PC Cleaning Apps are a Scam: Here’s Why and How to Speed Up Your PC

PC Cleaning Apps are a Scam: Here’s Why and How to Speed Up Your PC.

I get this question a lot, and I clean up a lot of computers after users use a cleanup tool.

Anyhow, this article has it explained simple and quick, and even shows what to do if you want to really speed up your PC.

Defragmentation is automatically scheduled in Windows Versions newer than Vista.

I want to remind you, that the best way to keep your PC running fast, is not to have unnecessary programs, making sure it is up to date, and running antivirus and antimalware often.

Computers will get a little slow over time, just because the Operative System (Windows/OSX/Linux) has updates and gets heavier, but also because our perception of what a fast computer is.

10 years ago web pages were 10 time smaller than they are now. So even web browsers are getting heavier.


The value of Backup and Data

I have been bad….Very BAD!!!

When I started the blog, my second article was about home backups. I started writing in and before I knew it was too long. My problem was that I was covering too much ground, and too much information was fresh in my mind.

Well, after my article in NMS I decided to write this article, which will initiate a series of backup articles. Why a series? Because there is too much information that I need to give you, and I don’t want to bore you too much, but backup is so important and people give it so little importance that I MUST convey the information.

What is the Value of Data?

This is more than anything a question you need to ask yourself. The data that is important for me, might not be important for you. And Value is even harder to assign. However there is a some easy points to quantify it.

  • Can you reproduce the data?
  • Is it easy to host someplace else?
  • How vital is to have it available?
  • What is the damage if the data is loss (economical and emotional damage)
  • How often you need it?

None of these questions by themselves can put value on data, but all together can. For example, the perfect picture of the first birthday of your first child. You might not look at the picture all the time, but if lost forever, you will remember that picture and be sad about it (emotional value). However because it is a picture, it also probably is hosted in Picasa, Flicker, Facebook or another social media. Maybe not with the same quality, but at least you could save it from there if lost from your computer. In the other hand, lets say your QuickBooks database for your small/home business. Maybe it won’t slow you down a lot if lost, but could have several repercussions when tax season arrives.

Now that we have an idea how to assign value to data we should…

Assigning Value to Backup

The Value of the backup is proportional to the value of the data. It sounds like a lot of mathematical terms, but simply, if the data is very valuable (or invaluable) to you, then the backup is as well. VERY SIMPLE, No?

Although this is simple, I am still amazed to find out most people don’t backup regularly. I know I don’t backup most things at home almost never, however, most of the data I don’t care for (even though I have TB of data), and the data I care about I have it in my desktop, my laptop, my work PC, my old PC. It is a mess, but if needed I can recover most of it.

This mess of data also brings another value for the backup. The backup will organize your data. It is more is a consequence of backing up, but when you start to plan and put in effect a backup plan, you also end up organizing your data, which later will save you time when you are searching for it.

Extra benefits of backup

When setting a backup you will have plenty of benefits, some are more visible than others, however these are the ones I can think of right now:

  • Data can be recovered
  • Data will be replicated
  • Data will be organized
  • Data will be centralized
  • Multiple versions of the same data (*1)
  • When replacing computer, moving data is easier
  • Backup can be backup again (maybe to cloud, offline, remote)

(*1) It depends on the backup, but at least you have 1 older version of a file. Some backups support more than one version. If a file becomes corrupted, or you save a change that you want to undo later, an older version is the solution.

Thinking about value

Unless you do all your work online, and you don’t care about data, there is always something you won’t want to lose in your computer. Backing up is important, and have extra benefits beyond being able to recover data, and the value of the backup is the same as the data, or even greater in most cases.

So, do you value your data? And are you backing up your data?

Point of View: Are you guilty of piracy by association?

Note: I particular liked this PoV because it explains the other repercussions of the SOPA and MegaUpload take down. After all it is about precedence sometimes. And how sometimes good intentions can lead to bad repercussions.


They say birds of a feather flock together. Does that mean that if you happen to use the same cloud storage and file sharing service that’s also used by people who violate the law, you should be punished, too?  Some of the folks who had perfectly legal files stored on Megaupload.com must have felt as if they were being found guilty by association when their data was seized last week along with that of copyright violators.
The site was shut down by the U.S. government and its founder was arrested in New Zealand, with the FBI calling this one of the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the United States." I still remember back when copyright violation was a civil matter, not a criminal offense. If I copyrighted my work and you used it without my permission, I had to take you to civil court and sue you. Then if you were found liable, the court ordered you to pay me monetary damages and/or to stop using my work. Today, though, government has gone wild, criminalizing almost every "bad act." Remember the old saying, "it’s not a federal crime." Well, now it probably is.
This is a scary precedent, in more ways than one. If someone stores illegal material (child porn, for instance) on his or her SkyDrive account, are my documents and the photos of my dogs that I have stored with that service subject to government seizure?  Even worse, are Bill Gates (founder) and Steve Ballmer (CEO) of Microsoft going to be arrested for letting it happen? That may sound extreme, but the way things are going, it’s not unthinkable. There are already extant laws that hold a bartender criminally responsible if someone has too much to drink in his/her establishment and then gets behind the wheel of a car and kills someone. And I can guarantee I’ll get feedback from readers who think that is fair and right.
It all seems to be part of a broader legal trend that seeks to be "proactive" and outlaw not just the commission of wrongful acts, but also the use of anything that might possibly ever be used to commit wrongful acts. It’s like making it illegal to own a telephone because it could be used to place harassing or obscene phone calls, or making it illegal to own a gun because it might be used to commit a robbery – oh, wait; some jurisdictions do that, don’t they?
ComputerWorld says the moral of the Megaupload story is that we should be careful about what cloud services we use to store our stuff, and while that’s true, I think it misses the bigger picture. Something’s happening here and there are too many "Mr. Joneses" who don’t know what it is (let’s see how many of you are old enough to recognize that reference).
It’s easy to be cynical and say there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s the federal government, after all – they can do whatever they want. They have the superior firepower. But not everyone was quite so accepting of that idea. The "hackavist" group Anonymous responded to the shutdown of Megaupload with a series of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks against the web sites of the Department of Justice, the FBI, the U.S. Copyright Office, the RIAA and the MPAA.
Shortly before all this, an Internet-wide protest against two anti-piracy bills in Congress, SOPA and PIPA (reported in last week’s newsletter) resulted in the withdrawal of legislation by its sponsor.  Obviously it’s possible for online activists to exert influence in top political circles, even if the music and movie industry lobbies do have more money.
We may be witnessing the declaration of a new kind of war here. It’s going to be interesting to watch how it unfolds. Share your thoughts and opinions on this our forum  or email me.

From WinNews newsletter (Sorry, no direct link this time).

Did you lose access to data in MegaUpload?

Ten Tips For Protecting Your Devices From Seizure By U.S. Customs

With U.S. Customs agents increasingly interested in the contents of digital devices like iPhones, iPads and laptops, The Electronic Frontier Foundation has issued guidance for getting your mobile device across the border safely and protecting the data on it should it get seized.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects American citizens from unreasonable search and seizure – a fundamental Constitutional right that courts have interpreted as encompassing not just our bodies, but our stuff: homes, cars and these days, our electronic devices. But the 4th Amendment doesn’t extend to U.S. border crossings, where courts agree that the government has the legal authority to seize and search your car and devices, even when there’s no suspicion of wrongdoing. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has put together a guide (.PDF) for would-be border crossers to protect their devices from seizure and protect the data they contain in the event that U.S. Customs decides to take a closer look. Here’s a look at some of their tips from “Defending Privacy at the U.S. Border.”

Continue at Source

Note: The PDF linked has more specific. Threat Post basically simplified the guidelines and put the top 10.


It is also good to note, that you should be careful regardless of what data you carry. Imagine traveling with a PowerPoint that you need for an important client meeting, or a wedding video that you wanted to show family, only to have to leave your digital gadgets at the border. Having that information backed and a second place will save your day and tears.

Slammed And Blasted A Decade Ago, Microsoft Got Serious About Security

This article is a little longer than usual, however it does a great show to show how security in Windows systems have improved, and why it is important. Sometimes, things we take for granted had a beginning, right?

From Threat Post

A decade ago this week, Chairman Bill Gates kicked off the Trustworthy Computing Initiative at Microsoft with a company-wide memo. The echoes of that memo still resonate throughout the software industry today as other firms, from Apple to Adobe, and Oracle to Google have followed the path that Microsoft blazed over the past ten years.

But the Trustworthy Computing Initiative, which made terms like secure development lifecycle (SDL), automated patching, and “responsible disclosure” part of the IT community’s common parlance, was no stroke of genius from the visionary Gates. Nor did the plan spring, like Athena, fully formed from the CEO’s forehead. In fact, Trustworthy Computing owes its existence as much to four pieces of virulent malware as it does to Bill Gates’ vision and market savvy. This is the story of how worms drove one of the biggest transformations in the history of the technology industry.

“Not just a marketing problem”

In 2001, there was no Microsoft Security Response Center. The Windows Update service did not exist. Security bulletins were rudimentary, at best, and Windows XP had no default firewall.

For much of the past two years, the most prevalent online threat came in the form of mass-mailing computer viruses that used macros to cull contact information from infected computers. Each infection yielded a bunch of new contacts and the next batch of potential victims. The prominent threats of this generation – mass mailing viruses like Melissa and LoveLetter spawned some security changes from Microsoft. But the changes were iterative – Band Aids on an obvious problem – not efforts at better or more secure product design.

The abrupt arrival of the Code Red worm in June of that year turned conventional thinking about the dangers of Internet borne threats – and how to handle them – on its head. The worm, like many that would come after it, used a software vulnerability in a common Microsoft platform and a slow response to the disclosure of that vulnerability to devastating effect.

In June 2001, Microsoft released an advisory and patch for its Internet Information Server, warning of security vulnerability in how it handled certain requests. Security firm eEye Digital Security had found the vulnerability and warned Microsoft of the issues. Microsoft quickly addressed the problem, but with little impact: customers had neither the tools nor the incentive to patch the flaw, recalls Marc Maiffret, chief technology officer of eEye.

"Microsoft was responsive, but they were trying to figure out how to handle security and to not just keep thinking of these issues as marketing problems," Maiffret says.

Less than a month later, Code Red arrived, exploiting that same vulnerability to spread from Web server to Web server. Maiffret and his team analyzed the code and named the worm after the variant of Mountain Dew they had constantly quaffed during the analysis. Nearly a half million servers were infected by the attack, according to estimates at the time. He recalls being surprised by the damage and disruption Code Red caused, both to customers and to the software industry, itself.

"We understood the threat technically, but did not understand the impact it would have on the industry and the security landscape," says Maiffret.

If Microsoft was not convinced that its products needed a security revamp, the Nimda virus, which started spreading just weeks later, in August 2001, nailed the message home. Nimda was dubbed a “blended” threat, because it used multiple techniques to spread, including by e-mail, open network shares on infected networks, Web pages and via direct attacks on vulnerable IIS installations. Nimda didn’t propagate as quickly as Code Red, but it was difficult to eradicate from affected networks. That meant more and longer support calls for Microsoft and more expensive remediation.

By the end of 2001, Microsoft was feeling the pressure from irate customers and from an increasingly attentive media, which lambasted the company for prioritizing features over underlying security. By the end of the year, the company and its leader realized that it needed to start anew. Gates’ Trustworthy Computing Initiative e-mail would appear just two weeks into the New Year, 2002.

“We stopped writing code.”

On Thursday, January 23, 2003, Tim Rains moved from Microsoft’s network support team and began his first day as part of the company’s incident response group. The engineer did not have much time to acclimate to his new position: Within 48 hours, the Slammer worm hit, compromising hundreds of thousands of servers and inundating Rains’ group with support calls.

The virulent worm spread between systems running Microsoft’s SQL Server as well as applications that used embedded versions of the software, exploiting a flaw that had been patched six months earlier. The threat moved fast, earning the title of the world’s first flash worm: The program — 376 bytes of computer code —spread to 90 percent of all vulnerable servers in the first 10 minutes, according to a report by security researchers and academic computer scientists.

By Saturday, Rains and the security team were buried under and avalanche of support calls. Microsoft halted its regular work and conscripted much of the company’s programming staff to help respond to the threat.

"It really stands out how Microsoft mobilized," Rains says. "We stopped writing code, and programmers came over to call centers that we had. I remember being in large rooms and training people to help customers."

For Microsoft in 2003, Slammer was a reminder that the company still had a long way to go if it wanted to see its nascent Trustworthy Computing effort bear fruit. In the year since Gate’s memo was sent, the software maker had pushed through major changes to its software development process.

Following the Code Red and Nimda worms, Microsoft had changed course: focusing on securing its products and making them easier for customers to secure and created the Strategic Technology Protection Program in October 2001.

But helping users secure the company’s difficult-to-secure products was not enough. Microsoft also had to change an internal development culture that prioritized features over security.

Announcing the Trustworthy Computing Initiative in January, Gates said: "When we face a choice between adding features and resolving security issues, we need to choose security. Our products should emphasize security right out of the box."

In the following 12 months, the company halted much of its product development, trained nearly 8,500 developers in secure programming, and then put them to work reviewing Windows code for security errors. The total tally of the effort: About $100 million, according to Microsoft’s estimates.

But Microsoft still needed more time and effort to improve its software. The very same Thursday that Rains began in the security incident response center, Gates sent out a company-wide e-mail celebrating Trustworthy Computing’s first birthday, and highlighting how far the company’s engineers had to go to secure its products.

"While we’ve accomplished a lot in the past year, there is still more to do–at Microsoft and across our industry," Gates wrote.

The Slammer worm attack just days later was a timely reminder to Microsoft of its failings and a convincing argument for why it had to continue on its costly crusade, in particular in cajoling its massive customer base to apply the security fixes that it issued.

SQL Slammer was based on proof of concept code privately disclosed to the company by UK security researcher David Litchfield months before, and quickly patched by the company. A demo of an exploit for the hole at the Black Hat Briefings in the Summer of 2003 also raised the profile of the SQL vulnerability, but to no avail: few SQL Server users had applied the company’s patch by the time January rolled around (Litchfield estimated fewer than 1 in 10 had been patched prior to the release of Slammer). Once the SQL Slammer worm began jumping from SQL Server installation to SQL server installation, circling the globe in just minutes, there was little time to patch.

Slammer, like its predecessors, forced still more radical changes in Microsoft’s corporate culture and procedures. Development of Yukon (SQL Server 2005) was put on hold and the company’s entire SQL team went back over codebases from Yukon back to SQL Server 2000 to look for flaws. As Litchfield wrote in a Threatpost editorial: the effort, though costly, paid dividends:

“The first major flaw to be found in SQL Server 2005 came over 3 years after its release… So far SQL Server 2008 has had zero issues. Not bad at all for a company long considered the whipping boy of the security world.”

Slammer also prompted big changes in the area of patch and update distribution. Microsoft simplified its update infrastructure and made efforts to improve patches, and embarked on a number of information sharing efforts with the security community.

“A turning point”

The MSBlast or Blaster worm, which started spreading in August 2003, perhaps had the greatest impact on Microsoft’s secure development efforts, however.

The worm took advantage of vulnerability in Windows XP remote procedure call (RPC) functionality, which security professionals at the time called the most widespread flaw ever. In its first few months, the worm infected about 10 million PCs, according to Microsoft data. Eighteen months later, the software giant had updated the figure to more than 25 million.

"It was the turning point for us," says Microsoft’s Rains. "We had already started getting serious because of SQL Slammer, but Blaster was the one that really galvanized the entire company."

Two months after the Blaster worm started spreading, Microsoft changed the focus of its second service pack for Windows XP, targeting the entire update on improving the security of users’ systems. In addition, the company kicked off a campaign to educate users and created its bounty program for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators behind Blaster and the Sobig virus.

While the changes were painful, the results have been overall positive, say security professionals.

"Sadly, the only time when technology companies do things to improve security is when they have enough black eyes," says eEye Maiffret. "That’s what happened with Microsoft."

Other companies and their products are now undergoing the same scrutiny by attackers. Hopefully, they will learn the same lessons.

Recommended Reads

Be careful when you click Download !!!!

I found this article in the Sunbelt blog.

I have seen this for some time now. However, it seems it is getting worse, and I have seen cases when people mistakenly click on the wrong download button, usually downloading malware instead of the file intended.

Besides putting more strick content filters, the only other solution is education. So, here is the article on Download buttons


"Così fan tutte"

A company who make installers distributing the software of third parties recently contacted us to query a detection. As it turns out, their installer was not the problem – they were partnering with a company whose toolbar continues to have a history of misleading and deceptive installs.
The interesting part of all this was the discussion over how the programs caught the attention of the end-user in the first place. Here, it was big green download buttons on download sites that looked (for all intents and purposes) like the button the end-user should click on to begin their desired download. Instead, it would take them to vaguely named installer files. Examples of said buttons:

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Click to Enlarge

As a response, the basic argument set forth was "We want to be clean, but it’s so difficult when everybody else is doing whatever they can to snag an install over a company attempting to play by the rules". On the surface of it, this would seem to be the case – pre ticked checkboxes, dubious installers and poor notification inside the programs we download are bad enough, but poor choice of advert placement (and adverts that themselves look like Facebook notification prompts and other elements that would fool a regular web-user) muddy the waters still further.
You can see these on everything from search engines to garden variety adverts on any number of websites you care to mention, and as social networks continue to grow in influence so too do 2.0 themed adverts continue to vie for your attention.
Disappointingly, the bulk of the case set forth boils down to "everyone else is doing it". Here are some of the examples they sent over:

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Above you can see a rather large green tick and a "Download now" button which completely overwhelm the simple text link that happens to be the one the end-user is looking for.

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The above example has a rather prominent (and unrelated) download banner at the top and another download link off to the right – personally I don’t feel this has as strong a case as the first example, although three green download buttons on the same page is always going to cause confusion for somebody.

Click to Enlarge

Above, we can see the actual download button fairly dwarfed by a larger one off to the right. Much like the other two, you can bet this has resulted in a number of "Wait, what?" style downloads.
None of this is new, of course – you can easily jump back to 2008 or earlier and see the same sort of thing taking place on Facebook application installer pages. It’s worthwhile advising relatives you suspect will wander into these setups to be on their guard, because as far as many companies out there installing Adware and other products are concerned it’s a case of Così fan tutte.

How to make a thousand enemies (a horror story of added toolbars)

One of the many newsletters that I get is ThreatPost (yes, I know I am super geeky, but it is part of my job: “Geek Engineer/Specialist”). This is a Kapersky newsletter about security. I like it, because it does not focus on just Kapersky (Vipre/GFI also has good newsletters).

So, here is an article that was published saying “Cnet Apologizes for Nmap Adware Bundling” You can click and open the whole article, but before doing so, read the rest of the post.

One thing that I learn to do, is not to read “sensational journalism” Meaning, I completely ignore strong words that might give me a different view on something. You see it all the time (although you might not feel it), like using patriotism in political speech (sooooo common).

Why I consider the title sensationalist? Well, I was expecting real bad malware. Download.com was bundling the Bing toolbar with nmap. I didn’t not try the original download, but unfortunately I had to deal with it to get SteadyState (I could only find it with the download manager).

Now, I hate download managers, but that is my personal opinion. I don’t know what else it is setting up, and I find it a waste of time when you are downloading a 8MB file, but you can deny to install the toolbar in the download.

Can you feel where I am going? I tell this to most people, the biggest danger on the Internet are not the hacker, viruses, or malware, but the users themselves. Read, and check what you are installing. Keep your own computer safe, instead of trusting that the Internet is safe. It is the same concept as in real life and streets. (and as I say this, I am reminded that there is a ton of people that cross streets without checking for traffic, or people that merge without giving the right of away) Anyhow.

Cnet, should not add the toolbars, but they are running a business. The part about people trusting nmap or other open source projects is true, but as an IT person I always try to go to the source. So if I am downloading nmap I will go to http://nmap.org/

The other interesting point is what does CNET and download.com consider malware and adware? Obviously not the tool bars. I am old enough (and I am not that old) to remember CNET when they bundled worse adware, and I still don’t trust them. I mainly don’t trust the layout of the site. Have you tried to download ad-aware? You could very easily end up downloading the wrong software thanks to the big advertising (right now, it seems easier to download ARO 2011 from the page of Lavasoft’s Ad-aware than the software itself).

As a final note the problem is “We, the users” although CNET holds blame. It is the same with SPAM. It would not exist, if there weren’t fools that buy Viagra from a SPAM message. Yes people, it does happen, and yes, SPAM is expensive to run, but can be profitable (I got 113 Spam comments on this blog alone Smile).

Now, for the actual article, after my long rant and informal analysis.

from Threat Post

CNet NMapOfficials at Cnet’s Download.com site have issued a statement apologizing for bundling the popular open source Nmap security audit application with adware that changed users’ search engine and home page to Microsoft properties. Fyodor, the author of Nmap, raised the issue earlier this week, saying that his app was being wrapped in malware on Download.com.

It’s not unusual for download sites to bundle free applications with some kind of adware or toolbar, but the creators of open-source applications take a dim view of this practice, given the nature and ethic of open source projects. Nmap is a venerable and widely used tool for mapping networks and performing security audits and Fyodor wrote in a message to an Nmap mailing list earlier this week that Download.com, which is part of Cnet, a subsidiary of CBS Interactive, was bundling the application with its installer, which, if a user agreed, would install a search toolbar and change the user’s search engine to Bing.

"The way it works is that C|Net’s download page (screenshot attached) offers what they claim to be Nmap’s Windows installer. They even provide the correct file size for our official installer. But users actually get a Cnet-created trojan installer. That program does the dirty work before downloading and executing Nmap’s real installer. Of course the problem is that users often just click through installer screens, trusting that download.com gave them the real installer and knowing that the Nmap project wouldn’t put malicious code in our installer. Then the next time the user opens their browser, they find that their computer is hosed with crappy toolbars, Bing searches, Microsoft as their home page, and whatever other shenanigans the software performs! The worst thing is that users will think we (Nmap Project) did this to them!" Fyodor wrote in his original message. Continue at source