Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Saving webpages as files

Today’s quick tip was inspired by a reader question. The gentleman used to use an old technique to “print” webpages to text files so that he could edit and incorporate the text into his documents, and he wanted to know if he could still do this, but in a more modern way.
I would like to take a moment here to remind my readers that I do answer questions sent to me; and also that if I believe the question-and-answer will benefit “everyone”, you could very well see it posted here.

Q: How do I copy the text on a webpage to my document?
A: There is actually a couple of different ways to do this, including the old “print-to-file” method that DOS users remember. The trick is to get just the text and information you want, and not all the advertising and hyperlinks and graphics/logos that most webpages incorporate.

1) If all you need is a small portion of text from a webpage, the easiest way to get it from your browser to your word processor is to ‘highlight’ the sentence (or paragraph) on the webpage, press Ctrl+C to Copy, click on the place in your document that you’d like to insert the text and hit Ctrl+V to Paste the selection into your document (you may have to change the font and text size to match the rest of your document’s format).
Sometimes, it can be a little tricky — working in the browser — getting your cursor to change from an arrow (navigation) to the vertical bar and selecting the page’s text. But rest assured that you can ‘select’ the text on a webpage. Usually you have to get the point of the arrow very close the edge of the first letter, and make small, gentle mouse movements until the cursor changes. You could also try clicking in an easier part of the text, and use your arrow keys to move the cursor to where you want it.
(As a writer, I simply must express my hope that you will pay some mind to the concept of Copyrights, and original work, and properly attribute your “borrowed” material.)

2) But if you want all the information on the webpage, and you want it to be available as a file you can reference at your leisure, the Copy>Paste method is not the best and another technique will serve you better.
Some people prefer to download the webpages in a method called “Offline webpages”, which is a whole ‘nother topic. Offline gives you the whole webpage — logos/graphics, links, ads — as if you were connected to the Internet, and this is more info than we need for today’s topic… we just want the text.

In Firefox and the older Internet Explorer 6 (Please, folks; IE 6 is quite probably the most hacked program ever written– update to IE7, or use an “alternative” browser), you can click on the “File” menu on your browser’s toolbar. IE7 users (who haven’t re-enabled the old Menu bar) should click on the “Page” button. Whichever manner you used, now click on “Save As”.

Now the Save As window will open, and here is where we will make our important decisions.

As usual, you will be presented with the ability to select the “where” the file will be Saved, and give it a name. But the primary thing is to select the “Save as type”, so that we will have a file we can use as we want to– in this case, a text file (.txt).
Once the webpage is Saved as a text file, you will be able to Open it with any word processor. And you will be able to edit it to your heart’s content.. and it will be available whenever you need it.

*If you decide to Save the webpage as one of the other options in the “file type” (or, made a mistake here) selection, and Save the page as an *.htm,*html file or even a “archive”, you will still be able to Open it with a word processor [by default, it will open with your browser] and edit it… it will just contain a whole bunch of junk-looking code, as well as the text you want.

Today’s free link: I am not a real big fan of free all-in-one “optimization” programs, but I do have one that I like, use (occasionally), and can recommend. Advanced WindowsCare Personal From publisher: “is a comprehensive PC care utility that takes an one-click approach to help protect, repair and optimize your computer. It provides an all-in-one and super convenient solution for PC maintenance and protection.” (Vista compatible.)

Copyright © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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November 30, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, IE 7, PC, tech, Windows, word processors | , , , | Leave a comment

How to configure your antivirus

I frequently advise “make sure your antivirus is up-to-date”, and today I am going to tell you exactly what I mean by that, and how to configure your antivirus program so that it is configured for your optimum protection.. and also, for those of you whose security “subscription” has “expired”, how to download and install a top-rated free antivirus program (whose “subscription” never expires)– AVG Antivirus Free Edition.

Tip of the day: Properly configure your antivirus’ Settings to get — and stay — properly protected. Several of my recent articles have touched upon a subject that is very important for computer users to understand: the bad guys are constantly writing new malware and exploit code (or, new variations on old code). Because of this, the good guys are constantly having to write new counter-code. (I am always grateful that we have these “white hats” on constant vigil, and I for one salute you all.) Malware is constantly evolving, and we are trying to keep up.
When a new virus (or worm) is ‘launched’ against us, its significant, identifying elements — its “fingerprint”, if you will — are identified (called a “definition”) and sent to your antivirus scanner in the form of an update…hopefully before the virus reaches your machine. When your antivirus program runs its scan, it is comparing all the code, and code patterns, on your machine with its collection of fingerprints/definitions looking for a match. If it finds a match– you have a virus.

If you are not receiving these new “fingerprint” updates, and getting them frequently, you simply aren’t being protected from today’s viruses.
[Please note: this is the oldest, and surest way of detecting known viruses. There is another method, called heuristics. For a more detailed look at how anti-malware programs work, click here.]

Step 1 is to open your antivirus and look for its control panel; this is where you enable/disable options and settings– so some programs call this area “Control Panel”, others “Settings”, and avgicon.jpgothers “Options” (etc.). AVG calls it the “Control Center”. If you have AVG installed already, double-click its icon on your Desktop (or, right-click+”Open AVG” the icon in the System Tray) to open the program.

Whichever antivirus you are using (and whatever they’re calling this area), here is where you will set the program’s configuration (how it operates). Click on this button, or link, and open up the control panel.


Now you will see the various elements that make up your program, and in an antivirus program we want to look at the scan, the “shield(s)”, and updating. The first thing you want to do is ensure that your antivirus is scheduled to look for new fingerprints daily, and to do so at a time that won’t interfere with your work. In AVG, you want to click on the name of the element (you want to adjust) in the “Security status” window, and then click on the appropriate button.. so I have clicked on “Scheduler” and now I need to click on “Schedule Tasks”.
Your antivirus will have something scheduled, by default, but we are here to take control, so we will click on “Edit Schedule” (or, its equivalent, depending on your program). Please note that there’s two scheduled events we want to deal with: the scan (called “Test” in AVG), and the update. You want to schedule the update to occur before the scan, and you want to set them to “daily”.

Ensure that “Check for updates” is enabled, and use the drop-down arrow to pick a time-slot that won’t interfere with you too much– your lunch-hour, or later at night, for example. Do the same for the scan, but pick a time-slot later than the time you chose for the update.

Step 2 is to configure your “shields”. This is the active protection element of your anti-malware programs. You want to make sure these are enabled and properly configured. Return to the Control Center and click on “Resident Shield” in the Security status window, and then the properties button.

Make sure “enable”, or “turn on” is selected. AVG offers the option to scan all files (when your computer accesses them) or just “infectable” file types. The first will slow down your computing, and really isn’t necessary, so I recommend the latter option. If your machine has a floppy drive, you want to have a check in the checkbox for “Scan floppy drives”. And if your antivirus offers it, you want to enable Heuristic Analysis. This allows your anti-malware program to watch your PC’s behavior, and look for activity (processes) that shouldn’t be happening… such as a program installing other programs.

Step 3 is to make sure your antivirus is set to scan your email. (Yes, your ISP is [most likely] doing this for you– to a degree– but I do not recommend relying on this, and this alone.) Return to the Control Center and click on “E-mail Scanner” in the status window and click on the Properties button.

Here you will see the email configurations. AVG has a default “plug in” for general use which will keep an eye on your browser-based mailboxes, and will a have separate “plug in” for your email client (Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.) if you use one. Use the drop-down arrow to select the appropriate plug in, and then click on “Configure”. In this example, I am not using an email client, so I accept the default.

Make sure your antivirus is set to scan (“test” in AVG) bothincoming and outgoing email (you wouldn’t want to inadvertently be the cause of someone’s getting infected, would you?), and it is of particular importance to ensure that attachments are scanned. Check your antivirus’ settings, make any necessary adjustments (as shown), and click “OK”.
That’s it. You’re done, and your computer is as protected from worms and viruses as present technology can make it.

For those of you whose “subscription” to new updates has expired, or if for any other reason your machine is not running an up-to-date antivirus utility, Click here if you would like to download and install AVG, and then click on the “Download” link.
Click on “Run”. A “Download progress” window will open which will show you how long it is taking to download all the necessary Install files. When it’s finished, you will see…
Click on “Run” again, and start the installation. An install wizard will walk you through the process after you agree to the EULA. Simply accept the defaults, and follow its suggestions (it will ask you if you want to “check for updates now?”, for example, and suggest that this is “recommended”. Answer “Yes”).

And for those of you who would like to remove your “expired” trial security, click here to read how to do so without messing up your computer (with links to the proper tools).

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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November 29, 2007 Posted by | advice, antivirus, computers, how to, PC, security, tech, Windows | , , , , | 6 Comments

Arrgh!!!+migrate your data to Vista

I am sorry to tell you, Dear Reader, that all my work this morning went “poof”. Today’s article — for some strange technical reason — did not publish to the Web properly. In fact, it published blank space, so my working draft was over-written with a blank page. (This happened once before, but that was a while ago… What’s up, WordPress?)

Needless to say, I am a little bit.. frustrated (I’ll be polite) right now. A bit.. demoralized, and I don’t have it in me to rewrite and the article now.
I will do so, but not today. So, please, tune in tomorrow to see what was supposed to appear here today… and in the meantime, I will repost an article that may be of interest to those of you considering the purchase of a new computer; titled Vista’s painless transfer tool, which appeared 11/02–

Loyal friends and true of this series may have the feeling that I have nothing nice to say about Vista. Today I’m going to prove that concept as untrue. I do have some nice things to say.

But first let me review some of the truths that aren’t so nice:
1) Vista is “resource intensive”. That means it’s big, and it takes a lot of RAM to run properly — Vista should be run on a dual-core CPU and have at least a GigaByte of RAM memory (fast RAM memory), and really should be run on two Gigabytes. And..

2) Vista doesn’t like really old devices. It is becoming easier to find device drivers for older hardware, and this ‘truthism’ is becoming less true, but if you have a really old device, (say a printer that attaches via a parallel port), or an old and never-was-popular device (say a very early Radio Shack TV ‘tuner’ card), then you should be prepared to buy a more up-to-date replacement.

3) The first “Service Pack” hasn’t been released yet.

Because of these facts (as I have mentioned before in such articles as Upgrading to Vista) I have advised my readers not to “upgrade” their existing (and therefore older) machines to Vista — especially without having first run the Vista Upgrade (Compatibility)Advisor tool. And I did warn folks that an Upgrade cannot be undone.
Why pay money for a operating system that will bog down, and your sound card and video capture card won’t run? That’s what will happen if you Upgrade a 2½-to-5 year-old PC. Just because it works dandy-fine on XP, doesn’t mean it’ll work on Vista.

No. Don’t Upgrade to Vista.. upgrade to a new machine (that has Vista on it). I stick by that opinion. Unflinchingly.

Vista is slick. It’s more secure. It’s going to bring us (eventually) advances in our video games. It actually competes with Apple. It doesn’t bury Settings so deeply nor hide them so well. It has new (to Windows) features. And…
1) It does some (most, actually) things better than XP does.

What do I mean? Well, recently I had the unique pleasure of installing a whole new network: everything was new — brand new Vista PCs, new WAPs/routers, and Gigabit Ethernet on Cat6. This was quite a bit of a different experience than adding Vista machines to an existing (XP-based) network.. or even of adding XP machines to a XP-based network. Granted, this was a SOHO network of less than 10 machines, and I wasn’t dealing with Active Directory, but the difference was night and day.

I was most impressed by the fact that each machine joined the network, and saw its neighbors, effortlessly. This was easy to see happening, too. Vista shows you a dynamic network map. Routers and the Internet were automatically detected.
Folder sharing worked as it should.. no strange Permission errors.. no “folder climbing”, as with prior editions. For you audiophiles, Vista and Windows Media Player (can) readily and automatically shares (like a server) each machine’s music libraries.. a couple of clicks, for that.

And this is what blew me away– all the machines were to share an older HP DeskJet. And the network’s owner didn’t want to purchase the equipment make a print server, but to use one of the PCs.. like most people do at home. So I installed the printer and then clicked on “Share this printer”, like I’ve done a thousand times before. Then I went to each machine and opened their Printer section of the Control Panel, and there was the printer! Whoa! All I had to do was make sure it was set as the default printer (one click).
Did I say, “blew my mind”? I was floored. No “Add new printer” wizard. No trying to browse to a \\XPmachine\HPDeskJet share. No error messages. Wow. This was Plug and Play the way it’s supposed to be! Too easy.
My hours spent installing the network was a mere fraction of what I was (from experience) reasonably expecting. Not good for my bottom line; great for Vista owners.

For those of you who have ever used a User State Migration Tool, or Easy Files and Settings Transfer tool, to migrate your data from an old computer to your new computer — or purchased a special program, or cable — you know that getting your new machine exactly as you had your old machine required some time and effort.

The owner of the new network wanted me to replicate his XP set up onto one of the new Vista machines, and the usual method has been to to use one of the techniques mentioned in the paragraph above. But I didn’t. I used an adjunct to Window’s built-in Easy Files and Settings Transfer tool, which will be today’s free link.
I downloaded this program to both his XP machine and the new Vista machine. Then I plugged his XP machine into the new network. Surprise! The XP machine was instantly seen and recognized. (Try doing the reverse, and see if the XP machines find the Vista..)
Then I launched the Windows Easy Transfer Companion on the Vista PC and followed the wizard. The two machines established a connection and the XP machine transferred its installed programs, and all the files, and all of the owners tweaks and settings (like bookmarks, and custom toolbars). All I did was watch.
This was, by far, the fastest and easiest user state migration I’ve ever experienced, and truly was like the title of this article — painless. Again, this is bad for a PC Tech’s bottom line, but great for Vista owners.

Today’s free link: When you buy a new PC, you will almost certainly want to transfer all kinds of things from the machine you’ve been using to the new one. Microsoft has “a companion” for the Easy Files and Settings Transfer tool called the Windows Easy Transfer Companion. It is actually a ‘stand-alone’. This tool not only transfers your documents and personalized Settings tweaks, but the programs you have installed. This is a huge time saver.
I did my transfer over the local network, but you can use the other methods of data storage to make the transfer as well– including USB thumb drives. [Note: while Microsoft still considers this program to be in beta, I experienced absolutely no hiccups or difficulties at all.]

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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November 28, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, PC, tech, Vista, Windows | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Add color to your documents

It is the Holiday time of year, and soon most of us will be writing our Christmas letters and addressing greeting cards. We will tell our friends and relatives all that we’ve done during 2007 (Is it just me, or did 2007 pass-by rather quickly?) and wish them season’s greetings. Quite a few of us write these Christmas letters on our computers using Word. Today I’m going to demonstrate some tricks to make your letter more joyous, and your docs more visually interesting.

Tip of the day: Add some festivity to your documents with fonts and color. MS Word has a lot of features and options built into it that allows for some very creative elements to be added to your correspondence, and is not at all limited to cold, “professional” documents. Today I’m going to use a hypothetical holiday greeting letter to show how to add some fun.

By default, Word sets the font to Times New Roman at 12 “points” in height. I have typed in my text, to get things started, and will demonstrate using this letter’s “opener”. As it is a header, I have “centered” the text.
As you can see, this font and text does not quite convey the joy and cheer and “best wishes” I am hoping to express. In fact, this may as well say, “Memo from Giganti Corp.” Yawn!

So first thing I’m going to do is ‘tweak’ the font style, and make some word bigger (louder), to express a less formal tone.
I “highlighted” Season’s Greetings, and used the Font drop-down arrow and selected a cursive font– Lucida Handwriting (explore Words various fonts, and find the one you like best). I set the point size to 36. I repeated the process on the second sentence, but set the type smaller.. only 18.

I think you’ll agree, this is much more “friendly” than the default’s look. But this is just not Festive enough! Let’s use some color and improve things some more.
I have again “highlighted” season’s greetings to select this font, and then clicked the Font Color button on the Formatting toolbar (If this is not showing, click here to read how to customize your toolbars). I then clicked on the little red box in the color-picker. Now season’s greetings is red.

I want to alternate letters in green, so I hold down the Ctrl key and use my mouse to “select” every other letter.
I didn’t really like the greens available on the color-picker, so I clicked on “More Colors”….
… and selected a green that contrasted nicely with the red– as the box in the lower right corner shows. This is the result of these steps.
Much more jolly! But, something’s missing…
Let’s add one more thing– a picture of a candy cane. I went on the Internet and found a Royalty-free graphic (though a piece of Clip Art would do just as nicely) and…
10.jpgVoila!I could ‘go crazy’, and get carried away with adding things here… but I hope you will be able to see by this little demonstration — using only two of Word’s functions — that you are limited only by your own creativity, and that it’s easy to personalize and ‘spice up’ your documents.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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November 27, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, MS Word, PC, tech, Windows, word processors | , , , | 1 Comment

Quick Time Zero-Day Monday

Ah, there’s nothing like the Monday morning after a long holiday weekend, and this one is bright, brisk and clear. Makes this fella want to stay in bed.
But like you, I’m up-and-at-’em. Re-invigorated, and ready to face the week.

You may have noticed that today’s title is a little strange-looking. But when I break it down, it should make more sense. Those of you who are regular readers of this series already know that I am an advocate of secure computing and that I am always providing tips, advice, and downloads to help you keep away the digital Evil Doers (aka “cyber criminals”). Today’s article follows in that proud tradition.

Regular readers also know that during holidays, I often re-post past articles– which I did, twice, this week. However, I did post one original article which (if you’ll forgive me a little vanity) may be one of the most important of all of the articles I have posted so far. (It is certainly my current soapbox ‘hot topic’.) Please, if you missed it, click here and read it. It is relevant to all computer users and discusses your first line of defense against hackers– software patches.

Now, to explain today’s title: The first two words are Quick Time, which is a media viewer (and format) from Apple which comes packaged with the iTunes software. quicktimeicon.jpgQuick Time sort of competes with Macromedia’s Flash format, and is used as a way of presenting animations and short ‘films’ on the Internet. You may have been asked to install Quick Time as a browser “plug in”, to view certain material, by a website.

The second two words are “zero day“. Zero-day is a security term used to describe the period [I mentioned in the prior article] between when an exploit has been discovered– and the hackers are using it to attack, and take control of machines — and when a patch has been found and is available to the public. During this period, there is no (ready) defense against the hacker’s attack code.

There is currently an attack underway targeting a vulnerability in Quick Time, and there is as of yet no patch. In other words, a “zero-day attack” is travelling the Internet and people with Quick Time installed have no defense against having their machines turned into spam-launching zombies, or having malware installed.. or whatever else the cyber criminals want to use their machines for.
This “buffer-overflow” attack affects any machine with Quick Time installed, whether it be Apple OS X, or Windows Vista/XP.

Tip of the day: Don’t be vulnerable to this nasty zero-day attack. Since there is no patch (or, “update”) yet, for the time being, you must be particularly vigilant about clicking on links to websites you receive in emails, avoid visiting websites you haven’t been to before (practice “safe browsing”), and make sure your antivirus is up-to-date.

I don’t use Quick Time (nor do I use iTunes), preferring to miss out on that content (if a website uses it) than to have another media player on my machines. And I suggest that you may want to uninstall it if you have it.. particularly if you rarely use it.. as you can always re-install it once Apple releases a patch (at this time, there is no announced “expected release date”). I also recommend uninstalling the browser add-in version (to read how to remove/manage browser plug-ins, click here).
More advanced users should go into their router’s and/or firewall’s settings and block outbound TCP port 554.

As a fella used to say, let’s be careful out there.

[updated: Apple has released a fixed (updated) version of QuickTime that closes this critical flaw. Windows users can either answer “yes” to the autoupdate alert, or click here, and download the updated version, while Mac users will need to find the appropriate OS version download.]

Today’s free link: I have mentioned that I am a gamer and that I like flight simulators. YS Flight Simulation System 2000 is a free simulator that works even on Linux, and is highly adaptable with “mods” and additional planes (comes with 50) and not-too-stringent graphics needs.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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November 26, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, firewall, how to, networking, PC, security, tech, Windows | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taskbar,blue screens,IE 7– Holiday Edition

It is my sincere wish that all of you are enjoying a long Holiday weekend. In that spirit, I am taking the day off and reposting an earlier article that answers reader questions and includes links to several important topics. I hope you didn’t miss yesterday’s article,.. and that you are staying warm. Enjoy.

Reader questions this week bring me back to IE 7 and the taskbar, and a new topic: what to do when an Update causes crashes and other troubles. So today I will not post my usual Tip of the day, but the (hopefully) now familiar “Q’s and their A’s” format.

IE 7 Questions:   (you may want to review my post on IE7 Security zones, and Questions answered, as well.)

Q: My Explorer menu bar disappeared, how do I get it back?
A: In IE version 7, the old familiar menu bar (File, Edit, View, etc.) was removed from the default configuration to ‘streamline’ IE’s look, and quite possibly because Microsoft was aware that people were installing their own toolbars (see “toolbar madness“). To get it back, use a method similar to the one used for Windows’ taskbar. Click on the down arrow next to the grey “gear” icon marked “Tools” and click on the Menu bar option. Now a checkmark will appear next to it, and your menu bar is back. To keep it there, hover your mouse over the option below Menu bar, “Toolbars”, and click on (select) the “Lock the toolbars” option.
While you’re there, you may want to play around with the “Customize” option and tweak which buttons appear on your bars.

Q: I can’t add a site to my Trusted zone:
A: I answered this in the previous answers post, but this detail is worth repeating: The person was on their personal machine and was running as an administrator, so there’s no problem there. The trouble was they hadn’t cleared the checkbox next to “Require server verification (https:) for all sites in this zone”.https.jpgThe difference is the “s” at the end of “http”, which indicates a special, secured internet protocol. You will know if you’re on such a website by the gold lock icon that appears in the URL window (and/or elsewhere on the page). It is an encrypted connection generally only used for electronic payment sites. A check here prevents you from adding regular websites.

Q: Can I make IE block sites when my child is browsing, but allow them for me?
A: This is a great question! And the answers are: yes, sort of, and … how many sites are we talking about? There are a couple of ways to go about this, but I want to spend more time on this topic than there’s room for here today. Protecting your children from the dangers of the Internet is a huge subject. I wrote a series of four articles on it, and to read it click here.

Taskbar question:

Q: What happened to the icons in my taskbar?
A: These “my icons disappeared” questions depend on if we’re talking about the Notification area (on the right, by the clock), or the Quick Launch area (on the left, by the Start button).
In the Notification area, an icon’s disappearance usually indicates that the “process” has gone idle and is not “running” at the moment.That means it isn’t needed, and hasn’t been needed for quite some time. It will run when it’s needed so, in this case don’t worry about it. In some instances, such as the speaker icon or the the two PC’s network icon, speaker.jpga checkbox has become unchecked and you simply need to check it again. Click on Start >Control Panel >Speakers and Audio devices, and select (check) the “Place an icon in the taskbar”.

If the Quick Launch icons have disappeared, right-click on a blank area in the taskbar and select Properties. Click on the Taskbar tab, and place a check in the checkbox labeled “Show Quick Launch”. As I have mentioned before, these Quick Launch icons are simply shortcuts. You can add more shortcuts here by simple drag-and-drop, or remove the ones you never use.

NOTE: If your icons have always been there and then, suddenly, some (or all) of them are gone — you may have picked up some malware. I recommend that you run “deep” antivirus and an anti-spyware scans immediately.

Windows Update:

Q: An Update is causing BSOD’s, what do I do?
A: From time to time a Microsoft security Update will not be compatible with the software and/or device drivers on your machine and the instability will trigger the Blue Screen Of Death (for more on BSOD’s and what to do, see “When good computers go bad“). Usually, Microsoft will repair this and issue a new Update … eventually. In the meantime, remove the Update (If you’re not sure which Update is the perp, remove the most recent ones) by going to Add/Remove Programs in your Control Panel. (Start >Settings >Control Panel >Add/Remove Programs) Now look to the top area and place a check (select) in the “Show updates” checkbox. Now you will be able to see the list of installed Updates.
Click on the Update you want to remove, and click on the Remove button.

Today’s free link: How about playing some games today.. in light of the long holiday weekend. Hop over to Armor Games for a nice selection of time wasters. These Flash-based games are for kids of all ages.

Copyright © 2007 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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November 24, 2007 Posted by | advice, BSOD, computers, how to, IE 7, kids and the Internet, PC, removing Updates, security zones, System Tray, Taskbar, tech, Windows | , , | 7 Comments

Learn to love the pop up

I understand. Really I do. It seems like every time you try to get something done on your computer, some little window opens and tells you that there’s an update available. You tell it not to bother you, but the persistent little devil keeps coming back.
But, listen. People. And please hear me. If you learn just one thing from me.. please learn this– those “there is an update available” pop ups are your friends. Learn to welcome them. Stop what you’re doing long enough to click on “Yes”.
I repeat: Just Say Yes.

Tip of the day: Thwart hackers, crackers, and ID thieves and let your software close its holes– let it download the patch. Answer those pop ups with the button-click, “Yes, download the update” and do so the first moment you see it.

It does not matter which IT security expert or professional source you ask (and loyal readers will have read this here, also), they will all tell you the same thing: the number one way hackers attack (networks and computers) is through unpatched holes in common software — like IE, or Adobe Reader, or Real Player, or Word, or the operating system itself, or you name it.

The way the software industry protects itself –and us– is to issue “patches” of these holes (called “vulnerabilities”), so that when an Evil Doer launches the string of code that would “exploit” the hole (and give him command access to your machine), it no longer works like his vile buddies in the hacker forum said it would.
Patches are your machine’s best friend. (And so it kinda follows that patches are your identity’s and your privacy’s best friends too. Right?) When you see “update”, mentally substitute the word “patch”.

When I explain this “patches stop hacker exploits of vulnerabilities in your code” principle to folks, more than one has come back with the reply/thought, “So… CoolProgram 6.0 isn’t any good, then.” When I ask, why do you say that? They answer that it seems to ask to be patched quite often, while some of their other programs never ask to be updated. “It must have a lot of holes”.

This seemingly logical conclusion (on their part) is not usually the correct one. In fact, more often than not it is the wrong one; though it is true that some programmers (or more typically, team of programmers) make more of an effort than others. Let me explain.
Let us say there really is a little program called “CoolProgram”; and let us say that it is a slideshow widget; and let us say that it has sold about 50,000 copies. And let us also say that it was written in five minutes by a first-year computer programming student, with absolutely no aptitude for programming, as a class project (he/she received a B-) and let us further imagine that it contains more vulnerabilities (holes) than any other program on the market. With me?
CoolProgram would never be hacked. (And thus, never need an “update”.)

Why? How could that be? If it is so poorly written? Because of the number of sales. It’s much too low to interest a hacker. Also, the odds that “CoolProgram” is installed on a computer somewhere inside CitiBank, Pay Pal, the Pentagon, or on a website’s server, are next to none.
All you have to do is think like a criminal to understand– they want to hit the most targets, in the most places. This increases the odds of hitting paydirt, or makes for a larger botnet [to read my article about botnets, click here].
This is why Windows is hacked more often than Apple — Apple is on only about 5% of the world’s computers — and why IE is hacked more often than Firefox.

I’ve run longer than I intended, so I’ll wrap up with a recap of how it works: 1) Some criminal with programming skills finds a way to inject altered code into a program which gives him “rights” on a remote machine. 2) He posts his find on a hacker forum, or/and sells it to other hackers. 3) These hackers then start using this code to attack machines. 4) Security experts take note of this new attack and notify the authors of the program being exploited. 5) The programmers of the affected program examine the way the exploit works, and try to rewrite their code to stop it. [PLEASE NOTE: they are “playing catch up” with the hackers.] 6) When they finally find the counter-code, they have to get it onto your machine, so they release a patch, or “update”. 7) A pop up window opens on your machine saying “here’s the fix; please install me”.
All this while the hackers are reaping the rewards.

So don’t delay. Don’t dally. Just Say Yes. Besides.. if you answer “later”, the pop up window will come back again.

Today’s free link: Keeping your programs patched and up-to-date is the most effective method we have of keeping the hackers at bay. The best tool I have found for evaluating your currently installed programs, and helping you get them patched, is a ‘scan’ I have posted here before, but the Software Inspector at Secunia is just too important, too good, and too easy not to mention again.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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November 23, 2007 Posted by | advice, computers, PC, privacy, security, tech | , , , , | Leave a comment