Category Archives: Security

Computer Security

Heartbleed Detector for Android Devices

I use Lookout Mobile Security to scan my Android phone and tablet for malware.

I got an email from Lookout today that they have a free Heartbleed Detector that lets you know if your Android devices are vulnerable.

NOTE: This is only the SSL in your phone, NOT the individual apps on your phone.

Of course, both my phone and tablet are vulnerable. Hopefully, my providers will have an update soon.

Each application’s security is up to each application’s developer to secure.

End of Life for Windows XP

Tuesday, April 8, 2014 is the day the last security patches will be available for Windows XP and MS-Office 2003. Microsoft will maintain MS Security Essentials until July, 2014, but Microsoft warns that just an up-to-date anti-virus program is not enough to guarantee you computer is secure.

Once you apply the March 11, 2014 update, you will get a nag screen like the following until you mark the box to stop showing it.

End of Support WinXP
End of Support WinXP

You will also get a warning from MS Security Essentials that you are no longer protected.

End of Support for MS Security Essentials
End of Support for MS Security Essentials

If you click the link for End-of-support guidance, you will get a page where Microsoft is urging you to buy a NEW COMPUTER with Windows 8.

If you have a computer that meets your needs, but has Windows XP, that same computer can continue to meet your needs.

The simplest way to enable your WinXP computer to meet your needs and keep your data secure is to disconnect from the internet. This option is not practical for the majority of computer users.

Another option would be to use a secure and up-to-date and maintained operating system, such a Linux. There are various flavors of Linux and they are free. There are some limitations to how well Linux can keep your computer going. You will find that your computer is MUCH faster to get going and do your work than with WinXP.

The biggest limitation is that some games cannot be made to run on Linux.

If you need to be able to browse the web, like check your Facebook, and view YouTube videos and work with documents and spreadsheets, you can do it all with Linux.

The simplest way to use Linux is to copy all your data. You are already backing up all your data regularly, right?

Install Linux over the current install. This overwrites Windows and all your data, so if you don’t have a backup, all your data is lost.

The other method requires enough hard disk space. You can install Linux with a dual-boot option that lets you choose whether to run Windows or Linux when you start your computer. This option is best if you have some program that can’t be made to work in Linux, or for which there is no viable free alternative.

If you are interested in avoiding buying a new computer and keeping more of your hard earned money, contact me for assistance in making the switch to Linux.

For $50.00, I can get you step-by-step instructions to do it yourself.

For remote support for me to help verify the information you will need to do your own Linux installation, $75.

If you want phone support or remote support for me to help verify the information you will need to do your own Linux installation, contact me for pricing.

For those who are local, contact me for arrangements to drop off your computer.

  • $100 to install Linux. *
  • $50 to backup your data to CD/DVD if you don’t have a backup.
  • $50 to get your existing internet working with your “NEW” computer. (High Speed Internet Only.)
  • $25 to pick up and deliver your PC (25 mile radius).
  • If you want to pay to ship your computer to me, plus return shipping, prices as above.
    This is best done with a backup of your data first and insuring your computer for shipping.
    Contact me first to coordinate shipping. I suggest the remote option to make sure it is worth the expense. (This requires that you have a high speed internet connection.)

* (This includes verifying that installing Linux will work well your computer. If your computer is old enough, it would be better to get a new one.)

Dial up Problems

If you use a dial-up service, such as, AOL or Juno to access the internet, and things are slow or not working, there are several possible explanations.

  • The modem is mis-configured.
  • The modem is worn out.
  • The software for the dial-up service needs to be reinstalled.
  • Spyware infestation.
  • Virus infection.

A mis-configured modem can be identified in the device manager. It may require using add/remove hardware to tell Windows it has been removed. When the computer is re-booted, it should find the modem and offer to “re-install” it.

If a modem is worn out or failing, it may not operate at full speed. This is most noticeable if you have more than one PC with its own modem and one computer is faster online than the other.

To re-install the dial-up software, the best procedure is to uninstall it, reboot the computer and reinstall it. Make sure you have the user name and password before attempting this. The installation program will have an option to install for an existing account.

If your computer has spyware, it can be addressed with the free program Spybot Search and Destroy. If the infection is particularly bad, it may take several scans to remove all of the spyware. This software is updated every Wednesday, it is wise to keep this updated and scan your computer once a month to insure it is free of spyware.

When there is a virus infection, it can be tricky to resolve without internet access. It is often easier to download utilities to help remove a particular virus using a computer that is not infected. Virus software is only useful if it is kept up-to-date. Most anti-virus vendors have daily or weekly updates. A good free program is Grisoft Anti-Virus (AVG).

Other factors that may come into play are mis-configured firewalls, Windows has not been updated with the latest security fixes, or firmware updates have not been applied.

The Tools I Use

In addition to my favorite software, here are the tools I use to help others with their Windows computer problems.

For Anti-Virus, I use a combination of Trend Micro’s Sysclean, Grisoft AVG, and ClamWin. I also use McAfee’s Stinger for quick scans for the most common issues.
For SpyWare, I use a combination of SpyBot Search and Destroy and WinPatrol.
For Optimizing, I use CCleaner, NTRegOpt, and PageDefrag, and JKDefrag..
For Backups, I use SyncBak.
For computers that have so much spyware/viruses that they do not start, I use a Linux Boot CD. This allows me to get the data copied to a USB stick, so that I can wipe the drive and start fresh.
Where the user is open to it, I move them to Linux.

If Linux is not an option, I try to get them to use FireFox and Thunderbird, and educate them about how to avoid viruses and spyware. I also point out all of the free and open source software that is available.

Basic Computer Security

Computer security has become more and more center stage. This is in line with the predictions that following the massive effort to tackle Y2K, security would be the next Y2K. However, the focus and determination is not at the same level.

Unfortunately, users of MS-Windows operating systems remain the most vulnerable. Newer versions of Windows that will not run, or not run well on older PCs means that millions of PCs are running older versions of Windows that no longer have security updates. These PCs and uneducated users are the ones that cause the rest of the world many headaches.

There are several keys to making a Windows PC more secure. This is very important for Windows users that do not have Windows XP with SP2. If you have WinXP upgrade to SP2 immediately. For older versions of Windows upgrade to the latest security packs and turn on automatic updates. WinXP SP2 has a limited firewall, but older versions of Windows do not. A good free firewall is available from Kerio. If you have a broadband connection, such as a DSL or cable modem, it is also a good idea to have a router with a built-in firewall. A router also has multiple connections, so more than one PC can share the broadband modem. This makes your investment in broadband access more versatile.

The next important thing is to have an anti-virus program and keep it up-to-date. A great free anti-virus program with free updates is Grisoft Anti-Virus. It is free for home use.

Spyware is the newest form of “pestware”. All users of Windows will need an anti-spyware program. Spybot Search and Destroy is good – and free, and has free updates.

Another helpful tool is WinPatrol. It has a free version that keeps track of new programs installed on your PC, and alerts you to changes.

A more secure browser than Internet Explorer, is also crucial. Internet Explorer is required for only a handful of websites, more importantly the Windows Update site. Firefox or Opera are both free, and are both much more secure than IE.

Finally, a more secure email program will help save you from the viruses that so easily infect Windows. Thunderbird is a good choice, it is free and works on many different operating systems.

If you have Windows NT/2K/XP, do NOT run with full administrator privileges. This makes it easier for the viruses and other malware to infect your system.

For a much easier to secure computer, you will want to try a Linux distribution, one of the BSDs (Max OSX is based on BSD), or a free version of Unix, such as Solaris. All of these Unix-like operating systems are very similar, so learning one makes learning another much easier.

Unix-like systems are designed to be more secure and more stable (No need to re-boot when one program has a problem.). Most of them include a firewall that is fully functional on install. Firefox, Opera, and Thunderbird all have versions for these OSes. There is anti-virus software available for Unix-like OSes, but it is usually only needed if your PC is connected to a Windows PC. These OSes are designed to discourage running as administrator (root), and if root access is needed to install something, it is easy to temporarily operate as root without logging out of the current user account.

A Unix-like Operating System easily meets all of the needs of the general home user, except for the latest whiz-bang computer games that only run on Windows. There are a couple of options: 1.) Set up a dual-boot system and boot to Windows only for those tasks, such as games, you cannot do in *nix. 2.) Linux is designed to run on older hardware than Windows. Let the kids use the new PC for their PC games, but do not hook it to the internet. That alone will make it more secure.

Workstation Checklist

Workstation Information Checklist

Please fill out all of the information below for each workstation.

User: _______________________

Windows Version: ______________ (Right-click My Computer, Left-click Properties)

Service Pack: _________________

RAM: ___________ (Min. 128 MB)

CPU: ____________

NIC: ____________ 10 or 100 megabit?

Anti-Virus make _________________ Date of Last Full Scan: ___________

Anti-Virus Up To Date: ____________

Spyware Remover?: ________________ Date of Last Full Scan: ___________

Firewall?: _______________ Correctly configured?: ___________________

Date last Disk Cleanup: ___________________

Date last Defragment: ____________ (Win95 & 98 are especially sensitive to fragmentation.)

Computer Solutions

Answers to common computer questions. I will post answers to some of the most common questions I have received as a computer support professional.

Any kind of problem solving, whether it is a mystery novel, crossword puzzle, or computer problem, they all involve starting with the simple and moving to the more complex. Think of this as “narrowing the focus”.

A good example is a puzzle. Most start with turning all the pieces picture side up, then trying to put the sides together. Then one finds objects to put together. This is why the sky is usually last, it is the biggest part, and it all looks the same. but by finding a cloud or area of similar color, the focus is narrowed and bit by bit the picture is completed.

This may help explain why when you talk to a computer professional that they ask you all the same questions you just answered, or just went through yourself. This is because they want to make sure they have covered all the bases. Quite often, a review of the basic questions will reveal that something very simple has been overlooked.

Once the quick and the simple tasks have been tried, one must exercise their patience and persevere until the problem is found. An experienced support person will have a lot more items to review before they enter new territory. You may think that when they talk to themselves and mutter in exasperation that it is time to panic. Unless your support person is running in circles yelling, “The sky is falling”, you know that they are not panicked. It is not time to panic until your technician panics. You may be worried and stressed over the situation, but a good support person will re-assure you and keep you informed of your options.

I am sharing here some useful information that may save you a service call, and unnecessary stress.