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Terry's Computer Tips Newsletter
June 20, 2010

Terry's Computer Tips Newsletter
http://www.terryscomputertips.com
A computer tips newsletter for users of PC's.

Volume 6, Number 01 — Sunday, June 20, 2010

IN THIS ON-LINE ISSUE:

   1.   Warning for Windows XP and 2003 Users
   2.   Controlling SPAM and Nasty Emails from a Friend
   3.   Another Way to Use the Run Command in Windows 7
   4.   My Computer Security Software Recommendations

Welcome to the on-line edition of my Terry's Computer Tips newsletter. Its articles are not in my weekly email issue — and the email articles aren't in the online issue.

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1.  Warning for Windows XP and 2003 Users

Are you still running Windows XP? If you are, you should fix this now. It wasn't fixed in the June Windows Updates..

Recently, as reported in several PCWorld articles such as Protect Windows XP from Zero-Day Flaw in HCP Protocol, a Google security researcher in Switzerland discovered a serious flaw in the Windows Help Center functions in Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server. It allows someone to run programs remotely on your computer.

All it takes is for you to view a specially-crafted web page — you don't have to click on anything; it just happens. Unfortunately, shortly after notifying Microsoft, he released the information on the vulnerability and how to exploit it.

Needless to say, this has affected the Google vs Microsoft antagonism. Microsoft's not happy and the Google researcher is trying to downplay this as a personal project. Meanwhile, if you're running Windows XP or Windows 2003 Server, it's dangerous.

If your Windows userID has administrator privileges (if you don't think you have an ID, you do, and it's an administrator ID), you're vulnerable.

Of course, who DOESN'T run as an administrator on their computer, other than corporate users? Windows XP is just too obnoxious if you run as a non-administrator and prevents you from significant functions.

PCWorld has another good article on this Windows Help Center security flaw at http://www.pcworld.com/article/199174/windows_hcp_flaw_what_you_need_to_know.html

Microsoft has set up a helpful web page called "Vulnerability in Help Center could allow remote code execution," which has their Fix It links at http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2219475.

One link is the Fix It link, which disables the Windows Help functions in Windows XP and Windows 2003 Server. The other is the reversal of the Fix It, to make the Help functional again.

I used the Fix It link to fix my Windows XP desktop and will use it to fix my netbook also. Those are my only two computers still running Windows XP.

If you use Firefox, you will have to click the FixIt button, download the file, and then run the file.

If you use Internet Explorer, you'll have the options to Run, to Save and to Cancel.

 


 

2.  Controlling SPAM and Nasty Emails from a Friend

Subscriber Carolyn Waterson wrote with questions about spam and emails with malware potential that she was receiving from a friend who didn't practice safe computing:

I have a rather elderly friend whose computer keeps sending out obscene things and Viagra ads. They appear to be going to everybody in his address book!

He assures me HE is not sending them - someone is hacking into his Email and he refuses to do anything about it. I no longer will open any Emails from him, although I now keep getting messages from Facebook that this person has invited me to join this or that, and I can't tell until I've opened the Email that it is a message from him.

I have AVG on my computer and have never had a message that they have caught or quarantined any of these.

I'm concerned that whatever has got into his computer is now into mine and these things will be going out from my computer also! Could this be the case — and what do I do to ensure that it does not happen?

Thanks

The most helpful thing Carolyn can do for her friend is to download the current version of one of the antivirus programs and its current definitions, and then visit her friend to install it on his computer.

I remember working on a computer club member's PC back in about 2006 at one of our PC Tune Up fundraising sessions. He ran Norton Antivirus. Never ran his computer without it running. It never found any problem, either. But, it was a 1998 version of Norton Antivirus and he had never purchased any antivirus signature update subscription.

I ran one of the free antivirus programs and found a pot full of nasties on his computer. No wonder it was running so slow.

Carolyn could check out his computer. She could install a 30-day trial of commercial programs like ESET Smart Security 4 or VIPRE Antivirus Premium on his computer, even if just to perform the initial scans for problems. Of course, he'd have to purchase a license to keep using either after the trial expired. Or, she could install one of the free antivirus packages.

As far as her own computer, Carolyn needs to run two types of programs to address the issues above.

First, she needs to be running a good, always-running antispyware & antivirus program. Depending on which version of AVG she has, she might have one. However, I haven't used AVG in so long that I don't have any opinion about how well it performs. I would use VIPRE Antivirus Premium or ESET Smart Security 4.

Personally, I do not like the free antivirus programs because the vendors have too much incentive to guide you to purchasing the paid versions — which sometimes includes providing updates on the latest virus signatures later to free subscribers than to paid subscribers. Also, vendors who supply free versions usually limit your license to use the free version on only one computer (AVG does this).

The other thing she needs is a good anti-spam program. Some of the suites provide this. You can also use independent programs like PopFile (my choice, free, getpopfile.org) and Mailwasher Pro (commercial), which allows you to preview your email while it is still on the mailserver before it gets to your computer!

With these, she can have programs that filter emails based on content.

 

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3.  Another Way to Use the Run Command in Windows 7

Reader Philip Lang wrote recently to give a great tip about the Run command in Windows 7. He also had a few questions...

Hi Terry,

re: Alternate route to the Run command in Win7 Since the task manager is pinned to the task bar, you can get to the run command in just three clicks, 1.open task manager, 2.File, 3.New Task(Run...)

I'm sorry to see they removed the Shutdown button from task manager though. Any way to restore that?

You've commented several times on some of the differences between OEM and retail Windows licenses. Could you expand on that, particularly as applied to upgrading? Does using a Win7 upgrade on an OEM WinXP system(clean install) result in an OEM Win7 system? Does upgrading a retail Win7HP system to Win7Ult result in a Win7Ult system with full retail rights? Does using the Win7 Family Pack to upgrade 3 computers with a mix of OEM and retail systems yield a mix of types under the same activation code?

Can you tell from the System panel which license applies?

Thanks, Phil

Philip has a great tip on the Run command. All you have to do is to right-click on a blank part of the Task Bar, select Start Task Manager.

This opens the Task Manager window. Then, on the menu bar, select File > New Task (Run...).

Alternatively, from the Task Manager window, if you're on the Task tab (which is the default), just look in the lower right-hand corner. You'll find the New Task... button. One click on that gives the same result as selecting File > New Task (Run...) from the menu bar.

Regarding Philip's question about accessing the Shutdown button from Task Manager, I don't know how to add that back to the Task Manager itself. However, the other way to get to Task Manager is much easier and does include the Shutdown/Logoff/Restart options.

Just use the old Windows 3-key salute Control-Alt-Delete. That will hide the entire Windows Desktop and will display a full–screen with options to Lock the Computer, Switch User, Logoff, Change a Password, Start Task Master and Cancel.

At the lower left is an interesting icon, which opens the Ease of Access dialog box. This can magnify the screen, make Windows read the screen to you, and other access assistance options.

At the lower right is the new Windows 7 Shutdown button and Shutdown Options button.

Philip also asked a number of questions about the Windows 7 licenses. I really can't give detailed guidance on interpretation of licenses. However, there are some points to remember:

  • Whether you buy it directly from Microsoft, from your computer manufacturer or in a store, a Windows Upgrade license always a retail purchase and is not a stand-alone license to use Windows.
  • The Windows Upgrade license is strictly that — a license to upgrade the version of the operating system you have installed to the specific later operating system.
  • The Upgrade License does not convert a retail license to an OEM license nor does it convert an OEM license to a retail license.

When in doubt, read the license applicable to the version on your computer. It took a while to locate, but this page on Microsoft's site tells you how to find the Windows 7 edition running on your computer and to find the license for that edition.

Unfortunately, I don't see that it tells you whether you have a retail license or an OEM license. The information displayed appears to be the same on both my home theater PC, which has a full retail Windows 7 license, and on my Inspiron 8600, which has Windows 7 Professional upgrade installed replacing the OEM Windows XP Professional. That may be because you can not directly install Windows 7 over Windows XP — you have to do a fresh install. If you install Windows 7 over Vista, instead of as a fresh install, the results may be different.

The locations are Control Panel > System and Security > System to find the edition, and C:\Windows\System32\en-US\default for the all the possible licenses.

Of course, if your Windows 7 is on a different drive than C:, you'll have to look there. Similarly, if you're not running the English U.S. version, you'll need to look in the corresponding language's directory.

 


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4.  My Computer Security Software Recommendations

Acronis True Image 2010

I review my security software recommendations and update them for each weekly newsletter issue, if I think they need to change.

My Philosophy: Many people want to pick their most economical solution and prefer an all-in-one anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall solution. In concept, that's a great idea. In actual practice, I don' think that this type of package is likely to be the best in all the protection categories you need.

Other people want to pick the best of each type program. I'm one of the these folks.

My choice of software that I am willing to recommend is driven by my search for software for me to use. I only recommend programs that I like and that I use. I will sometimes suggest alternatives to my recommendations, but I clearly note if I no longer use them.

Anti-Virus

I'm often asked about several other popular anti-virus or anti-virus combination packages. Yes, I realize that they are not in my recommendation list. "Enough said..."

From 2003 through mid-2008, my personal choice was ESET's small, fast NOD32 anti-virus program, which offers a FREE 30-day evaluation license. I still consider NOD32 to be one of the best in anti-virus protection — and it continues to get recognition and awards. Unlike some of its competitors, ESET offers multiple-year licenses also, and includes program updates in the multiple-year license.

Then, I changed from my long-time choices NOD32 (antivirus) and Sunbelt's CounterSpy (antispyware) to Sunbelt's VIPRE Antivirus + Antispyware.

I found that VIPRE puts even less load on my computer than the speedy combination of NOD32 and CounterSpy. I've also been impressed with the way its "deep scan" has found and eliminated risks that were stored in zip files, which is one of the latest malware email tricks. Sunbelt Software offers multi-year licenses and home site licenses on its software, both of which include program updates as well as signature updates.

Sunbelt has recently released version 4 of VIPRE Antivirus (they dropped the "+ Antispyware" from the name, although the functions are there) and, more importantly, they released VIPRE Antivirus Premium, which integrates their new firewall software into the package. Sunbelt offers 30-day free trials of VIPRE Antivirus and VIPRE Antivirus Premium.

My anti-virus and anti-spyware choice for my computers and those of my family's computers is VIPRE Antivirus Premium

I'm often asked for alternatives to the programs that I recommend, especially by people who want to buy one package (a "suite") to do everything.

As a result, I tried a couple security suites to pick a suite that I would be willing to use, in order to have something I can recommend. ESET Smart Security 4 is my recommended suite alternative. Smart Security 4 has gotten great ratings and includes antivirus and antispyware, both from their current NOD32 v4 version, and antispam and firewall. I no longer use it and have returned to Sunbelt's VIPRE Antivirus Premium, but for a suite choice, that's what I would use.

Tech Tip
Many antivirus programs will offer you an anti-virus signature subscription renewal when your subscription renews. I strongly recommend against this option — buy the full program or make sure you get program updates with the subscription renewal. Both NOD32 and VIPRE purchases include both program updates/upgrades AND antivirus signature updates.

Vendors routinely improve the capabilities and speed of the programs, too. If you update only the signatures, you miss any program improvements.

Related articles:

Firewall Software

While the Windows XP firewall is much better than no firewall at all, but don't count on the Windows XP firewall to meet your needs.

You need a two-way firewall, which the Windows XP firewall is not!. Microsoft woke up and supplied a two-way firewall with Windows Vista. However, Microsoft built in pre-authorization for many programs. Windows 7's firewall is also two-way, and again has pre-cleared many programs to communicate outbound to the Internet — some to go where you want to go, and some to "call home."

The Windows XP firewall does not control outbound communications originating from your computer — and you should want to have control if adware/trojans/spyware or even commercial products want to talk to the Internet. Whether they are calling home or spewing spam, you want to be able to control your computer.

Do you want Windows Media Player to call home every time you play something? It does! Do you use the Search function in Windows Explorer to find things on your hard drive? Did you know that every time you search, Windows Explorer talks to Microsoft?

I didn't know that when I ran ZoneAlarm, but the Sunbelt Personal Firewall flagged that to me, and I can stop it or allow it to happen. Many other programs try to call home when you run them, too.

I'm using the firewall that's part of Sunbelt's VIPRE Antivirus Premium package. If you don't want to use the full package, then I recommend my previous choice for a firewall program, the Sunbelt Personal Firewall.

You can try the full-featured "paid version" of Sunbelt Personal Firewall free for 30 days — after that, you can register it or, if you're using it on a home non-business computer, you can let it revert to the free, lesser-function license.
Tip: Be sure to read my review of SPF for the settings I recommend.

At this time, the Sunbelt Personal Firewall works with Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Vista, in 32-bit versions only. I expect the new version of Sunbelt Personal Firewall to be available for 64-bit computers in April 2010, including Windows 7 support.

Sunbelt Personal Firewall is regularly $19.95 (with discounts for multiple computers and/or multiple years!) for a non-expiring license for the program and includes one year of their updates subscription. A unlimited Home Site License is $39.95 for a year.

Related articles:

Anti-Spyware / Anti-Adware Software

CounterSpy, from Sunbelt Software, has received many kudos from the computer press for its always-running and periodic full system scans. It has been my personal choice for my PC's and my family's PC's.

Sunbelt's CounterSpy v2.5, both improved CounterSpy's performance against malware and reduced its impact on system resources and responsiveness when its scanning.

Sunbelt continues to release updated program versions — the current version is v3.1 — and there's an even newer version about to be released. Nicely, Sunbelt do NOT install the updated programs automatically. You have to use the Update process in the program, which means that you'll know that something significant has changed.

I changed from my long-time programs NOD32 (antivirus) and CounterSpy (antispyware) to Sunbelt's VIPRE Antivirus + Antispyware.

I've found that VIPRE puts even less load on my computer than the speedy combination of NOD32 and CounterSpy. My computer seems to have much more pep and power than it had previously. I've also been impressed with the way its "deep scan" has found and eliminated risks that were stored in zip files, which is one of the latest malware email tricks.

Related articles:

Anti-spam Software

In today's Internet world, the question is not "if" you will get spam, but "how much will you get?"

I use and recommend POPFile as my first choice for handling spam. POPFile sits on your computer, between your email program and your ISP mailbox, and handles emial as it downloads.

POPFile uses a different approach to handle spam than some other programs do — it does nothing to reduce spam. It is designed as an email classification tool — you train it to recognize spam and any other type of email that you want to classify. These classifications can help you sort your emails into appropriate folders in your email program.

Sunbelt Software, who makes the anti-spyware program CounterSpy (which I use and recommend) and the firewall that I use and recommend (Sunbelt Personal Firewall) also has a well-regarded, award-winning anti-spam program called iHateSpam for Outlook and Outlook Express. Since I don't use Outlook or Outlook Express for email, I haven't tried iHateSpam.

Mailwasher Pro would be my first choice to handle spam before it ever gets into your computer's Inbox. Mailwasher Pro uses on-line Realtime Black Lists mail servers sending spam recently, "training" by you of what you think is spam, and your own "friends" and "blacklist" lists. Note: I found that PopFile generally meets my needs and stopped using Mailwasher Pro, even though PopFile works AFTER the emails have been downloaded. If I used a dialup connection, I would be more interested in Mailwasher Pro.

Mailwasher Pro can even bounce spam messages, as if your email address was not valid, although the usefulness and appropriateness of this is questionable. There is a free version called "Mailwasher," but it omits the functions that I consider critical for this purpose -- such as safely previewing the emails safely before they ever get to your email inbox.

Related articles:

System Control

I've written about WinPatrol a number of times and have used WinPatrol Plus for years. With free and paid options, I always put WinPatrol on my computers. WinPatrol monitors your computer for installation of auto-running programs, for changes to certain system settings, allows you to control auto-starting programs, to delay auto-starting programs, and many more functions.

I recommend the paid version WinPatrol Plus, which adds a few more functions and, more importantly, includes access to BillP's database of program information. However, if you don't get the paid version, be sure to get WinPatrol.

Related articles:

Backup Software

When we think of security software, we usually think of antivirus, firewall, antispyware and antispam software. But, what other kind of software is security software? Backup software, of course.

We need to make backup copies of our important data. That data may be financial, such as your checkbook in Quicken, or your spreadsheet tracking your investmants. Or, it may be personal, non-financial data such as digital family photos.

What if your hard drive won't start one day? What will you lose? What if your computer is stolen (let's ignore, for now, whether you should encrypt data on your hard drive to protect it from others — let's just think about the inconvenience and loss to us!)?

There are two basic types of backups you should do.

You need to regularly back up your individual data files to another computer, to an external hard drive, or even to an online repository (but realize, if you have to rebuild the data on your computer, it may have to be downloaded for days and days). An external hard drive is the best choice if you don't have a home network where you could copy to another computer.

If you have a home network, use Karen's Replicator (free for personal, non-business use) to back up the files that change. I have it scheduled to copy my data files every evening from my notebook to another computer at my home. You should also get an external hard drive (or two, so you can alternate them) and make occasional backup copies to it. Preferably store it at a relative's house or your safe deposit box.

If you don't have a home network, get an external hard drive (or two, so you can alternate them) and make regularly scheduled backup copies to it. Use Karen's Replicator (free for personal, non-business use) to back up the files that change to your external drive. Preferably, store one external drive at a relative's house or your safe deposit box, so that if the worst happens, you haven't lost irreplaceable photos and other information.

The other type of backup is an image backup. This gives the ultimate in quick restore capability. Just plug in the external drive, boot the cdrom, and restore the image back to your hard drive. I use Acronis True Image Home 2010 (they also have discounts for upgrades)to make backups across my network every three days. Once a month, I make a full backup image. Every three days, it makes an incremental backup — copying only those files that have changed.

Acronis True Image Home, as of version 2009, allows you to recover individual files and folders from the image files, so you don't have to restore everything. The nice thing about making my backup across the network is that I can restore individual files across the network from those images. Sometimes that's the easiest thing to do, especially when the brain takes a little nap... <grin>

Why use both Replicator and Acronis True Image Home, if we can restore individual files from both? Replicator will always have the latest version it backed up — but not any earlier ones, and it can be run daily or even hourly without taking up much more drive space (backups are replaced when changed, rather than storing additional copies). With Acronis True Image, we can have multiple versions of the files to choose among. We can restore one that's months old, if we like, not just the latest version.

Cable/DSL Router

If you have a cable modem or a DSL modem, you need to have another layer of inexpensive protection between you and the Internet. A cable/DSL router isolates your computer from direct connection to the Internet. Your computer can easily request your email, web pages, etc. through the router. The responses come back to the router and are smoothly routed to your computer. But, someone on the Internet side of the router can not initiate a connection to your computer — they can only respond to your request.

Even if you only have one computer to connect to your cable or DSL modem, I recommend that you purchase and use a cable/DSL router because of the protection it can give you against attempts to attack through some flaws in Windows itself.

A router isolates your local network, whether it is only one computer or several, from the Internet by actually making it a separate network. The router gets the "public" IP address and handles all your outbound communications and the responses to them. But, it blocks computers on the Internet side from being able to initiate communications with your computer! This will prevent you from falling prey to many worms that try to attack security holes in Windows itself.

For a wireless router, I have chosen the Cisco-Linksys E3000 High-Performance Wireless-N Router . I've paired that with a couple Cisco-Linksys High-Performance Wireless-N USB 2.0 Adapters. Actually, I bought two of the refurbished ones.

If you don't want wireless, I recommend the Linksys BEFSR41 wired router, which was my old choice. Either way, based on my experience, I recommend Linksys routers for price, reliability and Linksys' habit of releasing updated firmware for their products.

See these related articles:

 

Volume 6, Number 01 — Sunday, June 20, 2010

Copyright © 2010 Terry A. Stockdale.  All rights reserved.


 

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