An Easy Way to Stay Safer on the Web, with OpenDNS

Since this post is going to be a little technical, I’m going to start by defining some of the things that will be discussed.

DNS – Short for Domain Name System (or Service or Server), an internet service that translates domain names into IP addresses. Because domain names are alphabetic, such as askbillfirst.com, they’re easier to remember. The Internet however, is really based on IP addresses. Every time you use a domain name, a DNS service must translate the name into the corresponding IP address. For example, the domain name http://www.askbillfirst.com might translate to 208.109.14.108.

Domain Name – A name that identifies one or more IP addresses. For example, the domain name microsoft.com represents about a dozen IP addresses. Domain names are used in URLs to identify particular web pages.

URL – Abbreviation of Uniform Resource Locator, the global address of documents and other resources on the World Wide Web (www).

When you access the internet and type in a URL, the name you entered is sent to servers that translate the letters you typed into the corresponding IP address for that site. Generally, those servers are set by your internet provider. There is no filtering involved with these servers. Therefore, any website that you attempt to go to will pass back to you whatever it has on it, both the good and the bad.

Now, there is a way to set up your computer, or your network router, to protect you from visiting sites that may cause you problems. One company that allows you to filter web content, protects you from phishing sites, and other things is OpenDNS. OpenDNS is used for content filtering. It filters content based on categories of sites, such as gambling, pornography, social networking, humor, and more. These sites may not be malicious, but they could be considered unacceptable types of content. OpenDNS is often used in place of parental control software.

To set this program up you’ll need to modify your network adapter settings. If you use both wired and wireless connections, you’ll need to modify both adapters. If you want to set this up so it protects everyone on your network, you can make the settings in the router and they will filter to everyone on the network.

You can find the instructions for OpenDNS here.

These settings will work on both PC’s and Mac’s whether you set it at the pc level or the router level.

Do not use this in place of a good anti-virus, but use it along with a good anti-virus for an easy way to stay safer on the web.

UPDATE – Laura from OpenDNS informed me that ” OpenDNS actually works as a security filter as well. It protects you from phishing websites, as well as blocking Malware like the Conficker virus. We’re seeing a lot of users — both home and business — choose OpenDNS specifically for the security it provides.” Thank you Laura for that update.

Here’s One Reason Why You Need to Password Protect Your Wireless Router

Or if you’re using your neighbor’s wireless connection, you may want to reconsider.

To sum up, an individual in New York found himself facedown in his living room in the morning with federal agents all around him. They were accusing him of being a pedophile and pornographer. They ended up seizing his computer, his wife’s computer and iPad and iPhone. He claimed innocence and after a week, was cleared. His neighbor, however, wasn’t as lucky. Seems the neighbor was leaching off the non-password protected wireless router and trafficking child pornography.

Always, always, always password protect your router, or if you’re leaching off your neighbor, and they’re involved in something illegal, it could come back on you as well. Now here’s the article -

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Lying on his family room floor with assault weapons trained on him, shouts of “pedophile!” and “pornographer!” stinging like his fresh cuts and bruises, the Buffalo homeowner didn’t need long to figure out the reason for the early morning wake-up call from a swarm of federal agents.

That new wireless router. He’d gotten fed up trying to set a password. Someone must have used his Internet connection, he thought.

“We know who you are! You downloaded thousands of images at 11:30 last night,” the man’s lawyer, Barry Covert, recounted the agents saying. They referred to a screen name, “Doldrum.”

“No, I didn’t,” he insisted. “Somebody else could have but I didn’t do anything like that.”

“You’re a creep … just admit it,” they said.

Law enforcement officials say the case is a cautionary tale. Their advice: Password-protect your wireless router.

via NY case underscores Wi-Fi privacy dangers – Yahoo! News.

Shopping Online Safely

With the upcoming holidays, there will be many of you who will be doing your shopping online. It’s convenient, often times cheaper, and you can have items wrapped and delivered directly to the recipient. In fact, it’s estimated that 25% of holiday shopping this year will be online.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind when you’re shopping.

  • Start by making sure that your anti-virus program is up-to-date. If you do web searches and click on the results, you may find yourself at a site that doesn’t have your best interest at heart. Along those lines, make sure the site you are visiting is trustworthy by using WebOfTrust (WOT). Now when you perform a search, the results will have a green, yellow or red symbol letting you know if the website is safe or not.
  • Once you’re done selecting what you want to purchase, you’ll be taken to your shopping cart where you will be entering personal information: name, address, e-mail address, credit card information. It’s critcally important that before you enter any of that information that you are on a secured page. How can you tell? To begin with, check the web address in the address bar. It should start with “https:” instead of the normal “http:”. The s shows that you’re on a secured site. The other thing to look for is the golden lock.
    There is a de facto standard among web browsers to display a “lock” icon somewhere in the window of the browser (NOT in the web page display area!)  For example, Microsoft Internet Explorer displays the lock icon in the lower-right of the browser window.
    The Lock Icon is not just a picture! Click, or double-click, on it to see the details for the site’s security. This is important to know because some bad sites are designed with a bar at the bottom of the web page to imitate the lock icon of your browser.
  • Unless you’re planning on doing a lot of shopping at a particular site, if the site offers to save your information for future shopping, don’t let them. It may be convenient, but the fewer places that have your personal information, the better.
  • When paying for the items in your shopping cart, many people feel good about using their Debit Card as opposed to racking up charges on their credit cards. However, when it comes to fraud, debit cards fall far behind credit cards. That’s because your liability limit under federal law increases the longer you wait to report any unauthorized activity. Be sure to check with your financial institution for their policies on fraud protection.
  • Credit Cards – many credit card companies have $0 liability policies. This means you won’t be held accountable for any fraudulent purchases. You can dispute purchases that were either made without your consent or where the goods don’t match the descriptions. You’ll need to check with your credit card company for the specific steps to dispute a purchase and their policy on fraudulent purchases.
  • Single-Use Credit cards. Many credit card companies and banks will allow you to use single-use or virtual cards. You get a unique account number that can be used once, or for a short period of time. That way, if someone were to steal the account number, when they go to use it, it will no longer be valid.
  • Print out your receipt. You’ll have a record of the purchase to compare with the charge in case the vendor adds additional charges or charges you twice for something.
  • When giving your e-mail address out, check the page and read the privacy policy of the site. Many times there is text stating that they will or will not share your e-mail address with others. If you have the option to opt out of allowing them to share, do so. It will eliminate spam. Additonally, you may want to set up a free or additional e-mail address that you use strictly for online registrations so that any spam gets sent to that address and not to your main e-mail address.

Read the rest of my monthly newsletter for information on ways to comparison shop and links to Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials. AskBillFirst November Newsletter

 

Computer Security for Teens and Their Parents Too.

Ran across a nice, free, security e-book from Microsoft that is written for teens, to keep them safe while on the internet but it is a great e-book for parents to read as well. You can download it here.

“Help teens ‘own their space’ online. Whether you are a parent, caregiver, or educator, you can keep up with the latest computer and online safety issues and help kids learn to avoid them. In partnership with security expert and author, Linda McCarthy, we offer a free downloadable version of her new book, “Own Your Space – Keep Yourself and Your Stuff Safe Online.” Written for computer and Internet savvy “tweens” and teens specifically, this book is also a useful resource for the adults they rely on.”

http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/en/details.aspx?FamilyID=87583728-ef14-4703-a649-0fd34bd19d13&displayLang=en

Recuva – Remarkable

What a day. In front of me was a computer that was booting to nowhere. It was just a continual loop back to the statement that there were not boot files available. Then, as I got closer, I heard the tell-tale clicking of the hard drive. The good news was that it was still spinning. The bad news was that there were some critically important files on the drive that hadn’t been backed up (no, it wasn’t my drive). Option #1 – call in a data recovery company to recover the data, at a cost of about $1000. Option #2, plug it into an external enclosure and hope. The first couple of computers I plugged the drive into didn’t see it at all. Not looking good. Finally found one that recognized the drive. Looking better. Looked at the properties of the drive. 120 GB drive, 120 GB available. Really not looking good.

Enter Recuva. Recuva is software from the same company that puts out ccleaner, one of my favorite clean-up programs. So, I downloaded Recuva and ran it against the drive. Well, lo and behold, after a couple of hours, I was able to recover the critical files. Not all files were recoverable, but it did a great job, was easy to use, and did I mention that it is free? Some the features of Recua:

Undelete files on your computer

Deleted a file by mistake? Recuva brings lost files on your computer, USB drive, camera or iPod.

Recovery from damaged or formatted disks

Even if you’ve formatted a drive so that it looks blank, Recuva can still find your files on it.

Recover deleted E-Mails

Emptied your email trash and need it back? Recuva’s got you covered with full support for Microsoft Outlook Express, Mozilla Thunderbird, or Windows Live Mail.

Recover deleted iPod music

Deleted music from your iPod or MP3 player? No problem, Recuva will get this back for you along with any additional track data.

Restore unsaved Word documents

Did Microsoft Word crash or did you forget to save that important Word document. No problem with Recuva! As it can intelligently rebuild Word documents from their temporary files.

Quick-start Wizard

If you need your files back right away without fiddling with options, Recuva’s Quick-Start Wizard is the answer.

Deep Scan

Recuva can find most files within a minute. Or, set the Deep Scan to look for more deeply-buried results.

Securely delete files you want to erase forever

Want to protect your deleted files? Recuva also allows you to permanently erase any traces of deleted files.

Portable Version

Take Recuva with you wherever you go with the portable version.

Full OS support and many languages

Recuva has support for every modern version of Windows and 37+ languages.
Download it here – http://www.piriform.com/recuva

Mozy vs Carbonite – Off-site Backup Thoughts

In the past, I’ve recommended options for backing up your important files, since we all know that at some point in time, your computer or hard drive is going to die. One of the options I’ve mentioned is backing up your data to an off-site location. The reason for this is that in the event of catastrophe, your files will be available to you from where ever you might be.

Two off-site companies are Mozy and Carbonite. Recently I’ve had to experience the restore capabilities of both companies and I found out that there is a world of difference between the two.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine, who was using Carbonite, had to restore her files from the vendor. Several days after the restore started, she was still having problems getting her files. Many calls and e-mails to tech support later, her files were finally recovered. Not having experienced Carbonite before, I wasn’t sure whether this was an isolated incident or not. Well, come to find out that it wasn’t. A couple of months ago, another friend, also a Carbonite user, had to purchase a new computer and went to restore her files from the vendor. Several days later, she was still trying to recover her files from the vendor. Many calls and e-mails later, she had her files but the frustration felt by both individuals was incredible.

Just recently, I lost my hard drive. I use Mozy for backup needs and when I needed to restore my files, I logged onto the site, chose the files/folders to restore, waited an hour while Mozy processed the request, clicked the download button and within a couple of hours, my files were on my new hard drive. It was incredibly easy, pretty quick, and very painless. Additionally, Mozy allows you to duplicate the off-site backup to an external hard drive that is attached to your computer so restoring your files would be even easier.

Having backups of your critical files is extremely important. Being able to restore those files in a timely manner is also important. Before my most recent experience with the restore functions of these two vendors, I’d say that they were pretty comparable. After experiencing the restore functions, I’d say Mozy is the better program hands down. My recommendation – Mozy. If you’re using Carbonite, switch.

https://mozy.com/
http://www.carbonite.com/

The Proper Care and Feeding of Your HDTV, Phone, and Camera

One of the things I’m asked quite frequently is how to clean the screens of computers and laptops. There are specials cleaning materials you can purchase at office supply stores that will clean both your computer screens and your TV screens. You can also make your own cleaning solution by mixing distilled water (make sure it’s distilled) and white vinegar in equal proportions into a spray bottle.

To clean your screen, start with a dry, microfiber cloth. Move it in circular motions. Be gentle, but apply slight pressure on particularly stubborn spots.

If that doesn’t clean the screen, use your cleaning solution. Turn off your laptop. Spray the cleaner lightly onto the, not onto the monitor. Wipe as described above, then wait ten minutes before booting up.

You can find additional tips on cleaning your other electronics by clicking on the following link.

The Proper Care and Feeding of Your HDTV, Phone, and Camera.

Realtime Updates On Your Google Search Results

Cool Google Search Tip: Google has a feature that brings your search results to life with a dynamic stream of real-time content from across the web. Now, immediately after conducting a search, you can see live updates from people on popular sites like Twitter and FriendFeed, as well as headlines from news and blog posts published just seconds before. When they are relevant, Google ranks these latest results to show the freshest information right on the search results page.

Try searching for your favorite TV show, sporting event or the latest development on a recent government bill or world event. Whether it’s an eyewitness tweet, a breaking news story or a fresh blog post, you can find it on Google right after it’s published on the web.

Click on “Latest results” or select “Latest” from the search options menu (see the following tip to access this menu) to view a full page of live tweets, blogs, news and other web content scrolling right on Google. You can also filter your results to see only “Updates” from micro-blogs like Twitter, FriendFeed, Jaiku and others.

An example: I did a Google search for “Chile earthquake”. From the search results page, I scrolled down until I found “Latest results for Chile earthquake”. Once I clicked on that link, I was taken to a page that continually updated with links to the most recent web entries from all over that dealt with the earthquake in Chile.

Another Cool Google Tip: Kind of a hidden feature on the Google search results page is the light blue bar just above the search results. If you look at the left side of the bar, you’ll see an option to “Show Options”. When you click on this, Google opens a column on the left that allows you to further refine your search. One of the most useful sections of this column is the time frame filter. You can click “Latest” to see what I discussed in the first section, or find results that occurred in the past 24 hours, week, or year.

Many Microsoft Products Going Off Support Soon – Security Watch

In the coming months Microsoft will be ending support—including security updates—for a number of important products. If you’ve avoided updating so far, you might want to get moving.

The first event will be April 13, 2010 (like all end-of-support days, a patch Tuesday), when support will end for 2 important configurations: Windows Vista with no service packs a.k.a. Vista RTM and Vista SP0, and Windows XP SP2. If you are running these versions after that April 13 you will no longer receive updates or support. In each case, the answer is obvious: Apply the latest service pack SP2 for Vista, SP3 for XP. Better yet, if you’re running XP, go get a new PC running a secure operating system, such as Windows 7.

On July 13, 2010, Windows 2000 in all service packs will reach the end of its “Extended Support Phase,” meaning no updates anymore. Its not in any of the announcements, but I presume that this implies the end of all support for Internet Explorer 5, currently only supported on Windows 2000.

On the same July date, all editions of Windows Server 2003 will be moving from the Mainstream Support phase to the Extended Support phase. This wont matter to many, perhaps most users, but it signals the end of “no charge” support and Microsoft will no longer be providing new non-security hotfixes. So you’ll need to open a paid support case in order to get support from Microsoft.

via Many Microsoft Products Going Off Support Soon – Security Watch.

Lesson Learned

I went against a few of my computer “thou-shalt-not” rules the other day and, well, I remembered why they are rules. I was reading a newsletter from a very trusted security site and came across an ad they had posted from a company that claims it’s software can:
Clear malware. Fix PC errors. Restore speed & performance. Prevent crashes & stability issues. Enjoy a ‘just like new’ computer – starting now. More Than 1 Million PCs Fixed.

My home computer is a Media Center PC and I’ve had a cable box plugged into it so that I can watch TV shows on it when the other TVs are being used. For several months, I hadn’t been able to run the media program as one of the drivers was bad and I had to disable the program. The only fix seemed to be reformatting the computer and restoring it back to its original state. I really didn’t want to do that since I’d then have to reinstall programs, etc. so I’d just delayed in doing anything at all. That is until I saw this ad, posted on this reliable newsletter…

So, I went to the site, saw what it claimed to be able to do, downloaded the program and ran the free scan. Sure enough, there in the results was what I was hoping to find. Among the listed items that needed to be repaired was the one dealing with the Media Center program. Well, let’s get to it then. First was that minimal $50 charge to run the fix. If it said it could fix my computer issues without me having to reformat and reinstall then that was okay by me. Then, instead of the 30 minute estimate for repair, it was actually closer to 2 hours, but it was going to fix my computer problem.Then, came the reboot and the test. Sure enough, my Media Center program ran great and I was able to watch TV programs again on my computer, and it did seem to be running a little faster. Cool, no harm no foul.

But wait…why won’t my anti-virus program and firewall program start up? Why is my e-mail program not logging in? What’s going on? I placed a call to the anti-virus company and the tech support mentioned that yes, they had someone else call in with the same problem after running this program and there was probably a fix out there someplace for it but they couldn’t help. So, I went online to the website of the company (Reimage) to contact their tech support and found out that tech support was available by e-mail only but have a look at the FAQ section of the website to see if anything there can help with my issue. Of course, there was nothing that did so I sent an e-mail to the company about my problem. Then, I did a little more searching online and found that this company was pretty bad in getting back to people for help. And, when fixes are done with this software, it rolls back a large majority of Microsoft Updates that need to be reinstalled. And, there were a few other things there that probably would have been nice to know before I had run the fix.

While I was waiting for the e-mail reply from tech support that I wasn’t even sure I was going to get, I was able to fix my anti-virus and firewall programs and downloaded and installed the Microsoft updates I needed, and somehow managed to keep my Media Center program running so all is well that ends well. And I did get a reply back from the company the next day with a supposed fix for my new problems but since I had already fixed those problems I didn’t run their fix.

The lesson learned? If I had done my homework before running Reimage’s fix I most likely wouldn’t have purchased it. I always check user reviews before purchasing hardware but for some reason didn’t even think of it before running this software. Actually, I know why I didn’t. I respected the newsletter that had the ad and believed that they too endorsed that company. Turns out they didn’t and the next newsletter stated that they were not going to be putting ads in their newsletters any longer because they don’t want their readers to think they endorse these companies. My recommendation before purchasing anything is to google the item with the word “reviews” after the item name. Read the user reviews since they are mostly honest. Go to the support page of the manufacturer of the item and see what’s posted there. Usually the FAQ’s will have answers to most common questions about the item but if there’s a blog of any sort, check that out as well. Weigh the positives and the minuses of the user reviews and then make a decision on whether the item is for you or not. My lesson re-learned.

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