The Pensive Gorilla

Tips & Tricks

How to Prevent Spyware
How to Secure Your Wireless
How to Reduce Spam E-Mail
How to Take Care of Your Laptop

How to Prevent Spyware

Spyware is a generic name for small software programs that get installed onto your computer that monitor your computer and Internet use and report it back to a third party without your permission. Spyware slows down your computer, your network, and your Internet speed.

Spyware Symptoms

The signs that you are infected with spyware are:

  • You cannot get Windows updates.
  • Your Internet browser locks up or gives errors.
  • Slow or freezing computer.
  • Slower-than-usual Internet or network.
  • Several ads popping up (popup ads) on your computer.
  • Your home page is changed to an unfamiliar one and cannot be changed back (browser hijacking).

Removing Spyware

Spyware is not a computer virus and therefore cannot be stopped by antivirus software. And the best antispyware software only removes 75% of it. That is why we use a dozen tools and manual labor to remove spyware. You have to be careful to remove spyware. Some free or purchased spyware removal tools are fronts for more spyware or simply a waste of money. Others removal tools may leave your computer worse than before.

Prevention Tips

  • Don't rush to click on the "Yes" or "OK" button on a popup window.
  • Don't allow your home page to be changed, when asked.
  • Use Alt+F4 to close a popup window, not "OK" or "Close" or even the "X" in the upper righthand corner.
  • Install all of the Critical Windows Updates to plug Internet Explorer and Windows security holes exploited by spyware.
  • Keep Java, Adobe Flashplayer, Adobe Reader up to date.
  • Use the latest browser (e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, etc.)
  • Avoid shady websites such as those that promote gambling, pornography, and dating services.
  • Avoid installing "free" software from dubious sources.
  • Don't allow "drive-by downloading" of software programs when asked.
  • Use firewall software, which detects and blocks some spyware attacks.
  • Periodically purge your browser cookies and temporary Internet files to cover your tracks.
  • Avoid extra toolbars and Internet addons.
  • Although drastic, consider switching to a different browser, such as Firefox or Chrome, instead of Microsoft Internet Explorer.

We highly recommend you let us professionally remove and innoculate your computers from spyware.

How to Secure Your Wireless

Many homes and businesses have wireless networks. If your wireless is not secured, your neighbors may slow down your Internet and network by siphoning off bandwidth. Also, you are more likely to have your personal files viewed or (gulp!) deleted. Viruses also can spread more easily from one computer to another.

Most vendors provide an installation CD with their routers, and if you use this CD (you never have to, by the way), you'll be walked through setting up security on your router, step by step. Personally I find these programs cumbersome. Here's how to set up security on your router without using a custom application.

  1. Type in the IP address of the router in your browser. This is how you get to the management system. You will need to check your router's manual for the IP address (it's probably 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.0.1) and the default user name and password for the router. Every router's menu is different, so just poke around until you find the appropriate section to manage.
  2. Set a new administrator password. Always a good first step so you don't forget it later. This is often not under the Security section, so don't forget to look under the Utilities or System Settings area. Once you find it, change the password here like you would with any user account.
  3. Turn on encryption. Look under Wireless Security or a similarly tagged section. You want to turn on encryption here. There are several levels of encryption security you can use. Use WPA-PSK or WPA2-PSK if all devices on your network support it. Never use WEP!! Even if you use 64-bit or 128-bit WEP, it is easily hacked. You can use a memorable passphrase such as your mobile phone number, fax number, house number and ZIP code. It should be something easy for you to remember but hard for outsiders to guess.
  4. Change the SSID. Nothing says "hack me" like a default SSID (essentially, the name of your router) like "linksys" or "dlink." Change it to something menacing, such as "virustrap." I can't imagine anyone willingly trying to hack into that network. Remember you'll need this SSID when you browse available wireless networks from your client machines. You'll find this setting under a menu called Channel or SSID, something like that.

After that, you've covered the basics of security. You'll probably have to reboot your router multiple times during this procedure (so it's best to use a network cable directly to the router to do the configuration), and don't forget to hit "Apply Changes" or "Save Changes" after every tweak you make.

You can continue to make more advanced wireless security changes if you'd like, but I think they're overkill. Still, if you're paranoid, you can turn off SSID broadcasting (so you have to type in the network name manually; it doesn't show up in the Windows scan). You can also turn on MAC address filtering, which limits access to your network to a list of computers that you specifically approve.

How to Reduce Spam E-Mail

E-mail spam involves sending identical or nearly identical messages to a large number of recipients. Unlike legitimate commercial e-mails, spam is sent without the recipient's permission and is frequently used for advertising. In other words, spam is the electronic version of junk mail.

How do spammers get your e-mail address? A variety of ways, including:

  • Guessing common names at known domains, otherwise known as dictionary attacks
  • Using programs such as "spambots" or Web spiders that search for e-mails on Web pages and relay the information back to spammers

Legislation Against Spam

The CAN-SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act) took effect on January 1, 2004, and targets mass e-mail spammers. It requires labeling of unsolicited commercial e-mail messages, as well as clearly defined opt-out instructions and the physical address of the sender of the e-mail. It prohibits the use of deceptive subject lines and false headers. Unfortunately, most spammers have moved their operations out of the U.S. to avoid prosecution.

Keeping Spam at Bay

While Congress and state governments continue to find ways to crack down on spammers, here are a few tips on preventing spam from reaching your inbox:
  1. Use spam filtering or spam blocking software, such as the junk e-mail filters built into Microsoft Outlook.
  2. Do not respond to suspicious e-mails or to obvious spam. A response only confirms the accuracy of your e-mail address, and may result in even more messages filling up your inbox
  3. Never send your e-mail address through chat rooms, instant messages or Internet bulletin boards and newsgroups
  4. Set up a disposable e-mail address. Have a secondary address for public use, such as online registration or online stores. Set up the secondary address to forward e-mails to your primary account. When you see fit, you can abandon or disable the secondary address. You can get a free e-mail account from Google, Hotmail, or Yahoo.
  5. Do not post your e-mail on any web site. Instead, display them in a way that spambots cannot read. Spambots crawl the Web looking for anything with an @ sign. For example, instead of John_Doe@company.com, publish the e-mail address as John_Doe[at sign]company.com
  6. Stay off mailing lists. Mailing lists are often a way for spammers to confirm that your address is real
  7. Create an e-mail name that's tough to crack. Some spammers use computer programs to guess e-mail addresses. Research shows that e-mail addresses containing numbers, letters and underscores are more difficult to guess and tend to receive less spam.
  8. Watch out for those checked boxes. Prior to signing up for services or newsletters on the Web, be meticulous about reading through everything. Watch out for text at the end of the registration forms that read, "YES, I want to be contacted by select third parties concerning products I might be interested in." Sometimes the checkbox next to the text is already checked, so you'll need to uncheck those boxes.

How to Take Care of Your Laptop

Laptop sales have surpassed desktop computer sales. However, a laptop requires more care than a desktop computer.

Because of the miniaturization of the electronic components, a laptop can be more sensitive to temperature than a desktop computer. I tell people to treat their laptop like a dog. Don't leave it in the car on 100-degree days and don't leave it in subzero temperatures. If you do leave your laptop in the cold or heat, let it adjust to room temperature before using it.

Battery life is another common problem. Laptop batteries need to be replaced every two to three years. (By the way, Strike Twice Computers can order you a battery for any laptop.) Although today's laptops use lithium ion batteries, they can still get a "memory effect" and not hold a full charge. One manufacturer told me to exercise the batteries. Twice a week, unplug the laptop and run it on battery until it is almost depleted. I call this the "use it or lose it" method. Otherwise, if you are stationery and usually plugged into the AC outlet, remove the battery so it isn't always charging. The downside of this is that the battery won't be charged when you do need it to be mobile.

Security is another concern. We have had several customers get laptops stolen. Here are some tips to secure your laptop:

  1. Avoid using laptop bags. Laptop bags can make it obvious that you're carrying a laptop. Instead, try a padded briefcase or suitcase.
  2. Never leave access numbers or passwords in your carrying case. Without your password or important access numbers it will be more difficult for a thief to access your personal and corporate information.
  3. Carry your laptop with you. Always take your laptop on the plane or train rather then checking it with your luggage. If you're traveling by car, keep your laptop out of sight. For example, lock it in the trunk when you're not using it.
  4. Encrypt your data. If someone should get your laptop and gain access to your files, encryption can give you another layer of protection. With Windows XP and Windows Vista you can choose to encrypt files and folders. Then, even if someone gains access to an important file, they can't decrypt it and see your information.
  5. Avoid setting your laptop on the floor. Putting your laptop on the floor is an easy way to forget or lose track of it. If you have to set it down, try to place it between your feet or against your leg (so you're always aware it's there).
  6. Buy a laptop security device. If you need to leave your laptop in a room or at your desk, use a laptop security cable to securely attach it to a heavy chair, table, or desk. The cable makes it more difficult for someone to take your laptop. There are also programs that will report the location of a stolen laptop. They work when the laptop connects to the Internet, and can report the laptop's exact physical location.
  7. Use a screen guard. These guards help prevent people from peeking over your shoulder as you work on sensitive information in a public place. This is especially helpful when you're traveling or need to work in a crowded area.
  8. Try not to leave your laptop in your hotel room or with the front desk. Too many things have been lost in hotel rooms and may not be completely secure. If you must leave your laptop in your room, put the "do not disturb" sign on the door.
  9. Do not leave your backup USB or external hard drive with your laptop. If your laptop is stolen or destroyed, your backup data is gone with it. If you must have a backup device with your laptop, use a second one to have separate from your first one.