Monthly Archives: August 2009

A Rapidly Trending Method to Infect your Computer

Malware creators, cyber-criminals and other such scum are aware of where most of the internet activity is: Use of search engines (Google, Bing) social media websites (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, etc) and therefore try to use those trends to infect your computer. How?

Black Hat SEO techniques: SEO: Search Engine Optimization. Simply put, Black Hat SEO techniques are those used to illicitly manipulate search engine results in order to drive up the search ranking result of a particular website. This can then be used to make be in the first few results of any search. You search Google for “Michael Jackson death” and there it is, a fake quote on that subject and a link to take you to the website where that quote is. Looks legit too. Even the website name can look legit, like “”, but if you click on that search result to go to the website, it either takes you to that website and it’s a fake news website, or worse, when you click on the link it re-directs your computer to land in another website. Either way the result is the same: you land in a website and by virtue of it your computer gets infected, if you don’t have the proper protection and system updates in place.

A new client  with an infected computer told me recently that there was no antivirus installed in his machine because he figured if he never opened any suspicious email attachments… I rapidly disabused him of the idea, shortly before I disinfected his computer of some nasty malware. With these new infection techniques, you can get infected just by what used to be considered normal web-surfing. But that client’s comment also told me that users at large might not be as aware of this phenomenon as they need to be. Hence, this article.

So, 1) Get or improve protection in your computer as covered here, 2) Make sure your computer is updated with the latest security patches as covered here, 3) Just be aware of the above ongoing phenomena and be extra careful when clicking on search results links, or any phony looking links posted in social media websites.

Choosing Your Next Computer – What to Look For

So your faithful computer, which has been with you for years, is starting to show the signs of  age. You don’t particularly want to change to a new one because a) you don’t have a money tree you can just prune and get $900 out of, b) you don’t even want to think about the pain of migrating all your documents and applications c) you’re a hardcore XP user and have heard horrible things about Windows Vista plus d) you  don’t want to have to learn all the shortcuts and ways to do things in a totally new operating system after all the time you spent learning the ways of XP.

Well I’m here to make your transition less painful. Maybe even enjoyable!

Let me start by saying that if you are a total novice on computers I suggest you seek the advice of an expert who DOESN’T work for the company you’re trying to buy the computer from. He’ll help you suggest a system that dovetails your needs.

If you are an intermediate user and understand the basics of computers, this article is for you.

The first choice you need to make is whether to get a desktop or a laptop. Traditionally desktops are cheaper for the same performance, and are more configurable (things like an audio or video card, modem and other devices can be exchanged). Laptops on the other hand are mobile and don’t use as much space. It’s interesting however that with the advances in processor technology in recent years, laptop prices have gone down while performance and battery life have gone up, and for the first time last year (2008) there were more laptops than desktops sold worldwide. The reason for this is simple: a relatively economical laptop can now perform good enough for most users basics needs of browsing the web, handling email and documents, maybe watching the occasional movie, even to some degree graphic demanding software. So if for whatever reason you have to be able to take it with you – even to the occasional Starbucks to relax and write in peace, you might want to consider getting a laptop for your next computer. If mobility is not an issue at all, stick with the desktop.

Next choice is operating system. Since I’m a Windows type guy I will only cover all the different versions of Windows. As of this writing, and providing you pay extra, you can still get a new computer retrograded with Windows XP. But the most common current choice is Windows Vista. Vista brings 5 versions: Starter (not available in developed countries) Home Basic, Home Premium, Business and Ultimate. The basic thing to know about these is that home basic and premium are not designed for a company’s usual network setup. And I’d suggest between the home versions, choose the premium one – I’ll explain why in a moment.

The choice of operating systems expands as of October 22 with the release of the next operating system: Windows 7. From now and until then if you buy a new computer with Windows Vista Home Premium or higher you can upgrade to Windows 7 for free (Now you see why the choice between Basic and Home Premium). For those XP fans, you’ll be glad to know that many of the characteristics of XP that you came to love are present in the new Windows 7, while retaining the good points of Windows Vista. Reviews of the test versions have been positive, and I have myself tested it and was very pleased with how it performs.

Now the last set of choices, what processor, of what speed, how much memory, what size and speed hard disk, dedicated versus integrated graphics. I’m not going to go into details on each of these; otherwise this article will become a booklet. But there is one thing I want to mention on this, which is true whether you’re choosing a computer, a new stereo system, a new car, etc.:

The different components must complement harmoniously for the overall system to function best. Like I’ve mentioned in another article, the computer is only going to be as fast as its slowest component. So don’t waste your money in the fastest processor available in the market if you’re putting it in a computer with a low access speed hard disk drive.

So when choosing a new computer, if it comes pre-configured, learn to recognize poor choices made by the vendor and avoid those, and if it is configurable, know how to configure  all different components so there is a harmonious synergy that results in a powerful computer which increases efficiency and productivity.

Your kids and computers

Computers are powerful production tools. They can also be entertaining. Sometimes too entertaining.  Access to online games, pornography, file sharing and other questionable activities can make your computer a liability more than an asset for you as a responsible and caring parent.

Let me start by stating the obvious: your kid probably knows more about computers than you do. Nothing wrong with that per se, except that there might be things going on with your computers at home that you are not aware of, or are aware of but don’t know what to do about. That’s the subject of this article.

This is not a rhetorical discussion and I’m not speaking from hypothetical experience. It happens every day. A recent  client was puzzled by her teenage son’s sleeping pattern (sleeping a lot during the day). In doing a routine check on one of the client’s computers at home, the reason became evident: the kid was sneaking into the computer late at night, like 1 am or so, and then accessing inappropriate websites until 4 or 5 am and then sneaking back to bed. And this was otherwise a good kid, no other particular bad habits, etc. But the parents were absolutely clueless. So it can happen to anyone.

Let’s assume you are at the stage where you don’t think there are unethical activities going on with your computer(s) at home, but would like to keep an eye to make sure it stays that way. Some sort of monitoring software would be in order. An example of this is Spector Pro 2009, which you can find here: With it you can monitor what websites are accessed in a computer, incoming and outgoing emails, downloads, instant messages, even key stroke logging (recording of all input via the keyboard) is available.

If (or once) you have detected undesirable activity such as inappropriate websites access, online gaming, off-hours activity or anything like that, you can move to the next stage and put access control software in place, such as Refog Personal Monitor which you can find here: .

It is an unfortunate fact that a good percentage of malware infections are associated with illegal downloading of software or media, accessing inappropriate sites and use of online games. That is yet another reason why these should be monitored and controlled on your computer(s).

Contact me if you want tips on what to look for as signs of undesirable activity in your computer(s).

Why is my Computer so @!#?%^&* Slow? – Part IV

Hard Disk Fragmentation

Your computer’s hard disk stores all the programs your computer needs to run, plus all your documents, pictures, videos, etc.

As time goes by, your stored files become “fragmented”. You might have heard this before, but what does it mean and what does it have to do with your computer speed?

First of all, let me say that this issue is not the same in computers that have Windows XP or older, and Windows Vista and newer (Windows 7). Windows XP and older are more likely to suffer from this issue if there is no user intervention. Yet, due to the large amount of users that still have Windows XP, I’ll cover the subject.

Disk fragmentation is the storage of individual files in more than one non-consecutive physical space in the hard disk drive. Consider the following diagram, where X is available hard disk space, and F is an individual file:


The above shows a file that is NOT fragmented. The hard disk will be able to read it sequentially, and using minimum time. Now consider this:


In the above, “F” represents one file, yet it is stored in 4 different parts of the hard disk. When the hard disk reads it, it takes longer because it has to jump location 3 times to read the whole file. This is, in an oversimplified manner, what disk fragmentation means.

It is a truism that a computer is only as fast as its slowest component. Let’s take a look at some numbers. In the last 10 years, computers processing speed have increased enormously. Storage capacity (hard disk drives size) has also increased enormously. However, one thing that has not increased proportionally is the data transfer rate (the speed with which the hard disk drive reads/writes). As a result we have really fast CPUs (Central Processing Unit – the computer’s “brain”) relatively idle, waiting for data to be supplied to them to work on. So it becomes important to make sure transfer (read and write) times are minimized. This is why disk defragmentation can play an important role in your computer’s performance.

There are built-in and third-party software for Windows operating systems available to handle this aspect of your computer performance. Whichever one you use, make sure your hard disk drive gets defragmented periodically so your computer is not slowed down.