Windows 8, Part II

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis January 5th, 2013

I think Windows 8 may fall by the wayside as another Microsoft “step-child” like Vista and ME.  Evidently they were so desperate to compete with i-pads that they forgot their roots (and loyal customers).  Case in point:  The new GUI, or Graphical User Interface (aka “Metro”) is really nice but falls short for those of us who need to work on a highly detailed screen.  For this we use mouse (or stylus) and keyboard.  You CAN drop back to the old style desktop, but once you get there you’ll find some very important things missing.  The corner Start Button is gone, and if you hover your mouse in that corner you only get the option to return to Metro.  If you find yourself in this quandary, you’ll need to remember some keyboard commands.  The main one is the Start key, which is usually on the bottom left of your keyboard (the one with the Windows logo… see photo).  This will get SOME of the things that you need, but not all.  One of the main things MISSING, once you find the start menu, is the All Programs list.  I’m still looking for a better fix, but in the meanwhile here’s what you have to do;  1) Go back to the Metro screen and 2) do an edge swipe.  When the sidebar menu pops out,  3) Choose search.  If you check the programs box it will show you all available programs.  UGH… REALLY?!  Microsoft, you guys couldn’t come up with anything better than this?!  Come on…   NEXT TIME:  Email, user accounts, and other Win 8  frustrations.

Windows 8, Part I

Helpful Hints, News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis December 2nd, 2012

I’ve already had a lot of customers asking about the new version of Windows.  This will be a series of posts about the new operating system from Microsoft, and some details you should know both before and after buying.  First of all, this is really just a cosmetic build On TOP of Windows 7.  Unfortunately it is only an advantage FOR TOUCHSCREEN DEVICES.  If it doesn’t have a touchscreen, DON’T BUY IT with Windows 8.  For a normal desktop PC, it’s much more trouble than it’s worth.  Not only does it FORCE the large “Metro” screen on users, but they have disabled some of the handy desktop features that we’ve all grown accustomed to.  I’ll elaborate on that later.  Another thing to beware of before purchasing is that there is a second version for tablets called Windows 8 RT.  For the first time ever, this is based on architecture other than x86 (ARM-based).  The bottom line:  it won’t run any of your old PC apps!  You must get all new apps from the Microsoft store to run on this version.  I started to buy one of the new Surface tablets from Microsoft (see photo), but found out that the x86 version won’t be out until Spring.  Currently they only have the Windows 8 RT version for sale.

FBI Scareware ALERT

News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis August 21st, 2012

FBI LogoThere’s a new, very scary “Ransomware” attack spreading like wildfire across the USA in the last few weeks.  It poses as the FBI, and states that you have downloaded illegal material (movies, music, child porn, etc.)  They use VERY sophisticated means to convince you that you should pay money to them.  The FBI is aware of the problem, as well as digital security pros everywhere.  It’s been dubbed “Reveton Ransomware” and it’s a complete hoax, designed to get your money and/or steal your passwords.  It’s not easy to remove, and if you catch it the first thing you should do is CHANGE ALL YOUR ONLINE PASSWORDS from a different PC.  Then, follow these instructions  for removal.  Finally, update ALL software, including Windows, Java, Adobe products, etc.  Better yet, call your favorite IT Pro.  :-).  You can read full details of the attacks  and the “bot” network that is spreading it here.  (Thanks to Krebson Security!).  IMHO the most concerning thing about this attack is the method of payment.  They try to get you to go to a local store and buy a “MoneyPak” for electronic transfer!  This will help them cover their tracks, and helps them skirt around blocks by credit card companies. 

Norton Power Eraser

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis August 17th, 2012

If you’re using Norton for your PC protection, you may have wondered about some of the extra tools that they offer.  Although I REALLY like Norton’s virus and malware protection, these tools are practically worthless.  The main two I’m talking about are called Norton Power Eraser (NPE) and the Norton Bootable Recovery Tool (NBRT).   First of all, Power Eraser is a TERRIBLE name for this software.  It implies that it’s a scrubbing tool or something.  But MOSTLY I should warn you:  If you get a message from Norton that you should run NPE, you most likely have a ROOTKIT!  This is the worst kind of infection, and allows total control of your computer.  The really sad part is that NPE probably won’t be able to remove it!  The tool seems to hang on removal or completely fail, and the boot tool rarely works unless you burn a CD of it.  Your best bet, if this happens, is to download and run ComboFix from this site.  (NOTE:  It’s the second Download button.  The first one is an ad).  You should turn off your virus protection while it runs.  It removes the vast majority of rootkits without a hitch.  But if all this makes you nervous, just take your PC to a good technician, and tell them the problem.   By the way, I still highly recommend Norton Internet Security.  I’ve only had ONE infection, out of hundreds of PC’s, in the last year since I started recommending it.  It’s great at prevention, which is the key in the first place. 

JAVA Warning

News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis July 12th, 2012

UPDATE YOUR JAVA.  I’ve cleaned up two very nasty PC infections this week that were Java-based viruses.  BOTH had current anti-virus protection, which didn’t stop the attack.  When Java updates, it’s usually to patch some security hole or other issue.  The hackers and Bad Guys know this, and will exploit any software to take over your computer.  If you’re not sure if you’ve got the latest, click here to get the most recent version.  WARNING: this install will try to get you to add the Ask Toolbar.  Watch for the option and uncheck the box if you don’t want it. 

Final (FBI) Warning

News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis July 6th, 2012

The DomainChanger (AKA DNS Changer) virus that I warned you about will “expire” this weekend.  I’m getting lots of phone calls about the hubub, so I wanted to give some explaination.  First of all, THE VIRUS IS IMPOTENT thanks to the FBI.  They shut down the crooks that set it up, and replaced the bad server computers with some of their own (ours… the taxpayers).  But if you ARE infected, the servers will be shut down soon.  What’s that mean?  You won’t get internet access on the infected PC.  You’ll have to remove the bug before you can surf.  Here’s a link to the site that will clean it up for you.  Interestingly, the daily “new IP’s” (or new computer addresses) to the FBI servers is still quite high: 300,000+ as of about a month ago.  That tells me there’s still a BUNCH of folks out there that are infected.  If you have friends or family whose internet suddenly stops working this weekend, this is probably why.

HD revisited

Helpful Hints, News | Posted by Dennis June 15th, 2012

High definition, right?  Nope, in this case I’m talkin’ about Hard Drives.  I’ve written posts about the drive shortage, backing up, and solid state drives.  But there’s a whole new fleet of External USB (or networked) drives that deserve a closer look.  Several companies are making drives that you plug in and can access from all over the planet.  Others create their own WiFi network that you can log into from smartphones or your PC.  There are also some very stylish drives that are much smaller these days.  I have clients that will buy several pocket-sized drives and rotate them for offsite backup.   They also have some really tough built HD’s that can withstand a lot of abuse.  This would be perfect for industrial sites or college students :-)    Here’s an article  that shows them in detail (thanks to Marc Saltzman at Digital Crave).

Java, anyone?

Helpful Hints, Warnings | Posted by Dennis June 9th, 2012

“What IS Java?!” my customers often ask.  Besides coffee, Java is a programming language, and since 2006 has been licensed and handled by the GNU open-source project.  It’s original intent was to make a streamlined, object-oriented language that would work on any platform.  So you’ll find Java on all kinds of devices from PC’s to smartphones.  Android is a fine example of Java-based software, although Google  broke away and created their own version of the platform.  The language has a rocky history, with Microsoft initially helping Sun Microsystems (now Oracle) push the standards, then later becoming the villain in a dramatic turn about.  When Microsoft was sued by the DOJ for anti-trust practices, Java was part of the lawsuit.  The claim was that they were implementing Java with the intent of eventually destroying it.  Microsoft (MS) settled, and stopped shipping Java with Windows.  Nowadays you have to download it yourself.  Meanwhile MS started pushing .NET as a competitor language.  It’s all based on the C# language core, but the big argument is about open vs. closed source.  MS doesn’t like open-source software.  After all, that’s how they make their money.  So ANY open-source software is a threat to their livelihood.  Meanwhile Sun Microsystems/Oracle has helped foster and grow the Java platform to be one of the most popular and stable languages in the world.  For you, the end users, what’s all this mean?  Well, now you know what Java and .NET are all about.  They help bring your devices to life, with cool apps that are often web-based.  And YES you should update these two whenever prompted.  Sometimes they find security or other glitches that are fixed with updates.  BUT watch out!  The Java install often tries to add some other junk software, like the ASK toolbar for example.  Keep your eye out for a check box to disable this. 

LinkedIn Data Breach

News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis June 8th, 2012

I noticed a lot of spam in the last few days that was making it to my Inbox.  This is unusual; most of the time my spam filters catch this junk and remove it.  It turns out that LinkedIn got hacked recently, along with eHarmony and Lastfm.com.  If anyone on those sites had your email address, you may have gotten the same deluge of crap mail.  Most of those were “phishing” mails, trying to get credit card or other financial info so they could steal from you.  What to do?  First of all DO NOT CLICK LINKS IN ANY EMAILS you receive.  Go straight to the sites, if you have an account, and CHANGE YOUR PASSWORD.  Make sure you follow rules for strong passwords; 8 characters or more with a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters.  This is a storm of data theft that probably isn’t over yet.  Stay Tuned!   (Thanks to the Agence France-Presse for the great article)

Presidential Dilemma

News, Warnings | Posted by Dennis June 6th, 2012

Well, the cat is OUT of the bag.  A while back there was a worm called Stuxnet that was discovered to be hiding on PC’s across the planet, apparently doing, well… NOTHING.  It had very sophisticated code, but no one could tell exactly what its purpose was.  Finally it was revealed that this critter had been released to slow down Iran’s nuclear program.  60 Minutes on CBS featured an article about it, revealing that it worked on industrial controls, and targeted the centrifuges that Iran uses to purify Uranium and Plutonium.  Now it has come to light that the US was, indeed, the source of that bug.  It started with Bush in 2006, and continued with President Obama.  It took guts for both of them to authorize this –  the implications are staggering.  We have officially entered a world where digital warfare is reality.  Although it saved lives in terms of immediate human casualties, these presidents opened a virtual Pandora’s Box in authorizing this attack.  See, the worm has a blueprint for taking over and altering controls in facilities like the Iranian Enrichment plants.  But these are the same controls that are used EXTENSIVELY across the US.  So the weapon could give our enemies the ability to attack critical infrastructure like power plants and water facilities.  Was it worth it?  Well it seemed to work, so it bought them a little time.  But the decision to use it could very well turn out to be more detrimental to the USA than any benefits that were gleened.  Time will tell.  Kudos to Symantec for isolating this critter, and the New York Times for covering a great story about war in the next millennium.  You can find the full article here.