Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Don't ... FREAK OUT ... about RANSOMWARE

If your PC is critical to your daily life, then it makes sense to avoid 
borrowed from askleo.com
ransomware at all reasonable costs. 

The simple truth is that common sense and a few ounces of prevention are all you need.
  • a firewall - preferably a fairly up-to-date router
  • anti-malware: I recommend Norton for many reasons but, for free, Microsoft Security Essentials will provide decent real-time protection
  • common sense:  only click on attachments, links and pictures that you KNOW are safe;  if not sure, find someone trustworthy to help - and of course, feel free to call me
For additional peace of mind, (a) make backups of your critical stuff and (b) have a recovery plan at the ready.  Again, feel free to call me.


Leo Notenboom, from AskLeo.com, states quite nicely in his blog/newsletter on ransomware that there are two reasons not to pay the ransom.  I would add a third.  On the only PC that I recovered where the owner paid the ransom, the PC had more adverse settings than those where the ransom was not paid. 

All but one PC, where the ransom was not paid, I was able to recover control and restore complete functionality to the pre-infection settings.

In other words, from my seat, paying the ransom removed the initial block but   that made anything less than a complete factory reset unreasonable at best and incredibly time consuming and difficult at worst.

By the way, I subscribe to Ask Leo.  He is one of the best bloggers for helping the tech-ignorant and tech-adverse;  it is not ironic that I find he writes in a clear, concise, understandable tone.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Moving Forward - Touch Me!

So when will we stop buying PCs and laptops and use tablets, smartphones & that-next-big-thing?

I've started advising users of email and web surfing to resign their PCs entirely.  Go, get an iPad or Android tablet ... or a Microsoft's Surface RT while it's still on sale.  They're all great! 

Even if you need Word & Excel, the Surface RT comes with slimmed-down versions of the Office favorites.  I do recommend either of the cover/keyboards.  The built-in kickstand is as clever as the removable keyboard.

If you're running legacy or Windows specific programs, then by all means stick with laptops and even desktops.  I would not bother to compose these blog posts on anything but a full-sized keyboard and a mouse.

Now, there is an app for the iPad called Parallels Access that stretches the concept of the iPad as THE mobile device, as an addition to your Macs and PCs.  Here's a hands' on video to whet your appetite (click the Parallels icon):
From Engadget:  http://www.engadget.com/2013/08/27/parallels-access/

Again, not a replacement but an addition.  Maybe a replacement for the laptop, though!  Citrix - are you watching?!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Update on Java - I have No Updates

There were a flurry of updates to Java version 7 since Homeland Security and other entities declared Java a significant security risk.  Questions were raised whether or not Java could be successfully patched, at least in a reasonable amount of time.

Now the updates had settled down quite a bit since Update 21 and has been holding at 25 for, oh, say a month or two.

If you took the stormy clouds of threatening warnings to heart or head and turned off or uninstalled Java entirely - and find that you still don't need it, then do nothing.

But if you haven't turned off or uninstalled Java, here's the link to check whether your version is up to date:  http://java.com/en/download/installed.jsp

When done, your browser should show the following confirmation:

Safe surfing, now!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Psst - Buddy - Don't Tell....

Anonymous Browsing - is it worth the trouble?  Do you need it?  Do you want it?  I'll make no judgements.
The Tor Project promises anonymous web browsing as well as other subterfuge.  "Tor" stands for The Onion Router.  The simplest explanation of anonymous web browsing is to broadcast or state your current IP address as something other than what your ISP (Internet Service Provider) assigns to you.

Anonymous browsing is different than using Internet Explorer's InPrivate mode or Chrome's Incognito mode.  Those browsing tools allow you to hide your browsing activity from your local hard drive.  However, you're still browsing from a known location.

In other words, Comcast knows I'm a specific customer simply by looking at my IP address.  It is how Comcast knows to allow you, for example, to download their Comcast-branded Norton Security Suite - which is equivalent to the retail consumer version of Norton 360 (not the Premiere version).  It also allows your ISP to track your connection (for Comcast, the cable modem) to a physical address.

In other words, if I choose InPrivate or Incognito browsing, websites that I visit will still see my IP address as the same as regular browsing.  It's like pinning a "Hello, My Name is ... and I live at ..." badge on my chest, wherever I go.
So perhaps you would want to hide who you are from the rest of the Internet.  Tor will allow you to say that you're Johnny and you are at Johnny's house - although you don't get to pick which Johnny.  
You can set this up with Tor's utilities and use Internet Explorer or Firefox or Chrome.

However, the Tor Browser is probably a simpler method for installing an anonymous browsing experience on our PC. 
Tor can also be implemented via a USB stick.
I might test out Tor on a backup PC, but I'm not interested - I don't feel the need for anonymity, really - in anonymous browsing. 
As the joke goes, I'd like to tell you something about paranoia, but not while you're looking at me like that.

Again, no judgements!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Java - Sometimes It's Worth Wearing a Raincoat

So even Homeland Security has come down and stated that Java is not secure.  But Java isn't the headline news at 11 PM yet, nor is it the headlines of the Wall Street Journal or even PC Magazine or Wired.
So let's not get too worked up about this.
But let's be safe.  If you need or want Java, then go to Java.com and install the latest version. 

Then, open Java from your Control Panel, click the Security tab and deselect "Enable Java in the browser."  Then, change the Security Level to Very High.  Hit OK.

If you need Java, then simply re-enable it. Otherwise, leave it off. I haven't had to turn it back on since turning it off a week ago.

Also, do not rely on Java to tell you if your version is up to date.  Check it here.  Lastly, check to see if older versions of Java are still installed.  Remove them from Programs & Features in Windows Vista & newer;  from Add Programs in Windows XP and older.

Sometimes it's best to wear a raincoat or carry an umbrella.  Oh, and Java is free.

02/25/13 - Update - Java is now up to 7.15 (Version 7 Update 15).

Saturday, January 5, 2013

I Love Gmail, But....

Ok, so I don't "love" Gmail, but I like it for many reasons.  Mainly, it blocks spam better than anything else I've ever seen.  It's free, will do POP3 & IMAP for email clients and it's fast.

However, in the past year*, Google changed the Gmail interface as well as the rest of its products' screens.  To their credit, Google made them look similar, with flat, colored buttons and added their own menu bar.  Over time, I would become more accustomed to the new look, as I also use Calendar, Maps, YouTube as well as the ubiquitous Search.

Or would I?  I still don't like the flat, icon buttons that appear when a message is selected from the list or a message is opened:

From the Settings page, icons can be replaced with text:

Note that 'Refresh' has no equivalent button when icons are displayed.

When Google first introduced this version of the Gmail interface, the biggest complaint was the difference between the unread & read messages was barely perceptible.  Well, they added a Hi-Contrast theme that - originally did not look much better - they eventually gave it more contrast.  I'd prefer either (a) still more contrast or (b) the ability to choose the background color for the read messages.  But I'm OK with the current one.  

Also - while I'm ranting - I did not like the new style because when the first message was selected, the icons would appear - and push down the list of emails.  It was jarring to see the whole list shift down, or back up if or when the message was unselected.  Plus, selecting the next message required me to jump over the message that I'd already selected.  Well, they fixed that.

Hey, I don't love it, but I do like Gmail.

But before I step off the soapbox, may I please sort the messages by something other than date?  

PS - CES starts January 8th.

January 18th:  Well, CES is over, not much to report but *Google did it again!  They're tweaking Gmail - especially the Compose view.  It's OK, I think it's improved.