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Backup Windows on your Netbook before it's too late

by John Weigand

Netbooks are all the rage right now, they are outselling Notebook PC's by a wide margin and it's easy to see why. They are more compact, less expensive and do most of the things a Notebook PC can, but there are some differences. Most notebooks come with Windows disks (or a partition with Windows on the hard drive) that will allow you to reinstall Windows if it ever gets gummed up. They also usually have a DVD or CD drive that will allow you to load disks to reinstall Windows. The Netbooks usually don't have either. Most Netbooks I have seen do not have either a DVD/CD drive or any Windows disks. What most of them do have is an instruction buried in the user guide (does anyone read those things) that tells the owner to create a set of recovery disks themselves. I would guess most people don't have the equipment to do that or even think it's important, but it is. PC hardware today is so reliable that I rarely run into any hardware problems. The vast majority of my service calls are related to the Windows operating system itself, usually from viruses or malware. In many cases a complete reinstallation of Windows is required to solve the problem. If the owner has not created recovery disks beforehand it's too late after disaster hits.

Bottom line, if you bought a Netbook, create a set of recovery disks as soon as possible after you get it. Preferably before you even use it for the first time. If you don't have the equipment, time or knowledge to do that, give us a call. We can do it very inexpensively and it may save you hundreds of dollars later on. Your Netbook is a great new tool, protect your investment and have fun with it!

How secure is your Wireless network?

by John Weigand

Wireless networks are popping up everywhere lately. Homes and small businesses have been putting them in by the thousands every month. Wireless networks offer PC users the convenience of Internet access just about anywhere in their home or business without the necessity and expense of running wires through the walls or under carpet. But how secure are they? The latest wireless technology itself is quite secure, IF it is implemented properly. The problem is, many networks are NOT installed correctly! The biggest problem is most people are not technically savvy and the equipment manufacturers know that. Most people simply want to buy a device, take it home, plug it in and have it work, so many manufacturers try to make the installation process as simple as possible. The catch is they do it by shipping equipment with the security functions turned OFF by default! That saves them a lot of calls to tech support but can leave the customer exposed.

Recent research by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), a not-for-profit, public-private partnership focused on driving awareness and promoting cyber security puts the number of exposed networks as high as 38 percent. Their research showed users are confused by the protections they are supposed to use and how to use them.

When a network is exposed it can be compromised by anyone within range of the wireless signal. In many cases this can be quite a long distance outside of the home or business. A compromised network can by monitored by outsiders to capture information or use the network for criminal activity. Comprised networks have been used by criminals for distributing child pornography, conducting illegal banking transactions and a host of other crimes. Cracking wireless networks has become so much fun for some that a hacking sport called "war driving" has started. It consists of driving around neighborhoods looking for "hot spots" (wireless signals) then chalk marking the street for others or publishing the address on the Internet.

Bottom line, many people don't really understand just how exposed they are and may find out the hard way when law enforcement shows up at their door someday and hauls away their computer equipment!

So what should you do if you don't know how secure your network is? First you must decide if you are inclined to learn about the technology yourself or if you should hire someone familiar with it. The cost of hiring a professional can be very reasonable and may not be worth spending hours learning. Once the network is secured, it should remain that way. If you decide to be a do-it-yourselfer the place to start is your owners manual, read it completely. Then here are some things to do (sorry now it gets pretty techie):

There may be other things your equipment will allow you to do, but these are some basic things that will help you keep your wireless network safe and secure.

More stories and information on Wi-Fi security....

Do you really want to protect your computer?

by John Weigand

Seems like a dumb question, but do you really want to protect your computer? I think most people would answer "YES", it's not that easy, but it can be done.

Over the years the internet has become a minefield, walking through it unprotected is asking for trouble. Social networking sites are increasingly being used by criminals to plant malware on computers that can turn them into robots on their botnets without your knowledge. Fairly new malware programs called "scareware" can cause authentic looking pop-ups to appear out of nowhere that attempt to extort money from you, steal your credit card information and more. A report from M86 Security says Malware-carrying spam and attacks via Twitter and Facebook grew dramatically in the second half of 2009. I would encourage anyone serious about computer security to read their complete report. If that report doesn't scare you, read the article below on "Pop-up Advertisements...", that should do it.

So what can you do to protect yourself, well here is my "minefield" toolkit:

Although doing all those things won't keep you completely safe, it will go a long way to giving you some warning before you get into trouble.

Has your computer been acting strange lately? It could be Spyware!

by John Weigand

Is your computer running slower than it used to? Are you getting pop up advertisements even when your browser is not running? Has your browser home page changed to something you never heard of? Are there new things on your favorites list that you don't remember putting there? Is there a strange toolbar appearing on your browser? These are all symptoms of adware or spyware (also known as "parasites") and your computer could be infected! 

Spyware growth exploded in 2004 and is continuing. One spyware removal company estimates up to 80 % of all computers may have spyware or adware installed and their owners don't even know it.

So what is spyware and adware anyway? Spyware is a class of software programs that basically spy on your PC activity. They can take the form of Key Loggers, which keep track of your PC keystrokes then send your activity to a website or somewhere else. This could include credit card numbers, passwords, etc. Another form is something called a Trojan Horse. Just like the name implies, it gets in to your PC without your knowledge, it can change settings, erase or change files and do all sorts of damage. Adware is somewhat like spyware except it is focused on finding out what you do and then sending you advertisements in e-mail or pop-up ads. Spyware and adware can lurk secretly on your PC for a long time without you knowing about it, so it pays to know the symptoms and take action when you see them.

So how do you end up with this stuff? There are many ways; if you have downloaded any P2P software such as Kazaa or Grokster, chances are it came with some spyware. Some "freeware" programs have it packaged with them so when you install the program the spyware installs too. You can also pickup spyware just by visiting certain websites or opening some unsolicited e-mail.

So what can you do to keep from getting it?  There is no complete surefire way, but there are some things you can do. First, make sure you keep your Windows software updated by downloading the latest updates from Microsoft. Second, make sure you have a good anti-virus product which keeps the definitions automatically updated and has an anti-spyware function.

 If you have a broadband connection to the internet, you want to make sure you have a quality firewall installed like Outpost Firewall to help you control programs that are using your internet connection. Also, when you download any software make sure you read the EULA (End User Licensing Agreement) before you install the program. Some EULA's actually tell you that they are installing spyware, although not in so many words!

If you use Microsoft's Internet Explorer, another way of reducing your risk of exploitation is to go to Tools> Internet Options> Security and set the security level for the Internet Zone to "High". (If no slider is visible, click "Default level" to make it appear first.) Then set the security level for the Trusted Zone to "Medium" and add the sites you use and trust to this zone; you may need to do this quite often as many poorly designed sites just won't work in high-security mode.

What can you do if you get infected?  First, you don't have to go out and buy a new computer (unless you want one), your computer is probably salvageable.  If your PC is just starting to show symptoms but is still working, don't wait, download a  good anti-spyware product install and run it. They will find and eliminate the nasty stuff!  If you wait too long, the situation will get much worse, maybe forcing a complete reinstallation of Windows and the loss of valuable data.  If your computer is too far gone, locked up or slowing to the point of being unusable, you need to get help. Your best course of action at this stage is to hire a competent technician that is familiar with spyware/adware and the tools needed to remove it. That way you can be as certain as possible that all traces of the parasites are gone and hopefully forever!

More stories and information about Spyware...

Pop-up Advertisements Offering Anti-virus Software Pose Threat to Internet Users

from the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, December 11, 2009

An ongoing threat exists for computer users who, while browsing the Internet, began receiving pop-up security warnings that state their computers are infected with numerous viruses.

These pop-ups known as scareware, fake, or rogue anti-virus software look authentic and may even display what appears to be real-time anti-virus scanning of the user's hard drive. The scareware will show a list of reputable software icons; however, the user cannot click a link to go to the actual site to review or see recommendations.

The scareware is intimidating to most users and extremely aggressive in its attempt to lure the user into purchasing the rogue software that will allegedly remove the viruses from their computer. It is possible that these threats are received as a result of clicking on advertisements contained on a website. Cyber criminals use botnets to push the software and use advertisements on websites to deliver it. This is known as malicious advertising or malvertising.

Once the pop-up appears it cannot be easily closed by clicking "close" or the "X" button. If the user clicks on the pop-up to purchase the software, a form is provided that collects payment information and the user is charged for the bogus product. In some instances, whether the user clicks on the pop-up or not, the scareware can install malicious code onto the computer. By running your computer with an account that has rights to install software, this issue is more likely to occur.

Downloading the software could result in viruses, Trojans and/or keyloggers being installed on the user's computer. The repercussions of downloading the malicious software could prove further financial loss to the victim due to computer repair, as well as, cost to the user and/or financial institutions due to identity theft.

The assertive tactics of the scareware has caused significant losses to users. The FBI is aware of an estimated loss to victims in excess of $150 million.

Be cautious cyber criminals use easy to remember names and associate them with known applications. Beware of pop-ups that are offering a variation of recognized security software. It is recommended that the user research the exact name of the software being offered.

Take precautions to ensure operating systems are updated and security software is current.

If a user receives these anti-virus pop-ups, it is recommended to close the browser or shut the system down. It is suggested that the user run a full, anti-virus scan whenever the computer is turned back on.

If you have experienced the anti-virus pop-ups or a similar scam, please notify the IC3 by filing a complaint at www.IC3.gov.

Pharming Out-Scams Phishing

First came phishing scams, in which con artists hooked unwary internet users one by one into compromising their personal data. Now the latest cyberswindle, pharming, threatens to reel in entire schools of victims.

Pharmers simply redirect as many users as possible from the legitimate commercial websites they'd intended to visit and lead them to malicious ones. The bogus sites, to which victims are redirected without their knowledge or consent, will likely look the same as a genuine site. But when users enter their login name and password, the information is captured by criminals.

Read more....

"Puddle Phishing" Hits Small Banks, Credit Unions

Phishers are baiting users of smaller banks, a security firm said Monday, calling the practice "puddle phishing."

"In the past, phishers focused on mainstream consumer sites with millions of users, but now the targets are becoming much smaller and more localized," said Dan Hubbard, senior director of security at Websense, in a statement. "By targeting a bank with just a few branches, the number of potential phishing prey is reduced to a much smaller number, sometimes to just a few thousand people. Nonetheless, the fact that we are seeing more and more of the smaller financial outlets being targeted by phishing attacks may indicate that this is a highly profitable scam."

Cumberland County Computer & Electronics Recycling Day

If you are a Cumberland County resident, you can recycle during Cumberland County Computer Electronics Recycling Days held twice each year.

UPDATE: The recycling date for 2009 has past. Stay tuned for updates.

Old electronic equipment is a rapidly growing part of our waste stream.  Electronics contains metals that if not properly managed can become hazardous waste.  The average TV or computer monitor contain between 4 and 7 pounds of lead. Old electronics can be demanufactured to recover metal and plastic for recycling or reuse.  Recycle your old electronics by participating in this program!  For more information call the Solid Waste Authority of Cumberland County at 717-240-6489. 

Brookridge Computer also accepts select recent model computers for repair and donation to needy parties.  If you would like to donate a computer, please call us at 717-732-5863.

Ink Jet printer cartridge recycling

The Solid Waste Authority of Cumberland County is partnering with the Cumberland County Library System to offer free Ink Jet printer cartridge recycling. Each empty ink jet cartridge that is recycled reduces the amount of solid waste that is put into landfills. It also reduces the amount of limited natural resources required to produce new cartridges. The process is simple: visit the library, take one of the pre-addressed, postage paid envelopes, insert the cartridge, and drop in the mail. The Joseph T. Simpson Public Library in Mechanicsburg is by drop off only. Participating libraries are: More information about recycling...

Is your PC overheating?

Serious heat and delicate PC electronics aren't a good combination if you want to keep your PC running smoothly. Your PC should be located in a room of moderate temperature (not too hot or too cold), not situated on top of a direct heat source, and not placed directly in the sun. Care should be taken to keep the PC's vents clear of dust and debris, and to keep the vents unblocked (don't have anything directly in front, behind, or to the side of the PC reducing flow of warm air from the inside to the outside of the PC).

If you think your PC might need a cleaning, give us a call. We can clean and test it for a very reasonable cost.

Latest Virus Information

More news and tips....


Brookridge Computer 717-732-5863

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