Category: Windows tips

How to keep your PC secure when Microsoft ends Windows XP support

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After a legendary dozen year run, Microsoft will stop providing security patches for Windows XP on April 8, 2014. Without Microsoft’s protection, all those WinXP PCs will have targets painted on their hard drives.

Nearly 30 percent of Internet-connected PCs still run Windows XP, and no, they won’t die that day. They’ll continue running like normal, but they’ll be rotting inside, becoming increasingly full of security holes.

You should upgrade from Windows XP right now if at all possible—but not everyone can cut the XP cord so completely. If you can’t upgrade, there are some things you can do to protect yourself. Make no mistake: These tricks are like sticking your finger in a leaking dam. They’ll help a bit, but the dam is crumbling and it’s time to get out of the way.

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Reinstall Windows when you’ve lost your reinstall disc or partition

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Every computer sold with Windows pre-installed must come with a tool for reinstalling the operating system. The most common approach puts the restoration tool on a special partition on the hard drive. Some PCs, especially from small manufacturers, come instead with an OEM Windows DVD.

But what do you do if the partition has been lost–either through a hard drive crash or user error? Or what if that DVD has been misplaced?

If you purchased the PC from a major vendor, contact them and ask if they can provide a replacement. These usually come on a DVD or a flash drive. I know for a fact that Lenovo, Dell, and HP offer this service for a small fee.

Another option that might work: See if you can borrow a Windows DVD from someone. It must be the exact version of Windows your PC had–for instance, Windows 7 Home Premium. It also must be a complete version, not an upgrade disc.

After the installation, when it comes time to activate Windows, use the activation number on your PC. It will be on a plate, probably on the back of your desktop PC or the bottom of your laptop. Do not use the activation number on the package the disc came in. If you do, it will either fail or severely inconvenience the friend who lent you the disc.

When malware strikes: How to clean an infected PC

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You work hard to protect your PC from the malicious thugs of our digital world. You keep your antivirus program up to date. You avoid questionable Web sites. You don’t open suspicious email attachments. You keep Java, Flash, and Adobe Reader up-to-date—or better yet, you learn to live without them.

But against all odds, a clever new Trojan horse slipped through the cracks, and now you’re the unhappy owner of an infected PC. Or perhaps a less-vigilant friend has begged you to clean up a plague-ridden mess.

Obviously, you need to scan the computer and remove the malware. Here’s a methodical approach that you can use to determine what the problem is, how to scan, and what to do afterward to protect the PC from future invasions.

  • Verify the infection: Is the PC in question really infected? I’ve seen people blame “another damn virus” for everything from a bad sound card to their own stupidity. The first step in restoring the system’s health is to determine whether what you’re dealing with is a virus rather than a problem with hardware, software, or user error.

If your PC is unusually slow, or if it seems to do a lot of things on its own that you haven’t asked it to do, you have reason to be suspicious. But before you decide that a virus must be responsible, take a moment to launch the Windows Task Manager (right-click the Windows taskbar, and select Task Manager from the pop-up menu). Open the Processes tab, and check for any strange or unknown applications running in the background—especially those with nonsensical names and no recognizable authority listed in the description. The odd-looking “wuauclt” process is fine, for example, because it belongs to Microsoft (it’s actually part of the Windows Update service, as you can tell from the description.)

Of course, this is only general guidance; there’s nothing to stop a piece of malware from masquerading as a legitimate process by sporting an inoffensive description. That said, you’d be surprised how often a piece of malware gives itself away with a line of strange characters or symbols where the process description should be.

  •  Check for sure signs of malware: Truly insidious malware will preemptively block you from trying to remove it. If your PC suddenly won’t load utilities that might help you manually remove malware—such as msconfig or regedit—be suspicious. If your antivirus program suddenly stops loading, that’s a huge red flag.

Sometimes the attack is more obvious. If a program you don’t recognize suddenly pops up and starts displaying dire warnings and asks you to run an executable file or asks for your credit card number, your PC is definitely infected with some nasty malware. Never fork over your credit card information or other personal data to a program or website that tries to warn you that your PC is about to die. More often than not it’s a rogue program, fear-mongering malware that tries to scare you into giving up your private info by issuing doomsday warnings of imminent hard drive failure, catastrophic viral infection, or worse.

  • Check online for possible fixes: The one benefit of those scary pop-ups is that they could point you toward a cure. Use your favorite search engine to look for phrases that appear in the pop-up—you’ll probably find other people fighting the same infection. Their experiences could help you identify your enemy or even find step-by-step instructions for removing the malware. Be prudent: Take advice only from sites that seem reputable, and remember to perform a full scan of your PC after you’ve followed any instructions, even ours.

Barring any clues that lead you to a magic solution, scanning becomes your next and most important step.

  •  Assume that your old virus scanner is compromised: Don’t waste time scanning your hard drive(s) with your regular antivirus program. After all, that program probably failed to catch the malware in the first place.

But don’t be too hard on it. Nothing’s perfect, and even the best antivirus program can occasionally miss a new or particularly cleverly designed virus. And once that virus slips through, your antivirus program is compromised. You have to assume that the malware, not the security software, is in control.

You need a fresh malware scanner—one that’s not already installed on your computer. It must be capable of detecting and removing malware from your PC, and you need to run it in an environment where the malware can’t load first. Linux is your best bet, but before you jump to that option, try booting into Windows Safe Mode to see if you can outflank your virus infestation there.

  •  Use a lightweight scanner inside Safe Mode: Windows has a Safe Mode that boots a minimal version of the operating system, with generic drivers and nothing else. It doesn’t load most startup applications and—most likely—it won’t load the malware that’s infesting your PC.

To enter Safe Mode, boot your computer and press the F8 function key before Windows starts loading. The timing is tricky, so it’s best to mash F8 repeatedly from the moment the motherboard manufacturer’s logo appears onscreen until you get the boot menu.

When you reach that menu, select Safe Mode with Networking from the list of boot options. The with Networking part is important—you’re going to need Internet access to solve your virus problem.

Once in Safe Mode, open Internet Explorer (using other browsers in Safe Mode is often problematic) and run a reputable online virus scanner. Use a web-based virus detection app that is always up-to-date and runs off a remote server. You’ll have to accept a browser add-in, but the scanner should remove it when it’s done. Before you start the scan, click Advanced settings and enable as many extra levels of scrutiny as you can, including scanning file archives and browser data.

You might also try Trend Micro’s HouseCall. Though it isn’t a Web app, it is portable, so you can download HouseCall on another computer and copy it to a flash drive, thereby creating a portable PC virus scanner. Then, when you run into trouble you can plug the flash drive into the infected PC and run the program from there (you’ll still need an Internet connection for a definition update, however.) When using HouseCall, don’t run it on default settings: Before you click the big blue Scan Now button, click Settings and select Full system scan.

Whichever scanner you use, don’t rush to get through this part of the process. Check the options and select the slowest, most thorough scan. Then, once the scan has started, step away from the PC. Read a book. Do the dishes. Spend time with someone you love. The scan will—and should—take hours.

  • Remember- The second scan’s the charm: When that first scan is done—just to be sure—run another one with a different scanner.

It’s easy, and you’ll sleep better after multiple scanners have assured you that your drive is clean.

  • Look to Linux as your last line of defense: Booting into Safe Mode may not short-circuit particularly malicious malware. If you still have trouble with an infection after running multiple scans in Safe Mode, you’ll have to bypass Windows altogether and avoid booting from the hard drive. To manage that trick, use a bootable CD or flash drive running a Linux-based antivirus utility.

You don’t have to know Linux to take this step. But you will want an Internet connection, since these scanners must go online to update their malware databases.

The first step is to download a bootable virus scanner as an .iso file. From it, you can easily create a bootable CD. In Windows 7, double-click the file and follow the prompts. In Windows 8, right-click the file and select Burn disc image. For earlier versions of Windows, you’ll need a third-party program such as the free ISO Recorder.

  • Protect your newly disinfected PC: When you’re satisfied that your drive is clean, try rebooting into good old Windows. Then uninstall your old antivirus program—it has been compromised.

Of course, you don’t want to stay unprotected. Reinstall the program and update to the latest version, or (if you’ve lost all faith in it) install a competitor. For more information on how to choose the best antivirus program for your needs, check out our full rundown—with empirical testing—of the best security software available today.

Because when it comes to malware, a byte of prevention is worth a terabyte of cure.

Source: Associated Press

How to Boot Your Windows PC Fast

Looking to slash your Windows PC‘s boot time? You can boot your Windows PC 30 percent faster–without any hardware upgrades. Really!!

After several hours of tweaking and testing, we have managed to reduce the boot time of a PC from 69 seconds to 47 seconds. Here’s how we did it.

When you fire up your PC, the processor performs some initial startup steps and then looks for a specific memory address in the boot loader ROM. Next, the processor starts to run code that it finds at this location, which is the system boot loader. The boot ROM enumerates all of the hardware in the system and performs a number of diagnostic tests. Then it looks for a specific location on the first storage device–probably your hard drive, assuming that the system isn’t set up to boot from a network–and runs code found in that location. That’s the start of the operating system load process.

For Windows, the code that your processor loads is the Windows Boot Manager. The boot manager then begins the process of loading Windows. At some point during this process, the core of the Windows operating system–the kernel–loads into memory along with some key drivers and the hardware abstraction layerThe HAL functions as the interface between the operating system and the underlying hardware. After this, the Windows Executive, a collection of essential services such as the virtual memory manager and the I/O manager, fires up and loads the Windows Registry.

The Registry contains information about what services, drivers, and applications load during boot. The Registry is actually a database that stores configuration settings, options, and key locations for both high-level applications and low-level OS services. Over time, as users install and uninstall apps, the size of the Registry can balloon, thereby increasing load times. Boot times are also affected by the loading of key services and startup applications.

In view of the PC boot process, we can explore several areas to reduce boot times:

Let’s consider each of these Windows functions individually.

Before proceeding further, we need to measure system’s weak boot time. One way to do this is to create a text file containing the text “Stop the Stopwatch.” Drop this into the Windows startup applications folder in C:\Users\your username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup. This allows you to time the boot process with a stopwatch and know when to stop the watch. The boot process isn’t completely finished at this point, but the system will be in a usable state.

Measured by this method, our system took 69 seconds to boot–far too long.

First, we looked at the startup services that opened when our system booted. You can check the list for your PC by running msconfig, a built-in Windows utility. Click the Start menu, type Run, press Enter, and then type msconfig in the Run box. Click the Services tab. In the accompanying screenshot you can see that, for simplicity’s sake, we ticked the checkbox next to ‘Hide all Microsoft services’; nevertheless, we did plan all along to disable a few Windows services.

In addition to disabling all of the services shown in the above list, we disabled six Microsoft Windows services from starting on boot:

  • Windows Media Center receiver
  • Windows Media Center Scheduler service
  • Microsoft Office Groove Audit Service
  • Microsoft Office Diagnostic Service
  • Smart Card Removal Policy
  • Smart Card

Since we don’t use Windows Media Center on this system, disabling the first item on the list was an easy decision. And these changes only scratch the surface. Another item that you might disable on startup is Remote Login (if you never use it). The right choices depend on your needs.

After disabling the extraneous application services and a handful of Microsoft services, we found that the system now took 68 seconds to boot–not much of an improvement. The next step was to disable a few startup applications.

Msconfig’s Startup tab lists applications that start on bootup. Here is the list on our test system.

  1. Adobe Update
  2. QuickTime
  3. Adobe CS5..
  4. Adobe Acrobat
  5. Adobe Reader
  6. Stopwatch

Most of the listed startup applets are at least occasionally useful, but none are essential from the get-go. we can manually check for Adobe updates, let QuickTime and Acrobat start a tiny bit slower when we need them, and so on. So we just unchecked all of the applets on the Startup list.

System boot time: 57 seconds.

Disabling startup applications and a few services trimmed 11 seconds off a 69-second boot time–an improvement of nearly 16 percent.

Now motherboard on our test system has two ethernet connectors, but we need only one of them. The motherboard is also set up to check the optical drive to see whether it contains a bootable CD or DVD–and only after that, to try to boot off the hard drive. And finally, since we don’t use an external and secondary SATA controller, we don’t need a BIOS check for the Marvell discrete SATA controller. Armed with this knowledge, we entered  PC’s BIOS during startup, and performed three quick operations:

  1. Disabling the second ethernet port
  2. Setting up the system to boot from the hard drive first
  3. Disabling the discrete SATA controller.

Boot time: 52 seconds

So on our system, disabling a few unused BIOS items netted a savings of additional 5 seconds at bootup.

A number of articles suggest that cleaning the Registry of unused or orphan database entries lead to faster boot times, but many of them base that conclusion on rather extreme testing loading up a system with a lot of junk, and then using a Registry cleaner to remove the new additions. We used Piriform’s Ccleaner 3.12, a popular Registry and system cleaner to autoscan my system and identify items that it thought were useless.

first having Ccleaner remove extraneous files, cookies, index files, log files, and other clutter, and then accepting Ccleaner’s recommendations regarding unneeded Registry entries and cleaning those out. The first sweep with Ccleaner improved my test system’s boot time by 1 second (to 51 seconds,) and the second sweep yielded another 1-second advance (to 50 seconds).

now  we have one more corrective measure to try: setting the boot timeout delay.

You might expect changing the boot timeout not to have much impact, since all it does is specify how long Windows may display an automatic menu, such as the Startup Repair menu. But it turns out that changing the boot timeout does affect boot performance.

The default boot timeout setting on our test PC was 30 seconds; but 10 seconds should give users sufficient time to respond to any menus that Windows may present. So the boot time after we made this change: 47 seconds. It’s unclear why this alteration has such a relatively large impact, but 3 seconds is 3 seconds.

You can dig deeper into each step of the process we’ve outlined here to reduce boot times further. But with a modest amount of effort, the boot time on our fairly typical system dropped from 69 seconds to 47 seconds, a reduction of more than 30 percent.

The key is to optimize each step of the boot process, one at a time. but sometimes your computer is taking longer to boot because your hard drive is about to crash to always run a hard drive health check first and When in doubt contact Stellar Phoenix Solutions.

  • Call us at 1 855 BY STELLAR (297 8355) or click here to complete a service request form.
  • You may also visit their website directly to learn more about our capabilities

Is it ok to run computer for hours without shutting it down?

 

Most of us let our Desktop or Laptop run for days…weeks..or even years put together. Is it safe? will that impact my data? will that impact its performance? We at Stellar Phoenix face many such questions on daily bases. There is nothing wrong in leaving a machine run for extended hours. A computer has more detrimental impact from electrical spikes and failure of drives etc than simply leaving the PC running.

Heat can be your biggest enemy. You will find that even with the energy new conservation settings available, heat is produced when power is consumed. Yes with proper ventilation the IC components will remain in the tolerable operating range of temperature. However life span is shortened by heat. However variance in temperature from shutting off, then turning on (cool/hat) also damages the chips lifespan.

The most important component that is affected mostly is the hard drive unfortunately its the worse component to crash because it holds all your important data. A hard drive usually is made for 3000-5000 hours of normal usage. Hard drive manufactures offer 3-5 years of manufacture warrantee but Customers replace disk drives 15 times more often than drive vendors’ estimate, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University.  The comparatively high replacement rates are not surprising because of the difference between the “clean room” environment in which vendors test and the heat, dust, noise or vibrations in an actual work environment. Experts have also seen overall drive quality falling over time as the result of price competition in the industry.

We can also argue that the same hard drives are part of these sophisticated servers and they run for years put together then why will the same hard drive crashes in my desktop or laptop?

Server rooms have anti-static floor finishing, maximum electrical intensity of computing equipment of 300 watts per square foot, heating, cooling and humidity controlled environment 72°F (+/- 2°F) and 45% RH (+/- 5%). Nothing like an actual daily work environment.

We at Stellar Phoenix would suggest one should not let a machine run un-attended for hours together. One should always shutdown of not then leave your machine on hibernate mode to avoid any permanent data loss