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Monday, June 13, 2011

Securing Your Computer System- Windows


Today, more and more people are using their computers for everything from communication to online banking and investing to shopping. As we do these things on a more regular basis, we open ourselves up to potential hackers, attackers and crackers. While some may be looking to phish your personal information and identity for resale, others simply just want to use your computer as a platform from which to attack other unknowing targets. Below are a few easy, cost-effective steps you can take to make your computer more secure.

  1. Always make backups of important information and store in a safe place separate from your computer.
  2. Update and patch your operating system, web browser and software frequently. If you have a Windows operating system, start by going to www.windowsupdate.microsoft.com and running the update wizard. This program will help you find the latest patches for your Windows computer. Also go to www.officeupdate.microsoft.com to locate possible patches for your Office programs.
  3. Install a firewall. Without a good firewall, viruses, worms, Trojans, malware and adware can all easily access your computer from the Internet. Consideration should be given to the benefits and differences between hardware and software based firewall programs.
  4. Review your browser and email settings for optimum security. Why should you do this? Active-X and JavaScript are often used by hackers to plant malicious programs into your computers. While cookies are relatively harmless in terms of security concerns, they do still track your movements on the Internet to build a profile of you. At a minimum set your security setting for the “internet zone” to High, and your “trusted sites zone” to Medium Low.
  5. Install antivirus software and set for automatic updates so that you receive the most current versions.
  6. Do not open unknown email attachments. It is simply not enough that you may recognize the address from which it originates because many viruses can spread from a familiar address.
  7. Do not run programs from unknown origins. Also, do not send these types of programs to friends and coworkers because they contain funny or amusing stories or jokes. They may contain a Trojans horse waiting to infect a computer.
  8. Disable hidden filename extensions. By default, the Windows operating system is set to “hide file extensions for known file types”. Disable this option so that file extensions display in Windows. Some file extensions will, by default, continue to remain hidden, but you are more likely to see any unusual file extensions that do not belong.
  9. Turn off your computer and disconnect from the network when not using the computer. A hacker can not attack your computer when you are disconnected from the network or the computer is off.
  10. Consider making a boot disk on a floppy disk in case your computer is damaged or compromised by a malicious program. Obviously, you need to take this step before you experience a hostile breach of your system.

I Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me?


Spyware is one of the fastest-growing internet threats. According to the National Cyber Security Alliance, spyware infects more than 90% of all PCs today. These unobtrusive, malicious programs are designed to silently bypass firewalls and anti-virus software without the user’s knowledge. Once embedded in a computer, it can wreak havoc on the system’s performance while gathering your personal information. Fortunately, unlike viruses and worms, spyware programs do not usually self-replicate.

Where does it come from?
Typically, spyware originates in three ways. The first and most common way is when the user installs it. In this scenario, spyware is embedded, attached, or bundled with a freeware or shareware program without the user’s knowledge. The user downloads the program to their computer. Once downloaded, the spyware program goes to work collecting data for the spyware author’s personal use or to sell to a third-party. Beware of many P2P file-sharing programs. They are notorious for downloads that posses spyware programs.

The user of a downloadable program should pay extra attention to the accompanying licensing agreement. Often the software publisher will warn the user that a spyware program will be installed along with the requested program. Unfortunately, we do not always take the time to read the fine print. Some agreements may provide special “opt-out” boxes that the user can click to stop the spyware from being included in the download. Be sure to review the document before signing off on the download.

Another way that spyware can access your computer is by tricking you into manipulating the security features designed to prevent any unwanted installations. The Internet Explorer Web browser was designed not to allow websites to start any unwanted downloads. That is why the user has to initiate a download by clicking on a link. These links can prove deceptive. For example, a pop-up modeled after a standard Windows dialog box, may appear on your screen. The message may ask you if you would like to optimize your internet access. It provides yes or no answer buttons, but, no matter which button you push, a download containing the spyware program will commence. Newer versions of Internet Explorer are now making this spyware pathway a little more difficult.

Finally, some spyware applications infect a system by attacking security holes in the Web browser or other software. When the user navigates a webpage controlled by a spyware author, the page contains code designed to attack the browser, and force the installation of the spyware program.

What can spyware programs do?

Spyware programs can accomplish a multitude of malicious tasks. Some of their deeds are simply annoying for the user; others can become downright aggressive in nature.

Spyware can:
  1. Monitor your keystrokes for reporting purposes.
  2. Scan files located on your hard drive.
  3. Snoop through applications on our desktop.
  4. Install other spyware programs into your computer.
  5. Read your cookies.
  6. Steal credit card numbers, passwords, and other personal information.
  7. Change the default settings on your home page web browser.
  8. Mutate into a second generation of spyware thus making it more difficult to eradicate.
  9. Cause your computer to run slower.
  10. Deliver annoying pop up advertisements.
  11. Add advertising links to web pages for which the author does not get paid. Instead, payment is directed to the spyware programmer that changed the original affiliate’s settings.
  12. Provide the user with no uninstall option and places itself in unexpected or hidden places within your computer making it difficult to remove.

Spyware Examples
Here are a few examples of commonly seen spyware programs. Please note that while researchers will often give names to spyware programs, they may not match the names the spyware-writers use.

CoolWebSearch, a group of programs, that install through “holes” found in Internet Explorer. These programs direct traffic to advertisements on Web sites including coolwebsearch.com. This spyware nuisance displays pop-up ads, rewrites search engine results, and alters the computer host file to direct the Domain Name System (DNS) to lookup preselected sites.
Internet Optimizer (a/k/a DyFuCa), likes to redirect Internet Explorer error pages to advertisements. When the user follows the broken link or enters an erroneous URL, a page of advertisements pop up.
180 Solutions reports extensive information to advertisers about the Web sites which you visit. It also alters HTTP requests for affiliate advertisements linked from a Web site. Therefore the 180 Solutions Company makes an unearned profit off of the click through advertisements they’ve altered.
HuntBar (a/k/a WinTools) or Adware.Websearch, is distributed by Traffic Syndicate and is installed by ActiveX drive-by downloading at affiliate websites or by advertisements displayed by other spyware programs. It’s a prime example of how spyware can install more spyware. These programs will add toolbars to Internet Explorer, track Web browsing behavior, and display advertisements.

How can I prevent spyware?
There are a couple things you can do to prevent spyware from infecting your computer system. First, invest in a reliable commercial anti-spyware program. There are several currently on the market including stand alone software packages such as Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware or Windows Antispyware. Other options provide the anti-spyware software as part of an anti-virus package. This type of option is offered by companies such as Sophos, Symantec, and McAfee. Anti-spyware programs can combat spyware by providing real-time protection, scanning, and removal of any found spyware software. As with most programs, update your anti virus software frequently.

As discussed, the Internet Explorer (IE) is often a contributor to the spyware problem because spyware programs like to attach themselves to its functionality. Spyware enjoys penetrating the IE’s weaknesses. Because of this, many users have switched to non-IE browsers. However, if you prefer to stick with Internet Explorer, be sure to update the security patches regularly, and only download programs from reputable sources. This will help reduce your chances of a spyware infiltration.
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And, when all else fails?
Finally, if your computer has been infected with a large number of spyware programs, the only solution you may have is backing up your data, and performing a complete reinstall of the operating system.

Encryption and Making Your System Secure

What does encryption do for me?

Encryption and cryptographic software has been used in many different ways to make systems more secure. This article discusses only a few ways that such software can make your system more secure, including:

1) Encrypting your email

2) Encrypting your files

To programs are mentioned that will help encrypt information. There are many more programs out there that will help, but these programs are good and a good place to start as any. They have the added benefit of both being free with source code available.

Will encryption stop people from accessing my information?

Encryption simply makes it harder for people to gain access to important information, like passwords or sensitive information in a file. The first thing you should know about encryption is that the algorithm that is used to encrypt can be simple or more complex and that affects how securely what you have encrypted is protected. Encryption systems have been broken when the method of encryption is understood by hackers and is easy to break.

Why bother to encrypt my email?

It should be noted that email is far less secure than paper mail for two very good reasons: first, electronic data can be accessed easily over an Internet and secondly, electronic data is really simple to copy. There is a very good chance that someone has snooped around in your email despite your best intentions to stop it.

How do I go about encrypting my email?

There are many programs out there that can help you encrypt your email. A very popular one is PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) or its Gnu offshoot GPG.

PGP (http://www.pgpi.org/) self-describes itself this way: This "is a program that gives your electronic mail something that it otherwise doesn't have: Privacy. It does this by encrypting your mail so that nobody but the intended person can read it. When encrypted, the message looks like a meaningless jumble of random characters. PGP has proven itself quite capable of resisting even the most sophisticated forms of analysis aimed at reading the encrypted text."

Why bother to encrypt my files?

The answer to this boils down to what you store on your computer. If you have financial data with important information like social security numbers, email addresses, account numbers and passwords, then you open yourself up to losing very valuable information. Most corporate Internet security employees will attest to the widespread theft of very valuable information. As long as you are connected to the Internet you are vulnerable.

How do I go about encrypting my files?

AxCrypt File Encryption Software (http://axcrypt.sourceforge.net/) Self-described as "Free Personal Privacy and Security for Windows 98/ME/NT/2K/XP with AES-128 File Encryption, Compression and transparent Decrypt and Open in the original application."

The above software is just an example , I am in no way affiliated to this company or its products .

Seven Free Downloads for Video Editing

For those who have already tried creating their own home videos, you can make use of these seven free downloads for video editing. 

If you try to search the internet, you will notice that there are lots of software programs out there ranging from below $100 to over $500. Well, here’s great news – you can also download certain video editing programs for free. Even if you don’t have money, you can still use a decent video editing tool but you need to spend some time browsing the web. 

For newbies, it would be best to make use of these free software programs so that you will learn the basics of video editing. Once you get used to using different software programs, you can now purchase complex ones that offer special effects and other fun stuffs. Commercial software programs are too complicated for beginners so you’d be better off with free software. 

The top 7 downloadable video editors are the following:

Latest personal computers now have pre-installed video editors, the Windows Movie Maker. You can create new videos/movie and edit or share them. With a few drags and clicks of your mouse, you can create a movie. You can exclude bad shots and get only the best scenes. You can save the movie and perhaps share it via the internet, in a CD, or through email. If you save it on your computer or camcorder, you can play it over and over again.

For Mac, you can use the Apple iMovie. This is one of the easiest ways to create your own video. You can add new clips to your existing project or replace them. It also allows you to edit the audio as well. This software is free only if you have a Mac system. When the Advanced Tools are shown, you can use additional options like green-screen effects, picture-in-picture, and cutaways. 

For Linux and PCs, you can use the Zwei-Stein freeware. You can make use of the advanced features it offers like making custom effects or you can also do panning and cropping. 

Debugmode Wax may be outdated but it’s still great for video editing. The visual effects are flexible and so you can easily create superb video sequences. 

Jashaka can be used for Linux, Mac, and PC. It makes use of the OpenML and OpenGL hardware which allows users real-time interactivity. The platform comes with image processing, paint, and full CG modules. 

Virtual Dub offers very simple editing tools. If you’re an advanced editor, this software is not for you. If you have an existing video footage, you can use this software to make clean and simple edits. It can handle AVI files, read MPEG-1 and BMP images. 

These six software programs are downloadable. Only then can you use the software to create or edit videos or movies. If you want to use another good online tool, you can use Jump Cut. However, this can only be used online and you can’t download it. With this tool, you can cut videos; add effects, photos and titles. With Jump Cut, you can upload media, share them, remix, create new movies, or publish it for your friends.

Describing Etiquette

In various situations, people are required to behave in a socially acceptable way. From the time you were a child, you may remember your parent teaching you how to chew properly, how to answer the phone and how to act in public events. These are all part of etiquette. There are also several kinds of etiquette, depending on the current situation and the kind of atmosphere present. Here are some more tips about manners.

A Brief Definition

Etiquette is a set of forms and practices that are followed in a wide array of situations. Several individuals consider it as a branch of general social behavior or decorum. Every society has its own unique etiquette. Different cultures in a given society also have their own social norms and rules to follow. Some people may find it very challenging to learn etiquette if they are new to a certain place or culture.

The rules of etiquette will prevail over how people should act or behave. Greeting other people in a respectable manner is common etiquette among different cultures. The expression of respect may vary, but the idea is generally the same. In America, individuals shake hands to greet, while Asians bow as they greet. It is highly important to review or study a bit about etiquette before visiting another country to avoid trouble or embarrassing yourself.

The Lapses

Lapses in etiquette can lead to certain consequences. You may feel embarrassed or awkward after committing the lapse. The other person may also be the one embarrassed about the situation. There may also be more dire consequences to the lapses, such as losing a job or damaging friendship. In some instances, people have lost their lives or belongings because of a serious breach in etiquette. In most cases, however, lapses can still be forgiven, although more serious cases require bigger compensation.

Most of the lapses can be avoided by simply using common sense. If you truly want to be safe, you should study a number of books or search the internet to know more about possible offers that you shouldn't refuse and other special scenarios. You can also talk to someone who lives in the country you plan to visit to give you certain tips and advice.

On Manners

Manners include several social interactions with given cultural norms. A number of individuals consider etiquette to be an uncalled restriction of freedom of personal expression. Lack of manners or failure to respond appropriately can mean disrespect for the freedom of other individuals. To enforce manners or etiquette, establishments usually put signs to inform people, such as "Take off shoes before entering", "No smoking" and "Formal wear required". These will help create a more relaxed atmosphere wherein people can practice their freedom to a certain extent that will seem respectful to others.

Manners are highly dependent on culture. To differentiate manners from etiquette, a good example would be that manners teach you to use a fork while dining, while etiquette teaches you which fork to use while dining. 

Etiquette in the Workplace

Especially if you're still new to the job, you have to learn how to mingle with your co-workers appropriately to project a feeling of comfort and camaraderie. The way you handle yourself at work will greatly affect your performance, as well as how others will respond to you. You can make lasting relationships in the office if you practice good manners.

First Rules

Greet people you meet first when you enter the workplace or if someone comes in. You have to be always pleasant and polite. You will find that it sets a good mood in the office. Your voice has to be pleasant. This also applies when answering the phone or paging someone via the intercom. Set the tone for productivity by being helpful and friendly at the same time. You can also greet janitors and other blue-collar workers.

Make it a habit to answer the telephone promptly. If a co-worker is still attending a meeting or is away from his desk, you can answer the phone after 3 to 4 rings. This will help provide the idea that the business attends to all clients and concerns at all times. Simply take down important information that you will later on relay to your co-worker.

Meeting Practices

When there is a scheduled meeting, make sure you arrive on time. Dress properly for the occasion, even if it is casual Friday. Prepare yourself for the upcoming topics and shut your phone off before entering the room. Do not chew gum while inside the conference room. Allow other people to speak before you come up with your own opinions and suggestions. Continue being polite when responding. Avoid arguments and other negativity inside the conference room. If some people are being rude to you, maintain your tact and respond in a calm and composed manner.

Always use positive body language. Listen to the other person's concerns. If you need to sneeze, cough or yawn, be very discrete. You should go to the bathroom before you come inside for the meeting. Aim to last the meeting without having to go to the comfort room.

Facing Clients

When a client is waiting, attend to him first and avoid any unnecessary actions. Try to avoid personal conversations or put the phone down if you are speaking to someone to attend to the one who is physically present. Do not eat at your desk or drink while talking to the customer.

If you setup an appointment with a client, dress well and always be there a few minutes before. Avoid any annoying habits you have and do not use strong perfume or any other odorous material. Assist the client at all times and present the details clearly. Remember that you are there to provide information and do business.

It is good to make small talk to make the customer comfortable, but avoid lengthy conversations that deviate from the main topic. If you're supposed to meet a client, but cannot be there on time, make sure you call or text ahead and ask the customer to wait a few more minutes. Always give them the idea that you prioritize the meeting.

Four Basic Rules To Proper Instant Messenger Etiquette

Instant messaging has risen in popularity with the boom of the internet industry. It is indeed a reliable and cost-efficient way to communicate with friends as compared to making phone calls or send text messages.

The exponential growth of the internet messaging system has sadly led several users to abuse its use. The sense of immediacy has created this illusion of casual communication such that one completely neglects all forms of ethical concern when communicating via IM. If you are one of those who frequently use internet messaging devices such as Yahoo! Messenger, AOL, or Skype, here are some basic guidelines to proper etiquette when using IM for communication purposes.

Understand IM Limits

Again, the immediacy and the casual sense of communication that the IM environment creates establish this idea amongst IM users that everyone is willing to chat with anyone. However, this is a common myth that one must realize isn't true. If you have free time and would be willing to spend 30 minutes each day chatting with your online friends, then you need to understand that not everyone has that luxury. When you start a conversation with someone and they do not respond quickly, avoid “buzzing” them. They could be busy doing other works, or they might not even be in front of the computer!

Therefore, try to be more sensitive with your IM sessions. Learn to understand what others' priorities are. And even when you are free to chat online, you have to understand that these friends of yours probably aren't. You have to be specially sensitive when chatting with someone who is at the office as it could have serious repercussions at work.

Crosstalk is a Major No-No

During to the casual nature of instant messaging, it is a common practice for IM users to respond or engage in more than one conversations at the same time. During this conversation, you have ideas that you want to share to your 'friend' but your fingers are not as quick to type them in as these thoughts arise. Hence, a common practice among online users would be to chop up their sentences such that they appear on your chat box as phrases.

A tendency for most users would be to readily assume or conclude what they see appear on the box without being aware of what the rest of the statement is about. Hence, several friends end up arguing due to miscommunication during online chat. Hence, you must avoid sending out potentially offending statements, especially if you are unsure about how the other person would respond.

Be Careful When Chatting with Strangers on IM

IM accounts are often public, thus giving strangers the opportunity to send you messages on the spot. Just as you would when handing out e-mail addresses, you need to be extra careful when responding to complete strangers. However, do not readily assume that they have bad intentions or trying to spam you. If a stranger starts a conversation, politely ask them what their intent is. And if they do respond politely, carry on with the conversation in a polite manner.

But if they start to flood you with messages and begin sending out offensive comments, there is a “Report Spam” or “Block” option in most IM windows that you can use to prevent them from sending future IM messages to your account.

Read and Respect IM Status

This is the most basic IM etiquette that most users fail to practice. When another user indicated “Busy” or “DND” on their IM profiles, you need to respect that. It simply indicates that they do not want to be disturbed with impromptu IM chat sessions. In some cases, others would post a custom status message, saying “Busy but you can leave a message”, then you can certainly drop them a quick message. However, do this only when you have something really important to say.