Category Archives: Firefox

DoNotTrackPlus Gives The Boot To Nosy Internet Trackers

imageSeveral weeks back, I received an invitation from CNET to join a dating website designed especially for those that are 50 years old – or more. OK, it wasn’t exactly an invitation  – it was, in fact, an ad inserted into one of my subscribed  CNET newsletters.

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So what – no big deal you may be thinking. But from my perspective, it is a big deal – here’s why.

In the years that I’ve been Internet connected – 18 years or more – I’ve never referred to, or listed, my actual age (other than to make the point, from time to time, that I’ve been at the computing game for a very long time). Nor, have I ever referred to my marital status (other than in a humorous way in re-commenting on a reader’s initial comment – perhaps).

As it turns out – I am over 50, and I am a bachelor. So, in reality, CNET targeted me precisely. The question is – how did CNET know to target me so effectively and efficiently?

A partial answer is – CNET spies. The fact that CNET spies on site visitors is hardly news. Nor is it news, that the majority of commercial websites engage in spying on site visitors.

SPYING – such a loaded word. Instead of “spying”, let me use a series of descriptors handily thrown around by those engaged in spying on my privacy.

Predictive analytics, customer profiling, customer segmentation, predictive modeling, lifestyle clustering……. all done for my own benefit, of course (according to the intruders). There, now I feel better about being profiled, segmented, and clustered. Not!

I’m certainly not a Luddite and, I understand the cost/benefit associated with using the Internet. But, the rules (such as they were) have changed dramatically in the last year or two. The Data Miner is now on the scene, and gobbling up personal information at a prodigious rate.

Webopedia definition – The two most common forms of data miners are data mining programs that an organization uses to analyze its own data to look for significant patterns, and spyware programs that are uploaded to a user’s computer to monitor the user’s activity and send the data back to the organization, typically so that the organization can send the user targeted advertising.

In a real sense then, it isn’t so much that CNET is aware that I’m 50 plus, or that I’m single that is at issue – since CNET could not/did not develop the specific information I referred to earlier. Instead, this information was undoubtedly culled by any one, or more, of the data miners that have infected the Internet and, using “predictive modeling” rolled out a “best guess” that I’m in my fifties and single.

And that makes me feel not only “profiled, segmented, and clustered” but, as if I’ve been “diced and sliced”. I have, in essence, become a product. A product, I’m afraid, that’s closing in on its “best before date”.    Smile

A product that LiveIntent, working on behalf of CNET, targeted based on (according to the company’s site), gender, age, geo, browser, and time of day. I should point out, that according to LiveIntent’s promotional material, the foregoing “is just the tip of the iceberg”. Of that, I have no doubt.

The other side of the coin is – and there is another side of the coin – Internet users (by and large), have been trained to accept a tradeoff in order to get access to “free” information and services. In return – they buy into the condition that each commercial site they visit has the right to spy and build a profile on their browsing habits – the type of sites they visit and revisit, time spent on sites, their shopping and spending habits, their political views, their marital status (it appears), and much more. Some tradeoff!

In the long term, the personal information gathered will be sold, bartered and traded (to bypass the disclaimer – “we will not sell your information”), so that it can be used in multiple ways that generate profit. And, that’s the upside. If there’s one thing the Internet has taught us, it’s – if information can be abused – it will be abused.

If you’re like me, and you staunchly oppose the collection of your personal information, then you’re likely aware of any number of Browser tools which claim to shutout nosy data miners. In fact, I’ve reviewed many of these tools here.

One free tool which I haven’t reviewed until now (although, I wish I had earlier) is DoNotTrackPlus – a free Browser add-on from Abine (the online privacy company).

In the several weeks I’ve been running with DoNotTrackPlus, I’ve found that this add-on lives up to it’s reputation for excellence.

The following screen captures emphasize just how pervasive online tracking has become. And, more importantly, how DoNotTrackPlus puts the boots to these invasive parasitic data miners.

A selected result, from earlier today, while reading my local newspaper online.

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Cumulative results since installing this add-on. You’ll note, the rather staggering tracking company total.

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Abine’s Internet privacy view:

There is a huge difference between sharing personal information and having it taken. That’s why we’ve created Internet tools and services for those who want a say in how and when their information is used. And since we think exercising your right to online privacy should be easy, our solutions allow regular people just like you to regain and maintain control over their personal information – while continuing to enjoy all the wonderful things the web has to offer.

If you find yourself agreeing with this concept – and, you want a say in how and when your privileged information is used – take DoNotTrackPlus for a test drive. I suspect that you’ll be reluctant, in future, to surf the Internet without DoNotTrackPlus in place.

Fast facts:

Free tool that puts you back in control of your information.

Stops more than 600 trackers.

When you visit a website DoNotTrackPlus blocks tracking technologies from:

· Seeing and collecting your web activity such as what sites you visit and what you view.

· Putting cookies on your machine that would continue to store information about your Internet browsing.

· Displaying ads with tracking capability, including the annoying ads that seem to follow you everywhere you go.

Compatible with Mac or PC for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer.

Automatically updates to catch new trackers.

Download at the developer’s site: Abine

Click on the graphic below to view a video of DoNotTrackPlus in action.

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Additional information is available on the company’s FAQ site.

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Filed under Browser add-ons, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Online Privacy, Safari

Not Using Google Shortcuts? Here’s What You’re Missing

The following article was originally posted September 6, 2010.

Comments from readers:

I have to say that is such a great plugin. It is so customizable and puts all the Google services at one place. I can even remove the separate plugins I have for Gmail and reader.

Great find, Bill. I’m going to be putting this to good use!

Looks fabulous Bill. I removed the Google Toolbar from Firefox as it refused to untick some checkboxes, so this could be a great substitute.

imageDespite my personal view that Google trashes personal privacy rights, I continue to use a fairly large number of Google services, including Gmail, Google Reader, Maps, Calendar, and so on.

Until now, I’ve used my Bookmarks menu in Firefox to access these services, since this method is very convenient. But, when I came across the Google Shortcuts extension for Firefox, all that changed.

An  add-on that can display over 160 Google services as buttons next to the address bar, or in a one-click popup menu, is a sure fire winner with me. And Google Shortcuts for Firefox, or Chrome, can do that – and more.

Adding this extension to either Firefox, or Chrome, is accomplished in the usual manner that most of us are familiar with (you’ll find the download links at the end of this article).

Following installation, I jumped right in – setting up the extension to best serve my particular needs.

You can place your most commonly used Google services as buttons beside the address bar in Firefox, as the following screen capture indicates. This seems like an awkward way to display – eats up a lot of screen real estate.

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The option of using a dropdown menu option instead, as I’ve done here, is a better alternative – at least for me.

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The number of services available is really astonishing. In fact, there are services listed here that I was completely unaware of. Hopefully, G+ will be added shortly.

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Additional control options are available on the advanced options setting screen.

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Requirements: Firefox 2.0 – 6.*, or Chrome

Download at: Mozilla or Google Chrome Extensions

For super convenience, this is one of the better Firefox add-ons I’ve come across – I highly recommend it.

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Filed under Browser add-ons, Chrome, Chrome Add-ons, Cloud Computing Applications, downloads, Firefox, Firefox Add-ons, Freeware, Google, Google Chrome, Google Software, Interconnectivity, Software, Windows Tips and Tools

Catch Your Online Grammar, Spelling, and Style Mistakes, With After The Deadline

imageChurning out two blog posts every day is hard on the eyes – not to mention the back, the wrists – well you get the point. As a consequence – I sometimes find myself looking (with crossed eyes) at words running into words, gross misspellings (easy to correct), or improper word usage (sometimes, not so easy to correct). Your versus you’re, and its versus it’s, for example, can be particularly difficult to pick up when used incorrectly.

Here’s a good example of this – recently pointed out by a reader.

Comment:

“You’re friends won’t – other than to deny that they watch it – or, perhaps to decry it’s prevalence” You’re means You are – so “you are friends won’t” doesn’t make sense, use “Your friends” instead.

“It’s” always means “It is” – so “decry it is presence” doesn’t make sense; use “decry its presence” instead.

Not a big deal, you might be thinking. Maybe not – but as often as not, common errors, particularly punctuation errors, can change the meaning of what you meant to say. I’m sure you’ve seen this example – Let’s eat, Mother. versus – Let’s eat Mother.

I write all my blog articles in open source LibreOffice (with grammar checker turned on), and then copy the articles to Windows Live Writer prior to posting into WordPress.

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Despite an active grammar checker, proofreading, as time consuming as it can often be, is unavoidable. Still, I’ve learned that proofreading is no guarantee that the odd mistake will not slip through.

There is a partial solution (no technology is perfect), that can help you (and me), avoid the most common grammar mistakes, spelling errors (including contextual spelling errors), and style mistakes, in online interactions – including blog postings, emails (mistakes here can be deadly), Facebook, Twitter, etc.

After the Deadline – developed by the people behind WordPress – is an open source (free), language checker for the Web which is available as:

An add-on for Firefox.

An extension for Google Chrome.

A plugin for Windows Live Writer.

A plugin for self-hosted WordPress blogs.

An extension for OpenOffice.org Writer (still in Beta).

Following installation of After the Deadline on my system as a Firefox add-on, I found it to be reasonably accurate – but not perfect (more on this later). Nevertheless, I’ll keep it on my system – at least in the short term (for the second time).

Installation, in my case, was the usual automatic Firefox add-on install, followed by an easy Options set up as the following screen capture indicates.

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The following screen shots (click to expand) show spelling errors (an unrecognized word), and style recommendations – in a previous post.

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The type of recommendation shown in the screen shot directly above (change “terminate” to “end”, or “stop”), is the primary reason I deleted this add-on previously.

Consistently, higher level words were marked down as “complex expressions”. It may be popular to assume that “dumbing down” is in vogue, but not from where I’m sitting.

Fast facts:

Checks Spelling – Spell checker looks at context and uses artificial intelligence to make recommendations.

Detects Misused Words – Most spell checkers assume any word in their dictionary is correct regardless of context. This means all misused word errors go unnoticed.

Checks Style – Style checker has thousands of rules and uses context to choose the best suggestions.

Checks Grammar – The grammar checker in After the Deadline protects you from common writing errors. After the Deadline uses statistics to automatically find exceptions to its grammar rules, making it one of the smartest grammar checkers around.

Explains Errors – The misused word detector, grammar checker, and style checker explain the mistakes and suggestions to you. Click an error and choose the “Explain …” option.

Download at: After the Deadline

After the Deadline checks English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish text.

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Filed under Browser add-ons, Chrome Add-ons, downloads, Email, FaceBook, Firefox, Firefox Add-ons, Freeware, Google Chrome, Interconnectivity, Software, Twitter, Windows Tips and Tools, WordPress, Writing

Auslogics Internet Optimizer – Seriously NOT Ready For Prime Time

imageWhile not first amongst the “snake oil” applications available for download – Internet optimizers do hold a prominent place. Still, when I heard that Auslogics had recently released its version of an Internet optimizer, I thought I’d take it for a test drive.

After all (my logic went), I’m a fan of Auslogics which has a reputation for high quality applications – many of which are free – so, maybe this Internet optimizer actually works. Besides, what actually harm could it do.

As it turned out, it didn’t take very long to see the harm it could do.

The installation begins with the usual offer to install the convenient (NOT!) Ask Toolbar.

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First, I took advantage of the application’s offer to test my current connection speed…

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which outputted the following.

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Next, I scanned for suggested improvements. Scanning for optimized settings produces a comprehensive report which suggests settings you should consider changing. For this test, I accepted all of the recommended new parameters. 

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Accepting the recommendations is one click simple.

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Following a reboot, I retested my connection speed – which produced the following report. You’ll notice a marginal decrease in connection speed. In a real sense however, the difference is meaningless. Except as an indication, that despite the application’s promise, it simply didn’t meet my expectations.

That’s fair enough – this application is hardly the first I’ve tested that under delivered.

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In the following screen capture you’ll notice the application includes a built-in Rescue Center. I should point out though, that I never install an application without creating a restore point first. You’ll see shortly, why this is necessary.

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Following a restart of Firefox, I was shocked to discover that the application had reset the browser to its default settings. Some of which, in my view, are unsafe. And, effectively wiping out all of my personal customizations – which were considerable.

The following screen shot captures the new home page.

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Worse, the application had caused the reinstallation of ALL of my Firefox add-ons and reset ALL of the add-ons back to the default settings. I’ll repeat – some of which, in my view, are unsafe.

Totally unacceptable!!! The following screen capture shows the open connections to a number of the add-ons home pages.

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As I noted earlier, thankfully the application provides a recovery feature as indicated by the following graphic.

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The backup did, in fact, work flawlessly, but…..

Closing points:

This test was not a one shot deal. I reinstalled and retested this application four times and the results, as reported here, were more or less, identical.

Following the test, I read a number of reviews of this application elsewhere, and it was more than evident, that despite the strong recommendations in these pseudo reviews, the reviewers had not actually tested the application. Shame on them!

Curiously (or maybe not so curious), Auslogics does not provide a download link on their web site for this application. That’s a bloody good move in my estimation. This application should suffer a quick death.

Regular readers will know, that I generally do not post on applications that don’t meet what I consider to be reasonable standards. But, this application (despite its recovery feature), has the potential to seriously screw up a typical user’s browser – and so the posted review.

It’s not often that an application being tested will annoy me (consternation is part of the testing game) – but, this one seriously pissed me off.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Auslogics, Communication, Computer Tools, downloads, Firefox, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Network Tools, Software, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Free AntiMalware Software – And More – For Senior Computer Users

Looking at recent Internet usage statisticsimage, it seems obvious to me that older adults are now realizing that they don’t have to understand the “nitty gritty” of computer technology to send email-mail to friends and family, shop online, play games, make greeting cards, read book and film reviews, look into family genealogy, or find valuable health information on the Internet.

Here’s just one personal example of how older adults have jumped on the Internet bandwagon, and use it to great advantage.

Not too long ago, I ran into some older friends (in their 60s), who had recently gotten home after wintering in Florida. Throughout their time away (5 months, or so), they stayed in touch with their children, and grandchildren – virtually on a daily basis, using the free audio/video communication application, Skype. What a great use of technology!

Like the rest of us, Senior users are susceptible to cybercrime, and like the rest of us, need to protect their computers against the ever increasing exposure we all face to Trojans, Spyware, Viruses, Phishing Scams, and Identity Theft, while connected to the Internet.

Just for the record thought – statistically, it’s the deceptively named“tech savvy” generation, with their often misplaced confidence in their own abilities, who are more predisposed to malware infections and cyber criminal manipulation. Older users it seems, do know what they don’t know. My personal experience with a broad range of users, echoes these statistics.

For those that are members of this newly liberated group of Senior computer users, (who are not aggressive surfers), I’ve compiled a list of free anti-malware, and additional recommended applications, with simplicity of operation in mind – no manuals to digest, no tricky configuration to undertake; just install, and the applications will essentially do the rest.

But first:

Patch your operating system:

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Download and install all available patches, and service packs – if applicable, 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!

Recommended Security Solutions:

PC Tools Firewall Plus 7:

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I’ve been running with this application for more than a year, and I must admit – I’m impressed with its performance. It installs easily, sets up quickly, and has not caused any conflicts despite my sometimes esoteric running requirements. The default settings are well thought out, and provide excellent protection for all users but particularly, less experience users.

Microsoft Security Essentials

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Easy to set up and run, particularly for new users. The interface is positively simple – offering Quick Scan, Full Scan, or Custom Scan. Provides full real time protection against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software. Additionally, Microsoft Security Essentials is free for small businesses with up to 10 PCs.

Immunet Free Antivirus

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Companion Antivirus: a superior community driven cloud based security application, which continues to gain increasing popularity – and rightfully so. In real time, Immunet keeps track of the state of security in the collective community (network), and should a member of the network (the community), encounter malware, you (as a member of the protected community), are instantly protected against the threat.

ThreatFire

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ThreatFire blocks mal-ware, including zero-day threats, by analyzing program behavior and it does a stellar job. This is one of the security applications that forms part of my own front line defenses.

SpyShelter Personal Free:

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SpyShelter is free anti-keylogging, anti-spyware program that protects your data from Keylogging and spy programs: known, unknown, and under-development. It detects and blocks dangerous and malicious programs, to help ensure that your data cannot be stolen by cyber criminals.

Firefox 4.0.1

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While Firefox is not technically an anti-malware application per se, with the most effective security add-ons, including NoScript, Adblock Plus and BetterPrivacy installed, it effectively acts as one.

Firefox 4.0.1 includes hundreds of improvements over previous versions.

WOT

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Web of Trust, a browser add-on which offers Internet users active preventive protection against Web-based attacks, online scams, identify theft, and unreliable shopping sites.

WinPatrol 20.5.2

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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.

Keep in mind, malware itself is only part of the problem. The method used to deliver the malware – social engineering – is the most significant problem currently, for an average user. Social engineering, is a sure winner for the bad guys.

Cyber-criminals are increasingly relying on social engineering to create an opportunity designed to drop malicious code, including rootkits, password stealers, Trojan horses, and spam bots on our computers.

Overcoming the instinctive human response to social engineering (and we all have it), to just “click” while surfing the Internet, will prove to be challenging . This instinctive response, will pose one of the biggest risks to your online safety and security.

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Filed under Anti-Keyloggers, Anti-Malware Tools, Cyber Criminals, cybercrime, Don't Get Scammed, Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Firefox, Firefox Add-ons, Free Firewalls, Freeware, Internet Safety for Seniors, Malware Protection, New Computer User Software Tools, PC Tools, Skype, Software, Spyware - Adware Protection, Windows Tips and Tools

TweakGuides.com – A Tweakers Paradise?

imageComputing is more or less all about generics – a sort of, one size fits all approach. But, if you’re like me, the last thing you want is a machine that’s configured to run with settings which don’t take into account your specific requirements. Luckily, there are more than a few free tweaking apps available, which help average users apply the most common system tweaks.

But, if you’re considering customizations beyond the basics – tweaking your games, browsers, video card, or overclocking your CPU for example, you’re going to have to to dig a little deeper on your own. Unless you’re aware of TweakGuides.com, that is.

If you’re looking for a site that covers tweaking the way it should be covered – detailed, suitable for both novice and advanced users, and written in plain language, then TweakGuides.com is the place for you.

Just some of the goodies available at TweakGuides:

Firefox Tweak Guide

Google Customization Guide

The Gamer’s Graphics & Display Settings Guide

Game Tweak Guides

But, I’ve held onto the best for last – TweakGuides Tweaking Companion – a terrific compilation of Windows customization, optimization and troubleshooting advice for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7.

From the site:

The TweakGuides Tweaking Companion (TGTC) is the complete system customization and optimization guide for all Windows users. Designed for novice and advanced users alike, it is written in plain English to help you genuinely understand all key aspects of Windows and your PC.

The guide covers every major topic, from the correct installation of critical drivers and software, through to simple explanations and recommendations for every significant Windows setting and feature, all the major performance and convenience tweaks and customizations, as well as detailed troubleshooting advice.

Also provided are links and instructions for a large number of reliable free applications which can enhance your system and give you viable alternatives to purchasing commercial software.

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In all cases, the regular system specific edition of TweakGuides Tweaking Companion (PDF) is free.

Once downloaded, first extract the PDF file from the .ZIP archive using the built-in Windows compression utility, or the free 7-Zip utility. Then use the free Foxit Reader software to read the PDF file.

To round out the free offerings, the site provides a very active forum – the place to go for questions, answers, and advice, on operating systems, software, and hardware.

A big shout out to regular reader Michael F., for introducing me to this super site.  Thank you Michael.

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Filed under downloads, Firefox, Freeware, Google, System Tweaks, Technicians Advise, Windows 7, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Vista, Windows XP

Using Kaspersky Rescue Disk 10 – A Quick Walkthrough

imageMuch of today’s malware is expert at hiding or camouflaging itself – making it both hard to detect, and obviously more difficult to remove. But, if you can get to malware before it has a chance to run live within the installed operating system – you have a real chance of detecting and eradicating the varmint.

This is where a Rescue Disk (Live CD), which I like to think of as the “SWAT Team” of antimalware solutions – comes into play. More often than not, a Live CD can help you kill malware DEAD!

It’s important to know though, not all antimalware Live CDs are in fact, “Rescue Disks”. And, not all “Rescue Disks” are in fact – antimalware Live CDs.

Kaspersky Rescue Disk 10, by far and away my antimalware tool of choice,  combines the best of both genres. Not only is is superb at identifying and removing malware but, with it’s onboard tool kit it, definitely qualifies as a Rescue Disk.

Note: Kaspersky Rescue Disk 10, is designed to scan, and disinfect, both 32 bit and 64 bit machines. As well, Kaspersky Rescue Disk 10 can be run from a USB device.

The following is a quick walkthrough using Kaspersky Rescue Disk 10 in both malware scanning and “tool kit” capacities.

Kaspersky Rescue Disk 10 is available for download as an ISO file only, which means – you must burn the ISO image file to a CD/DVD, and then boot the application from your CD/DVD drive. If you’re unsure as to how to setup your machine to boot from your CD/DVD drive, TechPaul has an easy to follow tutorial – How to boot from a CD.

If you don’t know how to burn an ISO image, you’ll find instructions below.

At boot-up, Kaspersky Rescue Disk 10 runs through a fairly large number of routines so be patient until the main menu screen appears.

From the menu screen, run the update task which will update the anti-virus databases. Following which, you can then go to “Scan your computer” or….

Click on graphic to expand to original size.

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you can choose to configure the scan settings to your specific requirements.

Click on graphic to expand to original size.

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As the application is scanning, you will be reminded of both the percentage of objects scanned and, an estimated time to completion.

Click on graphic to expand to original size.

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The bonus features bolted on to Kaspersky Rescue Disk 10 include:

Firefox

The Firefox web browser integrated into Kaspersky Rescue Disk can view websites and save the pages you have visited. You can view all visited pages after exiting Kaspersky Rescue Disk. By default, the Kaspersky Lab website is displayed in the browser.

In the following usage example, I have chosen to search Google for “malware help”. Let’s hope you’ll never have to do this but, if you need to you can – without having to boot back into Windows.

Click on graphic to expand to original size.

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Internet configuration

By default, the web browser works with system proxy server. You can specify the proxy server settings when configuring the web browser. Since malware can often affect Internet settings, this feature can be an invaluable assist.

Click on graphic to expand to original size.

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Integrated file manager

The Integrated file manager will allow you to access the hard drive/s – as the following screen capture shows. As a last resort (if it comes to that),  you will be able to save your important files (any file for that matter), using this tool.

Click on graphic to expand to original size.

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Heuristic analyzer

Threat detection technology for threats that cannot be detected using Anti-Virus databases. It allows detecting objects suspected of being infected with an unknown virus or a new modification of the known viruses. This mechanism is fairly effective, and very rarely leads to false positives.

Kaspersky Rescue Disk 10 is an extremely powerful tool, with many more capabilities than I’ve been able to cover in this short review. I’m more than a little surprised that it can be downloaded at no cost. A serious computer user would do well to have this application ready to go when faced with one of those –  O No!!, moments.

To read a blow-by-blow description of Kaspersky Rescue Disk vs Malware, checkout guest writer Mark Schneider’s – A Lesson In Malware Removal Using Kaspersky Rescue Disk, here on this site.

System requirements: Windows XP (Service Pack 2 or higher), Vista, Windows 7  (32/64 bit support for all).

Download the ISO image file at: Kaspersky

If you’re unsure as to how to burn an ISO image file to a CD/DVD in order to create a bootable disk, here’s an easy method. In this illustration I’m using a freeware application CDBurner XP.

1)  Activate  CDBurner XP.

2)  Insert a blank CD/DVD into the CD/DVD drive.

3)  Click on “Burn ISO image”, which will open the write screen.

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4)  Select kav_rescue_10.iso which will reside in the location in which you saved the file.

5)  Click on “Burn disc”

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6)  Sit back and relax until the job is complete (2/3 minutes).

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Anti-Malware Tools, Computer Tools, downloads, Firefox, Free Anti-malware Software, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Kaspersky, Malware Removal, Portable Applications, Software, USB, Windows Tips and Tools