Friday, April 28, 2006

SysInternals Process Explorer

SysInternals Process Explorer is one of those must have system diagnostics utilities, its like the Task Manager on steroids. I primarily use this utility to diagnose systems that are running slow or to see how well a process is running. It shows you all the EXEs and DLLs loaded by the system, and the processes that are using them.

Below is a brief list of features available in the current version (v.10)
  • Run as Limited User menu entry in the File menu to run a process without administrative privileges and group membership
  • Process menu includes Restart item to kill and then restart a selected process
  • Can suspend individual threads on Threads page of Process Properties dialog
  • The Find Window target moves Process Explorer's main window to the back to get it out of the way
  • Heuristics to detect more image packers
  • User name of account in which Process Explorer is running is shown in the title bar
  • As a parallel to the CPU Usage History column there's now a Private Bytes Usage History column
  • New delta private-bytes column to show changes in private virtual memory usage.
  • and more...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Yahoo's free software turns PC into DVR (Article)

CNET reports: "The software, Yahoo Go for TV, is free to download. After the software is installed, people plug their computer into their television's video and audio input connections. The computer can then record and play back shows on the TV just like with a standalone DVR. Consumers can also play DVDs, music, photos or other downloaded content."

Follow the link to directly access Yahoo!Go software. To see a list of features and some screenshots, click here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Moving the CD Recording Temporary Files Location

If you burn CDs using Windows XP's built-in functionality, you might not know that copies of the files that you're going to write to the CD are temporarily stored on your hard drive. If your drive is short on space, or you prefer to store these files at an alternate location.

Follow the instructions below to move the temporary file location for CD recording:
  • Put a blank CD into your CD-RW drive.
  • In the Windows Explorer, open the CD-RW drive (if there are existing files waiting to be written, delete them if you don't need them).
  • Right-click the CD-RW drive, and select Properties.
  • Click on the Recording tab
  • Make sure the 'Enable CD recording on this drive' checkbox is checked.
  • There is a dropdown menu showing the available drives on your system. If your system has multiple drives installed, they will be listed here. Select the drive where you want to store the temporary files.
  • Press the OK button when done.
  • About a gigabyte of storage is required for storing the temporary files.
  • The default location for these temporary files is: "%UserProfile%\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\CD Burning\"

Installing Microsoft Management Console 3.0 (Advanced)


  • This is an advanced user tip because it involves modifying the Windows registry. Modifying the registry can be risky, so be sure to have a good backup of your system before making any changes to it. This tip like all tips are use at your own risk.
  • This software requires that you have Windows XP Home or Professional with Service Pack 2 installed on it, and .NET v2.0.

Microsoft recently released a new version of the Microsoft Management Console (MMC). The MMC application provides a flexible framework that software vendors can write modules (called 'snap-ins') for managing applications and hardware on local or remote servers.

The new MMC v3.0 was originally developed for Window Vista, but Microsoft is also making it available for Windows XP. Some of the new features of the MMC include a new interface design and a better method of managing the snap-ins.

In v2.0 of the MMC, it was very cumbersome to manage the snap-ins, but the new version includes a 'Add or Remove Snap-ins' interface. Instead of dealing with two separate dialog boxes to create custom consoles, v3.0 provides a single dialog box that makes the process much easier.

To install the MMC v3.0, follow the instructions below:
  • Download the MMC v3.0 from the Microsoft Download Center.
  • Find the executable you downloaded and run it, this will start the installation wizard. Just follow the instructions.

To enable the new user interface, you have to modify the registry:

  • Launch the Registry Editor (from the Run... command type "regedit.exe" and press Enter key).
  • Find the following key in the left pane: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\MMC.
  • Right-click the MMC subkey and select New > Key.
  • Type UseNewUI and press the Enter key.
  • Close the Registry Editor.

To launch the new MMC, from the Run... command under the Start menu type: "mmc.exe" and press the Enter key. From here you can utilize the new 'Add or Remove Snap-ins' dialog.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Internet Explorer Add-on Manager

When Microsoft released Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, it included several new security technologies. One of these technologies was the Internet Explorer (IE) Add-on Manager. The way this feature works is by allowing you to easily manage ActiveX controls that IE uses.

To manage add-ons in IE, follow the steps below:
  • Launch the Internet Explorer
  • From the Tools menu, select Internet Options...
  • Click the Programs tab.
  • Press the Manage Add-ons button
From here you should see the Add-On Manager dialog containing a list of ActiveX controls, Browser Helper Objects, and Browser Extensions. Go through each of them and disable any of them that you don't use or need.

Note: By disabling any of the ActiveX controls, you could also be disabling certain web site functionality that you may need. For example, don't disable the Flash control unless you seriously want to disable a lot of features that are used by several different web sites.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Different Types of Internet Threats (Part 5)

In the previous parts of this article (see parts 1, 2, 3, and 4), we have covered the basics of what you need to know to protect your computer on the Internet. But to quote a Microsoft security researcher, "Security is a Journey, not a Destination." Meaning that it requires that you stay up-to-date and know what the latest threats are to protect yourself.

To finish up this article below are some topics that I want to quickly cover:

Staying Up To Date
With new attacks being created all the time, its important to stay informed about the latest security threats. Check out Microsoft Security Newsletter for Home Users. This newsletter includes: how-to articles and security tips, security bulletins and critical updates, answers to frequently asked questions on security topics, and more.

Testing Your Defenses
In the past I have already posted a few articles called 'Testing Your Defenses' (see parts: 1, 2 and 3), that discusses how to make sure your that you're computer security software (i.e. firewall, anti-virus, etc.) are working properly.

Disinfecting Your Computer
If your computer has already been infected by some type of malware (i.e.: viruses, spyware, etc.), there are some resources that you can use to remove this type of software:

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Different Types of Internet Threats (Part 4)

There are two things that you need to do when roaming around the Internet to keep your computer's OS and its data safe. One, make sure your computer is properly protected, we addressed this subject in the first three parts of this article. Two, you need to follow some common sense guidelines of what not to do.

Below is my list of top 10 Internet don'ts:
  1. E-mail is insecure, never send sensitive information that is not encrypted. Its very easy for someone to intercept it and its generally sent in plain text so its easy to read. Check out the following article for more information.
  2. Don't open e-mail attachments or SPAM messages. Attachments can contain malware, spam messages can contain web beacons, which tell spammers which e-mail addresses are valid.
  3. Don't post your e-mail address on the Web or give it out to any site that requests its, unless you want to be spam.
  4. Avoid downloading applications from sites that you don't trust. This is one way to get malware installed on your system.
  5. When visiting a web site and all of a sudden a pop-up displays asking you to install an ActiveX control, just say 'No'. This is another way malware gets installed on your system.
  6. Avoid clicking links in email, they can't be trusted. Often they can lead to phishing sites.
  7. Before ever sending personal or private data over the Internet to any web site you trust (Amazon, eBay, etc...), make sure that the communication is encrypted. Look for the HTTPS:// in the address bar, and a closed lock in your browser's status bar.
  8. Just because a web site asks for personal or private information, don't give it up unless you're comfortable sending this information over the Internet or giving it to that site.
  9. Use a credit card (i.e.: Visa, Master Card, American Express, etc...) when making purchases over the Internet. Credit cards give you the most protection on Internet purchases. Other methods such as debit cards, 'electronic checks' (i.e.: your checking account information), or etc.. are not recommended because they don't have the anti-fraud protections.
  10. People and information on the Internet are not reliable. Always make sure to consider the source of the information. For example if its from the Washington Post I would trust it a lot more then what I read in a forum post on a web site somewhere. Also, like information people may not be who they say they are on the Internet.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Different Types of Internet Threats (Part 3)

After you have all your defenses setup and in place, you need to make sure you keep the OS and applications up-to-date with the latest service packs, updates, and hot fixes. If you neglect this part of your security regiment, then you will leave yourself open to all sorts of application attacks.

Some of these attacks will come at you via e-mail or web pages. They can also come at you via applications and other types of files that you download from the Internet.

New vulnerabilities are being found in different applications all the time, so protect your computer by following the advice below:
  • Rule 1: Windows Update is your friend, so use it. This site keeps your OS and Microsoft applications up-to-date. This site requires Internet Explorer 6.0 and higher. (For more information see the following article.)
  • Rule 2: Make sure the Windows Automatic Update feature is enabled. This will make sure that you automatically receive and get installed the latest updates from Microsoft. (for more information see the following article.)
  • Rule 3: As I said in the second part of this article, you need to keep your security software and signatures up-to-date. This also means that you need to keep the applications that you use everyday updated, like Adobe Acrobat Reader, Macromedia Flash Player, Sun Java, etc. (Check out the Google Pack of software it may help you keep some of these applications up-to-date, see the following article for more information)
  • Rule 4: Use an email service that has a spam filter (most free mail services offer spam filtering), or just install one on your email client.
  • Rule 5: Install an anti-Phishing toolbar in your browser, such as the Google Toolbar. This will help protect you against some of the phishing attacks that are out there. Note: These attacks are becoming more sophisticated all the time, and may become too difficult for this software to protect.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Different Types of Internet Threats (Part 2)

Generally the first line of your computer's defenses is going to be its firewall. This will prevent other computers, and malware from trying to attack it and invading your computer from over the Internet.

Windows comes with its own firewall, which will protect you from most types of attacks. If you have Windows XP SP2 (for more information about it) installed on your computer, then the firewall is enabled automatically. If not you will have to enable it manually.

The one thing that I have to note is the Windows Firewall only protects you against attacks from outside your computer. If you're computer is infected with some type of malware, the Windows firewall can't protect you.

There are 'two-way firewalls', which allows you to monitor and control traffic leaving your computer. These types of firewalls are great for finding which applications are trying to communicate with the Internet.

Also, if you have a high-speed connection (such as cable, DSL, etc.), and are using broadband router then you might have an additional layer of defense on your side. Most broadband routers include some type of hardware based firewall.

After you have your firewall setup, you need to consider your anti-virus and anti-spyware software you have installed on your computer. Anti-virus software is not enough these days to protect your computer, you also need anti-spyware software. Then after you have it installed you have to make sure you keep the application and signatures up-to-date.

Windows Internet Security Suites
Below is a list of some Windows Internet security suites that I will recommend. These software packages are designed to protect you against most types of Internet attacks (virus, worms, Trojans, etc.), plus all the tools are generally designed to be integrated together. Which unifies the user experience, and makes keeping them up-to-date easier:

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Different Types of Internet Threats (Part 1)

No matter where you live or what you do, there different perils that we have to face everyday. For example, there is crime, accidents, sickness, our health, etc... This is just what we call a fact of life, we either deal with it or stop living.

We also have different ways to protect ourselves by taking certain precautions. Like, not putting ourselves in dangerous situations, driving more carefully, taking care of our bodies, etc...

Using the Internet has just as many perils as life itself, and like in life we have to take certain precautions. For example, we have to deal with viruses, worms, Trojans, spyware, spam, etc.. Then there are fairly new types of attacks such as phishing, and botnets.

Phishing is pretty much spam taken to its next logical level. Most phishing attacks rely on a fake email that tries to get you to go to a phony web site to reveal your personal information (such as your user name and password).

Botnets are just malware (i.e.: viruses, worms, Trojans, spyware, etc.) taken to its next logical level. Botnets, basically use your computer and bandwidth to send spam, attack a remote web site, etc.

Imagine your computer, and hundreds or thousands like it, waiting for commands from a central server on what to do next. All of this generally done without you even knowing its happening.

(Tomorrow I will discuss how to protect your computer in Part 2 of this article)

Friday, April 14, 2006

Installing the Windows Server 2003 Administration Pack

Are you an IT systems administrator that supports Windows 2003 servers? Maybe you have your own Windows 2003 servers in your office or home? Whatever the case maybe, if you're using Windows XP Professional as your main workstation for your everyday tasks you may want to consider installing the Windows Server 2003 Administration Pack on it.

The Administration Pack is designed for managing Windows 2003 servers. They allow you to remotely troubleshoot, or configure to the operating system without having to be physically at the server or using remote desktop.

To install the Administration Pack, you have one of two options. One, you can download the installer from the Microsoft site. Two, if you have THE Windows Server 2003 CD-ROM, in the \I386 folder there is an installer file called ADMINPAK.MSI.

Additional Download:

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Google Calendar is Now Available

If you track events in your life or, in the lives of other then you know the importance of a calendar and especially a calendar that supports collaboration. Well, after several months of speculation, the Google Calendar is now available for you to use.

I made sure to sign-up for my calendar, just in case the service got overloaded like others in the past. When you first login, you will notice that the interface is very clean. Its still rough around the edges, but its a good first attempt.

Below is a list of some of the features:
Calendar Sharing: Set up a calendar where your family, friends, and associates can view each others schedules.
Invitations: Send out invitations to your friends, and track their responses.
Quick Add: Just click anywhere on your calendar where you want to add an event belongs (or just click the Quick Add link), and start typing.
Gmail Integration: Gmail now recognizes events mentioned in emails, and allows you to add them to your calendar without leaving your inbox.
Search: Find the date for particular event in your calendar, or just search public calendars.
Mobile Access: Receive event reminders and notifications on your mobile phone.

Windows XP PowerToys Wallpaper Changer

There is a little known Windows XP PowerToy called the 'Wallpaper Changer'. This PowerToy changes the background wallpaper of your computer's desktop automatically from images you select at predetermined intervals (based on: minutes, hours, or days).

After the program is installed, it loads when you log into your computer, and sits in the notification area. To change its settings, all you have to do is right-click the icon.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Google Releases the Google Toolbar v2.0 for Firefox

I am a big fan of Firefox and Google, which also makes me a big fan of its Toolbar. Recently they released the Google Toolbar v2.0 for Firefox. It's available in 16 languages for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

This updated toolbar includes several new features:
  • Enhanced Search Box: search using the toolbar's search box, it will offer you suggestions based on what you type.
  • Google Safe Browsing: The Google Safe Browsing extension is now integrated into Google Toolbar, this feature alerts you if you visit a web page that could be a spoof or phishing web site.
  • Subscribe to Feed: Allows you quickly and easily add RSS feeds to Google personal home page.
  • Send with Gmail: Uses Gmail as your default mail client when you click on a hyperlink that contains a MAILTO: link.
  • and more... (see the following page for a complete list of features)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Freeze your hard drive to recover data: Myth or reality? (Data Recovery)

There is an interesting hard drive data recovery technique that you might never have heard about, it involves freezing the damaged drive to get the data off it. It doesn't sound like it should work, but several people claim it does.

This is one of those tricks that you use out of a shear act of desperation, when nothing else has worked. I plan to use this if I ever need to help someone recover data from a failed hard drive, and all other methods of data recovery have been exhausted.

I have to admit I have not tested it or am I recommending that you use it. If you want so more useful information about this technique make sure to read the comments on the following web page, there is a lot of good feedback there.

As I said earlier, you should only use this trick when nothing else works and you're desperate to recover the data from the drive. Also, as I have said in the past in other posts, use this information at your own risk.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Re-surfacing CDs so they work again.

Do you have scratched up CDs or DVDs that contain your favorite software, music, or movie and you can't read it anymore. Generally as long as the label (or top) side is not damaged, and the bottom only contains some surface scratches then you might be able to recover the information using this technique. (Note: Make sure to read the comments, it contains some additional suggestions and information.)

This is one of those tricks that is going to be a 'use at your own risk'. Your results will vary. Also note that I have not validated this method, but if your desperate to recover the information off the media I would suggest giving this trick a shot. Finally, If you're able to recover the data off the media, I would transfer it to another disk as soon as possible. Then I would avoid using that disk again.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Finding and Removing Installed Updates

Do you want to find out what hot fixes have been installed on your computer during the automatic updates that generally happen once a month? There's an easy way to check out which updates have been installed, and if necessary remove them.
  • Open the Control Panel folder, and then double-click the 'Add or Remove Programs' applet.
  • In the 'Add or Remove Programs' dialog, click the checkbox 'Show updates' at the top (which is not checked by default).
  • Scroll down in the list, until you see 'Windows XP - Software Updates'. From here you will see an installed list of updates.
If you need to uninstall one of these updates because its causing a problem, all you have to do is press the Remove button next to the update.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Fiber Optic Internet Service

Do you remember the day that you switched from your slower analog dial-up Internet service which peaked out 56.6Kbps (which it could never reach) to your newer digital 'high-speed' Internet access (which can reach speeds between 1-3Mbps and sometimes higher). Then after you switched, you may have wondered how you ever could have lived without it.

You may need to get ready again to ask yourself 'how you ever lived without it'. Verizon recently started offering a new high speed Internet service called FiOS (Fiber Optic Service) for a little while now. Verizon's FiOS offers connection speeds from 15Mbps for about $45 a month and 30Mbps for $199. For a complete list of prices and speeds check out the following web page.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Help My Computer is Making Strange Noises

Is your computer making strange high pitch whirling sounds, or clicking noises? Generally this is an indication that part of your computer is about to fail or has already failed.

Warning: Opening your computer can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. Make sure to unplug your system, and ground yourself before touching anything inside of it. If you don't feel comfortable making these repairs yourself, then hire a professional.

Below are possible sources of noises from your computer:
  • Hard Drive: If you start your computer, and right away you start to hear some strange sounds (such as high-pitch whirling or clicking, listen to the examples on this page) from your hard drive. This is generally an indication that it has failed or is about to fail. If you can access the data on your drive, I would back it up to another location (such as an external hard drive) as soon as possible.
  • Power Supply, System, or CPU fans: If you start to hear strange noises from your system fans, this could be an indication that your fan is dirty or has bad ball bearings. If this happens turn off your system and clean the the fans or replace them as necessary. If you want to see what happens when your CPU loses cooling, check out the following video. If the fan that is giving you problems is in your power supply, do not try to replace it. Just replace the whole power supply.