Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Manual Upgrade for Microsoft Security Essentials

Recently some customers had problems upgrading Microsoft Security Essentials to the new version 2.

If your firewall is turned ON you can do that yourself:

  1. Go to this Microsoft web page.
  2. Click Download and choose the version of MSE that is correct for your OS.
  3. Open Control Panel.
  4. In Vista/7 open Programs and Features,
    in XP open Add/Remove Programs.
  5. Uninstall (or Remove) Microsoft Security Essentials.
  6. Restart the computer.
  7. Run the installer program you downloaded in step #2 and follow the prompts.

Everything should be okay again.

You will loose the desktop icon for MSE; the new version does not have it anymore.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

To Save or Not to Save – an Older Notebook

An acquaintance sent me the following email that touches on the important issue whether it is feasible or sensible to fix and update an older computer. After I had written my reply I thought this might be of interest to more people and I got the gentleman’s permission to use his email and my response publicly. Here are his email and my response as he got it, only names were removed and minor editing for readability was done, no changes were made to the content:

Hi Eike,

I was recently working on a laptop (which I received with XP Service Pack 1).
After updating everything, I noticed that the hard drive was partitioned to a C and D drive.  The D drive (recovery partition) was at about 38GB (of which less than 2GB was being used) and the C drive had about 13GB (about half of which was being used).  Is there any free utility that you could recommend that would reallocate some of the D drive and put it into the C drive?  Is this a difficult or dangerous thing to do?

I would appreciate any comments you might have.

Loved the new blogs today.


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Dear [friend],
Thanks for reading my blog.

To your questions: Yes, no and YES!

The recovery partition is established by the manufacturer and usually replaces the OS installation CD that we got with computers a very long time ago. I would get the answers to some questions first.

  • What is in the used space on the D drive?
  • What manufacturer and model is the laptop in question?
  • When was it bought?
  • What is the size of the disk drive in Disk Manager (Administrative Tools)?
  • How much memory (RAM) is in the machine?
  • How fast (or slow?) is the CPU?

Yes, the free utility for that purpose is EASUS Partition Master Home Edition.
No, it is not at all difficult to do; I did learn it... Winking smile

YES, it can be potentially very dangerous. If D: is a restore partition any change could "kill" the restore feature. But my guess is that D: contains My Documents or some other data; that can be relocated to C:

On another note: Who would want to keep a restore partition around that would restore to a WAAAY outdated state of XP? Not me.

Here is what I recommend:

  1. When the system is clean (NO malware of any kind!) backup eventual data from D:
  2. Download HD-Tune version 2.55 from here.
  3. Install and run HD-Tune.
  4. Does the disk drive in the Health tab show yellow or red line(s)?
  5. If Yes to #4 toss the whole thing on the big pile and get a Starbucks; it's not worth the pain!
  6. Create Restore CD #1, not a recovery CD; just in case as a fallback option.
    Here is one recipe
    how to do that.
  7. Install Easus Partition Master.
  8. Wipe D:
  9. Enlarge C: to occupy the whole drive.
  10. Create Restore CD #2; just in case as a fallback option.
    #1 from step 6 gets tossed!
  11. Upgrade to SP3!!!!
    If Windows Update does not want to do it, I have the CDs.
  12. Download and install all updates until it tells you "No more updates available".
  13. Create Restore CD #3; this is the "good one" you want to keep!
    #2 from step 13 gets tossed!
  14. Ready to go.

Depending on what kind of disk drive is in there (speed and cache size), how fast the CPU is, how much memory (!!!) the box has and how fast the Internet connection is I roughly estimate the whole procedure to be anything between eight and twelve hours!

Is it worth it? Maybe as a learning experience if there is nothing else to do; I would rather have a play day with my grandchildren. In the end you still will have an older, relatively lame notebook.

I hope this helps. Do you mind to please keep me posted? Thanks.

BTW, I just thought that this would be a good "Case From Real Life" for my blog. May I please use the text from your email and this reply for that purpose? Naturally it will all be anonymous!

Oops, I just realized that you said "... after updating everything ..."; if that includes SP3 and Windows update please ignore #14 and #15; sorry.

Please don't blame me for the long reply, you asked for my suggestions... Angel

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Cleaning up, upgrading and updating an older computer can require substantial time – which for my customers translates directly to money.

I always attempt to explain that as of a certain point it might just not be prudent to spend money for fixing an older computer. As you can see my guesstimate for what he wants to do gets us to a (minimal) price of around $450.

For $450 you can buy really decent basic brand new notebook computers with MUCH more memory, much more disk and computing capacity than the older machine AND Windows 7 pre-installed.

That’s why I would not even attempt to do this job!

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

RAM – Neither Truck Nor Animal

On Windows Guides I found a fairly easy to understand article about RAM (Random Access Memory), the work space in our computers.

If you are interested in more you find this article here.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Back Up – Foster Child of Home Computing

Please be honest, do you have a back up of your data? See, I thought so.
But finally you have bought the external disk drive for back-ups that “your” Geek always talked about. The next questions regularly asked are
-   “What do I need to back up?” and
-   ”What program should I use to make my back up?”
Here is my attempt at an answer. For simplicity’s sake I restrict myself to examples for Windows Vista and Windows 7.
Why that latter restriction? Vista was released over about three months at the end of 2006 and beginning of 2007. That in turn means if you are still using Windows XP your computer is at least four years old but very likely five years or older. After five years you should be thinking seriously about a new machine anyway.
Here is my answer to the question what to backup.

  • Documents: You should backup your entire Documents folder every time you backup.
  • The path is “C:\Users\<username>\My Documents”.
    The path is “C:\Users\<username>\App Data”.
    Actually this should be a no-brainer.

  • Music: If you’ve paid money for music or spent countless hours downloading music you probably don’t want to lose these files.
    If you use iTunes make sure to backup your iTunes folder; usually it’s inside the Music folder – but better check it, I have seen wildly different locations. 
  • The path is “C:\Users\<username>\My Music”.

  • Desktop Email: If you’re using Thunderbird you will backup everything as part of the Application Settings; see the next paragraph. Should you (against my advice) be using Outlook Express (outdated!), Outlook or Windows Live Mail, make absolutely certain that you back up their files!  Here’s how to find the files of these applications. Please don’t ask me by email about backing up email other than Thunderbird, I do not support using anything but Thunderbird.
    If you have serious reasons to stick with any MS email programs I will naturally be happy to help you on site to set up the back up of these important files.
  • Application Settings: Within every User’s folders is a normally hidden folder AppData. It’s sub folders contain the settings for each and every (well behaved!) application you have installed. These settings can be restored from a backup.
  • The path is “C:\Users\<username>\App Data”.
  • Bookmarks: If you follow my strong recommendation and use Mozilla Firefox you have done what is needed by backing up Application Settings; you can ignore this. If you insist on using Internet Explorer your Favorites are in 

    For other browsers I will naturally be happy to help you on site to set up the back up of your bookmarks.

  • Here is my answer to the question what program to use.

    I am very wary of ANY back up program that comes in a bundle from the manufacturer of your external disk drive. Too many of these programs back up in formats specific to these programs, they may compress your data in a proprietary format or even encrypt your data. All these techniques have their proponents but I prefer to simply copy your data. This way the files are accessible with normal means and on any system that can read your external disk drive. You should never require any special software to access your files in a backup.

    Likewise I am wary of using Windows Vista and Windows 7 built-in backup programs. I don’t fully trust Microsoft to keep in all future a program around that can read the back up we create today with a Vista or 7 specific program! Having said that I have to admit that especially since Windows 7 the built-in backup features seem to do their job dependably; they are fairly easy to set up and definitely better than no backup at all.

    Currently I recommend Cobian Backup, a free backup program that runs on any Windows system since XP and newer and can just copy your files in nicely named and time stamped folders. Cobian’s documentation is a good primer on the ins ad outs of backup.

    As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

    Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Malicious Software - Definitions

    Personally I do not assign a lot of importance to differentiate the many kinds of malicious software I encounter almost every day. I take the general approach “It is malicious and we don’t want it on your computer; remove it.”

    But sometimes customers ask if it was a virus or a worm and I find it hard to explain the difference in terms accessible to a lay person.

    I my web travels I found Squidoo and on Squidoo I found some hopefully useful definitions; I felt I had to mostly copy the definitions and use them as boilerplate for my own text because the same site recommends commercial anti virus and security software that I tell my customers NOT to use.

    Rogue Security Software
    Currently this class of malware is an outright epidemic. Rogue software is a form of malware that manipulates and scares people into buying a so called “full version” of fake applications, mostly supposed virus removal software. Rogue software displays bogus scan reports and alerts to trick the user into paying good money to the crook who got the rogue program on your computer. In the process of paying you give your credit card information directly to the crook as well! These rogue programs can take over the whole computer system to prevent their removal and in most cases block other applications including legitimate anti-malware programs from running. Some rogue programs are relatively easy to remove but some use stealth techniques that make removal very difficult and time consuming. 

    Browser Hijacking
    Hijacking is a form of malicious software behavior. Browser and network settings on the user's computer are changed; user activity is redirected to web sites of choice of the Hijack’s creator. Usually you will be redirected to start pages and search pages for paid advertising and/or web pages that attempt to install other malicious software.

    A Rootkit is the sum of software and techniques that allow itself and some other, mostly malicious piece of software to be hidden from detection with regular means of the operating system. The hidden malicious components of rootkits often are Key Loggers or Trojans that allow backdoor access to the computer. Rootkits are among the most difficult to remove pieces of malware. Some rootkits are so well hidden and protected from ANY access that re-building the operating system from scratch is the only viable solution.

    Key Loggers
    Key Loggers are programs created to monitor user keystrokes; the information is logged and reported to the person or organization who installed the key Logger. They may be used by organizations to monitor employees activities. Key Loggers are also used as spyware to steal confidential information and commit identity theft. The logging of keystrokes takes place long before “classic” security measures like encryption can be employed.

    Computer Viruses
    A computer virus is infectious and sometimes destructive software that can replicate itself and go on to infect other computers. A computer virus is usually executable software. Computer viruses can be contacted through downloads and various modes of email and instant messaging attachments. The virus then attaches itself to existing programs on the target computer. The main aim is to corrupt the computer system. 

    Similar to a computer virus, worms are infectious and self-replicating; they replicate on computer networks and via email. The worm utilizes a computer network or email to send replicas of itself to connected computes on that network or to email addresses. 

    Trojan horse
    A Trojan horse program (or Trojan for short) is a form of computer malware that gets installed on a computer system through deceptive means. Trojans often are presented to the user as a form of free software or an add-on. However, once installed, the Trojan gives it’s creator access to the computer; then the hacker can carry out their mostly criminal operations using the infected computer without any knowledge of the computer’s user.

    Spyware is a form of malware that collects and sends information about computer usage and other confidential and personal data to it’s creator. It generally gets installed secretively through deception such as free online scanning, a browser add-on or plugin, dubious websites and/or infected images or PDF files. Even search results have been “poisoned” and abused to install spyware.

    Adware is short for Advertisement-supported software. These programs are designed to display advertisements on a computer system. Most adware programs are secretly collecting information on what you do and look at on the Internet so they can show you “relevant” ads; therefore they can also be classified as spyware. 

    Please stay tuned as I intend to publish an updated article on how to avoid the all too common obstacles and dangers posed by malicious software.

    As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

    Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.