Internet Surfing Basics – Rules

Grown children are buying computers for their parents to improve communication. Many of the “long-in-tooth” crowd pick it right up. Others, not so much. This series is intended for the absolute beginner, but you might get something out of it too.

Overview

The internet continues to grow in importance in our daily lives. It offers us an opportunity to retrieve a seemingly infinite amount of information. Every dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, news source and educational institution in the world is at your fingertips (literally). It has enabled immediacy in social communication and business applications. But it can also lead to hours of hair-pulling, expletive-bellowing frustration. This guide can serve as a quick resource for those times when your hair and your dignity are threatened. So, let’s get started:

RULE #1

SECURITY

Internet SecuritySafe surfing means having a basic understanding of what dangers exist and how they affect you. Viruses, spyware, malware and adware affect Microsoft Windows computers primarily. Hackers are indiscriminate, but the vast majority of hackers typically attempt to compromise Windows machines. Due to the architecture of Microsoft software and operating system, more opportunities exist for the hacker to exploit Windows, than in Linux machines or Macs.

The specific definitions of spyware, malware, et al; are unimportant. The idea is to know what to look for, avoid them when possible and/or remove them once they’ve landed on your computer. Avoiding them means knowing what not to click on, removing them is the practice of cleaning out your machine from time to time.

Some adware and spyware are unavoidable annoyances, but not much of a threat. Viruses, malware, key-loggers and rootkits on the other hand can pose a serious security risk. The repercussions of an infection from these little programs, which is what they are, can range from annoying and/or embarrassing pop-ups to the compromise of your bank accounts and all of your personal information. Notice I didn’t say “some” or “a little bit of.”

If that last sentence scared you, GOOD. The hackers still have the upper hand, but, that doesn’t mean you have to be afraid of surfing the internet. There are tools you can use and techniques you can employ to protect your privacy.

First Line of Defense:

Put a router in between your computer and your modem. Even if there’s only one computer in the house, a router is a hardware firewall which effectively anonymizes the ip address of your computer. Software firewalls, like the Windows Security Center, are easily compromised and highly ineffective.

To other computers, your computer is a series of numbers called an ip address. Each computer has a unique ip address, sort of like a fingerprint. The internet is really just a bunch of computers all connected together in a network. The network is made up of Servers and Clients. Servers direct all the traffic, track and log activity and store information. Clients are users, like you.

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When you open a browser (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, Safari, etc) you make a call or a request to a Server, which is typically your Internet Service Provider or ISP. The Server sends your request to it’s intended destination which is usually a website that resides on a Server somewhere else. Your identifier, in the form of your ip address is stored on every server you visit and are directed to, and through.

Hacker Exploits

When one of these bad programs or a hacker obtains the ip address of your actual computer it/they begin a series of searches for what’s called open ports. Your computer has over 10,000 ports that are used by different programs on your computer for a variety of functions, but most often they are used as a portal for a specific program to communicate with other components via the internet or network.

Hackers, both white-hat (good guys, right) and black-hat, have found vulnerabilities in the code used to actuate these processes and have developed what are called exploits to attempt to break in or compromise a computer system.

That’s one reason Microsoft regularly sends out updates. Updates many times are patches or fixes to their own code which repair the vulnerabilities. That’s why anyone in IT recommends updating your system regularly.

Your Router is the Gatekeeper

The benefit of putting a router between your computer and your modem, is that a router adopts the ip address and basically becomes the gatekeeper between you and the internet. A router is a small computer that only runs one program, typically utilizing the Linux OS, which is extremely difficult to hack if not impossible.

Therefore, hacker exploits are stopped at the gate as it were, unless you inadvertently let them in by clicking on the wrong link.

Just Say No To Pop-ups

If you see a pop-up that you weren’t expecting, close it. On my FREE Guide to Internet Security, I show several examples of fake system messages. Unfortunately, the bad guys have gotten good at replicating actual websites and system messages. If you are unsure, Google can be your best friend. Look at the message and either write down the contents of the message or open up a separate browser tab or window and do a Google search based on the message. Please read my FREE Guide for more info.

Impostor Links/Sites

Another point of entry is through email and Impostor Links. Impostor links lead to Impostor sites which look exactly like Bank, Credit Card, etc sites, but are clones whose sole intent is to get your information.

One way to check whether or not a link is an imposter is to place your mouse pointer over the link, without clicking on it and look at the web address in the bottom left-hand corner of your browser window as illustrated below.

click on pic to enlarge

Web site link in left-hand corner

By looking at the link you can find clues as to whether or not the link is real. For instance, most websites in the US end in .com, .net, .org, .biz or .info. Below are some examples:

  • http://www.bankofamerica.com – (real link to real site)
  • http://de.bankofamerica.com – (fake)
  • http://www.bankofamerica.de.com – (fake)
  • http://www.bankofamerica.com.ru – (fake)
  • http://www.bankofamerica.info.ru.com – (fake)

ISP spam, virus and phishing filters have improved, but every now and then something will slip through and it pays, literally to be on the safe side.

I hope this first installment has been helpful. Please don’t hesitate to comment, critique or contact me with any questions.

peace, out.

  
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When USB is Not Working

How To Get Your USB Hub Working

USB - How to fix

(This How To is primarily for Microsoft Windows users.)

The multitude of devices that utilize the USB connection and the even greater number of device drivers and versions of device drivers can and will cause problems from time to time. Devices are digital cameras, card readers, printers, flash drives or any piece of hardware that plugs into your computer via the USB connection. Changes and updates in the Operating System environment are constant and as such can corrupt device drivers. Device drivers are software applications (.dll files) that enable your device to communicate with your computer. Here are a few tips on how to fix your USB connection:

Symptom:

Computer does not recognize USB connection. Or, computer recognizes when USB is plugged in but doesn’t see your device or doesn’t work properly.

Possible Causes:

  • Corrupted device driver
  • Corrupted USB Controller drivers
  • Outdated device firmware
  • Faulty USB cable
  • Faulty device
  • Faulty Motherboard

How to Check:

Troubleshooting a computer issue is most often a pr0cess of elimination. We start with the least complicated measures to correct the problem, test and if unsuccessful move on to the next.

Faulty USB cable

unplug the usb cable and if possible, try it out with another device or on another computer.

Corrupted USB Controller drivers

*(This is the most common problem with USB connections)

Right Mouse-Click on My Computer and Select Properties

Start Menu - Right Click My Computer - Properties

Click on Device Manager

System Properties

Click on the (-) minus sign next to Universal Serial Bus Controllers

Device Manager - USB

>Look for a yellow question mark or exclamation mark over any of the USB device drivers.

If that is the case, right mouse-click on the driver with the question mark or exclamation mark and hit your Delete key, then restart your computer. Deleting the driver and restarting will force your computer to re-install that particular driver. Updating the driver is an option, if you have an updated version that you’ve downloaded, but most often Windows will recognize that the driver is already installed but not that it’s corrupted so it won’t automatically re-install. Deleting and re-starting forces the issue.

>If there are no yellow question marks or exclamation marks, or the above procedure did not resolve the issue:

Remove the battery in your computer for at least 30 seconds, replace and restart.

  • Turn off your computer
  • Unplug the power cable from the back
  • Remove the side panel and look for the battery

Computer Battery

When digging into your computer always unplug the power source. You may have to check online to see how to remove the side panel from your particular model. Once inside, look for something resembling the image above. The battery is held in place by a small clip enclosure which can be released by pressing the little tab with a small flathead screwdriver or even a pen. Leave the battery out for at least 30-45 seconds, this will reset the motherboard so you may have to readjust the time or internal clock once you computer fires back up.

>If the above did not resolve the issue

Faulty Device Driver/Faulty Device

If your particular device is not working, make sure that the USB controller is working by testing it with other USB connected devices. If they are, read on:

Check for updated software or firmware on your device

Most devices are powered by software called Firmware. Firmware is updated periodically as issues arise with the device in question. Go to the device manufacturers website, look for the support or downloads section and search for updated software or firmware versions associated with your device.

If reinstalling the software or firmware still does not resolve the issue, you may need to contact the manufacturer for either more detailed instructions or replacement.

Faulty Motherboard

As mentioned above, the last possible problem could be a faulty motherboard, but test out the USB connections extensively with other devices before you make that determination. As with the devices, the firmware on the motherboard may need to be updated. Check with the computer or motherboard manufacturers website for updates. If that finally does not resolve the issue, feel free to contact me with the specifics of your particular issue.

Good Luck

  
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Wipe Your Hard-Drive Clean and Start Over

Update: This article was written in 2008, and while much of it is still relevant, DBAN has had issues with some newer hardware and Operating Systems (i.e. Vista, Win7)

A 3 step process to save your data and clean your computer, once and for all (until the next time).

Microsoft Windows

This tutorial is primarily for Microsoft Windows users, however the FREE software is cross-platform

There are times when all else fails. You’ve tried everything and none of it worked. Your computer is so messed up you can’t deal with it anymore and it’s time to do something drastic. The good news is you don’t have to lose everything to do it. I wipe my drives clean once a year minimum, sometimes more.

Why…? Because they get messed up.

No matter how careful you are (and I’m not); drivers, configuration files, shared resources and many of the hundreds of thousands of files needed to run your windows machine are going to get corrupted. It’s a fact of life. Seconds after you bought your computer it became a dinosaur. Technology is moving forward at a blistering pace and our computers are constantly updating themselves but sometimes with disastrous results. Or, you may have gotten infected with a virus that will not go away. Whatever the case, it becomes necessary from time to time to start all over again.

Tools:

Thumb-drive or Flash-drive

An 8 Gigabyte Flash drive can be had at geeks.com for under $25. A 64 GB Flash Drive (largest they make as of this writing) will run about $150. I’m always looking for FREE or really cheap. If you think you’ll use a 64 GB Flash Drive often, go for it. If your Flash Drive is large enough to store all the data you need, you won’t need to back it up onto a CD/DVD, however, it’s still a good idea to backup your docs on a disk from time to time. If you store everything in My Documents, you can find out real quick how much you have.

Great Deals @ Geeks.com!

  • Right mouse-click on the My Documents folder and click on Properties.

Right-click on My Documents and go to Properties

CD or DVD Burner and blank discs

Burning your photos, music and other documents onto a CD or DVD is a great way to backup your data. I recommend doing it once or twice a year as an individual or monthly if you’re using your computer for business purposes. If you have a choice between CDs or DVDs, definitely go with DVDs. DVDs are sturdier in construction and hold up to 4.7 Gigs of data as opposed to 700 Mb on a CD. Double-sided DVDs can hold 8.5 Gigs. If you have a Blu-Ray burner, use that. Blu-Rays hold 25-50 Gigs of data and are built to last. CDs have about a five year life with moderate use. Blu-Ray Discs and DVDs can last 15-25 years with moderate use. If you’re using them solely for backup purposes, they’ll last much longer than that.

Darik’s Boot-n-Nuke

Darik Horn’s FREE software for wiping your hard drive clean. Download the software here. If you plan on selling or disposing of a computer, I recommend using DBAN to erase any data first. When you delete a file on your computer, it doesn’t actually go away. It’s simply moved to a different location and written over. If you haven’t deleted that many files, chances are you or whoever gets your computer, can retrieve almost every file ever deleted. Scary right.

CAUTION!

No really, once this program gets started it’s too late. The download is an .iso file or disk image file. It requires a program like Nero Burning Rom, MagicISO or PowerISO to run. If you don’t have any of those and are digging this FREE thing, you can download ISO RECORDER for XP and Vista and install that first. Create a boot-able CD and you’re ready to roll.

Then, simply put the disk in the drive and do a restart. Your system should boot from the CD, but if not, do another restart but watch for a really quick message that tells you which key (f8 usually for Vista – f12 usually for xp) to push to get to the Boot From menu. Once there choose boot from CD. Once your computer boots from the CD you’ll see the Linux OS begin to load followed by a prompt asking you to type in one word: autonuke. Make sure you’re ready, because there’s no turning back after this step.

Depending on the size of your hard drive and speed of your processor this can take anywhere from 2 hours to 2 days.

Windows OS CD or DVD (win2k, XP, Vista)

Most computers you buy today DO NOT come with the operating system (OS) disks. The disks included are usually driver files for recovery purposes and junk software you don’t need. In many cases you can request the company to send you the OS disks, but they’ll often charge you for shipping or other fees. If you have the license, why should you have to pay for the software again? There are FREE options available, which I will not go into here, but contact me if you’re interested.

Finally the steps

STEP ONE

1. Backup all your data onto a flash drive, CD or DVD. If possible, copy your entire My Documents folder over. If your computer is a Dell, HP, Gatway, Compaq or other well known brand go to the manufacturer’s website and download all the necessary drivers for your machine. If you are changing from Vista to XP or vice-versa, make sure you download the correct drivers. Make sure you have all the serial numbers for each program you want to reinstall. If you use Microsoft Office and have no idea what the serial number is, there are FREE programs to retrieve that information. Check out these: Belarc Advisor or Magic Jellybean Finder. If you use Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express you’ll need to export your Personal Folders or .pst files and copy that separately.

Outlook Steps:

  • Open Outlook, go to File then Import and Export

Outlook Import Export

  • Next click on Export to a File

Export to a File

  • Click on Personal Folder File

Personal Folder File

  • Make sure to choose the top folder – Personal Folders

Choose Personal Folders

  • Finally, browse to a location to save the file and rename it to something that means something to you.

Browse to location to save to and rename

Include that .pst file in with all the other docs you’re saving.

STEP TWO

Place the Darik’s Boot-n-Nuke Disk in your CD or DVD drive and restart your computer.

As mentioned above, it’s going to take a while. The program begins and after 5 or 10 minutes the window will display how much time is left to erase your hard drive.

STEP THREE

Remove the Boot-n-Nuke disk, put your Windows OS disk in and restart your computer.

That’s basically it right? Sort of…

After Windows installs, each of your programs will need to be re-installed, along with all of the Windows updates and plugins.

Make sure to include all of these when updating your computer:

It’s a pain in the butt, I know…

But your newly refreshed computer will buzz along faster than ever and everything will work right, at least until you screw it up again.

peace out.

  
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