Sunday, December 31, 2006

Windows XP Tips and Tweaks Part 2

Windows XP Tips and Tweaks

Today, I will pick up where I last left off on Windows XP Tips and Tweaks.

Control the number of startup programs: Having a large number of startup programs can slow down Windows XP. Oftentimes, when you install new software, it will add itself to the list of startup programs. Here is how to disable startup programs you don't need.

  1. Go to Start Menu > Run > enter "msconfig" (without the quotation marks) > [O.K.] > "Startup" tab > uncheck any program you don't need to load at startup > [O.K.] > [Restart].

  2. Some of the entries use cryptic names and it is not obvious what the program it corresponds to. In such cares, you can use Bleeping Computer's startup program list. Enter the name which appears in "msconfig" and Castlecop will display the corresponding program.


Change a process priority: At any given time, numerous processes are working in the background without you realizing it. Windows XP assigns different priorities for different processes. Windows XP allots more memory and CPU power for higher priority processes than low priority processes. For example, you working on a Microsoft Word document takes precedent over the printer spooler service. Most processes are given a "normal" priority but you can change the priority level manually. Here's how to change it.

  1. Press Cltr+Alt+Delete to display the task manager.

  2. Go to the "Process" tab > scroll down to the process you want to edit > right click the process and choose "Select priority" > change the priority level.


Show file extensions: By default, Windows XP hide file extensions. However, you can change it to show them.

  1. Open Windows Explorer.

  2. On the menu bar, go to Tools > Folder Options > "View" tab > scroll down and uncheck "Hide extension for known file types." > [Apply] > [O.K.].


Disable search for network folders and printers: By default, Windows XP will search for network folders and printers even if you don't have any. This causes a drop in Windows XP performance. You can speed things up by disabling this feature.

  1. Open Windows Explorer.

  2. On the menu bar, go to Tools > Folder Options > "View" tab > scroll down and uncheck "Automatically search for network folders and printers." > [Apply] > [O.K.].


Change the default program for a file extension: Most file extensions are opened in a default program. For example, .doc files are opened with Microsoft Word while .txt files are opened with Notepad. You can change which program to use for any given file extension.

  1. Open Windows Explorer

  2. On the menu bar, go to Tools > Folder Options > "File Types" tab > scroll down and select the file extension > click [Change] > under Recommended program, is the current default program > under Other programs, are programs recommend by Windows XP > if the program you want to use is not listed, click [Browse] > select a default program > [Open] > [O.K.] > [O.K.].

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Passwords Basics

Password Basics

If you are like me, you probably have around 2 dozen passwords. This is not a ridiculus amount of passwords. If you are using the Internet, you probably have a passwords for your e-mail account(s), online calendar, online photo service, online banking, online stores and credit card services. There are a number of safety tips to keep in mind when creating and managing passwords.

When creating a password, be sure to follow these rules:

  1. Do not use the same password for different websites or accounts. If one of your accounts in compromised then the others will be too.
  2. Do not include any personal information in your password (e.g. jsmith). This includes: proper names, birth dates, addresses and telephone numbers.
  3. Avoid using words found in the dictionary (e.g. mypassword).
  4. Use both upper and lower case letters.
  5. Use numbers, but avoid using sequential numbers (e.g. jsmith1234) or repetitive numbers (e.g. jsmith2222).
  6. Use special characters when permitted to do so (e.g. !@#$).
  7. Use at least 8 characters and, optimally, 20+. The length of a password determines its strength. Here is an article on how much time it takes to guess a password based on the length of a password (link).

It wouldn't be a bad idea to use a password manager. A password manager stores all your user ids and passwords. All you have to remember is the password to open the password manager. One password to rule them all. In addition, to storing passwords, they also can generate hard to guess passwords. There are several free password managers. I recommend open source KeePass available at Sourceforge. Password Safe and Password Agents are good alternatives.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Gmail Disaster Causes Mass E-Mail Deletions

Gmail Disaster Causes Mass E-Mail Deletions

For reasons unknown, a number of Gmail users had their e-mails deleted - all of their e-mails. The first signs of trouble began when several Gmail users posted alarming messages on Google Group Forum. Of those affected, many reported they were using Firefox 2.0 when the deletion occurred. In addition, there were rumors that hackers were responsible for the deletions. Google tried to mitigate people fears saying only 60+ Gmail users were affected and that Google was working very hard to correct the problem. Google did not comment if hackers were responsible for the problem. In fact, they haven't said anything about what caused the problem.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Antivir Antivirus Free Edition

Antivir Antivirus Free Edition

There is no shortage of good free antivirus software programs. The 3 most popular free programs are: Antivir, Avast and AVG. Today, I will be talking about my personal favorite Avira's Antivir Personal Edition Classic. It is an excellent antivirus software program, which is both reliable and efficient. It is available free for personal non-commercial use. There is a premium version, which adds POP3 scanning and a dedicated update server.


Antivir 7.00.00.47 is the latest version, only 12.74MB. I had no problem installing Antivir. Once installed, Antivir prompted me to update the virus signatures and perform a system scan. Updating went smoothly as did the system scan. There's no registration required. The license renews automatically. Antivir updates are free for life. Antivir had a major makeover from version 6.x to 7.x. The user interface is clean and tidy. The Main menu shows the status of Antivir Guard, the most recent update, virus scanner build and expiration date of license.


Most of Antivir’s settings are accessible via the Configuration menu. In the Main menu, click on “Configuration” or its icon. In the new window, in the upper left hand corner, there is an “Expert mode,” check it. The advance settings are only accessible through the “Expert mode.”

Antivir provides real time, on demand and on access protection. Antivir is always working in the background protection your computer. It works invisibly allowing you to do work without any interruptions. If you are connected to the Internet, it will scan files which are downloaded to your computer. It will scan during both reading and writing of a file. You can use its Scheduler to automatically scan your computer or you can manually start a scan. Antivir has a number of advance features which really makes it stand out, such as heuristic scanning and scanning archives. Antivirus scanners depend on updated virus signatures to both detect and removal viruses. Unfortunately, if there is no virus signature available, antivirus scanners won’t be able to detect them. However, heuristic scanning does not depend on virus signatures but rather it looks for characteristics and behavior common to all viruses, which is great when there is a new virus floating around. To avoid detection by antivirus scanners, virus writers try to hide their viruses in archive file types, such as .zip files. The good antivirus scanners scan within .zip files or any other archival file types (e.g. WinRAR).


One of my favorite features is the creation of a desktop shortcut which starts a scan you specify. For example, I created a desktop shortcut to scan of all my local drives. In order to start the scan, I just double click on the shortcut. Users can specify which file types to scan. For most users, the default file types are fine. If you elect to scan all file types, you might notice a lag in computer performance.

Antivir’s real time protection is provided by Antivir Guard. Antivir Guard has heuristic scan capabilities as well and you can even adjust the detection level. For most users, the default settings are fine. I don’t recommend making any changes, unless you know exactly what you are doing.


Users can also schedule regular updates of virus signatures. By default, Antivir will update daily as well as scan daily at a time you specify. Also, Antivir will maintain both an event and report log – just in case you want to see what Antivir was doing in the background.

There are a few omissions in the free version of Antivir. Antivir will can outgoing e-mail but does not scan incoming mail. As I mentioned before, POP3 scanning is only available in premium version. For myself, I use the free Gmail and Yahoo! E-mail, both of which scan incoming e-mails. As a result, the lack of POP3 scanning is not of great concern to me. However, for those who use e-mail services without virus scanning, Antivir might not be the best choice for you. Both Avast and AVG antivirus offers both incoming and outgoing e-mail. In addition, updating virus signatures can be slow at times. The premium version has a dedicated server, the free version does not. I’ll admit, when there is a large size update, I have to wait several hours or even a day before I can download it. One thing I find very annoying is, when updating virus signatures, Antivir will display a splash page advertising their premium products. Some might call it adware but there is no such thing as a “free lunch.” It is not a big deal. You can close the splash page at any time.

Antivir’s scan engine is top notched. PC World Magazine reviewed all 3 free antivirus scanners and showed Antivir had superior detection and removal over Avast and AVG. About.com corroborated PC World's findings.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

ID theft growing concern for MySpace users

ID theft growing concern for MySpace users - Yahoo! News

As the MySpace's popularity grows so does the number of attacks on the popular social network website. MySpace has suffer a wide variety of attacks, including: sexual predators, Trojan Horses, spyware, adware, viruses, worms, identity theft and spam. MySpace responded by creating a security "czar" position. Hemanshu Nigam has been hired as MySpace's chief security officer. He has a great deal of experience. He was once a federal prosecutor specializing in child pornography and computer crime cases. He help developed security at both Microsoft Corp. and the Motion Picture Association of America.

Nigam has start a number of countermeasure against attacks on MySpace. He has create educational programs to teach users how to use the website safely. He has security officers create phony profiles to bait would be sexual predators and hackers. He has hired software engineers to find and close security vulnerabilities in the network. When possible, lawsuits have been filed against attackers.

MySpace has a vested interest in improving their security as many MySpace users are fed up with the attacks and have moved on to other safer social networks, such as Facebook or Friendster.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Fears of tsunami ease after Taiwan quake

Fears of tsunami ease after Taiwan quake

On Tuesday, December 26th, 2006, Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau reported an earthquake measured at 6.7 on the Richter scale. The quake originated at sea about 13 miles southwest of Hengchun on the southern tip of Taiwan. As of now, there has only been 1 death reported. Many were concern that the earthquake might set off a tsunami, much like the one 2 years ago which claimed over 230,000 people. Fortunately, there are no signs that a tsunami was or would be triggered. Earthquakes are common in Taiwan since the island sits on a volcanic fault.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Getting Started with Opera 9.10 (Part I)

Getting Started with Opera 9.10

Earlier this month, Opera Inc. released Opera 9.10 web browser. Though Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2.0 get all the publicity, Opera should not be overlooked. Many of the features in both IE and Firefox have long been available in Opera.

If you are new to Opera, here are some tips to get you started. Start Opera. You will be redirected to Opera’s homepage – you can change it easily. On the menu bar, go to Tools > Preference. A new window will appear with several tabs. Let’s start with the “General” Tab

General Tab: Controls for the home page, pop-up controls and language

  1. By default, when Opera starts, it will load the webpage(s) from the last session. There are several options. I recommend starting with the home page. The other choices are self explanatory.
  2. By default, the home page is set to Opera’s website. You can change it to what ever page you want. Or, you can simply click [Use current] and Opera will save the current webpage(s). Important, if you have multiple webpages when you click [Use current] then the homepage will include all webpages opened not only the first webpage.
  3. Under pop-ups, select “Block all unwanted pop-ups.” I find the latter to be the best fit, blocking most pop-ups with the lowest false positive rate (i.e. genuine objects on a webpage incorrectly flagged as pop-ups).
  4. Under language, the default value is English (US). Opera supports several other languages, change it accordingly.

Wand Tab: Opera's password manager and auto form filler

  1. Wand is Opera’s password manager and auto form filler. Check “Let Wand remember passwords.” Afterwards, to see all saved passwords click [Passwords].
  2. The auto form filler is optional. Opera’s form filler works much like Google toolbar’s auto form filler. It is quite accurate.

Search Tab: Quick search controls

  1. In Opera, you can associate keywords to search engines and run queries from the address bar. This is the same feature found in both Firefox 2.0.x and Internet Explorer 7. For example, the keyword for the Google search engine is “g.” So, if you enter “g firefox” (without the quotation marks) in to the address bar then Opera will run a search for the term “firefox” using Google search engine. Opera, by default, already has several keywords associated with various search engines. You can add, edit and delete any keyword(s).
  2. Let’s exam a keyword more closely. Select “Google” by left clicking on it once. Click [Edit]. Under name, is the name of the keyword and search engine association (i.e. Google). Under keyword, is the word you need to enter, on to the address bar, to start the search (i.e. “g”). Click [Details]. 2 more entries should appear. Under Address, you should see the string http://www.google.com/search?q=%s&sourceid=opera&num=%i&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8.
  3. To create a new keyword association, click [Add]. I will discuss this particular feature in a later post.

Web pages Tab: Define Opera's layout and appearance

  1. By default, Opera will show al web images; however, there are 2 other options. To speed up the rendering of a webpage, you can select either to show only "cached images" or "show no images." Initially, I select show all images. However, after surfing the Internet for awhile, enough images are saved to Opera's cache that I can switch to show only "cached images." Of course, this isn't feasible if you view webpages where the images are updated frequently. Those who use a dial up connection will notice a mark increase in speed; however, those with broadband connections will not.
  2. Opera's page zoom feature is superior to both Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2.0.0.1. In particular, Opera can format a webpage to fit the width of the web browser - no more horizontal scrolling. By default, the page zoom is set to 100% and the "fit to width" is unchecked. I recommend keeping the default settings. However, if you want to automatically format a webpage to fit the width then check the box.
  3. The settings for fonts and color are self-explanatory. Unless you have a pressing desire to use a particular font or color, keep the default settings.

Advance Tab:

  1. Tabs: Check "Open new tab next to active."
  2. Content: Uncheck "Enable Java" for speedier webpage rendering.
  3. History: (1) By default, Opera will save the 500 most recent web addresses; however, decreasing it to "100" will improve performance. (2) Unlike Firefox and, to a smaller extent, Internet Explorer 7, Opera does not suffer from a memory leak. You can increase the memory cache (the amount of RAM used by Opera) to "40 MB" or even "60 MB" for improve performance. In addition, in cache the disk cache to "50 MB." For privacy, you can have Opera clear the cache when exiting the program. (3) Opera will periodically update the documents and images of webpages. By increasing the time interval, you can improve performance but also run the risk of outdated content. For a good balance, I set the time interval to check documents to "10 hours" and check images to "24 hours." This setting is optimized for dial up users but those with broadband connections should just keep the default settings.
  4. Cookies: Select "Accept only cookies from the site I visit." This will block cookies from third parties, such as doubleclick and hitcounter. I recommend keeping the other default settings.
  5. Security: (1) For maximum security, set a master password. Click [Set master password] > under "new password", enter a password > enter it again in "confirm new password" > [O.K.]. You can change the master password at anytime from this window. (2) Under "Ask for password," select "Once per session." Prompting for a password more frequently is just annoying. (3) Check "Use as master password for e-mail and wand." (4) Check "Enable Fraud Protection" for protection from phishing scams. Important, with this feature turned on, the browser will connect to Opera's web servers to check the web address before actually loading the webpage. Opera's privacy statement clearly states it does not keep any personal information; however, if you see this as a privacy risk then you can choose not to use it. With this feature enabled, there is a marginal increase in the time it takes to load a webpage.
  6. Network: (1) If you use a proxy to connect to the Internet, click [Proxy servers] and enter your proxy settings. (2) Click [Server name completion]. To improve performance, you can disable prefix and suffix completion. Nowadays, there is very little use for the completion feature. (3) By default, the "maximum number of connections to a server" and "maximum total connections" is set to "8" and "20", respectively. The default settings are fine for dial up connections. However, if you are using a broadband connection, you can increase the values. I tend to keep the default value for maximum connections to a server but I increase the maximum total connections to "32" for improve performance. I don't recommend going higher than this value.
  7. Shortcuts: Check "Enable mouse gestures."
  8. Voice: Perhaps the most unique feature of Opera. Voice allows users to surf the web via voice command. This requires a separate download and you will need a headset with a microphone for best performance. I have never used the feature myself.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Prosecutors Drop Duke Rape Counts

Prosecutors Drop Duke Rape Counts

On March 13th,2006, Duke University's lacrosse team threw a party and hired 2 exotic dancers. The next day, one of the exotic dancers accused several members of the lacrosse team of kidnapping and raping her. The accusations ignited an already volatile relationship between the university and the community. The accuser is a young black woman, a single mother, attending the local community college while the accused are young privileged white men attending a prestigious university. In a city where the population is evenly divided between white and black, the incident further divided the city and lines were drawn.

Of those accused, 3 were charged with rape, kidnapping and sexual assault. The accused are Reade Seligmann, 20, of Essex Fells, N.J.; co-captain David Evans, 23, of Bethesda; and Finnerty, 19, of Garden City, N.Y.

However, recently, there have been surprising revelations. The accused has recanted her testimony about the players raping her. DNA experts have been unable to match the DNA any of the lacrosse player with the DNA collected from the accuser's body and clothing. The police had used a bias line up of possible suspects. These latest developments forced the district attorney, Michael B. Nifong, to re-exam the case. Earlier this week, the Nifong dropped the rape charge against all 3 men. However, the charges of kidnapping and sexual assault remain.

Many are crying afoul saying that Nifong is using the case to launch his career without regard to the merit of the evidence.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sony Reaches Rootkit Settlement with 39 States

Sony Reaches Rootkit Settlement with 39 States

Finally, there is some closure to Sony's fiasco of adding a rootkit to their CD's. As many of you know, Sony, in an attempt to deter piracy of its property, secretly placed a rootkit on several of its music CD's. It wasn't too long before people, who brought and played those CD's on their computer, noticed something amidst. When the rootkit came to light, hackers started targeting computers which had Sony's rootkit installed. The rootkit created a vulnerability on those computer and hacker exploited it. Sony has settled with 39 states over its use of rootkits. In the settlement, Sony is to pay $4.25 million to people whose computers were infected by the rootkit. Those affect will have to show proof that their computers were indeed infected by the rootkit. Qualified receipents will receive compensation up to $175.

Alan G. Hevesi, Comptroller in N.Y., to Resign

Comptroller in N.Y. to Resign, Official Says

Despite being re-elected State Comptroller, it appears that Alan G. Hevesi will resign. As many of you know, Hevesi went afoul of the law when he used state employees to act as chauffeurs and personal assistants for his wife. Governor Pataki appointed a special investigator to investigate if there were grounds to remove Hevesi. The special investigator concluded that there was indeed legal grounds to remove Hevesi. Hevesi is expected to be indicted by a grand jury this Friday.

Hevesi's lawyers are trying very hard to make a deal with Albany's district attorneys wherein Hevesi will resign from office as well as plead guilty to the charges in exchange for not spending time in jail. The deal has not been finalized.

This is a sad chapter in Hevesi's long record of public service to New York State.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Windows XP Tips and Tweaks

Using Administrator Privileges in a Limited Account

I strongly encourage PC users to create at least two user accounts on their systems, one with administrator privileges and one limited account. Use the limited account to do your daily chores, such as: checking your email, uploading and downloading files off a network, and the occasional Role Playing Games (RPG). Use of the administrator account should be limited to installing applications and changing settings. This is for security reasons. However, I oftentimes find myself in a situation were I am using a limited account and I need to perform a task which requires administrator privileges. I don’t want to log off the limited account and then log on to the administrator account just to do a simple task. Well, there is a workaround. Using the limited account:

1. Create a shortcut for the application you want to use but requires administrator privileges.

2. Place the shortcut in a convenient place, for example the desktop. Then, right click the shortcut and go into “Properties.”

3. Now, you should be looking at the “Shortcut” tab. Left click the “Advance” button.

4. Check off box that reads “Run with different credentials.”

Hit “OK.”

5. The next time you left click on the shortcut, it will ask you if you want to run wit different credential. Click on “The following user.”

6. Select the account you want to use and enter the password. Click “OK.”

Taming the Recycle Bin

You can set the size of the Recycle Bin. I’m referring to how much hard drive (HD) space the Recycle Bin takes up. The size of the Recycle Bin is a percentage of the size of your HD, which you can adjust. If you have a 100GB HD and you set the size of the Recycle Bin to be 10% then you can store up to 10GB worth of trash. Can you think of anyone who needs a 10GB Recycle Bin? Yeah, neither can I? You can change the percentage by:

1. Right click the Recycle Bin icon on the desktop and select “Properties.”

2. On the “Global” tab slide the ruler to the desired percentage.

3. Click “OK.”

Stop those Annoying Error Reports

Windows is setup to send software error reports to “Big Brother.” Microsoft contends the reports are used to improve Windows. Actually, it does make sense since Microsoft wants to ferret out any software incompatibles. Nevertheless, some see this feature as a way for Microsoft to spy on people. There is an easy way to turn off the Error Reports:

1. Right click on the “My Computer” icon and select “Properties.”

2. Left click on the “Advance” tab.

3. Left click on the “Error Reporting” button.

4. Check off “Disable error reporting.”

5. Press “OK.”


Control the size of the System Restore

System Restore has saved me on many occasions. Oftentimes, I’m playing around with settings or installing a new program. But, ever so often, those changes cause my computer to become unstable and crash. System Restore quickly undoes the damage. I recommend that you keep System Restore on. Some experts recommend that you turn off System Restore since certain virus and other malware can use it to resurrect themselves after being deleted by a security program. I think the benefits outweigh the risks. Now that I have convinced you to keep it on, here is the way that you can adjust the amount of HD space allotted for System Restore.

1. Right click on the “My Computer” icon and select “Properties.”

2. Left click on the “System Restore” tab.

3. Under the “Disk space usage,” slide the ruler to the desired percentage of HD allotted for System Restore.

4. Click “OK.”


Assigning Drive Letters

I have a number of different USB and Firewire peripheral devices on my system. One problem I run into is that the drive letter changes for the same peripherals depending on what other peripherals are plugged in at the same time. Well, you can assign a drive letter to a specific device to solve the problem.

1. You need to use an account with administrative privileges.

2. From the Start menu > Accessories > Administrator tools > Component management.

3. Left click on the “Disk management” icon.

4. On the lower frame, right click on the desired device and choose “Change Drive Letter and Paths…”

5. Choose a drive letter you want to assign to the device. Click “OK.”

Stop Windows from dialing a connection

Does your computer try to dial a connection when you start Windows or start a program? It is downright irritating. Here’s how to stop Windows from automatically dialing a connection.

1. You need to use an account with administrative privileges.

2. From the Start menu > Control Panel > Network Connections > on the menu bar, click Advanced > Dial up preferences > “Autodial” tab.

3. Uncheck “Enable autodial by location.”

4. Check “Always ask me before autodialing.”

5. Check “Disable autodial while I am logged on.”

6. [O.K.] > Restart.


Silencing the Dial-Up Modem

Strange though it might sound, I only use dial-up. This is not out of choice. The area where I live does not have broadband service. When it comes to dial-up, I detest the sound the modem makes when trying to connect to the Internet. Shrills like a banshee. Well, luckily there is a remedy. To turn off the modem sounds follow these steps.

1. Control Panel > Network Connections

2. Right click on the dial-up connection and choose “Properties”

3. Under the “General” tab, press the “Configure” icon

4. Uncheck “Enable modem speaker”

5. Press “O.K.”


Keeping the Network Connection Alive

Don’t you hate it when you want to change to another user account but doing so disconnects the computer from the network. There is a way to change user accounts and still keep the connection. Follow these steps:

1. Control Panel > Network Connections

2. Right click on the desired network connection and choose “Properties”

3. Click on the “Advance” tab and check off “Allow other network users to connect through this computer’s Internet Connection.

4. Press “O.K.”


Keeping Icons Visible on the System Tray

After a prolong period of time, unused icons on the system try are hidden from view. The system tray collapses. However, users can select which program icons to be always show or always hidden. Follow these instructions to change the settings.

1. Right click any empty space on the system tray and choose “Properties.”

2. On the “General” tab, press the “Customize” button.

3. Right click any program icon and choose how the icon behaves on the drop down menu.

4. Press “O.K.”


Decide which default application to use to open a particular file type

Oftentimes, a particular file type can be opened with more than one software program. For example, the .rdf file type can be opened with OpenOffice or Microsoft Word. To set the default application, follow these steps:

1. Open Windows Explorer and choose “Tools” from the menu bar.

2. Scroll down to “File Options.”

3. Click the “File Types” tab

4. Scroll down the list and highlight the file type you are interested in changing.

5. Click the “Change” button and then used the desired software program and click “Apply.”

6. Press “O.K.”


Enabling CD Recording

You don’t need software like Nero and Roxio to burn CD’s on your computer. Instead, Windows XP comes with CD burning software. To enable CD recording, follow these steps:

1. Right click the optical drive icon > Properties > “Recording” Tab.

2. Check “Enable CD recording on this drive.”

3. [Apply] > [O.K.].


Mozilla Patches 10 Firefox Bugs

Mozilla Patches 20 Firefox Bugs

Earlier this week, Mozilla released Firefox 2.0.0.1. The latest version patches 10 security flaws in Firefox 2.0. Firefox 1.5.0.9 was also released. The latest version patches 9 security flaws. Of note, Mozilla will end development and support for Firefox 1.5.0.x after April 24th2007. Users are urged to update to Firefox 2.0.0.x. In addition, Mozilla also released Thunderbird 1.5.0.9. which patched 6 security flaws. For more details on the security flaws which were patched, please read the release notes.

Process Library just got even better!

Process Library just got even better!

The website processlibrary.com has a new online service. Click [Scan] and Process Library will scan your system and display all running process. In addition, it will provide a description for each process and whether it is genuine or malicious. Best of all, it is free.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Mozilla Firefox 2.0.0.1 for Windows

FileForum | Mozilla Firefox for Windows

Mozilla has released Firefox 2.0.0.1. It is still unclear as to what changes were added to this newest edition. But, based on the version number, it is likely only minor bug fixes were added. Users can either download the entire software program or current users can use Firefox's auto update feature. Currently, the latter is not available but will appear sometime later this week. In addition, Mozilla has also released Thunderbird 1.5.0.9. Like Firefox, it is unclear what changes were made in this newest version. Of note, earlier this week, Mozilla released the first beta of Thunderbird 2.0.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Password Protect Your Files and Folders

There are several instances in which password protecting files and folders is necessary. For example, you are using a shared computer or you are using a laptop computer with sensitive information. Despite what many might think, password protecting files and folders is neither expensive nor difficult. There is a large number of excellent free privacy software.

Password protecting files and folders involve encryption. Encryption involves taking the raw data and scrambling it until it is unrecognizable. In order to unscramble the encrypted data, you need a key (a.k.a. password). There are 2 major factors which determine the strength of encryption; they are the quality of the password and what bit encryption was used. A strong password includes:

  1. The password should be at least 8 characters, preferably >20 characters.

  2. The password should use both upper and lower case letters.

  3. The password should contain numbers, preferably without repetition (e.g. password1111) or sequential (e.g. password12345).

  4. The password should contain special characters (e.g. @#%$..).

  5. Never use complete words (e.g. password).

  6. Never include personal information, such as your birth date or last name.

Now, there is no guarantee that your password won’t be cracked but, if you follow the guidelines mentioned above, it will be painfully hard for anyone to do so.

Moving on to what bit encryption was used. It is hard for me to explain. Let me illustrate it. Say you have 2 quarters (coins). If you flip one quarter it can land either head or tail. Now, let’s say you flip 2 quarters, how many unique combinations can you get. Well, you could get (head, head), (head, tail) or (tail, tail) - (tail, head) does not count because it is identical to (head, tail). Now, flip those 2 quarters again and guess the outcome. Whatever you choose, there is a 33% chance you are right (i.e 1 out of 3). Now, imagine, instead of 2 quarters, you use 100 or 1,000. How many unique combinations can you get? There is a whole lot more. With more unique combinations, it is harder to guess the outcome. The same is true for what bit encryption was used. As the number increases, it becomes harder and harder to guess. Most of the programs that I will be discussing provide either 128-bit encryption or 256-bit encryption. As a frame of reference, most online secure websites use 128-bit encryption.

TrueCrypt is a free open source application hosted on SourceForge.net. TrueCrypt offers several types and level of encryption, including 265-bit encryption. TrueCrypt can encrypt a partition of a hard drive or even an entire jump drive (e.g. flash drive or thumb drive). In TrueCrypt, you create a virtual drive and save your files in to it. To access the virtual drive, you have to mount it - much like mounting a .iso image file on to a virtual drive. I use Truecrypt myself. Personally, I found the controls hard to use. However, Lifehacker.com has a great TrueCrypt tutorial.

AxCrypt is another free open source application hosted on SourceForge.net. AxCrypt offers 128-bit encryption. AxCrypt works differently than TrueCrypt. AxCrypt adds an option to the right click contextual menu. You can encrypt a file by simply right clicking its icon and select AxCrypt. AxCrypt creates an encrypted version of the file. You can choose to keep or not keep the unencrypted version. AxCrypt is fairly easy to use. However, if you run in to any problems, Jameser’s website has an excellent tutorial.

Cryptainer LE is a free encryption application from Cypherix, a security software maker. Cryptainer offers 128-bit encryption. Unfortunately, the free version only allows you to encrypt up to 25 MB. To encrypt more, you have to switch to the paid version. It works very much like TrueCrypt. You create a virtual drive which you have to mount in order to access it. I don’t know of any tutorials for Cryptainer but Cypherix’s website has a good FAQ section.


Honorable Mentions

There are 2 other encryption applications which are worth mentioning. EncryptOnClick is a free program from software maker 2BrightSparks. EncryptOnClick offers 256-bit encryption. It can encrypt both files and folders. EncryptOnClick works very much like AxCrypt. As its name implies, right click on any file or folder and select EncryptOnClick on the contextual menu. The other application is Windows Privacy Folder (WPF). WPF was created by Microsoft but Microsoft does not support it. Microsoft released WPF only to have to withdraw it within the same week (link). WPF requires WGA validation.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Running out of hard drive space? Here are some remedies.

When you bought your computer, you probably thought you would never use up all of your hard drive space. However, the impossible has happen and you need more space. You could always buy a larger hard drive but you don’t have to spend money. There are a number of things you can do to recover space on your current hard drive.

The most obvious solution is to delete useless and obsolete files.
Windows XP comes with a disk cleanup utility, appropriately called “Disk Cleanup.” To access it, go to Start Menu > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Cleanup. A new window will appear, be sure to check: Download Program Files, Temporary Internet Files, Offline Webpages, Microsoft Error Reporting Temporary Files, Recycle Bin and Temporary Files. You can elect to include Compress Files. This last option does not delete files; instead, it compresses old files. You can see the list of files which will be deleted by clicking [View Files].

Defrag the Hard Drive
After cleaning the hard drive, you should also defrag your hard drive. Oftentimes, files are saved on different sectors on a hard drive. You can consolidate the files and decrease the gaps between them by using Windows XP’s Disk Defragmenter. To access it, go to Start Menu > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter. A new window will appear. Click [Analyze] to see if your hard drive needs to be defragmented. If so, click [Defragment] to begin the process. The process can take minutes and even hours depending on the degree of fragmentation on the disk.

Decrease the size of System Restore
Windows XP comes with a backup utility, System Restore. System Restore creates backups of the registry. It comes in handy when your system crashes. System Restore can roll your computer back to a healthy state. By default, System Restore can commandeer up to 12% of your hard drive space. Most users don’t need such a tremendous amount of space. You can manually adjust the amount of space allocated to System Restore. Right click the “My Computer” icon and select Properties > “System Restore” tab > under Disk space usage, slide the bar back to a more reasonable 3% > [Apply] > [O.K.].

Decrease the Size of the Recycle Bin
System Restore is not the only utility which hogs up hard drive space. The Recycle Bin also takes up space. You can adjust the size of the Recycle Bin, right click the Recycle Bin icon on the desktop and scroll down to Properties. A new window will appear. On the “Global” tab, slide the bar back from 10% to a more reasonable 3%.

Decrease the Size of Internet Explorer's Cache
Besides deleting temporary Internet files, you can also decrease the size of Internet Explorer (IE) disk cache. The default setting is 1024 MB (1.0 GB). Start IE and, from the menu bar, go to Tools > Internet Options > “General” tab > [Settings] > under disk space, enter a value of 50 – 150 MB.

There are several free third party utilities which can even recover more hard drive space.
My favorite disk cleaner is CCleaner (a.k.a. Crap Cleaner). CCleaner can permanently delete a long list of files, such as: temporary Internet files, temporary files, temporary download files, cookies, Windows log files and, the ever difficult to delete, index.dat files. CCleaner can also delete obsolete files generated from nonWindows software applications, such as: Firefox, Opera, Spybot Search & Destroy, Lavasoft’s Ad Aware, WinZip, WinRAR, Nero, Kazaa and Macromedia Flash Player to name a few. CCleaner can delete files with multiple passes, permanently deleting the files – not even a forensic team would be able to recover them. There are 2 other programs that deserve a honorable mention, EasyCleaner and IE Privacy Keeper.

Oddly, Windows XP Disk Defragmenter does not defrag either the paging file or the registry. There are 2 ways to defrag the paging file. The easiest way is to use Sysinternal’s Page File Defrag. By the way, Microsoft bought out Sysinternet a few months ago. The utility is quite easy to use and there is no installation required. Start Page File Defrag and select to defrag at the next reboot. You can defrag the paging file manually. I listed the instructions to defrag manually on a previous post.

If you want to defrag the registry, the twin software programs ERUNT and NTREGOT are the best. ERUNT creates backups of the registry much like Windows System Restore while NTREGOT defrags the registry. ERUNT has a distinctive advantage over Windows System Restore since ERUNT allows you to manually delete any registry backup.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Microsoft speeds up phishing shield for IE 7

Microsoft speeds up phishing shield for IE 7

As many of you know, the new Internet Explorer 7 sports a new anti phishing feature. Unfortunately, with the feature turned on, there is a significant delay in loading a webpage. This is in large part due to frames in the webpage. This past Tuesday, Microsoft quietly released a patch to correct this flaw. The patch was not part of the 7 security patches released on Patch Tuesday. Instead, you need to manually download and install the patch. To download the patch, users will need to go through WGA validation process. Microsoft has set up a bulletin for the patch (link)

Friday, December 15, 2006

How to login to an expired Windows

How to login to an expired Windows

Once a Windows operating system has been installed on a computer, a user has 30 days to activate Windows before it is disable. Users will not be able to log on or connect to the Internet. Here is a hack on how to access Windows after the 30 day grace period has expired. However, this hack only provides limited access to Windows and is not a substitute for activating Windows. The hack does allow users to access their files and save them on to removable media.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Convert Youtube Video Files to Avi

Convert Youtube Video File to AVI


Youtube is a great social network site where anyone can upload their video clips. In addition, anyone can download its large collection of video clips. Unfortunately, Youtube uses the .flv file type (i.e. a flash video) which most media players do not support. Thankfully, you can use the free Riva FLV Encoder 2 to convert .flv files to .avi files. You can then burn the .avi files on to a DVD blank to watch. Riva can convert .flv files to other file type, such as quicktime, wmv and mpeg. Windows Media Player can play .avi, .wmv and .mpeg file types. To play .qt files you need to use the QuickTime media player. The direct download link for Riva FLV Encoder 2.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Controversial Christian Game Under Fire

Controversial Christian Game Under Fire

As a rule, I try my best to post interesting and news worthy material - so you won't find a post about a cow with 3 eyes here. However, I came across a bizarre news clip. Game software maker, Left Behind Games, is scheduled to release Left Behind: Eternal Force. The game is T-rated (i.e. for teenagers) and is loosely based on the popular Left Behind book series. In the game, Christians are charged with the duty to either convert or kill any non-believers. I doubt this is what Jesus had in mind when he ordered his disciples to convert pagans (i.e. The Great Commission, NIV Matthew 28:16-20). Despite protests from both political and religious groups, retailers will not remove them from their shelves, including: Walmart. Circuit City, Target and Best Buy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Details on Today's Microsoft Patches

PC World - Details on Today's Microsoft Patches

Today, Microsoft released 7 patches for this month's Patch Tuesday. The patches addresses security flaws in Windows Media Player, Internet Explorer and Visual Studios. Last week, Microsoft announced it would be issuing 6 patches but decided to include an extra patch to address a security flaw in Windows Media Format. Its seems the security flaw was already being exploited. None of the patches addressed the 2 newest zero day security flaws in Microsoft Word. However, Microsoft is working on a patch but has yet to set a date for its release. In addition, Microsoft released an updated Malicious Software Removal Tool.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Scope of 2nd Amendment's Questioned

Scope of 2nd Amendment's Questioned written by Matt Appuzo, the Associated Press. Thursday, December 7, 2006; 8:49 PM

There is a trial in the District of Columbia which has the potential to decide the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Consitution, the right to bear arms. Actually, the 2nd Amendment states people have the right to keep and bear arms to maintain a well regulated militia and therein lies the rogue. Does the amendment give the right for individuals to keep and bear arms or does the amendment only apply for a regulated militia to keep and bear arms. Since the Colonial age, there has been no need for a militia; the Arm Services protects the nation. The attorneys from DC want to ban guns in the district; however, pro gun organization claims that the ban violates the Consitution. In years past, the government has tip toe around the topic and avoided the issue; however, that time has past. The U.S. Supreme Court might very well hear this case and, if so, could finally put to rest the question of how to interpret the 2nd Amendment.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sony's Negative Image is Jeopardizing HD-DVD Future

Blu-ray drowning in negative buzz: report

Adding Sony's misery, many electronic users aren't fond of Blu-ray. Interestingly, their dislike has nothing to do with Blu-ray itself; instead, people don't like Blu-ray because it is being developed by Sony. Users are feed up with Sony's questionable practices and arrogance of all things. I can empathize with them. One does not need to examine closely to notice Sony is making mistakes after mistakes. First, Sony debacle of including a rootkit in their CD's to deter piracy. Next, Sony's laptop batteries catch fire resulting in a massive recall. This is just embrassing. I almost feel sorry for them...almost. Despite Sony's track record, Blu-ray is a good product. Blu-ray disks can record significantly more than HD-DVD disks, 25MB versus 15MB on single layered disks. However, HD-DVD drives are significantly cheaper than Blu-ray drives. HD-DVD disks have the same dimensions as existing DVD disks, which saves cost. There is no clear winner yet in this newest media format war.

6 Patches To Be Released Next Tuesday

6 Patches To Be Released Next Tuesday

Microsoft is scheduled to release 6 patches for next week's Patch Tuesday. Of the 6 patches, 2 are rated as critical. Missing is a patch for the zero day exploit recently discovered in multiple versions of Microsoft Word. Microsoft is working hard on a patch for the vulnerability but feels it would premature to release one now. In addition to the patches, Microsoft also plans to include an updated Malicious Software Removal Tool.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

faxZERO


faxZERO send a fax for free

An almost completely free online fax service. Users can send up to 2 faxes/day and each fax can have up to 3 pages. Documents can be in either .pdf or .doc files. FaxZero will include an ad on the cover sheet but not on any of the other fax pages. The cover sheet does not count towards the 3 page limit.

Blockbuster Giving Netflix Users Free Rentals


Blockbuster Giving Netflix Users Free Rentals

Good news for Netflix users, Blockbuster will provide free DVD movie rentals for all Netflix customers who already have an existing Blockbuster membership. Netflix customers will need to go to their local Blockbuster store to rent the movies. In addition, Netflix customers will have to present their Netflix tear off address envelopes as proof of their membership and their Blockbuster membership card as well. The offer is good until December 21st, 2006.

Monday, December 04, 2006

What is my Computers Maximum CPU Temperature?

What is my Computer's Maximum CPU Temperature?

Overclocking is a fairly easy and free way of boosting your computer's performance but there are consequences. For example, when you run a CPU at a higher clock speeds, you will most likely need to increase the voltage to support the higher clock speed. The CPU's temperature rises with an increase in voltage. While CPU's typically have their own fans, there are limits on how much they can cool the CPU. This article is a great reference which lists the maximum temperature a CPU can operate safely at. Of course, different CPU's have different tolerances.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

10 Minute Disposable E-Mail




There are many instances in which a temporary (a.k.a disposable) e-mail address would be useful. For instance, a number of software vendors offer "free" software only if you register with them using a valid e-mail address. That free software is going to cost you a flood of spam. Thankfully, there is an easy solution. A number of disposable e-mail services have popped up in the last few years. My favorite is jetable disposable e-mail service. 10 Minute Mail is a new entrant. The service is unique in many ways. First, as the name suggests, the disposable e-mail addresses expire after 10 minutes. However, at any time, you can extend the life of the e-mail address in 10 minute increments. In addition, unlike jetable e-mail service, 10 Minute Mail does not forward your mail to your real e-mail address. Instead, you just enter the disposable e-mail address on to your address bar and go to the website to retrieve your messages. This method has its pro's and con's. It is good since you don't need to provide your real e-mail address to 10 Minute Mail. However, it is bad because the messages are out in the open and any surfing to the generated web address and read your mail. But, I guess since you will most likely be using it to avoid spam, this shouldn't be too bad. For a list of other available disposable e-mail services, take a look at ghacks.net list.