Friday, October 15, 2010

What to Do If Hackers Steal Your Online Accounts

Has your Web-mail or social-network account been hijacked? Join the (miserable) club.

Stolen accounts—caused by aggressive phishing attacks and distribution of malicious programs to collect passwords—have become a plague upon the Web. Spammers want them so their messages can get past spam filters. And crooks, who often lock out the true owners by changing their passwords, use them to find and get inside financial accounts or to impersonate the owners and weasel money out of their friends.

“This is big business. There’s billions of dollars at stake,” says Dan Lewis, senior project manger for Windows Live Hotmail at Microsoft. “There are some really smart criminal organizations doing this.”

It’s not hard to recover an account that a reprobate is co-habiting with you: Simply change your password to lock them out (and scan your PC for malware that might steal your new password). But it’s trickier if someone has taken over your account entirely or the site has temporarily shut you out because they believe your account is compromised. Many people describe long and painful processes to get their accounts back. There’s no phone number to call or human to speak to. You click and hope for the best.

The most common roadblock to a quick recovery is proving you are the real account owner, the sites say. Service providers consider the worst outcome to be handing an account to the wrong person. So if you can’t prove it’s yours – maddening as that may be – you will have no choice but to start all over with a new account. Here’s what to do if one of your online accounts is compromised.


Last week, Microsoft quietly undertook an effort to clean out hijackers from Hotmail en masse. It displayed a warning message to people whose accounts it suspected were compromised and required them to reset their passwords, using a method that would be difficult for a scammer’s automated systems to operate. Mr. Lewis said less than 1 percent of accounts were part of the surprise purge—which is nevertheless a big number of accounts, considering Hotmail maintains an estimated 360 million of them.

Account owners had to prove their identities by obtaining a code via an alternate e-mail address, by answering a secret question or supplying other personal information. If an account owner was not able to regain gain access using an automated process, they could get help from Hotmail’s online support staff to validate themselves and reset their passwords. Users who can prove they’re the legitimate owner will get access within 24 hours, according to Hotmail.

In a second phase, Hotmail on Monday rolled out features to make account recovery easier in the future. It’s asking users to supply cellphone numbers where Hotmail can text them with an extra security code and to identify the devices they use to access Hotmail—their “trusted PCs”—to help the service know it’s them logging into the account.


If you’re locked out of your Gmail account, click on “Can’t access your account?” at the bottom of the main Gmail sign-in page and on the help page and click the circle beside “My account has been compromised.” Google will ask for secondary e-mail addresses and mobile phone numbers you have supplied previously to validate you are you. If you haven’t provided this information, you’ll be asked to fill out a form with a set of questions designed to verify you are the real Google account owner.

Gmail may show a warning if it suspects your account is being used by someone else and will help you reset your password. And it is increasingly prompting users to provide or update alternate contact information that can speed recovery should you get hacked.

Yahoo Mail

Yahoo Mail users whose accounts have been taken over should visit Yahoo’s help page and click “Security” in the box listing popular Yahoo services. From there, click the “Contact Us” tab at the top and send Yahoo a message using the form at the bottom of the page. An online customer-care agent will help you from there.


If your Facebook account has been hijacked or suspended, visit this help page and submit a report. If the e-mail address tied to your account is in your hands, it will be fairly easy to change your Facebook password and regain your account, Facebook says.

But if your e-mail account has been hacked or your nemesis has changed the e-mail address tied to your Facebook account, you will have to verify your identity by answering certain questions before you can set up a new password and get your account back. (Then avail yourself of new Facebook security features that can help prevent account takeover.)


Twitter users who notice tweets and direct messages from their account that they didn’t send or are following new people they didn’t select should go here and follow the directions to change their password and disconnect from Twitter apps they don’t recognize or trust, which could be the culprits.

If you can’t log in at all, you will need to ask Twitter to send a new password to the e-mail address associated with your account.

Andrew Stephens, of Cirencester in Britain, who is @drhappymac on Twitter, had his account hijacked last week, which was then used to send spammy tweets. Twitter quickly suspended his account, and four days later he got it back. “All in all, I was surprised at just how effective Twitter’s response was. They had my account locked down within minutes and back in my control pretty much as soon as you might reasonably expect,” he says.

If your e-mail address was hacked too, you will need to recover that first and then request a new Twitter password. If you can’t get your e-mail account back or continue to have problems, send Twitter an SOS using this form.

Losing access to accounts like these can be awful. Earlier this month, Jonathan Roniger, a musician in Nashville, was frozen out of Facebook and two e-mail accounts by hackers, who contacted his friends and asked for $1,800, claiming to be destitute in London after getting mugged while on a last-minute vacation. At least one well-meaning friend wired money not once, but twice.

Mr. Roniger wrested control of his Gmail account two days after it was hijacked, only to get locked out again by the hackers. After getting back in, he shut down the account altogether and opened a new one. He still hasn’t regained his Facebook account, which is suspended while he pulls together documents and photos to prove his identity. Mr. Roniger says a well-connected friend got Facebook to lock down the account and “stop the madness,” when he couldn’t figure out how to get it shut down himself. (He could have gone here.)

This Week's Top 10 Spyware Threats

One of them, My Freeze / YourScreen, is a website which contains many screen savers , this site also bundled with many adwares such as, Save now etc.

Just to clarify, an Adware Bundler is a downloadable program that is typically "freeware" because it is bundled with advertising software -- adware. The adware may function independently of the bundler program, but in some cases the bundler program will not function if the adware is removed, or will not install unless the adware is installed. Most Adware Bundlers install several adware applications from multiple adware vendors, each of which is governed by a separate End User License Agreement (EULA) and Privacy Policy. Some Adware Bundlers may not fully and properly disclose the presence of bundled advertising software during installation.

We do consider that this is low risk and should not harm your machine or compromise your privacy and security unless they have been installed without your knowledge and consent. A low risk may be a program, network tool, or system utility that you knowingly and deliberately installed and that you wish to keep. Although some low risk programs may track online habits -- as provided for in a privacy policy or End User License Agreement (EULA) -- or display advertising within the applications themselves, these programs have only vague, minimal or negligible effects on your privacy. Low risks may also be cookies, which can be used to track your online activities, though without identifying you personally. But you should be aware that by downloading a screen saver from this site will also install a toolbar, many shortcuts on to your desktop, and adwares products from Not sure why you would want to do that.

The other newbie to our list from Pinball Corporation is also adware but we consider it to be a much riskier proposition and features and elevated threat. Elevated risks are typically installed without adequate notice and consent, and may make unwanted changes to your system, such as reconfiguring your browser's homepage and search settings. These risks may install advertising- related add-ons, including toolbars and search bars, or insert advertising- related components. These new add-ons and components may block or redirect your preferred network connections, and can negatively impact your computer's performance and stability. Elevated risks may also collect, transmit, and share potentially sensitive data without adequate notice and consent. In short if you come across it, do not download it and if you have by all means get rid of it!

Trojan.Win32.Generic!BT: Trojan
Trojan-Spy.Win32.Zbot.gen: Trojan
Trojan.Win32.Generic!SB.0: Trojan
Trojan.Win32.Generic.pak!cobra: Trojan
Worm.Win32.Downad.Gen (v): Worm.W32
INF.Autorun (v): Trojan
Trojan.Win32.Bamital.c (v): Trojan
Pinball Corporation. (v): Adware (General)
My Freeze/YourScreen: Adware Bundler
Zugo Ltd (v): Toolbar

Stay on top of all the real-time threats:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How To Make Your Windows 7 System Even Faster

by Andre on October 13, 2010

One of the things you might encounter after upgrading your computer or starting a new computer for the first time is the amount of stuff that might make the operating system start a little groggy at first. This article will show you some of the common tasks you can do to speed up that old computer or squeeze as much performance as possible out of that new PC.

If you are using an old computer, there are some things you should take into account if you are upgrading to Windows 7. First off, you will need to make sure your computer meets the Windows 7 System Requirements and second, you should be aware that housecleaning may not be enough to speed up an old computer. Instead a hardware upgrade of components might just be what you need to achieve better performance.

The first three things that come to mind are Memory, Processor and Storage. These three components can add a dramatic improvement to your computers performance. One of the great things about running Windows 7 is the memory foot print is about the same as Windows Vista and its more efficient because of a lot of complex low-level changes the Windows Team made to the operating system with how it loads programs, services and devices.

Anyway, if you do upgrade to Windows 7, here are few things you can do to speed things up even more:

Disk Cleanup – This is always a favorite place to start, because it list many of the common locations where old unused files that are often not needed any more are stored. To find Disk Cleanup, click Start, type: Disk Cleanup. Alternatively, you can find it under Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools. When Disk Cleanup is started, you are prompted to select the drive on which you would like to do the cleanup. In this case, it’s the operating system drive where Windows 7 is installed, usually C:\. If you are running Windows 7 in a dual-boot configuration with another operating system, click in the list box and select the drive on which it is installed. Click OK

Disk Cleanup dialog

An initialization wizard will scan you hard disk to check for areas of the system you will be able to run the clean up on. After the scanning is complete, the Disk Cleanup dialog appears. This window provides a list of areas of the system you can clean up safely. The most common locations are Temporary files, Temporary Internet Files, Recycle Bin to name a few. Other not so common locations include the Thumbnail Cache which stores previews of your images allowing you load them faster when you open the Pictures Library or Windows Live Photo Gallery. This I do not recommend you delete for obvious purposes. Lets dig a little deeper. Disk Cleanup provides a list of areas where you can free up disk space and gain additional speed in some cases.

Downloaded Program Files
Downloaded Program Files are ActiveX controls and Java applets downloaded automatically from the Internet when you view certain pages. They are temporarily stored in the Downloaded Program Files folder on your hard disk. SAFE TO DELETE - YES

Temporary Internet Files
The Temporary Internet Files folder contains webpages stored on your hard disk for quick viewing. Your personalized settings for webpages will be left intact. Personally, I suggest you keep this if you are on a slow connection and need the basic elements of web pages you often visit to load faster. Keep It

Offline Webpages
Offline pages are webpages that are stored on your computer so you can view them without being connected to the Internet. If you delete these pages now, you can still view your favorites offline later by synchronizing them. Your personalized settings for webpages will be left intact. I also recommend you leave this alone since you might be on a slow connection and need quick access to a webpage with some specific content. Keep It

Recycle Bin
The Recycle Bin contains files you have deleted from your computer. These files are not permanently removed until you empty the Recycle Bin. Sometimes you might inadvertently delete a file that you didn’t intend to delete permanently, so before you empty the contents of the Recycle Bin, do a thorough check before. SAFE TO DELETE - YES

Temporary files
Programs sometimes store temporary information in the TEMP folder. Before a program closes., it usually deletes this information. You can safely delete files that have not been modified in over a week. You can view the contents of the temp directory and see if there is anything in there you might need. Open the Run Command (Windows key + R), type in %temp% > hit OK. Sometimes program installers for common applets are stored there that you can use to reinstall such as Adobe Flash for instance if you don’t want to redownload it every time. SAFE TO DELETE - YES

Windows keeps a copy of all your picture, video, and document thumbnails so they can be displayed quickly when you open a folder. If you delete these thumbnails, they will be automatically recreated as needed. I don’t see any problems deleting it if its gonna be recreated, but deleting it sometimes can correct problems with previews of photos and videos. SAFE TO DELETE - YES

Debug Dump Files
When your computer experiences a system hang because of a poorly written application or device driver, Windows intelligently creates a log of what happened. This log can be used along with other logs such as System error memory dump files to help diagnose the problem when sent to Microsoft or the developer for review. Keep It

System error memory dump files
Similar to the Debug Dump files, memory error dumps happen when poorly written drivers or applications crash. It is very handy for utilities built into Windows such as Troubleshooters which help in diagnosing problems that occur in Windows. Keep It

In addition to these common locations, Windows will also store information related to Error reporting and solution checking, leave these for diagnosis that can help resolve issues with applications or devices. Also, if you do an upgrade from Windows Vista or clean install, Windows 7 might store information related to servicing which are logs used to assist the installation of the operating system. Once you have checked these locations for clean up, click the OK button and these locations will be cleaned out.

A folder you might be familiar with is the Windows.old, in a future article I will be taking a closer look at this directory. It’s basically a backup of your old installation of Windows, which you can use to reinstall Windows if you decide to return to your previous installation. Also, it’s used as a last resort in case you didn’t backup your files and need to recover personal files and settings. The Windows.old folder can use up a considerable amount of your hard disk space and reduce the systems performance. It’s normally stored at the root of your hard disk where Windows 7 is installed. Before you delete it, make sure you check through the directories and ensure that everything migrated successfully to Windows 7

System Restore – The Windows Team has added some nice enhancements to Windows 7′s System Restore feature, allowing you to keep a larger collection of System Restore Points in addition to storing them in your System Images of Windows 7. A friend had recently upgraded to Windows 7 and he asked me why he was low on hard disk space. He had a 320 GB drive and only had about 70 GBs of free disk space left after doing a disk cleanup. It was then I discovered that System Protection had been configured to use about 200 GBs of disk space to keep System Restore Points.

Configuring System Protection settings

To configure System Protection, click Start, type: System Protection, hit Enter. Under Protection Settings, click the Configure button. A dialog will appear with various settings for configuring Restoration and Disk space usage. Under the Disk space usage tab, you will see the current amount of space in use by System Restore while the Max usage displays the amount allocated. Use the Max usage knob to configure how much disk space you want to allocate to System Protection. In the above screenshot, you will see that I am using 21.05 GBs for Restore Points, while I have allocated 22.36 GBs of disk space for System Protection. You also have the option of deleting all Restore Points which stores System settings and previous versions of files. I suggest you leave this, since you will be able to individually restore changes to files you are working on. For instance, if you edited an image and would like to restore it to a previous version or original version of the file, you could do it so long as you don’t delete these restore points.


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Capture your thoughts quickly and easily by drawing on any webpage. Share your ideas with coworkers, colleagues, and friends. MarkUp works in your browser, so there’s nothing to download and install; just drag the Get MarkUp icon into your bookmarks bar. When you want to make notes on a webpage, click your bookmarklet to load the MarkUp toolbar. Publish when you’re ready to share your thoughts.


What is Cloud Computing and What Does This Stupid Buzzword Mean?

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the definition for “Cloud Computing” is this incomprehensible piece of nonsense clearly written to be as confusing as possible:

Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

So what’s a definition for real people?

Cloud Computing = Web Applications

That’s all there is to it. If you’re using a web or internet-based application from a major provider like Google or Microsoft, you’re using cloud computing. Congrats!

Every web application that you’ve ever used, like Gmail, Google Calendar, Hotmail, SalesForce, Dropbox, and Google Docs, are based on “cloud computing”, because when you connect to one of these services, you’re really connecting to a massive pool of servers somewhere out there on the internet. The client doesn’t need to be a web browser, but that’s the direction everything is heading.

So Why Cloud Computing?

We’ve already established that it’s a pointless term that simply describes web applications, which have been around for a very long time—but in order to get businesses to start switching to web applications instead of self-hosted servers, the marketing types invented a new buzzword.

The reason why they used the word “cloud” in the buzzword is simple: in network diagrams, the internet is usually represented with a cloud in the middle of the drawing. Those marketing drones are inventive, aren’t they?

So basically the term itself is just a way for consultants and companies to sell more services in a shiny new package.

How Can Cloud Computing Help Me?

Since businesses everywhere are moving their applications to the web and coming out with new and interesting features accessible through your web browser, you’ll soon be able to access virtually anything from any browser on any PC, and the lines will blur between desktop and the internet.

Now that Microsoft has finally released the beta for Internet Explorer 9, which supports new web standards like HTML5 and uses hardware acceleration to make the whole experience speedy—every browser will finally be on the same footing. When Microsoft said that IE9 is going to change the web, they weren’t kidding—they were the only ones holding the web back with their anemic IE7 and IE8 browsers, not to mention the ancient IE6. And now the nightmare is finally almost over.

It’ll get even more interesting whenever Chrome OS is finally released, which is basically an entire operating system built around a web browser as the primary interface, with all of your applications as web applications instead of local—hopefully it will support web integration like IE9 does with the Windows 7 taskbar.

How Is Cloud Computing Different for Businesses?

If you’re in the IT world you’re probably scratching your head at this point and thinking that I’m oversimplifying the idea behind cloud computing, so let’s explain the real difference from the more technical side of things.

In the past, every company would run all of their applications on all of their own servers, hosted at their own location or data center. This obviously requires a lot of maintenance and money to keep everything running, upgraded, and secure.

From a business perspective, businesses can now move much of their computing to cloud services, which provide the same applications that you would install on your own servers, but now they are accessible over the internet for any of their customers. Have you read about companies switching to Google Docs? That’s a perfect example of companies switching from hosting their own local servers to using cloud computing instead.

But what if your company provides a service to others? You can also take advantage of cloud computing by creating applications that don’t run on your own servers, but actually utilize server resources provided by one of the big providers—Google has App Engine, Microsoft has Windows Azure, and Amazon has their EC2 framework.

Most of these services operate on a pay-for-resources basis—so your application only gets charged for the amount of CPU and network use that it actually uses—when your application is small and doesn’t have a lot of users, you don’t get charged much, but the benefit is that it can scale up to 10,000 users without any trouble (though you’ll be paying a lot more for the added CPU usage).

Web Applications are the future. Cloud Computing is a stupid buzzword.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Most Dangerous Gaming Sites on the Web

By: Sean Carroll

Online gaming is huge, and cybercriminals go where the money is—to steal it. Which gaming sites should you avoid, and how can you game safely?

"As the gaming industry continues to grow, hackers will inevitably develop more ways to target this massive group," said Ondrej Vlcek, chief technical officer of Czech security company Avast, makers of avast! Internet Security 5.0 and avast! Free Antivirus. Avast continually gathers data about infected sites, publishing a monthly Most Wanted List to highlight the worst sites in a given portion of the Web. For October, Avast has sliced its data to reveal the riskiest gaming sites on the Web, to warn customers and raise awareness of the threat. Avast's worst offenders, as of October 6, 2010:


To safely game online, Avast recommends a few simple precautions.

• Keep all your apps, and especially your antivirus, updated.
• Don't turn off your antivirus while you're playing games.
• Instead, use your antivirus' gaming function if you want to game uninterrupted.
• Beware of downloading games via warez sites, which are a known avenue for spreading malware.

Help, I'm Stuck in London and Can't Get Home

This morning (east coast time) I got an unsolicited Facebook chat. The user was a former colleague (in fact, a former PCMag colleague), but not a Facebook friend nor were we ever all that close. We hadn't spoken in years.
He asked how I was, and then volunteered that he wasn't doing too well. "I'm stuck with my family in London,United Kingdom". I didn't to hear any more. This is an old scam, a social networking version of the Nigerian 419 where someone tricks you into transferring money or access to your bank account.

I disconnected and immediately went to find my friend's e-mail address and told him about it. Then I looked on Facebook, and found where you should go first if this ever happens to you.
Go to Facebook's "My friend's account is being used by someone claiming they are stuck in a far away location and need assistance" page. There you can tell Facebook what's going on. You have to fill out a short form. It's best if you retain the content of the chat, but it's not necessary.

I immediately got an automated confirmation from Facebook that they received my report. 6 minutes later I received a message that they "...have taken the appropriate action to secure this person's account." Furthermore:
In order to resolve this matter, please ask the account holder to view the Security section of Facebook's Help Center:
From here, they can take immediate steps to contact us and reestablish ownership of the account.

I think it's interesting, and not coincidental, that my friend lives on the west coast and I was on the east coast. That the message came morning east coast time made it reasonable that it came from London, but my friend was likely still asleep. I think it's also by design that he's not a Facebook friend, but we have many mutual friends. This made it likely that we knew each other, but were not in touch recently.
It also made it likely that I wasn't the person he would ask for help in such a situation. Common sense is usually your best defense against scams like this. Use it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

PC Maintenance: How to Be Good to Your Computer

Here are 14 ways to treat your PC right, so it treats you in kind.We've all had the urge to throw our misbehaving computer out the window to the street below. There wonders of technology, but they can also be maddening devices, occasionally put here to vex us. Deep down, though, we know the problem is often, well, ourselves. Sometimes you just don't treat the hardware—nor its operating system—the way it should be treated.

It's not like you need to buy it flowers or jewelry, but you do have to pay it some attention. In other words, you need to perform some consistent maintenance for a PC to treat you well in return. Here are 14 things you—or those who torture you most with unnecessary tech support calls—can do to repair your relationship with your computer, starting today.

Remember, some of these tips might sound basic, but they're often ignored. And, hey, everyone has to start somewhere.

1. Fight the Dust
Dust is the ultimate enemy of the innards of the PC, causing heat build up that can result in spontaneous reboots or worse. Buy some canned air (i.e. a gas duster) and make sure to blow out the vents.

2. Stay Off the Floor
We understand that your desk space comes at a premium, but try not to put your PC on the floor. Not only will you avoid the bigger, meaner dust bunnies, but elevation keeps the computer away from overactive feet kicking out the plug, protects it from out of control vacuum cleaner collisions, and guards it from, worst of all, carpet-generated static electricity.

3. Out of the Closet
Some computer furniture features a built-in, hideaway cabinet to store a desktop/tower PC. The computer is not Harry Potter! Do not put it in a closet. Heat build up will kill it and you'll miss out on some great tech wizardry. Let your PC breathe.

4. Don't Mash the Keys
Guess what? Pushing that elevator button multiple times doesn't help. Neither does bashing your keyboard.

5. Stop Having Lunch with YouTube
We've all had to work through lunch, or even just spent our lunch enjoying a little YouTube, so, odds are, the occasional crumb or spilled soda has made its way onto your keyboard and into your laptops. Keep the messes away from your system. Your computer likes you even more.

6. Keep Inputs Clean
Nothing on a computer gets dirtier than your keyboard and mouse—even if you don't eat lunch at your desk. Crud build-up can prevent decent typing or cursor movement. You should clean them with canned air, or even a vacuum with a brush. You could even try the Cyber Clean compound, a goo that pulls off all your germy grossness

7. Shut Down, Don't Power Off
Sorry, computers aren't TVs, and that means when you're done using them, you shouldn't just power them down (or worse, unplug). Until we get the instant on/off computer we all crave, you should follow the proper procedures for shutting down the OS: close all windows, remove CDs/DVDs, Shut Down, and power off.

8. Limit Program Auto-LoadingLots of programs start with Windows, but not all of them should.

9. Wash Windows, Carefully
The window to your Windows is your monitor. Keep in clean and fingerprint free. But don't use actual glass cleaner on an LCD screen unless you like permanent streaks. Use soft cloths like you'd use on eyeglasses for dust, and buy advanced monitor wipes to do any serious cleaning.

10. Defrag Drives
As hard disk drives get bigger and bigger, it may be more important than ever to defragment the contents. This way the computer won't spend all of its time trying to find files spread across the platters.

11. Remove Old Programs
We all occasionally install software we don't use regularly, if at all, in the long run. Those extra programs do more than take up space, they could cause conflicts with other programs.

12. Clean the (OS) Crap
Those uninstalled programs leave stuff in the registry. Couple that with browsers cookies, OS temp files, memory dump files, and file fragments and your drive could be clogged with a whole lot of crap. Run CCleaner (guess what the extra C is for) to excise the unneeded.

13. Got to Sleep (or Hibernate)
It's tempting to let PCs run 24/7, but everything needs to rest occasionally. If you don't want to go through a long startup, at least set your PC to sleep (a power-saving mode) or better yet, hibernate (it saves your work and almost powers off but comes back faster than having to perform a full boot-up).

14. Max Out the RAM
You want your computer to last a long, long time, right? When it starts to feel like its not performing up to snuff, the first thing you should do is increase the amount of RAM to the maximum allowed. It'll add years to your computing.

For those of you who don't want to, can't, or aren't comfortable with some of the maintenanceyour PC should have - please feel free to call us at 815 345 4930 and we'll be happy to do it for you and do it right!