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Here are some posts about things in the news, and/or things that I'll try to warn you about...
5.15.16
Decision Time!


We're getting closer to the July 29 deadline for the FREE upgrade to windows 10. If you are now running Windows 7 on a non-Skylake processor, and if you like it, it will still be supported until 2020.

But if you are using windows 8.1, or if you have a Skylake, you might want to think about at least trying Windows 10.  Because...

There is a work-around that beats the deadline: Do the Windows 10 upgrade now, and then (within 30 days) roll it back to Windows 7.

They say this will work, and will reserve a permanent copy of Win 10 for you. I tried it on one of my machines, and the roll-back went without a hitch. But I have heard some horror stories from people who were not so lucky.

This is what Microsoft is telling us. Please note that I am only regurgitating  their info!


5.5.16
If you suddenly can't boot Windows 7...

If you use an Asus computer or motherboard, and you suddenly see a nasty red warning on your screen prohibiting you from booting your Windows 7 machine, it's only because MS changed the status of a certain optional update, (KB3133977) and made it automatic. This update switches your computer into a "Secure Boot" mode which is not supported on Windows 7 machines. So they don't boot.

Here's the story, with the work-around.


More Important Windows 10 News


We're now getting closer to the July 29, 2016 deadline for upgrading to Windows 10 - for free. After that, it will cost money. (The latest number I saw was $119.99).

There may be some people who want to get the freebie now. These would be the adventurous type - people who like to try new things and don't mind the learning curve.

Also, (very important) Win 10 is for people who have another computer/tablet/internet device in their home. Because Windows 10 is still crashing regularly on some systems; for some, there is a crippling MS Update behind every tree. Exciting!

(And some brand new  Win 10 machines even have defective recovery partitions which, upon a "Reset" or "Refresh",  disable certain features, such as the Windows apps that are [were] accessible through the colorful tiles.

The work-arounds for this are a bit geeky.)

Another thing to consider is the age/model of your processor. In September of 2015, Intel released its first Skylake processor. Microsoft did promise that it would support Windows 7 until 2020. But, after July 17, 2018, Win 7 or 8 will not be supported on Skylakes - only on older chips.

If you are running Windows 7 or 8 on a newer machine, you might want to check your processor model. (With Win 7, just tap the appropriate function key at startup, to access the BIOS firmware settings. With Win 8.1, you will want to do this.

If you see a Skylake processor in the BIOS/UEFI setup, then you may have to bite the bullet and go Windows 10 before 2018.

I'd like to think that, by then, they will have repaired most of the bugs in Windows 10.

PS: It is still rumored that MS will soon foist mandatory Win 10 upgrades on all Windows machines. You can save yourself from this fate by downloading and installing GWX Control Panel here. 

As of May 5, 2016, this is still a safe download.

2.9.16
Windows 10 Again


At the risk of being repetitious, I want to reiterate my warnings about upgrading to Windows 10 too early. If you're not the type who likes to re-learn everything every year or so, then do wait.

However...Be it known that, after July 2016, Windows 10 will no longer be free. Well, you say, that's OK, since I don't want it anyhow. (right?) But there might be a problem here, if your hardware is newer than August of 2015. This is when Intel introduced their new "Skylake" processors. And after July 17, 2017, Intel will no longer support Windows 7 running on these processors.

So anyone who buys a new computer from now on, will only be able to run Windows 10, or above.

If you like Windows 7 and need a new computer, you might want to consider a good refurb. (Walmart.com has some nice ones.)


1.6.16
More Warnings

Here's a repeat my of many past warnings about Registry "Cleaners".

Don't use them. Ever. It does not matter who tells you to use them. Even if the King of the Geeks descends from the heavens and recommends a registry cleaner, don't listen to him.

Just Google "Danger registry cleaners" or "Are registry cleaners safe?". And read on. There is no such thing  as a safe registry cleaner.
 




1-6-16
Money Stuff


It is with mixed emotions that I must announce a slight rise in my fees.  Main Reason:   I charge so little that nobody takes me seriously any more! The average shop in my area charges about 300-400% more. 

I'm now asking $50 cash or $60 check for a complete virus/malware removal/tuneup, and $60 cash or $70 check for re-installing your operating system. (About half of the checks I take bounce).

In a re-install, I will back up your data on your own media, which might take many hours, depending on how much you have, and the type of media. I will also install your AV and basic Adobe utilities---to get you up and running. A backup and re-install of an email client would be $20 more.

However, there are quite a few people out there to whom $50 is a substantial amount of money. (I know, because I'm one of them  :-)   So just say so, or ask for a student/senior discount. I won' t think less of you. And or course, I'm always open to bartering.

I just spoke with a person, discussing his options for restoring a broken Windows installation. I gave him a very low quote and made arrangements to do the job.

However.....he later called back to tell me that his wife suggested he find someone "More Reputable".

I suspect that they may have taken me more seriously if my prices were not so comically low.....!?
 
 

11-23-15
A couple of Helpful Hints for Windows 10 and 8.1

I may have already mentioned this, but if you absolutely hate your Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 interface, you can always install "Classic Shell". (link)

It will give you an old-fashioned Start Button, with apps and things arranged more like  Windows 7 and XP.

Also, the easiest way to get to your settings, etc, is to use keyboard shortcuts. The "Windows" key (bottom left) plus the letter "x" will give you a very helpful pop-up list. And....the "Windows" key plus the letter "i" will give you the Settings menu.

It's in "Settings" that you can turn off a lot of the sharing and anti-privacy options. The less you share, the better.


Did I say "More Update Problems"?
 
I planned to come here today, in order to educate and instruct re: the much-hyped Windows 10. 

But I could not get my brand new, Windows 10 upgraded machine to boot. So I followed a link to an MS site to create a Windows 10 bootable media. But, after almost an hour of downloading, everything crashed.

Since the definition of insane is to attempt the same thing again and expect different results, I did not try it again.  When I have more time, I will create a boot disk manually. In the meantime, I pulled the plug a few times, and Win 10 finally booted up.  But then  it kept crashing (freezing) so I went online (on another computer) and looked around, and was only mildly surprised to learn of yet another disastrous update, on November 11, 2015. 

Not only is the latest update crashing computers, but Microsoft has finally admitted that,
due to some kind of bug, Windows 10 has been attempting to install itself on users' computers, uninvited.  If you are working away on your computer, and it suddenly slows to a crawl, then something like this might be happening. 

So my good deed for the day, is to reiterate my previous caveat: DISABLE AUTOMATIC UPDATES! 

If you have limited bandwidth (like with Comcast) a huge download like this can even cost you  money. And if you are still using dial-up, then you may have to move.

Also, after next year, it will openly install itself on any computer with automatic updates enabled. Do you like Windows 7? Do you have time to learn an entirely new and different operating system? (In other words, "Do you have a life??")

Then disable automatic updates:

Control Panel to Windows Update, to "Check for Updates" on left, then use then drop down list to "Check for updates, but let me decide"....)

Altruistic software geeks are already writing little apps to protect innocent end users from Windows 10.

EDIT: Here's one I just found: GWX CONTROL PANEL. 

Download and run it (I didn't find any foistware). There are 2 check boxes that can stop the Win 10 download/install. If you change your mind, just run it again and un-check the boxes.

Now I need to find that old .ISO for a clean install of Win 10. Maybe that's the ticket to Windows 10 Holy Land.

But I've already wasted too much time today!

[later this same day: It was yet another flaky MS update that caused the issues. It's running better now.]


Windows 10  - September, 2015
 
Some disgruntled Windows 8 users are rejoicing that they can now upgrade to Windows 10 for free. Win 10 is reported to be more user friendly than Win 8.
But if you’re the skeptical sort and would rather wait with the devil you know, then there’s some good news about Win 8.  And that is Win 8.1. It’s easier to use and more stable than Win 8.

My last post about the Wiindows 8.1 update was full of warnings, based on negative reports from customers. Most of these issues do seem to be fixed, although I do still recommend a full backup before making the 8.1 leap.  And some of the most recent 8.1 updates have been breaking some users’ computers -again.

The best solution for this is to do a clean install of Windows 8.1. BUT MAKE SURE TO BACK UP FIRST. You will have to re-install all of your files and programs after doing  a clean install.

A clean install of Windows 8.1 can be found here.  You will need an 8 GB flash drive, and plenty of time. And don’t attempt it if you are at all intimidated.

 
Which brings me back to Windows 10.  Again, before doing the upgrade, BACK UP YOUR FILES, or – better still – make a full image, using a free app such as Macrium Reflect. (You’ll need an external drive with at least 50 GB free).

Windows 10 does have a feature that allows you to roll back to the previous version of Windows if you don’t like Win 10 -but you must do this within 30 days.  I tried this on a Win 7 Pro (to Win 10 Pro) system, and it worked flawlessly.  But... apparently, other users have not been so fortunate.

Also. There is a  big new update scheduled for sometime in early November.  It would not be unwise to wait for the November update, and then wait another week, so that M.S. can fix the flaws in the November update. Be aware that, once you have installed Windows 10, you cannot disable Automatic Update unless your'e running the Pro version.

Right now, I’m about to do the Win 10 upgrade – again – on a Win 7 Pro test machine.  I’ll come back to share the  pros and cons.


EDIT:  The download is nearly 6 GB, for those of you with a data cap. The entire process took over an hour, and I was met with a "High Contrast" theme enabled. I successfully changed it back.

Second edit: I just worked on 2 upgraded machines that also had high contrast enabled. Just do a search for "Themes" and turn it off.
 
 


8.2.15
More Update Problems

Now it seems that Windows 7 isn't the only OS to be damaged by Microsoft. One of the most controversial features of the new Windows 10 operating system, is that you can't turn off automatic updating in the Home version. This would not be such a disaster if only the updates were a little bit safer. There has already been at least one serious issue because of this.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Windows 10 will use your bandwidth (your internet connection) to push updates out to total strangers. This could be a serious issue for people (like me) who have tight data caps. Here's a possible fix for this issue.
So my advice for the moment - in addition to disabling automatic updates on all of your  Windows 7/Vista machines -  is to totally avoid Windows 10.

7.28.15
Update KB3079904

"KB" stands for Microsoft's "Knowledge Base", and the long number stands for a recent, important security update designed to save you from an exploit having to do with fonts, and an attacker's ability to take over your computer just by your visiting a webpage. MS deemed it so important that they did not even wait for the next "Patch Tuesday" to install it on users' systems, via Automatic Updates.

So, if you have Automatic Update enabled, then you probably have the patch by now. And if you can no longer print, hear sounds, get online, or even boot up, then you are not alone, and it is very possibly -even likely -  a result of this buggy patch.

The old joke is: "Patch Tuesday... Crash Wednesday". This time the patch/crash came on a Monday and Tuesday, (July 20 and 21), although different people have received this update at different times.

There are several possible fixes for the problem, but the simplest for the end user would probably just be a System Restore. Click the start button, select or delete anything in that white space, and type: "RSTRUI.EXE" (case insensitive) without the quotes. Hit enter and follow the directions (Tick the "Show More Restore Points" box.) to restore it back before KB307994. Don't try to go back too far.

I used to disable automatic updates for my customers, but then they were not applying updates, and that can cause security issues. So...disable automatic updates yourself, and wait a week or 2 before applying the updates.


7.20.15
Stop what you're doing, and call when...

If you're driving your car, and it suddenly starts running very slowly and making strange noises, then you will probably bring it directly to the nearest repair shop right away. The same thing should happen if your computer starts running very slowly, or starts getting very hot, or starts making weird noises, or giving you pop-ups.

Don't just keep using it, hoping that things will get better. There is probably a good reason why it's acting up, and the longer you wait to have it looked at, the harder it will be to fix. Give me a call. It doesn't cost anything to call!   


6.18.15
Windows 10

EDIT: 8.2.15. You may want to wait a long time before upgrading to Win 10. The most recent update has caused serious problems..

People have been asking me about the new Windows 10 -- should they do that free upgrade? (It's free for Windows 7 and 8 users: after doing all the latest updates, look down at the bottom right of your screen to see the square, white Win 10 logo.).

My advice, as always, is to wait. Don't wait too long, but it will probably be free for about a year or less. In the meantime, here are some (slightly snarky) opinions on the subject.

7.9.15...I just opted in for the upgrade on a test Win 7 Pro machine. (on which I will be able to turn off the automatic updates.)
Apparently, it won't even be available until after 7.29.15.


1.26.15
Blizzard stuff
Just because you have a "Surge" protector, don't be complacent. Most surge protectors are probably underrated for the load they are carrying, and even if they are not, they lose their protectivity after a few surges.

Some protectors aren't even protectors at all. They're just "Power Strips" - no better than a basic multi tap.

So if you see the power blink, (or at bedtime during a storm - easier than putting a flashlight in your mouth), do get down on your knees under the desk and pull those plugs right out of the power source.

I'm not sure if you live anywhere in blizzard country, but I do. And here's a reminder to unplug all of your electronics when/if you lose power. When the power comes back on, there's almost always a power surge, and I get a lot of calls from people whose computers go wonky after a power outage. (They occasionally even die).


12.13.14
Beware Phony Tech Helpers

There has been a huge increase in the number of Rogue/Scam Tech "helpers" that I have been removing lately. I can't emphasize enough how remote is the possibility that you will find any real help either online or on TV.  Microsoft won't do it, Netflix won 't do it.....these people are crooks.

It's not very difficult to end up with a pop-up warning you about viruses, registry errors,  etc. on your computer. The trick is not to get sucked in. If you see any kind of warning whatsoever...unless it's from your own legitimate anti virus program, it is almost certainly a scam. Ignore it. Close your browser.

If it won't close, try hitting Alt and F4 at the same time. Or, if it's handy, just pull out the network cable, or right click and disconnect the little staircase on the bottom right of your laptop screen.

Or, hit CTRL, SHIFT, and ESC keys simultaneously. Click the Processes tab and scroll down to find IEXPLORE.exe. (Or FF or Chrome)  Right click it and click "End Process Tree". Confirm.

GOOD INFO HERE:

The same goes for phone calls. Believe it---Nobody from Microsoft will ever (ever ever) call you about a problem with your computer. It's a scam. Hang up.

After closing your browser, it's a good idea to scan with MalwareBytes.

If you do get hijacked, DON'T USE the COMPUTER. Some of these scams are "ransomware" that will prevent your even using your PC. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to remove. Call me. 

RE: ANGIES LIST
This is just a little message about the messages that I havn't been getting from Angie’s List.

I have several “A” ratings on Angie’s List (Thank you!)

But their site has a feature through which a potential customer can notify me, and it doesn't seem to be working. This morning I received a message that was 9 days old. I

They do notify me via email, but sometimes a week late.

So, if you would like to converse, you can email me: 


and I will reply with an even faster email address.

Or call me at  ...(contact on left)  but only if you're not a robo-call. :-)

--Thanks!

L. Hutchins      

11.8.14
Better News..

I've been kind of negative lately about all the bad guys out there. (I hate it when people get scammed.) But things are looking up!

Microsoft has finally admitted that Windows 8 was a bad idea. And in response, they are releasing a newer version of Windows. No, not Windows 9. Windows 10. (I guess the reasoning here is that people will forget about Windows 8 faster, if the numbers are farther apart.) We're still waiting for more info on the official release date.

In the meantime, if you're stuck with Windows 8, try "Classic Shell".  (This link could change, and as usual, be careful of foistware.)  

Oh, and speaking of foistware, I have been using an app that helps:


It runs in the background (so don't use it if you have a very slow, old computer with limited RAM). And it pops up to warn you about some foistware. (But only on downloaded apps that you are installing from your computer. Not online installations, like those pernicious Adobe updates)
I am running it, and it makes life a little bit easier. But I would never depend on it 100%.

Microsoft might not be giving you accurate info
Lately, I have seen several instances of people who have trashed Windows by using a feature native to Vista and Win 7. It's in the startup repair screen, and it offers a way to reinstall windows while saving your files. By using this feature, I have seen 2 customers lose everything, including their files. (A third customer did at least find a folder on his hard drive with the files in it).

But all three not only blew away the Windows partition, but the hard drive's recovery partition was either completely corrupted, or in one case, it was actually empty. So they had to re-install Windows from scratch , downloading drivers, etc etc. The Vista customer had not made a backup image, and the product key had worn off the bottom of the laptop, so he had to send away for the re-install DVD from the manufacturer. ($25 and 2 weeks time.)

Lessons?

BACK UP. A lot.

When you get a new computer, get it up and running exactly the way you like it. Then make a backup. I prefer to use cloning software just as Macrium reflect and do an image which can place an exact copy on a new, or newly reformatted hard drive.

Windows has a native app to back up, (Control Panel to Action Center) but it tends to be problematic at best. If you use it, DO use an external, USB hard drive. It will take too many DVD"s, and that increases the risk of corruption.

They say that Win 8.1 has a better app for this.

Oh, yes....that brings me to the Windows 8.1 upgrade. If you decide to do it, make SURE to back up all your files first. And make an image first. (Macrium Reflect is a good freebie...)

6.29.14

The end of an era...

Those of us who have used computers and the internet for awhile, may be telling our young yet unborn relatives what is was like in the "Good Ole Days". There have been so many radical changes lately.

One of the most notable is the decline of free apps. (At least, free apps that we can safely download, and without foistware). Even MalwareBytes , ("MBAM"), the industry standard for malware removal, is now charging $25 each year for the Pro Version, instead of $25 for a lifetime license. (Now don't you wish you had sprung for it earlier?)

Those of us who own MBAM Pro are grandfathered in.

They still have a free version, and as usual, you must be careful downloading, and installing it. But be aware that the interface has changed. It's pretty intuitive. Just UPDATE, SCAN, QUARANTINE, and APPLY ACTIONS.

It's impossible to fault any of these companies for not offering free rides any more. I suspect that not many users even donate the occasional $5.00 on those easy PayPal donation links.  So....these companies have to pay their rent, too.

5.15.14
LOL - Yup...it's a jungle out there...

5.12.14

End of AVAST?

 It is with great sadness (and many apologies) that I announce the demise of Avast Anti Virus as a free - or even as a paid - solution to your online safety problems. 

For years, they offered a free, or a reasonably-priced pro anti virus, that I found worked better than many of the big kids out there. And it came with a refreshing lack of foist ware, so I have been recommending it to my customers for years.

But all good things must come to an end. Lately, the free version has been offering "updates" that trick people into downloading free trials. This can be very confusing and dangerous for the non-tech savvy consumer.

Even worse, the paid version, which I run on my main desktop, has been bundling updates with a mandatory install of DropBox -an online storage/file sharing option. (I'm always so careful. Could even I have missed the opt-out??) 

I was forced to install DropBox, and then go through the trouble of un-installing it. (My sentiment is that, if DropBox were all that good, then they would not need to foist it on me...)

Bottom line: I recommended this A.V. to many people, and have usually run the pro version myself, so this kind of behavior makes me look (and feel) bad.

If anyone has been tricked into installing Avast free trials or other foistware, I will walk you through getting rid of it. In the meantime, I will seek an alternative. 

Sadly, with the current economy, and the purported demise of Net Neutrality, it's looking as though the age of "FREE" is now going the way of 25¢ gasoline and $2.00 bleacher seats.

Thank goodness, we still have our memories! :'-(

(Here's an Avast removal tool. Carefully download and install it. Then run it in Safe Mode)





May 4 UPDATE: 

In a rare display of magnanimity, Microsoft has decided to offer the Internet Explorer security patch to XP users as well as those using newer operating systems. Just go to the Start button, to Programs, to Windows Update. It should be there. (Note that this still does not make Internet explorer a smarter browser choice.)

5.1.14

I dropped in here to voice a major warning. You’ve probably all heard about the new vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer. (That’s the blue “e” that you click in order to get online). If you are still running XP, JUST DON’T USE IT - ever again. 

There are newly discovered security flaws which make it even more unsafe than most computer professionals have already realized. Microsoft will make a patch for users of newer operating systems (Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.*). But XP’s updates are all over.  So Internet explorer will now be even more unsafe to use than it was before.

You’re easiest and fastest solution to this problem is to click the blue “e” one last time, and type “Google.com” into the address bar. The resulting page will have a quick and simple link to Google Chrome on the top right. Click that and follow directions. DO make it the default browser, and DO import all your bookmarks, settings, etc from Internet Explorer when it prompts you.

Now, instead of the blue "e", you will have a red, green, and yellow orb to click instead, when you want to go online.

Similarly, you can go herehttp://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new/  and download Firefox browser. Not quite as simple as the Chrome install, but it will also prompt you to import your settings, and ask if you want to make it default. It uses a foxy, orange/blue orb, (though I'm told that this will change in the near future.)

Once a browser is made default, then all of your online shortcuts will automatically open in that browser. And, even if you’re not still using XP. Don’t use Internet Explorer. No technical people ever use it, except to do updates, or to access web pages that won’t open otherwise. If you’re running XP, you won’t need to worry about updates. 

As always, look out for foistware while downloading and installing any software.           


Time flies. It seems like just yesterday when we were all gushing about Microsoft's brand new, state-of-the-art operating system. But things change.

There are still millions of people and businesses running XP, and they may continue to do so for quite some time. So here are a few things that might help you stay safer - well, for awhile, at least...

It's NOT too late to do all your Windows updates -for one last time. Just go to the Start menu, to Programs, and to "Windows Update". Follow directions. That page is supposed to be available for some time to come.

BUT...I will caution you about falling for any Microsoft's business ploys. When you first turn on your XP machine, you may see a message about XP's end of support. If you click the link, it will lead you to a page that is fraught with the perils of future expense and frustration.

You should NOT attempt to upgrade your XP machine to any other Microsoft operating system. For one thing, "Upgrades" in general just don't work. No matter who sells you the upgrade, or who installs it, they just never seem to work quite the way they should.

And...the only system that might be compatible with your hardware would be Vista, and nobody wants Vista. Windows 7 runs best on a multiple core processor, which your XP machine does not have. It also needs at least 3 gigs or RAM, which you probably also do not have.

Then there's Windows 8, which will only crash and burn on your XP machine.

My cheapest advice would be to use a Linux flavor operating system, Like Ubuntu: 


It's very similar to windows, it's safer, and most importantly, the OS and much of its great software is totally free. 

Free's good. 

Or, check out Walmart.com for a refurb Window 7 machine. (Like this one - small hard drive, slower USB 2.0, but cheap and plenty of RAM.  I own one - so far, so good.)

You probably don't want to go Windows 8.

If you continue to use XP, eventually your apps will not work. It will just go the way of Windows 98. You might get a year or more, if you're very careful.





Just a little note on the situation with that new “HeartBleed” bug that you have probably learned of  online, or on TV.  It affects the secure socket layer (SSL) that ostensibly protects us when we do online transactions. (Like when you look for that little padlock next to the URL, and the letter "S" after "HTTP")

The odds are in our favor, since there are billions of people who have probably been affected. But better safe than sorry. Here’s a sitethat will help clear things up
..and  another that tells you some of the sites affected:

You might need to change some passwords. And always monitor your online accounts for unauthorized transactions.

 

It's time for yet another caveat - or two. This time I'd like to wax negative about penny auctions. You've seen them advertised on TV:

        "I went on SuckerSite.com and won this brand new    Boeing 747 for only 6 bucks!"

As you may have guessed, it really IS too good to be true.
Read it and weep.


And yet again about:

CRYPTO LOCKER VIRUS

...while on the subject of online dangers, I must repeat my warning about The CryptoLocker Virus 

It's more ransomware. It's not new, but it's newly ubiquitous. And this one is so far unfixable. (Not even by me.)

And I also wanted to warn you against any more crooks out there who might claim to fix this for you. They can't. Even Sophos and Kaspersky can't.

I know that until now, you have done as little as possible to protect yourself, thinking that you could just pay me my $40 - $50 and I would make everything all right again.

But not with this ransomware.

It permanently encrypts all your files - all that it can reach, and this includes all the files on that portable USB hard drive that you so inadvisably leave plugged in all the time. Or the little flash drive you keep your recipes on. Or even the files on your wife's computer, your kids' computers,  any device that's mapped to your system.

 Here's what Sophos has to say about it:

SophosLabs has received a large number of scrambled documents via the Sophos sample submission system.

These have come from people who are keenly hoping that there's a flaw in the CryptoLocker encryption, and that we can help them get their files back.

But as far as we can see, there's no backdoor or shortcut: what the public key has scrambled, only the private key can unscramble.

And this private key is on in the hands of the crooks. Chances that they will give it to you if you pay the ransom are - well - very small.

So here's what to do.

BACK UP YOUR FILES. ALL OF THEM. OFTEN.

And just as important are these warnings:

Run MalwareBytes (free or Pro) at least once a week. Do a full scan with it every now and then,  as well as the frequent quick scan.  One way that this ransomware spreads is by botnets. If you have any infections on your computer, these little Trojans can call in their buddies to wreak havoc on your system.  MalwareBytes Pro is $25 for a lifetime, and you can easily set it to update and run automatically. (Great for kids). I don't work for them; I just use it a lot on my own system.

Don't open attachments unless you're sure they are safe. Watch out for phishing emails. Neither UPS, Fedex, or USPS is going to email you any tracking info, unless you sign up for text alerts.

If you get an email from some account of yours requesting info, then close the email, open another browser window, and type in the URL to their site.

Another danger is drive-by downloads. It can happen anywhere - although the porn sites are the best places to get infected. (Not only are porn sites known for their prolific malware, but many of the "Actors" in these porn videos are actually kidnapped victims of human sex trafficking). And these sites can put cookies/images on your computer. If any include kids under 18 (and most do) then you can go to jail, where losing all your files will seem pretty insignificant.

Also watch out for the torrent sites, free music, etc --anyplace that offers something for nothing.

Many good anti-viruses - even free ones like Avast Free, can pop up and warn you about these sites. But the best defense is to clean up your machine, and be careful about where you go and what you do from now on.

Get a good AV, and make sure it's running and up to date. Make sure you have all your security updates. Run MalwareBytes often. Do the occasional boot-time (overnight) scan with a good AV.

I know that in the past, I have told people that, even if their Windows is hopelessly broken and needs to be re-installed, I can always slave their hard drives to my system and retrieve their files that way.

But not with CryptoLocker. Without that private key, these files are gone forever. (Well... the only people who can access your data is: THEM)

So be careful!!



I just ran across this article from How-To-Geek, concerning the increasing sophistication of RansomWare. 

They specifically mention "CryptoLocker", which encrypts your personal files - irretrievably. They demand a ransom to give you the key to decrypt these files, and if the (large) ransom is not paid within a certain amount of time, they will delete the key, and your files will be lost forever.

This is not a fake; they will really do this, and you really will lose your files. Unfortunately, there is no good evidence that paying the ransom actually works.

I have found a few free tools designed to prevent CrytpLocker, but they are a bit geek-ish for the average user. Your best bet is to make sure that your files are backed up. Often, and completely. The easiest way to do this is to use an online service, such as Carbonite.

I just downloaded a little freebie called "ShadowExplorer". 
It makes it easier to access individual files that are saved in Windows automatic Restore Points. But MalwareBytes website explains that a system restore will not un-encrypt your files, so the best defense is either imaging, cloning, or frequent backups.

And I must point out that certain malware will turn off windows Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSCS), thereby wiping out your restore points. 

Actually, the very best defense is caution. Don't open email attachments, unless you know what they are and whom they are from. And especially STAY AWAY FROM GAMES, COUPONS, REBATES, and anything else that offers you something for nothing. It might cost you a lot.

[Oh, incidentally, stay away from porn sites as well. They can and will deposit multiple images in your temp folders. If any of these pics happen to be a person under 18, you can actually go to jail  --even if you arrived at the site entirely by accident. Really. Got any enemies?]  

Back to CryptoLocker. MalwareBytes will get rid of the Trojan. But it can't get your files back. MalwareBytes Pro
can give you real time protection. (I don't work for them...)

But the best protection is still to backup. And if you see the ransom note, unplug your network cable right away. If you do use an automatic backup service, at least you will not overwrite any older files with the newer, encrypted version.



I'm very overdue in writing this post; it's about a very important matter: your safety.

Seriously, things are getting very nasty out there right now, and if you don't watch out, you may be in trouble.

Here's a very brief list of do's and don'ts about all the dangerous "Wares" that are floating around, waiting to snag you. [Before you scan this post and run to do something... wait. There are caveats about everything, and every link I post.]

"Bloatware" 

Otherwise known as "ShovelWare". It comes installed on a new PC. People naively assume that, because Dell, etc put it there, that it must be good. Wrong. Dell, etc put it there because they were paid to do so by the shovelware's developers. Usually, it's very bad stuff for the health of your computer. Read this.

There are apps to fix the bloated apps, such as this one:
(I've never tried it yet, so I don't know)

...BUT before you run off to CNET, or wherever, to download this thing... this brings us to our next topic:


CNET for instance, not only tries to fool you into installing a lot of useless and expensive stuff by making it very difficult to find and download their freeware, BUT...now they are insisting on installing an Installer which downloads and installs the freeware for you. Needless to say, if you do not monitor every word on the installation page, you will end up with foistware such as those nasty toolbars that slow down your browsing and shrink your web page down to a few inches high.

They now have an opt-out of the installer. I usually just find another link.

"Scareware" is exactly what it sounds like. You might go to a web page that runs a little app; this app will tell you that it has scanned your computer and found a thousand infections, and that if you don't pay them to fix them, then you will end up with Cyber Ebola. Some of these apps even install themselves on your PC and keep you from accessing your operating system.

Boot into safe mode and run MalwareBytes. Get rid of it. Try a system restore, (maybe from a command prompt - Win 7 ) then scan. Or call a professional. Just don't fall for it.

The worst kind of scareware now is the Ransomware, such as the MoneyPak virus. It will hijack your computer and tell you that they are the FBI (DOJ, etc) and inform you that you will be arrested if you do not go out and buy a money order for $100-$500 and send it to their mail drop in the US. (Which is no doubt forwarded to someplace far overseas)

They will warn you that they found pirated software, or porn, or worse on your computer, and your computer has been locked, until you pay up. Sometimes they will play some dicey x-rated movies, and some of them even hijack your web cam and place your own picture on the "Wanted" poster.

And yes - believe it or not --people DO fall for this. Even intelligent people.

The FBI also does not use PayPal, and they don't give a darn whether or not you do.

If you see anything like this, shut down. Call me and I will walk you through getting rid of it - on the phone. Then you can scan to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Don't give anyone any money for any reason.

Not until you GOOGLE GOOGLE GOOGLE.

And that brings me to our second favorite passtime: TV. There are just as many scams on TV. NOBODY anywhere can click a few buttons and speed up your PC. It takes time and effort. I have spent endless frustrating hours trying to undo the damage done by "My Clean PC" and other supposedly helpful apps.

(Warning about this otherwise good article: Never, ever, ever use a registry cleaner - not even the one that comes with CCLeaner from Piriform.)

Just don't fall for this stuff - any of it. Most of the really good apps out there are free. But ask a pro before you install them, and always watch out for the FOISTWARE.

If you do get "got" by any of these guys, and if you do a lot of online banking, etc, then please go online and change all your passwords. Monitor your finances very carefully for 6 months or so. Some of these apps can install key stroke loggers that can capture your passwords, and possibly all of your money as well.

Just be careful. You may live in the safest small community in America. But when you're online (which is always, if you have broadband) then you're definitely not in Kansas any more. Don't become a free meal for some sleazy cyber crook.

GOOGLE FIRST, pay later.







Customers often have tell me that their computer has been getting slower and slower lately. But they don't bring it to see me until it crashes completely. 

Human nature, I guess.

But if one of the reasons for doing this is that you only own one computer that you simply can't live without, then I should tell you that I have free loaner laptops that you can use until your computer is fixed. The loaner may not have the exact same software as yours, but you can at least surf, check your email, update your Facebook page, or go job hunting while you're without your own.   (I usually work pretty quickly, so that should not be long).

So don't wait until a minor repair becomes major. Contact me.

(2





Here's a post about the recent huge increase in foistware.

As I've said, "Foistware" is generally adware that ostensibly legitimate sources will install on your computer without your express permission. It is usually bundled with another download or update, and is becoming increasingly difficult to find and eliminate. There used to be "Opt-In" features for these extras. Now you are obliged to carefully search and "Opt-Out".

I just did an Adobe Flash update that still comes bundled with a McAffee Security Scan. There is a small checkbox on the "Install" page. But this box is already checked, and if you are in a hurry, it is pretty easy to miss.

Almost all foistware will slow down your computer, but this particular app is so resource intensive that it can easily crash systems that don't have a lot of resources. On the phones, I had to remove it several times daily, and some of the older systems were rendered completely inoperable, so that the owners were given the option of spending hundreds of dollars for a human to arrive physically at their house and remove it. Ouch.

So always look EVERYWHERE on the page before you install or update anything at all. Uncheck any foistware you see, unless you really want all those ugly toolbars slowing down your browsing and taking up all the valuable real estate on the screen.

But alas, even this might not be enough any more. There was a time when a home user was well advised to do the "Standard" or "Express" ( "Recommended") installation of any software. The "Custom" option was reserved for more experienced users. But now, it is essential for even timid users to check out the "Custom" or "Expert" option. Usually, when you check this box, you will see the foistware boxes already checked. Uncheck them.

Printer software is notorious for this. AVG (Anti virus)  seems to have gone completely rogue, with a browser hijack that is particularly difficult to remove.

A part of me feels guilty for writing this. After all, some of these developers have been giving away free stuff for years, in the hopes of people's upgrading to the Pro version, or at least giving a little PayPal donation. Too bad people don't do this.

Advise to those who don't like to spend hours a week on their own security issues: Buy MalwareBytes Pro. It's still $25 for a lifetime license. You can set it to update and do a quick scan at boot. This can save you hundreds of dollars and hours of hassle. Especially is you have teenagers. Especially if anyone in your house uses Facebook. Especially if you are the gullible type...

(I have nothing to do with MalwareBytes, but it's still considered the industry standard for malware removal.)

If you do use the freebies, look around for a "Donate" link, and toss them a few dollars. A quick side trip to PayPal every once in awhile may save a lot of hassle later on.



9.9.2012
Good news...

I finally have my laptop shop up and running, (bright lights, white workbench, and small tools.)

This weekend, I installed a new fan in one laptop, and a DC jack in another. Video problems are a bit harder to diagnose, but are sometimes easily fixable.

So save some time and money, and give me a call about your laptop. 



Just a little note to disclose that I can, alas, no longer take checks. My rates are already the lowest in the state, (hint: I barter!) but when a check bounces, then it costs me out of pocket to fix your computer. (It also hurts my credit rating.)

So from now on, please stop at the ATM on your way to pick up your computer. Thanks!

(So Sorry...)



I just got my third call this week from a hapless customer whose laptop power jack is broken. It seems that every year, these little gizmos get more and more flaky. They break easily.

By "power jack", I mean the little hole where you plug the power cord/adapter. Depending upon the laptop, this connector is either a separate piece connected by wires, or else it is attached and wave soldered right onto the motherboard.

Either way, it's a large repair, because this unit is usually the last thing you reach during the rather intricate process of disassembling a laptop. Unless the laptop is fairly new, it's often cheaper just to buy another on eBay than it is to have it repaired. (Although I have seen websites that claim they will fix yours for $65-$100, plus shipping).

So here's a bit of sound advice: Be careful with the power cord. When you're working and need to move, the temptation to move it with the cord still connected is very strong. But don't do it.  Before moving the laptop at all - even across the desk - always carefully pull out that adapter, or at least carefully support it while moving.

Make very sure that the cord is out of your way, and everyone else's way. Tripping over it will most likely break the connector. (And possibly even short out the whole motherboard.) You should also support the transformer, so that the weight of it hanging down doesn't stress out the jack.

It's a shame when an expensive appliance is ruined by such a tiny thing as a power jack. So be careful. 


4.5.2012

Two Things.

Thing #1:

I'm an older female tech. I have no relatives of the same name anywhere on the east coast.

Thing #2:


2.8.2012

Facebook Users ...things change again


I was just forced to delete my own Facebook account, so apologies to anyone who tried to access it. But I would like to suggest to anyone reading this that they do the same.

The reason I deleted mine is that I changed passwords, due to a security glitch of theirs. No big deal; it happens. While I was there, it asked if I wanted to add another email address, in case I lost access to this one.

So for safety reasons, I foolishly and naively added my old, old business address - the one with the many thousands of contacts. An hour later, I suddenly started getting all of these invitations on my Facebook page. They were all from people in my contact list (!)

I really panicked; for a minute, I thought: "How on earth did Facebook get access to my contacts?? I didn't give them permission for that...!"

Of course, the answer was the other, less sophisticated Facebook users in whose contact list I appeared.
It makes money for Zuckerberg to have as many users as possible, so he makes it very, very easy for clueless people to give him access to their contact list. Most of these folks don't even know they're doing it.

The implications of this are enormous. Just think if you were job hunting and corresponding with serious head hunters. Suddenly, they get an invitation to see your Facebook page, complete with the photos you playfully uploaded on New Year's morning. 

I would never seriously consider any applicant who sent me a Facebook invitation. It demonstrates a sophomoric mentality, even if folks don't know they're doing it. Still, this is the kind of mentality that makes Zuckerberg one of the richest people in the country. 

So, you say, you deleted that compromising photo that you uploaded last year? Think again; it's probably still very visible.




11.15.2011 

Important new information about Facebook HERE...
_____________________________________


Back to School? Important advice for computer newbies whose kids have computers:


_______________________________________
12.17.11   
RE: REGISTRY CLEANERS./..still! (October 2013)
Don't use them - never ever. There's basically no such things as a safe registry cleaner, so be careful of ads that pop up on webpages - even some on otherwise very reputable pages. Don't run registry cleaners.

If you do run a registry cleaner, and if you can't boot into Windows because of it; I can hopefully fix it for you.
11.15.2011
FACEBOOK again......
More trouble for Facebook and its beleaguered users:  And unknown hack has occurred, resulting in Facebook feeds that contain disturbing, violent, or pornographic images.
Nobody has yet pinpointed the exact cause or group responsible, but "ClickJacking" is one possible culprit. It is still possible for hackers to superimpose other images over pages that you see, possible causing you to click a malicious link. (So, if you want to visit a page, look at the link, copy the name of the site and type it into another browser window).

So far, there has not been a single, effective preventative measure for this. It's always a good idea to use different browsers for your social networking and your online banking, for instance. (eg: Use Firefox for banking and I.E. for browsing). But my best advice so far is to go out and get some fresh air, and use Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc, only for important business purposes.
HOT HOT HOT! (NO CUBBY HOLES!)

At the risk of sounding like the boogy man, I'd like to offer some  warnings that may save you considerable time and money in the near or far future.
Computers make heat, newer ones even more so. The components in them run very hot, (especially if you upgrade the RAM) and all computers - laptops and desktops - have ventilation systems to dissipate this heat. That's why you'll never find a computer without some kind of holes in the sides or bottom. Those holes are the route through which the cooling air travels. Do not cover them - ever.
Always leave at least 6" of room between the cooling vents on a desktop and any desk or wall. Some older desks have little cubby holes built into them that were supposed to be designed for your computer tower. Use this cubby hole for books, because your computer will not be happy there. It may respond with slow operation, random reboots, and freezing. Or worse.

Your laptop really shouldn't be used on your lap for any amount of time - unless you have a cooling pad or lapdesk beneath it. It should also never be placed on a bed, couch, or table cloth. If I use my laptops for long, I always use a USB cooling pad with fans to dissipate the heat. If I don't have a pad, sometimes I'll just place a small object - like a pen - between the desk and the bottom of the laptop. Some laptops (EG: older Sony VAIO's especially) are known to run very hot and the fans can burn out before their time. It's a time consuming and costly repair, even if the processor does not get fried.
So give your computers a fighting chance. Keep them as cool as possible.
08.26.11
Update re: Hurricane Irene, etc.
It's anything but unusual for us to lose power here in Maine, and when that happens, I hope everyone knows that they should immediately unplug their expensive electronics. (And you people who like to leave the PC going at all times -- turn it off.) When power is restored, there is sometimes a surge that can damage your computer, etc. (It could even overload your circuits and cause a fire). So unplug the entire surge protectors, if you can.
In case you're protesting on the grounds that a surge protector should not itself need to be protected from surges...well--- trouble is that after a few good zaps, even an expensive one will start to lose its protect-ability.  (my word). And the effectiveness of cheap surge protectors are proportional to their price. (In fact, some are just power strips, and not surge protectors at all).
So play it safe. Unplug whatever you can. 
08.14.11
This site is so good that I'm going to post it again.
 
07.07.11
This is a chance to send a High-Five to the hot, dusty, and brave firefighters out west.
 


06.29.2011
 
It's a bad thing for everyone when people get ripped off, but it happens more frequently all the time.  Here are a few caveats for people who are so honest themselves that they just can't imagine anyone else being dishonest:
 
Beware Big Sales. Do you see some great new hi-tech gadget in a store or online, and it's marked way down? Is it too good to pass up?
 
There was a time when reputable businesses would never dream of knowingly selling a defective product.  But sadly, selling rejects has now become SOP in most big businesses.
 
They'll mark it way down to get rid of it. So maybe the customers won't even bother to return it when it malfunctions. Or - in the case of hi-tech items - maybe they'll just blame their own lack of expertise, instead of suspecting that the item is defective.
 
When I see an expensive item that is marked down, I might buy it, but I save the receipt. And at home, before even opening it, I go online and check the (bad) reviews. I can get a pretty good idea of why it might have been on sale.
 
If it's very bad, I may return it right away without opening it. (Watch out for restocking fees).
 
 
Next caveat:
 
Hi-Tech salespeople.  Keep in mind that, if they don't sell to you, they don't eat.
 
Computers and the internet are all so new that it's like the wild, wild west out there - lawless. Couple this with the fact that many consumers are still at sea.
 
So here's a scenario:
 
You go to some store and buy an inexpensive notebook with Windows 7 starter edition. You naturally assume that this item will work right out of the box.
 
But some of these little computers only have 1 gigabyte (or 1024 MegaBytes) of RAM (memory). If you check Win 7's system requirements, the 32-bit edition needs at least this 1 gig just to run.
 
It may have come with a trial edition of a big name anti-virus installed. But you don't realize that you have to register it, and the anti-virus doesn't update, and you get infected, and you have to pay a tech to dis-infect you.
 
So now you're over cautious; you want the best anti virus out there, and price is no object. But... before buying any software at all, Google up the system requirements for this item.
Most expensive big name security suites now need at least 512 MB of ram just to run, and 512 MB is one-half of that tiny 1 gig you have.
 
Installing it on your little notebook might cripple your system, and then you will have to pay a tech to uninstall it for you, using special tools  (maybe even a tech who works for the same people who sold it to you.)  Or perhaps they will convince you to keep the app, and sell you a memory upgrade to accommodate it.
 
But you will not be able to get your money back for the anti virus, because you probably didn't read the entire 10-page EULA (End-User License Agreement) before clicking "Accept".
 
This happens too often.  So be proactive, do your homework, and save yourself.
Keep your family safe around that school laptop computer.
(Here's a very good government site with a lot of useful info: OnGuard Online)
If you're a newbie parent, please at least get yourself a "PC's for Dummies" book. Learn a few fundamentals. I guess it's just one of those things that you now have to do, like providing food and shelter. 
---------------------------
(2 hours later). Since most schools are now recommending Firefox, I decided to try the FF add-on called "BlockSite". But it's still not ready for prime time.

 
 
 
06.14.2011
 
Just a note to inform folks about the robbery at
 
 
They have been burglarized and vandalized, and have lost a number of computers, cameras, and some cash. I am in the process of refurbing an older laptop for them (waiting for parts)
 
I have recently donated my other old computers to other causes. If anyone has any equipment they would like to donate, the Spindleworks number is 207-725-8820.
 
If the equipment is old or out-of-date, I may have parts with which to update it.
 
Thanks.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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