Clean Up Your Computer With These Utilities

ttt-logoEvery computer needs a tune-up now and then. Unfortunately computer viruses often disguise themselves as cleaning programs and other utilities. You think you’re downloading a legitimate program, but you end up infecting your computer instead.

Here are some of my favorite bona fide utilities to help you keep your computer in top condition. I’ve included the full address for each product as a reminder that links, even on a benevolent site like this one, can be hijacked by hackers in order to lead you to malware-infected sites. Always visit the manufacturer’s site or app store directly to download programs, and remember that you use these utilities at your own risk.

Also make sure you are running a reliable antivirus program, that you have current updates for your system installed, and that you have a recent backup. See each utility’s site for more information and support.

Useful Utilities For Windows

  • CCleaner from Piriform
    https://www.piriform.com/ccleaner/download
    This program offers an easy way to clean out temporary files and other cached data. It also has options for optimizing your computer.
  • Malwarebytes
    https://www.malwarebytes.com/
    One of the top products for virus and malware removal. Your regular antivirus program offers routine protection, but Malwarebytes can help you remove the sneakies that manage to infiltrate those defenses.
  • Personal Software Inspector from Flexera Software (formerly Secunia)
    http://www.flexerasoftware.com/enterprise/products/software-vulnerability-management/personal-software-inspector/
    If you’ve been looking for a convenient way to make sure all of your Windows programs are up to date, look no further. PSI scans your system and lets you know which programs need updates or are obsolete. No more wondering if you have the latest versions!

Useful Utilities For Mac

  • El Capitan Cache Cleaner from Northern Softworks
    http://www.northernsoftworks.com/elcapitancachecleaner.html
    This little gem lets Mac users clear out caches and other miscellaneous junk. You can also use it to repair permissions, which can help to mitigate problems, as well as run other optimization routines. Despite the name it also works with previous versions of Mac OS.
  • Apple Diagnostics (Apple Hardware Test) from Apple
    https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202731
    This hardware testing program is built into your Mac. Restart your Mac, then hold down the D key until the Apple Diagnostics window appears.
  • Disk Utility from Apple
    https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201639
    This is another built-in tool that helps you diagnose and repair hard drive problems. You’ll find it in the Utilities folder in the Applications folder on your Macintosh HD.

 

How To Prevent Or Remove The Windows 10 Upgrade

nowin10Just when you think Microsoft won’t stoop any lower in forcing Windows 10 upgrades on its customers, now they’ve started changing the way your computer behaves in order to trick you into accepting the upgrade.

I’m referring to the X or close box in the upper corner of a computer’s dialog window, which is used in many operating systems (not just Windows) to indicate “close” or “cancel”. Until now, that is. Microsoft doesn’t want people to exit out of its overly-persistent Windows 10 upgrade reminder, so it has changed the X in the corner to indicate “accept” instead of “cancel”. You’ll find more details in this article from PC Magazine and this one from Computerworld, and more about Microsoft’s aggressive stance on Windows 10 in Tech Tips posts here and here.

In effect, Microsoft has made it next to impossible for the average nontechnical user to avoid Windows 10.

Please Don’t Turn Off Automatic Updates
As a tech professional I’m appalled that Microsoft would change such a fundamental part of a long-established interface in order to foist its latest operating system onto an unsuspecting public. It goes against all principles of information technology, not to mention customer service.

However, I’m equally concerned that people are turning off automatic updates to avoid Windows 10. I understand why – no one likes having their computer upgraded unexpectedly, without even the chance to make a backup. But turning off your updates also turns off necessary security updates that you need to prevent computer viruses. And, given Microsoft’s tactics, this may not hold Win10 at bay anyhow.

Tools To Prevent Windows 10 From Installing
Fortunately there are tools that can help keep Windows 10 off your computer. The two most popular are GWX Control Panel and Never 10. As always, use any third-party utility at your own risk, and make sure you have a full backup on an external hard drive (not the cloud) before you proceed.

GWX Control Panel offers a wide variety of features including disabling the Windows 10 upgrade notice, preventing the Win10 install, and removing downloaded installer files. Never 10 is ideal for the novice user, providing an easy-to-use interface that uses Microsoft’s own tools to prevent Windows 10 from installing.

Please don’t use some random utility you find in a web search. There are plenty of viruses out there that would love to trick you into downloading them by pretending to be something useful. Always be cautious of malicious lookalike apps!

What To Do If Your Computer Has Already Upgraded To Windows 10
If you find yourself already upgraded to Windows 10, Microsoft offers a one-month window during which you may revert back to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. You’ll find their instructions here. Again, I recommend making a backup before trying to make any major changes to your computer – you may not want Windows 10, but you probably want your data back if something goes wrong with the downgrade.

If you’re outside that one-month window, you could back up your computer, restore it to its Win7 or Win8.1 factory defaults according to your manufacturer’s instructions, and then install one of the Win10 blockers so it doesn’t try to upgrade again. This may be best done with the help of a tech professional who can guide you through the process or offer other solutions for your specific situation.

This Is Only Delaying The Inevitable
Bear in mind, if you choose to live in a Windows universe, you’ll have to upgrade to the latest version eventually. After a Windows version reaches end of life, it can no longer receive security or antivirus updates and therefore cannot be protected from viruses and Internet threats. Microsoft has information on their end-of-life cycle for Windows here.

More Information On Windows 10 From Tech Tips

What You Need To Know About Windows 10

How To Prepare For A Windows 10 Upgrade

Microsoft Alienates Customers With Forced Windows 10 Upgrades

Security Basics For Windows Users

How To Prepare For A Windows 10 Upgrade

win10Microsoft’s expiration of their free Windows 10 upgrade has PC users asking: Is it time to upgrade?

Many people have delayed upgrading. That is to say, they’ve tried to delay upgrading… but Microsoft’s aggressive marketing tactics have gone from displaying incessant reminders, to downloading gigabytes worth of upgrade files without the user’s consent, to performing upgrades in the middle of users’ workdays.

Recently I was sitting in a waiting room when I realized the computer in the office across from me had switched to Windows 10’s “Upgrading… 1%….” window. The woman in the office told me it suddenly began the upgrade while she was in the middle of another task, despite repeatedly answering “no” to Microsoft’s continual upgrade reminders. When I left an hour later, it was at 72% and she and her co-worker were attempting to run business from a single machine… which had autoupgraded itself to Windows 10 a few days earlier. (You can read more tales of Win10 autoupgrade woes in this article on The Register.)

If you rely on a Windows world, you’ll be faced with Windows 10 sooner or later. Windows XP and Vista users can no longer run current antivirus, so it’s past time for you to make the move. Win7 and Win8 are currently still supported but will eventually face the same fate. But you should learn more about Windows 10’s shortcomings and what you’ll need to do before you upgrade, or before it upgrades itself.

First, I recommend you review Windows 10’s notorious privacy issues, so that you know what configuration changes you’ll need to make. Here’s more information on how to change Win10’s security settings as well as other information to help with your upgrade.

Next, you’ll want to check your existing computer against Microsoft’s Win10 system requirements. If you’re already on Win7 or Win8, it’s likely your hardware is compatible.

And, of course, you should back up your computer before upgrading. Don’t just rely on a cloud-based backup; take the opportunity to protect yourself from ransomware by creating an offline backup to an external hard drive.

Here are additional articles about Windows 10 that may help with your upgrade.

How To Protect Your Mobile Devices From Malware

Using cell phoneMobile malware is on the rise, but few people maintain the same precautions on their tablets and phones that they do on their computers. Here’s what you need to do to stay protected.

Mobile devices need antivirus software just like any other computer, but watch for malware masquerading as antivirus. In general the same security rules we use for computers also apply to phones and tablets:

  • Use the latest version of your device’s software
  • Install all software updates
  • Back up your data
  • Install only well-known apps from known developers
  • Be wary of malware disguised as legitimate apps
  • When in doubt, don’t click

It’s a good idea to configure a passcode for your mobile device. You should also enable any “Find My Device” features your phone or tablet may have. You can configure most devices to erase any data after a certain number of incorrect login attempts, which will keep your information safe should your device become lost or stolen.

Remember that some threats are universal. A fake website that attempts to harvest your username and password can affect you whether you are viewing it on Windows, Mac, or any mobile device. You also need to use strong, secure passwords that are unique for every site, and enable two-factor authentication where possible.

Here are links to antivirus for mobile devices and more.

iOS Antivirus (iPad / iPhone)

iOS Security Tips (iPad / iPhone)

Android Antivirus

Android Security Tips

Tech Tips Articles

How To Create Strong Passwords (2016 Edition)

How To Configure Security Settings For Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android

Security Basics For Windows Users

Windows81With Windows malware on the rise, now seems like a good time for a refresher on basic security advice for Windows users.

First, the bad news. If you are using Windows XP or Windows Vista, you need to upgrade as soon as possible for your own safety. Your computer can no longer run current antivirus software, nor does it receive security updates. Even longstanding programs like Google Chrome now consider WinXP and Vista obsolete. Below you’ll find resources on how to plan your upgrade.

As with any computer, the best defense for Windows users is prevention, including reliable backups and solid security software. Equally important, you also need to know how to recognize and avoid common Internet threats.

If you’d like to know more about Windows security, stay tuned to Tech Tips via Facebook and RSS, or subscribe by email.

Windows Antivirus Programs
Good security starts with a quality antivirus program. You can use the freebies, but I strongly recommend that you invest in a commercial security suite. It’s money well spent.

Upgrading From Windows XP and Windows Vista

Tech Tips – Recommended Advice For Windows Users

 

Ransomware: A Dangerous Threat To Your Computer

Computer SecurityRansomware is a particularly nasty form of computer virus that encrypts your data, then demands an electronic ransom for the encryption key. Why is ransomware so hazardous, and how can you remove it?

Ransomware is vicious because it doesn’t just render your computer unusable. It encrypts all of your files, including those on networked computers, removable drives, and server volumes. To get the key to unlock the encryption, cyber-criminals demand that you pay. Ransomware has decimated businesses and consumers alike. It’s been around on Windows for ages (see my writeup of Cryptolocker from a few years ago), but recently the first Mac-based ransomware has appeared in the wild.

Should You Pay?
There’s some debate amongst computer security experts as to whether it is better to pay the ransom or not. Sophos’ Naked Security blog has a good overview of the discussion. They also have an excellent article on what you can do if you are infected by ransomware.

How To Avoid Ransomware
You are far better off avoiding ransomware in the first place. Start by making sure you have multiple sets of known good backups. A clean backup is one of your best protections against ransomware and other viruses. Below you’ll find my guide on backup options for Windows and Mac, including how to test your backups to make sure they work when you need them.

All of my usual security recommendations apply as well. Use a top-quality antivirus program, and keep your computer up to date. If you’re on an obsolete version of Windows or Mac, now’s the time to upgrade. Check your default security settings, and use strong, unique passwords on every site.

Here are some Tech Tips articles to help. You can also sign up to receive Tech Tips by email and follow Tech Tips on Facebook for the latest tech support advice for Windows and Mac.

How To Back Up Your Computer (For Windows And Mac)

How To Create Strong Passwords (2016 Edition)

How To Configure Security Settings For Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android

Security Basics For Mac Users

How To Protect Your Web Browser

How To Back Up Your Computer (For Windows And Mac)

backuprestoreWhen was the last time you backed up your computer? If you have automatic backups set, do you check them on a regular basis? Have you ever tested your backups by trying to restore some of your files?

It’s not enough to set your backups and forget them. You would not believe the number of times I’ve encountered backups that were “definitely” good, only to discover they were blank or missing or had never run in the first place. Don’t wait for an emergency to find out your backups don’t work!

I recommend that you make extra backup copies to keep in a secure offsite location. If you use a cloud-based backup, you should also keep a current local copy of your data in case of emergencies. The following resources will help you configure and maintain your backups.

Get computer help straight to your inbox! Sign up to receive Tech Tips by email, and follow Tech Tips on Facebook for more tech support advice for Windows and Mac.

What You Need To Know About Windows 10

win10Many people have asked me about Windows 10. They want to know if they should upgrade, and how they can reconfigure the settings to avoid Win10’s notorious privacy issues.

Windows 10’s default security settings are not conducive to consumer privacy, to put it mildly. (Microsoft isn’t alone in this; it’s become an increasing problem with modern operating systems.) You should research Win10 thoroughly before you upgrade and make your privacy configuration changes as soon as possible after installation. And, of course, always use good antivirus software and strong unique passwords, keep your software updated, and follow basic Internet security guidelines.

Unfortunately, as I have discussed before, Microsoft is forcing Windows 10 onto unsuspecting Win7 and Win8 users via Windows Update. Do NOT turn off Windows Update to solve this! Set it to notify but not download or install without your permission (instructions for Win7, instructions for Win8.1). Then make sure you install the rest of your security updates manually until you are ready to upgrade to Win10.

I have real problems with Microsoft’s aggressive auto-upgrading to Win10. It goes against longstanding IT procedures to do, not to mention alienating your customers. Believe me, after 25 years of tech support I can tell you that one thing users do NOT like is an unexpected system upgrade. It’s easier for technology companies to ignore security in favor of pushing out products, but the customer is the one who pays the price.

Here’s more information on Windows 10’s privacy problems.

Here’s some info on Microsoft’s aggressive auto-upgrading to Win10.

Don’t forget to sign up to receive Tech Tips by email and get the latest computer news straight to your inbox. You can also follow Tech Tips on Facebook for more computer help for Windows and Mac.

How To Create Strong Passwords (2016 Edition)

Computer SecurityTime once again for my updated guidelines on creating passwords. The short version: use passphrases that are at least 12 characters long and different on every site, plus two-factor authentication where possible. And for pity’s sake, stop using weak passwords!

Many people say to me, “I don’t need a secure password. I don’t have anything sensitive on my computer, so I don’t care if a hacker gets in.” You, my friends, are a hacker’s dream. Because it’s not necessarily your personal information they want, although they’ll happily steal your credit card info if they can. No, what they really want is control of your computer, your email address, your Facebook page… anything and everything that will let them do their dirty work from behind a smokescreen.

Strong passwords must be:

  • Not in use on any other system
    This is perhaps the biggest no-no in the password rulebook. When hackers nab passwords, they try the same account/password combinations on popular sites like Google, Facebook, Twitter. If you’re using the same password you just let them in. Do not ever, ever, ever use the same password anywhere. Before you despair, keep reading. There are tools to make it easier.
  • Changed regularly
    Yes, you have to change your passwords. And yes, they still have to be different everywhere. In fact this is one of the best things you can do to secure your passwords. Use a password management tool if you need help keeping track of everything (see below).
  • 12 characters or longer
    Think passphrase rather than password. The longer and more complex a password is, the less likely it can be cracked.
  • A mix of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols
    Some systems won’t allow you to use a range of characters in your password, in which case I suggest you reconsider using that site. Do you really trust someone who isn’t going to allow you to secure your account properly? Makes you wonder how secure everything else on the site is.
  • Not common words or proper nouns found in a dictionary
    Here’s a list of the 25 worst passwords of 2015. If your passwords sound like these, change them now.
  • Not the names of your spouse, kids, pets, or other personally identifying information
    Don’t create passwords out of information that can be gleaned about you, and don’t share information that can be used to guess security questions. For example, if you have pictures of your dog Fido on Facebook, and you also answer your bank’s security question “What’s your dog’s name?” with “Fido,” guess what? You have just given a hacker potential access to your bank account.

Examples of good and bad passwords

Good passwords (but don’t use these!)

AP@ssw0rdIJustMADE!UP!4U
Here’sAnOtHeR1FOR$You

Bad passwords

password
password1
password!
123456
<blank>
mypassword
spouse’s name
pet’s name

Password Don’ts…

  • Don’t rotate between the same two or three passwords. It’s just as bad as using the same password everywhere.
  • Don’t send passwords via sites like email, Facebook, Twitter. Use another means like text message, which goes directly to the recipient. Or even better, a phone call.
  • Don’t stick passwords on Post-It notes. Whether it’s under the keyboard or on a bulletin board, it’s exposed. Be like Gandalf: Keep it secret, keep it safe.
  • Don’t share passwords and accounts. This is especially prevalent in small businesses. Don’t create one account then share the password; create multiple accounts for each person who needs access. More time consuming? Sure. More secure? You bet.

Tools to manage your secure passwords

With a password management tool such as 1PasswordLastPass, or KeePass, all you have to remember is one master password and the software takes care of the rest. You can use the same password management tool on your computer and on your mobile devices.

But there’s a catch. Unfortunately any company can be breached by hackers and password management firms are no exception, as was demonstrated by a recent LastPass breach. In other words, passwords stored in management tools can be swept up in data breaches just like any other kind of data.

The good news is that most password managers encrypt your data, so even if hackers get hold of it, they will hopefully be hard-pressed to recover your actual passwords. That being said, you need to safeguard your master password with more vigilance than any other password you use. Please do NOT re-use your master password anywhere else! And be sure to keep another copy of your passwords somewhere safe in case you lose access to your password management tool.

Two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) uses a password plus another unique identifier, like a passcode messaged to your phone. This is much safer than a password alone because the second identifier is constantly changing, making it much harder to break into an account. If a site offers 2FA, you should consider using it.

However, 2FA does not make a weak password safe. Your best bet is 2FA plus an excellent password. As with a password manager’s master password, you need to make absolutely sure you have copies of your 2FA backup codes, because that’s what’s going to get you into your account if you have trouble.

Password harvesting scams

Password harvesters are everywhere. For example, you might get a spam email saying you need to update your account. This message contains links to a page that looks like the real login, but it’s really just a fake designed to steal your credentials. Similarly, password-harvesting scams can be distributed via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. When in doubt, type the address for the site into your Web browser manually rather than clicking on a link.

Why not take this opportunity to change your passwords? It’s the best thing you can do to protect yourself against identity theft and cybercrime.

[Originally posted in 2010 as How To Create Secure Passwords. This version has been updated with the latest advice on secure passwords.]

Security Basics For Mac Users

appleIf you’re not protecting your Mac from Internet threats, your computer can easily be overcome by viruses and malware. But running antivirus isn’t enough. Mac users also need to be just as aware of scams, fake apps, and other Internet dangers as their Windows counterparts. Here are some resources to get you started.

If you’d like to know more about Mac security, stay tuned to Tech Tips via Facebook, Twitter, and RSS, or subscribe by email.

Mac Antivirus Programs

Mac Security Help

Tech Tips – Recommended Advice For Mac Users