Tech – for Everyone

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

Top 10 things you should do to your computer–updated

Today is “one of those days” and I simply have too much happening this morning to write an fresh article. So today I am reposting an article which aggregates the most important computer security steps into a single checklist…a “Top 10” list. Click on the blue links to get more instructions on the topic.

There are several things a PC owner should do to have a healthy computer and be safe(r) from online cyber criminals when they browse the Internet. Not surprisingly, I have covered these topics/items over the course of writing this six-days-a-week series of articles.
I have noticed (from my stats) that not too many folks are looking through past (archived) articles, nor are they using the Search tool to find this previously posted advice and help. So I thought I would put the more important ones into a single list — a “Top 10 List” — and provide direct links (blue text) to the articles which cover the How To steps of making these things happen… and provide you with a simple way to find out what you need to do, compared to what you’ve done already. In case you missed one, or two.

Tip of the day: Run down this list, and ask yourself, “have I done that?” to each one.

1) Install an antivirus, and keep it up-to-date (with the latest “definitions”).
To read my articles on malware, click here. To see a list of links to free antivirus programs, click here. To read my article on how to configure your antivirus for maximum protection, click here.

2) Install two anti-spyware apps, with one having “active” shielding.
To read all my articles which discuss spyware, click here. To see a list of links to free anti-spyware programs, click here.

3) Install a 3rd Party firewall OR turn on the Widows Firewall.
* If you have a home router or Wireless AP, make sure its firewall is enabled (NAT).

4) Enable Automatic Updates from Microsoft (and either set it to automatically install [for the non-geeky] or to prompt for install [for the hands-on type]) and set your programs to “automatically check for updates”.
And then actually click on the “Install” button when told there are updates available.. and please not tell them to “go away, you’re busy.”

5) Password protect your User Accounts.

6) Make a (monthly) system backup.. or at least a “files and settings” backup.. and store a copy — on two different types of media — someplace other than your hard drive.
To read all my articles on backups, click here.

7) Upgrade to IE 7 and/or an “alternative” Web browser (like Firefox, Opera, or Avant). Click here to read my articles on browsers and browsing.

8: Use strong (and complex) passwords. Everywhere. And change them every so often.

9) Rename the Administrator account.

10) Tell Windows to show file extensions.

* (Windows XP/older) Use the NTFS file system, and disable Simple File Sharing.

* (Laptops) Encrypt your hard drive.

There is more you can do to optimize your PC (of course) and the odds are good that I have told you the steps in a prior article, as I’ve written well over a 250 of them– so far, and I invite you type the word “optimize” into my Search box and see what comes up. Also, my Tag Cloud can help you find topics that can help– click on a word in the “cloud” and see the articles I have “tagged” as being relevant.
I hope this find-it-in-one-spot review has been helpful to you.

Today’s free link: By clicking the links above, you will see all the previously posted downloads, of which there are many. And also, there are links to more free links in no’s 1 and 2 above.

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

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April 5, 2008 Posted by | advice, anti-spyware, antivirus, Backups, computers, converting to NTFS, encrypting files, how to, passwords, PC, privacy, security, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Where is your PC vulnerable? A ‘pro’ security tool for us

IT Security professionals use special scanners to analyze the “endpoints” (computers on the network) for risks (aka “vulnerabilities”)– such as missing or weak passwords, missing updates and ‘hotfixes’, and running Services that shouldn’t be running, and more. These tools (vulnerability assessment scans) make the job of keeping tabs on large networks much easier to do, as you might imagine. (Think of, say, trying to keep all the computers on the campus of your State College patched, updated, and reasonably locked down. Just you. Yikes!)

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could borrow one of these professional tools and scan your own (home) system with it?
I know; you read this (and other tech tip sites) series everyday; you’ve followed the advice contained in these (types of) articles; you’re pretty savvy, and you’ve taken steps to secure your computer. At least, you have made a reasonable effort.
But wouldn’t it be nice to check your work with the click of a mouse? Find any security areas/settings you might have over-looked.. or need improvement? And then be able to fix those areas with a couple of clicks? If you answered, “yes!”, keep reading.

Microsoft offers just such a tool to IT Professionals for the specific purpose of analyzing Windows “endpoints” on their networks, and the good news is that we regular folk can download and run this tool on our networks too, even if we have a “network” of one machine (if you’re connected to the Internet, you’re on a network). It’s named the MBSA, the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer, and it scans your machine(s) for:
* Missing (or misconfigured) Security Updates: (Office and Windows)
* Administrative (mis)configurations: (firewall, password strength/expiration, file system, Automatic Update, User accounts)
* Services and Shares: (this helps determine if you’re exposing more than you need to by running unnecessary options)
* Internet Explorer settings

When the scan is completed, it provides a status report of the results in an easy to read Red Shield = critical!, Yellow= warning (not compliant), and Green = you’re OK. For those yellow and red areas it discovers, it provides links for “Details”, so you can see why you didn’t score well, and one-click “How to correct this”, so you can fix your weak areas.

capture.jpg Home users will download and install MSBA (I will provide the link below) which will create an icon on their Desktop. Double-clicking the icon launches the MBSA, and a window opens asking you which computer, or range of computers, you want to analyze. Us regular folk will just want to scan our (local) machine, so we will select (click on) the first option.. as shown below.
By default, the next window will show that our machine has been selected.

mbsa.jpg

 Click on “Start scan”, and sit back to await your results (you won’t wait long, MBSA can analyze a single machine in about a minute).

A perfectly configured machine will produce all green shields, and you can give yourself a big pat on the back and Quit MBSA. For the rest of us, any areas that require your attention will be listed first, and have red or yellow warnings.
My test machine produced two yellow shields: one warning me that Automatic Updates was configured to download, but not Install, Microsoft patches (that is my preferred setting as I like total control over what gets installed, and so I can ignore this warning); and one warning me that I am missing a Service Pack.. this alarmed me, so I clicked on “Details” to find out what I was “missing”.
mbsadetails.jpg

This new window told me that this month’s MSRT had not yet been Run (remember? I’ve set Update to download but manually install.), and provided me with the link to click to Download the “missing” Update.. allowing for quick remediation of a detected problem.
Basically what you do is go down the list of red and yellows, and correct each one by clicking the provided links, which will turn the shield to green.

Today’s free link: To download your copy of this “Pro” tool, click here, and choose “Save” (not “Run”) and “To: Desktop” from the download window. This will place an “Install package” icon on your computer’s Desktop. When the download is completed, close any open windows and double-click on the new Install icon; this will start the installation. Agree to the EULA and follow the prompts through to “Finish”. There will now be a new shortcut icon (shown above) on your Desktop which you will use to launch the MBSA (you can “Recycle” the Install package now) and start evaluating and hardening your machine’s security.

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

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March 13, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, how to, network shares, networking, passwords, PC, security, tech, Vista, Windows, XP | , , , , | 3 Comments