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Posted on Aug 2, 2017 in Newsletter, Welcome | 0 comments

TWT Newsletter NG – Issue 50 – Travellers tips and antivirus under attack again

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TWT Newsletter NG – Issue 50

Welcome to the July 2017 TWT Newsletter

Time for another TWT newsletter! The 50th edition since we got our great WordPress make-over! Time certainly flies, but we’re still here to help make using Windows that bit less painful.

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In this months issue:-

Travelling with your tech? Here are some essential tips to keep you and your bits safe
Tip of the Month – Posture and Ergonomics matter!
Free Utility of the Month – Startup Delayer
Windows Store App of the Month – Telegram Desktop
Who guards the Gatekeeper? Windows Defender under attack!

Travelling with your tech? Here are some essential tips to keep you and your bits safe

Planning a fun trip abroad this summer? In days gone by a holiday for you meant a holiday away from the office, but now that even the most basic smartphone is a PC in your pocket, most people tend to take more and more of their working life with them when they travel. For better or worse, modern technology makes it easier to stay in touch wherever we are in the world. If you’re planning on travelling abroad this year and taking your technology, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Wherever you roam, check your roaming charges -Taking your smartphone or 3G/4G enabled device into another country means you will be subject to “roaming” charges when using it to call, text or connect to the internet. It’s best to check with your carrier before you travel as to exactly what these charges are. If you’re lucky enough to be an EU citizen travelling to another EU country, the EU has recently put a stop to all roaming charges, meaning for the most part you should be free to use your phone as if you were still in your home country. However, if you intend to use your data allowance to access the internet too, you should still double check with your carrier that there aren’t any nasty hidden charges.

Remember that apps often use data in the background even when you’re not using them, and even something as simple as scrolling your Twitter timeline may gobble up data without you even realising. Windows 10, iOS and Android all have controls in place to limit the amount of data apps can use. For Windows 10, have a good article here on how to set up metered internet connections.

One way to avoid roaming charges is to use local Wi-Fi access, but that’s not always as simple as it seems.

Do you risk the Wi-Fi? – Depending on the country you’re visiting, you may need to take certain precautions that you don’t normally take at home. Maybe you can’t drink the tap water, or use the Wi-Fi. Wait, did you just say don’t use the Wi-Fi? Using public Wi-Fi is a risk, particularly if it’s a completely open hotspot that requires no password to use it. On such hotspots, anyone within the vicinity of the network can see exactly what you’re doing online and potentially read any e-mails or instant messages you send.

Hotspots that require you to enter a password are somewhat safer. In many countries, you can ask for the password from the staff. Even then, of course, you’ve no idea how this hotspot is maintained or managed. Security researchers talk of “honey pots”, Wi-Fi hotspots specifically set up to slurp your data, it’s entirely possible for a malicious operator to do this with his or her Wi-Fi access point. Furthermore, if the access point doesn’t have the latest security updates, other users on the same network could theoretically intercept your communications.

One way to safeguard against this is to use a VPN. VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network”. It creates an encrypted tunnel over whatever connection you use, then all your data is sent over this encrypted connection. It’s a good extra layer of protection and well recommended. At the very least, when using someone else’s Wi-Fi connection, only log into websites that are protected by SSL. You can tell when a site is protected by SSL as its address will start “https”.

Of course, nothing is foolproof, a really determined hacker may be able to break even a VPN, so understand the risks before jumping on an open Wi-Fi hotspot to make that emergency cash transfer for your big business deal you couldn’t conclude before you left home.

Keep your laptop on lock-down with encryption – It’s unfortunate but true that you’re more likely to have a laptop lost or stolen while you’re travelling abroad. If your laptop contains sensitive information you should make sure that it’s encrypted so that if it is lost, a thief cannot access your data. Using a simple Windows password won’t be enough normally, you need a proper solution. Currently there are two solutions, the free and open source VeraCrypt package and Microsoft BitLocker. VeraCrypt is available for free here and we have several tutorials available for the package here. VeraCrypt is preferred by many security conscious users because it is fully open source, meaning security experts around the world can audit the code. However, it can be difficult to set up VeraCrypt’s full disk encryption on more modern PCs.

BitLocker requires Windows Professional or Enterprise, so may require home users to splash out on a new updated license.To enable BitLocker, Control Panel and navigate to System and Security, then BitLocker Drive Encryption. You can also open File Explorer, right-click a drive, and select “Turn BitLocker on”. If you don’t see this option, you don’t have the right edition of Windows and will need to use Windows Anytime Upgrade to get a different version.

Crossing borders – If you intend taking your laptop with you on holiday, be sure to check the requirements for both air travel and entry requirements at the border. Some airlines will not allow you to carry a laptop in hand-luggage at all on certain flights. Controversially, the USA in particular may demand that you unlock your laptop and submit it for full inspection before permitting you to enter the country. One option is to buy an older laptop that will perform the bare minimum of the functions you want it to do. Load only the files that you absolutely need to work on, or store your work encrypted in the cloud using OneDrive until you reach your destination. Using an older laptop for this purpose also minimises the pain of any loss or theft should such unfortunate events occur.

Go technology free – Phew, there sure are lots of pitfalls to taking your tech with you on your trip! Why not simply make a clean break of it, if you’re going to holiday, leave it all behind, even your smart phone! Get away from it all and have a proper break, it’s what we did in the old days and it never did us any harm (at least that’s what you can try and tell your children when you try and pry their tablets or phones from their hands!). Wherever you’re going and whatever you decide, have a safe and pleasant trip!

Tip of the Month – Posture and Ergonomics matter!

About to start that long report/homework assignment/novel on your PC? Don’t just stick your laptop on your lap and hunch over your screen, avoid back ache and consider the correct posture and ergonomics if you intend to work long hours at your computer. Place your laptop on a desk or table and make sure you can see the screen without hunching or excessively bending your neck. Your back should be straight, feet flat on the floor and elbows bent at 90 degrees.

If you regularly work long hours on your PC, consider using an external monitor, keyboard and mouse. Even if you have a laptop PC rather than a traditional desktop/tower, you can still connect external displays and external keyboards and position them in a more comfortable arrangement than is possible with the regular laptop keyboard and display. External monitors are often bigger too, reducing eye strain, while external keyboards are bigger and a better ergonomic fit for adult hands.

Free Utility of the Month – Startup Delayer

If your PC is starting slowly, it may be because you’ve got too many apps loading when the operating system first starts. Sure, you could uninstall those apps, but what if you find them useful? Another option is to disable them from startup and only start them once they are needed. Alternatively, how about delaying them so that Windows can load fully before starting?

Startup Delayer is a fantastic tool for managing which apps start up when you start your PC. You can disable or enable apps from starting up, or you can delay them to only start when there’s enough free computing time available to run them smoothly. This can make a big difference to the speed of your computer, especially for PCs which use traditional magnetic media hard drives rather than the newer solid state drives.

You can download Startup Delayer here, or check out our tutorials for this great little tool here.

Windows Store App of the Month – Telegram Desktop

Telegram is an instant messaging program. Yes, we know there are dozens of those around, but what makes Telegram so good is the fact that it runs on every platform. Android, iOS and Windows Phone, Android and iOS tablets, Windows desktop, Linux and Mac. Now there’s this specially optimised version for Windows tablets, available in the Windows store.

Forget being tied to your phone to send messages, embrace Telegram and message from any device! Grab the Windows 10 Telegram app here. There’s also a desktop version (compatible with Windows 7 and 8 too) available here.

Who guards the Gatekeeper? Windows Defender under attack!

For years Windows users have been told, “it’s important to run antivirus software!”. antivirus software scans files as they come into your computer and catches anything nasty or malicious and prevents it from running. That’s the theory anyway, but antivirus software is, like any other bit of computer software, created by a human computer programmer. As we’ve seen plenty of times in the past, a human can always make mistakes.

Because antivirus software has to run at such a low-level on your system and because it’s generally trusted, it has increasingly been targeted by malware specifically. By exploiting programming errors or “bugs” in antivirus software, specifically crafted malware can disable or even subvert antivirus software, causing all kinds of havoc on your system.

The most popular antivirus for Windows is currently Windows Defender. This is the antivirus that comes bundled with the operating system. Originally spurned by many as inadequate compared to a third party solution, Microsoft have continued to improve the product to a point where there’s arguably no need to look for third party antivirus solutions any more.

That’s not to say the product is perfect. Microsoft recently patched a critical vulnerability in Windows Defender that could have allowed attackers to execute malicious code by luring users to a booby-trapped website or attaching a booby-trapped file to an e-mail or instant message.

More worryingly, in this case no action other than visiting the page or simply receiving the e-mail would have been required. Since Windows Defender scans all files automatically, this was all that was needed to trigger the exploit. Once the malware was rooted into Windows Defender, the very software that was supposed to protect you could be used to completely compromise your system. It’s worth pointing out that this attack was a proof of concept and there’s no known actual malware out in the wild that uses this technique. Once again, this shows why ethical hacking and security research is an incredibly invaluable tool in the fight against malware and online fraud.

So, in light of this recent bug, do we recommend disabling Windows Defender, or your chosen antivirus solution? Well, no, at the moment our advice remains the same and that is to run Windows Defender (or a third party antivirus if you prefer, though those have increasingly come under attack and scrutiny by security professionals too). In reality, you’re much more likely to come across more generic malware than something specifically crafted to target a program many users will have replaced with their preferred security solution anyway. Always keep your PC up to date, the best defence against attacks like this is a system that’s been patched to be immune to them.

That concludes our newsletter for July. On behalf of the team here at TWT, I’d like to say thank you to all our readers, new and old for your continued support. The TWT Newsletter will return on the 10th August 2017 for more tips, tricks and techniques to help you get the best out of your PC, be it Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 10. 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 and enjoy happy, safe and stress-free computing!

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