Friday, January 27, 2012

Reality Catches Up With Symantec

It has happened! I will not lie to you, some part of me is chuckling gleefully. Symantec, the maker of the (in-)famous Norton products recommends to their customers:
“Symantec recommends disabling the product until Symantec releases a final set of software updates that resolve currently known vulnerability risks,” 
This is original text from an online statement released by Symantec about their computers having been hacked back in 2006! Emphasis added by me.

A few things are of interest to me:
  1. They must have known about this for 6 (SIX!) years and kept it a secret.
  2. They write "currently known ... risks".
    They knew about the risks all along but did not care to fix them!
  3. They ask customers that have paid dearly for the purchase and are paying dearly for updating the software to stop using it altogether with no offer of any compensation at all.
    Pretty arrogant and overbearing if you ask me.
The short of it: I feel very relieved to now have it from the horse's mouth:
Stay far way from everything with a "Norton" label.
And applying my experiences with any other of the big name security suites (read about three examples) I now feel emboldened to say "Stay away from any of them". 

And if you want some more detail go to this article.

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

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Computer is NOT a Toy

Your computer is not a toy, even if your children or grandchildren disagree. Use it responsibly and enjoy it.
Antivirus software can help you prevent certain types of malicious software and viruses. But any antivirus is not the ultimate solution
If your system is slow or sluggish it does not necessarily have to be virus infected. Mostly some program is causing the slow down, very often big "security suites" are the culprit (see here). Or over time too many programs think they always have to run in the background or simply by now your hardware is outdated.

“Outdated hardware?” you ask? Oh yes; Windows and most important programs get updated all the time. That means they are being made more secure and/or get new functionality. This is possible only by growing larger; they contain much more code than they did originally. Your hardware is still what was sufficient in 2004, 2005 or 2006 but this not sufficient any longer.
We may not like to be told directly and honestly but most security problems with Windows computers are caused by.... the user. Keep your common sense hat firmly on at all times and think before you act.
Remember:" With great power comes great responsibility!" As a responsible user, you can enjoy the web without “pay through the nose” bloated and expensive security suites and without having to battle viruses or rogue programs.
Everything you need is available free of charge if you do your homework before going to that download site only because “there was a link”. Example at hand: Many well known and widely distributed computer publications (ZDNet, PC World are only examples!) will give you download links to This site will always download and install a totally superfluous "Downloader" program that from then on will always run in the background on your computer.  
As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Computer 101 - The 2012 Edition

Recently I found this article on a blog called The Consumerist. I liked the contents of this article very much but it clearly was written by a computer nerd for other computer nerds.

I took the liberty to re-write most of the article in a form and language that I hope is better suited for my customers. Here it is:  
  1. Keep all your data backed up.

    Put your data on an external disk drive, upload it to a safe storage website, copy it to another computer or even on a CD or a DVD (most cumbersome!), somewhere, anywhere but please back up your data files!

    I am perfectly aware that many of my customers will have issues in setting everything up correctly but as usual I can help.

    Having your data on your computer only is NO GOOD, having data files in two places is a MUST. If one of these sets of data files fails you need to create another second storage location! This will save you $$ and a lot of aggravation.

    Manufacturer warranties do not cover your data files; you need to protect them yourself. Back up your documents, pictures, emails, email addresses (or contacts), bookmarks (or favorites), tax files, music, videos and ANY business information you may have.

    The only exception to my rule
    "free software for everything" covers data backup. You need a sufficiently large external disk drive and a piece of software costing $30 per computer.

    If set up correctly this program will keep all your data files automatically up to date on the external disk drive without you having to do anything except the initial set up. As usual I can help with that.

  2.  Have a current recovery disc for each computer you have.

    This is your licensed copy of your OS. You no longer get operating system disks with a new computer; it’s all stored on the disk drive. It is specific to your computer's internals like processor, mother board, sound and graphics. It has the device drivers your computer needs to do its most basic tasks. Burn a recovery disk on to DVDs right away when you get your computer and put the DVD somewhere safe. It may easily take up to 3 hours to do.

    If you lose the recovery disk then you can order a new one from your manufacturer for between 15 and 50 dollars, depending on the brand. HP is usually cheaper, Sony is wickedly expensive. They take about 2 or 3 weeks to arrive; that is a looong wait if you need them NOW to replace a hard drive or to fix Windows.

    There is a significant difference between recovery disks and a repair disk that you need to be aware of. You can read about that here. You have to be aware of that significant difference. And you have to be aware of the fact that if you have to use these recovery disks your computer will be thrown back to exactly the state it was in at the very moment when the recovery disks where created! Here I am talking about recovery disks created with the standard Windows Vista and Windows 7 system tools, not disks created with manufacturer specific programs; the latter reset your computer to original factory new state. You don't want to go back there losing all updates and so on.

    If for whatever reason you can neither buy
    recovery disks from the manufacturer nor create your own disks then, as a last resort, you can purchase a full copy of Windows 7 for about $100.

  3. One antivirus at a time, please.

    Two antivirus programs running concurrently is like pushing two fat pigs together through a dog door, neither can get through the door correctly and they block each other from functioning properly.

    Two antivirus or security programs can tear nasty holes in your operating system depending on which ones you are trying to combine (I have seen it!) or at least they will SLOW DOWN YOUR COMPUTER TO A CRAWL because two systems are trying to scan your every move as well as each others moves.

    More than one antivirus or security program running concurrently is usually LESS protection than one good one.

    Your new computer most likely came with a trial of some sort of “security” software pre-installed. All these pre-installed antivirus or security programs will cost money, every year! Remove this stuff because you don’t need to pay for a good antivirus program!

    Remove the “old” antivirus program before installing a new one; even if they are expired they will get in each other‘s way! And some of them don’t even uninstall correctly. I have uninstalled Norton, McAfee and other security programs and upon detailed inspection found some left over parts of these systems still sitting in and actually running on the computer. This inspection is not trivial at all; it takes very special programs and a lot of detailed know how to do it correctly.

    Install the free program Microsoft Security Essentials; you can read here how to do that correctly.

  4. Do not install any tool bars. 
    Did you hear me?  Please DO NOT INSTALL ANY TOOL BARS!

    toolbars are bloatware, they will slow down your internet connection and eventually even crash your web browser.

    You don't need any of them, no matter how well known the company is that wants to force the tool bar on your computer!

    Tool bars take up screen space and they will end up affecting performance and sometimes even security. 


  5. "Free" stuff can be expensive:

    Web sites that offer free games, movies, music (torrent sites!), pornography and even free social networking sites are riddled with viruses. Virus removal can be time and thus $$ consuming.

    Viruses are a software issue and are considered private data, they are not covered by any manufacturer warranty.

    Be safe and smart on the internet, use common sense and be vigilant.

    Keep your important software up to date; read more details about updating here.

  6. Despite everything said in paragraph #5 above: Excellent free software is available for almost any functionality you can imagine and I can point you in the correct direction, I can show you where to find it.
  7. Computers don’t like liquids.

    This includes water, coke, beer, soup, bodily fluids and excessive and/or aggressive cleaners.

    Don't spray screen cleaners directly on your screen, spray it on your lint free cleaning cloth and then wipe the screen. Even a mist of any liquid can cause damage.

    Computers also don’t like gravity or being punched. Throwing or punching a computer  will probably cause a lot more damage and not fix any issue, be it speed or erratic behavior.

  8. No computer is immortal.

    Computer technology changes at an extremely fast rate. Average computer life spans are mere 2-3 years for laptops or closer to 4-5 years for desktop computers. This makes sense, because laptops undergo more stress from movement, impact and temperature changes. Many laptops are prone to overheating if you have them sitting “just” on your lap, on a table cloth(!) or on a pillow. NEVER EVER do that, always have your notebook computer on a solid, even surface like wooden tabletop, a counter top or a board.

    Your computer uses electricity that circulates through lots of electronic components that
    in turn can get really hot. Many portable computers eventually burn out. And if you have your data backed up, you'll be up and running on a new computer in no time.
As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

No Dell Or HP/Compaq Please - If You Ask Me

In the shortest way I can come up with here the reasons why I currently recommend to stay away from Dell and HP/Compaq computers.

At the time of writing about 5 or 6 months ago Hewlett Packard (HP) announced publicly that they want to sell their complete PC computer business. The price tag was quoted as US $ 11.2 Billion.

Not only their back then CEO lost his job over this publicity blunder, no, 6 or 8 weeks later, after a new CEO got hired, HP declared "No, we changed our mind, we want to keep our PC computer business".

In November/December 2004 IBM announced that they were selling their PC computer business to an until then almost unknown company in China named Lenovo. I remember very well the confusion that ensued. It took years until all was sorted out and we slowly learned to trust the new brand Lenovo.

I would accept a personal wager that HP is still talking about selling their PC business, but now behind closed doors. With the IBM/Lenovo story in mind I can not recommend to buy from HP, a manufacturer that may not be around anymore in maybe less than one year.

Dell is a slightly different story. Please read this article on my blog and follow the link I have there to the New York Times article about a class action lawsuit against Dell. After reading this you will understand why in good conscience I can not recommend to buy a computer from Dell, a company with a proven history of lying to their customers and of shirting well-grounded warranty claims as company policy.

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

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Danger! Most Wireless Routers Can Be Hacked

If you have a wireless router in your house then you should read on; if you don't (yet) have a wireless router in your home then you might want to read on anyway to be better prepared for the day when you will get one.

The Technology Reseller Channel CRN published a US-CERT warning concerning most wireless routers that I want to translate into hopefully easier to understand language.

By far most of the wireless routers sold in the last two to four years contain a feature called WPS. WPS is meant to make it easy to connect wireless devices to the router by using the WPS button on the router. Basically the router transmits the encryption code (often erroneously called wireless password) wirelessly to the device you want to connect.

The WPS protocol used for this process has a design flaw. This flaw allows a knowledgeable attacker to break into your wireless network.

Millions of wireless routers sold over the last few years have WPS capabilities built in and thus are opening your wireless network to potentially being hacked into. Generally WPS is by default turned ON.

What can you do about it? There is only one way to stay safe from this risk:
Turn WPS off!
The way to do this is different for every router model out there. You will have to delve into the documentation for your router and find out how to do it in your specific piece of hardware.

If you are not comfortable with doing this kind of technical setting then you can let me know, I will be happy too help.  

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

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