Saturday, April 20, 2013

Browser Toolbars...Leave them off

What are toolbars and why are they needed?
Good question.

A toolbar is considered a browser extension. It is designed to make your Internet browsing experience better. Browsers are the program that gets your web page for you. The most popular  browsers are Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari. Each one of these browsers come with their own toolbar. They all have an address bar (for the web page address), buttons to go back or forward pages and bookmarking ability.

So a tool bar is an extension on your browser. Ah...extensions. Extensions do make your browsing experience better. An extension does things that the browser normally does not. An example is streaming that YouTube video from Facebook. Streaming is not something that browsers ordinarily are programmed for. Browsers read the code in web pages and present it to you.

(Want to see what I mean? Simply right click on a blank part of this page and select View Page Source. That is what your web page looks like to the browser. The browser reads that and makes it look like this! :)  )

Back to what your browser can do. Remember when every time you went to open a PDF file that you had to have Adobe Reader installed? What happened it that you clicked on the PDF file or link and your browser realized that it couldn't open it and looked on your computer for Adobe Reader and called it to open the file for you. Now, some browsers just open those PDF files in a new tab. Why? Because the browser added that functionality to their programming, or rather, they extended the programming to include PDF files.

Extensions are a good thing when they work to make things better and more interactive. Another extension is Flashplayer that produces graphics on your web site. If you don't have that extension installed, you do not get the graphics.

Most extensions are there, behind the scenes, ready to act when needed.

What makes a toolbar different? First, it takes up space on your browser window. That means that you get to see less of the web page you are viewing. I have seen computers with 9-10 toolbars and the web page got about three inches of space on the computer screen! Not a fun way to view your webpages.

Your computer screen with toolbars.
1. The browser toolbar
2. Seven other toolbars. Note that they all have a search box.
3. The web page to view.
4. Another toolbar

So if toolbars are so readily available, and they are extensions, then they must be doing something for us, right?

Yes, they do something for us. The problem with toolbars, is, for the most part, they do what we can already do. Most toolbars offer search abilities. Remember that list of browser I mentioned? They all allow you to search for pages in the address bar. Do you another place to search? I would say no.

Some toolbars do add functionality for a very few people. There are toolbars that are specific to a person's field of interest. These toolbars have commands on them that these individuals use regularly. One is the Microsoft Developer Toolbar. It allows the use to view and modify HTML elements on the fly and inspect CSS properties. Very helpful for developers. The QuickStores Toolbar searches shopping sites for you.  The CasinoMan Toolbar helps you gamble while browsing. I believe there is a toolbar to watch stocks as well.

The majority of toolbars just help you search and get to your email, or a weather station, or a game. All of which can be bookmarked using the bookmark capability included in your browser.

Not only do these toolbars do what we can already do, and take up space, there was a time period where some toolbars also included malware like Trojans to steal information or corrupt your computer. This is not as common as it once was. (Malware producers have a tendency to move on once they are spotted.) Toolbars can also add functionality to web sites like producing all those ad popups that show up when your move crosses a certain word or phrase. We all want that, right? Do note that some of those pop ups are in the page and the toolbars take them and run with them.

My recommendation. If it is not something that would ruin your day to not have, then get rid of it, Do not download them. (Mind you, they sometimes come with the downloads that you do want. Read about that here.)

Enjoy your time on the Internet!
                                             .....and keep the BugOff !

You can also find me on Facebook, ask to be my friend, I will not turn anyone away.
Follow on Twitter, @BugOffComp

Places that helped me write this article: Free Browser Toolbars; 14 Popular Browser Toolbars; Text Popups; Wikipedia.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is it credible?

We see all kinds of information on the Internet and our Social websites. Some are funny, some are cute, and some make our blood boil. We like to share them. We read them and think how wonderful that we learned something new and want all our friends and acquaintances to know all about it too. So we share that link.

The question you need to ask yourself before you click share, is this: Is it credible?

The next question you should ask is, do I know for sure it is credible?

Before you share, check to see if the story is true. If you don't want to check, then please, do not share the story.

Pictures of little girls burned in a fire, cell phones cause brain tumors,  little boy shot protecting his sister, American flag hanging upside down at a McDonald's, artificial sweetener turning into formaldehyde, tropical spiders under airport toilet seats, and dialing 112 when pulled over by the police.

I have found that if you get past the first inflammatory paragraph of most of these articles, you will see how the picture/story is not quite what it seems. For instance, the McDonald's flying the flag upside down the day after election. Turns out one of the cables broke holding the flag.

Some have elements of truth. The little girl burned? She was in fact burned. The post said that someone would be sending her money for every time her photo is shared. There really was a little girl burned. In Poland. In 2005. That would be 7 years ago. The parents never saw a cent. Then again, who was sending the money?

Some allude to the truth. Electromagnetic waves can cause cancer. But the radio waves in your cell phone have not been linked to any kind of cancer.

Another story. This one really gives me pause. Lauren was being pulled over by a police officer, but her parents said don't do it because the office might really be a serial rapist. Instead call 112. Did you know that 112 is an emergency number? Europe? If you are concerned, do call, but call 911, our very own emergency number.

Some of the stories are obviously patchwork. There was a story about how aspartame, the sweetener in Diet Coke, turned into formaldehyde in the desert heat of the war zone in Saudi Arabia (no mention of it doing so in the desert heat of the U.S.) circa 2002. Just last week, that same article is posted below picture of Splenda. Splenda contains sucralose, not aspartame.

My point is not the specifics of the story. My point is why are you clicking Share? If you cannot verify the story, do not share it. If you do not want to verify the story, do not share it. Note: a good place to start is, they have taken the time to research many of these stories.

If you can verify it, pass it on and include the link with the verification.

Keep the BugOff !

You can also find me on Facebook, ask to be my friend, I will not turn anyone away.
Follow on Twitter, @BugOffComp

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Don't download that!!!!

With the new Java and Adobe exploits and the new patches that are available, most of us have been downloading programs. Understandable and necessary. I would not suggest that anyone not keep their computers up-to-date with security updates.

The problem is that most of you now have the Ask Toolbar or the McAfee Security Scan Plus.


Because when you downloaded those new versions of Java and Adobe, you also received the Ask Toolbar and McAfee Security Scan Plus. But wait? You didn't order them, right? Yes, yes you did. And you did so by just clicking through the download.

There is a lot of information on those download windows that don't make much sense to you, and sometimes even me. But we know we need them and if in doubt, let the program install it the way it wants. For the most part, that program knows the best way to be installed and I agree.

The part we need to address is the extras. On one of those windows for the Java update (about 3 or 4 clicks in), you are asked if you also want to install the Ask Toolbar.

The Ask Toolbar is not malicious (and yes some of these extras can be very close to malicious), but do you really need an extra toolbar to help you search? All of the big browsers allow you to search straight from the address bar. The Ask Toolbar is just an extra program that sits there and takes up space and resources. If you are not going to use it, do not add it.

Likewise, Adobe Reader has been asking you to add extra programs:

The problem with this extra is that is a program that can interfere with your installed anti-virus and slow your computer down.

The only way to determine if there are extras is to read those download screens. ALL OF THEM. On all downloads. Every time. Without Fail. Uncheck those check boxes by clicking on the checkmark to make it go away.

So, what do you do if you missed these? Uninstall them. Its not hard, you just have to go do it. Need instructions? No problem.....keep reading.
  • Click on Start.
  • Click on Control Panel
  • Look for Uninstall a program. (If you have the icon list, look for Programs and Feature (or Add or remove programs for XP users.))
  • Wait for the list to finish populating. 
  • Find Ask Toolbar. 
  • Right-click on the name and then click on Uninstall. (or click to select and choose Uninstall near the top of the window.)
  • Remember that sometimes the program acts like it is installing. That is because an installer is used to both install and uninstall the program. 
  • Follow all directions, reading carefully, as sometimes they word things to convince you to keep the program.
  • Repeat for the McAfee Security Scan Plus if needed.
Questions? Comments? Please use that comment section down below. (Yes you will need to sign in to Google. It is not a bad thing.)

Until next time......
                                    Keep the BugOff !!!

You can also find me on Facebook, ask to be my friend, I will not turn anyone away.
Follow on Twitter, @BugOffComp

Monday, February 18, 2013

Password Vault- Yes you need one!

Where do you keep your passwords?
On a post-it note next to your monitor? Or on the bottom of your middle desk drawer? Or in your wallet?

How many different passwords do you have? Do they have words in them (like rose or flower)? Do they have numbers in them?

Do you know what a secure password is?

Passwords are a necessary way of keeping our accounts secure and yet they are the most insecure way to keep those accounts secure. They are the easiest to break or convince people to give up. Yet they are the handiest way to access your accounts from everywhere. So how do you protect yourself? Have a secure password.

What is a secure password? A password is considered strong when it contains 15 characters including at least 2 lowercase letters, 2 uppercase letters, 2 numbers and 2 other characters (like * or &) plus has no recognizable words or keyboard patterns. So something that looks like this:


Pretty easy to remember? Yes? No? You don't think so? Well this is a pretty secure password that hackers would have a hard time cracking.

Passwords need to be strong to avoid letting hackers guess them. And hackers don't sit around and say to themselves, "Hmmm, I wonder if Cathie uses her dog's name as a password. A lot of people name their dog Chance. I wonder if her dog's name is Chance. I bet she doesn't even capitalize it." No, they use simple and/or sophisticated programs that do the guessing for them.

So that password up there, the one not easily guessed, once it's memorized you can use it on all your accounts--right? NO! No, no no. What happens if someone gets a hold of the Netflix account files. (Netflix is not careless with their data, I am just using them as an example.) Not a traumatic thing in the long run, after all, is it going to bring down the nation knowing you like the movie Big? Probably not. But the bad guys take your email address and password and go to places like the banks and try them out there. This is why you need different passwords for all your accounts.

So do we make a spreadsheet with all the accounts and passwords so we can keep track of them? And name it 'passwords'? Save it on our desktops? But is keeping all your passwords in one place a good idea? Oh yes!! But let's put them in a password vault.

A password vault is a program that stores and organizes your passwords for you. It makes it easy to access the places you need to go as most vaults allow you to drag and drop your username and password to the login fields. Most vaults also create passwords for you. The vault keeps all the passwords locked down under one main password. This one, and the one to log onto your computer, is the one to remember.

But that password up there? How can you possibly remember something like that? Let's look at Cathie again. Her dog's name is Chance. And he was the second pet named Chance. She decided on the name Chance by saying 'eenie meenie minie moe catch a tiger by the toe'. So a perfect password would be:


What? you say! How is that perfect? Well, we use the first letters for 'catch a Tiger by the toe (eenie meenie minie moe uses too many repeated letters), use a left parathesis for the C in Chance, then capitalize the A, use a 3 for a backward e, and #2 for second pet.

So one tough password that is easy to remember. And although that hacker may know Cathie's dog's name, and the alternate characters to use for letters, he can't know the name AND that Chance was the second pet AND how she chose his name.

There are a lot of password vaults out there. Some cost, some are free. My recommendation? I use KeePass which is free. It is stored on your computer and you can put it on a flash drive. There are others, I have looked into but have not tried. LastPass**** is a password vault that is stored in the 'cloud' so you can get to it from any device. It's free too. Keeper is for mobile, found on Google apps and there are links to others. Your anti-virus program may have a form of a password manager. I know that avast! does, I just don't use it. Do a little research.

Here are some other blogs discussing the need for password vaults: ZD Net's A password vault is as mandatory as anti-virus, Lifehacker's Which Password Manager is the Most Secure?, and ITS Technology Tips' Password Vaults: Keep your Passwords Safe!.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentines Day

I love you! ♥ ♥ ♥
You make my heart beat out of my chest! ♥ ♥ ♥
You are the most sexy person I know, let's get together.  ♥ ♥ ♥
I have this awesome present for you. ♥ ♥ ♥
You make me happy! ♥ ♥ ♥
We are destined to be together! ♥ ♥ ♥
Now let me have all the money in your bank account and leave me alone!

Of course they don't quite say that now do they? But boils down to the same thing. There are people getting scammed every day, every where.

We all shake our head and say, "How do they get away with it?" How can anyone be so stupid to fall for a criminal intent on getting your money. This criminal works on our emotions and they know which emotions are the best to work!

There are all kinds of viruses....Trojans, worms, root-kits, exploits, stacks, and there is social engineering. This form of virus is not a program, it is a person. And this type of person is out to get your information and they have learned the best ways to do it.

How do social engineers get their information? They convince you to give it to them. They make you feel like you are not fulfilled as a person unless you are giving them the information they need to rip you off. And they are very, very good at it.

There is a scam going around where a fraudster calls someone, usually an older person and claims to be their grandchild who is threatened with jail in Mexico, or at least another state. They need cash in a hurry to be able to get home and clear things up. Now, not something you would fall for, so we think. But what if you got the call in the middle of the night? Would you really be able to pin it as a scam?

These social engineers do not just pick up the phone and start dialing. They do their homework. They find out basic information. Information that we let people have. One gold mine for that information is your computer. Ok, not necessarily your computer, but your social sites. They watch your profiles and target the ones that they feel comfortable stepping into. We all have something that they can use.

The create the perfect psychological environment to deploy their attack. They are the nicest people you will ever talk to, or chat with, or exchange emails with. They are confident, know what is best for you and how to take care of that problem you never knew existed. How awesome is that?

Big targets for social engineering is to getting information from large companies. But there are also those that target you, the individual sitting at the computer. A large target for criminals is the lonely. And they take full advantage of these people.

Dating sites can be dangerous places. A friend of mine decided to try one out. The responses were  fast and furious. She was bombarded with all these desperate men(?) wanting to talk to her. She said is was like standing in the middle of Walmart on black Friday, only it was in her office! Did she let anything slip? Did they get that jewel that will allow them to take advantage? I believe she is savvy enough to have not let anyone get that information.

I don't want to say that dating sites are all dangerous. The sites that are more reputable are the ones that take care to keep social engineers away. They are the ones that require you to register and have safety policies implemented. If you are going to consider a dating site, research it. I have seen ads where a one dating site bashes a second for not letting everyone on it. For me, that is an advertisement for the second. That means the second one is monitoring who they allow on.

So for all you lonely hearts out there find something you enjoy to do and find a way to volunteer doing it. But, even then, hold your personal information close.

So friends, I have to tell you I ♥ you! All I want from you is to see your computer secure!
Happy Valentines Day and
Keep the BugOff!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

PC Cleaners- Do they really clean?

I was on a weather site this evening to see if was going to snow tomorrow and saw this ad:
Now, I have to say that I did not click on it to see what program this former employee from Intel discovered that can scan and fix all the errors in your computer. It may work, but then again, his discovery may just be what I am going to tell you.

My experience with PC cleaners, is they do more harm than good. At the very best, you are paying for something that you already have for free. At worst you have downloaded your worst nightmare. Mostly they just don't do anything or do the function of programs you already have on your computer. I, personally, do not have any PC cleaners on my computer and I remove them from all computers I work on.

All the programs that you need to keep your computer cleaned up are all on your computer. They have always been there. Not necessarily accessible and easy to get to or use, especially if no one has told you how to get there, but they have been there.

Let's talk about a few things that slow your computer down. The first is programs that you have downloaded and use. Every single program out there feels that they need to be at the ready for your instantaneous use. So they set themselves up to be running in the background while you use your computer.

There are only two programs that should be running all the time. The first is Windows, because, after all, that is your operating system (yes, yes, I know there are those of you running a Linux system. Just insert your OS whenever I mention Windows :P) and your anti-virus. When you start your computer, Windows starts, in order for you to use your computer, and your anti-virus needs to start so that it is there protecting your computer.

All other programs do not need to start when you turn your computer on. Well, let me throw something in here. There are lots of services that need to run for your computer to work. There are services that allow your computer to talk to the Internet, services that allow you to print, services that allow you to use your email. And all these start at the proper time they are supposed to. These are the programs we are talking about here.** The programs we are talking about are the programs that were added at the time you bought your computer, or that you have added to your computer since then.

Programs like Adobe Reader, iTunes, Google Talk, DropBox, Skype, Yahoo Messenger, Steam, all want to be running as soon as you turn your computer on. Which is great if you are going to Skype the very instant you turn your computer on, every time you turn your computer on, without fail. Or you want to have Yahoo Messenger on so that your friend can send you a message when they get on their computer.

But here is what is happening. You turn on your computer, it gets all the things turned on that it needs to run, and then all these other programs jump in and get themselves started and running. What are you doing at this time? Waiting, and waiting, and waiting. And you can't do anything at all until all these programs are done setting themselves up. Now I listed seven programs, but on an average computer there are probably 15-20. And every time you download, or update, a program, most put themselves back on the start up list and you wait....and wait....and wait. Each time it takes longer to start your computer.

Can we stop these programs from starting when you start your computer? Yes. Is is going to prevent you from using these programs? No. Let's look at Adobe Reader. Everyone uses Adobe Reader. We all end up needing to read a document that is in pdf format and we need Adobe Reader to access those documents. So, if Adobe Reader is not running when you start your computer, and you need to read a pdf, what can you do? Well click on the pdf and read it. Adobe Reader will open at that time and you can use it. Now, I have to be perfectly honest with you, it will take 1-10 seconds longer to open that pdf if Adobe Reader is not already running. It is the same for all the other programs too.

So how to you keep these programs from starting up the same time Windows does? It is not hard.

  • Click on Start 
  • Type msconfig.exe in the search box. (XP users need to click on Run.. and then type msconfig.exe in the box).
  • You will open a window called System Configuration with 5 tabs: General, Boot, Services, Startup, and Tools. 
  • Click on the tab that says Startup.

Please note that the other tabs have very important info in them that you should not be changing. Especially the Services tab (remember when we talked about the services your computer does use? Look for the paragraph with **). Do not change anything in any other tab. You may end up being very frustrated.

  • You will see a list of all the items that start when you turn on your computer. Under the list is two buttons, one says Disable all.
  • Click Disable all.
Another note here. It is okay to stop all these programs. Remember that you are not stopping the program from working, just from running in the background of your computer, taking up resources and slowing down the start up of your computer. They will all eventually be back on this list again.
  • Then click OK.
  • You will be asked to to restart your computer. Click Exit without restart. Do not check the box that says Don't show this message again, we want to see this dialog box every time so we can choose Exit without restart.
  • The windows will close and the next time you start your computer, it will be somewhat faster.
If you are ever unsure about what you are doing, press the Escape key (Esc) on your keyboard to abort or click cancel. If you need more help, comment and I will give you more information.

Questions? Right you are. This is only one way to get your computer cleaned up. But let's talk about those later. This is a lot to take in for one sitting.

Feel free to ask any other questions you have in the comments section. Yes you will have to sign in to leave comments. Its okay, you can do it. You will not be getting a flood of email and the new surveillance drone has much more important places to check out than you and your computer!

You can also find me on Facebook, ask to be my friend, I will not turn anyone away.

Keep the BugOff!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Best Registry Cleaner

There are lots of programs out there that want to convince you that their program will make your computer run faster by cleaning up your computer registry. Unfortunately, I have yet to run across one that works consistently like they say they will. So the Best One? None.

The claim the majority make is that there are orphaned registry keys in your computer registry that are slowing your computer down. Make sense? Probably not to a lot of you. Let's have a brief computer lesson.

When you turn your computer on, it shows all your stuff. If someone shares your computer and they turn it on, it shows all their stuff. How does the computer know? It accesses the registry to look for information. The registry is (in very simple terms) a large database with lots of values. Thousands of thousands of values. Those values are in computer-ese and let the computer know what it is supposed to do.

All the programs on your computer have an entry, or two, or a hundred, to assist your computer in running that program. Quite often, the way a value is stored in the registry is changed, or corrupted and a new entry is created. The old one is still there and not used. These are called orphan keys.

Sometimes you install a program and then decide you don't want it anymore and uninstall it. There may be registry entries that are left behind that are not deleted when you uninstalled it. More orphan keys. Sometimes you try a program using a trial version. After the trial ends, you can no longer use the program or download the trial again. How does it know? By leaving a registry key. (That's only fair right?)

The PC/Registry cleaners say these orphaned registry keys slow your computer down. My personal opinion? No. These keys use very little space on your computer and without a program using them, they are like the blank pages in a paperback (or ad pages)~ they add nothing to or take anything away from the story!

The computer registry on your computer is not a place that anyone should be changing without having a lot of computer knowledge and a lot of experience. Many of these keys will not cause any problems if deleted or changed. But some will prevent your computer from working and there will be no way of knowing which one was changed. And with the vast amounts of keys in the registry, I can't say I trust a program to look through the registry and remove these orphaned keys.

All that being said, there are programs that can remove problematic registry keys, but they should be used by someone who understands and has experience with the registry. How do you know you have a problematic registry key? You will have a program that is not running properly. Does that automatically mean it is a registry key? No. In this case, you need to seek support from the program manufacturer.

Generally, when your computer is running slow, it is because you have extra programs using resources in the background, or extra programs running in your browser. Not surprisingly, there are lots of programs out there that claim to help you clean up, or optimize, your computer. There is no need to buy or download one of these either. You will be paying for a program that will be doing what your computer already has the tools to accomplish. You just need to make sure they are running and watch them. (I will get to those tools in a future post.)

Until next time,
Keep the BugOff!