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, www.neooffice.org) 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

Mac

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: store.apple.com. 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 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Five Essentials Every Computer Needs

Whether you use your computer at home or work, some essentials are universal. Here are resources for your PC or Mac that can help you out of a crisis.

Related article: Five Essentials Every Computer Needs (The Northwest Herald)

Security

Alternate Web Browser

Easy Backups

Microsoft Office Files

PDF Creation

Don’t forget to subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

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 facebook.com 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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Old Software Poses Risk Of Viruses

Starting in 2010, I’m writing a monthly technology column for The Northwest Herald. In January’s column, Old Software Poses Risk Of Viruses, I talk about how outdated versions of your software can open the floodgates. Here are some previous Tech Tips articles on how you can protect yourself:

Below you’ll find links to related resources including those mentioned in the column.

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Old Versions Of Internet Explorer Vulnerable To Viruses

If you are using an old version of Internet Explorer, your PC is more vulnerable to viruses and spyware.

The current version of Internet Explorer (IE) is version 8, but I routinely encounter computers running version 7 or–heaven help us–version 6. Upgrading isn’t a matter of wanting all the bells and whistles. It’s a security necessity.

The longer a piece of software is publicly available, the easier it is for hackers to design viruses or spyware to exploit its weaknesses. Also, newer software benefits from advances in security research. By running the most current version, you boost your protections.

I advocate that you break the Internet Explorer habit by using an alternate web browser like Firefox. But you still need to keep up to date on your Internet Explorer patches. Because IE is a component of Windows, you are vulnerable even if you don’t use it. One rare reason you might not want to upgrade to IE8 is if you have software that isn’t compatible. Unless this applies to you, you should consider the upgrade.

You can check your version of Internet Explorer within the program by selecting About Internet Explorer from the Help menu. To upgrade, visit update.microsoft.com or click here to go directly to the download. After you’ve installed, be sure to visit update.microsoft.com again to seek out the most recent security fixes for IE8. This will provide you maximum protection.

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Safe Online Shopping

The federal government predicts that online retail sales will reach over $235 billion this year. Here’s how you can shop safely online this holiday season.

  • Before you shop, make sure you have adequate computer security protections, and that they are up to date. Where possible, consider using a browser other than Internet Explorer (like Firefox, Safari or Opera). If you must use Internet Explorer, be sure to use the latest version, and check update.microsoft.com for Windows and Microsoft Office security fixes.
  • You should also be sure that other programs like Flash and Adobe Acrobat Reader are up to date (here’s why). Secunia Online Software Inspector provides a quick way to do this for Windows users. Mac users should check Software Updates under the Apple menu, and visit web sites like adobe.com for common software to check for new versions.
  • Never shop from a public network or WiFi hotspot. Only do your shopping from a secure Internet connection, such as the one at your home or office.
  • See if your bank offers a virtual or one-time credit card number that you can use for online shopping. Or, get a credit card with a minimal limit (like $500) that you use exclusively for online purchases. Don’t use a debit card online, because it’s easier to get fraudulent charges removed from a credit card.
  • Shop with known retailers. If you’re thinking about doing business with a site you’ve never used before, do some Web searches for reviews to assess other customers’ satisfaction.
  • Never click an email link to reach the site. Such emails are often phishing scams trying to lure you into visiting malicious web sites. It’s safer to type the store’s Web site directly into your browser.
  • Only shop at sites that offer secure checkout. Look for the “https” (instead of “http”) in the address bar of your browser, but be warned that even secure sites can be compromised.
  • Beware of bad web links that may lead you to malicious ads.
  • Keep an eye on your credit card statements for erroneous charges or theft.
  • To avoid spam, create a separate email address for online purchases.
  • Print your receipts, either to paper or electronically to a PDF file. PC users will need a PDF program like FoxIt to do this. Mac users can simply select Print To PDF from the Print window.
  • As with anything else online, if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Through December 1st, 2009, new subscribers to the free email version of Tech Tips will receive a special tip sheet: Ten-Step Computer Troubleshooter. Just click here to sign up.

Mozilla Firefox Expands Check For Unsafe Plug-ins

Mozilla Firefox has upped the ante in the fight against cybercrime with automatic checks for updated plug-ins.

Plug-ins are bits of software that work within your Web browser to provide additional functionality. Mozilla debuted this feature with a check for updated versions of Flash, a popular plug-in used to view video content. Outdated versions of programs like Flash are used to spread viruses and malware.

Firefox will run the check automatically, or you can visit this site to check your plug-ins manually. You still have to update them yourself, but Mozilla’s new feature provides a more intuitive way to do so. You can also view your plug-ins and get more information about enabling and disabling them. The check works for both the Windows and Mac versions of Firefox. It’s such a good idea I suspect we’ll see this sort of functionality added soon for Internet Explorer and Safari, the default browsers for Windows and Mac, as well as other browsers like Opera.

Mozilla says it will continue to expand this feature to include additional plug-ins, which is great news for users struggling to keep their computers free of malware and other threats.