ERA Southern California

How to keep your PC safe
Practice safe computing

                       How often? How much data can you afford to lose?

                       Automatically, plus do it manually each week 

                       Automatically, plus do it manually each week

                       Keep it on. Update and run it each week. 

                       See the firewall article below.

Popular Antivirus Software
            Trend Micro
            AVG  (Free)
            AVIRA  (Free)

Sources of Help & Information

Jeff Levy
        Click on Lessons for an archive of his weekly lessons.

Kim Komando 
        Click on Newsletters, sign up for Weekly Newsletter and Tip Of The Day.

ERA Southern California Weekly Email Newsletter

        Our own newsletter often includes tips from the sources above.

Nine Free Alternatives To Popular Pricey Programs
10/8/2008 From

It's a little known fact that you don't have to spend hundreds on programs like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop. You can find free feature-rich alternatives online. Don't let the price dissuade you from trying them. These programs are terrific.

Why do people created free programs? Many programmers believe software should be free. For instance, thousands of people work on the Firefox browser. Only a handful are paid. And the rest? Some want to take on Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Some just like to write code. And many are nice people who want to help others.

Following are some of my favorite freebies. There isn’t enough room in this column to cover each program's features. But, you can download them and explore the features yourself.

Create documents, spreadsheets and more
Microsoft Office is the de facto standard Office suite. You probably use it at work, but that doesn’t mean you need it at home.

OpenOffice includes a word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation program and more. OpenOffice is compatible with Microsoft Office files. So, you can use it to open and save files in the Office formats.

Download e-mail
OpenOffice doesn’t contain an Outlook equivalent. You’ll need to look elsewhere for a program to manage e-mail.

Thunderbird offers many of the same e-mail features as Outlook. It was developed by Mozilla, which produces the free browser, Firefox.

Manage appointments with a calendar
If you’re doing away with Outlook, you’ll need a calendar management program.

Lightning is a calendar add-on for Thunderbird. Or download Sunbird. It provides the same features as Lightning in a standalone program.

Layout professional documents
A word processor is great for creating general documents. But if your documents are professionally printed, you need a desktop-publishing program.

Scribus is much like Microsoft Publisher or Adobe InDesign. You’ll get professional-quality page layouts in an easy-to-use program.

Edit photos
Photoshop is the Holy Grail for many photographers. However, the $600 price tag puts it out of reach of many.

You don’t need to settle for a lesser photo editor. GIMP rivals Photoshop in terms of features—and complexity! It puts advanced photo-editing tasks at your fingertips.

GIMP will even appeal to professional photographers. Add-ons expand the features available in GIMP.

There is much more available on my site, especially for inexperienced people. Even if you have never edited a picture, you'll find usable programs.

Refine your drawing skills
Like Photoshop, illustration programs can be quite costly. You can spend hundreds of dollars on Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw.

Inkscape lacks some advanced features, but is a worthy contender. Inkscape is compatible with many different file types.

Be creative with graphics
Microsoft Paint is included with Windows. It isn’t a serious graphics program. But many casual users rely on it.

Unfortunately, Microsoft Paint is difficult for children to use. In contrast, Tux Paint is specifically designed for children. Large buttons make it easy to create drawings and graphics.

Edit digital videos
The professional-grade Adobe Premiere video-editing program is more powerful than most people need.

Avidemux is ideal for home users. It simplifies the video-editing process and works with a variety of file formats.

Avidemux lacks many of Premiere’s features. But, it is more advanced than other video editors. You can correct colors and apply special effects and filters.

Design Web pages
Do you want to create your own Web site? I recommend a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) HTML editor. You can design Web pages without learning any coding.

Dreamweaver is a popular WYSIWYG editor. But, you’ll get the same features with the free Nvu.

Create PDF files
PDF files are incredibly popular. They can be read on virtually any computer without formatting inconsistencies.

Most people won’t use Adobe Acrobat enough to justify its price. Enter PDFCreator. PDFCreator resides in your printer list. Select it as a printer to convert a file to PDF.

PDFCreator does not let you edit PDF files. For that, you need a full-fledged PDF program.

Convert PDF files to WORD documents

PDF files are a popular way to share documents because document formatting doesn’t change from machine to machine. And you can open the files with free PDF readers. Unfortunately, it is much more difficult to edit PDF files. Adobe Acrobat will do the trick. But, many people don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars for it. That’s why I recommend the free PDF to Word. It will convert your PDF files to .DOC or .RTF formats. You can then edit the files in Word or another word processor.

PDF to Word is a snap to use. Start by uploading your file to PDF to Word’s Web site. Select the format you’d like. Then, specify your e-mail address. You’ll receive an e-mail with your document! In most cases, the conversion is almost instantaneous. Other times, you may need to wait 10 minutes or so for your file.

Cost: Free   Link:   System: Windows XP and Vista, Mac OS X

10 great Windows freebies


Who doesn’t like free stuff? Well, I’m sure there is someone. But that person should probably be locked up in a rubber room. The rest of us can enjoy free things, like great software.

If you’re using Windows, there are tons of free programs available. Some can replace the weaker tools built into Windows. Others can make your life easier. Here are 10 to ponder:

Rainlendar – This small calendar program sits on your desktop. You can view scheduled events and to-do lists right there. It’s convenient and easy to use. Or just roll over a day to see its events. You can set alarms for upcoming events.

Multimon – Do you really want to boost your productivity? Add another monitor. Studies have shown that dual-monitor setups greatly improve efficiency. This program makes managing multiple monitors easy. You can even throw in a third monitor.

CCleaner – All PCs have a nasty habit of collecting junk. Unneeded files, Web tracks and registry entries take up precious space. This program can clean out the junk effortlessly. It also gives you the option to delete unessential start-up programs.

Defraggler – Removing junk is only one way to free up hard drive space. Over time, hard drives become fragmented. Related files are strewn across different sections. This makes operations slow. This program can defragment your drive quickly and thoroughly.

Revo Uninstaller – Removing unwanted programs is pretty easy. You can do it without any special software. But unnecessary files, folders and registry entries are often left behind. This program completely removes all traces of unwanted programs.

Password recovery tools – We all have dozens of passwords to keep track of. It’s not easy. We all forget certain passwords. Luckily, there are tools to help you get them back. These tools are tailored to specific programs and services.

Photo recovery programs – Losing photos is pretty traumatic. Photos are important memories frozen in time. You can recover deleted photos from a memory card or hard drive. Several programs make it easy.

Launchy – Accessing programs through the Start menu isn’t quick. And cluttering your desktop with shortcuts isn’t pretty. There is a better way. Launchy indexes Start Menu programs. Just type a few letters of the program you’re looking for.

StrokeIt – Want to try a completely different way of controlling your computer? Try mouse gestures. Just draw symbols on your screen to do nearly anything. You can open programs, close windows, copy text, print and more. This program make it possible.

System monitoring tools – Your computer has a lot of things going on in the background. If you want to dive into all of it, you’ll need help. Sysinternals system monitoring tools can do a lot. You’ll track process, find rootkits, manage programs that start automatically and more.

Cost: Free

System: Windows XP and Vista

Secure a New Laptop Before Going Online

Protect your investment.  It isn't hard, and everything you really need is free.  Install a firewall, an
antivirus program and two or more anti-spyware programs, then lock down your wireless network.

First, you need a firewall. I recommend enabling the Windows firewall for now. Then, download ZoneAlarm ( Turn off the Windows firewall and install ZoneAlarm.

Next, you’ll need one antivirus program. I recommend avast! (, PC Tools AntiVirus ( or AVG (

Finally, you’ll need two or more anti-spyware programs. Unlike firewalls and antivirus programs, anti-spyware programs won’t conflict. Try Windows Defender (, Spybot (, SpywareBlaster ( and Ad-Aware ( They’ll all do the trick.

Now, that’s only part of the security equation. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve locked down your wireless network. I’ve got a tip that covers that in depth.

Oh! Silly me! I assumed you’re running a Windows machine. But, if you’re on a Mac, my helpful tip will tell you what you need.

(Thanks to Kim Komando, 3-2-08,

Sharing your Wi-Fi

Wireless routers are made to accommodate multiple computers. Also, the setup of a wireless network is not a one-time shot. You can always add computers to your network. Those include visitor’s laptops. However, outsiders within signal range can join your network, too. That's why security is important.

Be sure your router offers the latest security standards. That means at least WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access), and preferably WPA2. I have more details in my wireless router buying guide ( ) Most routers include Ethernet ports to connect with your wired home PCs.

Follow the router's instructions to set up a network with your home computers. If you need help setting up security, read through my tip on network encryption ( )

After the initial setup, you will have the necessary experience to add your children's laptops. On each of the laptops, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click Network Connections. Right-click the wireless icon and select View Available Wireless Networks.

Windows will list any routers or access points within range. It's not uncommon to see listings for your neighbors' networks. Double-click your router in the list. The laptop will attempt to join your network.

The laptop will prompt for the network key or password. That’s the key you used to set up encryption on the router. Enter it. Check the option to remember the key. That's all there is to it.

You can also share a printer over your network ( ) The steps are a bit different, but not difficult. You can get the information on my site.


Guest Account Setup

From 11/15/2008

Inevitably, guests will want to check their e-mail or surf the Web.

Your guests are probably responsible computer users. But they may not be as careful as you are. They might visit shady sites or download malicious files. You could end up with spyware or a virus. But you can protect your computer while giving everyone access.

The first thing to do is activate the Guest account. Windows Vista, XP and Mac OS X machines have Guest accounts.

These accounts give restricted access to your computer. They don’t require a password to log in. Users have access to all of your programs. But they can’t access your personal files.

Set up Guest account

In Windows Vista, click Start>>Control Panel. In Classic View, double-click User Accounts. Select “Manage another account.” Click on the Guest account, then click the Turn On button.

In Windows XP, click Start>>Control Panel. Double-click User Accounts. Click the Guest account and select Turn On the Guest Account.

Users on Guest accounts in Windows can’t make changes to your system. Nor can they download or install software.

Mac OS X does it a bit differently. Start by clicking the Apple logo at the top of the screen. Select System Preferences. Click Accounts. Click the lock at the bottom of the window. Enter your user name and password. Click Guest Account. Check the box labeled “Allow guests to log into this computer.”

Another box labeled “Allow guests to connect to shared folders” is checked by default. It allows users to access files through file sharing. These files could contain your private data. And your guests won’t need file sharing to use the computer. Uncheck the box.

If children are visiting, apply parental controls to the Guest account. Check the Enable Parental Controls box. Click Open Parental Controls to set it all up.

A Guest account on a Mac saves files in a temporary home folder. When any user logs out, that folder is erased. So, each new log-in gets a fresh unused account. This allows users to download and install software. It shouldn’t do any damage, because it’s erased when guests are done.

Lock it down

You’ll probably want to get on the computer too. You don’t have to use the restricted Guest account. Use your own account with full access. But be careful.

If you leave your account logged in, it won’t be protected from guests. Someone could just sit down and have access to all your files. Luckily, locking down your computer is quick and easy.

In Windows, hold down the Windows logo key and press “L.” The log-on screen will immediately pop up.

To resume, you must enter your password. So, no one else can jump on.

To quickly lock down a Mac, put it to sleep. Some setup is required. Click the System Preferences icon in the Dock. Select the Security icon. Check the “Require password to wake this computer from sleep or screen saver” box. Then, press Option+Command+Eject.

If you forget to lock it, the screen saver can do it for you. You can require a password to deactivate the screen saver. This feature is turned off by default. So, you’ll have to turn it on. The above steps already do this for a Mac.

In Windows XP, right-click an empty spot on your desktop. Select Properties, and click the Screen Saver tab. Check the “On resume, password protect” box. Click Apply. Then click OK.

In Windows Vista, right-click an empty spot on your desktop. Select Personalize, and click on Screen Saver. Check the “On resume, display log-on screen” box. Click Apply>>OK.

In both Windows systems, the screen saver starts after a delay. Mac users can avoid that delay by using Hot Corners. You can rest the cursor in a corner to start the screen saver.

To activate Hot Corners, click System Preferences in the Dock. Click the Desktop and Screen Saver icon. Select the Screen Saver tab and click the Hot Corners button. Select the pull-down menu in one of the corners. Set it to Start Screen Saver. Click OK.

These really are simple steps. They’ll keep your well-meaning guest from causing any damage. Your guest probably won’t even notice your security prep. And you can focus on more important things.

Guest PCs can use your network

Q. Visitors want to use my network. Is there a safe way to do this?

A. I assume you're worried about malware. Since these are friends, you're probably less concerned about illegal activities. The easiest solution is to set up guest networking. This creates two networks. The first is your personal network. It connects the machines in the house.

The second network is the guest network. It provides access to the Internet. But it does not allow access to your personal network. The guest network should be encrypted, just like your personal setup. You assign a password to users to get through the encryption. If you want, you can use OpenDNS to block access to certain sites. 

You'll need a router that supports guest networking, or multiple SSIDs. For example, there's Apple's AirPort Extreme ($180) or Belkin's N1 Vision ($150). Maybe you don't want to invest in a new router. You have a choice: You can refuse access, or place your system at risk. Either way, your security should be up to date. 

Many people rely solely on the firewall in their router. That isn't sufficient, especially if a potentially dirty computer is on the network. You should also have a software firewall running on every computer. Additionally, each computer needs virus and spyware protection. And each computer must have Windows updated. A router does not make you less vulnerable to Internet threats. I have the programs you need at my Security Center.

 With full protection, your system is safe. However, a dirty machine still offers a potential threat.

 Many networks use file-sharing, a Windows setting. If your network is secure, and your computers clean, file-sharing is safe.

 A new, possibly dirty machine poses a small threat. At least one known exploit uses Windows file-sharing. Even if it attacks your machines, your security software will probably stop it.  "Probably" is the operative word. Security software is reactive; new threats have a short window of opportunity. 

You can close file-sharing, which will probably do the job. Still, it wouldn't be good enough for me. There are countless threats on the Internet. Most are incompetently written, but some are quite good. I wouldn't open my network to a potential problem.

 Without a guest network, I would refuse access. I certainly wouldn't let a child guest connect. They will all tell you their machines are clean. I would assume they are all dirty.

 For more on wireless networking, hit my site:

Will 802.11n really help you?
6 things to know about wireless networking
Lock down your wireless network 

 (From Kim Komando)

Keeping Your Software Up To Date
    Every weekend I run the Secunia Software Inspector. It tells me what's out of date and where to get the update. It checks all the obscure programs that could cause me problems. You should use it, too.

    Lots of people still use Internet Explorer on the Web. Unfortunately, browsers are still inviting targets. Internet Explorer is theoretically as safe as other browsers. But it is actually part of Windows. If somebody is coming in, IE might facilitate that.

    To get around that, I use Firefox. It's available on my site. Is it a better browser? Probably not. But it's not part of Windows, so I think it is safer. Another good browser is Opera. I also have it on the site.

    Many Mac owners feel they are invulnerable to Web threats. That's not completely true, but Macs are much less likely to be attacked. Nonetheless, I wouldn't take a security risk. Macs are selling well. At some point, they'll be targeted. I have Mac security information on my site.

(From June, 2008)

Here is a short July 2007 column from Kim Komando covering the basics of safe computing:

Open to attack
My computer is on its last legs and I really don't feel like purchasing a new one. On the other hand the cost of getting this one fixed can run as high as $300. I only use it an hour each day. There are days where it takes me 15 minutes to get online, or two minutes lag time between e-mails. My DSL provider asked me to try antivirus software. If it's not too expensive, can you recommend a program?

A.  Gosh. I was flabbergasted by this e-mail. But obviously, some people are still wide open to attack. Antivirus software is absolutely essential. There are countless pieces of malware on the Internet, just waiting to infiltrate your computer. Your situation is analogous to not having a lock on your front door, in a really bad neighborhood.

Heaven only knows what you have on your computer. Viruses and Trojans are just the start. It is probably caked with spyware, too. So you need to run a few anti-spyware programs. These programs do not conflict. Virus programs do, so only run one of them.

I have free antivirus programs on my site. Here are three good ones:
PC Tools

PC Tools is for Windows XP and Vista. AVG and avast! also work with Windows 98 and ME.

Here are four free anti-spyware programs:
Spybot-Search & Destroy
Windows Defender

Do you keep Windows updated? Over the years, there have been countless security updates. If your computer has not been updated, take care of that. Leaving security holes is very dangerous.

To update, open Internet Explorer. Click Tools>>Windows Update. Follow the directions.

You also need a firewall. These programs hide your computer on the Internet. They also keep a malicious program from reporting to a home computer if it gets on your machine. Here are a few free ones:

There are a lot of threats on the Internet. Without competent security, you are a sitting duck. It is essential that you protect your computer. To do that, you must learn the threats.

I have a great deal of information on my site. It is all pulled together in my book, Kim Komando's Complete Guide To Computer Security and Privacy.


Mozilla Firefox  (Free)
Use An Alternative Browser
The market share held by Microsoft's Internet Explorer has fallen by
1.57 percentage points, according to WebSideStory, which measures Web
metrics. A survey found that 94.16 percent of surfers were using IE,
down from 95.73 percent.

That slippage is the first for Internet Explorer in ages. It occurred
as security problems piled up for the Microsoft browser. Apparently,
people are moving to Firefox, Mozilla, Netscape and Opera.

Personally, I have switched to Firefox. I intend to stay with it at
least until Microsoft resolves its security problems. The U.S. Computer
Emergency Readiness Team has recommended such a switch. You can
download the free Firefox at:

In the meantime, Microsoft said it is working on a comprehensive fix
for IE. It said it does not think a switch in browsers is warranted.

Komando - July, 2004)  
(Firefox is still very popular in 2009, DM)


ZoneAlarm  (A free firewall)
Software firewalls became a necessity when surfers switched to
broadband. Firewalls hide computers, so that hackers can't identify
vulnerable machines with pinging programs.

Broadband connections often have static Web addresses. When unprotected
computers respond to pings, hackers can return with an attack. They
know where to find the computer, because its address does not change.

Dial-ups are a different story. When computers dial into the Internet,
they are assigned a temporary Web address. These numbers are changed
each time the computer dials in. When a hacker returns to attack a
computer, it has a different address. The hacker can't find it.

So, Martha, in Asheville, NC, wanted to know if she needed a firewall
for her dial-up. I'd say yes, although I don't think it's critical.

In addition to hiding computers, firewalls block outbound
transmissions. A dial-up computer could still get a malicious
program through spam. And that program could turn the computer into
a spam machine. A good firewall would block those transmissions.

My favorite firewall remains ZoneAlarm, which is free. You'll find
a link to it on my site at:

(From Kim Komando – July, 2004)
(I still use it in 2009, DM)


Windows XP
can be set to receive updates automatically:
--Click Start>Control Panel
--Double-click System
--Select the Automatic Updates tab
--Select "Automatically download the updates, and install them on
the schedule that I specify"
--Create the schedule using the two boxes
--Click Apply and OK.

(From Kim Komando - September, 2003)


In Microsoft Internet Explorer click on Tools / Windows Update. 
Click on Express Install.  (Or scan for updates, depending on your
Windows version.) After your Widows scan, install any Critical Updates.


The Experts at our August 24, 2004 Computer Hazards meeting:
         Pertel Communications, Bill Perry,
         Cox Cable, Andy Adams,
         SBC DSL, Gerry Teudt,            
         Cloud 80, Jeremy Bowden,


Most of the tips and suggestions above are from the
ERA Southern California

August 24, 2004 in Cypress, California


Click Here For a report on the Computer Hazards Meeting by Bob Parsons of ERA Northern California


About Wireless LAN Security
4 Steps to Lock Down Your Wi-Fi Network
(From Kim Komando - 8/30/2004)

Wi-Fi is a popular way to network home computers. It's relatively inexpensive,
convenient and fairly simple to set up. But most users don't take the extra step
to lock it down. This can be a grave error.

Wi-Fi uses radio waves to transmit information. These waves can penetrate the
walls of your house or apartment. They are then up for grabs.

Hackers take advantage of unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Some, called war drivers,
drive around neighborhoods looking for open networks. Some are just keeping
score, but others may attempt to access your personal data.

By following four basic steps, you can keep your information safe and the bad guys out.

1. Stop broadcasting to the world. By default, most access points send a short
message repeating the network's name. The network's name is called the SSID
(Service Set Identifier). Anybody who lives (or drives) nearby can easily detect that
you have a wireless network, find its name and jump onto it. By disabling the SSID
broadcast, you are no longer telling the world around you that you have a wireless network.

Additionally, rename the SSID. Don't use your name or something easily identifiable.

2. Change the password on your access point. Default passwords are common knowledge.
If unchanged, it takes only minutes to figure out the proper password.

When you change the password, make sure you use a combination of numbers and letters.
The most secure are alphanumeric combinations, such as 3nO7tY5. However, such
combinations are difficult to remember. At the least, try not to choose an obvious password
(last name, street name, dog's name, etc.).

3. Use encryption. There are two standards of encryption. Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP)
is an older and less secure method. It uses a non-changing 64- or 128-bit key. Although
it's not the best encryption, it is better than nothing.

Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) uses 256-bit encryption, which is much harder to decode.
WPA is also dynamic--it's constantly changing. By the time a hacker breaks the key, it
will have changed. If you're buying new gear, insist on WPA.

Even if you have old equipment, you may be able to get WPA through a firmware update.
Firmware is software written on a chip inside a piece of hardware. Check your manufacturer's Web site.

Encryption does have a downside--it can slow your network. But that is preferable to a lack of security.

4. Enable Media Access Control (MAC) filtering. Media Access Control is an address
assigned to each wireless card. All wireless devices have unique MAC addresses. The address
includes six sets of paired characters and is usually printed on the back of your wireless card.

MAC filtering tells your access point to grant access only to MAC addresses you enter.

You can do your own security check after implementing these measures. Install the free program
NetStumbler ( onto a laptop or PDA. This program will detect open
Wi-Fi networks. After installing the program, walk around the outside of your house with your
portable to see what a hacker may see. It shouldn't detect anything.

Even after locking down your Wi-Fi network, it's still somewhat vulnerable. A determined hacker
can eventually break down any security walls. But by taking preventive measures, you can
make it difficult. Probably, the hacker will just move on.


For MAC Users - Viruses Can Attack Virtual PC
(From October 20, 2004)

Q. I am a Mac user and have recently installed Virtual PC for Mac
onto my G5. I have learned that Virtual PC could be attacked by
viruses. Can you warn Mac owners?

A. Thanks for taking time to write. That's an excellent point! Use of
Virtual PC, which is made by Microsoft, could open you to attack from
the Internet.

Apple's Mac so far has been pretty impervious to viruses, Trojans
and other malware programs. Mac has a small market share, and the
criminals and vandals who write these programs generally have ignored
it. Some experts also consider the OS X operating system less
vulnerable than Windows.

Apple recently issued patches for a few potential problems. But
I know of no successful attacks on OS X.

Microsoft acknowledges that use of Virtual PC can open you to attack.
This is especially true if you are using Windows to access the
Internet, either to surf or download e-mail.

The Internet threat to Windows machines is very, very serious. If
you surf without protection, you will almost certainly be attacked.
I recommend that you stay away from the Internet with Virtual PC.
The Mac has excellent Internet tools.

However, if you must use it, I would install anti-virus software.
You can find free programs on my Web site at:

There are many anti-virus programs that are sold at a reasonable
price. If you have problems, you are likely to get more support
if you buy a program. Three good makers are McAfee, Panda
Software and Symantec. They are at:

In addition to buying anti-virus software, you must keep it
updated. This is a never-ending battle. Most makers allow you
to update their programs automatically.

You also need a firewall. These programs do two things: They make you
invisible to hackers' probes on the Internet, and they keep backdoor
attackers from communicating with the Internet if they get onto your
computer. Windows XP has a built-in firewall, accessible through
Control Panel (Start>>Control Panel). I do not recommend it, because
it does not block outbound transmissions. I prefer ZoneAlarm, which
is free and works well. Links to ZoneAlarm and another free firewall,
Outpost, are at:

Thirdly, you must keep Windows updated. Do not assume that the version
of Windows that you have is up-to-date. New updates are issued
regularly. You must use Internet Explorer to update Windows. You can
make this process automatic in Control Panel. If your version of
Control Panel says "Pick a category," click on Security Center.

If Automatic Updates is not accessible through Control Panel, you
need Security Pack 2. In that case, open Internet Explorer and
click Tools>>Update Windows. Let Microsoft scan your computer,
then download all recommended security updates.

Don't forget that you can listen to me Monday through Friday
on hundreds of radio stations. Use the map to find me near you:


Firewalls - What You Need to Know
(From October 23, 2004)

It only takes 20 minutes on the Internet for an unprotected computer
running Microsoft Windows to be taken over by a hacker. Any personal
or financial information stored on that computer is ripe for the
taking--passwords, bank accounts, credit card numbers, and more. A
firewall is your first line of defense and works, so long as it is
used properly.

Firewalls hide your computer or network from Internet threats. They
can be either hardware or software.

Hackers use programs that roam the Internet and search for open
computers. They do this by sending information to IP addresses.
If the IP address (the location of your computer) is unprotected,
a message is sent back to the hacker. The hacker knows your computer
can be infiltrated.

Hardware and software firewalls prevent this from happening by only
accepting requested information. For example, every time you type in
a Web address or access the Internet, you are requesting information.
If you type in my home page (, a request is sent
to my Web site's server.

The server acknowledges the request and sends the information, and
your computer displays it. Since your computer made the request, the
firewall lets the information through.

This is a great first step to protecting your computer, but it's not
enough. What happens if a malicious program gets onto your computer and
requests information without you knowing it? Trojans can be downloaded
with a free program, or they can get onto your computer via an e-mail
attachment. A hardware firewall won't stop them because your computer
is initiating a request.

That's where a software firewall comes in. It alerts you with a pop-up
message whenever a program tries to access the Internet. If it's a
valid program, such as Internet Explorer or Outlook, you tell the
firewall to allow access. If it's an unknown or suspicious application,
you can block it.

This can get confusing. You'll be amazed at the number of programs that
need Internet access. Sometimes, your music player needs access to
online databases when playing CDs or MP3s. Other programs automatically
log onto the Net to check for software updates.

After installing a software firewall, you'll initially get bombarded
with messages. If you recognize the program name, grant it access. If
you don't, deny access and then look up the name on the Internet.

There are a number of free and pay software firewalls. Windows XP has
a built-in firewall. This firewall works much like a firewall on a
router. It's able to shield your computer from hackers trying to get
in, but it does nothing if you have a Trojan trying to get out.

So I recommend a good third-party firewall. Several companies market
free for personal use software firewalls, including Agnitum's Outpost
( ZoneAlarm ( Firewalls
are also available from McAfee ( and Symantec
( for under $50.

Mac OS X has a built-in firewall similar to the one included
with Windows XP. If you want something better, check out offerings
from Intego (; $59.95) and Symantec
(; $69.95). So far, Macs have not been targeted
like Windows machines, so the situation there is much less dire.

Firewalls are just one part of a bigger equation in computer security.
You still need anti-virus software, and Windows updates. All work in
tandem to keep the predators out.


Firewalls - Yes, they are needed
on networked computers
(From November 20, 2004)

Networking is wildly popular among homeowners. Many homes today have
two or more computers, and folks want them all to go through a single
Internet modem. But they're concerned about security, too. Many
don't know which firewalls to install, if any. And they often confuse
the functions of firewalls and anti-virus programs.

This week, I received an e-mail from Dave, an Arizona trucker. He has
a network, with a firewall on the computer attached to the router.
His question: Does he need firewalls on his other computers?

It probably isn't critical, but I vote for putting firewalls on all
the computers. Top-notch firewalls perform two functions: They keep the
bad guys from seeing your computers, so they can't target them. And if
something gets on your computers, they keep it from sending your
private information back to the Internet.

Routers for home networks normally have firewalls built-in. They do
a good job of hiding computers. But they don't usually block outbound
transmissions. So I recommend that you install software firewalls on
all of your computers, to back up the router's firewall. I have
recommendations for free products at:

You need an anti-virus program on every computer, too. Most viruses
arrive via spam. A firewall is defenseless against that, unless it has
anti-virus protection built-in. So anti-virus programs and firewalls
are complementary.

Security experts have a favorite phrase: Security in Depth. Better too
much than not enough.


Security Tips from Kim Komando
December 25, 2004
Avoid Becoming a Victim of Laptop Theft.
If your first priority is keeping your laptop from sprouting legs,
check out
What Does a Firewall Do?
If your computer is homebound, you have another kind
of theft to worry about. It's called identity theft. Your computer is
loaded with information that can fall into the wrong hands. Learn about
computer piracy and privacy by reading
Modem Hijacking
To beat the bad guys at their own game, refer to
Using the HOSTS File to Block Spyware
is a good idea. Read it here:
Steps to Lock Down Your Wi-Fi Network
 If you have a wireless network, you need to fix the current security
settings, as revealed in
Security Issues from a Shared Computer
Maybe you're into networking. You'll sleep better at night after
checking out
Three Ways to Protect Your Company Network


Use the HOSTS File to Assist Privacy
Everyone likes to be a good host, but bad guests get carried away. They’ll stay too late or empty bottles too soon. They could even break something along the way. That’s why you take precautions as a host.

Think of your Windows HOSTS file in the same way. By properly setting up your HOSTS file, you can save yourself grief from bad Internet visitors. This is done by circumventing the source of pop-up ads and banners.

Keep this in mind: A proper HOSTS file is just one of many defenses needed to thwart unwanted Web visitors. You still need virus protection, ad blockers and spy scans to bar the bad stuff. You also need them to detect any currently lurking on your computer.

The Preliminaries
The HOSTS file resides in your Windows folder, or a subfolder, depending on your Windows version. The domain names and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of other computers can be listed there. So, the HOSTS file can act as an address book when your computer wants to call another machine.

The Problem
Advertisers use your surfing habits to target products that match your interests. That’s why pop-up ads, banners, adware and spyware have become so invasive.

The HOSTS file works like this. When you type a Web site into your browser--say, browser first checks the HOSTS file for the IP number. If the HOSTS file contains this address, your computer stops looking and “calls” the number. If not, your computer goes to the Internet and finds the IP number there.

Spyware works the same way. So you can use the HOSTS file to trick the spyware.

The Patch
This is actually pretty simple. Redirect the connection back to your own computer. To do that, put the spyware entry in the HOSTS file. The entry looks like this:

So let’s say that spyware on your computer is trying to contact the Bad News Advertising Co. It tries to go to Your computer first goes to the HOSTS file, looking for the IP number. Sure enough, it is there. But the number ( is your computer, not the address of the Bad News Advertising Co. Because it is your computer, the request simply dies. The spyware is marooned inside your computer.

Windows comes with a HOSTS file, but there is only one line in it: localhost

Localhost is your computer. To make the HOSTS file a worthwhile spyware fighter, you would have to enter hundreds of evil domain names, such as, along with your IP number ( Fortunately, there’s another way. Custom HOSTS files are available on the Web. You can get a good one at:

Can the spyware people get around this? There are ways. But so far, at least, they haven’t bothered. If you install a HOSTS file, along with programs to block and eradicate spyware, you’ll be much more secure. You can find programs to block and eradicate spyware on my site at:

Stick with me. We can defeat these people.

(From  May 2005)


A Custom Hosts File Is Necessary
Awhile back, you recommended downloading a custom HOSTS file. It contained about 4,000 entries. Recently, I read it’s better to have only a few entries in the HOSTS file. A large HOSTS file can slow the loading of Internet files. So I went back to my original HOSTS file. And now my connection is really fast. Is there a disadvantage to using the original HOSTS file?

A. Yes, yes, yes! There’s a huge disadvantage to using the original HOSTS file. You’re compromising your security.

A custom HOSTS file is another tool to protect your computer from malicious programs. When used correctly, it will keep you away from dangerous sites.

First, let me explain the HOSTS file for readers who don’t understand it. The file contains IP (Internet Protocol) numbers associated with Web sites. Each Web site is identified by an IP number. For example, mine is This number is the site's address.

IP numbers are difficult to remember. So Web sites use a name instead. Mine is However, when the name is entered in a browser, it has to be converted to an IP number. The DNS (Domain Name System) associates the name with the site’s IP number.

When you enter a name in your browser, it first goes to your HOSTS file to find the IP number. That file is normally empty, or nearly so. Not finding the number there, it goes to a domain name server. It continues to query servers until the number is found, or it establishes that there is no number.

The HOSTS file can be manipulated to block malicious sites or ad servers. To do this, you list the name of the Web site you want to block. With it is listed the IP number That is the number of your computer. Doing this has the effect of short-circuiting the request. The request just dies.

This actually can make your computer faster. When you open a Web site, the files that you want to see are downloaded from that site. But other files, usually for advertising, have to be opened from other computers. When those requests die in your computer, the page opens, minus the ads.

The HOSTS file also protects you from spyware on your computer. These programs use the browser to report your surfing habits back to a computer on the Internet. Requests to go to the Internet computers will be blocked by a good HOSTS file.

So a custom HOSTS file has an important security role.

It is true that a large HOSTS file can slow Web surfing in Windows XP and 2000. Earlier versions of Windows are unaffected. This can be remedied by turning off your DNS Client.

The DNS Client stores a list of IP numbers for Web sites you’ve visited. The computer searches the stored list before contacting the DNS server. Your computer is slow because it’s searching through this cache AND the HOSTS file. The HOSTS file is necessary. The cache is not.

To change this, click Start>>Run. Enter “services.msc” (minus quotes) in the box. Right-click DNS Client and select Properties. Click the down arrow beside “Startup type” and select Manual. Click Apply. Click OK and restart the computer. This keeps the DNS Client from loading at startup.

If you don't have a custom HOSTS file, you can download a free one. I use one maintained by Mike Burgess.

A HOSTS file complements your anti-virus and anti-spyware software. It does not replace them. If you need anti-virus and anti-spyware programs, you'll find free ones on my shareware page. You'll find free firewalls on the same page. Protecting yourself requires a mix of programs.

From Kim Komando, May 5, 2005)



Clean the hard drive when disposing of a computer
On the show last week, I discussed how a computer should be purged
of personal information when you dump it. Lots of people wanted more
information about that, and since I aim to please, here you go!

The problem: Simply deleting personal files does not erase them.
They remain on the hard drive, where they can be accessed with
specialized software. That's a good way to have your identity stolen.

The best answer is to remove the hard drive and destroy it. But you
can't do that if you're giving away the machine. So you need to
overwrite the hard drive in such a way that nothing can be recovered.
I wrote a column for Microsoft's Small Business site about this
situation. You'll find it free for the taking and sharing at:

(From  Feb 26, 2005)


Clean out your registry
By Jason Parker: Contributing Editor, Downloads Tuesday, December 21, 2004

As a frequent downloader of new software, I try out a ton of programs on my PC. But after installing and uninstalling so many programs, it doesn't take long for my registry to become a complete mess, causing errors, sluggishness, and sometimes crashes. The problem is that not all programs uninstall as easily as they install, and often, registry entries are left to stagnate in your system where they may eventually cause problems.

To keep my registry lean and mean, I run a quick scan of registry entries using software designed to root out the garbage left behind by uninstalled programs. These apps check my registry for rogue entries so that I can decide whether I want to delete them. Some programs also give me a description of what specific registry entries were once used for, thereby allowing me to decide whether I still need them.

A word of warning: Be extremely careful when deleting files from your registry. Some entries have strange names that you won't be able to identify but that might be necessary to run your favorite program or even your system software. A good rule of thumb is to delete only entries that you are sure are related to programs you no longer use. With that said, here are my three favorites for regular registry maintenance.

Registry Medic does a comprehensive scan of registry entries, looking for the files and programs that they're associated with. This app gives you plenty of details on each entry it can't find a parent for, but with the shareware version, you can fix only five entries at a time. However, it might be worth $29.95 for the extra details you get. (Shareware/Windows)

Registry Mechanic lets you use a Windows Explorer-like interface to scan for registry problems. Registry Mechanic gives you a list of possible culprits that you can selectively delete. You can also back up your whole registry and delete all of the problem files. I like the second option because it requires less fuss, and I can always bring back the whole set if something isn't working correctly. (Shareware/Windows)

CCleaner (Crap Cleaner) was made to clean your Internet history and temporary files, but it includes a nice registry cleaner as well. It also lets you save a copy of your registry so that if you run into problems after cleaning, you can revert back to a working configuration. (Shareware/Windows)

Even if you feel pretty good about the way your PC is running now, I still suggest you pick up one of these apps as a preventive measure. Eventually, every registry needs a good cleaning, and these apps do the job nicely.

This story was printed from Anchordesk, located

(I have used CCleaner myself for three years with good results.  DM, 2008)


.ZIP Files Knock Big Things Down To Size
(From April 30, 2005)

The .ZIP file is one of several compression types. Using it, you can
reduce files to a fraction of their uncompressed size. This has been a
boon for the Internet, where big files are spelled s-l-o-w.

.ZIP files date to 1989. They use a compression algorithm that looks
for redundancies in a file. For instance, it might find a phrase
repeatedly. It can substitute a number for that phrase. And in fact, it
finds many redundant words and phrases that can be removed.

After downloading a .ZIP file, you have to decompress it. Windows XP
includes a .ZIP decompressor. In earlier Windows versions, you must use
another program. The best-selling independent decompression program
today is WinZip. But the first, and most famous, was PKZip.

PK stands for Phil Katz. He developed PKZIP in the 1980s, after an
acrimonious lawsuit over another program, PKARC. PKZIP quickly
became the standard for compression programs. However, Katz was
slow to develop PKZIP for Windows, and it was surpassed by WinZip.

There are many .ZIP programs around today. Windows XP includes
built-in support. Thank goodness for that.

If you're using an earlier version of Windows, WinZip ($29) and PKZIP
($39) can be used to create .ZIP files, as well as open them. If you
just want to open files, try StuffIt Expander, which is free. You can
get them at, respectively:


Six steps to help secure your PC
By Kim Komando

There's nothing like cracking open the box of a brand new computer.
But don't be so quick to just connect it all up and hop right on the

According to the software security company Symantec, it takes only
20 minutes for an un-patched and unprotected computer to be attacked
once connected to the Internet.

In that time, your pristine computer could be turned into a zombie.
Zombies are machines that have been secretly taken over by
hackers. The zombie networks are leased to criminals who use
them to send spam or attack Web sites.

Some criminals want to put keyloggers on your computer, to steal
passwords, credit card numbers and other sensitive data. There
are plenty of vandals out there, too, who want to destroy your
data for fun. And advertising outfits, many shady, hope to put
spyware on your computer. With that, they will track your surfing
and bury you with ads.

Compromised computers are found in homes, businesses and
government offices. To make sure you aren't victimized, here are
six steps you must take to secure your computer and the network
on which it runs.

1.  Install a firewall.
If you are running a network and sharing a broadband connection,
you probably have a firewall built into the router. 

But that's not enough. Most routers used in small businesses
utilize a Network Address Translation (NAT) firewall. Basically,
it hides all of the computers in the network. It protects you from
outsiders trying to get in. 

Windows XP's firewall works in a similar fashion. It's able to
block incoming traffic but not outgoing data. To turn it on click
Start > Control Panel > Windows Firewall. Click the circle next
to "On" and click OK. Note that if you have updated your
operating system to Windows XP Service Pack 2, the firewall
already is enabled. 

The most secure method is to have a third-party software
firewall in addition to the firewall on your router. It provides an
extra layer of protection by alerting you to outbound traffic.
Anytime a program tries to access the Internet, the user will be
alerted. If it's a valid application, such as Internet Explorer,
Outlook, and so on, the user grants it access to the Internet.
If it's an unknown application, such as a worm, you can block it.
My favorite third-party firewall is ZoneAlarm (www.zonelabs.
com), which is free. 

You're not ready to go onto the Internet just yet, so download the
firewall onto another computer, save it on disk and install. 

Even if you're not using a broadband connection, you still should
install a software firewall. Hackers are greedy. They will infect or
take over any computer — even ones with a slow Internet

Safer computing starts with Windows XP Service Pack
2, a free upgrade

Windows XP SP2 brings users the latest security updates and
innovations from Microsoft. Here's how to get it.

2.  Disable file sharing.
Before you go onto the Internet, disable file sharing. It's one thing
to share your sales presentation with others in your office. It's
another to share it with the entire Web community.

In Windows XP Professional, file sharing is turned on by default.
To disable it, click Start > My Computer. Click Tools > Folder
Options. Click the View tab. Under Advanced Settings, scroll to
the bottom and uncheck the box next to Use simple file sharing
(recommended). Click Apply > OK.

If your new computer came with Windows XP Service Pack 2
installed, click Start > Control Panel. Click Security Center >
Windows Firewall. Click the Exceptions tab. Under Programs and
Services, uncheck the box next to File and Printer Sharing. Click OK.

3.  Install antivirus software.
This may seem as obvious as the others, but it's oh, so important.
Many new computers have a trial version of an antivirus program
already installed on the computer. That doesn't mean it's ready
to go. You still need to update the definition files.

To update the definition files, you'll need to access the Internet.
Since you've turn off file sharing and installed a firewall, you
should be safe.

Remember that trial versions of antivirus software are only good
for a short time, usually 30 to 90 days. The trial version will then
continue to run on your computer, but its antivirus definitions
will be out-of-date. Outdated definitions offer nothing but a false
sense of security.

4.  Modify your HOSTS file.
Setting up your HOSTS file will prevent spyware and any kind of
"malware" (short for malicious software) from communicating
outside your computer. This allows you to surf the Net anonymously.

Countless numbers of hackers, vandals or unscrupulous marketers
would love to hijack your Web browser or give your computer some
nasty worm. Sometimes malware is bundled with shareware and
freeware. Other times it can get on your computer by opening an
infected file.

"Tracking cookies" get on your computer from Web sites and even
online ads. They track your Web surfing habits and report back.
This helps the ad servers know which ads to place on your

Fortunately, there is a list of known malware and ad servers that
want to communicate with your computer. Enter the domain
name for the known offenders and your computer's address
( in the HOSTS file. All attempts to contact the mother
computers on the Internet will lead back to your local computer.
The requests will die.

You don't have to enter the possible offenders manually. Such
files are available on the Internet. You can find an updated one
with installation instructions at this URL:

It's important to check often for updates to the HOSTS file,
because the list of offenders is growing fast.

5.  Keep your Windows system updated.
Even if your computer comes with Windows XP Service Pack 2
(SP2) already installed, you still need to update Windows.
Although SP2 contains a multitude of critical updates, more have
become available since its release.

Update Windows by clicking Start > All Programs > Windows
Update. You may have to restart your computer after some
updates. Keep going to Windows Update until there are no more
updates to be installed.

If your computer did not come with SP2 installed, you can download
it. Or you can order SP2 on CD for free. The same CD can be used
on multiple computers. Visit this page to order the CD from Microsoft.

6.  Stop spyware before it takes root on your PC.
Spyware collects information about your interests and then uses
that information to display advertising.

Take preventive measures by downloading and installing
SpywareBlaster (
It's a free program and prevents most spyware from being
installed on your computer.

Another program, Spybot Search & Destroy
( ) prevents
spyware and adware from being installed on your computer by
immunizing it. It also has the ability to remove adware already
installed on your computer.

Spybot Search & Destroy also has a tool called TeaTimer. Tea
Timer monitors changes to specific keys in your registry.
Whenever a change is detected, a pop-up will alert you and ask
if you want to allow or deny the change. To enable it click Mode
> Advanced. Then click Tools > Resident. Check the box next to
Resident "TeaTimer" (Protection of over-all system settings)
active. Also, make sure the box is checked next to Resident
"SDHelper" as well.

The makers of Spybot Search & Destroy recommend that you
run SpywareBlaster in tandem with Spybot Search & Destroy.

Now that your computer is as locked down as much as possible,
you should be safe to set up your e-mail account for the
computer and surf the Net.

Take this time to check the other computers in the office. Make
sure your Windows and Microsoft Office software are updated.
Make sure antivirus programs are up-to-date. And check for

This may sound alarmist. But these security steps are very
important. By setting up your computer properly, you can
feel confident that your computers and network are as safe
as possible.

Kim Komando
Kim Komando writes about workplace technology and security
issues. She's the host of the nation's largest talk-radio show
about computers and the Internet, and writes a syndicated
column for more than 100 Gannett newspapers and for USA
Today. Find Kim's show on the radio station nearest you, and
send an e-mail to subscribe to her free weekly e-mail newsletter.

For customer support options, tailored business advice, and a
single point of access for Microsoft's small-business solutions,
see the Microsoft Small Business Center home page.


Recovering from a Trojan Horse or Virus
Michael D. Durkota, US-CERT
(May 2005)

It can happen to anyone. Considering the vast number of viruses and Trojan horses traversing the Internet at any given moment, it’s amazing it doesn’t happen to everyone. Hindsight may dictate that you could have done a better job of protecting yourself, but that does little to help you out of your current predicament. Once you know that your machine is infected with a Trojan Horse or virus, what can you do?

If you know what specific malicious program has infected your computer, you can visit one of several anti-virus web sites and download a removal tool. Chances are, however, that you will not be able to identify the specific program. Unfortunately your other choices are limited, but the following steps may help save your computer and your files.

1. Call IT support
If you have an IT support department at your disposal, notify them immediately and follow their instructions.

2. Disconnect your computer from the Internet
Depending on what type of Trojan horse or virus you have, intruders may have access to your personal information and may even be using your computer to attack other computers. You can stop this activity by turning off your Internet connection. The best way to accomplish this is to physically disconnect your cable or phone line, but you can also simply "disable" your network connection.

3. Back up your important files
At this point it is a good idea to take the time to back up your files. If possible, compile all of your photos, documents, Internet favorites, etc., and burn them onto a CD or save them to some other external storage device. It is vital to note that these files cannot be trusted since they are still potentially infected.

4. Install an anti-virus program and scan your machine
Since your computer is infected with an unknown malicious program, it is safest to install an anti-virus program from an uncontaminated source such as a CD-ROM. You will have to visit your local computer or electronics store to a purchase the software. There are many to choose from, but all of them should provide the tools you need.

After you install the software, complete a scan of your machine. The initial scan will hopefully identify the malicious program(s). Ideally, the anti-virus program will even offer to remove the malicious files from your computer; follow the advice or instructions you are given.

If the anti-virus software successfully locates and removes the malicious files, be sure to follow the precautionary steps in Step 7 to prevent another infection. In the unfortunate event that the anti-virus software cannot locate or remove the malicious program, you will have to follow the next steps.

5. Reinstall your operating system
If the previous step failed to clean your computer, the only available option is to reinstall the operating system. Although this corrective action will also result in the loss of all your programs and files, it is the only way to ensure your computer is free from backdoors and intruder modifications. Before conducting the reinstall, make a note of all your programs and settings so that you can return your computer to its original condition.

It is vital that you also reinstall your anti-virus software and apply any patches that may be available. Consult "Before You Connect a New Computer to the Internet" for further assistance.

6. Restore your files
If you made a back up CD in Step 3, you can now restore your files. Before placing the files back in directories on your computer, you should scan them with your anti-virus software to ensure they are not infected.

7. Protect your computer

To prevent future infections, you should take the following precautions:
     • Do not open unsolicited attachments in email messages.
     • Do not follow unsolicited links.
     • Maintain updated anti-virus software.
     • Use an Internet firewall.
     • Keep your system patched.

To ensure that you are doing everything possible to protect your computer and your important information, you may want to read some of the articles in the resources section below.


US-CERT Computer Virus Resources

Before You Connect a New Computer to the Internet 

Home Network Security 

Home Computer Security  

Understanding Firewalls 

Good Security Habits

Continuing Threats to Home Users 

Windows Update 

Protect Your PC 

Increase Your Browsing and E-Mail Safety

Copyright 2004 Carnegie Mellon University


Computer viruses: description, prevention, and recovery;en-us;129972

From Microsoft Corporation


Troubleshooting Basics
   First, do no harm!
   By Rafe Needleman 
   Editor, Business Buying Advice
   July 18, 2005

Last night as I wrote this, Internet Explorer stopped working on my laptop computer. The program simply wouldn't start up. When I clicked Web links in e-mail, I got a File Save box instead of being taken to IE. It was one of those weird but typical, frustrating computer problems that many Windows users are accustomed to.

Now, I've had problems like this in the past, and in many cases, my attempts to fix things have made things much worse. But I like to think that my relationship with Windows has matured and that I'm less likely today to try a rash fix (or a whole bunch of them) that would most likely make the situation worse. So before I dove into troubleshooting, I did a smart thing. And then I did a few more smart things. And you know what? I fixed the problem without making things worse.

Here are a few troubleshooting tips I've learned along the way. And I think they apply to a lot of situations, not just fixing PCs.

Disclaimer: These are my ideas, based on what I've learned over years of breaking things (for example, reinstalling Windows when the real problem was a software conflict between an old version of Laplink and a video driver). I can't possibly cover every situation, and of course I can't take responsibility for the outcome of following this advice. All I'm really suggesting is this: Fix your PC deliberately. Don't rush it.

First, stop
Stop everything. Unless the computer is on fire or making strange noises, leave it on. Get up. Stretch. Give yourself a chance to wrap your mind around the problem. If you have time, take a break: eat a meal, bounce your kid on your knee.

Think of your sputtering computer the way a pilot flying high over the ground treats the situation. You have some time to work on the problem. Use it to make yourself smart.

Save your data and reboot
Before you launch into heroics with the fix of last resort--reinstalling Windows or something similar--take any data you're working on at the moment and save it. If you think your computer is seriously deranged, save the data somewhere other than your hard disk: on a floppy, a network drive, a USB stick, or in e-mail to yourself. Then reboot your computer and see if it's still acting up. PCs can be like old cars: cranky and unpredictable and prone to one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-while bugs.

What's the last change you made?
A problem in one program may be caused by another program. So ask yourself what you did last that could have put software on your PC? Did you install a demo or a new driver? Is there spyware or a virus on your system?

If you've been mucking around and you just installed something, then uninstall it, reboot, and see if your problem still exists. Also, scan for viruses and especially spyware.

Then, research
Assuming you do have a repeatable problem, go online and do some research. In my case, I Googled Internet Explorer 6 stopped working. I found some interesting opinions and several different solutions to fix the problem.

Remember, though, that free advice is worth what you pay for it. You need to apply your own commonsense filter to what you read online. And if a fix sounds too involved for your skill level or the instructions are not clear (say, it's a complex registry fix that you have a problem visualizing), you might want to remove it from your fix list.

Regarding the solutions I found online: what I would have done as a younger man is to implement all of the solutions at once, figuring that if one fix is good, two or three must be better--which is rarely the case.

Make no sudden moves
Do one thing at a time. Write down what you are doing. Evaluate the effectiveness. If the first attempt doesn't work, see if you can undo it, then do another. If you're working on a software issue, reboot between steps.

Don't start a fix you can't finish
Many times, fixing a software issue involves reinstalling something. You may find that this is not as easy as you might think it is. Be sure you have all of the necessary software, discs, and license keys to start; otherwise, you may find yourself with the equivalent of your car with its motor on the ground, while you stand there lacking the right bolts to put it back in.

If you call tech support, be a nag
When dealing with professional tech help, be an annoying patient: Ask a lot of questions. Force your PC doctor to explain what he or she is doing and why. It's your computer, or at least your data, and you have a right to know what's happening. There are good and bad tech helpers, and the good ones talk to you, and they move slowly if you ask them. They'll also start by gathering a history of your problem before they launch into a fix. If your helper sets up at your computer and says something like, "OK, let's start by reinstalling Windows," stop that person immediately. Would you want a doctor to operate, or even prescribe a medication, without taking a history?

Likewise, when a telephone rep recommends that you start by reformatting your hard disk, have him or her back up and run through a checklist of other options. Better yet, find a more knowledgeable tech. Will it take more time? Yes. But do you want your computer fixed, or do you want to give it a lobotomy?

I have no idea what caused my system to break in the first place, but the fix turned out to be the one at the top of my Google results, and it was no more involved than running a program that comes with Windows, the System File Checker. It was not an obvious repair--I'd never used or even heard of the utility before--so I did not have high hopes that it would work. But it did, and thanks to the fact that I did some research before I got to work and that I then tried the fix in isolation from other repairs, it ended up being a pretty innocuous problem. It took me about 15 minutes to research, and the System File Checker program ran while I was having dinner; when I came back to my computer, it was working again. If I had only worked like this in the past with other PC bugs, I probably could have saved myself from countless reinstallations of Windows.


5 Common Sense Security Tips
(From Kim Komando September 27, 2005)

Hopefully, you have security software installed on your computer. These
days, a firewall, anti-virus software and anti-spyware programs are
essential. But that might not be enough to protect you from the bad

Here are five things you can do for a little added security:

1. Leave your computer on
I used to recommend that you turn your computer off when it's not in
use. There wasn't a valid reason to waste energy by leaving it on. But
things have changed.

Today, you have security programs to defend against viruses, worms,
spyware and other attacks. These programs are always playing catch-up.
Hackers are constantly probing for weaknesses, and seemingly every day
there's a new threat.

Security software and your computer's operating system are regularly
updated to stem these threats. If your computer is off at night, you'll
have to update during the day, when you're working. Or worse, the new
threat hits your system before you have a chance to download updates.

So leave your computer on. Turn off the printer, monitor and other
extras, and find other ways to save energy.

2. Use a Limited account
Everybody likes to be king of the castle. But you can prevent others
from taking control of your computer by giving up some privileges.

Too many people use a Windows Administrator account on a regular basis.
In fact, you may not even know different types of user accounts exist.

Administrators can install software and change system settings. Limited
accounts don't have these privileges. So, if you use the Internet with
a Limited account, and you click on the wrong thing, malware cannot
install itself.

To create a Limited account, click Start>>Control Panel>>User Accounts.
Click "Create a new account." Enter a name and click Next. Select
Limited and then click Create Account.

3. Watch out for crush sites
Spammers are always looking for more e-mail addresses. Now they're
enlisting the help of unsuspecting teens and adults.

Spammers send out messages with subject lines like "Someone has a crush
on you." A link directs you to a site that resembles a dating service.
To find out who has the crush, you must guess by entering the correct
e-mail address.

These days, most adults are fairly cautious about disclosing e-mail
addresses. Teens may be more naïve, particularly when an e-mail preys
on their insecurities.

4. Watch the status bar
The status bar is a frequently overlooked tool at the bottom of your
browser. You can use it to check links on a Web page. Hold your mouse
over a link, and the address of the link appears in the status bar. It
may not help if the address is spoofed, but it is still handy.

To do this, you may need to activate the status bar.

For Internet Explorer, close all windows. Open Windows Explorer and
click View>>Status Bar. Then click Tools>>Folder Options. On the View
tab, click Apply to All Folders. Click OK.

In Firefox, click View>>Status Bar.

5. Protect your Windows Clipboard
Malicious Web sites may attempt to copy information from your Windows
Clipboard. That is the utility that temporarily stores information from
cut and copy operations.

You can prevent sites from downloading information from the Clipboard.
In Internet Explorer, click Tools>>Internet Options. Click Custom Level
on the Security tab. Scroll to the Scripting section. Select prompt for
"Active scripting," "Allow paste operations via script" and "Scripting
of Java applets." Click OK>>OK.


Take 4 steps to secure your thumb drive data

(From Kim Komando September 27, 2005)

USB thumb drives are a handy way to store important files. Lately, they've become a very popular way of transporting data between home computers and work or school. Unless you pay attention to security, they can create big problems.

You might know them as flash drives, key drives or jump drives. They plug into a computer's Universal Serial Bus port and can hold anywhere from 16 megabytes to a whopping 8 gigabytes of data. And they're more resilient than DVDs or CDs. (Related item: Ask Kim)

The greatest benefit of thumb drives is their portability. They slip easily into your pocket. But that's also their greatest drawback. They're easily lost or stolen, jeopardizing your sensitive data. Also, they can transfer viruses between computers.

So here are four security tips:

1. Guard it carefully
Many people are careless with thumb drives. People often leave them lying around or attach the drives to key chains. How often have you lost your keys?

Better are ones that you can attach to a cord and wear around your neck. This won't appeal to the fashion-conscious, but it helps prevent loss or theft.

Some thumb drives have cords that connect to the drive's protective removable cap. Forgo these. You want one with a cord that connects to the body of the drive.

2. Watch out for viruses
Be careful when you connect your thumb drive to shared computers. Just like floppy disks, thumb drives can easily transfer viruses.

Make sure you're only transferring data. Any computer you connect the drive to should have anti-virus software running. Of course, the virus definitions must be current. The anti-virus software should scan the drive as soon as it is connected.

If the drive isn't from a trusted source, don't connect it to your computer.

3. Encrypt your data
If your thumb drive falls into the wrong hands, your data is fair game. So it is important to protect your files.

Encryption will "scramble" your data. It can only be unscrambled with the correct password. Encryption that is 128-bit is very secure.

Many drives come bundled with encryption features. Double-check that the encryption software is not a trial version. Otherwise, you will need to pay to use it once the trial expires.

Once you set up the encryption software, get in the habit of using it. And don't forget to create a strong password. A combination of at least eight numbers and upper- and lower-case letters is most effective. Don't use an easily recognizable word, but make sure you can remember it — without writing it down.

If your thumb drive doesn't have encryption software, you can buy additional software. Programs like File Encryption XP (, $30), Folder Crypto Password (, $20) and Folder Lock (, $35) can encrypt your thumb drive files.

Additionally, some manufacturers make drives with biometric fingerprint readers. A built-in scanner reads your fingerprint before granting access to the drive. This provides excellent security. Expect to pay a premium for this feature.

Drives with biometric scanners require that software be installed on the computer. This limits where you can access your thumb drive. You might find yourself in a situation where you can't access your data.

4. Back up your data
Losing your thumb drive is painful, even when the contents are protected. So, back up your data!

You should always keep multiple copies of important data. This is particularly true when the storage medium is susceptible to loss or damage. Most thumb drives are made of plastic, which isn't always durable.


Backing Up Contacts And E-Mail In Microsoft Outlook
(From Kim Komando October 2, 2005)

Richard wrote from Wildwood, MO, about backing up his Contacts in
Outlook. He doesn't want to lose them in a crash, but doesn't know
where to find their files.

Richard, you raise an excellent issue. Most of us put our personal
files in My Documents, so they're easy to back up. But we also have
important information in our e-mail programs. Those files can be hard
to find.

In Outlook, your e-mail and Contacts are stored in outlook.pst. You'll
find this file at C:\Documents and Settings\<user name>\Local Settings\
Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook. If you have archived your stuff, it
will be in a separate archive.pst file. I back up both every night.

Some of my employees use Thunderbird. That path is C:\Documents and
Settings\<user name>\Application Data\Thunderbird\Profiles\<random
characters>\Mail\Local Folders. Back up everything under Local Folders.

Many people like Outlook Express. That path is similar: C:\Documents
and Settings\<user name>\Local Settings\Application Data\Identities\
<class identifier>\Microsoft\Outlook Express.


Lock Out Snoops And Crooks With Encryption
(From Kim Komando October 2, 2005)

You probably have sensitive information like bank account numbers and
personal documents on your computer. So you password-protect your
Windows account and your home accounting files. Your data's safe,
right? Think again.

A password might keep casual snoops out of your files. But password
systems offer scant protection from experienced crooks. You'll find
numerous products on the Internet, many free, that recover or reset
Windows, Microsoft Word and popular accounting program passwords, to
name a few. Those password environments are not secure.

To protect your sensitive files, you need to encrypt them. There are
many tools that will encrypt your data. And, fortunately, the basics of
encryption are easy to understand.

First, the encryption program creates a key. The longer the key, the
stronger the encryption. Modern encryption is 128-bit or greater. This
means there are 2^128 possible combinations.

This level of encryption is considered unbreakable today. Computers are
not yet powerful enough to attack it successfully.

Keys are used to encrypt and decrypt the data. Without the key, the
data looks like gibberish. But don't let the word "key" throw you. That
is just a password, which you select. Pick a longish one with letters,
numbers and symbols, and you're well-protected. Use your dog's name,
and you're not. It's up to you.

Let's start with Windows XP. It includes encryption abilities. To
encrypt a file or folder, right-click it and select Properties. On the
General tab, click Advanced. Select "Encrypt contents to secure data"
and click OK. Click Apply and select your options. Click OK.

Unfortunately, Windows stores the encryption key with your user account.
Anyone who knows your Windows password can automatically access your
encrypted files. Or, given a little time, your Windows password, no
matter how strong, could be broken. There are numerous tools available
on the Web to do just that. So, XP's encryption is easy to circumvent.

Mac OS X 10.3 and later includes FileVault, which uses first-rate 128-
bit encryption. The password is separate from your system password.
Your home directory is automatically encrypted and decrypted. To turn
on FileVault, Open System Preferences. Under Personal, select Security.
Click Set Master Password to set a password that can unlock each user's
FileVault. Click Turn On FileVault.

There isn't much available for earlier versions of the Mac. Try
KremlinEncrypt (, $35) or SecretAgent
(, $265).

I recommend using a third-party program to encrypt data in Windows. The
free Cryptainer LE ( creates an encrypted vault
on your computer. It holds up to 25 MB of data. Simply create a key and
then drag and drop your files to encrypt them. It can also be used on
removable media, such as a thumb drive.

If you need more space, Cryptainer PE allows you to encrypt 25
gigabytes of data for $45. Other encryption programs include PGP
Desktop Home (, $100, Bestcrypt
(, $50, and PC-Encrypt (,
also $50.

If you're on a tighter budget, consider a ZIP program. ZIP programs
compress files so they are smaller. Many offer encryption as a bonus.

WinZip ( supports 128- or 256-bit encryption. PKZIP
( uses 128-bit encryption. Both are $29.

One word of caution about encryption: Don't forget your password!
Otherwise, you could be locked out of your files just the same as the
bad guys.


From Kim Komando December 10, 2005

Q. I want to start backing up my data. I'm considering an external
drive. But they are much more expensive than internal drives. I hear I
could use an internal drive externally. Is this true? How does it work?
    -- James in Phoenix, listening on KFYI 550 AM

A. You can, indeed. External drives are handy for backing up data. But
you're right-they're more expensive than internal drives. However, you
can easily construct an external drive, using internal equipment.

First, buy your hard drive. I don't know what your size
requirements are, but I'd go big. Better too much space than not enough.
I saw a 200-gigabyte drive advertised last week for $50 after rebate.
That's hard to beat!

Next, you will need a drive enclosure. You can spend as little as $30,
or you can spend more than twice that. It depends on the features.

Decide how you want to connect the drive. You'll have the option of
FireWire or USB connections. Base the decision on your computer's ports.
Some enclosures will have both. There's no point in paying extra for
connections you don't need.

Also, some enclosures will accommodate CD drives in addition to hard
drives. Again, don't pay extra for something you won't use.

The enclosure will include instructions for putting everything together.
Generally, you attach the hard drive to the enclosure with screws. A
couple of cords are connected to the back of the hard drive. One goes
to a power source. The other is used to transfer the data. Close the
case and plug it into the computer.

You will have to set the jumper on the back of the drive. That is a
piece of metal that fits over pins. Use the setting recommended by the
enclosure manufacturer. The jumper assures that the drive works
properly with the primary hard drive.

Now you will have a spiffy new external drive. But this is missing one
thing prebuilt ones may have: synchronization software.

You can use Windows Backup to back up your files. Often, it isn't
installed with Windows. But it should be available to you. For more
information, visit my site:

If you need a more sophisticated solution, use Microsoft's Synctoy. It
is one of the PowerToys Microsoft developed for Windows XP. You can
download it for free:

(We use Synctoy with a removable hard drive for painless backups. DM)


Finding Wi-Fi In Your Travels
Things are getting easier for you road warriors. There are now more
than 56,000 hotspots around the world, according to JiWire, a provider
of hotspot information.

Hotspots are wireless access points that the public can use to get onto
the Internet. Most require a payment, but some are free.

London is the most wired city, according to the site. It is followed by
Tokyo and New York City. Filling out the top 10 are Paris, Singapore,
Hong Kong, Berlin, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle. Most hotspots
are located in hotels and restaurants. JiWire has more information at:

But they are certainly not the only site where you can find hotspots.
Google's location search can help. Enter Wi-Fi in the first box,
and the ZIP code in the second.

~~ Need more places to find a hotspot? Here are three.



Keep documents synchronized  
Q. Kim, please help! My files are a mess. I use two computers, a
desktop and a laptop. I try to keep things synchronized, but I never
seem to have the right file in the right place. Is there an easy
solution to synchronizing files?
   -- Ken in Atlanta, listening on WSB 750 AM

A. Keeping documents synchronized on two computers can be difficult.
You often end up with multiple versions of the same files. It's
disorganized and confusing, like my desk.

To help keep things organized, Windows includes Briefcase. You can put
documents into an electronic briefcase and work on them elsewhere.
Then, your most recent work returns with you and your briefcase.

The briefcase concept assumes that the original documents reside on
only one computer. That main computer is usually a desktop. Your laptop
then works with the copies in the briefcase.

Start by creating a briefcase on the desktop computer. Right-click an
empty area of the Windows desktop. Select New>>Briefcase from the menu.
A briefcase icon appears named New Briefcase. Rename it if you like by
right-clicking the icon and selecting Rename.

In Windows 98 or ME, the Briefcase option might not show up. To fix
this, click Start>>Settings>>Control Panel. Double-click Add/Remove
Programs. Select the Windows Setup tab. Under Accessories, click
Details. Mark the checkbox labeled My Briefcase. Click OK. Then click
Apply in the Add/Remove Programs window.

Now, copy the documents on which you'll be working to the briefcase. Do
this by simply dragging the files into the briefcase. You can also copy
folders into the briefcase.

If the computers are networked, copy the briefcase and documents to the
laptop. If the computers are not networked, copy the briefcase and
documents to a thumb drive. Either way, after copying the briefcase,
delete it from the desktop computer. Leave the documents in their
original folders.

Leave the documents in the briefcase while you work on them on the
laptop. If the briefcase is on a thumb drive, you can work on them
there. Or you can transfer the briefcase to the laptop. When you
finish, transfer it back to the thumb drive.

Once your work is complete, hook the laptop to the network. Or plug the
thumb drive into the desktop. Open the briefcase and click
Briefcase>>Update All. The update is automatic.

After updating, you can work on either version of the documents. Follow
the same process for updating the documents. Briefcase will always
update the oldest version with the most recent information.

Briefcase is easier to use than to explain. But if it sounds like too
much trouble, you could use my process.

I use GoToMyPC, one of my sponsors. With this service, all you need is
an Internet connection. You have complete access to your distant
computer. It's pretty slick, and it offers a free trial:

When I am out of the office, I use my laptop to work on my files right
on my office computer. That way, there's no need to transfer files from
one computer to another.

Anyplace Control and LogMeIn function similarly to GoToMyPc. Both also
offer free trials. Anyplace Control requires that you install software
on both PCs. LogMeIn simply requires a Web browser. You can find more
information on their respective sites:

There are also two free options from Microsoft.

The first is SyncToy, which is available only for Windows XP. It is
similar to Briefcase, but provides much more advanced options. For
example, you can set up multiple pairs of folders to be synchronized.
Or, you can specify that only certain file types are synchronized. You
can learn more about it on my site:

The second option is Folder Share. Somewhat like GoToMyPC, you can
access files and folders on your home PC. You can also set it up to
synchronize your files. You'll need to install software to use the
service. You can read more about it on my Web site:



Moving Favorites to a new computer
I just purchased a new laptop and want to transfer
my Favorites.  Is this possible? And if so, how? Thanks
for your help.

A. For those who don’t know, you can keep Web
addresses in Favorites. That way you don’t have to
remember those addresses. Nor do you have to enter
them manually.

The Favorites feature is built in to Internet Explorer.
Firefox has a similar feature, called Bookmarks. Either
can be easily moved to a new computer.

Most programs that migrate data between computers
probably will include Favorites. Windows XP has such
a program—Files and Settings Transfer Wizard.
According to Microsoft, it will transfer Favorites.
However, Firefox is not listed among the programs with
which it works. So it may not transfer Bookmarks.

Favorites and Bookmarks are also easy to transfer

For Favorites, start by clicking File>>Import and Export.
A wizard will open. Click Next>>Export Favorites>>Next.
Select the Favorites folder and click Next. Select a file or
address to export to and click Next>>Finish. You can
burn that file to a disc and move it to the new computer.
Or e-mail it to yourself.

On the new computer, click File>>Import and Export. In
the wizard, click Next>>Import Favorites>>Next. Browse
to the place where you put the Favorites file, and click
Next. Select the Favorites folder and click Next>>Finish.

To export in Firefox, click Bookmarks>>Manage Bookmarks.
Click File>>Export. Select a folder for the file and click Save.
To import, click Bookmarks>>Manage Bookmarks. Click
File>>Import. Select From File and click Next. Select the
file and click Open.

Don't forget to back up your Favorites or Bookmarks. The
process is similar, but I have a tip
on my site that covers it.
While you're there, you should also read my tip on
organizing your Favorites.

(From Kim Komando 060616)


How to secure your wireless network
By Jessica Dolcourt (6/15/06)

Most people have enjoyed the benefits of wireless technology at one time or another. Cordless phones, mobile phones, and wireless-enabled laptops all operate on the principle that the fewer cords, the better. Convenient as wireless networks are to use, they can also be easy to hack if you don't have the proper security.

Sadly, most wireless hookups are vulnerable straight out of the box, and still may not be safe even when you activate the default security features. However, with some insight into wireless technology and a few useful tips, you can block out most malicious network piggybackers.

Step 1: Know your network

Let's take a quick look at how wireless networks work. In "wired" technology, data is transmitted from your computer to the Web via cables that connect to a physical port. "Wireless" technology, on the other hand, uses radio waves to transfer data. The signals carrying your data are beamed over a wide range. Without security measures in place, anyone with the right tools can reach out and pluck them.

Step 2: Change your SSID and password

The first trick to slamming the door on hackers is to get personal. Every wireless network, from large corporate systems to simple home setups, contains a service set identification number (SSID) that is your network's digital name. To fence off your signal, you'll need to do two things. First, change your SSID number and password from the default setting into something private and strong. A default SSID is cake for hackers familiar with each company's settings and passwords. To change the SSID and your network password, launch the software for your wireless hardware. You should be able to change your SSID within the program's preferences.

Overwriting the default SSID won't do you much good if your network name is announced to anyone within range. To keep your information as private as possible, it's also important to disable the SSID broadcast. It's usually as simple as a mouse click in your program preferences.

Step 3: Set up MAC filtering

Changing your SSID settings without adding MAC filtering is like changing the locks to your house but leaving the key in the door. The MAC, or Media Access Control, filter is what gives you control over who may access your network and who may not. It takes a small time investment to set up MAC filtering, but without it, hackers can waltz in and use your network as they see fit.

To give specific computers permission to use your network, you'll need to add their MAC addresses--the 12-digit address attached to every physical network device (PC, laptop, router). Enabling MAC filtering is a different process with each hardware manufacturer, but in most cases, opening up your wireless software and locating the security settings should put you in the right place. Finding the MAC address for each device might also be a challenge if you don't know where to look. This handy index from Fermilab will help you search within your operating system.

Sign 4: Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt

Encryption is key, pun intended. There are two types of encryption protocols, WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) and WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access). Both block intruders' entry by scrambling your data, though WPA is generally regarded as more secure due to its dynamic, ever-changing key. Unfortunately, the encryption key you end up with is also device-specific and WPA isn't yet as prevalent as WEP. Even if you don't have access to WPA encryption, the combination of WEP and MAC filtering is usually enough to deter the casual hacker. A word to the wise--WPA is built in to most new routers along with WEP; however, unless your network components support WPA, WEP will remain the default encryption.

Sign 5: Fill the gaps with software

Even with all these security settings, highly determined hackers can machete their way in; all it takes is plenty of patience and the proper tools. This is where software can help. Programs such as Trend Micro PC-cillin, ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite, and McAfee Wireless Home Network Security all actively monitor your wireless network and notify you when attempted intrusions occur, among other encryption and security measures. Also, a new product from AOL called Active Security Monitor diagnoses your wireless-security protections and makes recommendations for improvements.

(From CNet

More how-to stories

(From CNet


(From CNet Tips & Tricks January 5, 2007)

I need help in clarifying some of the Security information when using the Internet.

1. Is it OK to leave my wireless broadband router on all the time, even when I switch of the computer or other times when I use other programs such as Word or PowerPoint, rather than Internet. Could some one able to hack into my computer files even when I am not browsing the Internet?

2. Will someone able to hack into my computer if I use the standard firewall provided with Windows XP?

3. From the security point of view, is a wired Internet broadband connection safer than wireless broadband connection via a home wireless router which is encrypted?

Some of the greatest risks are a result of simply using your internet connection, for you could visit a fraudulent or otherwise malicious website that steals personal information (see Phishing) or download a file that is infected by malware. However, even when you are performing other tasks, such as typing a Word document, or are away from your computer entirely you are still at risk. As long as your computer is connected to the internet there is the possibility of being hacked. The good news is that there are things you can do to protect yourself and significantly reduce that risk.

First, I would recommend replacing the standard Windows XP firewall. This is a recommended step regardless of whether you are using a wireless router or not. No firewall is impenetrable but the XP firewall has several weaknesses when compared to other protection on the market, with its primary deficiency being the general lack of outbound protection. In short, that means that if you do become infected and the malware attempts to "phone home" for whatever reason (including to send the hacker your personal information) it will not alert you or do anything to stop it. Instead, I would recommend using the free ZoneAlarm basic firewall, which can be downloaded by clicking here. The default settings are fine and it will automatically disable the Windows Firewall to prevent possible conflicts.

It is also important to note that depending on which router you have there may be a hardware-based firewall built in. Hardware-based firewalls are considered superior to software firewalls because they stop the access attempt even before it reaches your computer and they are harder to circumvent. (Whereas software-based firewalls can be disabled by certain types of malware.) Regardless of this, I would still recommend having a software-based firewall, such as ZoneAlarm, for an extra layer of protection.

In addition to a firewall you should make sure you have adequate antivirus and anti-spyware software and keep it up-to-date. Norton and NOD32 are two of the top-ranked antivirus providers with McAfee, TrendMicro, and many others following closely behind. For spyware protection I rely on Webroot's SpySweeper, though you do not need to spend the money on it. Instead, you can use Windows Defender for real-time protection and Ewido (now known as AVG Anti-Spyware) for weekly scans, a combination that is quite successful and won't cost you a cent. Remember, you can build up a wall around your network but it won't do much good if the intruder is already inside the gates, so perform weekly scans religiously.

That said, a wired connection is always safer than a wireless connection to the internet for the simple reason that with a wireless connection someone could sit in the basement of the house next door and work on cracking the encryption or uncovering your password. With a wired connection, on the other hand, they would have to have physical access to your computer network in order to attempt that. That should not deter you from using a wireless home network but instead encourage you to take additional steps to protect yourself. These include:

1.) Encrypt the connection, preferably using WPA (or even WPA2) due to the widely-exploited weaknesses of WEP. If some devices are not compatible with WPA, though, be sure to enable WEP...some protection is better than none.

2.) Set a strong password on the router, using a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. The longer and more complicated it is the harder it will be fore someone else to guess or crack it using brute force methods.

3.) Change the internal IP subnet, router name, and password regularly. The more you do this the more you will keep 'outsiders' off balance. You will have to update each computer afterward but it is well worth it.

4.) Enable MAC filtering so that only the wireless devices you specifically allow have access to the network. It is possible to spoof (forge) a MAC address but every road block helps.

5.) Disable SSID broadcasting. This does not prevent your network from being attacked but it prevents the network's presence from being 'announced' to all wireless receivers within range, effectively removing the large arrow pointing to your house.

6.) Keep an eye on the router logs for unauthorized access attempts, particularly if you suspect something. The sooner you see unauthorized access attempts the sooner you can take countermeasures to prevent that party from succeeding.

7.) If all of your wireless devices use 802.11g disable 802.11b on the router. This has a very limited effect, but it would prevent others with older hardware from attempting to access your network.

The exact methods of adjusting all of these settings depend on the router and operating systems in use, but you should find illustrated instructions in your owner's manual or, alternatively, on the manufacturer's website in their Help section.

Aside from that I would like to make a few other comments. First, it is important to be aware of Wake-on-Lan (WOL), which, if supported by your motherboard, would potentially enable someone to 'wake' your computer remotely via an network connection. That means that after you have shut down and gone to bed someone could start your computer and accomplish their goals before the sun rises. Thus, even if you turn your computer off at night or before you go away for any length of time you should also consider shutting down the modem and router. It's not mandatory, but it is the only way to ensure the security of your network during periods when you do not have a watchful eye on it.

Second, never install or use P2P software such as Limewire. Aside from the legal issues associated with most of the content being pirated it opens up a door for others to access your computer, something that would potentially make all of your hard work go to waste. It is far better to download directly from the author or use download sites such as CNET's own

Finally, keep in mind that if someone else uses your network that you may be held responsible for whatever they do, be it download pirated content or hack another computer. That is added incentive to keep your network secure and limit who you let use your computers and/or network. (Never walk away and leave your desktop unsecured to attend to other guests unless you trust them.)

Best of luck in maintaining a secure wireless home network! John Wilkinson

P.S. While it does not pertain to your home network, I would like to leave you with one last piece of information: Never do online banking or submit/access other personal information while you are using a wireless connection other than your own. There is no guarantee of security and some even set up hotspots with the sole purpose of using it to acquire the personal information of others.



In an effort to help many who dropped me a question recently, here are links to learn more.

• QUESTION: What were the sites you mentioned that print T-shirts and even help you set up your own shop? I want to sell my own designs for my school, church, team, poker club, etc. ANSWER: Click here to learn how to be a T-shirt mogul.

• QUESTION: I cannot afford Microsoft Office. You mentioned a program that works a lot like Office but it's free. Where can I find it? ANSWER: Click here to find not just one, but nine free alternatives to popular pricey programs.

• QUESTION: I am about ready to get a new PC. I heard you mention that we need to secure a new PC before putting it on the Internet. OK, how do I do that? ANSWER: Simply click here and you'll be well-informed and safe from harm.

• QUESTION: I heard you tell a caller to erase the hard drive before donating it. How do I get a pencil eraser on the drive? ANSWER: That's not exactly the type of eraser I was talking about.  Eraser is a free program that is used to get rid of data on drives so I cannot be recovered. Click here for a link to the program and steps on how to use it.

• QUESTION: I lost every single picture from my summer vacation. I am devastated. I heard you say you can get these back. How much do I send you the memory card? ANSWER: Don't send the card to me. Instead, click here to read this tip about free and pay photo recovery programs.




Revised October 11, 2009