Monday, December 31, 2007

Wireless Hotspot Safety - Time To Smarten Up

So you go to your local caf?otspot, sit down with your trusty laptop and casually order a hearty cup of dark roast coffee. After 30 minutes of checking your email, the weather, and writing your latest blog in MySpace, you decide to call it a day. Unknown to you, the guy at the corner table, the one quietly reading his paper sipping java, has just stole your recently typed user names and passwords, and got a kick out of the angry email you sent to your boyfriend. Luckily he was doing it just to see how easily it could be done, and decides to delete your personal information.

Think this cant happen? Well think again. It does happen, and it occurs more often then you think. We need to be more aware of the potential dangers that exist while using hotspots. This article will walk you through the steps needed to keep you safe while accessing local hotspots. Its time to tighten up your laptop security, and practice some safe browsing habits. While it is very important to use firewalls, and antivirus programs, I want to focus more on the less obvious steps you can take to protect yourself. Lets start with your Laptops network settings. Many laptops are set to search and connect to the nearest hotspot. While this option might seem convenient, it does not allow you to monitor which hotspots you are logging on to and determine if they are legitimate.

Turning off this option will prevent your computer from logging on to a hotspot without your knowledge. To see how your Laptop is setup, click start. Go to the control panel. Click network and Internet connections; from there click network connections. There you will see wireless network connection. Right click on that icon and click properties. Click the wireless networks tab. At the bottom you will see an advanced tab, click that. Finally make sure you uncheck "Automatically connect to non-preferred networks." Once this is done you will now have to manually search for and connect to new access points, which is what we want.

Now make sure you know and pay attention to the SSID you are connecting to. The SSID is the name of the network you are accessing. Hackers will often imitate as closely as possible, the original SSID name. It is also a good idea to turn off file sharing, especially if you do not use this feature. By doing so it will help prevent anyone other then yourself access to your files. Many web browsers used today such as Internet explorer and Firefox have built in security features to help warn you of suspicious and non-encrypted websites.

Phishing, which is a form of identity theft that occurs when a malicious Web site impersonates a legitimate one in order to acquire sensitive information such as passwords, account details, or credit card numbers. Is one of the scams Firefox and Internet Explorer try to warn you against. Both browsers have built in phisihing detection. Unfortunately these warnings, which are displayed at the top of your browser are often ignored or shut off completely because of the small inconvenience some believe it imposes.

To check weather or not your browser is protecting you from Phishing scams, first make sure you are using the latest version of the web browser of your choice. For Internet explorer, open your browser and click tools, Internet options; click the advanced tab. Scroll down to security. Once there, look for phishing. Make sure turn automatic website checking is checked. To check phishing filters in Firefox click on the Security preferences pane. On Windows and Linux, go to Tools, Options and then Security.

VPN or Virtual Private Networks are an excellent form of security when accessing hotspots. Many companies, particularly large enterprises, offer their employees Virtual Private Network connections to the company's network and the Internet. VPNs use encryption and other security methods to give wireless network users the same kind of privacy that wired networks typically have.

Lets move on to some things you need to be aware of at all times. Before you enter any private information in wireless hotspot or anywhere on the Internet for that matter, make sure you look for the lock icon within your browser. This lock indicates that the website uses SSL encryption and it is safe to enter personal information. Most websites will also include "https" in the beginning of the website address. The "s" at the end indicates a secure encrypted website. What this mean to you is your personal information is encrypted or scrambled once entered, and makes it nearly impossible for a hacker to decode it.

Another tip although quite simple is, be aware of your surroundings. You do not want someone looking over your shoulder while you are browsing the Internet, or typing in your email password. Speaking of email, when checking your email account at wireless hotspots, it is a good idea to get into the habit of using web based email programs. Most legitimate Email providers will provide SSL security so your user name and passwords you enter are encrypted and kept safe. By following these simple procedures, you will greatly improve your security and prevent your private information from getting into the wrong hands.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Ssid Broadcasting - Ending The Misconception

Today I received a question from a reader who asks; "I have a small wireless network, should SSID broadcast be enabled or disabled? I keep hearing conflicting reports." That's an excellent question and one that is often very misleading. Let me start by stating a simple fact. Disabling SSID broadcast does not hide your network.

This is a common misconception that goes hand in hand with MAC address filtering which is also useless in deterring a hacker. Let me explain a little here. The SSID was never meant to be hidden. Its purpose is to essentially distinguish one network from another. When you disable SSID broadcast technically all you are doing is hiding SSID beaconing on the Access Point. In other words you are preventing the average Joe from seeing your SSID within a wireless network manager program. But there are 4 other protocols that also broadcast the SSID. Probe requests; probe responses, association requests, and re-association requests. And these cannot be turned off. So unless you have absolutely no activity on your network, which is highly unlikely, then it is impossible to hide your SSID.

A hacker can easily find your hidden network within minutes. You may be asking okay so disabling SSID does not hide my network but in most cases it prevents my neighbor from accessing my Internet, so what does it hurt? Well that's what encryption is for. WPA and WPA2 prevent unauthorized access to your network, thus preventing loss of data and bandwidth so use encryption, if possible do not use WEP all that does is deter a hacker for 10 minutes or so. What does it hurt? Well, a hidden SSID can make wireless LANs less user friendly, it also forces your wireless devices to probe for your SSID, as well as cause some network devices from connecting at all. Another downside to cloaking your SSID is that it prevents others from knowing what channel your network is using.

If many networks use the same channel then network performance will suffer, and interference may occur. To summarize, I would personally leave SSID broadcast on. If a hacker is within range of your network chances are he will find your Access point regardless if your SSID is broadcasting or not. It will also make your life easier if you need to allow another computer access to your network. I hope this article clears up any misunderstandings you may have had regarding SSID broadcast.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Should You Install and Use a Firewall Program?

If you spend any time on the internet other than just checking your email, then you probably do need a personal firewall.

A firewall is basically a software "shield" that stands between your computer and the internet. It is designed to block programs from entering or leaving your computer without your permission!

So what good does this do?

Hackers routinely use "robots" to scan cyberspace looking for vulnerable computers and networks.

A decent firewall automatically blocks or stops a robot from seeking entry to your computer. Like a castle wall prevents an attacking army from entering the courtyard.

And also like a castle wall, a firewall allows selected internal programs like Internet Explorer, etc, to access the internet. Using the castle concept again, a firewall allows you to control the "drawbridge" that lets programs come in or exit your PC.

A good program with both personal and professional version is "ZoneAlarm" at I have used ZoneAlarm for years and it has been a very stable program with a solid support system.

Another good application is the "Sunbelt Personal Firewall" (formerly known as Kerio). The Sunbelt/Kerio program was voted the best in 2006. It is a very strong system and very affordable.

Without programs like these, your computer is defenseless, and you are forced to use anti-virus and anti-spyware to clean up after the damage has been done by invasive software programs.

A firewall simply adds another layer of protection to your machine. And since you can only run one firewall on a PC at a time, I would recommend you try out the Sunbelt/Kerio first, although ZoneAlarm has a very nice "free for personal use" edition.

Ms. Chancer Reese works with small businesses and service professionals who are tired of losing money on unnecessary downtime and want to reduce their computer headaches. To learn more, visit

Here's an interesting article about the Land Rover Discovery. The tame side of Land Rover Defender.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

BlockDelete for MSN - More Bad News

This is another spammers paradise to say the least. The link that is being sent is dont-miss-this that will redirect people to BlockDelete. When you get to the site all you have in front of you is a window which states:

'Quickly and easily learn who blocked you on MSN.

The longly awaited feature for MSN Messenger, completely for free!

Please input your account information to learn who has blocked you. Our system will login with this information and learn who has blocked you.'

You are presented with a login box and password box. When you sign in using your passport credentials, they are stored on a server and they collect ALL of your contacts details and start spamming them with messages apparently sent by YOU - a trusted contact requesting that they also visit the site and register!

There is NO Privacy Policy, No way to contact them. You also optin to receive emails from them

If you have been a victim of this scam, please change your password immediately. If this fails, uninstall MSN Messenger and re-install, sign in to and then change your password. This is very similar to Meet Your Messenger which I wrote about previously. Anti-virus programs and anti-spyware programs will NOT find this as you do not install anything. Ensure that you Windows Updates are up to date and run the Malicious Software Removal Tool. The Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool checks computers running Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 2000, and Windows Server 2003 for infections by specific, prevalent malicious software.

Free PC Security

Colin Richards

Free PC Security

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What Types Of Computer Viruses - Tips On Keeping Your Computer Virus Free

All computer viruses are not classified as being the same and for good reason. There are several types of computer viruses that can destroy your hard drive or cause your computer to ultimately crash. There is also the threat to consider of your keystrokes being recorded or your personal and private information becoming the property of someone else. Many researchers agree and work constantly on ways to detect the infected application however it seems as though those who are creating these corrupt applications are constantly at work trying to make them better in ability to be downloaded without being detected.

No one type of computer virus is consistent with another. There are always some kind of tags associated with it, depending on the creator or the person who designed the corrupted application in the first place. This being said, the malicious programs that disable your computer rendering it really slow or not working at all, can be avoided if the user is cautious about what it is you download from the Internet. Without a really good security program already installed on your computer the risk is going to be magnified if you choose to not make sure whatever you download is not infected with any type of viruses. Mainly that you are trying to fix the problem and not make it worse.

Whenever software is put on your computer without your consent or permission which causes problems or replicates itself you can know for a fact it is a computer virus. Resident Viruses are often permanent and stay within the RAM memory; from this point it can then interrupt or control all of the operations your computer performs.

Other corruption can occur within auto execution files, batch files, and your root directory although there's a good chance you won't even realize it until its too late. This is why it is so important to watch everything you decide to download from the Internet.

One of the most recent bad ideas are known as "logic Bombs". These are not considered as computer viruses however if you do a search they are so new they are shown as part of the results and on some web sites. Logic bombs are segments of programs that blend with other programs which their main goal is to destroy data on your computer and the results can definitely be destructive. Once these logic bombs have been launched the user can see problems almost instantly. And the launching is usually caused when the application is opened or installed.

Quickly and easily protect your computer with a free spyware detection software by visiting, a popular spyware and anti-virus repair website that specializes in antivirus guide to using Norton virus protection to keep your computer virus free.

Oh I found a great article about Ten Mega Marketing Ideas to get your Website Making Money. Recommended Read!

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Keep All Your Other Stuff Updated!

Regular readers of my articles probably know that they must keep their security software up to date at all times, in order to surf safely on the Web. But what about all the other stuff we have on our computers? Things like word processors, spreadsheets, readers, Power Point viewers, media players, etc. Not to mention Windows itself, and its components. They must all be updated as well, to prevent hackers from muscling in to your PC. This used to be a real chore keeping everything up to date and staying safe on today's Internet.

Not any more. You are going to use a nice, quick tool to check what needs updating on your PC, and then to actually (and easily) update it. But before we begin you should see if you have multiple copies of the same program, especially Adobe Flash Player and Sun Java JRE. Neither program removes old copies when installing new ones, or updates.

In Windows XP, click Start, Control Panel, Add or Remove Programs. In Vista, click Start, Control Panel, Programs and Features. If you have more than one copy of Adobe or Java, keep the latest one with the highest update or version number. Delete the others by clicking the Remove button. Note that Adobe Flash Player is not the same animal as Adobe Reader.

Now go to Read the notes and click Start Now. Read more notes and choose the default or thorough inspection; click Start. When the inspection is finished, you will get a list of programs that are not up to date, and therefore potentially dangerous. Follow the links to update each program. You will likely need Administrator privileges to do this, so be sure you are using your main, Administrator account.

Some updates will restart your browser. If you lose your results page, just run the Inspector again. Watch the process closely. Certain updates will install toolbars on your computer, unless you deselect this option. Bookmark the Secunia home page, and run the Inspector once a month or so.

Syd Tash is a noted computer security consultant and author of How to Protect Your Computer Online - A Complete Guide. He has been keeping Internet surfers safe and secure since the last century. Find out how he does it; protect your own computer with five layers of protection right here:

Oh, and here's a great resource on Free Spanish articles about Jewelry: Artículos Libres De la Joyería

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Computer Error Messages - Is Your PC Asking For A Doctor?

These days computer error messages just seem to be a fact of life. We have become almost immune to the barrage of pop up messages telling us about all kinds of problems with our PCs. Some of these are in fact malware, spyware or adware, programs that have malicious intent towards our privacy and online security, but most of the time, your PC is just trying to tell you about some problems it is having, hopefully before they become serious. Computer error messages fall into some common main groups.

  • Operating System - These types of error messages may indicate serious problems with your computers operating system. This could include problems with the registry, which holds vital information about your computer's hardware, installed programs and settings. Sometimes an System File can be deleted or corrupted.
  • Specific Program - These types of messages usually only occur when you try to use a specific program, and can indicate an incompatibility or corrupt file. Many times reinstalling the program, or downloading updates, will stop these error messages from preventing use of the offending program.
  • Hardware - This is probably the most serious category of errors that your computer can have. It does not matter how virus free or cleaned of malware your PC is, you can lose everything if it has a fatal hardware failure. If you believe that your computer is having an eminent hardware failure, your should back up all your important data immediately.

Computer error messages can seem like an alien and hard to understand concept, but they are never something to completely ignore. Most of the time error messages are not too much to worry about, but you can never be too careful when it comes to your private information and expensive computer equipment.

The best way to make sure your PC won't self destruct and erase all of your precious photos, emails and financial documents, is to regularly scan it for potential problems. For a highly recommended and absolutely Free Registry Cleaner Download (new 2008 version), go to

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Stay Safe Online - 7 + 1 Steps to Internet Safety and Security for your PC

Internet safety seems like an oxymoron these days with all the threats aimed at our computers. Staying safe online doesn't have to be difficult, and this article covers the basic steps that every computer user should take.

The phrase "Internet Safety" often seems like an oxymoron. Every day we hear of new threats aimed at our internet connected personal computers which seems to just make it that much harder to actually stay safe while connected online.

Knowing how to stay safe online has become a practical requirement these days for anyone using a computer connected to the 'net. Fortunately, a few relatively simply steps and a little education can go a long way to making sure that your internet experience is both safe and secure.

1. Use a Firewall - If you do nothing else, you must use a firewall. Firewalls act as a type of barrier between your computer and the internet, preventing remote computers from connecting to yours unless you explicitly allow it. A firewall can be a simple device such as a broadband router, it could be a feature of your operating system such as Window's own built-in firewall, or it can be a full featured software package that you purchase and install on each computer. Which one you choose is less important than making sure you have one and that it is enabled and deflecting threats.

2. Back Up - Failing to back up your computer, or at least your critical data, is perhaps the most common mistake I see being made today. And sadly it can also be the most costly regret you'll have when, not if, disaster strikes. If malware hits or hardware fails often your best if not your only resort will be to recover your system from its most recent backup. Don't have one? Then you might be severely out of luck. I regularly hear from people who've lost all of their data due to a malware infestation or a hardware failure. If nothing else, invest in a large external USB drive and a good backup utility and start backing up regularly right away.

3. Keep Critical Software Updated - Every day people experience problems that could have been completely avoided had they simply kept their operating system and other PC software up to date. Both Windows XP and Vista make staying up to date very easy with "Automatic Updates" and I definitely recommend that it be turned on. Similarly, most other software and applications will now also check for updates and notify you as new ones are available. Make sure your system and applications are checking for updates regularly and installing them as automatically as possible.

4. Educate Yourself - No matter what else you do, no matter what other protections you put in place, malware authors can bypass it all if they can fool you into doing something you shouldn't. The problem, of course, is that "what you shouldn't" isn't always immediately obvious. That's why it's so important to educate yourself on how to detect and avoid their attempts. In short: be skeptical. Don't open email attachments or instant messenger downloads unless you're positive they're safe. Don't click on links in email unless you're positive that they're taking you to where you expect them to. Don't download and install software without first checking it for malware. Don't ignore security warnings unless you're sure it's OK. Use strong passwords and never share them with anyone.

5. Scan for Viruses - Even with the best of intentions, viruses happen. Even with the firewall in place, the operating system up to date, and a healthy knowledge of what is and is not safe, sometimes something slips through. That's where you'll need a good anti-virus tool. There are many to choose from but the key factors boil down to this: select a reputable tool, enable its "real time" monitoring if you're at all uncertain of yourself or others using the computer, configure it to scan your hard disk completely once a day, and make absolutely certain that it's downloading the latest anti-virus information daily.

6. Protect Yourself from Spyware - Much like viruses, spyware can also occasionally make it through your defenses. Spyware is often relatively benign from a pure safety perspective - spyware doesn't often erase your hard drive or send spam, for example. However spyware does represent an intrusion, often presenting ads or modifying other programs in ways you didn't expect or ask for. And at its worst, spyware lives up to its name, spying on you and capturing potentially sensitive information. Anti-spyware utilities operate a little differently than anti-virus, so you'll want to make sure that you have a good spyware scanner in addition to your anti-virus tools. Like those tools, you'll want to make sure that it's downloading the latest spyware information daily as well.

7. Secure your WiFi - The default configuration of most WiFi equipment, and certainly the easiest configuration to set up, is completely unsecure. That means that anyone within range of your WiFi equipment can monitor what you're sending to and from the internet - including your account IDs and passwords. The same is true in most internet cafes and free WiFi hotspots. There are two steps you must take. First, at home, make sure you enable WPA security. This will require a password to connect to your wireless network, and will encrypt all the data so it cannot be monitored. (The older WEP security is no longer sufficient, as it is easily cracked.) Second, when you're using an open unsecure WiFi hotspot, take care to only access sensitive resources through encrypted connections. That means making sure that any web page you're visiting that requires personal information is connecting via an https connection. It also means that you shouldn't be downloading or sending email via your POP3 or SMTP based email program unless you know those connections are configured to use encryption as well, since by default they do not.

Bonus Step: Understand Physical Security - An old saying that I've found myself repeating to people more and more in recent years is this: "if it's not physically secure, it's not secure." All of the preceding tips are for naught if someone else who doesn't understand these steps can use your computer and accidentally download malware. It's all for naught if someone with malicious intent can walk up to your computer, reboot it, install software or hardware and walk away without your noticing. It's all for naught if your computer can be stolen. Take care to understand just how physically at-risk you might be and take appropriate actions. Don't let others use your computer until you're comfortable with their understanding of the risks. Don't leave your computer unattended if you can't trust the people who might be able to touch it. Consider encrypting data on your laptop or other computer if it can be lost or stolen.

Everything I've outlined might at first seem overwhelming. The good news it that most of these steps are things you'll need to do only once, and then consider infrequently thereafter. And to put it perhaps into a little bigger perspective they're not nearly as overwhelming as the impact of an actual security problem if it happens to you. The practical reality of the situation is simply this: we as individual computer users need to take the responsibility of the steps required to Stay Safe Online.

More information about staying safe online, including specific recommendations for each of the aspects discussed above, can be found at the author's web site Ask Leo! There you'll also find hundreds of answers to every day technical and computer problems.

Leo Notenboom has been in the tech industry for nearly 30 years. After retiring from an 18 year career as a Microsoft Software Engineer Leo went on to create Ask Leo!, a free web site where he answers real questions from ordinary computer users. In addition to answering tech questions Leo also maintains a number of web sites for a very limited clientele, including customer number one: his wife's collectible doll shop.

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