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Technology Today, January 2010
by Robert Sanborn

Happy New Year

Well, it is either near the western new year of January 1 or the Chinese new year of the Tiger on February 14 which coincides with another western holiday, Valentineís Day which for me is full of significant events but that is for another time.

With New Yearís celebrations come the dreaded New Yearís resolution list that never gets accomplished but when I went looking for a cable today, it prompted me to start a New Yearís Wish list.

USB is a technology to love and hate at the same time. It is probably too late but I really wished that they had settled on a different plug design that goes into the computer. Donít know about you but I have seen dozens of computers and you never know which way to plug it in. If it is vertical, the opening goes left or right and if it is horizontal, it goes up or down depending on the manufacturer.  No wonder I see so many computers with their front panel USB connections pushed out of the socket. And donít get me started on the stupidest design of all, the Compaq computers that decided to put the USB plugs near the bottom of a case (that usually sits on the floor) angled downward!  Now, how about the other end of the USB plug that goes into whatever device you are using and at one time, I counted something like 20 different devices that I could plug into my computer so naturally, you never have enough outlets. Wanted to connect my Panasonic Digital Camera to the computer this morning and I looked at the connector and it is one of five different types of connections I have, and there are probably more.

Reminds me of the AC Charger connectors for cell phones but did you notice that earlier this year (2009), many major manufacturers in the European Union have settled on a single connection to use for all of their phones. My wish here is that the US follow suit and do it quickly.

Windows 7

The more you use Windows 7, the more interesting things come out. For instance, I installed the performance monitoring gadget on the system to see how my utilization compares with my Vista machine and came up with some interesting comparisons.  With no other applications running on the computer, the Windows 7 machine says I am using only 25% of my physical memory. Fire up Word 2007 and it goes up to 28%.  On my Vista machine, the utilization is at 53% with no applications running. Now the really interesting part is that the Windows 7 machine has 2 gig of memory and the Vista machine has 8.

Something weird about Windows 7 is that it has this habit of changing my desktop icons around when I shut down the session or switch users.

Security Review

I had a question from someone the other day about safely accessing banking information on the internet and one thought led to another and before I knew it, it was time to review what you need to watch out for.  It was prompted by a story in USA Today and below is the link to the article:  http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/computersecurity/2009-12-30-cybercrime-small-business-online-banking_N.htm?loc=interstitialskip

Personally, I really like the suggestion that you need to have a separate computer just for your online banking and you know, most people have more than one computer but really canít afford to dedicate yet another one to do just that.  So, if you are not going to buy a separate computer, here is what you doÖ

The first line of defense is to have a good Antivirus and firewall on the system. Best bets right now would be Norton Internet Security or Kaspersky Internet Security Suite.  Take a look at PC Magazineís latest review of Internet security suites: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2351871,00.asp. When it comes time to get a new version, always go out and buy the box as you get the software, latest updates, and will have the CDs in the event something goes wrong.

If you are truly worried. Clean up the system first and a good first step would be CCleaner at: http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner.  Run the cleaner to clean up both temporary files and registry entries.  This gets rid of a lot of junk as well as dumping all the temp files so your future scans donít take so long.

Run the anti-virus and check the system. Then get a program like Malware Bytes, www.malwarebytes.org and download their latest free version. Install it, tell it to do an update, check the update again, and then run the full scan.  The free version does not automatically look for malware, nor does it automatically update itself, so it is a good idea to run it every once in a while when you start to get nervous.  Next step is to check for Rootkits and Sophos has a good Rootkit detecting and removal program at: http://www.sophos.com/products/free-tools/sophos-anti-rootkit.html.

Having run those three programs, your computer should be clean but there is more work to do. 

The next step will be to make sure your Windows software is up to date. If you click on Start, look for Windows Update and run it a few times till it tells you that there are no updates available for your computer. If you are running Windows XP, your system should have Service Pack 3 installed. For Vista, it is Service Pack 2.  Donít know what you have? Right Click on My Computer in XP or just Computer in Vista, and hit properties.

Now, keeping your computer clean will continue to be difficult.  The problem here is that if you go to a website that has been compromised, then you are at serious risk of getting malware on your system.  If you install Norton Internet Security, it has a toolbar that goes on your browser that alerts you to the safety of a website.  Another way of checking a website is going to Nortonís Safe Website: https://safeweb.norton.com/.  Enter in a site name and it will tell you the current status of the site.  Another one along that line which is a favorite is McAfee Site Advisor http://www.siteadvisor.com/.  It also puts a toolbar on your browser that when you search for sites via Google or yahoo, it will tell you whether the sites are safe or not.

Another tip, if you are looking for a website, never type in a name you think it might be in the browser window. Type it in a search bar first and let the search engine, and the above add in tools weed out the suspicious sites.  Another reason to get the Google toolbar or a Yahoo toolbar. I like the Google one because it has a better popup blocker built into it.

The final piece is to secure your browser. It is not enough to just run Internet Explorer with no add-ins which is an option if in Vista, you click start, go to programs, accessories, system tools. It just shuts down Active X Controls and Add-ins. And while Mozillaís Firefox might be a bit more secure than Internet Explorer, if you go to a website you shouldnít go to, you still can get into trouble.  Another option might be Sandboxie, http://www.sandboxie.com/, it is a software package that puts a figurative sand box around your browser to keep your computer safe.

The USA Today article mentions SafeCentral as an option but it will cost you $20 a year which isnít much.  They also mentioned a browser you can load from a CD or USB Stick.  That is fine if the computer has been booted from the CD or USB Stick.  If you just run it from the device, whatever malware is in memory on the computer is still there and will infect the program you run, or worse, capture your keystrokes and passwords.  Now if you still canít sleep after all of that, it is time to turn off the computer.

robert@pcll.com

 

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