Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Security: Free Anti-Virus Scanners

Are you looking for a free anti-malware protection (such as: spyware, viruses, worms, trojan horses, botnets, etc.) for your computer? There are several options available for you to choose from, you need to find the one that works best for you.

There are generally two types of malware scanners available, one is called real-time and the other is called on-demand. You should always be using a real-time scanner that checks your system for malware. You should use on-demand scanners for systems that you need to disinfect that don't have a real-time scanner installed on them, or getting a second opinion to make sure your system is clean.

Free real-time malware scanners
Note: This software is free for non-commercial use. Also some of the programs below require registration to get the latest updates.
Free on-demand malware scannersFree online malware scanners
Note: All the sites listed below require Internet Explorer v6.0 or higher in order to use them:
Free online file malware scanners: If you receive a file that you think may contain malicious code, you can upload or send it to one of the following sites below to have it scanned.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Windows Vista: Editing File Types

Ever since MS-DOS, all files generally have a 3-letter extension that tells the OS and your applications what type of data a file contains. For example, the .TXT extension generally means text, the .DOC extension is a Microsoft Word document, etc.

When you double-click on a file, Windows will launch the associated application for that file type. For example, if you double-click on a .TXT file Windows will open the Notepad application. Sometimes when you install a new application, it can make assumptions and assigns a particular file type to itself whether you wanted it or not.

In Windows Vista, if you want to change the associated application for a particular file type, you have one of two ways of accomplishing this:

Method #1:
  • Right-click on a file type that you want to change (for example: .JPG, .MP3, etc), and then select Properties.
  • In the General tab, press the Change... button.
  • Select the program from the list to open the file, or press the Browse... button to select an application from your hard drive.
  • Press the OK button when done.
Method #2:
  • Open the Control Panel folder in the Classic View, and double-click the 'Default Programs'.
  • Click the 'Associate a file type or protocol with a program' link.
  • Double-click the extension you want to modify, or select the extension and press the 'Change Program...' button.
  • Select the program from the list to open the file, or press the Browse... button to select an application from your hard drive.
  • Press the Close button when done.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Software: Belarc Advisor (PC Audit)

The Belarc Advisor builds a detailed profile of your installed software and hardware, missing Microsoft hotfixes, anti-virus status, CIS (Center for Internet Security) benchmarks, and displays the results in your Web browser.

The Belarc Advisor report displays information about your computer's hardware: RAM, hard-disk, and processor speed and type. It also shows: motherboard and hard-disk manufacturer, multimedia devices, and more.
Notes: The license associated with this product allows for free personal use only. All of your PC profile information is kept private on your PC and is not sent to any web server.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Windows Vista: New Version of Movie Maker

The new version of Windows Movie Maker in Windows Vista has several improvements and enhancements that the previous version didn't have. Movie Maker includes all the basic feature that you would expect from any video editing program, but it also lets you combine still photos and audio (such as: music, narration, etc.). There are also a variety of transitions you can add to you videos (such as: fade in and out to black or white, zoom effects, and more).

Other enhancements are:
  • You're no longer being limited 320x240 preview.
  • Publish your videos directly to DVD using Windows DVD Maker.
  • Movie Maker also supports the DVR-MS format that Media Center uses to record TV shows. You can edit and save the show in WMV format, so they're playable on other devices.
This program is intended for non-professional video editors, and its designed to be easy to use. Also, until you get use to the way the program works, it might seem a little difficult to understand. As you get more sophisticated in your editing, you might soon find yourself wanting a more sophisticated product.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Software: Free Acronis True Image (with a catch)

I just recently found that Seagate is giving away free OEM versions of Acronis True Image ($50 value) software. True Image is a the popular hard-drive cloning and backup utility for Windows

To use the software you need to have a Seagate or Maxtor hard drive attached to your system. To get the software all you need to do is download Seagate DiscWizard or Maxtor MaxBlast software from Seagate’s support site (free of charge). DiscWizard and MaxBlast are OEM versions of True Image application.

DiscWizard and MaxBlast software can clone an entire hard drive, create a backup image, and build boot media that you can use to restore your system in the event it becomes unbootable. The software can also format drives, create partitions, and erase all the data on the drive.
Note: I have not tested if the software will install on a computer that doesn't have a Seagate or Maxtor hard drive.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Democracy Player is now Miro

Did you know that 'Democracy Player' has changed its name and is now known as 'Miro'. Like iTunes, Miro lets you subscribe and download Audio or Video podcasts. It also supports full-screen mode, can play several popular video formats, and downloads files via BitTorrent.

Want to learn more about Miro, watch the following screencast.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Firefox Update - Critical Flaws Fixed

Mozilla released another incremental security update today for the Firefox web browser. The new version of the browser fixes several important security holes and bugs. You can download the new version of the browser from Mozilla's site or use the auto-update function built in the the program.

Some of the fixes in Firefox v2.0.0.5 include:
  • Unauthorized access to wyciwyg:// documents.
  • Privilege escalation using an event handler
  • Frame spoofing while window is loading
  • Problems with memory corruption related crashes.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Games: Frets on Fire (Free)

'Frets on Fire' is a free open source version of the 'Guitar Hero' game that allows you to use your computer's keyboard as a guitar. The main objective of the game is to play your guitar as accurately as possible. The game also emphasizes musical skill and fast fingers.

Main features of the game:
  • Support for your computer's keyboard, guitar controllers and generic joysticks
  • Includes a song editor for making your own tunes
  • Hundreds of songs composed by the community
  • Supports importing Guitar Hero™ I and II songs
  • Runs on Windows™, Linux®, Mac OS X™ and FreeBSD®
Here is a video demo of the game (note: contains some inappropriate language that is included in the tutorial):

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Windows Vista: Creating a Hidden Share

Windows has a great feature for accessing files on another computer, its called shared folders. These are folders on your computer that you have chosen to make available to others to take files from, or add files to.

When you create shared folders they will be visible to anyone who visits your computer on your local network. Although, if you don't want people to see the shared folders you created its very easy to hide the name so it won't be displayed when people visit your computer.
  • Right-click a folder in the Windows Explorer and select Properties.
  • Click the Sharing tab.
  • Press the 'Advanced Sharing...' button.
  • Check the 'Share this folder' checkbox.
  • Type in a name for your shared folder, then add a "$" character to the end of the name. (for example: hiddenshare$)
  • Press the OK button.
Note: You can also use this technique to create a regular share that will be visible to anyone to visits your computer, all you have to do is leave off the "$" at the end of the share name.
To access the share folder you created, you need to create a UNC with the computer and hidden share name followed by the "$". The following is an example of a UNC to a hidden share: \\computername\hiddenshare$. If you forget to include the dollar sign character at the end of the UNC, the shared folder will not be found.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Security: Microsoft Patch Tuesday (July)

The second Tuesday of the month is about to passed again, which means that Microsoft just published a new round of security fixes for Windows and it's applications. This date is meant to be a predictable date so that individuals or companies only have to patch their desktop computers and servers once a month.

This month there are six new patches altogether. Three are marked as critical (for the OS, Office, and .NET framework), two are marked as important (for Office, and Windows XP), and one is marked as moderate (for the Windows Vista).

If you have 'Automatic Updates' enabled your computer will download these updates for you in the background. Then when you shutdown your system these patches will be applied to your system. If you leave your computer on overnight they will automatically be installed and your system will be rebooted if necessary.

Warning: If you leave your computer on at night make sure you save all your work or you run the risk of losing it if your system has to be rebooted.

Enabling Automatic Updates
If you don't have 'Automatic Updates' enabled on your computer, I would suggest that you turn it on as soon as possible. If you don't want to enable this feature, you can always update your computer by visiting the Windows Update site and downloading and installing the patches manually.

To enable Automatic Updates (Windows XP):
  • From the Start menu, select the Control Panel folder.
  • Double-click the System applet in the control panel folder.
  • Click the 'Automatic Updates' tab.
  • Check the 'Automatic (recommended)' option. (optional: if you don't like this feature, you can set it to: 'download but not install the update', 'just notify you', or 'disable this feature altogether' [not recommended])
  • Press the OK button when done.
To enable Automatic Updates (Windows Vista):
  • From the Start menu, select 'All Programs' then 'Windows Update'
  • In the left pane, click the 'Change settings' link.
  • Check the 'Install updates automatically (recommended)' option. (optional: if you don't like this feature, you can set it to: 'Download updates but let me choose whether to install them', 'Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them', or 'Never check for updates' [not recommended])
  • Press the OK button when done.

Note: For the latest Microsoft Security Bulletins, check out this site.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Security: Type of Malware Protection (Signature vs Behavioral)

There are generally two types of technologies used for detecting malware (which is short for malicious software, for example: virus, spyware, worms, etc.) these days. The first method is called 'signature-based protection', the second is called 'behavioral analysis' (sometimes known as 'heuristic' or 'non-signature' based analysis).

Signature-based protection is the most traditional and popular form of malware protection around. It detects malicious programs by matching the code in programs against a known database of malware. This is a very accurate way of detecting malware, but it can only find malicious programs it knows about. Also if a new malicious program comes out it can only be detected when a signature has been created for it. Many anti-malware vendors are struggling to keep up with amount of malicious code that is constantly being released.

Behavioral analysis (or non-signature) based malware protection tries to detect malicious programs by watching the applications on your computer for certain patterns of behavior. For example, if some program tries to infect another file, or perform another type of malicious behavior then it will be flagged. The advantage of behavioral analysis is that it doesn't require signatures to detect malware, so it can detect new malicious programs before traditional signature-based programs can detect it. The problem with this technology is that it can produce a lot of false positives if its tuned wrong, which can be annoying.

Ultimately, the best type of anti-malware protection program is one that combines both types of technologies. Signature based software is only as good as its last update, and behavioral analysis based protection is good but still has a ways to go to over come the problems with false positives.

It seems like most modern anti-malware protection programs are gradually moving in this hybrid direction, but it might take a while to perfect the technology.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Windows Vista: Manually Updating Drivers

Are looking for the latest device driver for software or hardware that you already have installed in your computer? Below are a few places you should check to find the latest drivers.
  • Manufacturer's Web Site: This is probably the best place to get the latest drivers for your system. These web sites are generally where a company will post the latest updates for their products. Microsoft keeps a list of popular Manufacturer's web sites on their site.
  • Windows Update: this is a free service provided by Microsoft that has the latest Microsoft application and OS patches, and device drivers for current and legacy hardware.
  • Device Manager: Allows you to check Microsoft to see if you have the latest driver. To manually update a driver in the Device Manager follow the steps below:
    • From the Start menu open the Control Panel folder.
    • Open the System control panel.
    • Click 'Device Manager' link in the left pane.
    • In the 'Device Manager' find the device you want to update, and then double-click the device name.
    • Click the Driver tab, and then press the 'Update Driver...' button.
  • Manufacturer's Driver Disk: This disk will only have the latest version of the drivers that were available for your hardware when the device was manufactured. I would only use this disk to get you started if you have no other way of getting the latest driver.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Security: Spy Sweeper 5.5 with Antivirus

For those people who are always looking for the best malware protection for their computer. Here is a review of 'Spy Sweeper 5.5 with Antivirus' by PC Magazine, they also gave the product their Editor Choice award.

Here is an excerpt from their review: "This version beefs up antivirus protection. It's more effective at removing spyware than at preventing new installations, but the bottom line is it?ll stop most spies. The competition (Spyware Doctor 5.0) is tough, but for the moment Spy Sweeper 5.5 with AV is the best all-around antispyware app."