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Security Newsletter-9-7-2011

Attached find the latest updates of the list of basic Security Tools and Utilities that we have found to be of benefit in protecting against infections from spyware, viruses and adware while keeping our computers running at their most efficient and with maximum performance. These programs are all free and have some of best ratings in their respective classes.

The programs that have seen updates recently have the version shown in RED.

Clicking on the name of the program should open a link to download the program.
Often during install, these free programs will default to installing some superfluous toolbars or other add-ons that are not necessary for normal operation. The trick is that they get paid to push those things on us. That is the price we sometimes have to pay for free programs. To keep from getting the unnecessary junk, always use the Custom installation mode and watch those little check boxes so you can UNcheck those options that they leave on by default. We don't really need that Yahoo toolbar or the eBay link.

Also be very careful with those "Special offers" that often come in popups and will read something like "Your computer may be at risk. Click here to protect your computer."

Those are almost always bogus and will contain some sort of contamination.

Another common one to be avoided is the "Registry Booster" which has been deemed to be both dangerous and unnecessary.

Notes:

Personal Software Inspector

One more pitch for the Personal Software Inspector by Secunia. This is a very handy tool for keeping everything up to date including all the Microsoft patches necessary. PSI will scan your system and tell you which programs are out of date and provide a link to download the update or repair. Good tool to use every week or so to make sure you are protected. Also it will continue to monitor your computer and tell you when a new version becomes available or some program goes past "End of life."

System Recovery Tools

Sometimes when a system gets so infected with junk, it becomes impossible to use the antivirus or antispyware tools to remove it. Of course, the people that craft the junk files carefully program it exactly that way so that once your system is infected, they can do whatever they want without asking you for permission. That includes stealing your personal information to drain your bank account as well as harvesting every address in your address book to sell to scammers.

When the usual removal tools won't work it is often time for a scan and repair with a bootable Recovery Disk.

There are several different manufacturers of Recovery Disks but one really stands out for its simplicity and effectiveness. Strangely enough that one comes from Microsoft, the much maligned "elephant" in the room. In this case Microsoft has done a nice job of creating and maintaining they call the Microsoft System Sweeper.

To use it, the routine is to create a bootable recovery disk as follows:

To be performed on a NON-infected machine.

  1. Download the appropriate version (32bit or 64bit) from the Microsoft Site
  2. Run the downloaded file. Note: this will download the full rest of the program which is over 200MB. Don't use dialup for this one.
  3. After it finishes downloading you will be able to burn the image to a CD or Flash drive for use on the infected computer.
  4. Take the CD you created to the infected computer and do a restart with the CD inserted.
  5. When it starts up select the disk and start the scan.

We have found this to be a very effective tool for recovery of badly infected computers.

Advanced System Care Update

There has been a recent update of Advanced System Care from IObit to a version 4.1. ASC is a very good and simple tool to use for optimizing and speeding up our systems and this version brings another gem to the table: a powerful program removal tool. When any program loads, it sprinkles bits and pieces around your system and in the Registry. Unfortunately, the built in removal tools leave a lot of that junk behind to pollute and slow down your system. However, the IObit program removal tool called "Uninstall Unwanted Apps," will do a much more thorough job of cleaning up all the leftovers using its Advanced Mode. Note that this tool is equally effective as the excellent Revo Uninstaller except it is much easier and safer to use.

Use this uninstall app preferentially over the built in removal or the system Add, or Remove Programs feature from the Control Panel. The ASC removal tool appears at the top of your list of files displayed when you click the Start button.

The main ASC program makes system maintenance very easy with one click scan and one click repair for Malware, Registry, Shortcuts, Privacy and Junk files.

Another useful feature of ASC 4.1 is the System Performance Monitor that usually sits in the top right corner of the screen. You can pin it there by clicking the pushpin image. The little box allows you to monitor activity in the following areas:

  • CPU usage
  • Ram usage
  • Disk utilization
  • Network activity.

It makes a good little tool to keep track of your computer's activities.

Libre Office

Notice the new Office Suite, Libre Office. Previously the best free replacement for the expensive Microsoft Office was Open Office. Unfortunately Oracle has halted all development of Open Office which essentially left it dead in the water. Luckily for us, a bunch of the developers of Open Office moved over to a new project called Libre Office so while it started with all the basic code from Open Office, it is continuing to be developed and improved.

So Libre Office is our new recommended Office suite and it is both very complete as well as easy to use. It is so good that if you use it to create documents or spreadsheets or presentations to send to Microsoft Office users, they are unable to tell that you got your office totally free! And equivalently, you can easily read any document created on a MS Office platform.

All in all, a very complete replacement for MS Office.

Microsoft Security Essentials

Microsoft Security Essentials is still tops on our list for antivirus and antispyware because its protection is very good and it is non-intrusive and doesn't bother us with lots of questions and prompts. It does its updates in the background and will regularly scan the computer without ever popping up a message unless it finds something.

Note that the antivirus testing and rating services have found a couple of other programs with slightly better records, but both of those other programs ask a lot of questions about some rather obscure security issues. MSE, to the contrary, does its work quietly. Also, MSE does not try to sell you anything whereas all the other "free" programs have a "Professional" version they try hard to sell you.

Highly recommended.

KISS

Permit one philosophical comment on this computer maintenance business. One of the basic principles we have to observe on these Security and Utilities updates is the old "KISS" principle or Keep It Simple Silly. Because, if we lose track of keeping it simple then some of this stuff will just not get done and we will be left vulnerable to a variety of possible contaminations, none of which are particularly good for us.

So these programs are selected both on their performance (do they do the job as required) as well as their simplicity (just do the job without asking a bunch of mysterious questions). That is always a carefully considered trade off.

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