How Free is that “Free” Software?

October 19, 2010

My mother always says that nothing is free.  How many times have you found some cool software program on the internet that is free, only to discover that once the program was installed, it installed some other things that you may not have wanted on your computer?  The so-called “free” program may of been bundled with toolbars, additional software, malware and spyware.

Nearly any software program that is advertised as “free”, “freeware” or “shareware” typically has some other software or advertising built in to the package.

Many free software programs will install internet toolbars on your browser.  Using these toolbars will direct you to sites that the software company would like you to visit.  Add enough toolbars to your browser, and suddenly, your high speed internet can become as slow as dial-up.

Some software is bundled with spyware or malware programs.  These may cause pop-up advertisements, re-directs on your internet searches, or worse.

So how can we avoid installing unwanted programs while still taking advantage of the free stuff out there?  CUSTOM INSTALL! When installing the free software, make sure you read everything before clicking next.  Also, if there is an option for custom install or options, be sure to go that route.  You can usually remove the free toolbars and other things you don’t want installed.

Also, we recommend NOT selecting options for the software to “automatically check for updates”.  Leaving that option available means yet another software program will be running in the background, eating up the memory on your computer.

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Mobile Phone Security

October 12, 2010

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It’s coming people.  Like a tornado, selecting its victims at random, destroying lives and homes.  What is it, you ask?  Viruses and Malware on your handheld devices.

As if we don’t have enough to worry about with viruses on our computers, now we have yet another concern.  A recent attack on Android phones allowed hackers to remotely instruct the phone to send SMS text messages that cost $5 each, driving up the user’s phone bill and putting cash in the hackers pockets.  The Android users had downloaded a “free” movie player, and the exploit was installed in the background.

The “movie app” was downloaded from an outside website not affiliated with Google’s Android Marketplace.

Another scam does not send out pricey text messages, but rather, instructs the phone to dial an international number using a specific carrier.  The call is generally only made once a month, in the middle of the night, and most victims did not notice the charges for a few months.

So how can we protect ourselves from these malware attacks?

  • Only download apps from an official source.
  • Be wary of texts instructing you to download “updates” to your phone’s operating system.
  • Watch your bills closely.

How to Tune Up Your Computer

July 27, 2010

inQuo computer repair in salt lake city, inQuo computer support in salt lake city, inquo computer repair in utah, inQuo computer support in utah, inquo laptop repair in salt lake city, inquo laptop repair in utahEvery three thousand miles, you dutifully take your car into the shop for an oil change.  Most people were taught to perform regular maintenance on their cars when they were first handed the keys to the old family sedan.  By changing the oil, keeping the various fluids at the right level, and changing the filters, your automobile will run better and last a lot longer.

The same is true for your computer.  The longer you use a computer the slower it may become.  Many times, people think they need a new computer when all they really need to do is to perform some simple maintenance.

System and Software Updates

It is important to keep both your operating system and the software running on your computer up to date with the latest patches and upgrades.  Many times, the security of your system can be at stake if the software running on it is not updated regularly.  Both Microsoft and Apple operating systems regularly release updates.  Other programs can usually be updated by clicking the HELP menu inside the program itself.

Clearing the Cache

A cache on a computer is a place where temporary files are stored.  Many programs, including internet browsers, will store temporary files on the hard drive.  This can help the program fun faster, and save personalized settings. If the cache becomes too large, or the files become corrupt it may cause problems.  A good program to automatically clear the cache is CCleaner.  Easy to use and free!

Security Scans

Viruses, malware and spyware cause many issues for computer users.  They can slow the computer down, and cause issues with the security of your computer.  It is important to keep your antivirus software up to date, and run regular scans with it.  We also recommend using a program called Malwarebytes.  Free and easy to use, Malwarebytes can remove many threats that may be missed by antivirus software.

Hard Drive Optimization

As you install programs and save files on your hard drive, it can begin to get cluttered.  A defrag can help organize all of the files and programs that are physically stored on the hard drive.  This can help with the speed of running programs, searching for and opening files, and many other functions of your computer.

All of these maintenance steps should be done on a monthly basis.  By taking an hour a month to run the updates and security scans, your computer will run faster and last longer.


Keeping Viruses and Malware Off Your Computer

June 27, 2010

inQuo Computer Support in Salt Lake City, inQuo Computer Repair in Salt Lake City, inQuo Computer Support in Utah, inQuo Computer Repair in Utah, inQuo laptop repair in Salt Lake City, inQuo laptop repair in utah, inquo computer help in salt lake city, inquo computer help in utahThere are lots of nasty viruses and malware lurking on the internet.  Just how can you keep your computer safe?

DO keep antivirus software installed and updated on your computer.  Although some viruses and malware can sneak past some programs, the majority of them don’t.

DON’T click on any links from emails, instant messages, Facebook, etc., even if you know the person who sent it.  Their machine may be infected and sending out fake messages to spread the virus/malware.

DO regularly update your operating system with the latest security updates.  Most Microsoft systems will do this automatically, however, you may have to approve the installation of the security updates.  If you get a pop up you are unsure is a real update, just click START—WINDOWS UPDATE to manually run the update process.

DON’T use peer to peer sharing software programs like Limewire, Bittorrent, etc.  Not only is downloading and sharing programs and music illegal, a lot of those files have viruses hidden inside of them.  Some peer to peer sharing software is actually malware in disguise.

DO run regular virus and malware scans of your computer.  Your antivirus software will probably do this automatically.  You may also want to install an additional spyware/malware scanning program.  We recommend Malwarebytes (free on www.downloads.com).

DON’T visit questionable websites.  An obvious culprit are porn sites, but other ones may include sites offering “warez” (free cracked software), foreign sites (unless you can really read what you are clicking on) and even some popular children’s sites (lots of those kid’s sites require them to download special players and programs to play the free games, installing spyware and malware at the same time).

DO perform a registry scan on a normal basis.  The registry is like the key to a map.  It holds all the information about everything on your computer, from where files are saved, how programs run, etc.  Some viruses and malware will make changes to the registry which can cause many problems.  There are several free programs out there.  We like Ccleaner (free on www.downloads.com).  It is easy to use and very affective.

DON’T think that to clean a virus off your computer, you have to reinstall the entire operating system.  This is the first line of defense for some computer professionals and companies, but not inQuo.  We can clean 99% of computers without reinstalling Windows.


What is a firewall and why do you need it?

April 13, 2010
A firewall used to refer to the materials in an automobile that would protect the passengers from the heat and elements of the engine compartment.  When it comes to computer networks and the internet, a firewall still protects people.

  • Most large companies with extensive computer networks use sophisticated firewalls to protect their digital assets from outside sources.
  • Firewalls are configured to block most incoming network or internet traffic, but exceptions are made so employee’s can perform their work duties accordingly.
  • Any computer that has Windows XP, Windows Vista, WIndows 7 or Mac OSx has a built in firewall software application.
  • Some viruses and malware are designed to infiltrate, disable or re-configure a firewall in order to give a third party access to the network, computers or websites.
Antivirus and Third-Party Firewall Software

Most antivirus software programs include a personal firewall solution for desktop computer systems.  You can also download third-party firewall programs.

Although the built in firewall in the Windows operating system is generally effective enough in keeping your computer safe on the internet, the reason you may want to consider using another firewall program is that many authors of viruses and malware specifically target Microsoft products.   A third party firewall software may be able to thwart some attacks that a built in firewall may permit.

  • When you install a firewall program, you may notice that some of your programs, internet access or other networking configurations may not work.  You may have to configure your firewall to allow the program configurations to work.
  • File and printer sharing may also stop working.
  • One of the first troubleshooting steps most IT professionals will take is to disable antivirus and firewall software applications to determine if those programs are causing issues.

Utilizing a firewall can be a good way to keep your computers and network safe from intruders on the internet, but be sure to read the instructions or help files to configure the software correctly.


The Virus Issue Part One of Three – inQuo’s Tech Tip Tuesday Newsletter Volume 11

December 18, 2009

Anyone who has touched a keyboard has probably heard of computer viruses, spyware, malware, etc.  But do you really understand what those terms mean, and how they can affect you?

This is the first of a three part series on computer viruses.  We will define what different types of viruses are, what they can do, how to remove them,  and how you can prevent future infections.

Definitions

Adware – A small software program, typically installed when visiting certain internet websites, or installing “shareware” or “freeware” software.  Adware can monitor websites that you visit, and transmit that information to marketers for research and targeted advertising.  It can increase the delivery of advertisements in the form of pop-up ads, targeted banners, etc.

Malware – Malicious software that is installed without your knowledge, that is used for sinister purposes, such as gathering information like passwords, installing viruses and trojans, turning a computer into a “Zombie”, and other unwanted actions.

Spyware – Again, software installed on your computer without you knowing.  Spyware can be software installed by an owner of the computer to monitor the activities.  For example, a parent that installs software to log the keystrokes of their kids, or a business owner monitoring their employee’s computer use.  Spyware can monitor internet activity, and can also re-direct users to specific websites.

Trojan (Horse) – One of the more riskier malware programs, a trojan horse virus typically starts out as a small program that seemingly causes no harm, but can give others unauthorized access to your computer system.  They are usually not self replicating, like viruses and worms, and they do require interaction with an outside party, like a hacker.

Virus – A virus is a program or set of scripts that can cause harm to your computer by deleting or corrupting files, disabling security software and other problematic things.  A virus is typically a local program, and can be spread through manual processes, like sharing flash disks or USB drives, as well as email, IM programs, and social networking websites.  The term virus is generally used as a blanketed description for other types of infections, like trojans, spyware and malware.

Worm – A self-replicating program that spreads through networks, e-mail, instant messaging programs and file sharing.  Worms do not usually attach themselves to other programs.  Many worms do not typically cause damage to files or programs, however, they can cause problems with bandwidth because of how they spread and replicate.

Zombie (Computer) – A computer that is connected to the internet, and has been compromised by a trojan, virus or worm.  The computer is then used by someone controlling it, to send out spam e-mails, spread viruses, attack websites, etc.  The owner of the computer does not know their computer is being used in that way.  An estimated 80-90% of all spam e-mails sent worldwide comes from zombie infected computers.


Spyware, Malware and Viruses

June 26, 2009

Anyone who has surfed the internet knows how annoying it can be when a million pop-up ads appear, when all you really want to do is read the news or check your email.  Not only are those ads annoying, but they can also make your computer slow down to a snail’s pace.  Before you chuck your computer out the window in frustration, there are a few things you can do to easily speed up your computer and reduce those pop-ups.  These tips are fairly easy and can help you get back on the road to productivity.

Spyware and Malware are more than just annoying pop-up ads.  These two words are used to describe any kind of software that is installed on your computer, usually without your knowledge, that track and send data to outside sources about you.  Many times, if you install any “free” software, spyware and malware programs are bundled inside that free software and installed on your computer too.  The software can be used to track your surfing habits and display advertisements that are relevant to what you have been searching for on the internet.  They can also be used for more sinister purposes, like logging your keystrokes, stealing information like passwords and account numbers, and even turning your computer into an email spamming machine.  As more of these programs infest your computer, the slower it will run.  Many of these programs use your internet connection to send their data.  Having a lot of these programs on your computer can slow your internet speed as well.

Your first line of defense in keeping the spyware, malware and viruses off of your computer is to install and update a solid antivirus program.  Updating it means letting it connect to the internet, and downloading the latest definition files that scan your computer for infestations.  McAfee and Norton are the two largest names in the antivirus business.  Those software programs usually require paid subscriptions for the latest updates.  There are a few free antivirus software programs available, including AVG Free and Avast!.  Both programs work very well.

There are also some free programs designed to help remove spyware and malware specifically.  These programs usually do not run all the time, and will not stop the spyware and malware programs from getting installed, but they are effective in removing those nuisance programs once they are on your machine.  These programs include MalwareBytes, AdAware and Spybot Search and Destroy.  Using any one of these, or a combination of these programs on a regular basis is a good idea.  Most of the free programs described in this article can be found on this website, www.download.com.

Peer to Peer File Sharing is a popular way to download music, software and movies.  Typically, these downloads are not legal, and by using these types of programs, your computer is opened up to potential attacks by viruses and malware.  Some of the popular programs associated with peer to peer file sharing are Limewire, Gnutella, eDonkey, and BitTorrent.  File sharing is exactly that, sharing files on your computer with anonymous users all over the world.  It is in easy way for hackers and other nefarious computer users to easily obtain your personal information and wreak havoc on your computer system.

Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace have recently been used to spread viruses and spyware.  Members of these groups will receive an email or message from another member, usually a person that is in the members group of friends, requesting they click on a link for pictures.  A lot of times, this link will automatically install malware and spyware on your computer.  The person who sent the link usually has no idea their account has been compromised until all of their “friends” get infected.  A good rule of thumb is to never click on a link sent by anyone, even your friends, without first knowing what the link is.  Responding to the email and asking your friend about the link first, before you click on it, is a good way to avoid problems.

Updating your operating system is an important part of keeping your computer system secure.  Microsoft Windows and Apple computers both release security updates on a regular basis.  On a Microsoft Windows computer, the easiest way to find out if your computer is up to date is to run Windows Update.  Click on Start—ALL Programs and look for Windows Update or Microsoft Update.  Running either of those programs will access the Microsoft update website.  Follow the instructions on the screen to search for the latest updates.   Sometimes, a yellow shield will appear in the bottom right hand side of your screen.  By clicking on it, you will see updates that are ready to be installed on your computer.  It is a good idea to install those updates.   On a Mac, click the Apple Icon at the top left hand corner of the screen, then click Software Updates.

Computers are the tools for many businesses, and are found in most homes.  The internet has become a huge part of everyday life, and with life, there are risks out there.  By protecting your investment with these simple tips, you can mitigate the risks and keep your computer running smoothly.