Monthly Archives: August 2009

Looking For An Alternative Browser?

It seems as though we’re always talking about Internet browsers and what the “Big Three” are doing or trying to do to each other. Remembering back a few years, anyone who thought the death of Netscape was the end of the browser wars was sorely mistaken.

Prepare to be overwhelmed by an onslaught of new browser updates and releases in the coming months as Microsoft, Mozilla, Opera, and Google all vie for the leadership spot in our web browsing application of choice.

Before you make YOUR decision however, there are other alternatives out there that you may not have heard of. No they’re not big players in the ongoing browser wars but one may provide an attractive alternative for you.  Some of the lesser-known browsers sport unique features that the big boys lack – here’s 3 that might fit your particular browser requirements:

FLOCK – The browser for Social Networks
Take A Load Off. Would you run errands all day if you could have someone do it for you? Of course not! Flock delivers the latest webmail, photos, videos and updates from your favorites sites, so you can stop running around. Some ideas are ahead of their time – billed as a social web browser, Flock owes it’s ongoing success to its integration with several social networking sites and web applications. Myspace, Facebook and Twitter to name a few as well as various media sharing outlets like Flickr, Photobucket and Picasa. A bevy of blogging tools, easy webmail access and the ability to upload photos just by dragging them are the icing on a multilayered cake.
Take a look: http://www.flock.com

MAXTHON – Internet Explorer for Power Users

Old-school browser aficionados may remember Maxthon by another name: MyIE. Now in version 2 it wouldn’t be fair to refer to Maxthon as an IE shell any longer. Maxthon manages to separate itself with some unique features, split-screen browsing support (like having 2 monitors without the expense), advanced drag-and-drop controls, URL hotkeys, the ability to give URL’s an alias as well as a built in screen capture applet.
Take a look: http://www.maxthon.com

TOR BROWSER BUNDLE – A browser add-on for the paranoid among us
Tor is free software and an open network that helps you defend against a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security known as traffic analysis.

Tor protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location. Tor works with many of your existing applications, including web browsers, instant messaging clients, remote login, and other applications based on the TCP protocol.
Take a look: https://www.torproject.org/torbrowser/

My personal favorite of these alternatives is FLOCK. I don’t need MAXTHON’S additions to IE8 because I’m still waiting for Microsoft to fix IE8’s ongoing problems – why add to the mess. And if I were paranoid enough to warrant using TOR’s features I’d probably NOT be on the internet at all.

But hey, don’t go by my opinions, download an alternative browser and decide for yourself.

AntiVirus 2010 – Don't Get Caught By This One!

One of the more irritating internet problems to surface lately is a program calling itself Antivirus 2010 or Antispyware 2010.

Antivirus 2010 is a rogue anti-spyware program from the same family as Antivirus 2008 and Antivirus 2009. Like its previous incarnations, Antivirus 2010 is promoted through the use of advertisements on the Web pretending to be online anti-malware scanners.

These advertisements pretend to scan your computer and then state that your computer is infected and that you should download and install Antivirus 2010 to remove these infections. These rogues are also known to be advertised and installed through Trojans that display fake security alerts in your Windows taskbar stating you are infected. Once you click on one of these alerts, it will bring you to the download page for Antivirus 2010, or even download and install it without your permission.

Once Antivirus 2010 is installed on your computer, it will be automatically configured to run when you logon to Windows. This is done by adding a startup that launches the C:\Windows\System32\wingamma.exe executable. This executable will then launch the AV2010.exe and the fake Windows Security Center. Once running, it will scan your computer and list a variety of infections that cannot be removed unless you first purchase the software. This infection will also randomly display fake security alerts on your computer stating that you are infected or have some sort of security risk. If you click on these alerts, it will prompt you to purchase the software.

These fake alerts, along with a fake Windows Security Center that advertises Antivirus 2010, are used to further scare you into thinking you are infected so you purchase the software.

Another new addition to these types of rogues is the creation of a fake Blue Screen of Death. At random intervals, Antivirus 2010 will create what appears to be a Windows crash, but in reality is just a fake screen. These fake crashes are used to further persuade you to purchase the software. If you receive this crash, you can simply reboot your computer, or try pressing Alt-Tab or Control-Alt-Delete to get out of it. The text of the crash is:

“***STOP: 0×000000D1 (0×0000000, 0xF73120AE, 0xC0000008, 0xC000000)
A spyware application has been detected and Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer SPYWARE.MONSTER.FX_WILD_0×0000000
If this is the first time you’ve seen this Stop error screen, restart you computer. If this screen appears again, follow these steps:
Click to make sure your antivirus software is properly installed. If this is a new installation, ask you software manufacturer for any antivirus updates you might need.
Windows detected unregistered version of Antivirus 2010 protection on your computer. If problem continue, please activate your antivirus software to prevent computer damage and data loss.”

This is what the fake screen looks like

This is what the fake screen looks like

Antivirus 2010 spreads like many similar applications. It is distributed through online advertisements that are disguised as anti-virus scanners. If user clicks on such a banner, he or she is receives false reports about infections detected. Antivirus2010 tries to intimidate people by reporting nonexistent threats in order to get them interested in downloading this application. In other instances, Antivirus2010 can be installed by trojans and infected web pages without a user’s consent.

Antivirus 2010 is not a security tool; it is dangerous computer parasite. If you can catch this infection quickly enough, we’ve found that Malwarebytes can clean it up. We’ve also found some instances where the ONLY fix was to format the hard drive and re-install everything from the ground up.

Be careful out there – when searching for ways to remove this malware, some of the websites offering a free program to help you, are actually infected sites that download additional Trojans to your computer. When in doubt – take your system to a professional!

Why is Data Recovery So Darn Expensive?

Few things in the computing world are as gut wrenching as the loss of critical data which is often made worse when you learn how expensive it can be to retrieve your precious files.

The process for recovering lost files from a failed hard drive can be quite extensive and time consuming, which generally causes the cost of the recovery to be expensive.

Hard drives are complex mechanical devices that operate at very precise tolerances and a failure in any of the mechanical or electronic devices can render your data inaccessible.

Many people assume that the amount of data they want retrieved is the basis for what the recovery should cost but that’s not usually the case. Whether you need to recover 1 file or 10,000 files has no real bearing on the cost of the recovery, because the real work (and expense) is in resurrecting the hard drive in order to get any data at all.

The act of copying files from a recovered drive (once it has been rebuilt) requires very little time and requires almost no human interaction once the process is started.

In general, there are two common data recovery scenarios: logical and physical.

A logical recovery is performed on a hard drive that is mechanically and electronically functioning properly but the data has become unusable due to corruption or file damage from user error, external hardware failure or virus attack.

Hard drives have a ‘table of contents’ that guide the computer to the location of the stored files. If the table of contents becomes corrupted, locating the desired files becomes impossible for the operating system.
Logical recoveries can be performed by technicians that have the knowledge and tools to work with data at the binary level to reconstruct the lost files and tend to be less costly.

Physical recoveries are necessary when a hard drive has experienced a mechanical or electronic failure. Physical recoveries require substantially more resources, tools and experience and must be performed in climate and dust controlled environments.

To add to the cost, often times a ‘donor’ hard drive must be located that can be used for spare parts. Locating a donor that is an exact match is critical or the recovery attempt will be unsuccessful.

Locating a donor requires far more than just finding another hard drive of the same size from the same manufacturer. For example, if you have a Seagate 80Gb hard drive that was manufactured in Malaysia, the donor can’t be a drive that was manufactured from the Thailand plant because it won’t have the exact same version of the firmware or supporting electronic components.

The secondary market for used hard drives that are cataloged at this level is substantially more expensive than going to a used computer store and grabbing whatever they have lying around, so paying $200 – $300 for a donor once it’s located is not out of the ordinary.

The worst case scenario is a hard drive that requires both a physical and a logical recovery as the cost goes up even further since two separate recovery processes are required in order to recover the data.

Of course the best way to avoid ever having to pay an expensive data recovery bill is to keep your pictures, music and critical data files backed up regularly! Whether you back up to an external USB drive or an offsite Internet based service isn’t as important as the fact that you actually backed up your data. Being proactive now will save you tons of money when your hard drive does decide to kick the bucket.

If you would like to learn more about the data recovery process visit our partners website – Drive Savers. We’ve been using this company for over 10 years now with exceptional results. If you do have need to utilize Drive Savers, be sure to mention our partner code for a discount on their services.
Discount Code: DS15440

Lost data? Your next steps are critical: http://www.drivesaversdatarecovery.com/company-info/recovery-tips/

Take a Virtual Tour of their facility: http://www.drivesaversdatarecovery.com/company-info/virtual-tour/
Museum of Bizarre Disk-asters: http://www.drivesaversdatarecovery.com/company-info/museum-of-bizarre-disk-asters/

Protecting Expensive Electronics From Mother Nature

This week I thought I’d talk about something close to home. It “hit” me last week and reminded me of just how important it is to protect computer equipment as well as other electrical devices plugged into a wall outlet.

As folks on the South Shore can attest, we’ve had some pretty severe storms and power outages these past few months. Just yesterday, WATD reported that West Plymouth was without power for most of the day.

What “hit” me last week was the inevitable power surge that comes when NStar attempts to restore power to a neighborhood. When the power first went out, there was a power surge moments after the loss – we knew this because the wireless telephone in our bedroom lit up like ET’s finger for a few seconds – then all was black for hours. It was “very early” in the morning when power was restored (thank god – air conditioning….) but as I stumbled around in the semi-darkness, I realized we only had power in certain areas of our home.

Ok – it’s off to the cellar to check the circuit breakers. There was no power in the cellar and no flashlight could be found in any lighted area so I stumbled blindly to my workshop where I knew there was a fully charged flashlight. A few minor stumbles, a couple of mumbled curses and I “saw the light” as it were.

Arriving at the circuit breakers, I recognized the problem immediately – 6 or so circuits were tripped. Easy, I thought, just flip them back on and back to bed for a little more shut eye.

It was not going to be that simple – none of the breakers would reset – now what? Let me say one thing here – I’m usually pretty adept when it comes to things mechanical but at this point, all I could think was – OK… call the electrician in the morning and have all these blown circuit breakers replaced. A few more curses and back upstairs to the bedroom which was cooling down nicely as Pam and Glenda were now fast asleep.

As most folks who know me can probably guess – I couldn’t get back to sleep wondering how so many breakers would be bad but not ALL of them were bad… So, back to the cellar I go, flashlight in hand to investigate further. Once I deciphered which rooms and outlets were affected by the tripped breakers I started visiting them. Lo and behold, the first was the Laundry room and plugged into the wall outlet was an inexpensive surge protector. Getting closer to it, I recognized that it smelled kind of weird and there was a distinct “brown mark” near the on/off switch. There was also a matching brown mark on the formica counter it was sitting on. Obviously, the surge protector was burned out. I unplugged it from the wall and like magic, the circuit breaker would reset and power was restored to that room.

I repeated this process in all the other areas still without power. A few were simple re-sets of the GFI outlets and a few more were burned out surge protectors. Soon power was fully restored so now my thoughts went to the devices that were plugged into the surge suppressors.

In every case, even though the surge suppressors were burned out – they did their job and adequately protected televisions, telephones, radios and everything else that was plugged in to them. Talk about a happy camper.

So here’s some information that just might save your bacon when a power loss and surge happens to you. Surge suppressors are an inexpensive insurance policy – one you really need to take advantage of. Here’s a re-print of a post I made last year at this time.

Protecting Your Computer From Mother Nature
August is bad weather month here on the South Shore and it’s not uncommon for a severe storm to hit without warning. That’s why protecting your computer and printer with a surge suppressor is more than a good idea—it’s an absolute must.

While a home circuit breaker can protect some of your appliances, they were not built to protect the sensitive electronic equipment in a computer. If a high electrical surge hits your computer, it could fry your motherboard and CPU in seconds causing you to lose data AND the use of your computer.

The biggest mistake most users make is thinking that their power strip will protect them, when in reality, it won’t. To adequately protect your sensitive electronic investments, you need a quality surge suppressor designed to handle the job.

There are 2 main things to look for in a surge suppressor:
First is response time. This is the amount of time it takes this device to react to a power surge. This should be 10 nanoseconds or less; any longer and you run the risk of damaging your PC.

The second thing to look for is the amount of energy it can absorb and dissipate before it blows, measured in joules. I recommend at least 800 joules or higher.

Another feature to look for is a failure indicator light. This light will come on when the suppressor is fried and no longer protecting your computer. Most surge suppressors will have this.

If you’re using a dial-up modem (hopefully only for your fax machine), be sure the suppressor blocks electricity that can come in from the phone lines. If you have a fax or cable line, make sure the suppressor you chose handles those too. You also want to make sure the suppressor you choose meets the UL 1449 specifications (this will be listed on the box).

Finally, if at all possible, unplug your computer and all computer equipment, telephone, and modem lines during a lightning storm. This is the ultimate protection against sudden and devastating power surges.

For more information, visit one of my favorite websites – How Stuff Works
http://computer.howstuffworks.com/surge-protector5.htm

Windows 7 will be out on October 22 – are you ready?

Windows 7 will be available on October 22 and based on what I’ve read and from the direct results of our own test systems, it’s going to be a pretty good operating system – a much better version than Vista and dare I say it….. better than XP!

Looking back, why didn’t Windows Vista take the business community by storm?

• Windows Vista “real-world” hardware requirements (both memory and processor speed) were very aggressive in comparison with the benefits provided

• These hardware requirements exceeded (and would require substantial upgrades) what was currently in place at many businesses

• Initially, there was a difficulty obtaining specific hardware drivers compatible with the Operating System for devices (especially printers)

• In addition, there were application compatibility issues for certain business applications that people tried to run on Vista

• If you combine issues related to performance, application compatibility and driver compatibility – there really was not a compelling reason to move to Vista

• The User Account Control feature was very beneficial to control user’s behavior but was frustrating for many IT personnel (who wanted to turn that feature off, but would then lose the benefit of its features)

With Windows 7 close to release, industry chatter indicates it’s better than XP and Vista – why?
Windows 7 has addressed many of the issues that were experienced with Windows Vista. Overall, our experience and industry feedback with both the Beta release and the RC release have been very positive including:

• Windows 7 startup, shutdown, suspend and resume times have been drastically reduced

• Previous hardware requirements for an acceptable performance have been reduced (meaning that Windows 7 can run with acceptable performance on “lesser” hardware and will be more compatible with existing hardware without the need for substantial upgrades)

• Windows 7 is more compatible with both hardware and software (and even allows incompatible software to run in a virtual XP environment – see below)

• Windows 7 has enhanced the power management features from Windows Vista (which had improved them from XP) and also provided a battery efficiency report that details current usage of battery power by device. Much of the power management improvements were smarter usage of background management (which increases battery life by decreasing power usage of processor(s), turning off unused devices).

• Windows 7 is more secure than Windows XP (both from external attacks and configuration issues)

• The User Account Control feature has been revised to be less intrusive (fewer prompts and dialog boxes) to the end user while still providing the same level of protection.

• For a small business user, Windows 7’s simplified configuration of workgroup networking allows small businesses to increase their security controls of data without requiring much technical knowledge)

Microsoft is ending support for XP but I wonder, how many businesses relied on Microsoft for XP support, as opposed to their local IT consultants.

Due to the longevity of XP’s existence, it has been our experience that most business folks relied on their local IT consultant or internal support with regards to XP issues versus contacting Microsoft. With the ever increasing availability of blogs, wikis, knowledge bases, etc. on the internet, many issues can be resolved by searching for the appropriate issue and resolution using your internet search engine. As new issues were encountered, some businesses would rely on Microsoft for supporting those issues, but then would update their appropriate blogs, wikis, or knowledge bases with the issue and resolution making it available to the public.

What support were businesses entitled to from Microsoft when purchasing the software from a retailer?
This depends on how the Microsoft product was purchased from a retailer. If the product was purchased as part of a hardware purchase (for example, the operating system was installed on a laptop or desktop), this is considered an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) purchase and support is obtained from the OEM regarding both hardware and software issues per their hardware support contract. If the product was purchased from the retailer as “off the shelf” or a separate ‘boxed” product, the support is obtained directly from the software manufacturer per the software licensing and support agreement.

What else should folks know about Windows 7?
In addition to all the performance enhancements of Windows 7, there is one new feature that has terrific implications for business users. The XP Mode of Windows 7 allows XP supported applications to run in a native XP environment on a Windows 7 machine (transparent to the end user). This feature does have some limitations but will allow businesses to quickly adopt Windows 7 while still supporting their current applications (and migrating them to a native Windows 7 environment). Some of the limitations are:

• XP Mode requires that the machine CPU is capable of hardware virtualization using either Intel Virtualization Technology (VT) for Intel chips or AMD-V for AMD chips (can easily be verified with your hardware manufacturer for your model(s) systems.

• The XP Mode is actually utilizing Windows Virtual PC and a fully licensed XP SP3 machine (this full license is available with the following editions of Windows 7 – Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate). Therefore, the XP virtual machine is actually running inside Windows 7 (requiring more memory and processor capability).

Another benefit is businesses that have purchased Vista Business with Software Assurance will be allowed to upgrade to Windows 7 at no cost.

If you’re a staunch Window XP user, be warned of the arduous upgrade process from XP to Windows 7. Read the article from the pages of the Wall Street Journal.

Finally – Have you had an opportunity to “play with” Windows 7 Beta or RC? Share your experience(s) with us – just add your comments below.

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