Category Archives: Anti-Virus

Protect your Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping with a quick PC tune-up

Before embarking on online shopping trips, it’s worth the few minutes required to make sure your computer does not enable the theft of your identity.

Tens of thousands will have their identities stolen in the next few weeks, because malware was able to help steal valuable information from you such as credit card numbers, online userids and passwords. A few minutes work will go a long way towards preventing this.

That, or you can do nothing, and potentially have to take days off of work to cancel credit cards, write letters, get credit monitoring, and get back to where you are right now with perhaps forty hours’ work.

It’s up to you.

Ready?

1. On your PC, connect to http://update.microsoft.com/ .  Go through the steps required to check that all necessary security patches are installed.

Note: If you are able to connect to Internet sites but are unable to successfully install updates at update.microsoft.com, your PC may already be compromised. If so, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to rid your computer of malware. Delays may be very costly in the long run.

2. To eliminate the need to periodically visit update.microsoft.com, confirm that Automatic Updates are properly set. Use one of the following links for detailed instructions (all are Microsoft articles that open in a new window):

Windows XP | Windows Vista | Windows 7 | Windows 8 (automatic updates are turned on by default)

Note: If you are unable to successfully turn on Automatic Updates, your PC may already be compromised. If so, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to rid your computer of malware. Delays may be very costly in the long run.

3. Ensure that your PC has working anti-virus software. If you know how to find it, make sure that it has downloaded updates in the last few days. Try doing an update now – your anti-virus software should be able to successfully connect and check for new updates. If your Internet connection is working but your anti-virus software is unable to check for updates, it is likely that your PC is already compromised.

Note: if any of the following conditions are true, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to make sure your computer is protected from malware.

a. You cannot find your anti-virus program

b. Your anti-virus program cannot successfully check for updates

c. Your anti-virus program does not seem to be working properly

Several free anti-virus programs are worthy of consideration: AVGAvastZone Alarm Free Antivirus + FirewallPanda Cloud Anti-VirusI cannot stress enough the need for every PC user to have a healthy, working, properly configured anti-virus program on their computer at all times.

New Year’s Resolutions: safer Internet usage

Celebration of the New Year is a time of looking back at the closing year and looking forward to the new year. This is often a time when we set new personal goals for improving our lives in meaningful ways.

Given how much we all use personal computing (you do if you are reading this), all of us can stand to make one or more improvements in our computing hygiene, making us safer and better off.

This article contains categories of ideas that you can choose from. Read through these and decide which of them will be best for you to adopt as a resolution.

Home computing

  • Back up your data, so that you can recover it in case of theft, disaster, or other loss.
  • Keep your anti-virus working and healthy.
  • Configure your computer to automatically download and install security patches.
  • Use an online virus scanner to scan your computer, in case your install anti-virus misses one.
  • Use different user accounts for each family / household member.
  • Use OpenDNS to help prevent visiting phishing sites.
  • Use OpenDNS to restrict the types of sites that can be visited from your home (or office) network.
  • Tune up your home firewall (which may be in your DSL router or cable modem).
  • Use different passwords for each online site you log in to; use a password vault to remember your passwords.

Safe smartphone usage

  • Choose a good unlock password for your smart phone. If you insist on using numeric only, use 8 or more digits.
  • Set your smartphone auto-lock to 15 minutes or less.
  • Keep track of where your smartphone is at all times.
  • Install a “find my smartphone” app to discover its location if lost or stolen.
  • Do not save any passwords on your smartphone.
  • Limit your access to sensitive / valuable information (e.g. online banking) from your smartphone, especially if it is Android.

Protecting your identity

  • Keep your anti-virus working and healthy.
  • Check your credit report at least once per year (or, more ideally, every four months by checking your credit report for a different bureau each time).
  • Be conscious of where and how you provide personal information (name, address, date of birth, etc.) to online sites.
  • Resist the urge to click on links or documents in suspicious looking e-mail messages. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is a scam.
  • Carefully review all financial statements from banks and credit cards. Consider closing some accounts if you have too many.
  • Get a home safe or use a bank safe deposit box to store valuables such as passports, birth certificates, seldom-used credit cards, and other valuables.
  • Use a home shredder to shred documents containing sensitive or personal information.

If you feel you need to starting doing all of the above, I suggest you choose the few that are most important and establish them as good habits. Then, return to this list and choose a few more to implement. If you attempt to make too many changes at once, you might become frustrated by all of the changes and revert back to your old ways.

New Christmas computer, part 2: anti-virus

You are savoring your new PC and visiting your usual haunts: Facebook, Netflix, Hulu, and more.

But if this new PC does not have anti-virus, a firewall, and other precautions, the glitter will soon be gone, and you’ll soon wonder why the problems you’re having in 2013 are related to that new PC.

New machines are a good time to develop new habits. Sure, there’s a little trouble now, but you’ll save hours of grief later.  Think of this as the moments required to fasten the seat belt in your car and perhaps a bit of discomfort – but compare that to the pain and expense of injuries incurred in even a minor crash if you weren’t wearing it. Minor decisions now can have major consequences later.

Habit #2: Install and configure anti-virus

While many new computers come with anti-virus software, often it’s a limited “trial” version from one of the popular brands such as Symantec, McAfee, or Trend Micro. If you don’t mind shelling out $40 or more for a year (or more) of anti-virus protection, go ahead and do so now before you forget. Granted, most of these trial versions are aggressively “in your face” about converting your trial version into a full purchased version.  Caution: if you get into the habit of dismissing the “your trial version is about to run out!” messages, you run the risk of turning a blind eye when your trial anti-virus is no longer protecting you.  Better do it now!

If your computer did not come with anti-virus software, I suggest you make that the first order of business. There are many reputable brands of anti-virus available today, available online or from computer and electronics stores. For basic virus (and Trojan, worms, key loggers, etc.), all of the main brands of anti-virus are very similar.

My personal preference for anti-virus programs (in order) are:

  1. Kaspersky
  2. Sophos
  3. AVG
  4. Norton
  5. McAfee
  6. Panda
  7. Trend Micro

Note: if selecting, installing, and configuring anti-virus seems to be beyond your ability, consult with the store where you purchased your computer, or contact a trusted advisor who is knowledgable on the topic.

Key configuration points when using anti-virus:

  • “Real time” scanning – the anti-virus program examines activity on your computer continuously and blocks any malware that attempts to install itself.
  • Signature updates – the anti-virus program should check at least once each day for new updates, to block the latest viruses from infecting your computer.
  • Periodic whole disk scans – it is a good idea to scan your hard drive at least once a week. If you keep your computer on all the time, schedule the scan to take place when you are not using the computer, as a scan can slow down your computer.
  • Safe Internet usage – many anti-virus programs contain a feature that will try to warn you or steer you away from sites that are known to be harmful.

Many anti-virus programs also come with a firewall and other tools. Some of these may be useful as well – consult your computer retailer or a trusted advisor to see what’s right for you.

Part 1: password security

Part 3: data backup

Protect your Black Monday shopping with a quick tune-up

I cannot stress enough the need for every PC user to have a healthy, working, properly configured anti-virus program running on their computer at all times.

[updated December 1, 2012]
Before embarking on online shopping trips, it’s worth the few minutes required to make sure your computer does not enable the theft of your identity.

Tens of thousands will have their identities stolen in the next few weeks, because malware was able to help steal valuable information from you such as credit card numbers, online userids and passwords. A few minutes work will go a long way towards preventing this.

That, or you can do nothing, and potentially have to take days off of work to cancel credit cards, write letters, get credit monitoring, and get back to where you are right now with perhaps forty hours’ work.

It’s up to you.

Ready?

1. On your PC, connect to http://update.microsoft.com/ .  Go through the steps required to check that all necessary security patches are installed.

Note: If you are able to connect to Internet sites but are unable to successfully install updates at update.microsoft.com, your PC may already be compromised. If so, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to rid your computer of malware. Delays may be very costly in the long run.

2. To eliminate the need to periodically visit update.microsoft.com, confirm that Automatic Updates are properly set. Use one of the following links for detailed instructions (all are Microsoft articles that open in a new window):

Windows XP | Windows Vista | Windows 7 | Windows 8 (automatic updates are turned on by default)

If you are unable to successfully turn on Automatic Updates, your PC may already be compromised. If so, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to rid your computer of malware. Delays may be very costly in the long run.

3. Ensure that your PC has working anti-virus software. If you know how to find it, make sure that it has downloaded updates in the last few days. Try doing an update now – your anti-virus software should be able to successfully connect and check for new updates. If your Internet connection is working but your anti-virus software is unable to check for updates, it is likely that your PC is already compromised.

Note: if any of the following conditions are true, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to make sure your computer is protected from malware.

a. You cannot find your anti-virus program

b. Your anti-virus program cannot successfully check for updates

c. Your anti-virus program does not seem to be working properly

If you are not sure whether your anti-virus software is working (or if you computer even has anti-virus software), you may wish to download and run Microsoft Security Essentials. This is a free anti-virus program from Microsoft. While some professionals may argue that this is not as effective as any of the commercial brands of anti-virus software (Sophos, Symantec, McAfeeTrend Micro, Panda, etc), it’s better than having nothing at all.

December 1, 2012 Update: Microsoft Security Essentials has lost its certification as being an effective anti-virus program. Full test results available here in an easy to read chart. Note the absence of the “AVTest Certified” logo next to Microsoft Security Essentials.

Several free anti-virus programs are worthy of consideration: AVG, Avast, Zone Alarm Free Antivirus + Firewall, Panda Cloud Anti-Virus. I cannot stress enough the need for every PC user to have a healthy, working, properly configured anti-virus program on their computer at all times.

Block Javascript in Adobe Acrobat

Simple how-to instructions for blocking Javascript in Adobe Acrobat Reader in Windows, Linux, and Mac systems.

Reducing the attack surface in Adobe reader is an important step in reducing malware attacks. The vast majority of all PDFs do not contain Javascript, but Javascript-embedded PDF files is a well known method used to attempt to compromise end user systems. This can occur in phishing scams where e-mail messages contain infected PDF files, or links point to infected PDF files hosted on web sites.

Adobe Reader on Mac. Click for full size image.

Here is how to block Javascript in Adobe Acrobat 10 for Mac. Go to Acrobat > Preferences > Javascript and uncheck Enable Acrobat Javascript.  Then click OK.

Similarly, in Adobe Reader X on Windows, go to Edit > Preferences > Javascript and uncheck the Enable Acrobat Javascript, then click OK.

Likewise, for Adobe Reader 9 on Linux, go to File > Properties > Javascript and uncheck Enable Acrobat Javascript, then click OK.

Adobe Reader on windows. Click for full size image.

Click the thumbnails to view screen shots for Mac, Windows, and Linux.

Adobe Reader in Linux. Click for full size image.

Social media safety during the holidays

The late-year holidays (Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas) are known for travel, visiting with friends and family, and gift giving and receiving. Any time of year is a time for sharing some details of our lives with others through social media outlets such as FaceBook, Twitter, MySpace, and personal blogs.

During this time of year, it is especially important that you protect yourself from online threats, some of which are caused by others, and some of which are caused by you! Follow these steps to keep your property and your online presence safe during the holidays:

Don’t announce your travel in advance. If you post something like, “leaving home for Philadelphia for five days”, you are announcing to the world that your home may be vacant for extended periods of time, inviting burglaries.  Make your posts more vague, such as “spending Christmas with brothers and parents”, which might be where you live, or not.

Don’t gloat about your gifts. Similarly, if you talk about your new Kinect,  Wii, or iPad online, you may be sharing news of your loot with too many outsiders. Instead, be more discrete and share news about your new things more privately.

Limit FaceBook exposure. Check your privacy settings in FaceBook. Consider setting up one or more groups of family and friends, to limit how wide your announcements are sent. My wife and I have “immediate family”, “family”, and other groups of highly-trusted individuals with whom we may share things about travel, gifts, and other personal matters, so that the entire world doesn’t know that we might not be home at the moment.  Similarly, limit the FaceBook applications that you allow to access your personal data. Some FaceBook applications are malevolent and are designed to steal your information and use it against you.

Get a security tune-up. Follow easy steps to ensure that your anti-virus and firewall are working, and that your patches and browser are up to date. Do this before you shop online, to limit the chances that your credit cards will be compromised.

Secure your home Wi-Fi. Find the instructions to improve the security of your home router or Wi-Fi access point. Change from no security to WEP, or better yet, WPA.  While WEP is not as secure these days, it’s better than nothing. WPA or WPA2 are far better, and most PCs (and even gaming consoles) supports WPA and WPA2 these days.

Limit use of public Wi-Fi hotspots. From road warriors to housewives, we roam with our laptops from hotspot to hotspot at our favorite coffee shops and other public venues.  While it’s okay to check the news and get shopping information, it is not okay to check e-mail, log on to FaceBook or Twitter, or perform high-value activities such as online shopping from an open WiFi hotspot. Easy to use tools are widely available that permit even the unskilled to hijack your session and compromise your personal information.

Check your credit. U.S. consumers can check their credit three times per year for free (once per year for each of the three credit bureaus). Check your credit report carefully, looking for any accounts that you may not have opened, or for changes in accounts you may not have authorized.

Use a separate online shopping credit card. Rather than using your primary credit/debit card for online shopping, open a second account and use only that one. Keep a low balance to minimize your exposures.

Choose “credit” when using debit/credit cards. Whenever you are making purchases with your debit/credit card, choose “Credit”. Then, if your credit card number is later compromised, you may enjoy additional protection (such as the $50 liability limit) on your account. Many banks do not offer the same protection for compromised debit card numbers.

Preventing browser hijacking

Browser hijacking occurs when an intruder is able to successfully exploit a vulnerability in a user’s browser program.  When a browser is hijacked, the intruder is able to control how the browser operates. Examples include changing the default home page, as well as other settings.

Why is this a problem?

Some browser settings can cause all of the traffic between your browser and Internet web sites to be routed through the intruder’s system. This allows the intruder to follow your every move, and it may also allow the intruder to capture passwords you enter at sites such as online banking and e-mail.

Are you concerned yet?  You should be! If your browser has been hijacked, you could become a victim of fraud or identity theft.

Quick Fixes
(assumes you have a Windows computer)

  1. Turn on Automatic Updates. This will cause your system to automatically download and install all the latest security patches for Windows and Internet Explorer
  2. Install Microsoft Security Essentials or other anti-virus program.  AVG has a very good free anti-virus program.
  3. Scan your computer for malware using your on-board anti-virus program.
  4. Scan your computer for malware using one of several good web-based anti-virus programs, such as: Panda, Symantec, Trend Micro.
  5. Turn on Windows Firewall.
  6. Update to the latest version of Internet Explorer, which has a better design and better security controls.
  7. If you don’t want to update Internet Explorer (or if you already have the latest), reset your IE settings.
  8. Manage and disable add-ons. A lot of browser hijacking is the result of add-ons.

Even after you do these things, you’ll still be running a combination of software that is vulnerable by design and requires constant vigilance. Read on.

Long-Term Fixes

If you are running Windows, I highly recommend you stop running Internet Explorer altogether. Use it ONLY for running Microsoft Update, online virus scans (from step 4 above – most require IE), and those occasional website that do not render well in other browsers.

For greatest security when browsing on Windows, use Firefox with the NoScript and FlashBlock add-ons. This combination is the safest possible browsing when using Windows. You’ll still have to run anti-virus and automatic updates, though.

Paradigm Shift

Most people use Windows, but few people HAVE to. There are two excellent alternatives:

  • Linux. The “ubuntu” release of Linux is highly reliable, easy to use, and secure. If you have a good PC, you can download ubuntu, burn it onto a CD, and try it out on your own computer. If you really, really like it, you can install ubuntu Linux onto your computer and say goodbye to Windows forever. We have done this on two systems here. Linux runs so much faster on a PC than Windows that you will think you got a hardware upgrade!
  • Linux in a virtual machine. If you *have* to run Windows (because of that expensive software that runs only on Windows), then I recommend you download VirtualBox and install Linux as a guest. Then, do all of your Internet browsing from the Linux machine (running Firefox, Noscript, and Flashblock as described earlier). You can run it in full screen mode, which is the next best thing to running Linux on your hardware. Another nice thing about this method is that if you do get malware on your Linux system, you can reset your Linux system back to an earlier state (I have never had this happen, but if I did mess something up in the Linux system, reverting to a recent snapshot is still a nice feature).
  • Mac OS. If your PC is not that great and you want to upgrade to new hardware, this is a great time to buy a Mac. While they may initially seem more expensive, you get excellent value and performance. On Mac OS, you can download Open Office, which is free and compatible with Microsoft Office. We have three Macs at home (a Mac Mini, a MacBook, and a MacBook Pro) and are totally satisfied with them. They are great computers.

Note regarding purchasing a Mac computer: do not get caught up in feature comparisons (e.g. a Windows system with a larger screen for less money than a Mac).  A Windows system is still just a Windows system, vulnerable by design and more expensive in the long when when you consider all the time you have to spend to keep it secure / make it secure. These videos say it better than I can: