy transaction, solve a problem quickly, remind someone you’re still in the business or provide a written record of a sensitive issue. But it can also be a mailbox full of junk mail, a misunderstanding, a stolen identity or the reason your computer is infected with a virus. Following are a few tips to help keep you safe when you use e-mail.

* Don't send personal information in e-mail. Do not send personal information (credit card info, bank account number, social security number) in e-mail. Period.

* Don't respond to unsolicited e-mails. If you receive an unsolicited e-mail asking you to proceed to a link provided in the e-mail, ignore it. When you click on a link in an e-mail and enter your log on information, this is a method often used to steal your password and personal information – resulting in identity theft.

If you think an e-mail is really from your bank, credit card company or a vendor who knows you – go to their website by typing their true web address in your browser and log into your account there. If they’re really trying to get your attention, you’ll see any alerts after you log in. Or call them.

* Don't open an attachment unless you are expecting it, even if it’s coming from someone you know. It’s perfectly okay to call or e-mail someone to ask if they’ve sent you an attachment. Even if it seems to come from someone you know, many viruses “spoof” e-mail addresses (grab them from other people’s address books) so you think you’re receiving an e-mail from someone you know.

When you do download an attachment, choose “save” rather than “open”. Then scan the file with your antivirus software before you open it.

* Close your “preview pane” in Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express. An e-mail can contain a “self-executing” file, which means it runs as soon as you open the e-mail. When you view an e-mail in a preview pane, it is the same as opening it.

* Reduce the amount of spam you receive by being cautious where you post your e-mail address: don’t publish it on websites, don’t give it to every organization that requests it, be picky when you subscribe to journals and newsletters, don’t forward chain messages.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

And your program is freeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!**

So you’ve bought a new computer – either you’re really pleased because you got a great deal and didn’t spend nearly as much as you thought you’d have to; or you went all out and bought top-of-the-line equipment – the fastest, the biggest…everything you could possibly want in a computer (and are feeling just slightly guilty). Either way, you’re happy you took the plunge and bought that new computer because your old one can now be relegated to its rightful role of doorstop.

But wait…where’s Microsoft Word? Excel? Photoshop?? Suddenly you realize you are not done spending…unless…

…you can use FREE programs!!

OpenOffice is a free version of Microsoft Office Suite. Try it at
Includes word processing, spreadsheet, database & graphics. Saves documents to your local computer.
Zoho.com & Google Apps (at
www.google.com/a) are free office suites that save your documents online, so you can access them from any computer.

Photoshop Express (at
www.photoshop.com/express) is a free photo editing program from Adobe that you use online. It’s a teeny tiny version of Photoshop - but you upload your photo to their site and do your editing online. It has some great editing tools but does not have an actual “resize” tool – however you can choose to download your photo back to your own computer in a smaller size.

For free photo resizing, I’m still recommending Image Resizer from Microsoft. The version for Vista is at
http://www.vso-software.fr/products/image_resizer/ and the one for Windows XP can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/powertoys/xppowertoys.mspx.

PrimoPDF (at
www.primopdf.com) is a free online program that will convert many file formats to pdf files.

And don’t forget the security software – free antivirus programs such as AVG (free.grisoft.com) and Avast (www.avast.com); and free anti-malware programs – Ad-Aware (www.lavasoft.com) and SpyBot (www.download.com).

**A word of caution – if you’re going to use free software not mentioned above, research it before you install it. A simple web search should tell you whether other people have had trouble with bugs in the program or if it is infested with spyware. If someone you trust has had a good experience with the program that’s generally a good recommendation.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008


How do you recognize a hoax? Without researching the claims made in a forwarded email there's no sure way to tell it if it's a hoax, but if the sender is demanding that you “Forward this to everyone you know”, the odds are close to 100% it’s a hoax! Virus hoaxes and myths waste time and money - and can make the sender look foolish. Some signs to look for:

Look for statements like “This is NOT a hoax”. They typically mean the opposite – and sound a lot like “I am NOT a crook!”.

*Watch for overly emphatic language, as well as frequent use of UPPERCASE LETTERS and multiple exclamation points!!!!!!!

*If the email seems aimed more at persuading than informing the reader, be suspicious. Hoax email writers are more interested in getting people wound up than communicating accurate information.

*If the message claims to give you urgent information that you've never heard of before or read elsewhere from a legitimate source, be very suspicious.

*Check for references to outside sources of information. Even this isn’t foolproof – many hoax emails now refer you to snopes.com, a very good reference for hoaxes and urban legends. Unfortunately, for the most part, the article the email writer refers you to is NOT really referring to the exact threat in the email.

Just about every email chain letter you receive is more likely to be false than true. You should automatically be skeptical of chain letters.
Hoaxers usually try every means available to make their lies believable – such as mimicking a real antivirus alert, attributing the text to a trusted source (known as “False Authority Syndrome), or implying that powerful corporations (Microsoft, for instance) or the government has tried and failed to keep this a secret.

Be especially suspicious of health-related alerts. Never act on medical information forwarded from unknown sources without first verifying its accuracy with a doctor or other reliable source.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

“You have a virus! Click here to fix it…”


There is a particularly nasty bug that tries to trick you into installing it by flashing a notice that "YOU ARE INFECTED" and telling you you must download the recommended software immediately to fix the problem. And when you innocently do that, you have now given the virus permission to install itself on the machine. This virus or Trojan is very difficult to remove and has occasionally been impossible to remove, rendering the machine useless.

There are also a number of pop-ups that warn you that you have spyware and telling you to click on their button to have it cleaned. And when you click, it actually INSTALLS more spyware on your system. The more benign versions try to trick you into buying the “paid” version of their software.

No antivirus program can defend against a virus we have given permission to invade our system.

This bug infects home computers too, so please be aware of what security programs you have installed on your own computers and "just say no" if another program asks you if it can help you out.

If you make sure you know what security programs you have installed on your computer (or on company computers), you will not fall prey to these traps. If you know you have, for instance, Norton Antivirus and Ad-Aware antispyware, and another program offers to help you – you know it’s a fake! You also need to be aware of the wording – “Ad-Aware” is a great antispyware program, “Adware” is NOT. Microsoft will NOT warn you that your IP address is compromised, and Windows will NOT discover spyware on your system.

Best practice is to stick with what we know –
For antivirus software, install McAfee (
www.mcafee.com) or Trend Micro (www.trendmicro.com) or NOD32 (www.eset.com).
For spyware protection, download the free versions of Ad-Aware and Spy-Bot (both available at www.download.com).
For a combination product (antivirus and antispyware), try the paid version of Webroot Spysweeper (www.webroot.com).
For a free decent antivirus product, try AVG Free (at free.grisoft.com).

Install only ONE antivirus product – they don’t work better in multiples, they just conflict with each other. But for antispyware products, install two at least – they don’t conflict, and no one product is able to find everything.

And just don’t click on those warnings…they are meant to scare you (and they do it well!) into infecting your own system.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Every time I turn on my computer, something is updating or upgrading…

“Should I upgrade to Vista?”
“…Microsoft Office 2007?”
“What are all these Windows Updates about?”
“My old programs aren’t working right, what do I do?”
“My favorite program is offering an upgrade…should I?”
“What’s the difference between an update and an upgrade?”

The number of updates and upgrades you are offered every week is overwhelming! There are three major reasons for these:

1) To fix a flaw, or security hole, in your existing software;
2) To add features or functionality; or…
3) To sell more software!

It’s up to you, with a little help from me, to figure out which reason applies to the updates you are being offered.

Quick definition: An update is a revision to an existing version of a program; an upgrade is a completely new version of a program.

Vista vs Windows XP

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If you’re currently running Windows XP, you like your computer, are happy with its speed and capabilities, it rarely crashes – why mess with it? Operating systems (Windows XP, Vista) are notoriously finicky, and once you have one working properly you wouldn’t want to change it. You never know what’s going to happen with an upgrade.

However, if your Windows XP machine is crashing often, Vista might be your answer – just make sure your current machine meets the requirements to run Vista, and not just the minimums. If it’s an older machine, though, and needs too many upgrades to meet the requirements – consider buying a new computer. They are not expensive, and a standalone copy of Vista costs quite a bit!

If you are buying a new computer, don’t be afraid to buy Vista – a machine sold with Vista should already meet the hardware requirements and be configured to run Vista with no problems.

One more wrinkle: Microsoft is currently getting ready to release yet another operating system, called Windows 7. Originally scheduled for release in 2010, there are now murmurings that it may be released as early as next year (2009). This accelerated release date could be in response to the heavily negative response to Vista…or reminiscent of the very short lifespan of Windows ME several years back.

Upgrading Applications

While trying to decide whether to upgrade to a newer version of one of your programs (Office 2000 to Office 2007, Nero 7 to 8, etc.) consider this:

a) Does the new version have new features you need or want?
b) Is the current version not running as well as it used to?
c) Do you need a new version because you’re upgrading to Vista and the old version doesn’t work with it?

Those considerations also apply to upgrades such as printer drivers, video card drivers and “system updates” such as those offered by computer manufacturers (HP, Dell, Gateway, etc).

Security Updates and Windows Updates

This one’s easy! If Windows wants to do an update, do it! Most Windows Updates are for your protection, to prevent your system from being compromised.

If your antivirus program wants to update your virus definitions, do it. It’s important to keep up-to-date since new viruses are being written every day. However, if your antivirus company wants you to upgrade to a different version of the actual program or add new features – check it out before you do it. Many newer versions or suites can slow down your computer significantly while they are “protecting” you – making it easy to forget that the first level of protection is your own good sense.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

“I wish I had backed up…”

Most people learn the hard way to back up their computers – I know I did! It was 1995 and I lost everything on my hard drive - my banking, documents, my daughter’s school assignments, elaborate PrintShop projects. If hard drives had been larger back then, I would have lost a whole lot more! The pain of recreating what I could, and learning to live without the items I couldn’t recreate, was enough to teach me to start backing up on a regular basis.

I was lucky to have learned that lesson so early – learning it today would have cost me thousands of irreplaceable photos in addition to everything else.

Computers can fall prey to fire, flood, spilled liquid, theft and falls and almost any other calamity you could imagine. But by far the most common enemy of your computer is hard drive failure.

All hard drives fail. This is a fact of life, pure and simple, no ifs ands or buts. The only variables are 1) when exactly will your hard drive fail and 2) how well will you survive it?

Google released the results of a 5-year hard drive failure rate study in March of 2007, with some surprising numbers:
“About 3% of drives failed in the first three months, 1.8% in the first 6 months, 1.7% in the first year. Failure rates jump to approximately 8% in the second year, 9% in the third year, fall to 6% in the fourth year, and jump back to 7% in the fifth year. “

It WILL happen to YOU! You will save yourself heartache and countless hours of work by backing up. And…backing up is easier than you think! Following are two easy options, AND a list of which items you should back up.

Online Automatic Backup
The easiest and safest is automatic online backup. Two of the least expensive are Mozy (http://www.mozy.com/) and Carbonite (http://www.carbonite.com/). Mozy even has a free version, convenient if you don’t have a lot of data to back up. But even the paid versions of each of these products are very reasonable and offer unlimited backup space. The initial backup takes awhile, sometimes more than a day, but subsequent backups are very fast - minutes. You can still work on your computer while it’s backing up, so there’s no inconvenience even on the initial backup. And you can schedule backups to run daily, weekly, monthly – whatever you need. Your data is encrypted for security and stored far, far away.

External Hard Drives
External hard drives, once very expensive, are now quite inexpensive. You can get yourself a large hard drive for right around $100. Simply plug it into your computer with a USB cable and copy your entire My Documents file and any other important data right to the drive.
Once you’re done copying, store your external drive in a different location from your computer. While having them on the same desk is convenient, it won’t protect you from a thief, fire or flood. Better yet, buy two and alternate – keeping one offsite.

Items to Back Up
Back up or copy your data only (items you created yourself). That would be your documents, photos, music, banking, client lists. Don’t bother backing up your actual programs (like Word, Excel, etc) since if you have to replace your hard drive, you will also have to reinstall Windows, and restoring a backed up program just doesn’t work in Windows. Make sure you know where your original program CDs are, and keep them in a safe place.
You will, someday soon, be very glad you backed up!