March '06 Topics
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March '06 Topics
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"If you put tomfoolery into a computer, nothing
comes out of it but tomfoolery. But this tomfoolery, having passed through a very
expensive machine, is somehow ennobled and no-one dares criticise it."
Top 10 Viruses
This newsletter has been produced to help you
get the most out of the Internet,
Welcome to another Actrix customer newsletter. This month we've been sorry to see our main receptionist, Jovanae Ward, move on. She's taken up a job at Hutt Hospital. I know a lot of customers have appreciated her cheerful assistance on the phone. We welcome Jemma Woodhouse, who has taken her place.
A lot of customers have been inquiring about Actrix's plans regarding broadband. To date it's been a little frustrating in that we haven't been happy with the way the product has been wholesaled to us, and trying to find ways of offering plans that customers would want, whilst having them be at all profitable, has been like trying to make a silk purse out of pig's ear. Many will have been following the broadband saga in the media, and will be aware that things are changing a little, and that Telecom has increased what it is offering in terms of speed, whilst decreasing what it will allow in terms of traffic. It's not really good enough, but we're looking at the options, and, depending on how negotiations with Telecom go, we're hoping we can make some real and positive changes to the broadband plans we're currently offering. Watch this space!
Viruses, spyware, hacking, zombies, auto-diallers, identity theft! When those bright boys invented the Internet back in the 50s, did they ever think about how much angst they were going to cause? Going online can appear to be fraught with pitfalls, but there are a number of reasonably simple things you can do to minimise your risk.
With millions of computers online at any time, net-predators have plenty of easy targets. The less vulnerable you can make yourself, the less likely it will be that theyll find time for you.
Regular Windows Updates
The most common trick used to wreak havoc on your hard drive is to exploit a bug in your operating system or browser. Microsoft regularly releases updates for Windows that fix these bugs as they are discovered. If you have Windows XP, you should go into your Control Panel and turn auto-updates on. Your computer will connect to Microsoft and download and install updates behind the scenes as needed when youre online. If you have an older operating system you should visit http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com regularly and download and install the latest critical security updates. Windows Updates can also be accessed by opening Internet Explorer and clicking Tools/Windows Updates. If you like use Firefox or another "boutique browser" you will need to use Internet Explorer temporarily to download updates.
Use a Firewall
Remote connections to your computer are a very real threat. A number of viruses can now find and connect to you without having to come through e-mail. Spammers commonly seek to take secret control of other peoples computers, which they then use to send spam or commit other net-crimes. These harvested computers are called zombies, and there are probably thousands of people in New Zealand who own zombie machines without knowing it.
Think of a firewall as being like a bouncer at your computers online doorway. It wont let anything in (e.g. a malicious connection from a hacker) or out (e.g. spyware trying to call home with information about you) unless you specifically allow it. Even better, a firewall will keep you anonymous. People seeking to break into your computer scan the Internet looking for open doors. Most firewalls will hide you from these scans, and net-predators wont know youre there to attack you. Again, Windows XP comes with a firewall built in. At the very least you should use it. Go into your Control Panel, and then the Security Centre, and make sure it is on. If you dont have XP, you can download a popular free firewall (Zone Alarm) from www.zonelabs.com. Look around the site for the link to the free basic version.
Viruses are cleverly written malicious programs that seek to install themselves on the hard drives of the unwary. Worm viruses replicate and send out copies of themselves to find new homes (via e-mail or straight across the Internet). Once installed, they will often call home too for new instructions about what damage to do. Trojan viruses will open a secret doorway for a remote hacker to get in, and some will even broadcast your helplessness and location onto the Internet.
By default, Actrix scans and filters your e-mail for viruses, but you should not rely exclusively on that. It is strongly recommended that you augment that with your own personal anti-virus protection.
Anti-virus programs act as an extra filter before your e-mail gets to you, but they can also be scheduled to regularly scan your hard drive for viruses that have arrived by other means (straight across the Internet or via a floppy disk). Each time you connect to the Internet theyll check with their home site and download an understanding of the latest viruses, so they can keep themselves up-to-date.
There are plenty of free, no-frills anti-virus programs out there such as Avast (www.avast.com) AVG (www.grisoft.com) and CLAM (www.clamwin.net). Again, look around the sites for links to free versions.
If you'd prefer a paid product with renown, reputation, and a proven track record, Actrix will soon be retailing NOD32 virus protection at a reduced price for existing customers. NOD32 can be downloaded to your personal computer for just $4.95 per month. It's the best performing anti-virus software on the market and comes with "Threatsense" technology which gives it a head start in detecting new viruses. It compares incoming files to older viruses looking for similarities, allowing it to protect you from some new nasties even before updates for them have been received. It also contains spyware detection, and will come with free Actrix help desk support.
Spyware is a constantly re-occurring problem for most computers. It sneaks onto your machine (often via programs that you or your kids have downloaded or installed) and reports back to its maker about your online habits. It may also cause ads to pop up at you, even when you're not online, and it can mess with your settings and home page. One of the most annoying things it does is clog your connection, slowing down the rate at which you can download the pages you really want. Many machines have a whole swag of these little programs all muscling in at once on available bandwidth.
There are several free spyware removal tools available. Spybot Search and Destroy can be freely downloaded from http://www.safer-networking.org/. Ad-aware is available free from http://www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/. Each of these programs also connects home each time you go online and downloads the latest information about spyware. You can then run the programs whenever you choose and they will usually find and remove most spyware, auto-diallers and a few Trojans as well.
Free software mentioned here does a good job, but most of it is pretty no-frills and support is limited. A lot of people feel more comfortable using paid software that comes from tried and true companies that are also more likely to stand behind and support their products.
There are a number of off-the-shelf comprehensive packages available for those wanting a reliable one stop shop approach to their online security. Norton Internet Security 2006 (Windows XP only) and McAfee Internet Security Suite 2006 (most Windows versions) provide a firewall, and a collection of programs to help with most security needs. The Norton offering is the most comprehensive (McAfee doesnt provide a spyware scanner, for example), but both are relatively easy to install and use. Each program retails for around $128, but new subscriptions need to be paid each year.
Some Common Sense Donts
Of course, nothing beats good old common sense.
If you'd like to ask a question or request some help on any Actrix or Internet-related matter. Simply send me an e-mail with the word "Forum" in the subject line. I'll try and get an answer to you by return e-mail, and will also post the answer here for the benefit of others who may have a similar question or problem. By the same token, if you read something here and think you may have something to suggest, please feel more than free. Please also note that questions and answers may also turn up under the Helpful Tips section on the Actrix home page (www.actrix.co.nz).
John writes: I am getting frustrated with a pop-up that comes regularly on to my screen from WinFIXER telling me I have severe faults on my PC and need to buy their product to eliminate the problems or my computer could be severely damaged... Do you advise me to purchase this program?
Jim Breen (from Actrix Support) responds: Hi John, The WinFixer program uses clever business tactics to lure users into buying something that is not necessary. WinFixer gives exaggerated reports of threats on the computer and then prompts the user to purchase a registered version of the software in order to remove the reported threats. Do not purchase the product.
In a few instances, you may be able to remove the program via Windows Add/Remove Programs (go to the Windows Control Panel and click Add/Remove Programs). Look for WinFixer in the list - it is generally towards the end). If you are one of the lucky ones, remove the program, restart your computer and your system should be clear. Be aware however, that WinFixer may have been installed by some other adware program on your computer, so it is possible that it may return.
If Add/Remove Programs wasn't successful in the removal of the WinFixer popup, it is time to clean up your system and use a specially designed spyware removal tool. Step one is to flush out all the temp files on your system: Cookies, Temporary Internet Files and Temp files (you can do this via Internet Explorer's Tools-Internet Options Download, install and run an anti-Spyware program. Click here for some help in that regard.
Mick writes: Rob, For some reason my computer is now opening Internet Explorer pages in minimised mode. Can't think what I have done to cause this, but have to click maximise each time. What can I do to ensure web pages open automatically in the maximised mode? Thanks and regards, Mick.
Alan Jordan, from Actrix Support responds: Hi there Mick, If you follow these instructions, Internet Explorer should start opening up maximised again.
Hopefully this works out for you.
Reg writes: Dear Rob, I am thinking about upgrading my computer and have a couple of questions. Is it ok to onsell my present system with the bundled software that came with it when I originally bought it? Before I onsell I plan to save all my personal data and then reformat the hard drive. I read somewhere recently that reformatting the hard drive is no guarantee that personal passwords and visa account numbers would no longer be on the system and for anyone with the right expertise they could find them embedded in the system. The article also said that there is some software available that can wipe all of this personal data from the hard drive prior to reformatting, is this correct, and where would I get hold of a copy? Many thanks
Hi Reg, These aren't really net-related questions, but they're useful all the same, so I'll make a few quick comments.
Firstly, yes, it is quite okay to leave bundled software on the computer when you sell it, or pass on the disks and manuals etc if you've re-formatted the hard drive. You aren't allowed to make and keep copies for yourself, though.
You've heard right in that formatting a machine is no real guarantee that some enterprising future owner won't be able to retrieve your data. Most people wouldn't bother, but you just never know. Reformatting doesn't really erase very much at all. Programs called disk sanitisers can be purchased that actually over-write everything on your hard drive with random information. They'll also over-write it several times to remove what's called "magnetic residue" which could theoretically allow retrieval of information that has been over-written. One such tool is available free from www.killdisk.com.
Interesting sites (Click the picture links to access the sites)
Please note: Actrix supplies links to these sites for your interest and possible use. We cannot endorse or take any responsibility for their contents.
Got a site you think would be neat to share with other readers? Click here to e-mail and let me know and receive a free Norrie the Nerd chocolate bar courtesy of Actrix!
Confessions of an eBay addict: Go on, it says, evil temptress that it is, you know you want to. And it's right. I do want to, so very much. So much so that my breathing is shallow, my guilt quotient is through the ceiling and my mouth is dry, so very dry. Click here for more.
Telecom's broadband plan annoys ISPs: ISPs gripe that Telecom's wholesale regime make it uneconomic to take on broadband customers through Telecom's network. Click here for more.
PM joins critics of internet monopoly: Prime Minister Helen Clark yesterday promised action to boost high-speed internet use in the strongest signal yet that regulation against Telecom is coming. Click here for more.
Scam alleged on auction site: A Picton man sold laptop computers to 23 customers over the internet auction site TradeMe, then fled to Hong Kong with nearly $20,000 and never delivered the goods, police say. Click here for more.
NZ second biggest web user in world: New Zealanders are the second-biggest users of the internet in the world despite poor broadband uptake, new statistics show. Click here for more.
Arctic Monkeys take to the stage: Their success suggests that the internet is changing not only the way the world listens to music, via iPods and other download devices, but also the way bands break into the mainstream and market themselves. Click here for more.
Study shows one in eight gets offensive emails: The scale of harassment over the internet has been revealed for the first time by an official study in the UK. Click here for more.
E-mail charging plan to beat spam: Big net firms are trying to stop spammers by charging to deliver e-mail messages. Click here for more.
Fighting the rising tide of spam: For some people receiving spam just means having to delete unwanted messages, for others it can make their account effectively unusable. Click here for more.
How net providers stop child porn: Tracking and blocking websites which feature child pornography brings together domestic users, police forces, internet security professionals and internet service providers (ISPs). Click here for more.
Addicted to your computer?: Experts, users can't agree on when long online use is excessive or detrimental to those staring at a screen. Click here for more.
Search site retires iconic Jeeves: Jeeves the valet who for a decade has overseen searches on the Ask website is about to be sacked. Click here for more.
Web offers glimpses into shattered lives: Those pictures of Lillian Rose Entwistle, now heart-wrenching, have a far broader audience than the friends and family for whom they were intended, after she and her mother were slain and her father charged with killing them. Click here for more.
Blogging? Six tips on how to do it right: his chapter and the next are dedicated to helping you understand some of blogging's finer points... Click here for more.
Poll: Web a fun place to hang out: Nearly one-third of American Internet users surveyed said they go online just for fun rather than to check e-mail, read news or use a search engine... Click here for more.
New US plan to ban internet bets: US politicians have launched a fresh bid to stop overseas internet gambling sites reaching American users. Click here for more.
Make your website work for you: Making a powerful first impression, however, is only the beginning. Getting people to regularly visit a site requires further incentive. Click here for more.
Online amateurs crack Nazi codes: Three German ciphers unsolved since World War II are finally being cracked, helped by thousands of home computers. Click here for more.
Kama Sutra a wet blanket: The worm was programmed to overwrite files on infected Windows PCs on Friday (February 3), but in the event only a few people got hit - even though many machines were infected at one time or another. Click here for more.
Security and Safety
U.S. identity theft losses grow, but Web small factor: U.S. consumers lost nearly $57 billion last year to criminals who stole their identities, but online fraud was the culprit in just one in 10 cases... Click here for more.
Call for internet safety lessons: Lessons on how to use the internet safely should become compulsory in schools, university researchers say. Click here for more.
OFT warns of online dating scams: In fact, once these cads and cadesses hook their victim, they then start asking for cash (so, a bit like marriage, ed). Click here for more.
Warning over Valentine's e-cards: Valentine's Day could be a bonanza for malicious hackers, internet security experts are warning. Click here for more.
Zombie PCs growing quickly online: Most zombies are recruited by viruses and trojans. Some of these backdoors into computers are installed if users visit the wrong website in so-called drive-by downloads but many are e-mailed and rely on naive users opening infected attachments. Click here for more.
Do you know what your child is doing online?: While no parent particularly likes spying on their child, in the computer age, Wolf notes, responsible parents don't have a lot of choice. Click here for more.
Teens at risk on social Web sites: Parents, school administrators and police are increasingly worried that teens are finding trouble online at sites like MySpace, the leader among the social-networking sites that encourage users to build larger and larger circles of friends. Click here for more.
Who does the net think you are?: As Microsoft reveals its new plans for online identity, technology commentator Bill Thompson wonders how to prove who he really is. Click here for more.
World's largest Windows error message: And then, across the square, I saw it: the world's largest Windows error message - on a two-story high e-billboard (I guess everything really is bigger in New York). Click here for more.
'First' Mac OS X Trojan sighted: Antivirus researchers have discovered what's claimed to be the first computer Trojan to infect Apple Mac OS X computers. Click here for more.
Unix, Linux and Open Source
'Wanna-be geek' champions IT: A "hell of a fight" broke out when he wanted to run Mozilla Firefox and the parliamentary PC police decreed that only Microsoft's Internet Explorer was allowed on their network. Click here for more.
The strange tale of Linux, Linus and a town called Dunedin: As a stranger in my own town, wandering the portals of the Linux Australia 2006 conference at the University of Otago in Dunedin, I was strictly doing the paint-by-numbers thing. Click here for more.
The Weird, Weird Web
Web suicide pacts sweep Japan: The number of Japanese people who killed themselves after making suicide pacts forged over the internet almost doubled last year. Click here for more.
Yet even more helpdesk humour
Great, I actually found some more!
Customer: "I've been signed up with your service for
over a week, and have not been able to connect even once because of busy signals. If I
can't get any better service than that, I'm going to switch to another ISP."
Tech Support: "Now click the 'connect' button."
Tech Support: "What web browser are you using?"
Customer: "I'm having problems connecting to the
Internet through the University. I've just moved, and I'm not sure if the cables are
Customer: "How do I get online with your service? Do I
Customer: "I am having some problems with my email
Customer: "I need help with this dialer. The police have
already shown up to my office twice today."
Tech Support: "May I ask the reason you are cancelling
Customer: "My dial up is not working."
Tech Support: "Well, let me look up your account
information to make sure we have the correct password."
Tech Support: "Are you sure this is the right
Customer: "I can't log in to my account."
Thanks again for reading the Actrix newsletter. Feedback can be sent to me via the e-mail address listed below. Please limit this to comments/suggestions regarding the newsletter. Non-forum requests for support should go to the Actrix Help Desk (firstname.lastname@example.org) or to the Accounts Department (email@example.com).