TWT Newsletter, Issue #035 – Competition time, Administrator accounts, worth the risk? and lots more
Hello from Top Windows Tutorials HQ. It’s the 10th of April and so time for your new TWT Newsletter to spring into action. We hope you all had a happy Easter and didn’t eat too much chocolate. This month we are looking more closely at two topics we’ve touched on in the past, namely fake antivirus and running non-administrative accounts. We’ll also have our regular free utility and tip of the month too, of course.
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In this months issue:-
1) What’s new at Top-Windows-Tutorials.com?
2) Competition Time! Win one of 25 Oops Backup licences!
3) Windows Phone 7 – Update
4) Fake antivirus gets even more malicious
5) Administrator accounts – Worth the risk?
6) Tip of the Month – Prune those startup applications
7) Free Utility of the Month – Seesmic Desktop
8) The 15th anniversary of Microsoft Bob (wait, who?)
What’s new at Top-Windows-Tutorials.com?
Another busy month with plenty of new content for our readers in March. We started the month with a look at 5 different file level backup packages, putting each package through its paces yielded some interesting results, find out which package we liked best by visiting this page.
Eraser, the popular free file shredding utility, recently went through a major upgrade. Our Eraser tutorials are now fully updated for version 6 of this excellent free software. Visit this page to find out more.
After reviewing and testing the excellent Oops Backup in our file backup software review, we created three tutorials to help users get the best out of this powerful, easy to use backup solution. Click here to view the first tutorial in the series.
As part of our commitment to improve our coverage of backup and backup solutions, we added a new case study to our planning a backup section. In this case study, we design a cost effective backup solution for a student around Oops Backup, visit this page to learn more.
Finally, there were two more updates for existing tutorials in March. The popular Combined Community Codec Pack can help with many media playback problems, if you are interested in installing or using it, our tutorials are now fully up-to-date, visit this page to view them.
We also updated our tutorials for Uniblue Driverscanner. This powerful utility scans the drivers on your computer and updates them if necessary. Updated drivers can make your system run much more smoothly. The new Driverscanner 2010 now fully supports 64 bit versions of Windows. Visit this page to find out more about this powerful utility.
Competition Time! Win one of 25 Oops Backup licences!
If you’ve read our file backup software review, you’ll know that we were delighted with the performance of Oops Backup. Altaro software have finally made backing up easy and inexpensive for home users! Altaro have generously given us 25 free Oops Backup licences to give out to our loyal readers. To be in with a chance of winning one, all you have to do is be a newsletter subscriber and then click here to answer a few easy questions!
The contest is open throughout April and is open to anyone who is subscribed to the TWT Newsletter (yes, that means people who subscribe in April too, so tell all your friends to sign up!). Full terms and conditions are available on the competition entry page.
Windows Phone 7 – Update
Just a quick update on the Windows Phone 7 story we ran last month. Some more details on the operating system have now emerged. Firstly, as we suspected (and feared) the new version of Windows 7 will be a closed system. That means that, unlike previous versions of the operating system, the only way to load new applications onto the device will be through Microsoft’s own app store. This closely mimics the system Apple has in place for the iPhone, where each program must be vetted before being made available for sale. This system does in some instances improve the quality of applications available for the device, but can also severely restrict what developers and users are allowed to do with the devices they purchased. Any degree of backward compatibility now also seems extremely unlikely due to the restrictions on how applications can be added to the device.
Other details that emerged were somewhat more surprising. The first generation of Windows Phone 7 devices will not feature either multitasking or cut and paste. The iPhone was heavily criticised for it’s lack of cut and paste, with some smartphone users even refusing to take the device seriously until the feature was added.
On a more positive note, Microsoft demonstrated some powerful developer tools that will allow productivity applications to be built quickly, and scaled down versions of Xbox 360 games converted to the new phone devices easily.
Given the iPhones dominant position in the market, Windows Phone 7 has a lot to prove, and with the limited features it now seems to offer, we can’t help thinking that Microsoft may have a tough time convincing users to switch. The first wave of Windows Phone 7 handsets will be on sale in time for Christmas 2010.
Fake antivirus gets even more malicious
Just a heads up for our readers, our workshop here at Top-Windows-Tutorials HQ has had to deal with several PC’s infected with fake security software. These malicious programs pose as the genuine Windows Security Center and present the user with bogus reports claiming their computers are infected with huge amounts of trojans or other spyware. The software will then demand a registration fee to remove the spyware. Of course, these reports are fake and the only spyware is that which the fake antivirus let in itself.
If you are unfortunate enough to be infected with a fake antivirus product, do not under any circumstances pay the fee in order to remove it. The program will almost certainly not be removed, instead you are likely to find your credit card rebilled over and over again while the fake antivirus is most likely still on your PC, allowing the criminals who designed the fake antivirus to get up to all sorts of mischief.
How do you tell the antivirus imposters from the legitimate programs? There are a few tell-tale signs:-
Legitimate antivirus packages will never install without your permission, even if you accidentally click a link. Legitimate antivirus packages will uninstall easily, fake antivirus software will make itself as difficult to remove as possible. Fake security software which poses as the Microsoft Security Center will provide a link from within the Security Center encouraging you to buy the fake product. The real Microsoft Security Center will never do this.
For more tips on how to spot the imposters, check out this helpful blog post from CA Security.
If you are seeing a fake antivirus or fake Security Center on your Windows machine then unfortunately it is too late to avoid being infected. What’s more, we’ve noticed this software becoming increasingly malicious. The last variant we tackled was so utterly ruthless that it prevented any new software being loaded, any configuration files being changed and any existing antivirus from updating or scanning the system. In this case, the only safe solution was to reinstall Windows and reset the computer to a factory-fresh state. With criminals producing software this insidious, prevention is much better than cure and we’ll look at one way you can help protect yourself in the next article.
Administrator accounts – Worth the risk?
Creating a security system, either in the real world or on a computer, is always a compromise between security and convenience. The most secure PC in the world is one with an encrypted hard drive, that sits in a locked cell, isolated from the internet and turned off. Of course, like that, it’s not much use to anyone.
It was in the name of convenience and simplicity, as well as to maintain some backwards compatibility that Microsoft decided that, by default, Windows XP users would run their computers with administrator accounts. Just what do we mean when we say “administrator accounts” ? If you’ve only used computers at home, you may only be familiar with administrator accounts, but if you’ve used computers at work or in a public place for example, you’ll almost certainly have been running using a limited account instead. Because it is not usually sensible for companies to allow employees to install their own software, reconfigure their internet settings or generally tinker with their computers, only the company computer administrator can do these tasks, using the administrator account. The employee has a limited account to carry out his or her day to day computing tasks.
Of course, on your home PC, you (or a member of your family) are both user and administrator. You are responsible for installing, reconfiguring and tinkering with your PC in any way you see fit. To that end, most home users run administrator accounts all the time. This is extremely convenient as it means that new software can be quickly installed or removed and system settings can be changed easily. This convenience is exploited by malicious software however. When malware is accidentally run on an administrator’s account, it can gain complete and unfettered control over your entire operating system. The results can be (and often are) catastrophic. While antivirus software can often protect you, all too often the malware industry is a step ahead and before you know it, you’re faced with a computer repair bill.
How much more vulnerable does running an administrator account make you? As reported by Ars Technica, a whitepaper recently published by BeyondTrust claims that up to 90% of Windows exploits can be mitigated by simply running as a standard user. That’s a serious amount of extra security for a little bit of occasional inconvenience.
User Account Control – non-admin made easy
On Windows XP, an administrator account has full control of the computer. As stated above, that means any programs that run can have full control of the computer too. Microsoft realised that this was a security problem and so introduced User Account Control. With UAC enabled on Windows Vista and Windows 7 machines, applications and settings that make system wide changes generate a user account control prompt. The user must then either accept or deny the action.
Running as a standard user is also much easier with Windows Vista and Windows 7. Should you encounter a situation where you need to perform an administrative task while running as a standard user, User Account Control will appear prompting you for the administrators password. On Windows XP and earlier versions of Windows, the only option would be to switch to an administrator account to carry out the task.
As long as User Account Control is enabled, running as an administrator on Windows Vista and Windows 7 is much more secure than on XP. Running as a standard user is even better, since sophisticated malware cannot simply click “Yes” to dismiss the UAC prompt (UAC prompts are designed to resist this kind of attack though it is still theoretically possible) though running as a standard user does incur the added inconvenience of having to enter a password every time you wish to carry out an administrative task.
Even if you are convinced that running as a standard user would be far too much hassle, you should still learn about the benefits of separate user accounts, particularly if you share a computer with other family members. Managing children’s account settings and installing software such as Windows Live Family Safety cannot be done without an adult to configure a standard account for the child.
Tip of the Month – Prune those startup applications
We all like our computers to be as fast as possible and we all love the latest gadgets and programs to run on our computers. However, running too many of these gadget programs can slow down your PC. If you find that your PC is a little sluggish, particularly when first starting up, you may have too many programs that run as soon as you turn your PC on.
To see exactly what is running when you start your PC, use the System Configuration utility. You can see our System Configuration utility tutorial here.
Here are some guidelines for programs run at startup:-
Certain programs need to be run at startup to function correctly, so if in doubt, search the web before disabling a program.
If you use several instant messenger programs, replace them with an all in one solution such as Pidgin or Trillian. See our Instant Messenger tutorials for more information.
Startup programs that claim to be “quick launchers” for other programs, such as the “Adobe Reader Quick Launch” can usually be disabled without any noticeable affect on the software they are designed to “quick launch”.
Need to run several applications at startup? Consider using Startup Delayer to prevent them all trying to start at the same time. You can view our Startup Delayer tutorials here.
Free Utility of the Month – Seesmic Desktop
For this months free utility we have another great app for those of you who love to Twitter and Facebook. Seesmic Desktop makes checking your twitter and finding your Facebook friend updates a breeze. What’s more, you can cross post to your twitter and Facebook accounts to update your status with one click. Stop waiting for the web and have more fun with these free social networking services and Seesmic desktop. To find out more, visit the Seesmic desktop homepage here.
The 15th anniversary of Microsoft Bob (wait, who?)
March the 31st marked the 15th anniversary of something called Microsoft Bob. Our most loyal readers may have viewed our little tour of Bob on our Youtube channel. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can view it here.
Bob aimed to make the desktop a friendlier, less intimidating place for new users. It did this by changing the desktop into a virtual house and assigning animated characters or assistants to help the user as he/she worked their way through the included software. Those of you familiar with older versions of Microsoft Office may remember the Office Assistant, a direct descendant of Microsoft’s failed Bob project.
It’s interesting to look back on this footnote in Microsoft’s history and scoff, but at the time many within Microsoft, Bill Gates included, were convinced it was the future of computing for new and inexperienced users. Usability studies suggested that people identified with the animated helpers that Bob introduced. In the end though, Bob failed for a whole number of reasons. It required a very powerful (for the time) computer, graphically it looked childish and patronising and it didn’t allow users to take off the training wheels as they became more competent.
Nowadays Bob is an interesting curio, if you want to find out more, go check out our video at Youtube and this great article on Technologiser.
That’s all for April’s newsletter. Once again, thank you to all our readers for your support. The TWT Newsletter will return on the 10th May 2010 to bring you more tips, tricks and techniques to help you get the best out of your PC, be it Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7! We hope that you found this newsletter informative and useful. If you did not then please let us know why, you can contact us by visiting this page. If you have enjoyed this newsletter, feel free to pass it on to all your friends and family, or better still encourage them to sign up for their own copy! Until next month, keep checking Top-Windows-Tutorials.com and enjoy happy, safe and stress-free computing!.