Friday, September 24, 2010

Microsoft's IE 9 Beta Offers Speed, Windows 7 Integration

eWeek reports: "Microsoft unveiled the beta version of Internet Explorer 9, the next release in its long-running browser franchise, during a high-profile Sept. 15 event in San Francisco. In addition to some key interface tweaks—the browser is now streamlined, with translucent elements designed to bring actual Web content front-and-center—IE 9 supposedly offers users greater speed and integration with Windows 7. Features include extensive support for HTML5, the ability to 'pin' Web pages to the taskbar and a 'Popular Sites' area that consolidates your most-visited pages in one place. Although Internet Explorer continues to hold a double-digit market share lead in the United States, it's faced a challenge in recent times from the likes of Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. By offering shiny new features, hand-in-hand with various security and privacy controls, Microsoft doubtlessly hopes that users potentially on the fence about other browsers will fall back into the IE camp. Time will tell, though, whether users and developers find IE 9 compelling to the exclusion of its competitors."

Check out eWeek's slide show for more information and screen shots of the new features.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Software: BatchBlitz (Batch Photo Editor)

BatchBlitz is a free, photo categorizer, file filter and batch image editor. It allows you to categorize and batch process your digital photos. The tool also supports the use of regular expressions which makes the program even more customizable.

Some of the other feature include:
  • Access to the EXIF and IPTC metadata with macros
  • Customizable batch actions
  • Savable batch tasks
  • Instant preview

System 7: Disabling Homegroup

Windows 7 includes a feature called Homegroup that makes it easy to network multiple computers running this version of the OS (Note: this feature is not supported in Windows XP and Vista). If you're not using the Homegroup feature, its still using resources (CPU and RAM) on your computer.  To free up these system resources, follow the instructions below to disable this feature:
  • From the Start menu click on Control Panel
  • Click Network and Internet
  • Click Network and Sharing Center 
  • Click Choose homegroup and sharing options under the Change your network settings section.
  • In the Homegroup settings window, click Leave the homegroup and confirm your selection.
  • From the Start menu in the search box, type SERVICES.MSC.
  • In the SERVICE console, find the following services, and change their Startup Type to Disabled. 
    • Homegroup Listener
    • Homegroup Provider
The next time you reboot your computer, these services will not start.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Protecting Your Privacy

In a previous article I talked about how to protect your computer, now I am going to talk about how to protect your privacy.  There are simple things that you can do to help prevent people from stealing your personal information, and possibly prevent identity theft.

Millions of people report having their identities stolen every year, some of these could have been preventable, and for others it was totally out of their control.  Sometimes companies that we trust with our personal information get compromised, and the personal data of hundreds, thousands, or more are stolen.

To help prevent your identity from being stolen, follow the tips below:
  • Monitor Credit Report: You need to check your credit report on a regular basis, treat it almost like an annual physical at the doctor's office.  By law you can get a free credit report every year.  For more information, check out the following FTC (Federal Trade Commission) site ( 
    • Its also a good idea to monitor your financial accounts regularly and make sure that is no unusual activity (such as purchases that you're not aware of).
    • For those who want additional piece of mind, the reporting services (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) offer credit monitoring services for an extra price. 
  • Protect Personal Data: People are often too willing to give away personal information simply because someone asked for it. For example, you walk into a store and buy something and the sales clerk asks you for your phone number before they start ringing up the merchandise. Information like this can be data mined, and can be used to cold call you in the future. Another example, If a site requests that you register with your personal email address, and don't want to give that information. Use to create a temporary e-mail address that lives for 10 minutes.
    • Note: Be careful about posting too much data about yourself on social networks (like: Twitter or Facebook). Also avoid posting other personal information such as your birthday or physical address.
  • Strong Passwords: One of the best ways to protect your privacy online is to use a strong passwords and vary them between all the web sites you use. These passwords will help prevent criminals from accessing your account information.  To create a strong password read the following article.
    • Note: You need to be aware that some products and services that you have have online accounts.  Even if you don't utilize these accounts you should activate them, and change their password so that someone else can't do this without your knowledge.
  • Check Facebook Settings: As you know Facebook and other social networking sites like Twitter can help you to accidentally expose information (such as what you really did over the weekend or what you may think about someone) that you don't want to share with the world. By locking down your privacy controls, you can limit who has access to it and keep it from being indexed by the search engines.
    • Note: Facebook has recently released a dashboard to help you manage your privacy settings so you can quickly see how your information is being shared. If you need more information on these controls, check out the following web page.
  • Out of Office: When you leave for vacation or business travel if you can avoid it don't broadcast it through automatic out of office messages.  Also be careful about not publishing this information on your social networks (i.e.: Facebook and Twitter).  Some criminals have used this information to find out when they can break into people's houses because they know that they're away.
  • Browser Privacy Mode: Popular browsers (i.e.: Firefox and Internet Explorer) have a privacy mode that prevents the browser from keeping track of personal information (i.e.: history, cookies, and cache) while browsing.  If you're concern about sites tracking you as you surf the web, this is one way to help prevent that.  
    • If you want to remove the existing personal information that is already in your browser, both Firefox and Internet Explorer have built-in functionality for deleting it.
  • Computer Privacy: The computer keeps more information  about what you do, then what you might be aware of.  For example, your web browsing history, what documents you recently opened, etc.  If you're concerned about this, there things that you can do to remove this information.
Warning: Use these tools at your own risk. When used they will destroy your data with no way to recover it.
    • CCLEANER:  This is one of the most popular system hygiene tools.  Basically the program erases temporary files to free up disk space, and deletes application history data (such as: recently opened files, browser history and cookies, etc.).  Here is a brief article on it, it also contains the link to download the software.
    • Erase File/Free Space: When you delete a file, the data from that file still exists on your hard drive.  The area on the disk where the file existed is only marked as available, so new files can be store there again.  This means that the original data is still intact and can be recovered.  If you're really concerned about privacy there are tools that can over write a deleted file with random data to make sure it can't be undeleted.  There are also tools that overwrite the free space on disk with random data to make sure that no previously deleted files can be recovered.
    • Hard Disk Destruction: If you're getting rid of an old hard drive, or giving away a computer make sure to wipe the drive(s) with a tool like DBAN (Darik's Boot and Nuke).  DBAN make your hard drive unrecoverable (by any method I am aware of) by overwriting the disk it with random data.
  • Paper Shredder: If you don't have a paper shredder then I recommend that you buy one.  I would suggest shredding any document that have personal or private information that you don't need anymore.
    • Paperless Statements: Many companies are now offering electronic statements  If this make sense for you, you may want to consider using this option.  It could be one less paper bill that you have to manage, it also helps to save on paper.
  • Locked Mailbox: If you use an unlocked mailbox, you may be exposing your personal information.  These types of mail boxes are easy targets for criminals trying to steal your financial statements, or other types of personal data.
  • Opting-Out: The FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) provides you the right to 'Opt-Out' from  consumer credit reporting companies from providing your credit information for unsolicited offers. For more information check out the or call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688).  Also see the following FTC site.
    • The Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference Service lets you opt-out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail from companies that use this service for a total of five years. Note: your registration can't stop mail from organizations that are not part of the DMA, because its completely voluntary.
  • Do Not Call: If you want to help prevent from being called at your home or on your cell phone by a telemarketer, consider adding yourself to the National Do Not Call Registry. By registering your phone number into this site, it will help keep telemarketers from trying to contacting you.
  • Google Privacy: Google offers a Web History feature that allows you to view, and manage how it tracks information about you that it uses to personalize your experience on their different sites.  For more information, check out the following site or watch the video below.

  • Beware Hidden Information: Some people are concerned about the hidden information (known as metadata) that is stored in documents. Many popular applications store this information for different reasons.  Although, there has been issues where this metadata has revealed facts that people and corporations were not expecting to be released.
    • To address this problem some software developers include tools in their applications to remove this data.  For example, the current version of Microsoft Office contains built-in utilities that allow you to manually view/remove the metadata from its files.  See the application help file for more information.
  • Encryption: One of the best ways to protect your personal information on your computer is to encrypt it.  If you're using Microsoft Windows Vista or higher (only supported in Ultimate and Enterprise editions).  The OS supports two types of encryption. File encryption called EFS, and full disk encryption call BitLocker (see the hardware requirements).  
Waring: Make sure to keep backups of your encryption keys, because if they get lost or damaged there is no way to recover your data.
    •  If you're using another operating system, check your OS's help file for more information about the options you have available or use program called TrueCrypt.
  • RFID Privacy: Modern credit cards and other forms of identification (such as: passports) are now being embedded with RFID (Radio Frequency ID) chips that contain personal information about you.  RFID chips are small devices that can be blasted with a radio signal to return some encoded data.  For example a lot of companies use RFID cards to allow employees to enter a building or secure area.  These chips are being installed into more types of cards that we use everyday like bus passes, electronic locks, etc.  The greatest problem with these chips is that criminals have created ways of stealing this information off of you without your knowledge.  To fight back you can buy wallets specifically designed to block data from being read off the cards while they are stored in them.  Do a search in your favorite search engine for RFID wallets, I am sure you can find one.
  • Privacy Policies:  Almost all the major web sites will post a privacy policy to let you know how they will use the data that they collect while you're using their site.  So if you want to know how your information is going to be used, read these policies.  Sometimes links to these policies can be found in the footer of the main page of the site.
For those that are truly paranoid about their privacy, there are some other things that you should consider.
  • Bluetooth Devices: Devices that use Bluetooth technology are designed to be convenient, but its not as secure as I think it should be.  Hackers have been able to crack its encryption algorithms for years.  If you're concerned about this technology, I would suggest disabling on your devices if you're not using it.
  • Mobile Phones: Now that mobile phone have become so ubiquitous in society, marketing companies are looking at ways they can use these devices to market products to you based on your location.  One of these technologies is called Location Based Services (LBS).  LBS is going to be hotly discussed privacy topic depending on how it evolves. See the following Wikipedia article for more information. 
  • Private Browsing: There are some products and services that you can use to help web sites from tracking you.  For example, if you want to see what a web site can knows about you just by visiting it, check out the following web page.
    • VPNs: A VPN acts as a middleman with your Internet traffic (such as: IM, VoIP, etc.), and all data between your computer and the VPN provider is encrypted.  You do need to be aware that after your data leaves the VPN provider your traffic will be unencrypted.  To find a list of available service providers, use your favorite search engine.
    • Anonymous Browsing: There are services that act as a proxy between your browser and a remote web site.  They can help prevent a web site from tracking you across the Internet. To find a list of available service providers, use your favorite search engine.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Setting up an Home Office For Your Small Business

With the uncertainty of the economy and people worried about their jobs, some individuals may be looking at  starting a small business using a home office.  These businesses can be anything these days from: writing, to  consulting, to selling stuff online, to telecommuting (and a wide variety of other types of occupations).

The technology that is currently available allows you to do things less expensively, then it was possible only a few years ago.  Below is a list of the things you will need to get you started.

What you will need:
  • A desktop computer and/or a laptop with Internet connectivity.
    • Laptops are relatively cheap for the available performance, and best of all of they're portable.  My general rule is buy the best you can afford (I almost never recommend buying the top of the line).
  • I would also recommend having a printer as well.  Ink jet printers are great because they can print color, but the ink cartridges can get expensive.  Laser printers offer high quality output, and a lower cost per page then Ink jet printers.
    • There are several All-in-One printers available on the market, these are great if you need for a device that will also be a scanner/copier/fax.
  • A smart-phone with voice and data plan (right now, I prefer the iPhone but an Android based phone is a great choice as well).
    • At a minimum, you can use Skype (for incoming and outgoing calls, with voice mail) and pair of headphones with a mike.
    • Another option you have is getting VoIP (Voice over IP) service from your Internet provider, or a product called MagicJack.  MagicJack is a device that plugs into the USB port on your computer and gives you a regular phone jack.  Both of these products/services allows you to hookup a regular phone and use it as the voice line for your business to make and receive calls.
      • You can also use these products/services as a fax line if you have an All-in-One printer.
Physical Presence 
Since we are talking about a home based business you can use your current physical address.  Although if you want privacy, or a way to separate your personal mail from your business mail. You should consider using a PO Box from your local post office or use some type of private mailbox service.

Virtual Presence/Branding
You have to have some type of virtual presence these days, such as a web site and email address with a domain that has your business's name in it.  You might be able to get away with using a Gmail or Hotmail account for your email, but its not recommended.  Check out domain name registrars like GoDaddy or any of the other ones that are out there.

Setting up a web site these days is easier then ever, but making it look professional will be the hard part.  Several web service hosting providers have ready made web site templates that you can leverage. Although, sometimes the hardest part is creating the business copy for your web site/services/products that you're offering, you might need to hire a professional to help you.

Virtual Store Front
Depending on what you're selling and how you choose to sell it, you might need a store front.  Both eBay and Amazon offer a hosting solution, with the ability to create a product catalog, a shopping cart, and a secure payment infrastructure to accept credit cards.  One of the other advantages of using one of the larger service providers (such as: eBay and Amazon) is that already have a lot of traffic on their sites that might be able help increase your sales.

Postal Services
If you need to send packages, all the major package carriers (US Postal service (USPS), UPS, and FedEx) offer free home and business pickup services. USPS offers a service called Click-N-Ship for printing postage and labels, then you can request a pickup for the following day.
Tip: You also might want to consider purchasing a scale to avoid overpaying postage.

Marketing using Search Engines and Social Networking
Marketing is one those necessities of any business, it also comes in several forms these days.  There are the traditional forms like using print and Internet advertising.  A good place to start with Internet advertising can be Google's Adwords program.

There is also search engine marketing, which basically consists of getting high quality links (i.e.: hyperlinks from popular web sites) pointing back to your site.  Generally the more high quality links you have pointing to you the higher your ranking will be in the search results (for more information here, you can read about Google's PageRank technology).  I am over generalizing how this works, but that is the basics (because I didn't really discuss how to get these links or touch on the importance of keyword optimization).
Note: There are a lot of companies out there calling themselves SEO (Search Engine Optimization) experts that might promise to get you on the first page of search results from Google, Bing or Yahoo.  Check out their claims before hiring a company like this.  There are several tactics that they can use to get you band from the search engines if you're detected.
One of the newest form of Internet marketing that you need use is social media (see the follow article for more information) site, like Facebook and Twitter.  I am not going to get into too much detail here, there are several articles out there written by others on this subject.

Also don't forget to leverage older Internet marketing mediums like, blogs, posting video about your products or services, RSS feeds, and email newsletters. You should also consider ordering letterhead and business cards with your contact information (check out VistaPrint if you want to do this online).
Tip: Include your contact information and web site address in the signature line of your emails.
Video Conference Calling
Sometimes its nice to talk to the customer face-to-face.  Although travel is expensive, so more people are leveraging video conferencing in place of traveling to the customer site.  Also traveling to attend seminars, seems slowly being replaced by the webinars.  There are services like GoToMeeting that you can leverage to host virtual presentations about your latest products.

If you only need to do one-on-one video conferences, Skype will allow you to do this for free.  Both you and the person you're meeting with will need to have the Skype client installed and have an account with them to use this service.

Virtual Computing Infrastructure
If you need office tools (such as an office suite, email, and collaboration tools), both Google and Microsoft offer solutions.  Google calls their service Google Apps (free and paid services available), and Microsoft calls their services Microsoft Online (for free versions of these services check out Office Live).  As you would except the free tools are very basic, while the paid version are more robust.
Tip: If you need a free Office Suite (i.e.: word processor, spreadsheet, etc.), check out OpenOffice

If you're small business doing application development and need servers, and storage, but don't have the budget to do what you need in-house (i.e.: hardware/personnel), then you might want to look at Microsoft Windows Azure or Amazon EC2 (Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud).  The architectural differences between these two platforms is vast, but can serve different purposes depending on the needs of your application.

Legal and Financial Advice
This is an area where I will refer you to a professional. So my best advice is find a lawyer and/or an accountant depending on what your needs are at the time.

Window 7: Power Efficiency Diagnostics Report

Windows comes with a command line utility called POWERCFG.EXE for managing your system's power configuration. This utility has an option called -ENERGY that can analyze your system for common energy-efficiency and battery life problems. When it finishes running, it will generate an HTML report file in the current path.
Note: This command should be used when the computer is idle and with no open programs or documents.
  •  From the Start menu, in the search field type CMD.EXE, then press the Ctrl+Shift+Enter keys all at the same time.  This should start up the command console in administrator mode.
  • At the command line, type powercfg -energy and press the Enter key.
 It will take about 60 seconds to the report to run. When its finished it will display a path to a HTML report it generated.

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Windows 7: Problem Steps Recorder

    One of the new troubleshooting features in Windows 7 is the new Problem Steps Recorder (PSR).  This program records your actions (i.e.: mouse clicks and keyboard input) by taking screen shots of them.  When you're finished recording the tool will compress all the images into a .ZIP file that can be shared with a technical support person.  
    Note: This tool can also be used for creating technical documentation by recording a actions require to perform the task and sharing it with others.
     To use the PSR follow the steps below:
    • To launch the PSR, from the Start menu in the search field type PSR.EXE.
    • Press the Record button, to begin. 
    Note: You can add your own comments and annotations while you're recording by pressing the Add Comment button)
    • Press the Stop Record when you're finished. 

    Software: Camspace - Makes Almost Any Object a Game Controller

    I recently came across an application called camspace, which is a computer vision platform.  Basically it allows you to use a web cam, and just about any real world object as a game controller (or input device).

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Protecting Yourself Online [Updated]

    It used to be that all you needed was anti-virus software, a firewall, updates for your OS and applications, and didn't open email attachments you were pretty safe. Fast forward to today, you still need to do all that, but attacks have elevated to where you can get infected by visiting the wrong web site using a browser or plug-in that has not been updated.

    There is a technology race between the bad guys creating new exploits to steal your data, to the good guys trying to come up with better ways to stop them. Things change all the time, for example it used to be that Firefox was the safest browser. Although over the years Microsoft has made several enhancements to Internet Explorer that make it more secure then it ever was. Microsoft has also made several security advancements in Windows 7, to make it the most secure OS that they ever produced.

    Although even with all these advancements the bad guys are producing newer techniques and methods to steal information from you, or use your computer as minion in a much larger activity aimed at a company or government such as a botnet. In the real world, there are precautions you take protect yourself, family and your property, you also need to take other types of precautions to protect yourself and your data while you're online.

    You have probably already heard a great deal of advice from several sources (from friends, blogs, etc...) on how to protect your computer and your data while you're on the Internet. Although, I have not seen a list as comprehensive as the one I am offering below, and what I have seen available seems out of date. I am going to try to update information where appropriate, and offer new advice where I can.
    • Use Software Updates: Make sure your OS and applications are up-to-date. If you use Windows and Microsoft Office, make sure the Microsoft Update feature is enabled in Windows Update. To find this application in Windows 7 and Vista, under the Start menu > All Programs, select Windows Update.
      • Note: Other programs that you may use like Adobe Flash, Acrobat Reader, etc. generally have an application updaters that is built into them. Its important to keep this software at the current release level because it generally contains fixes to exploits which can be used to compromise your computer.
    • Use Anti-Malware Suite: Install a anti-malware suite that can protect you against different types of malware threats (such as: viruses, Trojans, worms, spyware, rootkits, etc.), and make sure you keep it up-to-date. The Microsoft Security Essentials suite, is free and I have heard good reports about it. Check out the following search for reviews of other Internet Security suites that are available on the market.
      • Note: if you want to check if your anti-malware software is working you can use the following test files and see if you get a response from it. These test files don't work on all the versions of the anti-malware software available on the market.
    • Check Your Firewall: If you are using a modern operating system (such as: Windows XP SP3, or higher [Windows Vista, Windows 7, etc.]) and/or a fairly recent home router (bought within the last few years), they generally include some type of firewall which can protect you against most types of network attacks. To perform a basic test if your firewall is working, check out a site called "Shields Up".
      • Note: This test only checks the first 1024 ports (which are called "well known" and therefore the most attacked), there about 64000+ ports that aren't checked by this site.
    • Backup Your Data: Computer backups are like a cheap insurance policy against losing all your personal documents, pictures, music, etc. Every version of Windows since Windows 95 includes some type of backup software, and the backup application in Windows 7 is pretty good. To enable this feature in Windows 7, under the Start menu > Control Panel > System and Security, open Backup and Restore.
      • Note: If you want something more comprehensive, I recently posted an article about a free home version of GFI Backup Software (Home Edition). There are also several online backup solutions that you can check out, some offer a basic level of service that might be free but most of these solutions do cost money. Check out the following search for reviews of other Internet backup services that are available on the market.
    • Wireless Access Points (WAP): Most home routers today include some type of wireless access technology (such as: 802.11b/g/a/n). Most modern home routers come locked down by default, generally with WEP encryption (which is the weakest form of wireless encryption available, and very easy to crack). If you're using a wireless access point in your home or business, its important that you lock it down so people can't steal your Internet access or data from computers on your network.

    • To find out how to secure your WAP, see its manufacture's documentation or web site, and use a strong password to secure the administration console.
    • Make sure to use WPA or WPA2 encryption, and use a strong password to secure the connection between your computer and WAP.
    • Also make sure that you're using the latest firmware for these devices, see the manufacture's web site.
    Other useful tips:
    • Beware Pop-Up Alerts: If you get a pop-up window/alert while surfing a web site that warns you that a virus just infected your computer or something else is wrong. I would suggest that you immediately close that window or cancel the dialog, and that you run a anti-malware scan of your local computer just in case it somehow got infected.
      • Note: Most modern browsers employ some type of pop-up blocking. To test how well your browser's pop-up blocking technology is working, check out the following site (
    • Beware Phishing Sites: These are web sites that look like legitimate web site, but are forgeries of the original site designed to steal your login information. Most browsers (such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.), OpenDNS, and search engines employ phishing filters designed to protect you. Although, this can almost be a losing battle because the bad guys are constantly changing their tactics.
      • Note: One way to avoid falling for this type of scam is not to click on links sent to you in emails. Its also a good idea if the SSL digital certificate (HTTPS://) is legitimate.
    Google Warning Page
    Google Warning Page (explanation)
    • Don't Trust Email: Beware of email phishing attacks, these types of attacks have gotten more sophisticated over the years. They try to use social engineering techniques to get you to reveal passwords and other types of personal data by sending you legitimate looking emails. Most SPAM filters can help protect you against these types of attacks, but you still need to be careful when opening emails and file attachments from known and unknown people, and businesses.
    • Use Strong Passwords: Use strong passwords to protect your different online accounts that you use across various web sites, and rotate them on a regular basis. There are several solutions available for managing your passwords, from an encrypted spreadsheet to a 3rd party password manager (such as KeePass [an open source password manager]). Or whatever solution works best for you.
      • Notes:
        • Don't share your passwords or account information with others.
        • A web site (such as: Amazon, eBay, etc) will never ask you for the password to your account.
    • Encrypt Your Data: One of the best ways to protect your data against being stolen, is to encrypt it. This is especially important if you have a laptop, which can be lost or stolen. Corporation and government organization have to deal with this problem all the time. Also, If you have a flash drive its important that you encrypt the data on that device as well.
      • Note: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate edition support the EFS (for file) and Bitlocker (for drive) encryption. It's very important to backup your encryption keys, if these keys get damaged and you don't have backups. Your encrypted data will be unrecoverable.
    • Protect Personal Data: People are often too willing to give away personal data simply because someone asked for it. For example, you walk into a store and buy something and the sales clerk asks you for your phone number before they start ringing up the merchandise. Data like that can data mined, and can be used to cold call you in the future. Another example, If a site requests that you register with your personal email address, and don't want to give that information. Use to create a temporary e-mail address that lives for 10 minutes.
      • Note: Be careful about posting too much data about yourself on social networks (like: Twitter or Facebook). For example, if you're going on vacation don't broadcast it to everyone in your network before you go. Also avoid posting other personal information such as your birthday or physical address.
    • Beware Public WiFi: Connecting to public or unsecured wi-fi hotspots can be dangerous because the unencrypted data can be captured without you knowing about it. So you need to be careful about accessing any sites that contains confidential or personal data from these locations.

    • Use trusted DNS providers on your portable devices (such as laptops, and smart-phones) like OpenDNS to help protect against certain types of attacks.
    • If you have use one of these type of public or unsecured wi-fi hotspots look into commercial VPN solutions to encrypt data between your laptop and the Internet.
    • Beware Public Computers: Its very easy for public computers to be compromised and setup to steal confidential information. Don't access any site where you enter personal information (such as work related sites, email, financial, etc.) using one of these computers.
      • Note: Be careful about installing your flash drive into one of these devices as it could get infected with some type of malware.
    • Locking Your Screen: Whether you're at home, or at work its always a good idea to lock your computer screen when other people are around. It's also recommended that to set your computer to auto lock after a few minutes of inactivity.
    • Limit Start-up Services: You should review all your start-up services, and disabled or uninstall any of them that are not being utilized. You can use a program like Autoruns, to manage these programs.
    • Limited User Accounts: Most users should not be running under a user account with administrator privileges on the local system. It's convenient to have these privileges, but if you don't need them then it helps limit the potential that you computer can get infected.
      • To manage user accounts on your local system, go into the control panel and search for "User Account".
    • Enable UAC Feature: If you don't want to use a limited user account, Microsoft has created the UAC (User Account Control) feature. Whenever a privileged actions are executed, you're prompted with a dialog to approve or deny this function.
      • To enable UAC, go into the control panel and search for "User Account Control". Use the slider to adjust amount of notifications you want to receive. The higher the slider, the more notifications you will be displayed.  For more information, see the following article.
    • Limit File Shares: You should review all your file share that are on your computer, and disabled any of them that are not being utilized. You could accidentally expose files that you don't intend to share on your network.

      • To manage your file shares, go under the Start menu, right-click on Computer and select Manage. Expand Share Folders, and Shares to see what file paths are being published.
    • Uninstall Unused Programs: Over time we all install applications on our computers that we may have used once. These unused programs can sometimes contain exploits and other vulnerabilities that can be used against it. My suggestion is that you uninstall any programs that you're not using. This also frees up disk space, and could also potentially uninstall unused services running in the background or in the notification area that you might have forgotten about.
    • Turn Off Your Computer: There are several good reasons to turn off your computer when when you're not going to use it for long periods of time. Just to name a few, it saves you money (no power is being used), saves the environment, and keeps your computer from being exploited or getting infected.
    • Check Facebook Settings: As you know Facebook and other social networking sites like twitter can help you to accidentally expose information (such as what you really did over the weekend or what you may think about someone) that you don't want to share with the world. By locking down your privacy controls, you can limit who has access to that information.
      • Notes: Facebook has recently released type of dashboard to help you manage these setting so you can quickly see how your information is being shared. If you need more information on your privacy settings, check out the following web page.
    • Lock Your Laptop: Laptops are portable, powerful, feature packed, and cheap these days. They can replace most of the functions that only full desktops used to do. This is a perfect combination for mass adaption. With all the great things that laptops offer, they are also very easy devices to steal and therefore you should do a few things to protect them.
      • Never leave your laptop sitting by itself. Buy a laptop cable lock, then secure the machines to a desk or table when you're not using it.
      • Windows 7 Ultimate edition allows you utilize BitLocker to encrypt all the data on your laptop's hard drive.
      • Make sure to enable automatic screen locking, and biometric features (such as finger print scanners if available).
      • Use trusted DNS providers on your portable devices (such as laptops, and smart-phones) like OpenDNS to help protect against certain types of attacks.
    Bonus Tips:
    • Need some additional help, you can call Microsoft and get free technical support if your questions are about Windows security, or malware removal. Just call 866-PCSafety (866-727-2338).
    • If you're going to buy something online, I would recommend that you avoid using a debit card and a use a regular credit card if you can.  You generally have more rights and protection if your credit card information is stolen or abused.
    • Some people are concerned about the hidden information (known as metadata) stored in documents. Many popular applications store this information for different reasons.  Although, there has been issues where this metadata has reveal information that people and corporation were not expecting to be released.
      • To address this problem some software developers include tools in their applications to remove this data.  For example, the current version of Microsoft Office contains built-in utilities that allow you to manually view/remove the metadata from its files.  See the application help file for more information.

      Please post your tips in the comments, I look forward to reading them.

      Monday, September 13, 2010

      Software: DropBox (Sync Files Between Your Computer and Mobile Devices)

      Dropbox allows you to sync files between your PCs/Macs/Web/Phones (iPhone or Android). If you want to learn more see the video demo below. Use the following link to sign up and get 2GB of free storage space.

      Sunday, September 12, 2010

      Windows 7: New Font Manager

      Windows 7 includes a new and improved font manager. This has been one those areas of the Windows OS that has been ignored for a long time.

      To access the new font manager, from the Start menu, select Control Panel, then search for Fonts.  From here you can see what fonts are installed, preview the individual fonts, and add or remove them.  Some of the other improvements in the font manager include the grouping of like fonts into families and the ability to toggle them on and off.
      Note: By right-clicking the font, you can toggle it by selecting the Hide option.  This will prevent applications from loading that font (thus saving memory), but the files are retained in the Font folder. 

      Windows 7: Managing User Account Control (UAC)

      One of the new features that users of Vista immediately noticed (and quickly disabled) was the User Account Control or UAC. It is designed to prevent unauthorized changes to your computer, even if you're logged in as an Administrator.

      The UAC will display anytime you attempt to perform a task that requires administrative rights, a dialog box will appears prompting you for permission to execute the requested action. This feature is enabled by default and Microsoft recommends that you leave it turned on. It is worth noting that in Windows 7, they made it so that it is less intrusive then it was in Vista.
      • Click Start in the search box, type User Account Control and press the Enter key.
      • By default, its set to where the green circle is at (see the image below). I personally run it at the maximum setting where the red circle is at (see the image below).

      Windows 7: Hidden International Destkop Themes

      There some extra International desktop themes that are hidden in the Windows system folder that are included as part of the Windows 7 default installation. For example, the US theme includes six 1900x1200 images showing off National Parks and beaches. There are four others that would be available depending on which International version of the OS you were installing. These other themes include: Australia, Canada, South Africa, and United Kingdom.

      To access these themes:
      • Under the Start menu type "C:\Windows\Globalization\MCT" and press Enter key.
      • Select the country folder you want to see the desktop images/theme (for example select MCT-US for the US theme).
      • To see the images for that countries theme go into the folder with the name of the country (for example in the in the MCT-US folder there is a another one called United States).  To access the theme itself open up the Theme folder, and double-click on the file with the .theme extension (note by doing this you will enable that theme).