Microsoft Spynet and Windows Defender

I have heard from some Vista users that Windows Defender can be a bit confusing when it comes to Microsoft SpyNet. In a typical Vista scenario, you can open the Start menu, type in ‘def’ in the Start Search, and open up Windows Defender. This is a useful tool that basically keeps an eye on pertinent system changes. If there are unexpected changes, chances are good that you will be notified. Defender can stop spyware and other technical diseases on your system. It cross references your system and software changes with those of other Internet users to come up with a general consensus of what is safe or not.

The confusion I refer to above is with Microsoft SpyNet. In Windows Defender Home, you can see below the Microsoft SpyNet this description: “Join the online community that helps identify and stop spyware infections”. I am sure Microsoft intends no confusion by this and its use of “membership” terminology, but some people interpret this to mean possibly a subscription is needed: in other words, sign up and pay up . But in fact this is not a fee based service, it rather provides for some optional means of using Defender: there is basic versus advanced membership or no membership whatsoever, and there is no sign up. If basic or advanced is chosen, software classifications information is sent to Microsoft, but it is very little, and in fact advanced is recommended.

Basic and Advanced SpyNet memberships are similar, with one key exception: in Basic membership, you will note the following line: “With basic membership, Windows Defender does not alert you if it detects software or changes made by software that has not yet been analyzed for risks.” Yet, that is exactly the protection that is needed and only ‘advanced’ membership can provide.

For that reason, it is advised that you choose advanced membership. And indeed there is no fee involved!

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Vista Shortcuts

Let’s face it, sometimes within Vista we really need to get into a system application quickly! Maybe the Firewall or Services need to be opened ASAP. Of course these can be opened within the Control Panel any time. But in order to save a few clicks, typing the command or search keywords is faster. And a few clicks add up to substantial savings over time. For example, to open the Vista Firewall, you can go to the Start menu, Control Panel, Security, Windows Firewall. Pretty easy. But an alternative is to go to the Start menu and in Search type ‘firewall.cpl’. It seems like MORE work due to the typing, but really you can just type ‘fir’ and you will see Windows Firewall show in results.
Other shortcuts to type in the Search:
res: System Restore
sys: System Properties
serv: Windows Services
cmd : command prompt
dev: Device Manager
adm: administrative tools
calc: Calculator
ev: Event Viewer (this is an IMPORTANT one!)

Also, you may see the names of files that have been worked on in the results. This is handy if you forgot a saved file name. Once you get used to typing shortcut commands, you will save time overall.

For some real Vista fun, type in all the letters of the alphabet in the Search area and see for yourself what shows up!(no results for q, x or z on my test system)
Enjoy!
More tech fun:
https://riguy.com

Printers and Vista

Let’s say you own a printer at home. Let’s say you want to upgrade to Windows Vista or purchase a new PC with Vista. In addition to running into potential application compatibility issues, you may find your printer does not function with the new oprating system. Find out from the printer manufacturer’s web site before purchasing! It is possible that the 4 year old printer is being phased out and the manufacturer (i.e. Brother, Xerox, HP) will not provide the needed software (i.e. drivers) for Vista compatibility.
As an aside, keep in mind that this is not the fault of Windows Vista. Drivers are the responsibility of the manufacturer. It’s a cruel world, and it may be time to upgrade that printer anyway. However, it is possible that a default or generic PS, postscript, printer driver will in fact work. So you can always hook it up toa new Vista system and see what happens.

Overview of Recent Malware Attacks

This is an excellent overview of the malware topic (in relation to UAC) that I touched upon in previous blog post. Of course, solid anti virus/malware/spyware productions should be considered as a defense, but remember also that locking down your PC on the system (OS) level is important too: i.e. enabling UAC, the Windows Firewall etc. Learn how to use these tools, become familiar and the threat of malware will decrease for you.

“Fake antivirus products, when run, appear to carry out a scan of the user’s PC and inevitably detect a series of infections which are actually false. The applications claim that in order to ‘disinfect’ the computer, users must buy the pay-version of the antivirus. If users fall for this ruse, they will be paying to remove malware which never really existed. The objective of the cyber-crooks behind these scams is, as in most cases, financial gain. Examples of fake antivirus products can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/panda_security/tags/fakeantivirus/.”

Increase in Fake Antivirus Products Caused Adware Figures to Grow in Q3, According to Panda Security
Read it Here!!

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UAC Revisited

After some very scary run ins with the spyware/malware tricks online recently, I have decided to reconsider User Account Control (UAC). In the Vista Control Panel/User AccountsUser Accounts (yes, that’s twice), you can turn UAC on or off. I now recommend turning it ON and commend Microsoft for making this available. It is basically a confirmation of whether or not to install software on your computer. It is a minor annoyance, but is worth the extra typing in of Administrator level account credentials.
At one point recently I was searching Google online for some type of Exchange related issue. I don’t remember the exact details but it was some general Exchange server related terms being searched. The 4Th result that showed up (meaning the miscreants paid Google for it) was a Geocities web site, which I felt was a bit out of place, but by the time I thought hard about it, I was being prompted to install anti spyware software in order to remove spyware software that only exists if you follow through the install: in sum, you install their software, they then classify it as spyware and then you send them $20 to fix the problem they created. Clever. Luckily I was aware of the scam. The immediate fix is to kill all instances of Internet Explorer (Control/Alt/Delte then Task Manager processes). But I know many people were not aware and followed through. The install creates a hellish problem.
If anything, UAC being turned on would give people a little extra time to think of the question: do I really want to install this? That is always a good question users should ask before installing software.

Save the Planet, Use Power Save Mode, Get Annoyed

Many people find the power saving features of Windows Vista annoying. Example – at the company I work at, we use Dell computers, now preinstalled with Vista Pro. The laptops, and even the desktops come configured by default to not actually shutdown, but rather to save your session, files, then go to sleep. Many people like this as the shutdown process can take too long (in their minds). This can be very bad though, if group policies are in place (example, log off scripts). They will not run if you are not actually logging off.

Also network settings should be considered. I know people who just close the lid on their laptop and run out the door carrying it. Problem? Depends. If they hook it up at home, and connect via VPN, then close the lid for the night, then turn it on again (wake it really) in the morning, then bring it to work, well network settings are bound to get mangled. Example – DNS settings from home may still take precedence over the work DNS, causing a slowdown or failure to connect to the file server.

I have seen this happen many times now, to the point where I always ask laptop users, “did you shutdown completely or just go into sleep mode”? Yeah, a reboot almost always cures connectivity issues, but an ipconfig /release, /flushdns, and /renew works frequently too.

So, in order to cut down on greenhouse gases and save energy, hardware vendors, OEMs, and Microsoft, along with many other corporations trying to increase that ‘GREEN’ image, are implementing hard core power saving features. Be careful though – your clean ways may interfere with your productivity.

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Hide Inactive Buttons in System Tray

Many people become quite perturbed at the notification icons not showing in the Vista System Tray. Also, after clicking the arrow to see all icons, it goes right back to mostly hidden view. This annoys some people. Some also may prefer to always have all system tray icons in view, in order to monitor what is going on better.If that is the case, right click on the Start menu icon and select Properties. From here, select Notification Area and remove the default check box for “Hide inactive icons”. This will give the system tray a more static view of all icons, and it may be quite filled up! This, incidentally, may be a sign that too much is running on your system. Is this possible? And is it necessary? Only you, the user of the PC or laptop knows the answer.
Also, in the Notification Area, “Customize” offers some nifty options to hide or show icons, and gives a history of past tray items.

Vista Upgrade Advisor

Before jumping into Windows Vista, especially if you are thinking about an upgrade path or option on a current PC or laptop, it is always preferable to utilize the spiffy “Upgrade Advisor” tool from Microsoft.

Over at my partner site, I have a complete overview.

Upgrade with careful consideration of all hardware and software requirements!

Partitioning a Vista Hard Drive in Preparation for a Dual Boot

I decided to set up a dual boot with Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Server 2008. Boy, was I shocked at how EASY this was. It was so easy, I started looking for things to do with all my spare time ;> I am not kidding. I am used to hours, days even months of utter frustration with technical matters like this – either with Windows dual boots or Windows/Linux dual boots.
I will maybe post more in the future re: the Windows Server 2008 install.

Well deserved plug for eMachines:

I did this disk partitioning, or volume extending, on a new killer PC from eMachines. My initial take on this AMD Athlon /64 bit/ 320 Gigabyte SATA monster (and I mean that with love and respect ;>), is that it is AWESOME. Maybe it is too early too get excited, but this T5254, which cost only $400 at Best Buy is the deal of the century from the comparisons I have done.

My initial concern was the hard drive. In order to dual boot 2 operating systems, you either need 2 hard drives or 1 hard drive that is partitioned or split into 2 parts. Here is what I did. I like to use the Computer Management tool because it has all sorts of useful tools available when you open it. In this case I want to work on the “Storage” and Disk Management. So, I right-click the Computer icon and select Manage. In fact I use Computer Management so often, I right clicked it within the Start menu and selected “Show on Desktop” so it is more readily available. Anyway, after opening this tool, I selected Disk Management and my volumes and Disks are shown. These days there are frequently many disks that show up here, but they are usually for removable cards, i.e. SD/MMC etc. You should also see a CD or DVD ROM drive referenced.

The disk I was interested in was Disk 0. But really, I need to go no further than the top part under Volume. There most people would see this: (C):, Simple, Basic, NTFS (for Vista), or something very similar. Simply right click the C: volume and select “Extend Volume”. You will be prompted for the desired size. I cut my 300+ GB monster SATA right in half and the process was on its way. That is it!

After the extension or resize, the partition can also be deleted or even shrunk. Also, note that the new volume will get a drive letter assigned. Generally speaking, as the C:drive is already used and as most people have a CD/DVD ROM drive with D:assigned, and finally, most PCs these days have a smallish Recovery type of disk (purpose: emergency reinstall of original OS), etc etc, the letter should be around the F: range or so. Regardless, the new volume should be ‘unallocated’, which means it is ready to be formatted. In my case, I booted off the Windows Server 2008 disk and installed this OS right onto the new unallocated volume.

As always, proceed with caution, and be sure not to install the second OS on the C: drive: that would be bad.

UAC

Have you done the User Account Control (UAC) dance yet? Oh, it’s great fun, especially when you first start to use Vista. Basically, every time you try to make an administrator type of change or even a change to your Internet Explorer homepage, you are prompted for proper credentials. To turn off UAC, go to Control Panel, and simply enter UAC into Search. Under User Accounts, you will see the link to “Turn User Account Control (UAC) on or off”. There is a box to check whether you want it on or off.

I know that I personally did not have the luxury of one complete Vista Business edition rollout to my company. Vista slowly worked its way into the mix, so to speak. I soon learned that Group Policies do not play nice with Vista, in a Windows 2000/2003 Server and XP environment, so disabling UAC for most users, despite its noble intentions, was a wise choice.
This works for work or home on most versions.