Category Archives: Windows Tips and Tools

Cloud Storage – Great Idea or Security Risk?

This guest post is contributed by my Aussie mate, Jim Hillier. Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at Dave’s Computer Tips. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele… as well as writing for DCT, of course.


“On no, we’ve lost all of little Johnny’s birthday snaps”, the woman cries as she holds her smashed smartphone aloft. With a knowing smile, her husband responds, “Don’t fret dear, they’re all in the cloud”. All is well, peace and harmony reign again.

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Even less than a decade ago, any mention of “cloud storage” or “data in the cloud” would have almost certainly elicited a puzzled response. Today though, I’d imagine just about everyone would be familiar with the concept. “The cloud”, it’s a rather exotic term which simply means your data is uploaded to and stored on somebody else’s server, essentially on an internet connected hard disk owned and operated by the cloud service provider.

There is no doubt that the advantage of being able to access data from anywhere on any device creates a massive appeal factor, especially for multiple device users. Not to mention the automatic backup element which is clearly demonstrated in the opening paragraph.

It all sounds like a great idea, that is until you start considering what might and can go wrong. Of course, cloud storage providers take the utmost care with your data, at least according to them. They apply top notch security measures including encrypted data transfers. Trouble is, the encryption key is also stored on their machines, which means any of their staff can access those files as can any hacker who manages to break into the system.

I realize every method is susceptible to hackers, whether the data is stored locally or in the cloud. However, which do you think would represent the most desirable target – a local disk containing only your own personal data or a mega database containing data uploaded from thousands (if not millions) of users, all in one place?

Another concern involves the future viability of a chosen cloud storage provider – just ask those who entrusted their data to Kim Dotcom’s Megaupload. What happens to your data if the company is sold, goes bankrupt, or just closes down? Then there’s the scenario where cloud storage providers can simply change the terms of their plans, exactly as Microsoft did recently when the company drastically reduced the amount of data storage available under its free OneDrive plan.

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I guess though, when it comes to data in the cloud, the greatest concern for most people is privacy. While Microsoft OneDrive openly scans all your files – for illegal content of course, most providers will collect data to share with “trusted third parties”. Naturally, many of these providers need to process sensitive information, such as your name, email address, phone number, credit card details and mailing address, in order to “improve their services”. And Santa Claus visits once a year around Christmas.

Despite the cynicism, I do believe that cloud storage can be decidedly useful and I’m certainly not dismissing the practice out of hand. However, as is the case with many situations… everything within reason.

I would not, for example, store any sensitive data in the cloud, whether encrypted locally beforehand or not. Family photos, life-memories, items which are valuable only to the user and serve no purpose for anyone else… sure, no problem.

Regardless, the important thing to remember is that any backup is preferable to no backup at all. If you don’t fancy storing your data in the cloud, dust off that external drive and use that instead. Works for me.

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Filed under cloud storage, cybercrime, Don't Get Hacked, Internet Safety, Privacy, Technicians Advise, Windows Tips and Tools

Windows 10 Privacy Issues – Fact or Fiction?

This guest post is contributed by my Aussie mate, Jim Hillier. Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at Dave’s Computer Tips. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele… as well as writing for DCT, of course.


The release of Windows 10 together with news of its heightened telemetry certainly brought out the conspiracy theorists and paranoid. Publish an article about Windows 10 and, regardless of the actual subject matter, you’re pretty much guaranteed to receive a slew of comments slamming Microsoft and its new operating system for introducing these so-called privacy issues, so much so that it has gotten to the point of becoming tiresome.

The data collection in Windows 10 may be at a new level for a desktop operating system but it is pretty standard fare for mobile devices. Both Google (Android) and Apple (iOS) have been collecting this type of data for years with nary a whimper from the using public.

One has to bear in mind that Windows 10 is, after all, a hybrid operating system, designed to cater for both desktop and mobile users. Mobile by its very nature requires a lot more information than a stationary desktop in order to deliver full functionality. If you ask Cortana to find the nearest pizza shop, for example, how can the digital assistant provide that information if it has no idea where you are located?

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With the increasing trend toward mobile device usage, Microsoft is merely following the age-old law of supply and demand. With Windows 10, Microsoft has produced an operating system which is suitable for both desktop and mobile users – depending on how it is configured.

That’s the whole point with Windows 10, a point which, apparently, many people have failed to grasp – the choice lies squarely in the hands of the end user. Windows 10 can quite easily be set up purely as a desktop operating system, in which case the level of data collection is substantially diminished. Sure, it may take a little time and effort to go through all the settings, but it is definitely not difficult.

Don’t want to use Cortana? Simple… just turn it off. And so on, and so on. It’s easy to disable unwanted apps/features, nobody is being forced to utilize them or the services they provide. They are simply available for those who do want to use them.

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If you go through Windows 10’s Privacy settings and disable everything you don’t want or need, including setting Feedback to minimum, the level of telemetry is no more than one would expect for a desktop PC, no more than [say] in Windows 7 or 8.1.

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I’m not suggesting for one minute that Microsoft hasn’t made bad decisions regarding Windows 10, just that, in my opinion, the telemetry isn’t numbered among them – more a matter of simply keeping up with the times. In fact, I’m far more concerned over the enforced updates in Windows 10 where there simply is no choice. Not to mention the constant upgrade nags and unsolicited upgrades – but that, as they say, is another story for another time.

Bottom Line:

To suggest that Windows 10 is ‘spying’ on consumers is a pretty far stretch. I, for one, don’t really care if Microsoft knows that some anonymous old geezer in Queensland, Australia regularly visits Bill Mullins Tech Thoughts blog.

Do I like Windows 10? Sure I do. Would I recommend upgrading to Windows 10 for free? In a heartbeat.

*BTW: Microsoft recently announced that the Windows 10 free upgrade offer will definitely end on 29th July as originally stated.

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Filed under Microsoft, Myths, Operating Systems, Software, Technicians Advise, Windows 10, Windows Tips and Tools

I’ll Be Back

One of the most satisfying rewards of being a long time blogger has been the amazing people I’ve met online over the years. In many respects, my online friends are often the equal of those with whom I communicate face to face.

Since I’ve been unable to effectively post to Tech Thoughts this past 45 days or so, I’ve been humbled by the concern shown by so many people from so many places around the World. So many emails, that I’ve found it difficult to respond to all those who deserved  a response.

Until now, I’ve chosen not to burden readers with a personal tale of medical woe – we all have personal loads to carry and sharing my current burden seemed somehow counterproductive, to me. On top of that, I’ve not been entirely comfortable with the idea of posting personal medical data for all the reasons one might consider.

Still, the time is right, I think, to let readers know that I’m out of the saddle only on a temporary basis – although I’m unhappy with the extended timeframe to date.

Initially, I was prepared for a short medical leave from Tech Thoughts –  a week or so – maybe less. But, life can sometimes rearrange the best laid plans. You’ll see what I mean from the following.

Long story short – Checked into the Hospital on December 4, 2015 to have the first of two non-malignant skin cancer surgeries – one small, and one requiring a skin graft. While waiting in pre-op (wired up to various machines), my heart ran out of control (215 beats a minute) – controlled chaos immediately ensued.

Within minutes they shut down my heart and then restarted it – electrical pads, front and back, to get me rolling.

Not the end.

Two days later, while in my “new” Cardiologist’s office, he wired me up to an ECG and then freaked out. Within 3 minutes I’ve got the Fire guys and the Paramedics rushing me to the Hospital which is directly adjacent to the Cardiologist’s office (wouldn’t let me walk). Again organized chaos and, once again, it’s “let’s make Bill dead for a minute.” My rib cage is still paying the price for that one. It still hurts like hell.

Kidding aside – all the people I came into contact with throughout this ordeal were magnificent – I mean “magnificent.” My respect for those involved in high tech emergency medicine knows no bounds.

So, no cancer surgery – both postponed until the ticker ticks and tocks in step. As it is now, I have a rogue circuit in my Heart that needs to be burned out using a micro-surgery technique. Wire into the Heart and sizzle the bad guy. At this point, I’m scheduled to undergo this procedure on February 19 – fingers crossed!

In the meantime, I’m on a couple of drugs that reduce blood flow to various places, including my Brain, which makes me a little stupid. Some might say – “more than a little.” Smile   Example: I can’t hold a continuous thought for more than a few minutes. For a man like me that’s Dante’s Inferno come a calling.

Piled on top of that, I feel like I have the worst flu I’ve every had. The anxiety though, is the worst. But, there’s a pill for that – a pill that reduces the anxiety somewhat but makes me sicker than ever.

Funny thing is – other than this rogue circuit I’m in tip-top shape. Blood pressure averaging 118/78 – resting heart rate of 62 – less than 5 pounds heavier than I was in my 20’s – and, I’ve already passed the 65 milestone.

I’m hopeful that I can get back on board with the “News” by March 1 (or sooner) – I have no intention of just quitting. Truthfully, I can hardly wait to get back in the saddle.

I’ll be back – you can count on that.

Kind regards to all of you,

Bill

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Filed under Windows Tips and Tools

The Lost Art of Saying “Thank You”

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”

Voltaire

image “Thank You”; in thoughtful and considerate families, one of the first set of words children learn as they struggle to absorb language. A phrase that signifies much more than is apparent at first glance.

Just yesterday for example, I watched as two small children exited the Bus I was on (accompanied by their mother of course), and as they left, they both turned to the Bus driver and said – “Thank You.”

“Thank You” is not some antiquated, chivalrous idea. Instead, these are the words we use to express gratitude – a kindness for a kindness. Simply put, these two words are a form of providing positive feedback. And which one of us doesn’t need positive feedback?

In my view, those who are unable, or unwilling, to express gratitude,  are generally unaware that they might as well have a sign hanging over their heads, stating:

I lack class.

I lack  empathy.

I lack humility.

Personally, I’m a firm believer in the “mirror imaging effect” – you get reflected back to you, what you give out. So, I make it a practice not to waste my time, and deplete my energy, on people who lack class. Life really is too short, to waste time on the rude and ignorant.

I can hear you saying, “but Bill, this is a tech Blog, why are you writing about good manners?” Well, here’s why.

I have a personal relationship with scores of Bloggers, and while the majority love what they do, I have yet to meet one who hasn’t been disappointed at the lack of a “Thank You”, after taking the time to provide a thoughtful and prompt answer, to assist a reader struggling with a technical computer issue.

This lack of elementary courtesy seems to becoming more of an issue than in the past. I am hearing this complaint more frequently – particularly from those tech Bloggers whose “‘real world” job is a computer technician, since they are providing technical assistance they would normally charge for.

I can only imagine the type of answer one might receive after asking a lawyer, doctor, or an auto mechanic for free advice. I think stony silence might be the likely outcome!

Let me be clear – this article is not a personal complaint. I am delighted with the community that has grown up around Tech Thoughts. In the years I have been writing this Blog, I have received much more than my share of thanks.

But the consensus seems to be, amongst my blogging associates, that far less than 50% of those that they have helped, have responded with those magic words. So do me a favor. If a Blogger has taken the time to answer your question, provided you with advice, or assisted you in solving a technical problem, say those magic words.

Hit that reply button in your email client.  Say “Thank You”. It’s easy, it’s simple, and it says more about you than you might realize.

BTW – thank you for reading this article.  Smile

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Filed under Windows Tips and Tools

My Modem Is Down – Shot – Busted – Kaput!

My Modem is on the fritz – worse, a technician can’t get here until Sunday. I’m chewing my fingernails – pulling my hair out – stomping my feet – and, a little bit of cursing thrown in for good measure. Hasn’t done any good. The Modem refuses to be intimidated and continues to drop most packets, both up and down. NUTS!!
I’ve tried throughout the day to respond to comments – it’s just not happening. If that’s not bad enough – I can’t respond to developer email.
I’ve got a call in to a senior VP at my ISP in an attempt to get the repair date moved up – hopefully, I can find my persuasion script (not repeatable on a G rated site  ) – otherwise I’ll see you all on Sunday.

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Filed under Windows Tips and Tools

Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – July 4, 2012

Increase any PC’s performance with these 10 steps – There’s so much information out there about PC performance (especially on Windows machines), it’s difficult to be sure what’s right and what’s not so helpful. Here are 10 proven performance enhancements you can make to your computer, many of which are free.

Security tips to stay safe this summer – PandaLabs published its security tips for consumers to stay safe this summer and avoid falling victim to computer fraud. During the summer, people (especially children) have more spare time on their hands for using computers and connecting to the Internet more frequently, thus increasing the risk of falling victim to malicious code.

Windows Desktop wallpaper for Independence Day – A TechRepublic Photo Gallery of free patriotic images that you can pick and choose from for your own personalized Windows Desktop slideshow.

Tech Thoughts Daily Tech News 2

EU court approves reselling used software licences – Companies can legitimately sell used software licences for downloadable software following a landmark decision from the European Court of Justice. The case means customers of software companies that no longer want to use the product could put the licence up for sale, providing they stop using their own copies. (recommended by Michael F.)

How Can I Prevent My ISP from Tracking My Every Move? – A lot of people probably assume that if you’re browsing anonymously it’s because you’re doing something illegal, but there’s plenty of content on the web you may not want to risk letting out in the open. Not only is it possible that it’ll be logged by your ISP, but with free-flowing data your activity is potentially open to anyone on your network. Protecting your activity is not just important because you want to avoid any tracking your ISP may employ, but more so because your private data can be compromised if you’re not careful.

The Best Free Mac Software – You don’t have to spend a lot of money to load your Macintosh with useful software. Many of the best productivity apps are entirely free. And, some are even available in the App Store. Here are 142 of our favorite free Mac apps.

How to Make Videos for Your Small Business – Learn how you can create great video content for your business. Helen Bradley explains everything you need to know.

Feds Crack Down on Data Brokers – Last month, for the first time ever, the Federal Trade Commission stepped in and spanked a data broker, in this case it was Spokeo, to the tune of an $800,000 fine for selling personal information to employers and job recruiters without taking steps to protect consumers under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The FTC also sent warning letters to six unidentified mobile app makers notifying them that their background screening apps may be violating federal statutes. The collecting of personal information is not at issue in these cases, it’s the use of that information for employment screening, housing, credit or other purposes that fall under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

3 Tips to Help SMBs Understand Data Recovery – Should your small business ever find itself stuck with a failed data storage device, don’t panic. These three data recovery tips can help you handle that unpleasant situation.

Security:

Malicious “Windows Live alert” email targets users – Windows Live account owners are currently being targeted with an email purportedly coming from the Hotmail Security Team, threatening them with an account suspension due to having exceeded their sending and receiving limit. The email instructs them to verify their account and “lift the suspension limit” by following an embedded link.

Need a Debit Card? Look for Debit Card Photos on Twitter – A Twitter account @NeedADebitCard is highlighting the dangers of sharing too much information on the Internet. Apparently, there are some people posting pictures of their debit and credit cards online. These images show the names, card numbers, expiration dates, and in some cases, the security code. There is enough information exposed, voluntarily by the card owners themselves, for anyone to commit fraud.

Utility bill scam steals personal information – The President of the United States is not going to pay your utility bill. Atmos Energy is warning customers about the latest version of a scam that promises federal stimulus money for utility bills in exchange for a customer’s personal information. The scam artist provides a bank routing number that supposedly has an account with funds to pay past due bills.

P2P Filesharing, Streaming Video Pose Risks to Business Networks – Employees are increasingly running peer-to-peer file sharing services and watching streaming video while at work, Palo Alto Networks found in its latest Application Usage and Risk Report.

Securing apps and avoiding an explosive breach – Recent research from Veracode shows that 84 percent of web applications from American public companies are at risk of being hacked, despite more stringent compliance requirements set by the SEC.

Company News:

‘iPad Mini’ Billed as a Nexus 7 Killer – It’s rumored Apple is prepping a smaller iPad for the holidays to take on Google’s new $199 tablet. Apple is reportedly prepping a smaller iPad due out before the holidays to take on tablets from competitors like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, Bloomberg reports.

Netflix Streaming Tops 1 Billion Hours in June – Netflix users streamed more than one billion hours of content online during June, the most in a single month ever.

Paragon Unveils External Drive Removal Solution for Smart TVs – Paragon UFSD 9.0 Embedded for Smart TVs supporting external storage devices performs the function of the “safely remove hardware” process on PCs

Nokia Suggests Google Nexus 7 Violates Patents – Nokia has suggested that Google’s new Nexus 7 tablet violates the phone maker’s patents.

Trend Micro Rebuts Hacker Claims About Corporate Break-in – Security firm Trend Micro is rebutting claims by a hacker about breaking into the Trend Micro network and installing a backdoor to unauthorized information as well as gaining access to Sykes, which runs support services for Trend Micro.

Webopedia Daily:

Google Hangouts – Google+ Hangouts is a free video chat service from Google that enables both one-on-one chats and group chats with up to ten people at a time. While somewhat similar to Skype, FaceTime and Facebook Video Chat, Google Hangouts focuses more on “face-to-face-to-face” group interaction as opposed to one-on-one video chats, and utilizes sophisticated technology to seamlessly switch the focus to the person currently chatting. Google Hangouts can be accessed via laptop and desktop computers as well as with Android mobile devices (Android “Gingerbread” v2.3 and later) and, in the near future, iOS-powered mobile devices.

Off Topic (Sort of):

YouTube Complaints! (Video 4:03) – All of your biggest YouTube complaints addressed here – humor. (recommended by Michael F.)

How to Photograph Fireworks – July 4th creates an opportunity for some fantastic photos, if you’re lucky enough to capture them. Take a little bit of time to configure your camera manually, though, and you’ll likely have better luck. Jim Fisher, PCMag’s camera analyst, has some great tips to help.

8,000+ mobile devices left at top U.S. airports – In the last year, travelers left behind 8,016 mobile devices at seven of the largest airports in the country, including: Chicago O’Hare, Denver International, San Francisco International, Charlotte Douglas, Miami International, Orlando International and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Of the seven airports surveyed, only one reported that they transfer their mobile devices over to the authorities.

You Could Be Better at Remembering Names, If Only You Gave a Shit – We all do it: we meet people, we forget their names, and then when we see them again, we say apologetically, “I’m sorry, I’m terrible with names? What’s yours again?” Except it seems the truth may be that we aren’t terrible with names—we just don’t care enough to remember them. Ouch.

Tablet Shipments to Surpass Notebooks by 2016 – In four years, your laptop could be as outdated as that bulky 8-track player gathering dust in your basement. Well, notebook computers may not become extinct by 2016, but they are expected to fall short – very short – of tablet PC sales before the end of the decade, according to a forecast report from NPD DisplaySearch.

Today’s Quote:

“Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.”

Don Marquis

Today’s Free Downloads:

Free Grammar Checker: Ginger Basic – Not only is Ginger’s basic version free, but it doesn’t require Microsoft Word. It runs in the system tray and interfaces with Word, but also with Internet Explorer, Firefox, Outlook, and several other important applications. As you work, Ginger underlines words it thinks you should change, and you can right-click them to see why. You can also select a sentence (but not a paragraph) and hit F2 to have Ginger check the whole sentence.

HTMLcoder 3.3 – HTMLcoder is an easy to use utility that will help you create a webpage in minutes. If you create regular web news pages you might find this freeware of help.

ManyCam 3.0.80 – ManyCam is free live studio & webcam effects software. You can use your webcam with multiple chat applications at the same time, add webcam effects, use live audio and voice changer, draw over your video window and more.

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Panda Cloud Antivirus & Firewall Beta 1.9.2 – Ready To Hit The Road

Testing anti-malware applications takes considerable time in order to get to the heart of the matter – does an application work in the “real world?”

Meaning

Will the application do what an average user expects – does it block malware effectively and efficiently? Particularly new, or emerging, malware threats.

Is the interface crafted in such a way that an average user doesn’t need to digest an instruction manual in order to navigate the application?

Is the application capable of providing adequate protection without stressing system resources?

I’ve been running various versions of Panda Cloud Antivirus – on and off – on a secondary system, since April 2009, and in this extensive testing, Panda Cloud Antivirus has met, or exceeded, all of those requirements. I will point out however – I’m an extremely cautious and aware Internet user.

Since Beta 1.9.2 (release date June 4th), is Windows 8 compatible (which, I’ve been running on my main system since day one of the first release), it’s time to kick the tires. According to Panda – “This new beta version includes better malware disinfection capabilities and even lower impact on system performance.”

Installation:

Pay particular attention at the Install screen. Once again, you’ll be asked to accept a Toolbar and a change in your Homepage – annoying as hell. Surely we’ve reached the point where developers are more than aware that additional Toolbars installed on a system can lead to problems.

In the past 7 days I’ve tested 15 or more applications (many of which sucked), and each and every one offered a Toolbar – in some cases, in a deceptive manner.

Enough already!!!!!!!!!!!!

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The initial download is an installer (not the application) – which explains the following screen.

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Following the application download, installation continues seamlessly.

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On successful installation, the application will immediately launch into an optimized scan – effectively, a “Quick Scan.”

 

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Scan time: under one minute – 22, 267 files. A dramatic improvement in scan speed over previous versions.

Comparable Quick Scan Speeds:

MalwareBytes: 2 minutes 7 seconds – 190, 557 files.

SUPERAntiSpyware: 2 minutes 3 seconds – 35,173 files.

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Panda is obviously convinced that the “more is less” GUI approach, is suitable for most users. Kudos – I couldn’t agree more.

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You won’t be left in the dark on questionable items as per the following screen shot – you have the option of blocking any application which you may be unsure of.

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The built-in Firewall is reasonably configurable.

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You may add – edit –delete rules, as per your preferences and requirements.

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In this example I’ve shown the “Edit Rule” screen listed under Factory rules (the presets).

Note: Since Beta 1.9.2 is integrated with Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 Security Center, you have the option of turning off the Firewall component in favor of your existing Firewall.

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Overall application advanced settings are readily accessible. I suggest that at least initially, you carry on with the default settings.

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Some of the most notable changes implemented for 1.9.2 Beta include the following:

  • New firewall platform for Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.
  • Intrusion Detection System protection against network attacks.
  • Ability to adapt firewall behaviour by zones.
  • Registration of the firewall component in the Windows Security Center.
  • Deactivation/activation of the built-in Windows Firewall when the Panda Cloud Antivirus firewall is activated/deactivated.
  • New technologies for improved malware disinfection.
  • Improved detection of in-memory malware.
  • Improved disinfection of packed/compressed malware.
  • Improved quarantine management.
  • Process monitor without the URL monitoring.
  • Activity monitor in the main interface window.
  • Last detection show in the main interface window.
  • Added advanced configuration to enable/disable detection of potentially unwanted programs.
  • Added advanced configuration to enable/disable background scan after cache synchronization.
  • Added advanced configuration to enable/disable on-demand scan within compressed archives.
  • Added advanced configuration to exclude elements by extension.
  • Improved scanning architecture and integration with Quarantine and memory scanning module.
  • Integrated new toolbar with Google search instead of Yahoo.
  • Button to hide the promotional banners shown in the main interface.
  • Improved integration with the Windows Security Center for the antivirus component.
  • Improved integration with Collective Intelligence of unknown and new malware samples.
  • Performance improvement to lower system impact when treating files within Explorer and Recycle Bin.

System requirements: Windows XP, Vista, Win 7 and Win 8.

Download at: Panda

Panda Cloud Antivirus is based on Collective Intelligence, a system for detecting and disinfecting viruses and other threats that feeds off the knowledge shared by millions of users. The computers that are part of the Panda Community – instantly share and benefit from all the information stored in the cloud. There are obvious benefits in this approach to the ever evolving threat landscape.

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