Archive for April, 2009

Passed the 70-620 exam

Friday, April 24th, 2009

This exam was Configuring Windows Vista Client… Compared to all the other Microsoft exams that I’ve taken, this one was pretty easy.  I have to admit that I didn’t score as well as I would have hoped, but I still had a score in the 800’s. The section that really got me was the “Configuring Applications included with Windows Vista”.

Basically, that section dealt with technologies such as Parental Controls, Windows Meeting Space, Windows card Space and other newer or updated Vista programs that I just have never had to set up in a real world work environment. Overall, I think that this exam was far easier than the XP client exam.

The resources I used for this exam included the 70-620 study guide from Sybex and my Windows Vista Home Basic setup at home. I think the Sybex book was pretty good, I would have liked to have read the Microsoft Press book also, I have a feeling that it might have been a little more in-depth on the sections I was weaker on. I don’t know that for sure though.

Malware Prevention and Removal

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Malware is a term that describes any malicious software. Examples of malware include viruses, spyware and rootkits. Often times this software can cripple a computer system or even render it useless to most users. So how do you combat this?

Most people unfortunately pay for services and software to remove or even attempt to prevent Malware. The fact is there are a lot of programs out there that are free. I do understand that some people are hesitant to use free software, or to try and fix things on their own. While I use the practices in this article on a daily basis, please keep in mind that there are always risks involved with computers. Everything I outline here, you do at your own risk.

Let’s start with preventing Malware. The first line of defense is, knowing what to avoid.
The first rule, do not download attachments from an email sent to you by someone you don’t know! It’s a simple rule, but not practiced by the uninformed users. The next rule is to watch your searches. When you use a search engine, sometimes there will be sites near the top of the search engine that do not match your search criteria. You must carefully examine the URL before clicking the search link. Unfortunately it’s not always easy to spot a URL that will lead to trouble, if it looks suspicious, don’t click it. To go along with the other 2 rules, the next rule I’m going to suggest might be the most difficult to accept. Be cautious when downloading software! I do it all the time, but I research the software a head of time, choose a trusted download site and watch the install process. I’m not saying to not install any software, just exercise some caution when doing so. The last rule I’m going to suggest is very important. Make sure you keep your system up to date with the latest security patches, hotfixes and service packs.

Now I want to continue the prevention topic by introducing some protection methods. Let’s start with software. One of the first things you should have on your computer is an antivirus program. The problem is that many people pay for such a thing, personally, I have always used free solutions, the one I’ve used for the past couple years is AntiVir. The antivirus, when kept up to date, adds a layer of protection by hopefully catching a virus before it can do any harm. The next piece of software I would recommend having is called a firewall. If you have Windows XP SP2 or higher then you already have a built-in firewall. For those who do not have Windows XP2 or higher, then I recommend checking out http://techsupportalert.com/dr/. The last thing I’m going to suggest in this section is Spyware protection. There are several free spyware protection programs that will run in the background, I will supply a list later in the article, one I’m going to suggest right is called Spyware Blaster.

Ok! So, let’s say you have a mild malware infection. This means something has broken through your protective measures. While, it is certainly true that you can never guarantee a 100% removal, I wouldn’t resort to formatting your PC on every case. Some people feel safer this way, if that’s the case then stop reading here. The first thing to do is to turn off System Restore, some malware can protect itself in your restore points, since your scanners will be unable to remove the malware form there. Now comes the time to run a whole arsenal of Antivirus and spyware removal tools.

Here is a decent list of tools that will help you out.
Super Anti-Spyware
Spybot
Ad-Aware
A Squared
McAfee STINGER
Symantec Removal Tools
Rootkit Revealer
Gizmo’s The Best-ever Freeware Utilities List

Sometimes you will have a specific infection that will require special attention, in which case, you may have to do some searching on the internet or asking around on forums. As I run across specific infections, I will write about them here. You can also sign up for my web forum and post questions, I will do my best to answer them for you.

The last subject I’m going to talk about regarding Malware Removal is classified as difficult removal. By difficult, I mean that your system is so bad that I won’t even boot to your desktop! What do you do then?

Luckily, there are a couple really awesome tools you can use! The following tools will be great for the mild infections as well. In fact I recommend them as the main offence. These tools are Ultimate Boot CD and Ultimate Boot CD for Windows. The second one is slower but has the familiar Windows GUI and tools that people are more familiar with and it has more tools geared towards Malware removal. The reason why both tools are great is because you are not really in your Windows environment. This means, there are no locked files to slow you down.

The one thing I have to caution you about with regards to the boot CDs is that you may have to create a new one every so often to keep the program definition files up to date.

A different “Slow Performance” issue

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Yesterday I had a user that was experiencing degraded system performance. I started out by looking at the Temp files, running a a disk defrag and then I made the mistake of running a chkdsk. The chkdsk was run outside of the windows environment and started out fine, until it hit step 4!

Step 4 took the remainder of the day to scan, luckily this client was using a spare computer set up for them in the meantime. Today I started the machine up and it took a good 3 minutes to get past the Windows XP splash screen. I finally wised up and looked at the event log.

The system event log was full of ATAPI and Disk errors (Event ID 7, 9, 11 and 51). After checking out Microsoft knowledge base for suggestions, I determined that  the safest step to take first would be to uninstall the disk controllersthrough device manager. Once I did this, I restarted the PC and everything worked beautifully after that.

I suppose the moral of this story is to check the Event logs first.


Website and ad filtering

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Let me first start out by saying that if you are looking for a good freeware Web filter for parental controls then I highly suggest checking out Best free Parental Filters. However, if you are looking to do some simple webpage and ad blocking yourself, then read on.

 

If you are running Windows 2000 and higher, navigate to your windows directory. From there go to System32\Drivers\ETC. This is the location of a file called hosts. The hosts file can be opened using Notepad.

 

So, what is the Hosts file anyway? The hosts file is first file by default that your computer looks to for name resolution. Name resolution is what tells us that Xtremediy.net belongs to a certain IP address. For example, lets say Xtremediy.net has an address of 192.168.153.229. Name resolution basically translates the 192.168.153.229 to Xtremediy.net so that we don’t have to remember that number to type into the web address.

 

I’m not going any further in depth with name resolution at this time. Lets focus on the Hosts file now. The hosts file can do name resolution for you as stated above. You can put in some of your favorite sites, and allow them to come up slightly faster because they don’t have to query internet resolution servers. Of course if the website ever has a change in IP address, you won’t be able to access it.

 

So what does a host file entry look like? Well, lets go back to my example of the Xtremediy.net IP address. If I put that address into the hosts file, then it wouldn’t have to query the internet DNS servers to find Xtremediy.net. Please note, that the IP address used in these examples is not the actual address to Xtremediy.net.

Below is the entry example:

192.168.153.229     xtremediy.net

 

That’s it! Enter the web address, press spacebar or tab, enter in the website name then press enter. On the next line you can continue with another address if you want.

 

So how can I use this to block websites and ads? The answer is already stated above. If the incorrect IP is entered for a site you will not get to that site. You will be directed to a different site. That information is more for a practical joke I suppose. So what about just blocking sites and ads? Well, you do this by using the IP address of 127.0.0.1, also known as the loopback address. This address points right back to your computer, so any sites you have pointing to the loopback won’t go anywhere.

 

The downside to the hosts file blocking method is that it does not allow wildcards.

 For example:

If I want to block my child from going to www.myspace.com I would enter the following into my hosts file.

127.0.0.1     www.myspace.com

 

If my child went to profile.myspace.com then they could bypass the filter.

 

If you intend to block sites from your children, I really suggest checking out the link at the beginning of the article. For more information about the hosts file, check out http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.htm.

File Optimization

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Fragmentation occurs every time you create new files, install programs and delete files and programs from your system.  When your files are fragmented, it takes your system longer to find all the data for the associated program or file being requested. This is because pieces of the requested file(s) are scattered all over the hard drive instead of being group together in succession.

To combat fragmentation you use a Defragmentation program. The Windows OS comes with a defrag program, but I honestly prefer the http://auslogics.com/en/software/disk-defrag/download. You can also check out http://www.techsupportalert.com/dr/best-free-disk-de-fragmenter.htm  for alternative defrag solutions.  No matter which solution you go with, you will come out ahead. I recommend defragmenting your system at least once per month, I actually run mine once per week. The added benefit to defragmenting your drive on a regular basis is that you will increase the overall life of your drive as it will not have to work as hard to find requested data.

Now, let’s talk about temporary files! I have seen people with temporary folders exceeding 1GB of data! Their machine was beyond slow at that point. Here’s the deal, Windows does not clean Temporary files for you automatically by default. So, files accumulate there over time if not removed. These files include parts of auto saves, program setups and other files.  A simple way to check what you have in your temp folder is by clicking your start button, click Run, type in %temp% and hit enter.

You could just select everything in there and hit delete, but there are downsides to this. For one, some files are in use and will cancel out your delete command once that file is hit. Another possible downside is that older versions of Internet Explorer kept system folder in the temp directory. The last possible downside is potential for program to exist there that you don’t want deleted. There are 2 ways that the last one happens. Either you placed files there on purpose for storage, or a setup program that leaves files there and does not finish the install until you restart the PC. If you delete the files before your PC restarts and the installer still needs those files, then the installer will deliver an error and be unable to finish.

What I have done for personal use, and many computers in the work place is create a batch file that I place in startup to delete temp files. The only downside to this, is trying to remember to disable this item in startup when installing certain programs.  The bonus to this method though, is that you can catch a lot of files before they go into use with the system. An example of a batch file is as follows.

DEL %temp%\*.* /F /S /Q

To create the batch file open notepad, paste in the above line of code then select save as, change save type from text to all files then save your file as deletetemp.bat. To place this in your startup right click on the start button, select open, select programs, select startup and paste the deletetemp.bat file in that location.

The last item I’m going to talk about is the Page file. The Page File is also referred to as Virtual Memory. That is because it is a space on your Hard Drive that acts as available Memory (RAM) in tight situations. Basically, when you don’t have enough RAM, you are going to be using the Page File as a substitute. The problem with this is that hard drive access is a lot slower than RAM access. So when your machine has to use Virtual Memory, than it is running slower.  The absolute best solution is to install more RAM in your system, but it’s not always a solution.

A 32 bit OS like Windows 9x through Vista 32 bit editions (which most people run) can only address up to around 3.5Gb of memory. So if you are your maximum memory already it’s not a solution, of course with that much memory today, you shouldn’t have many problems, unless you run some very power hungry applications.  For most users, let’s just focus on what you can do for free. The one free thing you can do with the page file is to set it manually. The recommended maximum size of the page file should be 2.5x the amount of RAM you have in your system. With a brand new system, I always make the minimum and maximum size the same to avoid fragmentation in the page file.

One solution that may cost you money involves the use of a second hard drive. If you already have a second drive lying around then costs avoided! Simply setting your page file up on a separate drive from the drive running your OS will increase performance.  I have to warn you of a downside to setting your page file up on a separate drive, if the second drive crashes; you run the risk of your machine not starting up. If you 3 hard drives in addition to your OS drive then you could set up a RAID 5, but most people don’t have that option.

Before I end this segment, I should mention that using File Cleaners will help you out as well. I have used CCleaner with good results. You can find CCleaner and other file cleaners on http://www.techsupportalert.com/dr/best-free-file-cleaner.htm.

Optimizing your system’s Registry

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Think of the Registry as a database that Windows refers to for just about everything. The Registry is constantly growing to keep up to date all your preferences, software installations and more. As with any database, the larger it is, the longer it takes to query the database. So, the conclusion here is that a registry filled with old information that is no longer relevant, decreases the performance of your computer.

So, how do we purge the Registry of outdated records? Well, you could go in manually using regedit or regedt32 from the run command. I have a feeling that most people won’t know what to look for once inside the Registry Editor though. Even the experienced user wouldn’t spend countless hours going through entries to clean up junk. So, we use Registry Cleaner Programs. These programs automate the cleanup process and can search through the records far faster than a human can.

The one downside to a Registry cleaner is that on rare occasions you may get something deleted in the registry that should not have been deleted.  I recommend you perform a system back up or create a backup of your registry before using a Registry cleaner. Just in case.

So, as with many of the programs I run on my computers, I don’t often buy software when there are so many open source programs or free programs that are in most cases just as good if not better.  So, I have a few links to Registry Cleaners that you can try.

http://www.techsupportalert.com/dr/best-free-registry-cleaner.htm

I have used Easy Cleaner and have not yet had any complaints.  Another Registry Cleaner I used is http://fileforum.betanews.com/detail/RegSeeker/1035382760/1 which I find to run just as well for me as Easy Cleaner honestly.

One item that is not often discussed about the Registry is Defragmenting the Registry.  It only stands to reason that file defragmentation improves performance on your computer, so Registry Defragmentation should help as well.  The following link is a free program that defrags the registry and gives a brief description on how the program works.  http://www.auslogics.com/en/software/registry-defrag. This is program combined with one of the Registry cleaners are run once a week on my own computers. So far, I have no complaints about the speed of my computers.

Keep an eye out for future articles on performance optimization.

Can you beat my Brute in a Fight?

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

MyBrute is kind of a fun 5 minute time killing flash game. Check out the following links and see if you can beat any of my Brutes.

zenithian.mybrute.com

megadeth4168.mybrute.com

dragon4168.mybrute.com

homeslicejr.mybrute.com

Ironically, my goofy character, Homeslicejr, is probably my strongest.