Tech – for Everyone

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

Secure Gmail, repair Internet Explorer

A couple of quick tips to start the week, which were stimulated by reader questions.

Tip(s) of the day: How about that? Two for the price of one!
Tip 1) In response to public demand, Google has added a feature to its Gmail service which will force it to always use SSL encryption when you logon (https). This is particularly beneficial to those of you who use wireless, public computers, and/or public ‘hotspots’. All you need to do is turn it on.
[note: a secured session is not the same thing as encrypting your individual messages. For my How To on that, click here.]

To turn on the “always use” feature, log on to your Gmail account, and in the upper-right area, find, and click on the “Settings” link.
Now, scroll down to the bottom, and in the “Browser connection” option, click on the “always use https” radio button, and then click on “Save Changes”.
https 
That’s it. You’re done. Now your connection to the mail server will be encrypted and you’ll be protected from packet sniffers.

Tip 2) Sometimes programs get “corrupted” and just refuse to work right, and usually the way to repair them is to uninstall them (Add/Remove Programs), and then re-Install a fresh copy.
One of my more popular articles has been how to repair the hyperlinks function in IE when clicking on a link doesn’t open a new page (if that’s your issue, click here), and this tip goes a little further than that. (To see all my articles on Internet Explorer, click on “IE 7” in my Categories widget.)

You can resolve many troublesome IE issues by “resetting” it (which also re-registers .dll’s).
For IE 7:
Click on “Tools” and then “Internet Options”.
On the Advanced tab, and then click the “Reset” button.
reset

For IE 6:
[note: I highly, sincerely, and ardently, urge you to stop using IE 6, and switch to 7, or Firefox 3, or Avant, or whatever. Please? It’s only the most hacked piece of software ever!]
a: Click Start, click Run, type “%systemroot%\inf” (no quotes) and then press Enter.
b: Find the Ie.inf file that is located in Windows\Inf folder.
c: Right-click the Ie.inf file, and then click Install.
d: Restart the computer when the file copy process is complete

Today’s free link: In one of the tips above, I mentioned Windows’ Add/Remove Programs tool (found in your Control Panel) which is the standard method for uninstalling programs from your machine. Long-time Windows users can attest that this utility doesn’t always work as it should, and completely remove all traces of the app you want gone. To really remove a program, you may want the power of a 3rd-party uninstall program, and the one that’s most recommended in the Geek community is Revo Uninstaller (also available in a portable version).

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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August 4, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, e-mail, how to, IE 7, Internet, PC, privacy, security, tech, troubleshooting, Windows | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Wow! + Securing your e-mail, Part 5

Folks, I am just not sure that I have it in me to write today — I’m still staggered by yesterday’s Super Bowl. I’m reeling. Stunned. And.. chagrined.
At the very start of the season I predicted (to anyone who would listen) that the New England Patriots would win the Super Bowl. I repeated this prediction — with growing assurance — each week.
(“But what about the Colts?” was the main objection/reaction I received.)

The omniscience of my prediction was bolstered by an undefeated season, and the Pats went into yesterday’s game something like 12-point favorites. They were playing (against) a wildcard team (only once before has a wildcard team made it all the way to Super Bowl victory) led by a young and untested QB.
I think you can figure where I placed my bet. Who could not say that the Patriots were the best team this year?
Wow. The reality was like a Disney movie. I expect the scientists to announce that the Earth’s magnetic poles have flipped positions any day now.

Now, back to work:
Now that we have WinPT installed and configured, it is time to start using GPG to encrypt our e-mails. Our public and private keys have been generated, and our public key is has been made into a transferable file (“Export”).

But first, lets review:
a: You will have downloaded and Installed WinPT, as I described in Part 3 of this series. (Those of you using a e-mail client other than Outlook Express will also need to download+Install the appropriate “plug-in”.)
b: And you will have configured the encryption program (GPG) and generated your keypair, as described in Part 4.
c: Those of you using Outlook Express (as I am for this demonstration) also need to launch the OE plug in (GPGOEInit). Simply click on it in the WinPT folder of your Programs list. Start >All Programs >Windows Privacy Tools >GPGOEInit. (also, please note the “Documentation” option.)
gpgoe.jpg

If you have played along, you should see two icons in your System Tray (by the clock), the WinPT “key”, and the OE plug-in’s “padlock”.
icons.jpg
d: You will also have “Exported” your private key, and sent your key to the person(s) you want to exchange encrypted e-mail with. (The documentation, and my previous articles, discuss key exchange methods.) They will use your key to encrypt the e-mails they send to you.

Congratulations! You have come far. But, it should be fairly clear that for encryption to work, both ends of the transaction need to have the encoding/decoding tools– in short, the person you are exchanging encrypted messages with also needs to have GPG installed, and they will have needed to send you their public key (which you will have “Import”-ed onto your keyring).
If they have not (yet) installed WinPT/GPG, you can point them to this series by copy>pasting this URL https://techpaul.wordpress.com/2008/01/28/whos-reading-your-e-mail-part-1/ and sending it to them.

If these thing are in place, open OE and create a new message.

send.jpg

When using GPG, the appropriate method to encrypt the message is to issue a hotkey command: when your e-mail is typed and ready to go out, hit Ctrl+Alt+E. You will see a WinPT window tell you that the encryption was successful. Now click Send.
When you receive an encrypted message, open it and hit the Ctrl+Alt+D key.

The screenshot below shows the sample e-mail (encrypted) as viewed by a machine which does not have GPG capability. This is how it looks to anyone who might intercept it.
scrambled.jpg

Clearly, this “after” picture is quite a bit different than the “before” picture, and my e-mail is unreadable by unwanted eyes.
Now you can safely and securely exchange sensitive, private, e-mail with only the intended recipient.

I will continue this series with more ways to use WinPT/GPG, and describe other tools/methods for encrypting e-mail, but will take a bit of a break before doing so — there is much in news I want to discuss first.

[Please note: the e-mail accounts and keys shown were temporary and have already been deleted.]

Today’s free link: For many people, the best part of any Super Bowl is the commercials. If you would like to view this year’s ads again, click here. You can even vote for your favorite.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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February 4, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, encrypting files, IE 7, PC, privacy, security, tech, Windows | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

E-mail security, Part 4

Okay, so you have downloaded WinPT and read yesterday’s How To, and are ready to launch Setup and complete the Install.
Where we left off was we had hit the “Finish” button. You will now see this “error message”, which is scary, but not really a big deal… WinPT is installed, but not yet configured: click “Yes” to continue the setup.
genkyring.jpg

Here is the next message… which explains the “error”.
genkyring2.jpg
Select the top radio button, “Have WinPT generate a key pair”. This will create your your “key ring” and your “master” keys– a private (secret) key, and the Public key you will send to people.
gen1.jpg
This is the key pair generation window (you accept the defaults). Here is where you enter your primary e-mail address (the mail you want to encrypt) and the key’s passphrase. The passphrase serves two purposes, it is used by the encryption algorithm to generate your unique key code, and it is what you will type in to tell WinPT you’re really you (such as when you decrypt an incoming message)…so you’ll want to select (and write down) a passphrase that’s easy to remember and quickly type-able, yet rather long.. 14 characters is a good target length.
Click “Start” to generate your keys.
gen_prog.jpg
Depending on the speed of your CPU, it may take a couple of minutes before you see…
genkyring5.jpg

Click “OK”. When WinPT asks you if you want to “back up” your keys, answer “Yes” (or, you can do it later..but I do recommend doing it!). Your Setup has now completed and you have created your encryption keypair. Right-click on the WinPT “key” icon in your System Tray (by the clock), and select “Key Manager”. This will show all the keys you have on your “key ring”.
As you can see, there is your key pair. The next step is to make your Public key “exportable” so that you can send a copy to your recipient(s).

Select “Export” from the Key menu, as shown.
exprtkey.jpg
You will be asked for a location to save the file, and you can rename it during this step. I suggest you do, as the default name will look like “0x12AGTYX”. I named my Public key “AplusPaul key”. Here’s what my Public key looks like when Open-ed in Notepad.
copy-key.jpg
One way to send this key is to Ctrl+A (Select All), as I have done in the screenshot, then Ctrl+C (Copy) and then Ctrl+V (Paste) it into an e-mail. WinPT can use that to import the key to its key ring. Another way is to simply attach the file, AplusPaul key, to an e-mail. When someone sends you their Public key, you repeat the process, only using the Import option.
Contrary to intuition, you should also now use Key Manager to issue a revocation file for your keypair, using the Key >Revoke option. More details on Importing/Exporting keys can be found in the Documents folder of the WinPT install folder (C:\Program Files\Windows Privacy Tools\Docs.)
import.jpg

This screenshot shows an e-mail encrypted using my new keypair, as someone without the proper un-encrypting key would see it.
scrambled.jpg

There’s one last configuration step before you can start using WinPT to encrypt your e-mails (unless you’re using a client other than Outlook Express) and that is to set a path in the GPG control panel. Right-click the WinPT System Tray icon and select “Preferences”, and then “GPG”.
finishgpg.jpg
You need to Copy the path found in the upper dialogue windows and paste it into the “Locale Directory” window. (Why this is not done automatically, I’m not real clear on.)

I realize that this is a rather lengthy process, and may seem too complicated for some of you. I hope that it is not too daunting, and that you at least give it a try. There are helpful instructions provided both in the download, and on the Web, if you have more questions about the installation and configuring of WinPT and GPG. (Though I should mention: the winpt.org pages are “dead”, and redirect to a weird search portal that’s totally useless.)
Tomorrow I will show you how to actually put your encryption tool to use.

*Please note: the keys and e-mail accounts shown here were temporary creations or fabrications and are already deleted.

Today’s free link: Today’s reco is one that I have not personally used (but it was ‘referred’), and so I cannot vouch for it in any way. Tovo. From site: “Start up Tovo and watch TV while you chat to your MSN, AIM or Yahoo friends. Listen to Radio whilst searching the Web, finding maps or looking up phone numbers. Get the latest news feeds while chatting on the phone. It’s not just media. It’s not just communications. Its everything in one place.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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February 1, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, encrypting files, how to, PC, privacy, security, tech, Windows | , , | Leave a comment

Securing e-mail, Part 3

The first step to encrypting your e-mails is to download and install the free Windows Privacy Tools– WinPT (Mac users will go directly to GPG and download the Mac version). The WinPT download can be found here.

Click the download link, and when the Download window opens select the option to Save (save to disk), and choose a location, such as your Desktop. When the downloadinst_icon.jpg is completed, find the (new) winpt-install icon, and double-click on it, and choose “Run. This will start the Install wizard.
**Please don’t do this until you have read Part 4.

Make sure the Install language is English, and click “OK”. A “welcome” screen will show that the installer package is ready: click the “Next” button… and “Agree” to the EULA.
Accepting the defaults (by clicking “Next”) as you go through the wizard is recommended. Make sure the Options screen looks like this..
inst_opts.jpg
which it should, by default. Do the same with the Additional Tasks, and click “Install”.
inst_optsadv.jpg
When it has finished the Install process..
finish.jpg
Click the “Finish” button.
WinPT is now installed, as well as the Outlook Express plug-in, and you now have a graphical interface with GPG.

Okay, we’re done for today. Tomorrow, I will demonstrate how to generate your key pair, and “export” your public key so that you can send it to folks.
In the meantime, I highly recommend navigating to the WinPT folder and looking at the WinPT “owner’s manual” PDF file. (By accepting the defaults during the Install, you will find this folder in C:\Program Files\Windows Privacy Tools\Docs.)

Click here to read Part 4.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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January 31, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, encrypting files, how to, PC, privacy, security, tech, Windows | , , | 2 Comments

Encrypt your e-mail for privacy+security, Part 2

While e-mail is wonderfully efficient and fast (not to mention, free), it is not a terribly private nor secure communications medium. As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, Who’s reading your e-mail?, e-mail is transmitted in very-easy-to-open plain text (or HTML), travels through many different devices, and sometimes gets mis-delivered, or lost.. or ‘stolen’.

There are times when the material we need to communicate to someone else could really hurt us if the wrong eyes saw it. Some things should remain “confidential” (For Your Eyes Only) or/and private (Top Secret). These subjects may be your account numbers, business plans, bids or cost-estimates, love letters, travel plans, and whatnot. Unencrypted e-mail is really not the way to transmit these things.

Tip of the day: Encrypt your private communications. This series of articles will tell you how to implement a free method of encrypting your e-mail messages using GPG.
(For those readers who took my advice in yesterday’s article and looked at the description of Public-key cryptography on Wikipedia, this next will be review…) GPG uses “keys” to encrypt and decrypt files, as do most such tools. The problem with encrypting communications is — how do you give a copy of the key (so they can ‘unlock’ the file you have ‘locked’) to the person you’re sending to?
This dilemma is solved with the concept of key pairs– we are going to use GPG to generate a key pair: a “public” key, which we can send to anyone we like (or publish, for all to see), and one “private” (aka “secret”) key. It will take both keys for the system to work. (As the name implies, it is rather important to keep your private key to yourself… and to store a copy in a safe location.)

The way it works is:
1) you will encrypt your file/letter using your private key. Which you then Send to your intended recipient.
2) Your recipient uses you public key to decrypt and read your letter/file.

When your correspondent wants to send you a reply:
1) they encrypt it using your public key, and..
2) you decrypt the reply with your private key.
It takes both keys to work, and only you will have the private key.

The tool we are going to use, GPG (as part of WinPT [Windows Privacy Tools]), is quite flexible and adept, but works best (at encrypting e-mail) as a “plug-in” for your e-mail client (Outlook, Thunderbird, Outlook Express, ie.)
and your ‘private’ e-mail accounts.. such as the account your are provided with by your ISP.
(I will, also, demonstrate how it can used with browser accessed “web mail” accounts, such as the free services like Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo Mail.)

Those of you already using a client to access and mange your e-mail accounts will simply have to download GPG (Apple) or WinPT (and the appropriate plug-in) and install it, generate a key pair, and send your public key to those folks you want private correspondence with. Once that’s done you will be able to either automatically encrypt your e-mails (and their attachments), or right-click >encrypt.
WinPT comes with a built-in Outlook Express plug-in; and GPG offers plug-ins for the popular e-mail clients, and some of the less-popular clients too, such as Apple Mail and Eudora. For a complete list of compatible e-mail clients, click here.

For those of you who typically log into your e-mail via a web browser (IE, Firefox, etc.), I believe that in the long run — if you want to encrypt your mail — you will find it easier to get into the habit of using a client instead. I will be using Outlook Express for my demonstration (since all Windows machines come with it), but for everyday use I recommend using today’s free link.

To skip to Part 3, click here.

Today’s free link: I have posted this free tool before, but since it is so in-step with our topic (and it’s a darned-good program to boot) I will repost it. Thunderbird 2, from Mozilla. Access and manage various accounts from one place, and get great spam filtering.

Copyright © 2007-8 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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January 30, 2008 Posted by | advice, Apple, computers, encrypting files, how to, PC, security, tech, Windows | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Who’s reading your (e-)mail? Part 1

A little while ago I wrote an article cautioning folks that at your place of employment there are (most likely) people whose job it is to watch everything you do on your computer [read: They ARE reading your mail], and that this ‘safeguarding’ includes reading your e-mail and monitoring your IM’s (if Instant Messaging is allowed, that is).  This should not be news to folks, and everyone –except perhaps the company’s owner — is aware that they have at least one Supervisor looking over their shoulder; and most of us behave accordingly.

But what about when we’re not at work– is someone reading the e-mail you send from home? Are they reading your @comcast.com, @earthlink.net, or your Gmail/Hotmail/AOL Mail? Have you ever wondered about your private correspondence? Maybe you should.

Some writer more creative than me struck a very good analogy (and my hat’s off to you, whomever you were) in that e-mail (electronic mail) is like a postcard… anyone along the way (delivery route) can read it. If you don’t want anyone but the actual, intended recipient to read your letter, you have to put it in a sealed envelope. (And to be especially sure, send it by Registered Mail.)

1) As you may know (from previous postings here.. maybe) e-mail is composed and sent in either plain text or HTML. HTML and plain text can be ‘read’ by the most basic text editor (aka “word processor”) and every machine has one. That means that if an e-mail comes to you, you can read it… and any e-mail that I can get, I can read.

2) Just like the regular mail, an e-mail does not appear in your mailbox by magic — it gets “handled” many times as it travels from Point A to Point B.
To demonstrate, let’s say I am sending a “thank you” e-mail to my friend Marge whose email address is marge.public@bigisp.net. I compose my e-mail using my Hotmail account and hit Send.
My message is uploaded to a Hotmail server for delivery: to continue the analogy, this is like my local Post Office. The Hotmail server examines the “To:” part of the header looking for the recipient’s domain — namely, “bigisp.net” — and forwards the email to Marge’s ISP: this is like the Mail clerk putting it in the “Chicago” bag. The e-mail bounces from router to router as it travels across the land: this is like the “Chicago” bag’s truck ride to the airport, plane ride to Chicago, truck ride to the Chicago Main Post Office, where it is sorted (again) and driven to the Deerfield (sub-)Post Office.
The e-mail reaches the e-mail servers at Big ISP, (Deerfield P.O.) where the address before the “@” symbol is examined — marge.public — and a copy is stored in the address space reserved for Marge.. trucked to her mailbox. When Marge goes to her Inbox, her e-mail client will download the file.. or her browser will Open and view the file. A copy sits on a server until it’s deleted and the Trash emptied.

Also like the “real” mail, the TCP/IP email protocols are very good at getting the e-mail/file from my machine to Marge’s e-mail server, but from time-to-time a slight mishap happens and my letter lands in Marge’s neighbor’smailbox… or in  the mailbox of a “Margy Public”, in Tampa, FL., or in some mysterious mail never-neverland black hole vortex, and never gets delivered to anyone. You could get (and read) Marge’s ‘Thank you’, and I would never know. It doesn’t happen often…but it happens.
(Yes, there are similar laws regarding e-mail as there are the US Mail, but.)

And just like the real mail, criminals steal it. Criminals (and soon-to-be-Ex-spouses?) can “intercept” your mail with “sniffer” tools. Or they can log into your Inbox if they’ve learned your password… maybe while watching you enter it [“shoulder surfing”] at a public place, like your library, or by keylogging. Or maybe Big ISP’s servers have been compromised. (If you use weak, or obvious passwords, they may simply guess it.. or run a dictionary crack on it.)

Someone very wise once said, (and I paraphrase here, I’m sure) “Never put into writing what you wouldn’t be proud for the whole world to read.” I believe this is good advice. E-mail is not terribly secure nor is it truly private. It is transmitted “in the clear”, over wires (or by radio, if you {or Marge} use wireless). A person should keep this in mind when using e-mail to communicate.

Should you need (or have a strong desire) to keep your e-mails private between the two parties (You might be thinking to yourself, “if anybody read my e-mails, they’d be bored to tears!”), you need to put the letter in an “envelope”, and the way to do that is to encrypt them. Not only does encryption ensure privacy, by obfuscating the message as it travels, it gives security because only the person with the key can decipher the secret code and read the message. (A mail-thief will not have the key.)

As you will note from the “Part 1” in the title of today’s, I intend to explain encryption in more detail, and show you the steps for installing and using a free e-mail encryption program in a series of articles. So be sure to tune in tomorrow (which you would have done anyway.. right?) for the next instalment.

Copyright © 2007-8 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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January 28, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, encrypting files, PC, privacy, security, tech | , , , , | 1 Comment