How To Protect Your Web Browser

browserYour Web browser lets you access Internet sites, but it can also be a gateway for viruses, malware, and more. Here’s how to keep your browser protected and secure.

(Don’t miss my latest article for The Northwest Herald – Protect Your Window To The Internet by Triona Guidry)

Remember that it’s vital to keep your browser up to date. If you can’t run an updated browser, you may need to consider an alternate browser or even a computer upgrade. Old computers running outdated browsers are holy grails to hackers and virus-writers because they’re so easy to infect. The US-CERT web site has detailed information about how and why you need to protect your Web browser.

Your computer’s default Web browser is Internet Explorer for Windows, and Safari for Mac. Here’s some information about how to secure them. Bear in mind that software manufacturers don’t provide security updates for outdated versions of their browsers, which may be why you don’t see yours here.

Internet Explorer (Microsoft)

Safari (Apple)

Alternate browsers include Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera, among others.

Do you have questions about securing your Web browser? Ask in the comments, and don’t forget to follow Tech Tips on Facebook and @trionaguidry on Twitter.

How To Secure Your Web Browser

Did you know that most viruses sneak onto your computer through your Web browser? Here’s how you can secure your Internet surfing experience.

First, some basic safety tips. You’ll want to look through these before you proceed.

Then, take a look at your Web browser(s) with the following advice in mind.

Related Article: Eight Tips For Safer Web Browser Searching by Triona Guidry (The Northwest Herald)

How To Clear Your Web Browser’s Cache

How To Activate Your Web Browser’s Privacy Controls

Do you have questions about securing your Web browser? Ask in the comments, and don’t forget to subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.


Readers Ask: Sending DOCX Files To Macs, Troubleshooting Slow Web Sites, Choosing New Computer Hardware

computer-booksI’ve been talking with Fr. Jack Sweeley about whether he should move to Windows 7, Windows 8, or a Mac. After our initial discussion, he had some followup questions, which I am posting with his permission:

Thank you so much, Triona. This is very helpful. However, I have a few questions.

1. As I stated, I have several books written and others in process as well a hundreds of commentaries all written with Word using VISTA. Will I be able to open and edit these on a Mac?

2. From time-to-time I have sent documents I have written to someone who at that time had a Mac and they told me they could not open what I sent written in WORD on a PC. Is this still the case?

3. Contrarily, will I be able to open documents sent to me in WORD using a Windows PC on a Mac?

4. RE Macs: Could you give me comparisons between hard drive space on a Mac v. PC (is a gig a gig on both), for processing speeds what are the terms used and are they the same for a Mac and a PC, what are the terms used for memory and are they the same for a Mac and a PC?

5. What amount of HD space, processing speed, and memory do I need to do what I described in my original letter? I am impatient and go crazy having to wait for Websites to load especially when I have 8-10 sites open at the same time.

6. I know a little about the landscape of PCs and once I know what parameters I am looking for I can find one. However, I have never even looked at a Mac to say nothing about being able to compare them. So, could you cite different kinds of Macs–with their price ranges for what I need–and the pros and cons of each.

Let’s look at Fr. Jack’s needs and see how we can help him.

Opening Word For Windows .DOC and .DOCX Files On Macs

wordmacYes, you can open Word documents, both .doc and .docx, on a Mac. Apple’s word processor Pages (paid; via App Store) can open both but saves in its own proprietary .pages format. NeoOffice (donationware, can also open both .doc and .docx but again, it saves in its own .odt format. You can spring for Microsoft Office for Mac (paid; via Microsoft), which is the most expensive option but can handle Word .doc and .docx files without conversion.

The person to whom you sent the Word file may not have had a recent Mac word processing program, or did not have Microsoft’s free .docx converter installed. You can either make sure all Word files are saved as .doc and not .docx (.docx is default from Word 2007 onwards), or make sure the recipient can convert .docx. Don’t go looking online for free converters, use the genuine ones from Microsoft to avoid viruses.

For the most part, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files can be used interchangably between PCs and Macs. The main exception is if you have code in Visual Basic (VBA) or custom macros not supported by the Mac. Everyday documents work fine, and on the rare occasions they don’t, the one-time installation of a converter tool usually fixes the problem.

Now, if you have print-ready files, a Word document just is not a proper layout tool. Better to save final drafts to PDF which will keep the pagination you want. Professionals do document layout with industry standard tools like Adobe InDesign and Quark.

When it comes to file types and permanent storage – as in, stuff you want to keep longer than the software program that created it – I am a fan of good old RTF, or rich text format. It’s a universal file type that allows formatting like bold and italic but can still be opened by nearly every word processor past, present, and likely future.

Choosing A New PC Or Mac

question-computerA gig is a gig is a gig – 1,024 megabytes, sometimes rounded off as 1,000MB. So yes, hard drive sizes are consistent across Mac and PC hardware. Processing speeds are harder to compare. You can go digging across the Internet for all sorts of bench tests, but you’re better off comparing PCs to PCs and Apples to, well, Apples.

Typically a sub-$500 PC is not going to be worth the cost. In my experience they fail more quickly and catastrophically than more expensive models. A midline PC, in the $700-1,000 range, offers better and faster hardware. Laptops will be more expensive than desktops, and bear in mind that if you choose Windows 8, you’re going to want a screen with touchy-swipey capability for the best experience. That is, assuming you can find one; it’s not available for every model.

Macs may cost more, but in my experience they also make up for the price difference by outlasting their PC counterparts in the long run.

Troubleshooting Slow Web Sites

slowWaiting for web sites to load may be a function of your network connection and not your computer. Or, if your computer is gummed up with adware and malware, you’ll notice the drag particularly when using the Internet. For optimum speed you need to use a modern operating system – Windows 8, Mac, or Windows 7 as long as Microsoft deigns to support it – because you need to use a modern browser.

Your web browser is your window to the Internet. That means it’s also a vulnerable point. If your software is out of date, your connection will seem slow or you’ll be unable to load pages or images. The older the browser, the slower the connection, until you finally throw your hands in the air and buy a new computer. This is another reason it’s good to keep your software up to date, it’ll stave off that new computer moment as long as possible.

If you don’t know which browser you use, you’re probably using the default for your system. Common browsers as of this writing are as follows, but this information changes rapidly. Your best bet is to use the “check for updates” feature of the program to find the current version for your computer.

Windows 7 and 8


Note: there is no current Internet Explorer for Mac. If you’re still using the old versions, switch now!

Choosing A Mac Model

choose-appleThe easiest way to see the available Macs is to pop over to the Apple store: They have a clickable list in the Mac section which shows the Mac model options.

In my experience, you are almost always better off opting for an iMac or a Macbook Pro than trying to cut corners with a Mac Mini. For one thing, you have to factor in the cost of the screen, and for another the Mini really doesn’t have the oomph for what most people want. You don’t have to go nuts on one of those bigger, expensive tower Macs. Those are usually purchased by designers and video experts who need the extra processing power and expandability.

When configuring a Mac using the Apple Store tool, get the fastest processor and best graphics you can for the model you want. You can always add more memory or a larger hard drive later, but with an iMac or Macbook you’re stuck with whatever processor and graphics card it has. You can go Macbook Air instead of Macbook Pro but remember you’re sacrificing processor speed for a lightweight form factor.

Apple Store has a nice comparison tool to help you make the choice.

Finding Discounts On Macs

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention you can look for discounts on warrantied refurbished Macs on Apple’s site. You can also find discounts at Mac retailers like Mac Mall and OWC. A good time to buy is right after Apple announces new hardware; you can get a discount on older models that still have solid tech specs. (Insider’s tip: Apple usually has events in the spring and fall; the next one will be in March 2013.) If you’re an educator or student, be sure to check out Apple’s education discount. Many colleges and universities have deals through the campus computer store.

Ask Your Computer Questions On Tech Tips!

Do you have a computer problem? Leave a comment and let the Tech Tips community help. Your question could appear in a future Tech Tips article!

Image courtesy of (1) ddpavumba (2) Danilo Rizzuti (3) Idea go (4) Stuart Miles /

Ten Ways To Tell If Your Computer Is Infected With A Virus

Ever get that sinking feeling that something’s wrong with your computer? Here are ten ways to tell if your computer is infected with a virus.

Run a virus scan
A bit obvious, isn’t it? While you’re at it, make sure your antivirus program has been updated recently. If you haven’t bought a new version in a few years, now’s the time.

Run a second virus scan with a different program
Antivirus programs sometimes come up with different results. It’s a good idea to scan with a second program to pick up anything the first one left behind. However, you shouldn’t try to run two antivirus programs concurrently; they’ll conflict with each other. I like free programs Malwarebytes for PC and Sophos Antivirus for Mac.

Watch your computer’s behavior
Is it slower than usual, crashing, having a hard time redrawing the screen? These can all be signs that viruses are running in the background.

Monitor active programs
If a virus is running in the background, it may show up in the list of active programs. You can then click on it and End Task (Windows) or Force Quit (Mac). Bear in mind, though, most viruses will restart on reboot, and some will even regenerate on the spot no matter how many times you quit them.

  • Windows XP
    Ctrl-Alt-Delete, then click Task Manager
  • Windows Vista/7
    or right-click the taskbar and click Start Task Manager
  • Mac OS X
    Option-Cmd-Escape (the Force Quit menu)
    or open a Terminal window and type ps -aef

Check your Web browser extensions
Browser extensions provide additional functionality on the Web. Some are terrific tools while others are sneaky little devils that serve you ads, slurp your data, and otherwise spy on you. Here’s how you can check your browser extensions.

Check your Sent folder
If your email is spewing spam, it may show up in your Sent Items folder. Viruses often commandeer email accounts to send spam.

Check your Facebook and Twitter
If there are all sorts of weird links on your Facebook wall that you didn’t post, your account may have been hijacked. And if that’s the case, it may have happened through a virus infection on your computer.

Start in Safe Mode
If your computer is so confused it won’t work properly, you can boot into Safe Mode which may allow you to diagnose the problem.

  • Windows XP, Vista, 7
    Hold down F8 at reboot (before the Windows logo)
  • Mac OS X
    Hold down Shift at reboot

Ask the Internet
Fortunately we don’t have to compute in a vacuum. If you think you’re infected with a particular virus, do a Web search on it. You’ll often find removal instructions and links to tools (just make sure those tools are legit and not themselves viruses in disguise).

Inspect your other computers
If one is infected, it’s likely the others are, too. You need to keep all your computers secure, even if they’re old or you don’t use them often.

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Internet Explorer 9 And Firefox 4

On the heels of Microsoft’s release of Internet Explorer 9 comes Mozilla’s release of Firefox 4. What do the new versions of these popular Web browsers mean for you?

Internet Explorer 9 marks a turning point for Windows users. Because IE9 doesn’t run on Windows XP, we are now divided into Windows 7 and Vista “haves” and Windows XP “have-nots”. This is important because, as Web sites evolve to take advantage of new browser capabilities, WinXP users will find themselves left behind. I wrote before about how this affects your plans for upgrading to Windows 7, and I’ve got more advice below. But first, let’s take a look at the new versions of IE9 and Firefox 4.

IE9 sports a new look-and-feel, plus many new features. Most important from my perspective is increased security. InPrivate mode (available since IE8, and now improved) blocks third-party sites from seeing what you are doing elsewhere. Tracking Protection allows you to prevent sites from tracking your Web history in order to advertise to you, similar to a “Do Not Call” list.

Speed is also improved with IE9. When you open sites in different tabs IE9 runs them as separate processes, meaning if a site crashes one tab it doesn’t take your whole browser down. One new feature which may confuse you at first is the One Box, which combines the address box and the search box into one field. On the whole I think this will make things simpler because people are often unsure which one to use (especially if they are also innundated with toolbars that have search boxes). All in all, IE9 is a welcome upgrade that will likely spawn similar features in other Web browsers.

And, of course, one of its biggest competitors is Mozilla’s Firefox. Firefox 4 also has a new interface, following the latest trend in browsers to minimize their own clutter and maximize space for Web sites. Menus are hidden, accessed through the Firefox button at the top, but you can re-enable them if you want them the way they were in previous versions. One aspect of the interface I particularly like is Panorama, a feature that allows you to group tabs and switch between them easily. This is great for people who tend to have a lot of sites open at the same time.

Like IE9, Firefox 4 has added Do Not Track and Private Browsing capabilities, and includes improvements in speed, performance, and stability. It also isolates tabs within their own processes to prevent crashes. Access to add-ons has been streamlined. Users of multiple computers (especially those with both PCs and Macs) will like Firefox Sync which synchronizes your bookmarks, passwords, history, and open tabs, although you have to set up a Firefox Sync account to make it work.

Both browsers support HTML 5, and this is where we get into our “haves” and “have-nots.” HTML 5 is a new version of the code that drives the majority of Web sites and will quickly become the new standard. The good news is that, unlike IE9, Firefox 4 runs on Windows XP. Although that gives XP users some breathing room, it doesn’t change the fact that you can’t install IE9. Web browsing aside, installing the latest version of IE is important for your computer’s security because, even if you’re not using IE, viruses can still take advantage of its vulnerabilities to infect your computer. For that reason all Windows XP users should be on Internet Explorer 8, the latest version available to them.

The bottom line is that both IE9 and Firefox 4 look like excellent improvements to your Web browsing experience. Give them a try and let me know what you think!

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Caring For Your New Computer

How can you keep your new computer running as smoothly as it did when you took it out of the box?

The very first thing you should do is install a good security program. As I’ve mentioned, the freebies are no longer enough. You need a robust software suite that includes antivirus, anti-spyware and a firewall. See here for my antivirus recommendations for Windows and Mac.

Next, make sure your computer software is updated to the latest version. Even out of the box, there may be new updates available. For Windows computers, visit Mac users should run Software Updates under the Apple menu.

Windows users should strongly consider installing a browser other than Internet Explorer, such as Mozilla Firefox. You can still use Internet Explorer if you have to, but the alternate should be your default. This will help keep you safe from viruses and spyware.

While you’re setting up your new computer, configure backups at the same time. You can use an external hard drive (most come with automatic backup software) or choose an online option. See here for more information on backups.

Don’t forget to fill out the warranty card for your new computer. Should you buy the extended warranty? That’s up to you. Personally I don’t think it makes sense to spend a lot of money on a warranty for a computer that cost less than $500, but I’d want to protect a more expensive investment.

And, finally, have fun with your new computer!

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What To Do If Your Email Account Is Hijacked

My column in today’s Northwest Herald talks about the recent uptick in hijacked email accounts. Hackers hijack your account in order to prey on your contacts by sending spam, malicious links, and outright requests for money in your name. And not just your email account… Facebook, LinkedIn, and other accounts can also be hijacked.

Here are some things you can do to protect yourself, not just from hijacked accounts but also from viruses, spyware and other Internet threats:

• Use strong passwords that are unique on every system, and change them every few months. Earlier this week I posted an article about how to create secure passwords. This is the number-one thing you can do to prevent your accounts from being hijacked.

• Use a high-quality security software suite. I used to recommend free solutions for Windows like AVG combined with Spybot or AdAware, but these days I’m finding the freebies aren’t enough to protect you. Norton and McAfee will do the job, but Norton in particular tends to take up a lot of memory which may make older machines run more slowly. I prefer AVG’s paid Internet Security Suite or Trend Micro’s Titanium Internet Security or Titanium Maximum Security. If you’re using free AVG, you can get a discount on the full AVG suite if you buy through the “upgrade from free version” option.

Whatever solution you choose, be sure it is a full suite—containing antivirus, anti-spyware, and firewall—and not just antivirus. And be sure it’s real software and not one of the many rogue security programs that are actually viruses in disguise.

Mac users, you need security software too. My personal favorite is Intego VirusBarrier or Internet Security Barrier. If you run Windows on your Mac through Apple’s Boot Camp or a program like VMWare or Parallels, try Intego’s Dual Protection options: VirusBarrier DP or Internet Security Barrier DP. These include BitDefender for Windows to protect the Windows half of your computer.

• Make sure ALL of the software on your computer is regularly updated. In one of my previous Northwest Herald columns, I talked about the dangers of old software. Here on my blog I’ve also talked specifically about the risks posed by old versions of Adobe (Acrobat) Reader and Flash.

• If you’re on Windows, use a browser other than Internet Explorer. Using Firefox or Opera instead of Internet Explorer offers you that much more protection. If you must use Internet Explorer, find out why older versions of Internet Explorer pose a greater risk of virus infection.

• Watch out for poisoned search engine results and learn how to spot bad web links.

• Never click on links or open attachments in email. Always visit the site directly. For example, if you get an email saying you have a new Facebook message, go directly to from your Web browser instead of clicking the link in the email.

• Learn about social engineering and how hackers will do anything and everything to trick you into letting them in.

• And, finally, subscribe to the free email version of Triona’s Tech Tips for easy-to-understand tips you can use to protect yourself from the latest Internet threats.

Web Browser Extensions

Did you know you can expand your web browser’s functionality? Extensions (also called add-ons or plug-ins) are little programs that run within Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and other web browsers. While extensions offer increased options, they also pose security risks.

Some extensions are probably familiar to you. One of the most popular, Flash, lets you see video content on the Web. Flash also illustrates the risks of extensions. Viruses can enter your computer through malicious Flash content, especially if you’re running an older version of the extension. Most people don’t realize that browser extensions, like all software, need to be updated.

To solve that problem, several months ago Mozilla introduced a check for Firefox to help users find and update their extensions. Mozilla is now offering this free service for other browsers. To maximize your computer security, become familiar with the extensions you’re running. The easiest way to do that is to visit Mozilla’s extensions check page, but you can also find them under Tools>Manage Add-Ons (Internet Explorer), Tools>Add-Ons (Firefox), and Help>Installed Plug-Ins (Safari).

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Protecting Your Privacy And Your Passwords

My tech column in today’s Northwest Herald is about how to protect your passwords and your privacy on the Internet. Remember, to create strong passwords:

  • 6 to 12 characters in length
  • Mix of lower- and uppercase letters and numbers
  • Symbols if allowed
  • Not easily identifiable (your spouse, your kids, your dog)
  • Create a passphrase
    • fourscore and seven years ago = 4Score&7Yrs (don’t use this one!)
  • Different password for every account
  • Change your passwords regularly, at least every 3 months
  • Don’t re-use or cycle through the same set of passwords
  • You can write them down, but keep them in a safe place

No one is immune to having their accounts compromised, and weak passwords are often the method. So take some time this weekend to secure your world by setting strong, unique passwords for all of your accounts.

Here are links to the resources I mentioned in the article (they’re all free):

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Poisoned Search Engine Results

The next time you do an online search for something, pause before you click. Some of the results you receive are poisoned links to malicious sites that may infect your computer with viruses and malware.

Search engines don’t verify that keywords match results, nor that sites are free from infection. Sponsored ads are particularly notorious. If you do a search for “Windows antivirus”, the paid results are often links to fake antivirus programs just waiting to lure you in.

I advocate the use of link-checkers such as McAfee SiteAdvisor or LinkExtend for Firefox. These free add-ons indicate through red, yellow or green icons whether links are safe to visit. Even so, you should always be cautious. Make sure your security software is up to date and that you have the latest versions of programs like Adobe Reader and Flash (here’s why). You can also run Secunia’s Online Software Inspector to check the status of your security protections.

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