Category Archives: Windows Update

Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool Focuses On Families – Malware Families, That Is

imageLike it or not, (what’s not to like), you get scanned once a month – provided that is, you update your Windows OS on the second Tuesday of each month (fondly known as Patch Tuesday).

Malware comes, and malware goes. Not all malware of course, but the majority of malware doesn’t stick around very long – just a few days in many cases. Still, with upwards of 300,000 new malware samples every day (according to some estimates), AV solutions could soon be overrun in the race to keep pace with this onslaught. Luckily, malware can often be be grouped by families (malware with inherited characteristics), and that’s where Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool specifically, comes into play.

The Malicious Software Removal Tool, which is updated monthly, is included with Patch Tuesday’s Windows Update and once activated – runs in the background targeting specific, prevalent malware families. If an infection is found, the tool will remove the malware (hopefully), and provide a report on any actions taken.

A list of malicious software detected and cleaned by the Malicious Software Removal Tool is available here.

If you wish, you can download and then run this tool manually, as required. The latest edition of the tool is always available at the Microsoft Download Center.

System requirements: Windows 7, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista, Windows XP

You might wonder as to why Microsoft would make a point of including this AV scanner as part of Windows update. Here’s why (in my view) – an astonishingly large number of users don’t have any security applications installed or, an installed AV solution’s databases is rarely (if ever) updated.

If you take issue with this statement (and that’s fair), then test it by asking a typical user friend/s to name their AV application; tell you the last time they updated the database and, if they recall the last time they ran a malware scan. I think you’ll be disappointed with the response.

A website worth taking note of: Microsoft Consumer Security Support Center.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Anti-Malware Tools, Freeware, Malware Removal, Microsoft, Microsoft Patch Tuesday, Software, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Update

Weak Password Control – A Self Inflicted Injury

imageOver the weekend, Gawker.com was attacked, leading to a compromise of some 1.5 million user login credentials on Gawker owned sites, including Gizmodo, and Lifehacker.

According to Gawker Media

Our user databases appear to have been compromised. The passwords were encrypted. But simple ones may be vulnerable to a brute-force attack. You should change your Gawker password and on any other sites on which you’ve used the same passwords.

In an ironic twist to this tale of woe, it turns out that Nick Denton, the site’s founder, had not followed his own advice and in fact, used the same password for his Google Apps account, his Twitter account, and others.

So what gives? Why would someone with the supposed technical competence of Denton be so boneheaded? I suspect it’s because the reality is – he’s no different than any typical user when it comes to establishing and enforcing proper password control. A lackadaisical effort is the norm.

I understand the the dilemma. Complicated, in other words, safe passwords are hard to remember, whereas easy passwords, in other words unsafe passwords, are easy to remember. And, a single password is surely easier to remember than a series of passwords, simple or not. No surprise then, that most computer users’ employ a single, easy to remember, and consequently – unsafe password.

So what’s a user to do to avoid this critical security lapse? Well, you could follow the most common advice you’re likely to find when it comes to password control, and install a “password safe” – an application designed to store and retrieve password.

The Internet is full of advice that on the face of it seems reasonable, responsible and accurate. You know how it is – if you hear it often enough then it must be true. In my view, the password safe advice falls into this category.

Let me pose this question – you wouldn’t hang your keys outside your front door, would you? Of course you wouldn’t. Then why would you save passwords on the Internet, or on your computer? If there is one computer truism that is beyond dispute, it’s this – any computer application can be hacked, including password safes.

I have never saved passwords online, or on a local machine. Instead, I write my passwords down, and record them in a special book; a book which I keep ultra secure. There are some who disagree, for many reasons, with this method of password control, but I’m not about to change my mind on this issue.

I know that on the face of it, writing down your password seems counter intuitive, and flies in the face of conventional wisdom, since the issue here is one of security and safety.

But, ask yourself this question – is your home, office, wallet etc., more secure than your computer? If the answer isn’t “yes”, then you have additional issues that need to be addressed.

While it may be true that you don’t want your wife, lover, room mate, or the guy in the next office, to gain access to your written list of passwords – and writing down your passwords will always present this risk; the real risk lies in the cyber-criminal, who is perhaps, thousands of miles away.

Computer security involves a series of trade-offs – that’s just the reality of today’s Internet. And that brings us to the inescapable conclusion, that strong passwords, despite the fact that they may be impossible to remember – which means they must be written down – are considerably more secure than those that are easy to remember.

Here are some guidelines on choosing a strong password:

Make sure your password contains a minimum of 8 characters.

Use upper and lower case, punctuation marks and numbers.

Use a pass phrase (a sentence), if possible. However, not all sites allow pass phrases.

Since brute force dictionary attacks are common, keep away from single word passwords that are words in a dictionary.

Use a different password for each sign-in site. This should be easy since you are now going to write down your passwords. Right?

You are entitled, of course to disregard the advice in this article, and look at alternatives to writing down your passwords, including Password Safe, a popular free application. As well, a number of premium security applications include password managers.

Interestingly, Bruce Schneier, perhaps the best known security guru and a prime mover, some years back, behind the development of  Password Safe, is now an advocate of – you guessed it; writing down your passwords.

If you have difficulty in devising a strong password/s, take a look at Random.org’s, Random Password Generator – a very cool free password tool.

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Filed under cybercrime, Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety, Online Safety, Password Control, Software, System Security, Windows Update

Free Comodo System Cleaner – CCleaner On Steroids

imageJust a few days ago, I posted my usual annual review of CCleaner – in which I made the point, that this free system cleaner is still my “go to” application for simple system cleanup.

But, if you’re looking for a more powerful free solution, then Comodo System Cleaner might just be ideal. This free application will do what CCleaner will do, and a whole lot more – and I do mean, a whole lot more.

I’m a big fan of Comodo’s products, including their free Firewall and AntiVirus software. So, I was expecting big things from Comodo System Cleaner when I first installed it, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, this is now my “go to” application when I need to dig the deep dirt out of a system.

Installation is easy, and preference setup is checkbox simple – as the following selected screen captures indicate. All screen shots are taken from my personal machine – clicking on any graphic will expand it to its original size.

Clean up menu

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Settings menu

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Autoruns menu

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System settings menu – System Tweaks

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Fast facts:

Registry Cleaner – Optimizes and repairs your Windows registry by running an in-depth scan to remove, or repair, unnecessary or corrupted registry keys.

SafeDelete and Registry Protection – Use these features to backup all your files before cleaning. When cleaning is complete, you’ll be able to make sure your PC is in perfect condition before deleting for good.

Disk Cleaner – This utility lets you quickly clear them all, to free up space and improve performance. Also allows you to schedule regular clean up routines.

Privacy Cleaner – Obliterates your digital paper trail and helps protect you from identity theft by cleaning history, cache, cookies and usage records from Internet browsers, Windows locations, and popular software.

System Settings – With over 50 tweaks in the ‘System Settings’ area alone, you can optimize Windows behavior in a more powerful and intuitive way than ever before.

System Information – Detailed and easily accessible ‘dashboard’ summary of all the hardware and software installed on your computer.

Autorun Manager – Fingertip control over exactly which programs and services start with Windows. Helps improve Windows boot up time, stops unwanted programs from hogging system resources and boosts overall system performance and stability.

File Pending Delete – Provides the ability to delete files that are locked and cannot otherwise be deleted when in Windows ‘User Mode’. Specifying a file with the ‘File Pend Delete’ tool will schedule that file to be deleted immediately after the next system restart.

File Wiper – Allows you to permanently remove confidential or sensitive files from your hard drive. When you delete a file in Windows, you are really only removing the reference to that file from the system table. The file itself remains on your drive and could be easily re-opened by data thieves. ‘File Wiper’ ensures that the files you want to delete are comprehensively erased and cannot be recovered.

Free – for both home and business users.

View the video.

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I’m a big fan of “all-in-one” system utilities and I have to admit, I really like this all-in-one free application with its simple and effective user interface. I particularly like the easy access the user interface allows to Windows system settings, which makes tweaking the OS a snap.

As the fast facts point out, this application has a wide range of built in system utilities, which in my view, are perfect for the new, or casual computer user. I should point out however, that the built in registry cleaner, just like all registry cleaners, should be used cautiously.

Overall recommendation: Comodo System Cleaner is definitely worth considering as an addition to any users system utilities toolbox.

System requirements: Windows XP, Vista, Win 7 and Server 2003 (all – 32 or 64 bit)

Download at: Comodo

Bonus: What makes this free application even more interesting is; it’s available as a portable program which can easily be run from a USB drive. Great for geeks!

Portable version download at: Download.com

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Cleaning Your Computer, Comodo, Computer Maintenance, downloads, Freeware, Portable Applications, Secure File Deletion, Software, System Tweaks, System Utilities, USB, Windows 7, Windows Update, Windows Vista, Windows XP

Take Control – Stop Windows Update Prompts

Do you get a little bugged out when Windows constantly reminds you of an update that you have decided you don’t want to install? Want to put a stop to this annoyance?

Guest writer TechPaul, my tech wizard friend, a CompTIA Certified computer technician, and the owner of Aplus Computer Aid, shows you how.

Sometimes we need to tell Windows Update to stop prompting us to install a particular Update.

When Microsoft has released important and/or critical Updates (aka “patches”) for us, Windows has various ways of letting us know, including a System Tray icon.

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Note: The normal route for accessing Update choices is Start >Windows Update, or Start >Programs >Windows Update. Click “View available updates”.]

I am a big fan of Updates. I (almost) always install them the moment I become aware of them. I use Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector to keep an eye on all my installed programs’ update state.. and I recommend you do too. Updates are ‘good’, and you want them.

Manage Windows Updates prompts

Currently, Microsoft Update is annoying me by continuously nagging me that there are Updates available. And when I click on the icon to see just what these updates are…

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.. and I see that there is just one Update Microsoft wants me to install (the others only rate “optional”) – Internet Explorer 8.

Now, I understand why Microsoft wants us to be using a more secure browser (and I understand why it’s considered “important”) and I will upgrade from IE7 on most of my machines – but not all. Not yet.

So I right-click on the Update I don’t want to be nagged about and then click on “Hide update”.

That’s it. I’m done. Windows Update will no longer prompt me to install this (now) ‘hidden’ update. At a later date, to see Updates that I’ve hidden, I just click on “Show hidden updates”. I can undo my change.

Note: This technique can be used on troublesome Updates that cause incompatibility issues such as a BSOD.

If a Windows Update install causes you trouble, and you need to uninstall it, the “Hide” tip won’t help you (it’s too late). Please refer to the 3rd answer in this article, IE’s Menu bar, Taskbar icons, and bad Updates*, to see how to remove Updates.

After you get that Update uninstalled, (then) use the Hide feature to prevent Windows Update from re-installing it on you again.

To uninstall IE 8: Uninstalling IE 8 will automatically restore your older version. Please see Microsoft’s official How To, here, How do I uninstall or remove Internet Explorer 8?

This is a guest post by Paul Eckstrom, a technology wizard and the owner of Aplus Computer Aid in Menlo Park, California. Paul adds a nice humorous touch to serious computer technology issues. Why not pay a visit to his Blog – Tech – for Everyone.

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved*

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Filed under Computer Audit Applications, Don't Get Hacked, Freeware, Guest Writers, Security Rating Applications, Software, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Update