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

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.

Microsoft Alienates Customers With Forced Windows 10 Upgrades

win10Microsoft is facing public backlash for automatically upgrading the computers of unsuspecting customers to Windows 10.

Since public outcry Microsoft has reversed course, claiming that the forced installations were due to their accidentally making the Windows 10 upgrade checked by default. In theory, this means that there should be no more forced upgrades.

But the antagonism Microsoft is generating through such aggressive marketing methods is eroding customer goodwill. Microsoft has certainly been pushy about those “Get Windows 10” messages on Windows 7 and Windows 8 computers. And they’ve demonstrated aggressive Windows 10 tactics in the past, when they downloaded the Win10 installers onto computers without the user’s knowledge. So it didn’t come as much of a surprise to the IT community when reports began to trickle in that Microsoft had taken it one step further and actually performed system upgrades without user consent.

Microsoft Alienates And Frustrates Their Customers
Who wants to do business with a company that dictates when and how you upgrade your computer? Microsoft’s tactics show a vast disregard for the people who actually have to rely on their computers in real-world situations.

If you’ve ever upgraded your computer, you know things fail. Programs stop working. Devices stop working. Things are hectic until you’ve tested and re-tested everything. Even then, weeks later, you’ll stumble across something else to fix. I never upgrade without making several backups first. Microsoft didn’t even give people that chance before plunking Windows 10 in their laps.

Not only is this going to alienate their customer base, it makes people not want the software. People may start associating “Windows 10” with “aggressive marketing tactics” and steer clear. How are consumers supposed to believe tech security experts when we tell them to upgrade for their own safety? They’ll think we’re doing it for the same reasons Microsoft is foisting Win10 onto their computers: to keep them in the Windows ecosystem so they’ll buy more MicroStuff.

Upgrades Are Necessary, But Not Like This
Now, I’m all for upgrading, in certain circumstances. If you’re on Windows XP, for example, it’s long past time you did. Older software can’t run current antivirus, can’t run a modern Web browser, can’t receive security updates. Even Windows 7 is fairly long in the tooth at this point. From a security standpoint you really should be running Windows 8 or Windows 10. But I don’t want people to upgrade to cost them money or to make their lives difficult. I want them to upgrade because I don’t want them to suffer the financial loss and identity theft that comes with a severely infected computer. Trust me. I’ve seen it and it’s not pretty.

But forcing system software onto unwitting end users is unheard-of. You don’t pester users to upgrade. You don’t stealthily download installers onto their computers, taking up pricey bandwidth and drive space. And you certainly don’t upgrade somebody’s computer to an entirely new operating system without at least giving them the chance to opt out!

What Could Microsoft Do Instead?
Instead of aggressive marketing tactics, MS should spend their time and money educating users on why they need to upgrade older computers for security’s sake. But Microsoft would rather spend their time and money on ridiculous ads like “PC Does Whaaat?”, a collaborative effort between Microsoft, Intel, HP, Dell, and Lenovo geared towards encouraging more PC sales. According to the AP, this ad campaign cost $70 million.

I wonder how far $70 million would go towards helping consumers understand the necessity of upgrading — on their own terms.

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 and @trionaguidry on Twitter for more computer help for PC and Mac.

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

androidWhen was the last time you checked the security preferences on your computer, tablet, or smart phone? Unfortunately, the default security settings for most devices are woefully inadequate, leaving you vulnerable to viruses, malware, and hacking attempts. Here’s more information on how to configure the security and privacy settings for Windows, Mac, iOS (iPhone and iPad), and Android.

(Related article: Don’t Trust The Default Security Settings by Triona Guidry, The Northwest Herald)

Windows 7

Windows 8

Windows 10

Mac (Yosemite aka Mac OS X 10.10)

iOS (iPhone, iPad)

Android

Don’t forget to follow Tech Tips on Facebook and @trionaguidry on Twitter for more computer help for PC and Mac.

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.

Windows XP Is Dead. Now What?

Windows XPAs you may have heard, Microsoft has ceased support for Windows XP. Many people assume it’s okay to keep using it. They’re dead wrong.

WinXP is already vulnerable to viruses because it’s been out so long. Now we have the nightmare scenario in which bugs are discovered but not fixed. Here’s how it goes: Microsoft announces a security vulnerability and offers patches for Win7 and Win8. The hackers rub their hands with glee and start testing to see if WinXP has the same vulnerability. Lo and behold it does, and they have an easy way to sneak into your computer.

Like the recently discovered Internet Explorer bug, which gives hackers a way to take over your entire system. It’s the first major vulnerability since XP’s demise. We know the bug exists in IE under XP. At first Microsoft said they weren’t going to patch it for XP, but now they’ve changed their minds. The question is, what about the next big bug? Using WinXP is like leaving your front door keys in the lock with a sign that says “Come on in, the best valuables are right over there!”

This isn’t a marketing gimmick or a way to increase PC sales, though I’m sure tech vendors don’t mind if you give them money. This is about you and the real-world repercussions of a hacked computer. Do you want your bank accounts wiped out? Do you want your identity stolen? Do you want your online identities hijacked? If not, then get off Windows XP.

Some of you will decide you don’t want to upgrade. That’s up to you, but I strongly recommend you reconsider. A very few of you – less than you think – will have some business-critical function that requires XP. Unless you are in that infinitesimal group, upgrade now.

What are your choices? Windows 7, Windows 8, or Mac. I did a rundown on them a while back based on a question from a reader. At this time, my recommendation stands at Windows 7 or Mac depending on your preference, with Windows 8 a distant runner-up due to its unfamiliar interface and lack of apps. Or, you could go pure mobile with tablet and smart phone.

For those of you who really, truly, honestly cannot upgrade from Windows XP, you have my condolences and some advice:

  • Use a browser other than Internet Explorer. Never use IE even for a moment.
  • Make sure you have the last round of updates Microsoft offered for XP. You can still use Automatic Updates to install them.
  • Run a good antivirus program.
  • Double-check regularly with Malwarebytes and CCleaner.
  • Don’t use Windows XP for finances or online purchasing. Ever. Your smart phone is safer at this point and I don’t advocate using smart phones for finances.
  • Don’t use WinXP to access social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc). Social media is a virus cesspool and you don’t have a lifejacket.
  • Plan your upgrade. This is not a permanent solution. Eventually your PC will fail and you will have to replace it.

Do you have questions about Windows XP’s end of support? 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.

Cryptolocker: Why Modern Computer Viruses Are More Dangerous Than Ever

crypt-messageToday’s computer viruses go beyond mere annoyance. How does holding your data for ransom sound? What about spying on you through your webcam, tracking your physical location, recording every keystroke you make? Welcome to the modern generation of computer threats, where infection means real-world consequences.

The latest virus making the rounds is Cryptolocker, a textbook example of all the truly nasty ways in which a modern computer virus can ruin your day. Cryptolocker encrypts your data with a one-way algorithm which mathematically cannot be reversed. If you don’t pay the ransom within the timeframe, the only key to your data is gone, kaput, goodbye.

You can’t restore your data by removing Cryptolocker, because removing the virus doesn’t decrypt the data. No tech support person in the world can decrypt it for you because it’s simply not possible without the key. Even police departments have paid the ransom, even as they recommend that consumers not do so.

Here are some resources on Cryptolocker so you can keep it from digging its sharp claws into your computer.

Cryptolocker started its initial spread via email attachments, which are fairly easy to avoid. But now it’s morphing into variants that can be transmitted via USB drive, and luring victims with fake software activation codes. Although it’s a Windows virus, like all viruses it can be transmitted via Macs and mobile devices. Following in the steps of other viruses, soon Cryptolocker will evolve into spreading via social media sites.

And this is just the start.

There are other viruses out there that can activate webcams – and yes, they can bypass the green light that tells you the webcam is on. They can listen through microphones. They can track your location via your mobile device. They can listen in on your conversations on social media.

Now, more than ever, it’s vital to protect yourself from computer viruses. Here are some Tech Tips resources to help:

Have you run into Cryptolocker or other similarly destructive viruses? Share 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.

 

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.

 

Six Things Every PC User Needs To Know About Windows 8.1

Windows81The new Windows 8.1 affects you, even if you’re still using previous versions of Windows. Here’s what you need to know about the upgrade.

First Rule of Windows 8.1: There Is No Start Menu
Microsoft’s been shouting it from the rooftops: “The Start button’s back! The Start button’s back!” Except that doesn’t mean what you think it means.

What Windows 8.1 does is stick a Start button in the lower left corner, which brings up the new Start screen – not to be confused with the old Start menu you’re probably looking for. Dizzy yet? To make matters worse, not all applications will support the returned Start button, meaning it’s less of a fix than a kludge. A Start button that isn’t always present is as confusing as a Start button that’s missing entirely, if not more so.

Second Rule Of Windows 8.1: The New Look Is Here To Stay
Regardless of what they’ve done with the Start buttonmenuscreen, the Windows 8 interface (which I would call “Metro” except Microsoft says we’re not supposed to call it that anymore) is the future of Windows. So don’t expect Windows 8.1, or any other update, to restore your computer to yesteryear. The new look and feel is here to stay, and it’s time to get used to it if you intend to stay in the Microsoft world.

Third Rule Of Windows 8.1: Say Goodbye To Your Keyboard And Mouse
Windows 8 is made for tablets. In fact, many of us are still trying to figure out why Microsoft thinks a tablet interface is a good idea in a PC environment. If you don’t have a touch interface, it’s klunky to use – in other words if you’re one of the 99.99999% who still have a keyboard and mouse, which is SO 2012, PEOPLE.

Fourth Rule Of Windows 8.1: You Need It, Unless You Like Viruses
If history is any indication, expect Windows 8.1 to become the only acceptable version of Windows as far as being able to fix problems or install updates. Doesn’t matter if you want it or not, eventually you’ll have to install it or your computer is guaranteed to become a writhing infestation of identity-stealing viruses and malware.

This means you, Windows XP people – you need to upgrade. Now. I don’t care if you go Win7 or Win8, either is better than what you’re using now. Don’t wait until your computer is unusable, your financial data stolen, your accounts hacked, and your personal information spread across the Internet.

Fifth Rule Of Windows 8.1: It’s Not That Bad And In Some Ways Good
If it weren’t for the klunky interface and the lack of training for the average consumer (you know, the people for whom it’s purportedly designed), I would like Windows 8.

It’s fast. It’s powerful. It doesn’t take up a ton of memory (looking at YOU, WinME), doesn’t throttle your processor (Windows Vista), doesn’t cause incompatibilities with every single piece of hardware you own (Windows 95).

So, yes, it’s a technically superior operating system. So was OS/2 Warp, only it wasn’t widely used because it was hamstrung by a lack of apps and a failure to educate people on how to use it. Ironic that Microsoft may be following the same road to ruin decades later.

Sixth Rule Of Windows 8.1: You’re On Your Own Learning It (But I’ll Help!)
Microsoft has information online, but you have to hunt for it – using an unfamiliar touch-swipe interface, unless you happen to have another device handy, and doesn’t that eliminate the point? It’s no wonder many businesses have decided to hold off on upgrading. I don’t know why Microsoft has such blinders on when it comes to understanding that your average, everyday person needs to be able to use this without spending the entire morning trying to figure out how to accomplish a task.

To that end, here are some resources to get you started with Windows 8:

And don’t forget to follow Tech Tips for the latest on Windows 8, Mac, and more:

Once again we come to the age-old dilemma: Do you put up with the new features for the sake of security? If I were you, I would either a) get on Windows 7 ASAP, b) get on Windows 8 ASAP, or c) pick another platform (Mac? tablet? phablet?) because the Windows 8 train has left the station and anybody who didn’t jump on board is going to get run over eventually by viruses, malware, and other Internet scum.

What do you think about Windows 8? Love it? Hate it? Cowering in a corner hugging your Timex-Sinclair and dreaming of punchcards? Share in the comments!