Sunday, December 15, 2019

Protection You Can Afford

August 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Computer Security Tips

There are numerous ways you can lose the information on your computer. Your child decides to play Chopin on your keyboard, a power surge, lightening, a virus, or even simple equipment failure. Therefore, backing up the contents of your hard drive is an absolute MUST. By regularly making backup copies of your files and storing them in a separate location, you can typically get some, if not all, of your information back in the event your computer crashes.

While a regular backup to floppy, CD, or zip drive will save your files, wouldn’t it be great if you could create an exact copy (a drive image) of your hard disk? That means backups of all your files, programs, and user settings. This would definitely save you time when it came to reloading. Acronis may be able to help.

Acronis True Image 9.0 is a robust disk-imaging utility software that copies the entire contents of your hard drive including data and operating system files, personalized settings, and more, onto another disk or disk partition. Its layout is easy to use and navigate. It also includes wizards which can walk you through both backing up and restoring your computer. Highlighted features include:

1 Secure Zone — allows you to save data to a special hidden partition located on your hard drive which would eliminate the need to purchase an extra hard drive.
2 PC Cloning — you can upgrade to a new system disk without needing to reinstall the operating system and applications, or configure user settings.
3 Acronis Snap Restore – lightening-speed restore of your PC from an image. You can start working in seconds while your system is still being restored.

Acronis provides a free test-drive of its product and a 30-day money back guarantee. When you are ready to purchase, you can either download for $49.99, or if you so desire, order a boxed version for $59.99. With Acronis True Image Home 9.0, you can rest easy that your family pictures, personal documents, tax returns, resumes, and other important information will not be lost forever.

Phishing For Your Identity

August 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Computer Security Tips

Who hasn’t received an email directing them to visit a familiar website where they are being asked to update their personal information? The website needs you to verify or update your passwords, credit card numbers, social security number, or even your bank account number. You recognize the business name as one that you’ve conducted business with in the past. So, you click on the convenient “take me there” link and proceed to provide all the information they have requested. Unfortunately, you find out much later that the website is bogus. It was created with the sole intent to steal your personal information. You, my friend, have just been “phished”.

Phishing (pronounced as “fishing”) is defined as the act of sending an email to a recipient falsely claiming to have an established, legitimate business. The intent of the phisher is to scam the recipient into surrendering their private information, and ultimately steal your identity.

It is not at easy as you think to spot an email phishing for information. At first glance, the email may look like it is from a legitimate company. The “From” field of the e-mail may have the .com address of the company mentioned in the e-mail. The clickable link even appears to take you to the company’s website, when in fact, it is a fake website built to replicate the legitimate site.

Many of these people are professional criminals. They have spent a lot of time in creating emails that look authentic. Users need to review all emails requesting personal information carefully. When reviewing your email remember that the “From Field” can be easily changed by the sender. While it may look like it is coming from a .com you do business with, looks can be deceiving. Also keep in mind that the phisher will go all out in trying to make their email look as legitimate as possible. They will even copy logos or images from the official site to use in their emails. Finally, they like to include a clickable link that the recipient can follow to conveniently update their information.
A great way to check the legitimacy of the link is to point at the link with your mouse. Then, look in the bottom left hand screen of your computer. The actual website address to which you are being directed will show up for you to view. It is a very quick and easy way to check if you are being directed to a legitimate site.

Finally, follow the golden rule. Never, ever, click the links within the text of the e-mail, and always delete the e-mail immediately. Once you have deleted the e-mail, empty the trash box in your e-mail accounts as well. If you are truly concerned that you are missing an important notice regarding one of your accounts, then type the full URL address of the website into your browser. At least then you can be confident that you are, in fact, being directed to the true and legitimate website.

Parental Peace of Mind

August 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Computer Security Tips

The advent of the Internet, in some respects, made the job of parenting a little harder. We want our children to experience the vast wealth of knowledge available on the Internet and communicate with their friends online (frees up the telephone). Unfortunately, it also potential exposes our children to inappropriate material, obscene pop-up ads, and even sexual predators. In fact, research indicates that 1 in 5 children aged 10 to 17 have received a sexual solicitation over the Internet. This is definitely not something any parent wants to hear, but is forced to face.

We need a little assurance that when our children access the web, they can do so safely. Internet filters are crucial to protect your children. One tool that can assist us in this goal is Internet Parental Control software. One of the top names in parental control software is ContentWatch, and if the Big Mouse himself recommends this product, then it has to be good. If Disney feels good enough to install three of the ContentWatch products in their Disney Dream Desk PC, it has to be worthy. After all, they are willing to stake their reputation on it.

Internetfilterreviews.com rated ContentProtect 2.0 the #1 Internet filtering software. It is easy to install, configure, and customize. If you do have any problems, ContentWatch provides unlimited toll-free technical support. ContentProtect can blocks pornography, hate sites, questionable chat rooms, and other known dangers of the Internet. You can even configure ContentProtect to block online game and gambling sites, and make it so your children can only install and play computer games with parental ratings that you deem appropriate.

Other features include:
1 Integration with Safe Search features in popular search engines
2 Reports of your children’s internet activity
3 Logs of your child’s chat room and instant messages
4 Reports if your child tries to remove or disable protection
5 Filters bad content on Peer-to-Peer networks and other areas
6 Password protected access for parents
7 Customizable restrictions for each family member.
8 Automatic software updates at no additional cost.

ContentWatch provides a two-week, no-obligation free trial of the full version. The product costs $39.99 per seat (installs on only one computer). This is a one time purchase price which will give you unlimited use of the service. You never have to renew a subscription or pay any additional membership fees for use of the program. It seems like a reasonable price for a little parental peace of mind.

Naturally, Speaking…

August 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Computer Security Tips

Anyone who works on a computer day-in and day-out, for any extensive period of time, dreams of the day when a product will be developed that will end the tyranny of our endless tapping at the keyboard. Wouldn’t it be swell if we could simply speak and the computer recorded and typed what we said? Oh, yeah, it also has to be affordable for the average consumer.

That day, my friend, has come courtesy of Nuance and Dragon NaturallySpeaking® Preferred software. This unique software has won over 140 major awards worldwide for accuracy and ease of use. This accurate, affordable, and easy-to-use speech recognition program enables small/home office, business, and educational users to create and edit documents, reports, spreadsheets, and email all by voice.

With this software, you can accurately turn your voice into text. You can dictate continuously and naturally at up to 160 words per minute. The software is fully integrated with Microsoft Word, Excel, Internet Explorer and Corel WordPerfect. It can be used with virtually any Windows-based application.

Other product features include:
1 A comprehensive vocabulary of over 250,000 standard and business terms, with the ability to add new words easily.
2 The ability to insert text and graphics with a spoken word or phrase.
3 The capacity to dictate into any L&H certified handheld recorded while you are on the road.
4 Text-to-speech technology that allows your documents and emails to be read back to you in a human sounding voice.
5 Searching the Web, accessing information, and navigating web pages by speaking URLS and links.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking® 8 boasts a speech to text conversion accuracy rating of 99%. The standard version is available for just under $100 while the preferred version retails for approximately $200. Among the main usability differences between the two versions is that the standard version does not do dictation playback, work with a handheld digital recorder, dictate into a PocketPC or PalmOne Tungsten handheld device, and does not possess the smart formatting feature.

By effectively harnessing the power of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 8, we can improve the way we perform work on our computer.

Name, Rank and Social Security Number

August 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Computer Security Tips

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the U.S. The U.S. Secret Service has estimated that consumers nationwide lose $745 million to identity theft each year. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the average victim spends 607 hours and averages $1,000 just to clear their credit records.

Identity thieves employ a variety of methods to gain access to your personal information. They may get information from businesses or other institutions by stealing it; by bribing an employee who has access to records; hacking into records; or conning information out of employees. Once identity thieves have your personal information, they may use it to commit a fraud or theft in your name.

How can you tell if you have become a victim of identity theft? Some signs include unexplained charges or withdrawals from your financial accounts; bills or other mail stop arriving (the thief may have submitted a change of address); a credit application is denied for no apparent reason, or debt collectors begin calling about merchandise or services you didn’t buy.

Your computer can be a goldmine of personal information to an identity thief. To protect yourself and your computer against identity theft consider:

1 Updating virus protection software frequently. Consider setting your virus protection software to update automatically. The Windows XP operating system also can be set to check for patches automatically and download them to your computer.
2 Not opening files sent to you by strangers, clicking on hyperlinks, or downloading programs from people or companies you don’t know.
3 Using a firewall program, especially if you use a high speed Internet connection like cable or DSL that leaves your computer connected to the Internet 24 hours a day.
4 Providing your personal or financial information through an organization’s secured website only. While not fool proof, a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL for a website that begins “https:” (the “s” stands for secure), may provide additional security.
5 Not storing your financial information on your laptop, unless absolutely necessary.
6 Deleting all the personal information stored on a computer before disposing of it. A wipe” utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive is recommended.
7 Checking with an anti-fraud education organization such as CardCops (www.cardcops.com). Card Cops runs a web site designed to help consumers determine whether their credit card numbers may have been stolen. They monitor Internet “chat rooms” where identity thieves illicitly trade and sell stolen credit card numbers. CardCops turns the information over to law enforcement authorities, but also allows consumers to access their database to see whether individual card numbers may have been stolen. In the first two months of operation, the site identified more than 100,000 stolen credit cards.

As with any crime, you can not completely control whether you will become a victim, but you can take steps to minimize your risk by remaining diligent and by minimizing outside access to your personal information.

If You Build It, They Will Come

August 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Computer Security Tips

Almost everyone seems to have a website today. You’ve probably even tossed around the idea of setting one up yourself, but hesitate. You think it might be a little too hard to design and host. Maybe you just aren’t sure what you should put on it. What do people actually use personal webpages for anyway? You’d be surprised at how versatile personal webpages can be. More and more users are creating websites that cater to their interests, opinions, hobbies, and businesses everyday. If you could get one up and running in as little as five minutes, would that peek your interest?

Thanks to Moonfruit, the maker of the SiteMaker product suites, you can. When reviewed against Homestead, Lycos Tripod and Yahoo Geocities, PCWorld said, “without a doubt, Moonfruit is the slickest of the online site builders.” They weren’t kidding. With this software you can have your personal or business website up and running in four easy steps:

1. Select your website layout from over 150 templates available.
2. Edit the site to add your own personal unique touches such as pictures and music.
3. Add additional features like forums, message boards, discussion areas, newsfeeds, e-commerce tools, games, events calendars, and much more.
4. Set up your site controls which will allow you to manage your site statistics, user groups, and emails.

SiteMaker is easily one of the best multi-purpose site-building tools suitable for both business and personal use. The well-designed templates and eye catching colors will also attract small businesses looking for a creative web presence. Home-user will love the extra personalizing site features such as the ability to upload pictures and music. It’s easy to learn, and you can start immediately.

Moonfruit is ultimately less expensive and user-friendly when compared with many other website builder choices. SiteMaker packages are priced from $4.49 to $23.99 per month. If you want to test-drive their product, you can do so with a 14-day free trial period. So, go ahead, what’s stopping you from building your very own website?

Lights! Camera! Action!

August 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Computer Security Tips

Have you ever thought you had what it takes to direct your own movies? Maybe, you just love taking video of your kids. And what’s the thrill of making a movie if you can’t share it with the world…or at least your immediate family and friends?

Grouper Networks has just taken photo-sharing to the next level. With the creation of their free software called Grouper, people are now able to share their videos over the Web. This unique service continues to grow in popularity. Since the launch of Grouper 2.0 in late 2005, over 50,000 videos and photos have been shared over the Web.

Now, you too can share your video with the world for—here’s the best part – FREE! Grouper allows you to perform unlimited fast and easy batch uploading. You can send links to your friends who can watch and download your videos. Want to chat about your video with family and friends? Well, you are in luck. Grouper allows you and up to twenty-nine of your nearest and dearest family members and friends to gab in real time.

Have a MySpace, Friendster, or blog page? You can even post your video and have it play right to your page, or download it to your iPod or PlaystationPortable. You don’t have to worry about any size restrictions on your video uploads either because Grouper doesn’t have any. Streaming previews of your movies are limited to three minutes, however if members have the bandwidth, they can download your full movies.

To ensure that its customers aren’t using the free software to share copyrighted materials or perform other unlawful activities, Grouper’s multimedia application prevents the distribution of protected music or video files and limits the number of people with whom users can share their content.

To use Grouper, you must download a small application from their website. Once you have installed the software, you can import video from your camcorder, create short movies (“Groovies”), and then choose to either share them with the public or keep them private. Video sharing is easy and fun! Are you ready for your close-up? Lights! Camera! Action!

How many spyware items are infecting your computer?

August 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Computer Security Tips

I just had, by mistake, a plug-in called Intelligent Explorer attach to my browser. What a nightmare! I have another article on this topic, but this brings home a point. Spyware or adware items are continually infecting computers. Most computers have no protection from them. Most frightening is the frequency of them. From the InfosecWriters web site, “According to a 2004 survey by America Online and the National Cyber Security Alliance, 91% of users questioned were familiar with the term spyware. Only 53% believed their computers were infected, but a scan found that 80% of their PCs had some type of spyware installed on them.” It goes on to say, “…The average number of spyware components per computer was 93 with one computer having well over a thousand.”

What is Spyware?

Butte College (www.bctv.butte.edu/support/spyware.html) offers this definition:

“The term ‘spyware’ is broadly defined as any program that gets into your computer without permission and hides in the background while it makes unwanted changes to your user experience.
Spyware is generally not designed to damage your computer. The damage it does is more a by-product of its main mission, which is to serve you targeted advertisements or make your browser display certain sites or search results.
At present, most spyware targets only the Windows operating system (Internet Explorer).”

To be fair, spyware can be harmless, for example tracking cookies don’t do much. While such things infringe on your privacy, they don’t really harm anything. Others, however, are extremely dangerous.

So what do you do about it?

No spyware program seems to do everything, but there are a lot of goods solutions out there that can help. Here is a list of some of the top Spyware tools to look at:

1) Try Ad-Aware 6.0 Professional from LavaSoft (there is also a free version with less functionality)

2) Spybot Search & Destroy from PepiMK Software

3) Xoftspy form Pareto Logic

5) Spyware Guard from Javacool Software is a free program

4) Pest Patrol (now part of Computer Associates by acquisition)

5) McAfee Anti-Spyware

One thing is for certain: you do need to take spyware seriously. For some reason, too many people out there think anti-virus solutions are the end-all solution. They are not.

And, when all else fails?

Finally, as drastic as it seems, if your computer has been infected with a large number of spyware programs, the only solution you may have is backing up your data, and performing a complete reinstall of the operating system.

Finding the Security Suite that meets your needs

August 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Computer Security Tips

Before proceeding to read this article, it is important that we state something up front. It is essential for the reader to understand and appreciate that there is no such thing as a secure operating system or web browser. While the use of security suites and other complementing products can significantly reduce your risks, they are not magic wands that you can wave to eliminate 100% of your risk. Any product claiming they can do this should be viewed with great skepticism.

With that being said, let’s talk computer security and security suites. There are numerous ways in which the security of your computer can be breached. The most common threats come from worms, viruses, Trojans, phishing, hackers and crackers. Potential security breaches can come in the form of downloading unfamiliar email attachments, being monitored by spyware, maliciously attacked by malware, or probed through port scanning.

Dshield.org (www.dshield.org), a non-profit company, functions as a “dominating attach correlation engine with worldwide coverage”. In short, they work with people and companies to track, among other things, port scanning violations. Port scanning involves a person (referred to as a hacker or cracker) who attempts to break into you computer through the open ports in your system. Once an open port is located, the individual attempts to collect your personal data or install a malware program into you computer. On average, Dshield.org logs over 1.1 billion reported attempts of port scanning each month. What is even scarier is that this is just based on their program participants. You can imagine how many more incidents are occurring each month to the general population of computer users.

Dshield.org also reports on survival time. Survival time refers to how long it will take before an unpatched PC is attacked or infected. Below is a snapshot of their current operating system breakdown:

Current OS Breakdown

Category % Adjusted Survival Time
Windows 27.0000 128 min
Unix 0.5000 3648 min
Application 3.0000 1203 min
P2P 1.5000 1591 min
Backdoor 0.5000 5432 min
Source: Dshield.org – Survival Time History (11/8/05)

In short, if you have a Windows-based operating system and an unpatched PC, you will be attacked or infected in a little over 2 hours. When looked at in these terms, securing your computer becomes a mission.

Here are a few easy steps you can take to immediately protect your computer.

1. Don’t run unfamiliar programs on your computer.
It sounds like common sense, but many of the most prominent attacks have involved spyware and email attachment worms such as Bagle and Netsky. If you don’t recognize the sender, don’t download its attachments.
2. Don’t allow unrestricted physical access to your computer.
If you have sensitive or proprietary information on your computer, allowing other employees or family members to use your computer can lead to potential breaches in your computer’s security.
3. Don’t use weak passwords.
Use passwords which are difficult for someone to figure out. People frequently use the names of children, pets, anniversary dates, or birthdays. Because there seems to be a password needed for everything, it is not uncommon to see many people using the same password for everything. Big mistake! The use of only one password provides a hacker with easy access to a smorgasbord of personal information. If you have to write your passwords down, it is best not to leave them on a post-it, attached to the screen of your computer. You may chuckle at the absurdity, but it happens more than you think.
4. Don’t forget to regularly patch your operating system and other applications.
Many industry experts believe that most network security attacks would be stopped if computer users would just keep their computers updated with patches and security fixes. Too often, we forget to do this on a regular basis. Remember that every day, new viruses, worms and Trojans are being created and distributed. They are looking for the weaknesses in your computer system. Having outdated software is basically the same as holding the door open and inviting them in for a visit.
5. Don’t forget to make regular backups of important data
Always keep a copy of important files on removable media such as floppy/ZIP disks or recordable CD-ROM disks. Store the backups in a location separate from the computer.

In most cases, Windows desktop and screen-saver passwords provides adequate protection for normal security concerns. However, if you feel more comfortable taking additional security measures consider obtaining a comprehensive security suite.

Selecting a Antivirus Software
The next question is how do you pick the best product for your needs? You start by asking yourself a series of questions. Do you need password protection for individual files, your desktop, a network, or to block someone’s access to the Internet? Is your computer used only by you or do multiple users have access to the computer? How many users in total do you expect on your computer? What are your system requirements? How much do you want to spend?

Once you are able to answer these questions, you can begin to research which security suite will best meet your needs. Product reviews and user statements provide a great starting point. PCMagaine (www.pcmag.com), Zdnet.com (www.zdnet.com), and Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org) are just a few informative sites that offer research on various computer software products.

There are numerous security suites available on the market. Take the time to choose the one that meets your specific needs. As a starting point, we’ve listed a couple of the more popular programs:

1. Kaspersky Personal Security Suite
Description: A comprehensive protection program package designed to guard against worms, viruses, spyware, adware and other malicious programs. The program offers five pre-defined security levels and is convenient for mobile users. System requirements: Window 98/2000/XP; Internet Explore 5.0 or higher, Memory: minimum of 64 MB RAM, 100 MB free on hard drive.

2. Shield Deluxe 2005
Description: This program provides protection from viruses, adware, spyware, and privacy threats while using very low system resources. Additionally, the maker, PC Security Shield offers ongoing free technical support. System requirements: Windows 98 or higher, WinNT, WinXP, WinME; Internet Explorer 5.1 or higher, Memory: 32MB ram or higher, 65 MB free disk space.

Fighting Spam

August 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Computer Security Tips

How prevalent is Spam? According to Scott McAdams, OMA Public Affairs and Communications Department (www.oma.org):
“Studies show unsolicited or “junk” e-mail, known as spam, accounts for roughly half of all e-mail messages received. Although once regarded as little more than a nuisance, the prevalence of spam has increased to the point where many users have begun to express a general lack of confidence in the effectiveness of e-mail transmissions, and increased concern over the spread of computer viruses via unsolicited messages.”
In 2003, President Bush signed the “Can Spam” bill, in December of 2003 which is the first national standards around bulk unsolicited commercial e-mail. The bill, approved by the Senate by a vote of 97 to 0, prohibits senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail from using false return addresses to disguise their identity (spoofing) and the use of dictionaries to generate such mailers. In addition, it prohibits the use of misleading subject lines and requires that emails include and opt-out mechanism. The legislation also prohibits senders from harvesting addresses off Web sites. Violations constitute a misdemeanor crime subject to up to one year in jail.
One major point that needs to be discussed about this: spam is now coming from other countries in ever-greater numbers. These emails are harder to fight, because they come from outside our country’s laws and regulations. Because the Internet opens borders and thinks globally, these laws are fine and good, but do not stop the problem.
So what do you do about this? Her are the top 5 Rules to do to protect from spam.
Number 1: Do what you can to avoid having your email address out on the net.
There are products called “spam spiders” that search the Internet for email addresses to send email to. If you are interested, do a search on “spam spider” and you will be amazed at what you get back. Interestingly, there is a site, WebPoison.org, which is an open source project geared to fight Internet “spambots” and “spam spiders”, by giving them bogus HTML web pages, which contain bogus email addresses
A couple suggestions for you: a) use form emails, which can hide addresses or also b) use addresses like sales@company.com instead of your full address to help battle the problem. c) There are also programs that encode your email, like jsGuard, which encodes your email address on web pages so that while spam spiders find it difficult or impossible to read your email address.
Number 2: Get spam blocking software. There are many programs out there for this. (go to www.cloudmark.com or www.mailwasher.net for example). You may also buy a professional version. Whatever you do, get the software. It will save you time. The software is not foolproof, but they really do help. You usually have to do some manual set up to block certain types of email.
Number 3: Use the multiple email address approach.
There are a lot of free email addresses to be had. If you must subscribe to newsletters, then have a “back-up” email address. It would be like giving your sell phone number to your best friends and the business number to everyone else.
Number 4: Attachments from people you don’t know are BAD, BAD, BAD.
A common problem with spam is that they have attachments and attachments can have viruses. Corporations often have filters that don’t let such things pass to you. Personal email is far more “open country” for spamers. General rule of thumb: if you do not know who is sending you something, DO NOT OPEN THE ATTACHMENT. Secondly, look for services that offer filtering. Firewall vendors offer this type of service as well.
Number 5: Email services now have “bulk-mail” baskets. If what you use currently does not support this, think about moving to a new vender. The concept is simple. If you know someone, they can send you emails. If you don’t know them, put them in the bulk email pile and then “choose” to allow them into your circle. Spam Blocking software has this concept as well, but having extra layers seems critical these days, so it is worth looking into.

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