Big data is tracking me and my cat

My cat buddy Horus coughs and sneezes a lot so I typed the symptoms into
google.com.

I learned that heartworms are a possible cause of coughing.

So I visited several web sites about cats and heartworms to educate myself.

Three months later I received in the mail an offer for dog heartworm
medicine.

bayer_heartworm_mailer_address

Coincidence?  I think not.  Google and/or big data is collecting, saving,
correlating and selling my personal Internet data.

The downside to all this correlation is false data gets entered into your
file.

I have never owned a dog.  I like dogs.

There are no heartworm medicines for cats.

Sorry Horus my buddy.

Horus and MCE

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Quick and Free fix for your slow PC! (removing junk software with MalwareBytes)

If your PC is getting slow, I have a quick fix for you – remove the junk software that has accumulated on your PC.

Junk software includes toolbars, search tools, adware, programs that claim to fix your PC and other unwanted programs.

The junk software removal tool that I recommend is MalwareBytes (free version available at malwarebytes.com).  I have had good experiences with it and it is well respected in the IT community.

Install MalwareBytes.  Update the virus database.  Run a Threat Scan.  Follow the instructions to remove the malware.  Done.

Of course this will not fix all PC problems but will help with the one I encounter most frequently these days – slow PC clogged with junk software.  Your mileage may vary.

Read on for a more detailed discussion of junk software, malware and malware removal.

Slow PC caused by junk software

People complain to me that their PC is running slow.

So I check out their PC and I find  a lot of junk software installed on their PC – toolbars, adware, browser hijacks and junk programs that claim they will fix fake problems such as “driver errors,” “slow PC,” “registry problems,” “virus/spyware/malware found.”

Junk software accumulates as people roam the Internet and when offered updates or new software they click yes because they don’t want to be bothered or don’t understand what is offered.  Unfortunately clicking yes gives any web site permission to install junk software on the PC.  Clicking links in emails can also install junk software.

Junk software runs the gamut from benign to malicious.  Benign junk software may simply offer you targeted ads which some people enjoy.  Malicious junk software will track you on the Internet, hijack your browser, try to sell you scam junk software, try to steal your passwords and identity, try to steal or delete your data, and worse.

Junk software always slows your PC down.

Remove the junk software and be more careful what you click on in the future!

Do not click on software that is offered to you and do not click on links offered in emails.

More about malware and malware removal

I prefer to call any unwanted software malware (short for malicious software).  Malware includes a wide software, ranging from benign to downright destructive,  from suggesting ads to stealing your passwords.  Malware includes viruses, worms, adware, spyware, browser hijackers, spammers, etc.

If your PC still has malware issues, there are more things to try

Other malware removal tools to try –

  • SuperAntiSpyware
  • JRT – Junkware Removal Tool
  • AdwCleaner
  • Avast Browser Cleaner
  • Stand alone (boot) antivirus, such as Microsoft Defender off-line or Avast!

With your installed antivirus, run a full system scan.

Note that full drive scans can take hours.

Run MalwareBytes or other antivirus in safe mode.

If you know you have a particular malware, search engine it to find tools and techniques to remove it.

Use System Restore to set the computer back to a time before it was infected.

Sometimes malware can be found and removed by hand.

Places to look for malware and malware settings include

  • Programs and Features
  • Browser Add-ons and Extensions
  • Browser toolbars
  • Startup
  • Firewalls
  • Task Scheduler
  • System32 directory
  • Temporary directories
  • Use the Task Manager to find processes and resource usage

Manually uninstall programs that you don’t need, especially toolbars, search engine tools, adware, programs that claim to “fix your drivers” or “improve your PC performance” or “fix registry problems” or “remove found malware.”

Review and block programs from starting up automatically on booting that you don’t need ie Skype, printer updaters, etc.  CCleaner has a nice interface.

Removing malware and unwanted programs will speed up your PC in general, especially when browsing the Internet and booting up.

A few notes about drives

Removing temporary files and browser cache files will often speed up a PC.  An excellent tool for this is CCleaner (free version available at piriform.com).

Hard drives and the Windows file system are usually robust but failing hard drives and corrupt file systems can really slow a PC down.  Windows has utilities to scan the file system and drive.  An excellent tool for drive maintenance and recovery is SpinRite (available at grc.com/spinrite $89USD).  Note full disk scans can take hours.

Is the PC now clean?

After successful malware removal and a scan result of “No Threats Found,” is the PC free of all malware?

Maybe.  Scanning with multiple tools, full disk scans and scanning with a stand alone boot tool will increase your confidence that the PC is now free of malware.

BUT there always is the possibility some malware was not removed – examples are brand new malware that the anti-malware companies have not yet seen and added to their removal capabilities (called zero day malware) or well hidden malware (some are called rootkits),

Some people suggest that once your PC is infected, you must reinstall Windows to obliterate the malware.  But that may not be enough if the malware lives in CMOS, the boot sector, other partition on the drive, a USB drive, mobile phone, router, wireless device, a device owned by someone that visits, the list goes on…

After removing malware you may have to do some cleanup, such as reset your browser home page, reset your proxy settings and reinstall programs that inadvertently got removed, for example a coupon printer.

Malware can be very bad

A list of some things that malware can do –

  • track and report your every move on the Internet
  • create a profile of you in a big data database
  • hijack your browser to web sites you don’t want
  • block web sites that you do want
  • clutter your browser with toolbars
  • send you to fake web sites that look like the real thing to steal information
  • disable your Internet connection
  • block anti-malware
  • steal your passwords
  • steal any and all private information and identity theft
  • sell you scam junk software (and steal your credit card number in the process)
  • use your PC to do evil work such as DDOS, spamming, email relay and botnets
  • steal your computer resources to mine bitcoins
  • watch you on your webcam, listen to your microphone
  • delete your files
  • encrypt your files and ask for a ransom (ransomware)
  • make your PC run slow
  • crash your PC

Final notes

The best way to avoid malware and scams is to be careful about what you do and click on.  Don’t accept software offered or click on links offered in email.  Use good passwords.  Anything that looks suspicious probably is.  Don’t give up personal information unless you are sure who is getting it.  Don’t click on links purportedly from your bank, if you need to visit a secure site, type in the address yourself.  Keep Windows and your software up to date.  Don’t use Internet Explorer, use an alternate browser like Firefox or Chrome.  Realize that when you use social media or search engines or free email services that you are giving up a lot of personal information.  Be aware of your surroundings in parking lots.  You get the idea.

Now that MalwareBytes is installed on your PC, run it periodically or immediately if you suspect that you got infected!  Run CCleaner occasionally.

If you need help, consult your local nerd or computer professional.

Please always backup your important data.

Your mileage may vary.  Share your experiences and ideas.

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Privacy in the USA. Some resources.

Privacy in the USA is rapidly changing.

Technology, government and business all factor into this change.  The Internet, mobile phones, laws to protect us from terrorism and business fuel the change.

Here are some resources that I found interesting during my study of privacy –

  • Internet web sites
  • the Constitution of the United States
  • quotes
  • novels
  • TV documentaries
  • TV shows
  • movie documentaries
  • popular music lyrics

Updated March 7, 2015.  Comment and share your favorites.

Internet web sites

The Constitution of the United States

Privacy and the expectation of have been interpreted in the constitution.  The Constitution of the United States is available at archives.gov

  • First Amendment.  (freedom of speech)
  • Fourth Amendment.  (reasonable search, warrants)
  • Fifth Amendment.  (self incrimination)
  • Fourteenth Amendment.  (states may not deprive citizens of property without due process)

quotes

“… the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself ”
– US President Franklin D. Roosevelt at his inauguration address March 4, 1933.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_inauguration_of_Franklin_D._Roosevelt

You have zero privacy anyway.  Get over it.
– Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems, January 1999 (source)

You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.
–  Rahm Emanuel, politician, November 2008 (source)

SEN. RON WYDEN: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?
JAMES CLAPPER: No, sir.
– James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, March 12, 201, (lying under oath to congress)  (source)

———-

Marcus Ranum interview on surveillance –

Paul Asadoorian (host):  How has technology impacted our ability to monitor the government and vice versa, it kind of seems like privacy is a two way street, you have kind of an interesting take on this.

Marcus Ranum:  Yeah, well that’s an interesting one.

I believe that, well, if you want to take a kind of utilitarian perspective on this stuff what we’re basically saying is that the idea embodied in the 4th Amendment that someone would need go get a warrant to go search my stuff from a legal standpoint, that’s built into the body of law because the founding fathers of the United States were a bunch of smugglers that were actually concerned  and revolutionaries who were actually concerned about things like search and seizure because they would have gotten hung for being treasonous or, they would have been fined for smuggling, so thats why those things are built into that.

If we take a utilitarian perspective, what we say is we grant society the ability to protect itself from criminality through these laws and we also would acknowledge that the reason we let somebody be searched with a warrant is because we have identified that person as possibly more threatening to society and therefore society is willing to abrogate that person’s rights to some degree under some sort of control.

So what we then say is the people that are the most dangerous are the people that should be the subject of most monitoring, the people are that are the most likely to cause damage to society are the people whose privacy rights should be the most strongly impacted.

So that I would say that all politicians should be subject to public 24 7 surveillance completely makes sense.

All police officers, after all society has given all police officers the right and duty to carry a deadly weapon in society’s name and possibly deploy it, we absolutely have a right to see that it is done correctly and then another way of looking at it is to say perhaps we should also have ubiquitous 24 7 ubiquitous surveillance on the wealthy we’ve seen with the Koch brothers and Michael Bloomberg and what not is the the wealthy have moved into politics as well in order to cement their oligarchic control over society so perhaps what we have to do is say that if you are a significant political contributor you should also be subject to 24 7 surveillance of course that’s not going to happen right because they don’t want that and they are the people that really run society.

I mean yeah you can really throw it both ways, one of the tropes that came a lot during the Ed Snowden disclosures was what do you need to hide, what are you afraid of, if you are not doing anything wrong you don’t have anything that you have to hide.  You can turn that around and throw it right back at the surveillance state and say well if you politicians are behaving you’ve got nothing to hide right, right, the fact that the politicians are so deeply concerned about their privacy is not because their privacy is essential to legislation, and their ostensible democracy, in fact privacy on the part of law makers is a farce.  Everything is ostensibly is being done in our name, it should be open, none of these people should have any privacy at all.

Try floating that by them and see what they say.

This is my transcription of this excellent interview, any errors are my bad. Hear the interview at http://wiki.securityweekly.com/wiki/index.php/Episode400  recorded December 14, 2014

——————–

If people did the right thing we wouldn’t need regulations.  Paul Henry on Security Weekly January 22, 2015   securityweekly.com

books – fiction

Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell (1949)  This classic novel imagines a future of oppressive government surveillance.  It is available to read online.  A four minute YouTube video by Thugs Notes.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (2008)  This is a contemporary novel with teenagers resisting government surveillance and has some good technology descriptions.  It is available for free download.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer (2014)  A contemporary novel about big data collecting all the data in the world and holding it ransom.

TV documentaries

“United States of Secrets.”  May 2014.  PBS TV documentary explores how US government agencies and businesses are collecting data.  Frontline TV show in two parts available with additional materials here.

  • United States of Secrets part 1 120 minutes broadcast May 13, 2014
  • United States of Secrets part 2 60 minutes broadcast May 20, 2014

“Inside the Mind of Edward Snowden.” May 28, 2014.  NBC TV news anchor Brian Williams interviews Edward Snowden.  Approximately 40 minutes.  Available at nbcnews.com with some additional video

TV shows – fiction

Government surveillance themes are appearing in popular TV shows including The Good Wife and Person of Interest.

The Good Wife.  “The Bit Bucket” Season 5 Episode 2  10/6/2013.  “Neil Gross of internet giant Chum Hum, seeks Lockhart & Gardner’s help in fighting the NSA regarding its recently leaked PRISM surveillance program. The NSA, while actively eavesdropping on the firm’s phone calls, discovers a possible link to terrorism in a former client of theirs” (Wikipedia)

The Good Wife.  “All Tapped Out.”  Season 5 Episode 18.  4/20/2014. “When Florrick/Agos takes  on the case of an NSA whistleblower, they learn the agency has been monitoring both the firm and Alicia’s personal life.” (Microsoft Media Center)

Person of Interest.  “Deus Ex Machina (Finale)” Season 3 Episode 23. 5/13/2014.  “The team work to stop Samaritan from coming online and targeting them; the battle against Vigilance reaches a conclusion.” (Microsoft Media Center)

movie documentaries

Citizenfour by Laura Poitras (2014).  This 114 minute movie reveals how the NSA documents collected by Edward Snowden were released to the media.  Laura Poitras tells the story of how she and Guardian newspaper reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill worked with Edward Snowden to publish the NSA documents.  The NSA documents show the many techniques it uses to collect all the data it can, including data on US citizens.  This movie won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature 2014.

music

Surveillance themes in popular music.

“Integral” by Pet Shop Boys. (2007) Video at YouTube.

“Integral” by Pet Shop Boys. (2007) JCRZ – QR Code Video Remix. Video at YouTube.

“Somebody’s Watching Me” by Rockwell (1984)   Video at YouTube.

========================================

Following are excerpts from the resources cited above.

Constitution of the United States (excerpts)

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized

Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

AMENDMENT XIV
(Excerpt Section 1 by markdigital.com)
Section 1.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

————————————
Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell (1949) Excerpt by markdigital.com

“… in the past no government had the power to keep its citizens under constant surveillance. The invention of print, however, made it easier to manipulate public opinion, and the film and the radio carried the process further. With the development of television, and the technical advance which made it possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument, private life came to an end. Every citizen, or at least every citizen important enough to be worth watching, could be kept for twenty-four hours a day under the eyes of the police and in the sound of official propaganda, with all other channels of communication closed. The possibility of enforcing not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects, now existed for the first time.”  Part Two, Chapter 9.

————————————-

Person of Interest.  “Deus Ex Machina (Finale)” Season 3 Episode 23. 5/13/2014.  Screen captures.

Person of Interest TV show screen capture.

Person of Interest TV show screen capture.

Person of Interest TV show screen capture.

Person of Interest TV show screen capture.

Person of Interest TV show screen capture.

Person of Interest TV show screen capture.

———————————
“Integral” by the Pet Shop Boys.  Lyrics from the Internet.

If you’ve done nothing wrong
You’ve got nothing to fear
If you’ve something to hide
You shouldn’t even be here
Long live us
The persuaded we
Integral
Collectively
To the whole project
It’s brand new
Conceived solely
To protect you
One world
One reason
Unchanging
One season
If you’ve done nothing wrong
You’ve got nothing to fear
If you’ve something to hide
You shouldn’t even be here
You’ve had your chance
Now we’ve got the mandate
If you’ve changed your mind
I’m afraid it’s too late
We’re concerned
You’re a threat
You’re not integral
To the project
Sterile
Immaculate
Rational
Perfect
Everyone has
Their own number
In the system that
We operate under
We’re moving to
A situation
Where your lives exist
As information
One world
One life
One chance
One reason
All under
One sky
Unchanging
One season
If you’ve done nothing wrong
You’ve got nothing to fear
If you’ve something to hide
You shouldn’t even be here
You’ve had your chance
Now we’ve got the mandate
If you’ve changed your mind
I’m afraid it’s too late
We’re concerned
You’re a threat
You’re not integral
To the project
One world
One life
One chance
One reason
All under
One sky
Unchanging
One season
If you’ve done nothing wrong
You’ve got nothing to fear
If you’ve something to hide
You shouldn’t even be here
You’ve had your chance
Now we’ve got the mandate
If you’ve changed your mind
I’m afraid it’s too late
We’re concerned
You’re a threat
If you’ve done nothing wrong
You’ve got nothing to fear
If you’ve something to hide
You shouldn’t even be here
We’re concerned
You’re a threat
You’re not integral
To the project
Sterile
Immaculate
Rational
Perfect

 

“Somebody’s Watching Me” by Rockwell.  Lyrics from the Internet.

I’m just an average man with an average life
I work from nine to five, hey, hell, I pay the price
All I want is to be left alone in my average home
But why do I always feel like I’m in the twilight zoneI always feel like somebody’s watching me
And I Have No Privacy
I always feel like somebody’s watching me
Tell Mi Is It Just A Dream When I come home at night
I bolt the door real tight
People call me on the phone, I’m trying to avoid
But can the people on TV see me or am I just paranoid

When I’m in the shower I’m afraid to wash my hair
‘Cause I might open my eyes and find someone standing there
People say I’m crazy, just a little touched
But maybe showers remind me of Psycho too much
That’s why

I always feel like somebody’s watching me
And I Have No Privacy
I always feel like somebody’s watching me
Who’s Playin’ Trics On Me

I don’t know anymore
Are the neighbors watching me
Well is the mailman watching me
And I don’t feel safe anymore, oh what a mess
I wonder who’s watching me now— (BOOO!) -The IRS?

I always feel like somebody’s watching me
And I Have No Privacy
I always feel like somebody’s watching me
Tell Me Is It Just A Dream

I always feel like somebody’s watching me
And I Have No Privacy
I always feel like somebody’s watching me
I always feel like somebody’s watching me

I always feel like somebody’s watching me
I always feel like somebody’s watching me
Tell Me This Can’t Be

I always feel like somebody’s watching me
I always feel like somebody’s watching me

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Safer computing with Windows XP after Microsoft ends support

Microsoft ended support for Windows XP on April 8, 2014.

This is not the end of the world for people still using Windows XP but Windows XP users need to be extra careful to stay safe and secure on the Internet.

Here are my 5 suggestions for Windows XP users – 

  1. Do not use Internet Explorer, use an alternate browser, for example Firefox.
  2. Use an antivirus, for example Avast!
  3. Keep your software up to date, for example install updates to Flash. 
  4. Be extra careful of  clicking on links in email or on web sites.
  5. Keep a backup of your important data.

Here is my detailed take on Windows XP, security, moving away from Windows XP and the future.

pop up windows proclaiming Windows XP End of Support

Windows XP End of Support

Windows XP background and end of support

Windows XP was installed on computers sold from October 2001 thru January 2007.  XP has undergone 3 Service Pack Updates and many security patches.  Microsoft decided to stop offering support for both security and financial reasons.  Microsoft wants to be rid of Windows XP because it is an old and less secure operating system.  Newer versions of Windows have more security built in.  Microsoft wants to save money by no longer paying staff to support XP and develop security updates for it.  Microsoft wants to generate revenue by pushing people into buying Windows upgrades or new computers and wants business and government that still rely on Windows XP to buy support, more on that below.

The fact that Microsoft is not patching security problems in Windows XP is creating a dangerous security problem for all XP users and arguably all users of the Internet.  But exactly how dangerous and how immediate a threat is debatable.  Most security vulnerabilities are in the browser and software that runs on Windows (Flash, Acrobat, Java, Office, etc).  Windows XP (excluding Internet Explorer) in later life was infrequently security patched .  One could argue that the operating system Windows XP is less a security problem and the software that is run on the computer is the greater security problem.  Security expert Steve Gibson believes this is the case and continues to use XP, more on that below.

Windows XP is still a big player in the world, many people, businesses and governments are still using Windows XP.   30% of all computers worldwide on the Internet still use XP.

Many of the Windows XP computers still in use today are way behind in their security updates.  These unpatched computers are a larger threat to security than patched cpmputers and could even disrupt the Internet at large with viruses, botnets, spam and other malware.  Illegal copies of Windows XP will not update.  Many of these illegal Windows PCs are in China and other countries that have freely stolen Windows.

Security:  more about the 5 tips listed above

Do not use Internet Explorer.  The browser  Internet Explorer (IE) has a history of being less secure than alternative browsers (such as Firefox).  IE is part of Windows and cannot be uninstalled from Windows.  Since it is part of Windows people tend to use it by default.  But you can ignore Internet Explorer.  Install an alternate browser such as Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, etc.  and ignore IE.  I recommend Firefox.  Firefox has useful security features built in, for example it will update itself automatically and can natively read PDF documents.

Use an antivirus, for example Avast!.  There are many good free and paid antivirus programs out there.  Free and paid antivirus programs are compared at PC Magazine and MaximumPC Magazine.  Most antivirus program companies are continuing to support Windows XP and even Microsoft will continue to support currently installed instances of Security Essentials  on XP until 2015 although you will get scare reminders that your Windows is out of date. For minimum malware protection I recommend using Avast! free for active antivirus and installing Malwarebytes free for an on demand virus scanner.  Paid subscription antivirus products such as Avast! and Malwarebytes will offer more features and protection.

Keep your software up to date.  Keeping your software up to date means installing the latest software updates and patches when they are offered by the software makers.  Keeping software secure is a never ending cat and mouse game – the bad guys find security holes in software and the software makers offer us security patches to plug the holes.  Although Microsoft no longer will keep Windows XP updated, we can keep all our other software updated and this will be a big security win.  If we assume Windows XP is a mature software with less security vulnerabilities to exploit, the bad guys will attack the newer more vulnerable software that we use – all about return on investment.   Programs that interact with the Internet are the most critical to keep updated.  Here are some examples of software and how they are updated.  The Internet browsers  Firefox and Chrome update themselves as needed.  Flash is a common browser add on that will alert you with a pop up that it needs to be updated, please do so.  Java is an add on computer language required for some web sites and games, update it when offered, more on Java below.  Adobe Acrobat reader is a commonly installed software, update it when offered, more on Acrobat below.  Microsoft Office programs will update every patch Tuesday by themselves.  Other Office programs like OpenOffice will offer updates.  In general update your software when the manufacturer offers an update.  This brings up the question, how do you know the update offer is legitimate?  No simple answer here, if the update offered looks like it came from the program it probably is legit.  If the update offered does not look legit it likely isn’t, for example visiting a questionable web site and being offered a video codec is likely malware.   Don’t accept software offered as you are roaming the Internet or reading email.

Be extra careful of clicking on links in email or on web sites.  Presently this is the most common way for a computer to be compromised by the bad guys.  An email can have an attachment, usually a picture or document, but it could also be a malware program sent by a bad guy.  The bad guys will try hard to make it look legitimate and useful.  Email can be spoofed which means the sender appears to be someone that you know but their name has been forged in the From field by some else.  Also email accounts may be hacked and used to send spam or malware.  A spoofed web site will look like the real thing but will try to harvest your username and password.  A click on a link or opening an attachment can install malware such as botnet software or a keystroke logger.  Botnet software lets a remote bad guy take over your computer to send spam or worse.  A keystroke logger will capture what you type, such as usernames and passwords, and send that info back to the bad guys.

Keep a backup of your important data.  Please keep backup copies of all your data that you would hate to lose.  Your computer stores your data on its hard drive.  By default this is one copy in one place.  Anything can happen to that one copy of electronic data and it could be lost forever –  accidental erasure of the data, malicious erasure of the data, the hard drive could catastrophically fail, the computer could be stolen, a virus could erase or lock the data, a natural disaster could destroy the computer.  There are many ways to backup and copy data.  The simplest would be to periodically copy your important data to a USB drive.  An external hard drive with Windows or third party backup software will back up data on a schedule.  A cloud backup company (for example Carbonite) will automatically back up new data as it is created to a cloud data storage site somewhere on the Internet.  Free and paid cloud storage is available, examples include Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, and Google Drive.  The more important the data is, the more copies in different places you need to keep because backup copies may be lost, destroyed or become inaccessible.  An example of cloud storage suddenly becoming inaccessible is megaupload.com which was shut down with no warning to all users.

Security:  Advanced tips

Create and use a Limited account.  By default the first account created in Windows XP is an Administrator account.  Administrator accounts have full privileges to manage the PC including changing system settings.  Limited accounts are prevented from changing system settings.  Therefore using a Limited account greatly reduces the danger of malware writing settings and viruses to the computer.  Running with a Limited account does have annoyances, for example, you may need to switch to an Administrator account to install software and some software will not run in a limited mode, ie VPN.  Security expert Steve Gibson uses a Limited account with Windows XP.

Disable or remove Java.  Java is a programming language add on for computers and has been a significant security risk lately.  Java is needed for some web sites and games.  If you don’t need it, uninstall it and at least disable it in your browser.

Acrobat software has had its share of security issues, consider replacing it with an alternate PDF reader.

Browser add ons.  Surfing the Internet is one of the biggest threats to computer (including Windows XP) security.  There are browser add ons that can help mitigate this threat, for example NoScript.

Install and use Microsoft’s Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) which is “a utility that helps prevent vulnerabilities in software from being successfully exploited.”   For advanced users.

Uninstall all software that you don’t need.  Any software is a vulnerability (attack surface as the security people say) and uninstalling any software that you don’t need is a good thing.

Leaving Windows XP – upgrade, new PC or switch

Upgrade your computer from Windows XP to Windows 8 or Windows 7.  I’m going to say this is not a good option for most people because if your computer came with XP, your computer is old and will not run Windows 8 or Windows 7 well.  There are also economic reasons not to upgrade – the Windows 8 upgrade will cost $119 USD list price, your computer may require more memory to run newer Windows (4GB memory is about $50) and a computer running XP is at least 8 years old and subject to old age issues such as hardware failures.  The upgrade process itself is complex, time consuming and expensive when done by professionals.  And don’t forget your time to adjust to the new version of Windows.

Buy a new PC with Windows 8 or Windows 7.  Yes, Windows 7 is still available if you look.

Abandon Windows.  You can leave Microsoft Windows behind and go Apple, Android or Linux.  Apple offers computers, laptops and iPad tablets.  Many vendors such as Samsung offer Android computers (Chromebooks) and tablets.  Linux can be installed on any PC hardware.   Also, you can do Internet on iPhones, Android phones, cheap tablets and iPods.  There will be a learning curve for a new operating system.

Change to Linux operating system.  This is a radical jump but if you are willing to learn a new operating system this is golden.  If your computer needs are basic, like get on the Internet, you will quickly learn to use Linux.  The good news is Linux is free, supports most PC hardware (even old PC hardware) and is considered very secure.  The bad news is the learning curve and some hardware may be trouble to connect (printers, webcams, etc).  Linux can be run from a DVD to test drive it.  Ubuntu is a popular version of Linux.

Windows XP is still in play for business and government

Many businesses and governments are still using Windows XP.  The danger is mitigated by isolating their networks from the Internet, carefully locking down the PC clients (with group policy) and subscribing to Microsoft’s paid Windows XP security updates.

Most ATM machines run Windows XP embedded which sounds dangerous but isn’t so much because XP embedded is a stripped down version of XP with less attack surface, the ATM network is isolated from the Internet and Microsoft is offering security updates for XP embedded business users for a fee.

Yes Microsoft is still creating security updates for Windows XP.  Microsoft stopped free security updates for the public and small business and now only supplies security updates to paying customers (business and government).

Moving forward with unsupported Windows XP

Microsoft blinked and updated Internet Explorer versions 6, 7, 8 that run on Windows XP in early May 2014, after the April 8, 2014 end of support.

pop up window showing Update History showing IE patched

XP IE8 patched May 3 2014

Microsoft pushed the usual Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) to XP computers on May 13, 2014, on the second Tuesday update schedule demonstrating that Microsoft still cares about XP a little.

May 20, 2014 update.  Windows XP has now been “unsupported” for over a month now with no serious security issues reported.  Some security experts predicted all hell would break loose April 9, 2014 (the day after end of support) with Windows XP security being attacked by hackers with zero day exploits saved up to be unleashed after Microsoft support ended.  This did not happen.

May 28, 2014 update.  A hack has surfaced to allow Windows XP to continue to receive updates by tricking Microsoft into thinking the hacked XP is embedded.  Microsoft says this may break things in XP.  A reference at zdnet.com: Registry hack enables continued updates for Windows XP

My favorite security expert Steve Gibson (grc.com) has called all the drama about Windows XP “a tempest in a teapot.

Summary

Microsoft’s end of support for Windows XP is not the end of the world but XP users need to be more careful on the Internet to stay safer.

I have discussed ways to stay safer and offered ways to leave Windows XP.

These are my ideas and suggestions, your experiences may be different.

Share your ideas and suggestions with me.

Happy safe computing.

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Software that I use

Here is a list of software that I use on my PCs.

These software programs work for me so I recommend them.

Many are free, some are commercial products and some are free with paid versions that offer more features.

Use your favorite search engine to find out more about the programs and to download them.

Antivirus – full time

The full time antivirus I use is either Avast! Free or a free Microsoft product – Security Essentials (for Windows XP, Vista and 7) or Defender (for Windows 8).  The full time antivirus inspects files and Internet pages for malware in real time as they are accessed.  It automatically updates itself often for new virus threats.  Note only one full time antivirus should be installed.  Alternative full time antivirus programs include Kaspersky, AVG, McAfee, Norton and others.

Antivirus – on-demand

The on-demand virus scanner I use Malwarebytes.  If I ever suspect that I may have a malware problem – the PC suddenly runs slow or behaves oddly – then I stop what I’m doing and run Malwarebytes.  After starting Malwarebytes, update the virus definitions then run a quick or full scan.  I also run Malwarebytes once a month or so for maintenance.  An alternative on-demand virus scanner is SuperAntiSpyware.

Alternate Browsers

The Microsoft browser Internet Explorer (IE) is part of Windows but is considered the least secure browser.  I use Firefox or Chrome instead of IE.  Other alternatives include Safari and Opera.  Please use an alternate browser for better Internet security.

Email

I use the online services Gmail, Hotmail/Outlook and Yahoo for email.  I do not recommend storing your email in local programs such as Outlook, Windows Mail, Eudora, etc. unless you have a specific reason.  Online mail services have the big advantages of 1) being accessible from any Internet device and 2) being automatically backed up.

Office programs – word processing and spreadsheets

I use Microsoft Office (Word and Excel) or Google Docs.  Alternatives include OpenOffice, LibreOffice, Microsoft SkyDrive and even the built in Windows WordPad for simple document creation.  Cloud services (Google Docs, Skydrive and Office 365) are handy because the documents are available from any Internet connected device and are backed up automatically.

Backup

I use 2 data backup systems – a local USB drive and an Internet cloud backup service.  For my local backup I use the Windows Backup program and a 2 TB external USB hard drive.  For my cloud backup service I use Carbonite (about $60/year).  Both systems take time and care to set up.  Windows Backup must be configured for what, when and where files are backed up.  Carbonite must also be configured – not all file types (ie video) are backed up by default.  After backup is working, it is essential to test the backups by retrieving data and confirming that it is working.  There are many alternative local backup programs and backup services.  Backup could be as simple as copying files to a USB drive.   Please backup any stuff that you would hate to lose.

Cloud storage services

I use Google Drive, Dropbox and SkyDrive for storing documents in the cloud.  Cool feature: Google Drive and Dropbox both also provide an automatic upload/backup of my Android mobile phone pictures with the Android apps Google+ and Dropbox installed and configured.   Google Drive and SkyDrive provide office capabilities (word processing, spreadsheet) programs as well.  Alternative cloud services include iCloud, UbuntuOne, Box, Sugarsync and others.

PC files cleanup

I use CCleaner to delete temporary files on my PC.  Temp files include browser cache files, system temp files, system dump files and more.  This program will also delete browser and program history for privacy.  Although one can delete files and history from within browsers and Windows Disk Cleanup, this is way easier.  CCleaner also has advanced PC maintenance tools in one convenient place.

Media player

I use VLC media player for video and audio files.  Alternatives include Windows Media Player and iTunes.

Collect, store and share data between devices

Evernote is a terrific program to store notes, clippings and information between all your Internet devices plus it is all backed up.

Password manager

I use LastPass to store my passwords.  I just have to remember my LastPass password and LastPass will automatically log me on to web sites.  Remember that unique, complex passwords are important for security.

Following is a list of software that I find useful for specialized and advanced projects

  • Managing updates on my PCs – Secunia PSI

  • Video and audio calls – Skype

  • Make backups of DVDs – DVD Shrink

  • Edit audio – Audacity

  • Burn data and image files – ImgBurn

  • Mount iso images – DAEMON Tools

  • Data compression – 7-zip

  • Data and disk encryption – TrueCrypt

  • ftp client – FileZilla

  • Disk recovery – SpinRite

  • NTFS file system checking – Windows Disk Tools Error Checking

  • File access problems – Unlocker

  • Alternative PDF reader – Foxit

  • Software uninstaller – Revo

  • VPN – ProXPN

  • Screen capture – ScreenHunter

  • File undelete – Recouva

  • Disk use visualization – Spacemonger

  • File split and join – hjsplit

  • Viewing PC specifications – Speccy, System Information for Windows

  • Viewing Windows, Office product keys – Magic Jellybean

  • Disk imaging and cloning – Acronis True Image
  • Remote desktop assistance – TeamViewer
  • Microsoft on-demand virus scanners – Windows Defender Offline and Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool
  • Free blog site – wordpress.com
  • File synchronizing between computers – BitTorrent Sync
  • File synchronizing between devices – Microsoft SyncToy
  • Photo editing – Windows Paint, Polyview
  • Storing and sharing photos on the Internet – Flickr (Yahoo), Picasa (Google)
  • Social Media – Facebook, Google+
  • Video sharing – YouTube

I realise that there are many more good programs and software out there.  What are your favorites?

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