Remedies For Home

We are frequently asked for computer advice by staff, family and friends and we are more than willing to help…
We’re geeks – this is what we do – contrary to the official Technology Team t-shirt
No-i-will-not-fix

Infections – Viruses, Malware and Hijackers –  OH MY!!

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Probably the most often-asked questions concern how to deal with infections – usually after a computer is already infected.
There are several things to keep in mind regarding this issue…
          – Browser hijackers, viruses and trojans, and malware in its various forms, and more recently ‘fake alerts’ and ‘ransomware’, are all very different and there is no one product that we’ve found that will adequately protect you from the wrath of malicious software, websites, email, social networking hacks, etc…
           – Because they’re so different, most anti-virus programs don’t look for malware and vice-versa.
          – And just because a program came installed on your system doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily good at what it does… Most preinstalled applications are there because of deals the company has made with the system builders and many are trial versions that will ask you to pay a subscription fee after 30 days or so.
           – And in the case of anti-virus software, more is definitely NOT better… running multiple anti-virus programs is asking for trouble and could render a system unusable as each looks at the actions of the other and blocks it as a potential threat and this in-fighting takes over your computer.
What is a virus?? A computer virus is a computer program that can replicate itself and spread from one computer to another. The term “virus” is also commonly but erroneously used to refer to types of malware, including but not limited to adware and spyware programs that do not have a reproductive ability.
What is malware?? Malware, short for malicious software, is software (or script or code) designed to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information, or gain unauthorized access to computer systems. The expression is a general term used by computer professionals to mean a variety of forms of hostile, intrusive, or annoying software.
Adware?? Adware, or advertising-supported software, is any software package which automatically renders advertisements. These advertisements can be in the form of a pop-up or may also be in the user interface of the software or on a screen presented to the user during the installation process. The object of the Adware is to generate revenue for its author. Adware, by itself, is harmless; however, some adware may come with integrated spyware such as key loggers (which record every keystroke in hopes of catching passwords, credit card numbers, etc.) and other privacy-invasive software.
Spyware?? Spyware is a type of malware installed on computers that collects information about users without their knowledge. The presence of spyware is typically hidden from the user and can be difficult to detect.
Trojan?? A Trojan horse, or Trojan, is a standalone malicious program that does attempt to infect other computers in a completely automatic manner without help from outside forces like other programs and human intervention. Trojan horses can make copies of themselves, steal information, or harm their host computer systems. The term is derived from the Trojan Horse story in Greek mythology because the first and many current Trojan horses attempt to appear as helpful programs. Others rely on ‘drive-by’ downloads in order to reach target computers.
Fake Alerts?? Fake alerts are a type of Trojan or malware that masquerades as some sort of helpful program that’s ‘detected a problem’… it starts by shutting down your Internet access or the ability to print or hides all your folders and documents or all the shortcuts to programs, etc. Then pretends to do scan of your system that looks very official and reports all these software or hardware errors that it can fix for you which is when they hit you up for their fee – usually about $100!! The simple fact is your system was fine and the only problems it’s having are the ones being caused by the fake alert itself.
Ransomware?? This has become more prevalent in recent years… you’re doing something on your computer when all of a sudden the screen is filled with a warning… (a popular one is made to look like the FBI caught you doing something)… somewhere on that screen or a subsequent screen it will ask for money… usually in the $200-400 range… and paying it is no guarantee that you’ll receive instructions on how to free up your computer which is now locked and can do nothing – even if you turn it off or unplug it completely!! It can take days or weeks just to attempt to disinfect a computer in this state.
In most cases when a computer is infected by any of the above it can be cleaned and recovered though we have seen several occasions where the computer had to be wiped out and everything needed to be reinstalled. It is usually possible to backup your files prior to reloading a computer but we’d highly recommend scanning all files before copying them back into a freshly loaded system.

Available Software…

As stated previously, there is no single software solution that we are aware of that can totally protect your computer – regardless of what the box might say. While we employ some serious hardware and software approaches to secure the school’s network, that isn’t practical in a home environment where we use different ‘tools’ and methods to protect our computers.
Anti-virus– There are a number of anti-virus programs available in stores and online and you might be surprised to learn that some of the most efficient and effective ones are FREE!!
           – McAfee is the one most people have heard of because it comes pre-installed on the greatest number of computers. While it is reasonably good at protecting your computer it has been known to be a performance killer – bringing your computer to its knees as far as operating speed. After the trial period it will ask you to subscribe to it’s service to keep it up to date and effective – if you don’t pay their subscription you won’t be able to get updates and thus unprotected from new and future attacks..
           – Norton (Symantec) – Norton Anti-Virus / Symantec Endpoint Protection had fallen on some rough times a few years ago but has recently shown dramatic signs of improvement. This also frequently appears as a pre-installed trial.
Our two favorites currently are both free and both very good…
Avast
            – Avast Free – Avast. The world’s #1 antivirus.With more than 230 million users, Avast is the most trusted security & antivirus in the world.
You are now just a few clicks away from protecting your PC for free…
—-img6Bitdefender Free – “great if you want a strong, silent, and free antivirus solution.” PC MAG Excellent Rating…
Click the link to the right to download it…

Malware, Spyware and Adware Cleaning– There may come a time when something anywhere between mildly annoying to downright nasty finds its way into your system with a variety of symptoms… The first thing most people notice is that their computer is just running slower than molasses in January… maybe your browser seems to have a mind of its own (browser hijacker), you’re getting bombarded with pop-ups, fake warnings or advertisements, or a window opens and appears to be scanning your img18system or tells you that your computer has numerous infections or possible hardware issues (fake alert or scareware), all your icons are gone from your desktop or when you click on them nothing happens, etc. These are all indications of a possible infection. How do you recover from such an attack?? That’s tough to say – some are fairly easy to remove while others are more clever in their payload delivery and require a bit of computer tenacity and even that is sometimes not enough.
Assuming your anti-virus software is up to date and you’ve run a full scan on your system (many malware attacks will block your legit software from updating or running at all in some cases) the next step will to be to scan (or attempt to install and scan) with a good malware cleaner. If you haven’t installed one already you may not be able to depending on the level of malware loose in your computer (many will deny you access to the internet or take away the rights that allow you to install software). In some cases it’s possible to boot into Safe Mode – a Windows diagnostic mode accessed by pressing the F8 key while your computer is starting – (where most malware doesn’t load) and run some scans from there which may get you to a point where you can function in normal mode and continue the cleanup effort.
MalwarebytesThe best programs we’ve come across for detecting and cleaning malware are Malwarebytes and Super Anti-Spyware. Click the icons to visit their download pages (the FREE versions are all you’ll need). Both are excellent at detecting and removing threats and will sometimes pickup what the other might miss. It’s important to note that it is imperative that you UPDATE the program prior to scanning in order to detect and remove the latest threats. Malwarebyte’s reputation for being the best comes to a degree from the frequency in which it provides updates – usually every few HOURS. However, being the img1g1best has caught up to it in that many  malware infections will prevent it from running at all. That’s where Super Anti-Spyware can be most helpful because it is usually left alone and can be used to get your computer back to a state in which Malwarebytes will run. In many cases we have found that, if we have internet access in Safe Mode, we were able to download, install, GET UPDATES and scan with either one or both of these programs!!

The best protection is to practice ‘safe computing’
– don’t open suspicious emails – especially from people you don’t know…
– don’t click on suspicious links in emails or on websites
– monitor what your kids (or parents) are clicking on…
– and become familiar with the icons representing what, if any, anti-virus and anti-malware programs you are actually running so that if a message pops up telling
you that you’re infected and offers to scan and fix it for you, you might identify it as a fake and can quickly close it before it gets its hooks into your system.

Other Useful Utilities…

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In addition to the above programs here are some other handy programs to help keep your computer humming along and more…
img4g7Zip – the vast majority of files and programs that get compressed for downloading and emailing are in ZIP format… while Windows can often extract these files on its’ own, there are some things it can’t do like letting you right click on a file or several files and select ‘Zip and email’ to combine them into one compressed file, send them and be done with it!! This free utility can perform that and many other tricks and is available by clicking the icon to the right.
 img6gAdobe Reader is an application developed by Adobe Systems to view files in Portable Document Format (PDF) and is widely used as a way to present information with a fixed layout similar to a paper publication. It is available as freeware and can be downloaded from Adobe’s web site by clicking the icon to the right and going to Downloads. Adobe Reader enables users to view and print PDF files but has negligible PDF creation capabilities – that requires the commercial version of Adobe Acrobat which is moderately expensive. However, there is a free solution that works quite well called CutePDF (see below).
 img12gAudacity is a free digital audio editor and recording application, available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and other operating systems. Audacity can also be used for post-processing of all types of audio, including podcasts by adding effects such as normalization, trimming, and fading in and out. Audacity has also been used to record and mix entire albums and is also currently used in the OCR National Level 2 ICT course for the sound creation unit.
 imgAgCCLeaner a.k.a. the Crap Cleaner (sorry ladies) was developed by Piriform and is a Utility program used to clean potentially unwanted files and invalid Windows Registry entries from a computer. CCleaner supports the cleaning of temporary or potentially unwanted files left by certain programs, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, Safari, Windows Media Player, eMule, Google Toolbar, Netscape, Microsoft Office, Nero, Adobe Acrobat, MacAfee, Adobe Flash Player, Sun Java, WinRAR, WinAce, WinZip, GIMP and other applications along with browsing history, cookies, Recycle Bin, memory dumps, file fragments, log files, system caches, application data, autocomplete form history, and various other data. The program also includes a registry cleaner to locate and correct problems in the Windows registry, such as missing references to shared DLLs, unused registration entries for file extensions, and missing references application paths.
 imggFCutePDF – creates professional quality PDF files from almost any printable document. FREE for personal and commercial use! No watermarks! No popup Web advertisements! Simply go through the motions like you were going to print via File, Print… and when the printer dialogue box appears change from your default printer to CutePDF and follow the prompts to select a location to save your PDF file.
NOTE: This program requires a PS2PDF converter such as Ghostscript (recommended). A link is provided on the CutePDF website where you can get the free GPL Ghostscript 8.15. After you’ve downloaded both the CuteWriter and converter files, install them in that order
 img13gDeFraggler, also developed by Piriform (CCleaner), is a free defragmentation utility, which allows users to defragment individual files or their entire computer system. What is defragmentation you ask?? Over the course of time and through regular computer use files grow and no longer fit in the space they originally occupied. Rather than move then entire file, the operating system puts as much as will fit in the space back where it came from and the rest elsewhere – thus the file is fragmented. It’s as if you had a book in a tightly packed bookshelf, removed the book and added say a couple hundred pages to it, put the original back on the shelf where it came from because that’s all that will fit there, then some in the next available free space and so on, then you went to read it in its entirety. On a computer, this is problematic in that it can slow a computer’s performance down because each time the OS needs to use a fragmented file it first has to locate all the pieces then reassemble it. Multiply this process by the enormous number of files the OS is dealing with at any given time and you can see where it could slow everything down. Defragmentation is the process where a utility such as Defraggler ‘reorganizes’ all the files so that they occupy spaces big enough to hold them… less searching, quicker loading, faster computer.
 img14gFlash Player – The Adobe Flash Player is software for viewing multimedia, Rich Internet Applications and streaming video and audio, on a computer web browser or on supported mobile devices. Flash Player runs SWF files that can be created by the Adobe Flash authoring tool, by Adobe Flex or by a number of other Macromedia and third party tools. Flash Player has a wide user base, with over 99% penetration on internet connected personal computers, and is a common format for games, animations, and GUIs embedded into web pages. It is available as freeware and can be downloaded from Adobe’s web site by clicking the icon to the right and going to Downloads. Google Chrome integrated the player into the distribution.
 img17gGoogle Earth is a virtual globe, map and geographical information program that was originally called EarthViewer 3D, and was created by Keyhole, Inc, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) funded company acquired by Google in 2004 (see In-Q-Tel). It maps the Earth by the superimposition of images obtained from satellite imagery, aerial photography and GIS 3D globe.m)
Image Resizer – this used to be part of the Power Toys for Windows but you can still find variations of it on the web to match whatever OS you may be running… it allows you to select a photo or groups of photos from within My Computer or Windows Explorer, RIGHT click and select resize from the menu and it will quickly and easily resize them to one of 4 sizes for emailing or websites and still leave the original in tact!!
 img19gJava – Java is a programming language originally developed by James Gosling at Sun Microsystems (which has since merged into Oracle Corporation) and released in 1995 as a core component of Sun Microsystems’ Java platform. Java software allows you to run applications called “applets” that are written in the Java programming language. These applets allow you to play online games, chat with people around the world, calculate your mortgage interest, and view images in 3D and various other things built on Java applets..
img2g – Microsoft Photo Story is a free application that allows users to create a visual story (show and tell presentation) from their digital photos. The software uses the Ken Burns Effect on digital photos and allows adding narration, effects, transitions and background music to create a Windows Media Video movie file with pan and zoom effects. Once a photo story has been made it can be played on a PC using Windows Media Player. Since the .wmv format is used, Windows Media Video Image (a sub-set of Windows Media Video) is incompatible with domestic DVD players, users wishing to create a DVD or CD will need to use third-party tools to convert into DVD compatible (e.g. MPEG 2) format first.
The last version of Photo Story (3.1) was designed for use with Windows XP but we’ve had no problems running it on Vista or Windows 7.
Windows Movie Maker 2012 does a good job of converting into an intermediate .avi format (although this will be some 30 times larger than the original wmv) which many DVD Authoring packages will accept as input. The final DVD compatible MPEG2 file size will typically be 5 to 6 times larger than the original .wmv file (or about 6 times smaller than the avi).
icon_qt_big_20100406QuickTime is an extensible proprietary multimedia framework developed by Apple Inc., capable of handling various formats of digital video, picture, sound, panoramic images, and interactivity. The classic version of QuickTime is available for Windows XP and later, as well as Mac OS X Leopard and later operating systems. It is integrated with Mac OS X, but was once an optional component during installation for earlier versions of Mac OS. QuickTime for Microsoft Windows is downloadable, either as a standalone installation or bundled with iTunes or optionally with Safari and is available free of charge for both Mac OS X and Windows operating systems.
img5gYouTube Downloader is software that allows you to download videos from YouTube, Facebook, Google Video, Yahoo Video, and many others and convert them to other video formats. The program is easy to use, just specify the URL for the video you want to download and click the Ok button! It also allows you to convert downloaded videos for IPod, IPhone, PSP, Cell Phone, Windows Media, XVid and MP3. You can use YouTube Downloader to download the videos of your choice from home, at the office or in school.