-----Essential Software Links for home and home office (Windows) Desktop & Notebook PC's----
 

12/9/2008

TOP TEN ACTIONS TO TAKE TO PROTECT YOUR HOME COMPUTER

From time to time, help desk staff is asked what can be done to protect home PCs.  In this era of hackers, viruses, and spyware, your credit card numbers, family pictures, and business documents are all at risk.  While PC risks can not be completely eliminated, there are steps you can take to greatly minimize the chances of external forces destroying or stealing your data.

Here are the top ten things YOU can do to protect your home PC running Windows XP or Windows Vista:

(All of the software solutions listed here are for free products that work safely and securely and LEGALLY on home computers.)

1. Safer Browsing: Use Firefox instead of Microsoft Internet Explorer (I.E.) to browse as safely as possible.

Use I.E. only where your bank or other trusted web site requires it.  Otherwise, use "Mozilla Firefox with  NoScript and AdBlockerPlus."  Mozilla Firefox with NoScript and AdBlockerPlus runs only when you click on the Firefox icon to surf the web.

Download Firefox from: http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/

Download NoScript from: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/722

NoScript is software that works inside of Firefox to prevent web sites from running illegal programs on your PC.  Your help desk staff can demonstrate this product in less than 60 seconds.  NoScript is free software.

Download AdBlockerPlus from: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/6826

2. Prevent and remove viruses with AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition 8.0.176  

AVG is available from: http://www.download.com/AVG-Anti-Virus-Free-Edition/3000-2239_4-10320142.html

Once installed, anti-virus software always runs when your computer is running.

3. Prevent outside programs from taking control of your PC by using a firewall such as "PC Tools Firewall Plus Free Edition 4."

PC Tools Firewall can be downloaded from http://www.download.com/PC-Tools-Firewall-Plus-Free-Edition/3000-10435_4-10625321.html.

Once installed, firewall software always runs when your computer is running.

4.  Certain types of undesirable software can not be detected or removed by anti-virus software.  If you are having problem with unexplained slowness or software that refuses to be deleted, you can run Ad-Aware and/or Spybot to detect and remove problem software:

Ad-Aware 2008 7.1.0.11 can be downloaded from http://www.download.com/Ad-Aware-2008/3000-8022_4-10045910.html?tag=mncol

Spybot - Search & Destroy 1.6 can be downloaded from http://www.download.com/Spybot-Search-amp-Destroy/3000-8022_4-10122137.html?tag=mncol;pop&cdlPid=10861988

Once installed, Ad-Aware and Spybot run only when you click on their icons.  It is not likely that you will need to run these programs more than once a year.

5.  Encrypt your hard disk.  
This means that your data cannot be accessed even if your computer is stolen.  Download and install "TrueCrypt 6.1" at http://www.download.com/TrueCrypt/3000-2092_4-10527243.html?tag=mncol.  

 

6. Backup your most important files using an online service such as Mozy.  
Of all the approaches to backing up important PC files, one that should be strongly considered is using an online service such as www.mozy.com.  Free for up to 2 gigabytes of storage ( or $5/mo for people with very large requirements), Mozy provides a home for your files if your home burns down along with all of your backup disks and tapes.  A complete review of Mozy can be found at http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1951151,00.asp.  For businesses who want to pay for higher-end remote backup features, Carbonite,  IBackup.com  and the similar Box.net provide more features at higher price points.

 

7. Backup all of your data using an external hard disk.  
Available at Best Buy, CostCo, and almost all other major retailers, most consumers can purchase a device that includes backup software for under $100.

(I only said the software solutions suggested were free.)

8. Update the software you use at least once a month.  

Microsoft updates its products on a regular basis (and so do all of the other vendors noted here).  Updating all of your software should only take a few minutes and can save your from hours of aggravation later on.

9. Understand there is no such thing as a completely safe computer.  

If you have an Apple Computer, you will need separate software to protect your computer.  While there are more viruses in the Microsoft environment, there are still bad players in the Apple world as well.

10. Insure the software you use really is safe.
Don't download and install software unless you first research it on CNET.com, Mag.com, or another trusted review site, or is recommended by your IT support staff.  There are many products that look safe but in fact harbor malicious software.

I hope this was helpful.

- Leon

 

 

January 4, 2008

Of all the approaches to backing up important PC files, one that should be strongly considered is using an online service such as www.mozy.com.  Free for up to 2 gigabytes of storage and $5/mo for people with larger requirements, mozy provides a home for your files if your home burns down along with all of your backup disks and tapes.  A complete review of Mozy can be found at http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1951151,00.asp.  For businesses who want to pay for higher-end remote backup features, Carbonite,  IBackup.com  and the similar Box.net provide more features at higher price points.

August 1, 2006 (Updated 9/11/2007):

Over the last ten years, clients have been asking us for recommendations as to more stable, secure, and cost-effective desktop and ISP solutions. This despite our being Microsoft Office fans who use and support MS Office, Visio, and Oracle products for a living.

 Here are those products running under the Windows operating system we are currently actively supporting for home and small office use in addition to Microsoft and Oracle products:

 

*****     END USER ALTERNATIVE TOOLS     *****

  1. Firefox
    (Safer & Easier Web Browsing)
    (Use Microsoft IE only for accessing Microsoft.com)
  2. Thunderbird
    (Email Reader)
  3. Zone Alarm Free Version
    (Firewall)
    (We now use their paid security suite as well.)
  4. AVG Antivirus Free Version
    (Antivirus)
    
   5.  Open Office
        (Word Processing,
          Spreadsheet
          Simple Database
          Presentations)
   6.  
Core FTP Lite
         (FTP Client)
   7.
Ad-Aware Free Version
       (For manual removal of spyware when all
         else fails.)
   8. Spybot Search & Destroy
     (It finds what Ad-Aware misses.  If your PC is        slowing down or locking up, run both.)

 9. Microsoft Anti Spyware
    (Relabeled as Windows Defender)
10. Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool
   (A last resort.) 

11. Encrypted Magic Folders
      (A moderate level of protection for files on your
       PC.)

12. PC Magnifier
     (Imagine a floating magnifying glass to help
      read small type on the computer screen.
 


Tech Shopping sites and stores.  Our opinions here.

Desktop search tools:  We've looked at Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft.  None seem terrible or have obvious bugs, but all seem to introduce weird compatibility and performance issues that drive technical people nuts.  As of August, 2006, we are not running Google Desktop search, configured only to search specific directories on each PC.  

Desktop Operating Systems:  No contest here.  We hate everything.  Windows is expensive and buggy and the Linux, Lindows, and variant operating systems each have bigger drawbacks. (Complex, hard to support, and mega comparability issues.)  Never met a Mac user who didn't love the Mac platform (the solution for the rest of the world's wealthy), but so much of what we do requires non-Mac software.  The solution for your work and home environments is not a simple one.  It depends on your technical expertise, the availability of other technical people to support you, your inclination  to play with, and work out technical issues, and the software you need to run.

For users who are really impatient, technically challenged, won't follow rules about browsing questionable sites, have little or no support, little or no budget, and need only to browse and email, we recommend a low-end PC that boots from a Knoppix CD.  Everyone else needs to think through their requirements.

If you have lots of money, no Windows-only software as a requirement, and your technical support person does not insist on Windows, the newest Mac Operating system and related programs seem to be loved by all who use them.

If it matters, on our work and home PCs, our primary PCs and Laptops are running Windows, MS/Office, Visio, and all of the eight programs listed above. Remember that there are business application software that we run that requires Windows. (Our web and database servers are a combination of Linux, Solaris, and Windows.)

Shared service ISPs:  We've used FCC.net (and its predecessors) since 1996.
The good:  

  • Really competent technical people.
  • Pleasant customer support people.  
  • Weekly up-time since 1996 has been above 98%, and often better than that.
  • Support of both Windows and Unix (Linux) environments.

 The not so good:  

  • Prices are on the high-end for these kind of services.
  • Documentation promised on using site services (their setup of PHP, MySQL, PERL, etc.) has been coming "real soon now" for years.
  • Weird limits on the number of MySQL databases included in most plans.
  • If your site goes down or you have a complex technical question on a weekend, expect to wait until Monday for a real answer.
  • Interface for web-based email (for when you hit the road) is atrocious in terms of interface and responsiveness.
  • Interface for managing mulitple email accounts takes some getting used to.

Why we stay:  We could probably save money elsewhere, but over the years their technical support people really have made this a reliable service.  

What would motivate us to leave:  An equally reliable and well-supported service with better feature setup and management documentation and a better email interface.

Looking for a cheaper shared services vendor?  Here are some recommendations from the folks at c/net.

 

 RCG Main Page  Home Office: 609.238.4625

 2001,2002,2003, 2004, 2005, 2006-RCG, Inc.

RCG-6:  The RCG (more or less) 6 Paragraph Newsletter

January 1, 2007  (Edited and updated Janury 1, 2008)

Volume 7 number 1.

(This is only mailed when we've got something of relevance to say.)

Topics today: (a) PC and Laptop Security Software Recommendation and (b) FIOS.

Paragraph 1.  Why this newsletter: Over the last four months, more than 100 clients, friends, and relatives have called and emailed asking about what they should do about their security on their home-based Windows PCs and laptops.  For years, we have recommended using Zone Alarm for Firewall Software and GRIsoft AVG for anti-virus.  Both were free and legal, easy to use, and worked as promised.  However, security threats to PCs have increased and GRIsoft is terminating their free package (and virus updates to their free package) on January 15th.  So, two questions now arise.  First, what should you purchase to replace GRIsoft AVG?  Second,  is there anything else you should consider to protect your PC and your own financial data?  This note provides you with multiple choices depending on your own situation.  (The note also gives you a preview of a new Internet service Verizon is rolling out now.)

2. The minimum:  Upgrade to the Zone Alarm Internet Security Suite.  Not only does Zone Alarm make their free firewall, they also make a comprehensive security package that includes Firewall, Antivirus, Anti-Spyware, Spy Site Blocking, Privacy Protection, Anti-Spam, Anti-Phishing, IM Protection, Email Security, Wireless PC Protection, and Parental Controls.  There are reviews for this and competing products online at www.cnet.com.  People who complain about excessive resource consumption by competitors like Norton and McAfee should be happier with this product.  When purchasing, be sure you are buying the "Zone Alarm Internet Security Suite" as this company has about a half-dozen products with similar names, but lesser feature sets.  If you buy the product online at www.ZoneLabs.com , you will pay $49.99 for software to protect one PC or $69.99 for software to protect three PCs.  If you shop at CompUSA, you will pay $29.99 for the one PC license or $49.99 for the three-PC license (after annoying rebates).

3. Comcast vs. Verizon.  (As of 12/1/2007.) Our family has had both positive experiences with both Comcast and Verizon.  Comcast's centeral DVR gives 100% of the features to ALL TVs in the house.  [As of 1/1/2008, Verizon has limited functionality on remote TVs.  I can't pause live or recorded shows in my den and need to set up all recordings on my "main" TV.  This problem alone may be enough to give Verizon the boot.]  Verizon claims to have more hi-def channels, but friends with Comcast's offering seem perfectly happy with theirs.  Over the years, Susan has had excessive downtime with Comcast's internet service, but that problem may be limited to our neighborhood.  Assuming we do not develop employment or consulting positions with either company, I am ready to give Verizon's FIOS service the boot and restore Comcast for TV service while using Verizon's FIOS only for web.  (Yes, that means giving up the "triple play," but I always was sort of a best-of-breed kind of guy.)

4. An alternative for Comcast Cable High Speed Internetcustomers and Verizon FIOS customers: Both of these companies offer the McAfee Internet Security suite to their customers.  Comcast includes the product for free.  Verizon charges $4.99 per month for up to three PCs.  McAfee's product usually ties with Norton as both complete and annoyingly resource intensive.  Older PCs may run slower with either of these products.

5. Warning: Don't put this off.  Viruses and other misbehaving software are not a joke.  If you don't like the products noted here, other are also reviewed at www.cnet.com.  Pick something and install it!  Last year, we made a half-dozen house-calls where PCs had more than 300 viruses at time.  Let 2007 be the year this does not happen.

6. Priorities:   While looking into FIOS service may be in your future, upgrading your PC's security software should be done NOW.

Remember that your corrections and additional comments are always welcome.  Your knowledge on any specific topic may be better than mine!

A healthy and happy new year to all.

Leon Roomberg
The Roomberg Consulting Group, Inc.

609.238.4625
304 Garwood Place
Cherry Hill, NJ 08003

 

OLDER TECH NOTES:

Update: March 24, 2004:  New.net & Hijack This

About New.Net

New.Net is an add-on program that has been distributed by KaZaA, Go!Zilla, Babylon, Cydoor, Gdivx, and WebShots in the past. Its purpose is to enable computers to access the website names and email addresses that are New.net has launched. Examples of these domain names are:

shop .xxx .club .ltd 
.inc .travel .tech .sport 
.family .law .med .mp3 

Although Newdotnet does not claim to be spyware, it has been associated with computer instability in certain situations. Both SaveNow and NewDotNet have been linked for computer instability

This link provides instructions on removing new net.

If ad-aware and spybot misssomething, try Hijack This:  About Hijack This:  http://s89223352.onlinehome.us/mirror/hjt/

 

 August 6, 2003

STOP THE PHONE CALLS!

The government's do-not-call list is a free registry for blocking unsolicited telephone sales pitches.  More than 30 million people have signed up so far.

Beginning in September, telemarketers will have to check the list every three months to see who doesn't want to be called. Those who call listed people could be fined up to $11,000 for each violation. Consumers would file complaints to an automated phone or online system.

Exemptions from the list include calls from charities and pollsters and calls on behalf of politicians. A company also may call a person on the no-call list if that person has bought, leased or rented from the firm within the past 18 months or has asked about or applied for something during the past three months.

People can register for the service by calling toll-free at 1-888-382-1222 or visiting the Web site http://www.donotcall.gov.

Miss the MSCONFIG command?

Startup Control Panel  Startup Control Panel is a nifty control panel applet that allows you to easily configure which programs run when your computer starts. It's simple to use and, like all my programs, is very small and won't burden your system. A valuable tool for system administrators!

Startup Control Panel is compatible with all modern versions of Windows, including Windows 95, 98, 98SE, ME, NT 4.0, 2000, and XP.  http://www.mlin.net/StartupCPL.shtml


Non-disclaimer: 1.  I really used all of these tools.  2. I do not make any money or have any financial stake in any of these tools.  3. You still use them at your own risk