Monthly Archives: June 2008

FREE Online Backup – Mozy on Over!

Just like death and taxes are a certainty, the fact that your computer’s Hard Drive will crash one day and refuse to respond, is every bit as certain.

Computer industry statistics seem to indicate that the real-world annualized failure rate (average percentage of disks failing per year), was much higher than the manufacturer’s estimate – an average of 3% vs. the estimated 0.5 – 0.9%. The cost of recovering data from a failed hard drive can exceed $7,500, and success is never guaranteed.

So when that inevitable day arrives, what will you do?

If you are one of the few, out of the ordinary, computer users who regularly and faithfully backup, you will have a lot of work ahead of you but you will recover.

However, if you haven’t backed up, you have lost everything including:

  1. operating system
  2. applications
  3. correspondence
  4. pictures
  5. music
  6. customized settings
  7. email accounts, rules/filters, folders and messages
  8. data including, letters, graphics, music, databases/other projects

The operating system and applications can be replaced, if you have the original install media. But not all computers with preinstalled operating systems have the original operating system installation media supplied with the computer.

The message here then is: everything that can not be replaced needs to be backed up.

It’s now easier than ever to backup giving the large choice of relatively inexpensive media, including CDs, DVDs, USB sticks, external Hard Drives, and increasingly gaining popularity, Online Backup Services.

Perhaps the most popular of these free Online Backup Services is Mozy: Free Online Backup.

Mozy, which requires a broadband connection, is a free and easy to use, software service that gives you 2GB of space allowing you to backup your data over the Internet. When needed, the backed up files can be restored over the Internet.

Mozy includes a Windows Explorer context menu which makes restoring files very easy. Right click on the file you want to restore, and Mozy gives you a list of all previous versions of the file. As well, Mozy incorporates a virtual drive explorer in Windows that allows you to view the files you’ve backed up without having to access the Internet.

If you are not familiar with backup software, or you’re not comfortable with XP’s version, then Mozy might well be the ideal tool for you. Check it out.

Mozy Quick Facts:

Open/locked file support

448-bit Blowfish encryption

128-bit SSL encryption

Automatic or scheduled backups

New and changed file detection

Block level incremental backups

Bandwidth throttling

File versioning

Public or private key encryption

Download at: Mozy

Additional Free Online Backup Sites:

XDrive – XDrive supplies you with 5 GB of space. The backup software runs on Windows, and provides automatic backups of your data.

IDrive Basic – 2 GB of backup space Free Online Backup, Encrypted, Secure and Automated.

Humyo – Humyo allows you to store up to 25 GB of media files (photos, videos, music) and 5 GB for non-media files.

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Filed under Backup Applications, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Online Backup, Software, System File Protection, Windows Tips and Tools

SpywareBlaster – Updated for FireFox 3.0

It’s not very often that I forget about security protection software installed on my computer. But I must admit to having forgotten about the fact, that for years, I have had SpywareBlaster installed on my system.

I allow myself to feel better about this when I consider that unlike other security programs SpywareBlaster, once installed, does not run in the background and continues to provide protection without the need for user interaction.

SpywareBlaster prevents ActiveX-based spyware, adware, dialers, and browser hijackers from installing on your system by disabling the CLSIDs (a system used by software applications to identify a file or other item), of spyware ActiveX controls. A secondary but equally important function offered by SpywareBlaster, is its ability to block spyware/tracking cookies and restrict the actions of spyware/adware/tracking sites in Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Netscape, Seamonkey, Flock and other browsers.

Since SpywareBlaster doesn’t scan for or clean spyware, but as stated earlier, prevents installation only, you should use it in combination with Spybot Search & Destroy and/or Ad-Aware, in addition to your normal anti-malware security applications to gain the maximum amount of protection.

SpywareBlaster is definitely low maintenance and the only thing you need to remember (the very thing that I had forgotten) is to update the database, which contains information on known spyware Active-X controls, regularly. Automatic update is also available for an annual fee of $9.95 USD.

SpywareBlaster also includes a System Snapshot feature with which you can take a snapshot of your computer in its clean state and later revert to this state, undoing any changes made by spyware and browser hijackers that have infected your system despite the security in place. I recommend that you take advantage of this important feature.

This is an important security protection tool to install on your system, particularly if your browser uses Active-X.

Version 4.1 adds full Firefox 3 support, (if you’re not using FireFox 3.0 yet, you need to consider doing so), and various feature and protection enhancements, tweaks, and optimizations.

Download at: Javacool Software

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Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety, Internet Safety Tools, Online Safety, Software, Spyware - Adware Protection, System Security, System Utilities, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Free CrossLoop – Be the PC Tech Guru for Family/Friends

Are you, like me, the tech support guru/IT department for your friends, family, and perhaps even the neighborhood?

I’m often asked by friends, to help them, their friends, their neighbors ………. the list goes on endlessly, to reconstruct a computer that is not responding properly, has become loaded with malware, or in some instances, has been taken over by a hacker.

Earlier this year, I was called upon in just such a situation, which is when I discovered CrossLoop; a free remote desktop application with a simple and distinctly user friendly interface, which CNET’s Download.com has recognized as one of The 10 Best Downloads of 2007.

After spending some time viewing an excellent introductory video on CrossLoop, available on YouTube, it was easy for me to see that this neat little application had all sorts of possibilities.

It struck me right away that the typical computer user using CrossLoop, doesn’t need to know anything about ports or protocols, or any other complicated jargon, and with CrossLoop up and running, connection to the remote computer can be accomplished within minutes. Even some of my friends, who are moderately techno competent, are now using this neat little tool to rescue their family’s and friend’s computers.

The individual needing assistance installs CrossLoop and runs the main application, then goes to share, and provides the access code to you. You then enter the 12-digit access code, click the connect button, and on connection the CrossLoop server does all of the behind- the- scenes work.

CrossLoop enables you to see the screen, and control the mouse and keyboard on the remote computer. Many users have commented that it feels just as if you are working side by side with the remote user, on the same PC. I second that perception. Awesome!

If you need to transfer files during your session, you’ll find that it’s a snap. What could be easier than using drag and drop to copy a file or folder onto a dialog box?

Security is built into all aspects of a CrossLoop session. Data is encrypted at the end-points before being transmitted using a 128-bit encryption algorithm made up of a randomly generated 12-digit access code.

The CrossLoop help page is one of the most complete I have seen. It provides a step by step text and pictorial guide to the process, so that even newbie support techs should have no problem looking like a pro.

Bottom line: If you have the skills, and you have the opportunity to provide tech support to your family or friends, then CrossLoop is the must-have tool for the job. It’s a powerful productivity tool that enables you to quickly collaborate with anyone, anywhere in the world.

CrossLoop Quick Facts:

Connect Any Two PCs

Available in 21 Languages

File Transfer Capability

Switch control to make collaboration easier

View Only and Share Control modes

Download the latest version at: Download.com

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Filed under Diagnostic Software, Easy Computer Networking, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Interconnectivity, Peer to Peer, Software, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Easy Computer Networking – Use Your Electric Wiring

The other night I took a break from web surfing/research and ended up watching my favorite answer and question TV show, Jeopardy.

Under the category – Computer Networking – the supplied answer was “uses your home’s electrical wiring to build a network”.

The objective in Jeopardy is to supply the question that matches the answer. I found myself struggling to come up with the question “Powerline Networks”, and in fact I never did.

The reason for my lack of a quick answer on this is actually pretty straightforward – Wi-Fi.

When most of us consider setting up a home network, we generally tend to be single minded. Automatically, it seems, we focus on Wi-Fi to the exclusion of any other network solution; and there are alternative solutions.

Wi-Fi has obvious advantages, not the least of which is it does away with the messy job of installing network cables which tend be unsightly, and in some cases difficult to install, particularly if run between floors.

On the other hand Wi-Fi can be a less than satisfactory solution to networking since issues such as distance between devices, thickness of walls and physical separation in the case of devices separated by floors, can impact Wi-Fi performance. In fact, in the past I have had less than acceptable performance with Wi-Fi devices located on different floors.

Power Line Communications (PLC) is a technology that uses the electrical wiring in your home, or your office, to provide network and Internet communication between attached devices, including computers, digital media devices such as a Tivo/Slingbox, and gaming consoles like the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or Nintendo Wii.

To network two computers, for example, you start by plugging the outlet adapters, which form the backbone of the technology, into the two appropriate electrical outlets. Then connect the outlet adapters to the Ethernet ports on your computers and voila! – you now have a basic network connection between the two machines.

Early on in the development of this technology performance was an issue, but in recent years relatively new improvements now permit up to 200Mbps transfer rates. So playing games on more than one device; transferring video, music or other high-volume files on the network, or using devices such as network hard disk to store large files are not an issue.

As with Wi-Fi, the signals have the ability to travel a short distance outside your home, so this technology includes the capacity to set an encrypted password to enhance network security.

Quick facts:

Simple to set up – just plug in

Instant network connection

No network cables to install

Easy Internet connection sharing

Network – Computers, Game Consoles, HD Media Devices

Cost: $100 – $200 (approximate)

If you’re interested in additional information on this technology checkout Wikipedia and the Universal Powerline Association web site.

Suppliers of this technology include these familiar companies: NetGear and D-Link.

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Filed under Easy Computer Networking, Interconnectivity, Windows Tips and Tools

Free Encryption Software – TrueCrypt – USB Security

Whenever the subject of file/disk encryption comes up when talking with my non-technical friends, I often get the oddest looks and the strangest comments. These comments generally revolve around the fact (my friends’ facts), that only someone with something to hide would need to encrypt files.

Well, they’re right; but not for the reasons that they suggest.

The real world shows us continually, that financial data and other confidential information can easily be subject to intrusive viewing by others not authorized to do so.

Two examples of how this might occur:

Internet malware attack: Statistics have shown, more and more, that financial data is targeted by hackers/information thieves, for the purpose of identity theft. The reality is; there is no such thing as a totally secure Internet connected computer. All Internet connected computers are subject to attack and compromise.

Lost or stolen Laptop: How often have we read/heard the following – 200,00 (insert your own number here), bank account numbers, Social Insurance Numbers, names, addresses and dates of birth were on a laptop stolen/lost earlier this week. In too many of these cases, negligently, the data is unencrypted. Certainly Laptop theft or loss is not restricted to organizations; it can just as easily happen to you.

To reduce or eliminate the security threat of sensitive data exposure then, the most prudent course of action is data encryption. Essentially, data encryption is a secure process for keeping your sensitive and confidential information private. It is a process by which bits of data are mathematically jumbled with a password-key. The Encryption process makes the data unreadable unless, or until decrypted.

TrueCrypt is an outstanding free open source software system, (one I have using for the last several years) for establishing and maintaining an on-the-fly-encrypted volume. On-the-fly encryption simply means that data are automatically encrypted or decrypted just before they are loaded or saved, without any user intervention. No data stored on an encrypted volume can be read (decrypted) without using the correct password/correct encryption keys.

TrueCrypt uses 11 algorithms for encrypting private files in a password-protected volume. You can store your encrypted data in files, partitions, or in this latest release (March 17, 2008), a portable storage device such as a USB flash drive.

Once your encrypted files are mounted to a local drive with your password or key, you can manipulate those files, i.e. you can open, copy, delete, or modify them. When you have completed working on those files, you then dismount the volume and the files are then safely secured from unauthorized access.

As I stated earlier I have been using TrueCrypt for a number of years and I have developed a lot of confidence in this outstanding application. If you determine that encryption of your sensitive data is a priority, I highly recommend that you give TrueCrypt a try. Indicative of this application’s popularity is the fact that it has been downloaded 5,837,372 times.

Quick Facts:

  • Creates a virtual encrypted disk within a file and mounts it as a real disk
  • Encrypts an entire hard disk partition or a storage device such as USB flash drive
  • Encryption is automatic, real-time (on-the-fly) and transparent
  • Provides two levels of plausible deniability, in case an adversary forces you to reveal the password – Hidden volume – No TrueCrypt volume can be identified (volumes cannot be distinguished from random data)
  • Encryption algorithms: AES-256, Serpent, and Twofish. Mode of operation: XTS
  • Ability to encrypt a system partition/drive (i.e. a partition/drive where Windows is installed) with pre-boot authentication (anyone who wants to gain access and use the system, read and write files, etc., needs to enter the correct password each time before the system starts
  • Pipelined operations increasing read/write speed by up to 100% (Windows)
  • Mac OS X version
  • Graphical user interface for the Linux version of TrueCrypt
  • XTS mode of operation – XTS is faster and more secure than LRW

Download at: Download.com

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Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Encryption, Encryption Software, Freeware, Portable Applications, Privacy, Software, System Security, USB, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

MalwareProtector 2008 Lies! – Fake Anti-malware Software

Here it is Saturday again, and so it’s time for another rogue security software warning. The epidemic of rogue security software on the Internet is ongoing unfortunately, with many of these unsafe products continuing to use social engineering to convince users’ to download these products.

Rogue security software like MalwareProtector 2008, released within the past few days, is software that uses malware, or malicious tools, to advertise or install itself. Unless you have had the bad experience of installing this type of malicious software, you may not be aware that such a class of software even exists. But it does.

This particular rogue security software’s installer is typically found on adult websites, or it can be installed manually from rogue security software websites. Apparently, MalwareProtector 2008 can also be installed through Internet browser exploits, or by means of the Zlob Trojan.

As with all rogue security applications, MalwareProtector 2008 was specifically developed to mislead unaware computer users’ into downloading and paying for the “full” version of this bogus software, based on the false malware positives generated by the application. Even if you are tricked into paying for the “full” version, nothing, not even the false warnings will be cleaned from your computer.

When the program runs, a warning message appears indicating that the computer has been infected by malware and giving the unlucky user the opportunity to download MalwareProtector 2008. Rejecting the download leads to this malware launching a screensaver which shows cockroaches eating the desktop. We’ve seen this type of behavior before in the past few weeks with another rogue application, Advanced XP Fixer.

As well, once the malware has been loaded, MalwareProtector 2008 may display new desktop shortcuts, and icons – Remove Popups, Scan Spyware, Security Test and Spam Protection. It goes without saying, that clicking on any of these icons leads the victim deeper into this malware mess. Since spyware changes continuously, not all of these symptoms may be present on a specific targeted machine.

Generally, reputable anti-spyware software is capable of detecting rogue software if it attempts to install, or on a malware scan. But this is not always the case. Anti-malware programs that rely on a definition database can be behind the curve in recognizing the newest threats.

A good partial solution to this problem is to ensure you have installed, and are running, an anti-malware application such as ThreatFire 3, free from PC Tools. This type of program operates using heuristics, or behavioral analysis, to identify newer threats.

As well, Malwarebytes, a reliable anti-malware company has created a free application to help keep you safe and secure. RogueRemover will safely remove a number of rogue security applications.

A further resource worth noting is the Bleeping Computer web site where help is available for many computer related problems, including the removal of rogue software.

The following recommendations are worth repeating, particularly for new or inexperienced users.

What you can do to reduce the chances of infecting your system with rogue security software.

Do not click on unsolicited invitations to download software of any kind.

Be careful in downloading freeware or shareware programs. Spyware is occasionally concealed in these programs. Download this type of program only through reputable web sites such as Download.com, or sites that you know to be safe.

Consider carefully the inherent risks attached to peer-to-peer (P2P), or file sharing applications.

Install an Internet Browser add-on that provides protection against questionable or unsafe websites. My personal favorite is Web of Trust, an Internet Explorer/FireFox add-on that offers substantial protection against questionable or unsafe websites.

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Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Firefox Add-ons, Free Security Programs, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Internet Explorer Add-ons, Internet Safety, Internet Safety Tools, internet scams, Malware Advisories, Online Safety, Rogue Software, Safe Surfing, Software, Spyware - Adware Protection, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools

HiJackFree – Free Malware Detection/Removal Tool

There are plenty of good anti-malware products, but experienced computer users’ realize that to ensure maximum safety, it’s important to have layered defenses in the ongoing fight against malware.

Given the virtual epidemic of malware currently circulating on the Internet, no single anti-malware tool is likely to identify and remove all of the millions of rogue malware that infests the cyber world.

A recent study carried out by PandaLabs of more than 1.5 million users, revealed that 23% of home computers with up-to-date security solution installed were infected by malware. Current data indicates that this situation has not improved

If you are an experienced/advanced computer user and you’re looking for a program to strengthen your anti-malware resources, then HiJackFree is one that’s worth taking a look at. This free application, from EMSI Software, offers a potent layer of additional protection to add to your major anti-malware programs.

The program operates as a detailed system analysis tool that can help you in the detection and removal of Hijackers, Spyware, Adware, Trojans, Worms, and other malware. It doesn’t offer live protection but instead, it examines your system, determines if it’s been infected, and then allows you to eradicate the malware.

Quick facts:

Analyzes the system configuration using live online analysis

Manages all types of AutoRuns on your system

Controls all Explorer and Browser plug-ins (BHOs, Toolbars, etc.)

Manages all running Processes and their associated modules

Controls all Services, even those Windows doesn’t display

Allows you to view open ports and the associated listening processes

Allows you to view all DNS entries in the hosts file

Manages installed Layered Service Providers

Multilingual – language packs for English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and many more.

This is a worthwhile application to add to your anti-malware toolbox that impressed me with its performance on my test systems.

A-squared HiJackFree is free for private use only.

Last Update: May 12, 2008

Version: 3.1.0.16

Download at: Download.com

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Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Free Security Programs, Freeware, Software, Spyware - Adware Protection, System Security, System Utilities, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools