Monthly Archives: February 2008

Here’s a Complement – Not!

As a matter of principal I make it a habit to reply to all comments left on my Blogs. After all, if someone has taken the time to read an article I wrote and then took the time to comment on that article, they deserve an acknowledgement of the comment.

There was a kind of delicious irony involved then, when a scammer/phisher recently commented on my article “Rogue Security Software on the Rise – What You Need to Know Now!” The article described in detail the concept of rogue software and how to guard against it.

In this particular case the cyber crook simply wrote “good job”, as his comment. Now he might actually have meant this to be a complement, perhaps something along the lines of 🙂 “Hey, you know what we’re really all about, don’t you?”. More likely I suspect he assumed that if I replied to his comment, I would do so without verifying the integrity of both his email mail address and his referring web site.

Because cyber crooks use every method that they can to defraud us, I am as careful in responding to comments as I am to any other form of web activity. So it’s my standard practice to verify email addresses and referring websites of those readers who choose to leave a comment, unless of course they are regular commentators.

On checking the website referred to in this reader’s comment I found the following site information through McAfee Site Advisor.

This example points out, once again, that all of us need to be armed with the appropriate tools to keep us safe on the Internet. None of us is safe from potential manipulative attempts to defraud us. In this particular case, McAfee Site Advisor was up to the task of keeping me safe and protecting me from this phishing site.

It’s also possible that this site is even more dangerous than it appears. Very likely it is seeded with drive-by downloads, as well as being a phishing site as pointed out by McAfee Site Advisor.

If you don’t have McAfee Site Advisor and you would like to read a review and download it then read my article, “Don’t Have McAfee Site Advisor? Then How Do You Know Where You Are on the Net?

If you would like to read the previous articles discussed in this article, please see the following links.

The Paradox Created by Firewalls/Security Applications – Drive-by Downloads

If you missed “Rogue Security Software on the Rise – What You Need to Know Now!” you can read it here.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Email, Firefox Add-ons, Freeware, Internet Safety, Internet Safety Tools, Malware Advisories, Online Safety, Rogue Software, Software, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools

Hard Drive Maintenance/Free Diagnostic Applications

hard-drive-diag.jpgYour hard drive is the workhorse of your computer, but do you really know what it’s up to in there? Here’s a brief description of how your hard drive works, and what you can do to make sure it keeps working the way it should.

How it works

When you save a file to your hard drive, it is magnetically recorded onto a platter inside your hard drive. Most hard drives have several platters mounted on a spindle that allows them to spin as fast as 15,000 times per minute. Each two-sided platter is mounted on a single arm with a slider that lets the heads move across the surface of the platter to access data.The amount of data each platter can hold is usually measured in Tracks Per Inch, where a track equals one concentric ring around a disk.

Because of the amount of data that can be stored in a single track, each track is divided into sectors, and when you save data to the disk, it is referenced according to its track and sector.

Organize your hard drive

Occasionally your hard drive will make a whirring sound as it searches for a file. This is the sound of the platters spinning as the read heads zoom back and forth to access each sector where the data has been stored. You can speed up this process by periodically “defragging” your hard drive. The Windows Disk Defragmenter utility reorganizes the scattered data on your hard drive to make your files run more efficiently. It also moves the files that you use most often to the beginning of the hard disk where they’ll load faster.

To run Disk Defragmenter in Windows XP, follow these directions:

Click Start > Programs > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter.

You should analyze a drive (volume) before defragmenting it. Because defragmenting may take considerable time, this tells you whether you need to take the time to perform this task. Click the Analyze button.

A drive must have at least 15 percent free space for Disk Defragmenter to completely and adequately defragment it. Disk Defragmenter uses this space as a sorting area for file fragments. If a volume has less than 15 percent free space, Disk Defragmenter will only partially defragment it. To increase the free space on a volume, delete unneeded files or move them to another disk.

Click the Defragment button.

To interrupt or temporarily stop defragmenting a volume, click Stop or Pause, respectively. The bottom frame displays a graphical representation of the utilities progress.

Disk Cleanup

Another powerful utility that comes with Windows is Disk Cleanup. This application allows you to easily sort through and delete unused and temporary files, freeing space on your hard drive and speeding up its operation.

To run Disk Cleanup, Go to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools and select Disk Cleanup.

Choose the drive you want to scan from the drop-down menu, and wait while the program calculates how much disk space is available for cleanup.

On the Disk Cleanup tab, check the boxes next to the types of files you want to remove.

Temporary Internet Files are Web pages stored on your hard drive for quick access. Deleting these files will leave intact your Internet browser preferences and bookmarks.

Downloaded Program Files are Java and ActiveX applications downloaded from the Internet to view certain pages.

The Recycle Bin contains files you have deleted from your system. They are not permanently removed until you empty the bin.

Temporary Files are created by some applications to temporarily store data. Typically, the data is deleted when the program closes, and it is safe to delete these files if they have not been modified in over a week. Clicking the View Files button will display the files to be deleted in a separate window.

To remove Windows components or unused programs, click the More Options tab. Clicking the appropriate Cleanup button will open the Add/Remove Programs utility, where you can then select what you would like to delete.

ScanDisk

If you’ve ever turned off your computer without properly shutting down the system (or had to restart after a crash), then you’ve probably seen your computer run a utility called ScanDisk. ScanDisk checks the hard drive for errors and, if it finds any, marks the cluster of sectors containing the error as unusable, so that no data can be written to or read from that portion of the disk.You can also run ScanDisk from within Windows. This allows you to do a more thorough scan of your hard drive and detect errors that might make it difficult or impossible to read or write to the disk.

To run ScanDisk in Windows 98, and Windows Millennium:

Click Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > ScanDisk.

Select Thorough under Type of Test.

Click Start to begin the scan.

Windows XP refers to ScanDisk as an “error-checking” tool; to perform error-checking, follow these directions:

Open My Computer, then select the local disk you want to check.

On the File menu, click Properties.

On the Tools tab, under Error-checking, click Check Now.

Under Check Disk options, select the “Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors” box. ScanDisk should take only a few minutes to run, and should probably be done every two or three months. It will give you a report of the number and types of errors it has found, and can even automatically repair some of these errors.

More serious errors can be repaired by reformatting the drive, if the errors are “soft” errors (which means that the magnetic signal on the disk is weak or the formatting is bad).”Hard” errors, however, refer to actual physical damage to the disk, such as a scratch or a bump, and cannot be repaired.

If you have a large number of hard errors on your disk, you will probably need to replace your hard drive.The average life span for today’s hard drive is between three and five years. Simple maintenance can keep your hard drive running smoothly well past the time it has become obsolete.

Luckily, today’s hard drives rarely fail without a warning given well in advance. All modern disks are equipped with a feature called S.M.A.R.T. that allows real-time analysis and the reporting of any developing problems and potential issues. The big question is: can you read the warnings?

The following free applications take the guesswork out of the equation, and they make it easier for you to diagnose what’s really happening with your Hard Drives.

Disk Heal

  • Disk Heal fixes these problems with just one click.
  • Fixes Task Manager Inaccessibility
  • Fixes Folder Options inaccessibility
  • Fixes Registry Editor Inaccessibility
  • Fixes File/Folder inaccessibility:
  • Has a virus hidden your files/folders and you cannot unhide it, use disk heal to fix this problem.
For more info go to: Lugsoft

Emsa Disk Check – CD/DVD/HDD Disk Diagnostic Utility
Emsa Disk Check is a dual-purpose utility, for disk checking (prescan and full disk reading) and also benchmarking. It scans/reads the entire contents of a disk (CD, DVD or hard drive; or even floppy), and it shows any read errors that may appear. In addition, it shows drive speed information, progress statistics and so on. It was designed with simplicity in mind, but ease of use for you.

Emsa DiskCheck main features:

  • Useful to quickly and fully scan removable disks like CD, DVD for surface defects like disk scratch problems, bad CD-R/RW DVD-R/RW writes, etc.
  • Can check CD-ROM, DVD, hard disks, even floppy disks.
  • Useful for benchmarking a drive, be it CD, DVD or HDD.
  • Shows ‘locked’ files on disks.
  • Useful speed comparison (shows the ‘X’ multiplier speed comparison with CDs and DVDs) with possibility of switching in CD/DVD ‘X’ mode.
  • It scans/reads a disk fully until completion or user stop, at the maximal speed available.
  • Reports progress, statistics (files, folders, time elapsed, estimated time remaining).
  • Reports any errors encountered (error count and log entry for each).
  • Prescan accesses the disk table of contents and computes file information, showing the total number of files and folders and total space on disk before running the full scan.

Download at: e-systemsHDDlife

Knowing about the possible failure of your hard drive means having time to prevent all your data from being lost HDDlife is a program that will allow you to control the health of your hard drive using an intuitive interface. Just run the program and it will show you the list of your disks with the percentage of their health left, as well as their temperature.

Main features:

  • Controlling the health of your hard drives using the S. M. A. R. T. technology.
  • Constantly monitoring the state of your hard drives in the background mode.
  • Displaying the temperature of your hard drives.
  • Disk free space info and control.

The current version supports IDE, Serial ATA and SCSI disks with standard controllers, while external, IDE RAID and SCSI RAID controllers are not supported.

Download at: hddlife.com

Don’t forget, that Hard Drive diagnostic software is offered free from all the major hard drive manufacturers. Check out their sites.

Western Digital Support:

Samsung:

Seagate:

Please note that since Seagate purchased Maxtor, the download sites are identical.

Maxtor:

3 Comments

Filed under Freeware, Hard Drive Maintenance, Software, System Utilities, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Save Time/Resources – Free Virtual CloneDrive

Generally, operating systems, particularly Linux and its many derivatives are available for download on the Internet packaged as an image file, e.g. an .ISO file, or as a .BIN/.CUE file. As well, larger applications are also packaged for download in this way.

To explain briefly: a disk image is a computer file containing the complete contents and structure of a data storage medium or device, such as a hard drive, CD or DVD. As such, a disk image contains all the information necessary to replicate the structure and contents layout, as well as the actual contents, of a storage device.

Since I download and test operating systems and large applications frequently, over the course of the last year I could have easily burned up to 50+ CD’s or DVD’s just to use or install the software for testing. But by having Virtual CloneDrive installed on my test system, I saved time and resources.

Virtual CloneDrive is a small freeware application that allows you to mount image files, from a hard drive, as a virtual CD or DVD drive, just as if you had inserted the application into a physical CD/DVD drive.

Once Virtual CloneDrive is installed on your system it will be assigned a drive letter, and will appear as a drive in Windows explorer.

To mount an image file navigate to the file and right-click. When the menu pops up simply navigate to Open with > Mount Files with Virtual CloneDrive. This will create a new drive letter so that you can access the file.

An added benefit for those with a larger hard drive is, you now have the option of converting your CDs and DVDs into files that run directly from your hard drive. You can play games without inserting the physical discs — simply click on a desktop icon to launch a virtual optical drive. You can share virtual CDs, photo CDs, and disc-based applications over a network, with access rates up to 200 times faster than physical CDs; boosting the performance of PC games, photo CDs, and disc-based applications.

Quick facts:

  • Supports all common image formats such as ISO, BIN, CCD
  • Supports up to 8 virtual drives at the same time
  • Easy to use – just double-click an image file to mount as a drive
  • Virtual CloneDrive is freeware

Download from: Elaborate Bytes AG

1 Comment

Filed under CD/DVD Cloning, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Productivity Software, Software, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Home Page Hijacked? Get It Back Free – HijackThis – Version 2.0.2

Your home page has been hijacked and despite the fact you’ve run every anti-malware program in your arsenal, you can’t get it back. Well there’s hope yet!

HijackThis is a free utility by Trend Micro which heuristically scans your computer to find settings that may have been changed by homepage hijackers, spyware, and other malware or unwanted programs.

This application has a well deserved reputation for being aggressive in tracking down unauthorized changes that have been made to your system/applications.

The program doesn’t target specific programs, but instead it analyses registry and file settings and targets the methods used by hijackers to redirect your browser. After the scan HijackThis creates a report, or log file, with the results of the scan.

Because of the heuristic methods used by HijackThis, the results of the scan can be confusing to those who are not advanced users. However, the strength of this program lies in the large community of users who participate in online forums, where experts will interpret HijackThis scan results for you, and provide you with the information you need to clean any infection.

There is a great tutorial on using HijackThis at BleepingComputer

The latest version (2.0.2), adds powerful tools to the Configuration window including, a process manager and hosts file editor to help you excise virulent infections, and the ADS Spy tool which scans alternate data streams, that browser hijackers can use to evade spyware removers.

Despite the fact that you may only need this small application infrequently, it deserves a place in your anti-malware toolbox.

System requirements: Windows Vista, XP, 2000, Me, 98

Software requirements: Internet Explorer 6.0 or 7.0, Firefox 1.5 or 2.0

Download at: Trend Micro

5 Comments

Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Freeware, Home Page Hijacking, Malware Advisories, Privacy, Software, System File Protection, System Security, System Utilities, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

The Paradox Created by Firewalls/Security Applications – Drive-by Downloads

Your Firewall and Security Applications provide the ultimate in protection while you’re surfing the web, right? Well in a sense they do.

Paradoxically, it’s because current anti-malware solutions are much more effective than they have ever been in detecting worms and viruses, that we’re now faced with another insidious form of attack.

Drive-by downloads are not new; they’ve been lurking around for years it seems, but they’ve become much more common and more crafty recently.

More than three million unique URLs on over 180,000 websites are automatically installing malware via drive-by downloads, according to recent statements by the Google Anti-Malware Team. Google has not been alone in noticing this trend by criminal hackers using these techniques. IBM noted recently, that criminals are directly attacking web browsers in order to steal identities, gain access to online accounts and conduct other illicit activities.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, drive-by download, they are essentially programs that automatically download and install on your computer without your knowledge. This action can occur while visiting an infected web site, as previously noted, opening an infected HTML email, or by clicking on a deceptive popup window. Often more than one program is downloaded, for example, file sharing with tracking spyware is very common. Again, it’s important to remember that this can take place without warning or your approval.

What can you do to ensure you are protected, or to reduce the chances you will become a victim?

As I have pointed out in the past on this Blog, the following are actions you can take to protect your computer system:

  • When surfing the web: Stop. Think. Click
  • Don’t open unknown email attachments
  • Don’t run programs of unknown origin
  • Disable hidden filename extensions
  • Keep all applications (including your operating system) patched
  • Turn off your computer or disconnect from the network when not in use
  • Disable Java, JavaScript, and ActiveX if possible
  • Disable scripting features in email programs
  • Make regular backups of critical data
  • Make a boot disk in case your computer is damaged or compromised
  • Turn off file and printer sharing on the computer.
  • Install a personal firewall on the computer.
  • Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software and ensure it is configured to automatically update when you are connected to the Internet
  • Ensure the anti-virus software scans all e-mail attachments
  • Install McAfee Site Advisor, WOT, or a similar browser add-on

 

Be proactive when it comes to your computer’s security; make sure you have adequate software based protection to reduce the chances that your machine will become infected.

1 Comment

Filed under Email, Firefox Add-ons, Internet Explorer Add-ons, Internet Safety, Internet Safety Tools, Malware Advisories, Online Safety, Safe Surfing, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools

Free Web Design Software For New Users – Make Your Own Website – Serif WebPlus 6

serif-box-webplus-6_.jpg Frequent readers of this Blog are aware, that over the past several weeks, I have been reviewing the free software offered by SerifSoftware. As I’ve mentioned before on this Blog, SerifSoftware has an unusual way to get you to try, buy, or upgrade, to their latest software offerings. They will give you, free of charge, an older version of any of their software packages. An interesting twist on the usual “try it for free for 30 days” we are all pretty familiar with.

I have used, and tested, Serif’s free editions for 10+ years now, and I have found that even their older software is more than up to the tasks I set.

Sure, the applications may be older than the current versions, but in terms of functionality and features, generally you are not missing much. Most software today, tends to be overblown and bloated with features that many users have little or no need of. So, in these older free versions there are not as many tools as one might find with more recent versions of Serif’s products, but those that are there tend to be the ones that are most used by typical users.

Despite the slightly dated appearance of Serif’s WebPlus 6, this is not an ‘old’ program that’s been revived just for give-away. WebPlus 6 is still a very functional and easy-to-use tool that will output a unique custom designed website to promote your club, hobby or business, or to put your favorite family/holiday photos online.

This application doesn’t profess to match Microsoft’s FrontPage or Adobe’s DreamWeaver in functionality; or for that matter, the price you would have to pay to purchase either of these top of the line web development tools. After all Serif WebPlus 6 is FREE!

So what can you expect from an application that’s an older version of a current application. Well surprisingly, for novice users, Serif WebPlus 6’s easy controls, simple step-by-step wizards and colorful templates are a quick and easy route to creating fun and attractive websites.

With its easy to use Desktop Publishing style interface, automated Web Site templates, visual web page creator, wizards, drag ‘n drop functionality, WYSIWYG editing, and comprehensive help, you can create your own home page on the web in minutes. Best of all, you can do this without having to have had previous experience.

Quick facts:

Website Templates

Choose from professionally-designed site schemes, provide some basic information, and then customize to suit your needs. The Layout Checker helps you fine-tune your design for most efficient web use. Then preview your site in your own web browser and publish it to the web.

Easy Editing and Special Effects

With WebPlus, it’s easy to import your own text and graphics to replace the samples in the web site templates. You’ll find integrated word processing tools, plus tools for creating text hyperlinks and hotspot graphics. The Snapping feature and Dot Grid help you achieve a crisp layout. Everything’s wrapped into a friendly desktop publishing environment with onscreen tool tips, hint line, and context-sensitive help!

Logo/Graphic Module

Produce attention-grabbing headlines, unique text effects, and powerful logos instantly using LogoPlus.

Animated Marquee Wizard

Custom-design your own varied and colorful multi-line text messages that scroll across the screen.

Spell-Checking and Thesaurus

Enhance your proofreading potential and ensure your site’s readability with these built-in support tools.

Direct Import of Digital Images

Now you can include images from your digital camera or photos and art work from your scanner, adding sophistication to your pages.

Color Schemes

By using the convenient pre-sets, or by customizing your own intelligent colors, add continuity or dramatically change the appearance of your Web publication with a single mouse click.

Studio Bar

Help your design break out of boring box formats. For a suave designer or fun and funky look take advantage of dozens of new graphic shapes.

Multiple Document Interface

Work on more than one web page at a time, even drag & drop items between them as you work.

Download at: FreeSerifSoftware

For reviews and free downloads of additional web design software on this Blog see:

PersonalWebKit

Kompozer

3 Comments

Filed under Freeware, Multimedia Tools, Productivity Software, Software, Web Development, Windows Tips and Tools

Surfing on Public Computers? – Stay Anonymous – Two Free USB Applications

There are numerous reasons why someone would want to surf anonymously: to ensure protection from snooping web sites, annoying advertisers, employers, or curious family members.

More obvious reasons for anonymous surfing include, surfing in internet cafes, public terminals in libraries, or hotel business centers. In fact, you may want to surf anonymously on any PC where you don’t want to leave traces of your private surfing activities.

Most typical PC users are amazed at the amount of information their browser provides to web sites they visit. For example, the information below is available to every web site I visit. I have X’d out certain parameters for privacy purposes only.

  • Your computer is connecting to the internet at xxxxxxx, xxxx, in the xxxx, with an IP address of 24.xxx.xxx.142
  • Your User Agent is being reported as: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.8.1.12) Gecko/20080201 Firefox/2.0.0.12
  • Your Referrer is being reported as:
  • http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&client= ient=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en
  • Your IP Address is 24.xxx.xxx.142
  • Your Host Name is d235- xxx.xxx.home1.cable.net
  • A trace to your phone comes back with an area code of: 0

 

The objective of anonymous surfing then, is to conceal this information from web sites and other computers, and typically you would use an anonymous proxy server between you and the web site to accomplish this. When surfing anonymously, your web browser talks to the proxy server; the proxy server talks to the web site. Effectively this means, the web site does not know you; it knows only the anonymous proxy server.

You have a number of choices when it comes to anonymous surfing. You can use a free proxy server service; not my personal first choice – but that’s fodder for another article!

More reliable and safer, in my view, is to download and install a client application which manages the details of anonymous surfing for you.

One such application is OperaTor, a free utility that includes the Opera browser, the Privoxy Web proxy , and The Onion Router, which is a method used for anonymous Internet communication. All components launch simultaneously.

OperaTor, and the component pieces, does not require an installer and the utility can be installed and launched from a USB flash drive. This makes it ideal for surfing at public computers.

Download at: Download.com

A second free utility is XeroBank Browser, a special version of Firefox that runs in conjunction with the free Tor anonymizer service. and that can also run directly from a USB flash drive. Just plug in your USB stick to any PC with a USB port and Firefox V2 is automatically launched, set up for secure and private surfing.

TorPark creates a secure encrypted connection between the PC you are using and the first Tor server. This allows you to safely transmit information without fear of local interception. This makes it ideal for surfing on open Wi-Fi networks.

Download at: Download.com

One caveat you should take note of however is, since all transmissions are encrypted and transmitted across many nodes, anonymous surfing can be slower.

1 Comment

Filed under Anonymous Surfing, Freeware, Internet Safety Tools, Online Safety, Privacy, Safe Surfing, Software, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools