Monthly Archives: December 2008

Happy Holidays

Dear readers and subscribers,

Tech Thoughts is taking a break for the holidays. Regular posting will begin again on Monday, January 5, 2009.


Wishing you a safe and happy Holiday Season, and a properous 2009.

Bill Mullins


Filed under Windows Tips and Tools

Stolen or Lost Laptop Tracker Software – Adeona Free

stolen-laptopYou’ll never lose your Laptop computer, and you take particular care to ensure it won’t be stolen, right? Of course you do. But does loss, or theft, of laptops happen? You bet.

Recent survey results from the Ponemon Institute, indicates that more than 10,000 laptops are lost, or stolen, each week at U.S. airports. Are you as surprised as I am?

Not surprised? Well, how about this astonishing statistic from the same survey: 65% of those lost or stolen laptops are not reclaimed, despite the fact that half the laptops contain confidential corporate information.

One can only hope that the data on these laptops was encrypted, although it seems when we read news stories about a lost or stolen laptop, the pattern seems to be as follows; – 200,000 (insert your own number here), bank account numbers, Social Security Numbers, names, addresses and dates of birth were on an unencrypted laptop stolen/lost earlier this week.

Other available statistics indicate that a laptop is stolen, not lost but stolen, every 53 seconds and 97% of stolen laptop computers are never recovered.

So what can you do to increase the probability that should your laptop be lost or stolen, you can increase the chances that it will be returned to you, than the above statistics indicate?


Adeona (named after the Roman goddess of safe returns), is a recently released small software client for tracking the location of a lost, or stolen laptop, that does not rely on a proprietary central service, but instead, is offered free by the Open Source community.

This powerful free software has been developed through collaboration involving the University of Washington, the University of California San Diego and the University of California Davis.

The developer’s website describes the application as follows:

Adeona is designed to use the Open Source OpenDHT distributed storage service to store location updates sent by a small software client installed on an owner’s laptop.

The client continually monitors the current location of the laptop, gathering information (such as IP addresses and local network topology) that can be used to identify its current location.

The client then uses strong cryptographic mechanisms to not only encrypt the location data, but also ensure that the cipher texts stored within OpenDHT are anonymous and unlinkable. At the same time, it is easy for an owner to retrieve location information.

Quick facts:

Private: Adeona uses state-of-the-art cryptographic mechanisms to ensure that the owner is the only party that can use the system to reveal the locations visited by a device.

Reliable: Adeona uses a community-based remote storage facility, ensuring retrievability of recent location updates. (See caveat)

Open source and free: Adeona’s software is licensed under GPLv2. While your locations are secret, the tracking system’s design is not.

The Mac OS X version can capture pictures of the laptop user, or thief, using the built-in iSight camera.

System Requirements: Windows XP/Vista, Mac OS X, Linux

Download at the developer’s web site: Adeona

A caveat: According to the development team, “OpenDHT has been experiencing some problems. We are working on a new private version, that does not depend on OpenDHT”.

For a review and download links to free encryption software read “Lose Your USB Stick and You Lose it All – Encrypt Now with Free Software!” on this site.


Filed under Free Laptop Tracking Software, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Open Source, Software, Surveilance Tools, Windows Tips and Tools

Virtual CloneDrive – Speedup CD/DVD Access With This Emulator

virtual-driveVirtual 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.

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.

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 can often be packaged for download in this way.

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.


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 including ISO, BIN, CCD

Supports up to 8 virtual drives at one time

Easy to use – just double-click an image file to mount as a drive

Virtual CloneDrive is freeware

System Requirements: Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP

Download at:


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

Hazard Shield – Enhance Your Anti-Malware Solutions Free

Hazard Shield jumps into the already overcrowded anti-malware application market, as yet another free anti-malware contender. On the other hand, choice is good, and it’s always a plus to have another free and effective security application to choose from.

In testing Hazard Shield on my test systems as a secondary on-demand scanner, this nifty little program impressed me with its performance. This application however, is not restricted to acting only as a secondary scanner.


Orbitech, the developer of Hazard Shield describes this application as “a fast anti-malware program that scans for any and every threat we can get our hands on. These include malicious items such as malware, viruses, spyware, Trojans, backdoors, dialers and much more”.

Hazard Shield’s Real-time malware monitor, which is not a system resource hog as so many others can be, protects your computer by removing threats before they can do damage.

There’s no question that Hazard Shield is fast. In testing, I found it completed scanning approximately 30GB in just a few minutes. It did not find any malware on my machines. However, I have heard from other Techs who have tested this application, that it has detected and removed a number of infections missed by other anti-malware programs including Norton and Webroot Spy Sweeper.

The simple and straightforward interface is a definite plus, particularly for less experienced users. There’s no learning curve involved here. With a couple of simple clicks you can scan for threats, and remove them from both local and network drives.

Included in the application are a number of integrated tools including a file killer. This tool can be particularly important in removing locked or in-use files. Additional tools include an uninstall manager, a process manager, and a scheduled task manager.

If you’re looking to strengthen your anti-malware resources, this application might be one that’s worth taking a look at.

Quick Facts:

Light on resources

Simple, straightforward interface

Scans local, network, and removable drives

Scans for viruses, spyware adware, malware, Trojans, dialers, hijackers, backdoors

Fast, easy database and program updates

Real-time protection

Additional integrated tools

Scores a respectable 3.5/5 Stars on and 4/5 Stars on

Free for personal and commercial use

Bonus: Free tech support is available from the deveoloper at any time, should you have any problems.

System Requirements: Windows XP, Vista

Additional Requirements: NET framework 2.0

Download at:


Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Don't Get Hacked, Free Security Programs, Freeware, Safe Surfing, Software, Spyware - Adware Protection, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools

Computer Security – Time to Think About It

Here we are getting ready for the holiday season, once again. For many of us it’s a wonderful time of the year, full of memories of previous Christmases, and great anticipation for all the good things to come.

During the last holiday season, like many of you, I took the opportunity to get together with family and friends. As so often happens on these occasions, I got quizzed on everyones, it seems to me, least favorite computer related topic; the state of computer security.

These informal “question and answer” gabfests are important to me, since they are a good way to stay in the loop of real world computing experienced by typical users, and not just the esoteric world of the typical “geeky” user.

At that time, some intriguing statistics had just been released from a survey which had been developed by the National Cyber Security Alliance, and security firm McAfee.


The overriding conclusion from the survey was: typical computer users are in need of a “reality check” when it comes to home computer security. Based on my own experiences, I believe this survey does not overstate the case and in fact, additional studies done in the last few months of this year seem to indicate the “security knowledge gap”, continues to widen.

The McAfee/NCSA study found that while 98 percent of computer users agree that having up-to-date security software is important for system security, a significant number of the survey respondents had computers with security software that was incomplete, or dangerously out of date.

Highlights of the survey:

Ninety-two percent of those surveyed believed their anti-virus software was up to date, but in fact, only 51 % had updated their anti-virus software within the previous week.

Seventy-three percent of those surveyed believed they had a firewall installed and enabled, yet only 64 % actually did.

Approximately 70 % of PC users believed they had anti-spyware software, but only 55 % actually had it installed.

Twenty five percent of survey participants believed they had anti-phishing software, but only 12 % actually had the software.

Where do you fit in all this?

Most of us now store a large volume of confidential personal information on our home computers, including information concerning our personal finances, taxes, health, and perhaps personal documentation of other types.

So, it may well be that we need to take the time to survey our computers to insure that all relevant security applications have been installed, are up to date, and are operating correctly.

One of the better applications that will produce a survey of your computer is Belarc Advisor which can be reviewed and downloaded, if you choose, from this Blog. As well, consider downloading and installing Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI) which constantly monitors your system for insecure software installations, and notifies you when an insecure application is installed.

If you need to update, or add, additional security applications to your computer, then checkout The Best Free Spyware, Virus and Browser Protection, on this site for reviews and free security application downloads.


Filed under Browser add-ons, Computer Audit Applications, Don't Get Hacked, Firefox Add-ons, Free Security Programs, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Internet Explorer Add-ons, Internet Safety, Online Safety, Safe Surfing, Spyware - Adware Protection, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools

Glarysoft Security Process Explorer – Rate Running Processes for Security

Glarysoft, the developer’s of the powerful, free system tool Glary Utilities (which should be part of every casual/intermediate computers users’ toolbox), also offers a free enhanced task manager; Security Process Explorer. This application though, is better suited to experienced or advanced computer users.

Security Process Explorer operates very much like A-squared HiJackFree but with an additional twist. Operating as an enhanced task manager, the program provides advanced risk information about programs, and processes, running on your computer.

The program displays all the usual task manager information, including file name, directory path, description, CPU usage, and so on. What sets the application apart is the unique security risk rating that is applied to running programs and processes.


The major caveat here however is, the user must make the decision whether a particular process, or program, should be terminated or removed. Thankfully, you can get help in making that decision by clicking on the More Info Tab. Doing so, opens Glarysoft’s web based database where additional information about the specific program/process can be obtained, along with a risk factor for that inquiry.

If you make a mistake, the application offers a way out. Just go to the Edit Tab and reverse the action.

Using Security Process Explorer you can easily find and remove unnecessary background processes. As well, you can assign more resources to demanding processes like games, real-time multimedia applications and CD writing software, where necessary.

Quick facts:

Provides detailed information about all running processes

Specifies whether a process is safe or not

Single click process termination

Block unneeded processes or malware

Simple user interface

If you are an experienced/advanced computer user, and you’re looking for a program to strengthen your anti-malware resources, then Security Process Explorer is one that’s worth taking a look at.

Download at:

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Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Don't Get Hacked, Free Security Programs, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Interconnectivity, Manual Malware Removal, Security Rating Applications, Software, Spyware - Adware Protection, System Security, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Maximize Layered Malware Defenses – A-squared HijackFree

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 (sometimes known as a geek), and you’re looking for a program to strengthen your anti-malware resources, then A-squared 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 wipe out 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.

System Requirements: Windows 98/Me/2000/XP/2003 Server/Vista

Download at:


Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Don't Get Hacked, Free Security Programs, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Manual Malware Removal, Software, Spyware - Adware Protection, System Security, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

What’s On Your PC? – Find Out With Free Belarc Advisor ((Version 7.2x))

belarc-logo In order to effectively maintain your computer and proactively deal with problems that may occur, it is essential that you have as much information about your system as possible.

If you need help from a computer support group, from a tech support line, or from a computer knowledgeable friend, you will need to provide specific and accurate details of your computer. Without these details, it can be very difficult for even the most knowledgeable computer tech to be time efficient.

So it is important for you to create a detailed profile of your computer system before problems occur, and retain a printed copy of the report. Generally, creating such a profile can be very time intensive. But all is not lost!

Belarc Advisor is a program that automatically generates a detailed audit report of the hardware and software on your computer. It records essential information such as, operating system and processor details, the amount of RAM installed, and drive specifications.


The report also includes a comprehensive list of the software installed on your system, as well as software license numbers and product keys. In addition, it lists the status of the Microsoft hotfixes on your system. If any hotfixes need reinstalling, you will be advised of this.

Critically important is the category in which your computer is given a security rating, based on the Center for Internet Security (CIS) benchmark test which involves testing for: System Security Status, Virus Protection, and Microsoft Security Updates.

The results are displayed in a formatted HTML report. The report is clearly formatted for ease of understanding and divided into appropriate categories. Hyperlinks within the report allow you to quickly navigate to different parts of the document, find out more about a particular hotfix entry, or see where a listed software product is installed.

I have been using this program for 5+ years and find it invaluable for troubleshooting and diagnostics.

Belarc Advisor is free for personal use only.

System Requirements: Windows Vista, 2003, XP, 2000, NT 4, Me, 98, and 95.

Browser Requirements: Internet Explorer, Netscape Opera, Mozilla, and FireFox.

Download at:

To read a review of another great free computer audit application WinAudit, checkout “What’s really under the hood of that computer?” on fellow Blogger Rick Robinette’s site, What’s On My PC.


Filed under Computer Audit Applications, Diagnostic Software, Freeware, Security Rating Applications, Software, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools

Getting a New Computer for Christmas? – Essential Security Precautions

botnet-computersSo you just might get a new PC for Christmas – if you’ve been good this year! Before you test drive this new machine though, there are some fundamental precautions you need to take before you connect to the Internet.

Patch your operating system. Download and install all available patches and service packs by connecting to Windows Update. Security Gurus will tell you that 50% of unpatched, and unprotected systems, will be infected with malicious code within 12 minutes of being connected to the Internet. Believe it!

Install a firewall. Windows XP comes with a basic firewall, and if you are running Windows Vista, it does come with a more robust firewall (Windows Firewall) than XP, as well as anti-spyware utilities (Windows Defender). However, the consensus is; third party applications are usually more effective. Keep in mind that the XP firewall offers only minimal protection.

There are a number of free firewalls that are worth considering. The following are two that do the job particularly well.

Comodo Firewall Pro

The definitive free firewall, Comodo Firewall protects your system by defeating hackers and restricting unauthorized programs from accessing the Internet. I have been using this application for 18 months and I continue to feel very secure. It resists being forcibly terminated and it works as well, or better, than any firewall I’ve paid for. This is one I highly recommend. Amazing that it’s free!


The free version of ZoneAlarm (recently updated), lacks the features of ZoneAlarm Pro’s firewall. Its program control asks you regularly whether to allow programs; for some this can be intrusive and annoying. But it’s been around forever it seems, and it can’t be shut down, or out, by mal-ware.

Install anti-virus software. There is no doubt that an unprotected computer will become infected by viruses and malware within minutes of first being connected to the internet. There are many free versions of anti-virus software available and the programs that have a well justified reputation are listed below.

Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic

This anti-virus program offers comprehensive protection with an easy to use interface. In the ten months I have been testing Avira I have been impressed with its performance, and I have come to rely on it as my primary anti-virus program. I highly recommend this one.

AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition 8.0.1

AVG Anti-Virus Free 8.0 now incorporates protection against spyware through a new combined anti-virus and anti-spyware engine as well as a “safe-searching component” which has been incorporated into the new AVG Internet Security Toolbar. This program scans files on access, on demand, and on schedule and scans email incoming and outgoing. For those on Vista, you’re in luck, it’s Vista-ready.

Install Anti-Spyware and Adware Software. It’s not only a virus that can put your computer down for the count, but a multitude of nasties freely floating on the Internet. Listed below are a number of free programs that offer very good protection against malware.

Spyware Terminator

Having tested virtually all of the major anti-spyware applications over the past year or more, I’ve settled, for now, on Spyware Terminator primarily due to its strong real-time protection against spyware, adware, Trojans, key-loggers, home page hijackers and other malware threats. Spyware Terminator excels in strong active protection against known and unknown threats.

Spyware Doctor Starter Edition

Spyware Doctor Starter Edition from PC Tools is an excellent choice, as a secondary line of defense. This free version of the award winning program, with its easy to use interface, is used by millions of people worldwide to protect their computers; it’s reported there are a million+ additional downloads every week. Be aware however, there is no real-time protection offered with this version and this is the reason I recommend this application as a secondary scanner only.

Ad-Aware 2008

Many software reviewers consider Ad-Aware Free as the best free adware remover available. It does a relatively good job of protecting against known data-mining, Trojans, dialers, malware, browser hijackers and tracking components. The only downside with the free version is real-time protection is not included.


Do you want to get a better understanding of what programs are being added to your computer? Then WinPatrol is the program for you. With WinPatrol, in your system tray, you can monitor system areas that are often changed by malicious programs. You can monitor your startup programs and services, cookies and current tasks. Should you need to, WinPatrol allows you to terminate processes and enable, or disable, startup programs. There are additional features that make WinPatrol a very powerful addition to your security applications.


ThreatFire blocks mal-ware, including zero-day threats, by analyzing program behavior and it does a stellar job. Again, this is one of the security applications that forms part of my front line defenses. I have found it to have high success rate at blocking mal-ware based on analysis of behavior. This is a “must have” application.

If you are now on the Internet, and you have not yet taking the precautions as outlined above, you are extremely vulnerable and it is critical that you take the following precautions:

Stop surfing the Web and patch your operating system. Only then download the protective software as noted above, or software that you are familiar with that will do an appropriate job of protecting your computer.

Do not visit any other websites until you have done this!

Additional security precautions:

Internet Browser protection: Web of Trust – WOT is a free Internet Browser add-on (my personal favorite), that has established an impressive 4.5/5.0 star user rating on CNET. WOT tests web sites you are visiting for spyware, spam, viruses, browser exploits, unreliable online shops, phishing, and online scams, helping you avoid unsafe web sites.

Establish a password for the administrator account. Only you should have access to the administrator settings on your PC. Unfortunately, XP installs with open access to the administrator’s account. Be sure to change this.

Create a new password protected user account. Using this account for your general day-to-day activities adds another layer of protection to your computer. A user account does not have the same all-access permissions as your administrator account, and in many cases this extra layer of protection will restrict malware from gaining a foothold on your PC.

This list is not exhaustive. For more information and additional free anti-malware and system protection applications, read “The 35 Best Free Applications – Tried, Tested and Reliable!” on this site.

Good luck and safe surfing.


Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Antivirus Applications, Browser add-ons, Don't Get Hacked, Firefox Add-ons, Free Security Programs, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Internet Explorer Add-ons, Internet Safety, Online Safety, Safe Surfing, Software, Spyware - Adware Protection, System Security, System Utilities, Viruses, Windows Tips and Tools, worms

McDonalds Email Christmas Offer is Scroogy Malware

mcdonalds-fries Who’s going to turn down an email savings coupon from that great American institution – McDonalds? The cyber-criminals behind this spam/scam email are counting on the fact that not many of us will turn it down.

Let’s face it – we’re all pretty used to McDonalds wishing us a “Merry Christmas” so getting an email with that heading is likely to entice many of us to “Simply print the coupon from this Email and head to your local McDonald’s for FREE giveaways and AWESOME savings” as the email instructs.


(Pic courtesy of Panda)

According to PandaLabs, Panda Security’s laboratory for detecting and analyzing malware however, you won’t get a coupon, you won’t get “FREE giveaways and AWESOME savings”, but you will get infected by the P2PShared.U worm.

“Once on the computer”, according to Panda, “the worm sends out emails with the same subject and appearance to other users. Finally, it copies itself to folders of various P2P file-sharing programs (eMule, LimeWire, Morpheus, etc.) with names relating to security software, image editing programs, program cracks, etc. This way, any user that tries to download any of these applications will be actually letting a copy of the worm into their computer”.

At this time of the year, we can expect to be bombarded by socially engineered email spam/scam with a Christmas or Holiday Season theme, so be more vigilant than you normally would be.

Don’t open unknown email attachments

Don’t run programs of unknown origin

Disable scripting features in email programs

Ensure your anti-virus software scans all e-mail attachments

If you are interested in staying on top of the latest in Internet security news, consider adding Panda Security news to your feed reader by adding the following URL –


Filed under Don't Get Hacked, Email, Interconnectivity, internet scams, Malware Advisories, Online Safety, Safe Surfing, System Security, worms