- How do I keep my browser from being hijacked?
- Is it worth upgrading to get Windows XP Mode?
- I’m using someone else’s internet connection – am I at risk?
- Will backing up my computer backup my email?
- How do I learn more about computers?
- How do I protect the files on a portable hard drive?
Links above are to Ask Leo! articles based on the transcript below.
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Welcome to AskLeo! Answercast #154. I’m Leo Notenboom and I’ll be answering questions that people have been asking out at askleo.com.
Today’s Answercast is brought to you by Saved: Backing Up With Macrium Reflect. Prepare for the worst; bounce back from the inevitable! You probably know I talk a lot about backing up on Ask Leo!. As I say at the end of every Answercast, it really is the closest thing you can come up with that is a silver bullet. When it comes to computer problems, most especially including malware, nothing can pull your behind out of the fire like having a proper and recent backup ready to go.
Macrium Reflect is my recommended go to backup program. Saved: Backing Up With Macrium Reflect is my book that walks you through downloading it, installing it, setting up your backups, making them automatic and then walks you through testing those backups, restoring files and even restoring your entire Windows system if you need to.
But wait, as they say, there’s more! Once you register the book, using a link you’ll find in the book, you’ll have access to companion videos that show you how to do each of those things. Regardless of how you buy it, registered owners also get access to digital copies in pdf, moby, and epub formats. Check out Saved: Backing Up With Macrium Reflect today! Go to askleo.com/macrium for more!
How do I keep my browser from being hijacked?
Hi, Leo. I was leading our computer club’s “Internet & More” special interest group last night. One of our attendees wanted to share how to record audio to the hard drive from YouTube content. He used Audacity’s free program in the past and proceeded to show us how to find and download it. We were using Windows 7 and Firefox. We downloaded the program and started to try out some of the sound editing features. We wanted to search for a YouTube example and open up a new tab to Google. Google wasn’t there. Trovi.com search engine was there and we couldn’t get back to Google.
We tried IE10 on the same computer – no luck. When we downloaded the Audacity free program, there was no option to do a custom install and unselect the extras. The only reason we had any idea what Trovi was that another of our attendees recounted his recent experience of this happening after he installed an Adobe update. He had to take his laptop to the Microsoft store. They finally got it off his computer but it took them a couple of hours.
Many people in our club are older and likely would have to ask for assistance in getting rid of this monster. I prefer to educate them on prevention. They all have real-time anti-virus software and have learned to do malwarebytes scans. We teach our users to do image backups (thank you for hounding me until I did my first one). Other than restoring my computer to an earlier time, how can we protect ourselves?
What you’ve experience is something that’s happening more and more these days. It’s actually kind of frightening and it’s frustrating because a large part of it comes from what we would call “otherwise reputable” companies just trying to make an extra buck or two.
I will start with the most common, and that’s malware in general. I won’t say a lot about it since I think you’ve got that well in hand. Basically, it’s what I call the litany of internet safety: keep your security software running and up to date; be behind a firewall; don’t open email attachments that you’re not 100% certain of; don’t believe everything you read.
What’s happening lately is that companies are offering what I’ll call additional software along with their own – meaning you might download and install program A only to find that after installing it, you also have toolbar B, and your search engine has been changed, and your browser doesn’t behave the same. Notice that I said “offered”; the offer is often hidden (and sometimes very well hidden). And of course, the offer is set such that unless you find it and say “no”, you’re effective saying “yes”.
So here’s what you need to do every single time.
One, make absolutely sure that you’re getting the program from the correct place. That means avoiding download sites. Personally, I don’t believe Audacity does this; I don’t believe they have what we call foist ware. I believe, perhaps, Audacity was downloaded from somewhere other than the official site. And some of these other sites, these download sites will often wrap a download up with additional software that they then make some money from.
Then whenever you run a program’s setup program, never, ever, choose default options even when they are so-called “recommended”. Just don’t. Instead, always choose custom or advanced or whatever they call it that isn’t the default or the recommended path. Then carefully examine every choice. Sometimes you’ll even have to scroll up and down within the dialog to see all the choices.
I actually had that happen to me once. There was a dialog that looked like it didn’t have anything special on it and then I noticed there was a scroll bar and sure enough, when I scrolled down, I found that if I had just blindly clicked on “next” I would have been accepting additional software that I didn’t want. Basically, keep an eye out for anything that looks like it’s offering software that is unrelated to whatever it is you’re downloading. When you see stuff like that, uncheck it. There’s a toolbar – uncheck it. Changing your search settings – uncheck them. Basically do everything you can to look for and opt out of the additional software that might be offered.
Now, this doesn’t ap0ply to only free software. I actually recently had the experience of purchasing a utility only to find out that it too was full of these so-called recommended special offers. They’re not recommended and they’re certainly not special. The terms are often “foistware” – like I mentioned earlier since software is getting foisted on you. Or PUPs – Potentially Unwanted Programs. But as far as I can tell there’s nothing “potentially” about it. We don’t want these things.
So, the bottom line is exercise extreme caution and take your time installing anything. Unfortunately, that really does mean installing anything from anyone.
Is it worth upgrading to get Windows XP Mode?
Since XP support has ended is it still worthwhile my buying Microsoft’s XP mode to upgrade my Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium in order to return back to my favorite Outlook Express? I foolishly paid nearly $200 extra for a PC package containing Outlook having been told it was like Outlook Express but better. I don’t like it and thus my desire to return to Outlook Express.
The short answer is no, you don’t want to do this. For one thing, you may not need to spend any money to do what you’re asking and for another thing, it’s not something that I recommend you do, at all, to begin with.
XP mode is nothing more than Windows XP running in a virtual machine with Windows 7. I’ve never heard of it being purchased separately. But it is available in only Windows 7 Pro or better as a free download from Microsoft – so perhaps that’s the upgrade you’re talking about.
If you have a Windows XP installation disk, you can also do something different (also for free) instead. Download a program called VirtualBox from Oracle. It’s a complete and general-purpose virtual machine manager and it’s free. You can then install Windows XP in a virtual machine and run it in a window within any other version of Windows or even on a Mac, as I do.
Here’s the problem though: you’re still running Windows XP! Just because it’s in a virtual machine or in XP mode, that doesn’t really make it any safer. Virtual machine’s are almost exactly like having a separate computer; a separate computer that just happens to be running Windows XP. It’s still unsupported; it’s still likely to be vulnerable. The right solution here is not to run Windows XP at all. If you must run it, then XP mode or virtual machines don’t really get you that much.
Outlook Express is in the same boat. In fact, kind of worse because it’s been unsupported for years already. And it has known data loss and corruption bugs. I actually, these days, strongly advise against using it. It was a great email program for a very long time and I know a lot of people are really passionate about it. I can understand that. But unfortunately it’s well past time to move on.
So, my recommendation for your situation? You have a workable version of Windows, as it is – Windows 7 64-bit; it’s fine; there’s no reason to upgrade that. What I would recommend is simply this: select a different email program.
Clearly you didn’t Outlook, which is not terribly surprising since it’s actually completely unrelated to Outlook Express. Outlook comes with Microsoft Office; it’s a completely different program. The only relationship the two have is that they both happen to be email programs, and they both happen to use the word “Outlook” in their name; everything else is completely separate and different from one another.
But there are many, many other alternatives. I typically recommend Windows Live Mail, which is free from Microsoft, or Thunderbird, which is also free. Regardless of which you choose, or any of a number of options that you might choose, most are significantly better supported and significantly more stable and significantly less likely to lose your email than Outlook Express.
I’m using someone else’s internet connection – am I at risk?
If I use a wired internet connection provided by my colleague is there any way for him or anyone connected to that same modem to watch the files in my laptop or if they can see my laptop while I’m using the internet like Skype or Gmail?
The short answer is absolutely yes. You are very right to be concerned. This is a topic I touch on from time to time and it’s worth discussing a little bit more since the risks very easy to overlook.
Can they access the files on your machine?
I can only say maybe. First, you want to make sure that you have your firewall turned on. This will prevent the majority of truly malicious accesses due to malware and the like but you also need to make sure that Windows file sharing is turned off.
Depending on your version of Windows, this can be easy as a simple change to the firewall settings. For example, in Windows 7, make sure that your network is classified as public, and that network discovery and file sharing are both turned off in the Windows firewall settings for public networks. If not it is possible, if you use file sharing, for someone to actually view the contents of your hard disk and the files on it.
The worst-case scenario, of course, is that they can see everything. Again, not knowing what version of Windows we’re really talking about here, later versions of Windows tend to default to some more secure settings – but like I said, the worst-case scenario is that it’s possible to see everything.
Can they see what you’re doing on the Internet?
Well, probably. This actually is very, very much like operating your computer in an open Wi-Fi hotspot. Anyone connected to the network could potentially see your unencrypted data and anyone connected to the network could potentially see what sites you are visiting even when the connections are encrypted.
The solutions here then are exactly the same as when you’re using an open Wi-Fi hotspot. Use https whenever available. In particular, make sure that anything truly sensitive like email or banking is only done via an https connection. And if you need more protection than that, well, then start using a VPN service which will encrypt everything you do between your computer and the VPN service’s server meaning that no one in-between can see much of anything.
I’ve long said that your ISP can see everything you do. Now most of them aren’t interested; most of them don’t care but the point is the technology is set up such that the person providing your internet service can pretty much see whatever it is you’re doing and that amounts to everything I’ve just talked about.
But think about it for a minute. What does ISP stand for? It stands for Internet Service Provider. In this case, your colleague is providing your Internet service. They’re your ISP. With enough technical smarts, yes, he could indeed see what you are up to unless what you are up to is encrypted. And other people sharing that same connection could potentially, also, depending on how things are set up.
Will backing up my computer backup my email?
I’m currently preparing to back up my computer for the first time and I’m unsure of the answer to the following question. If I do either a system image or a regular backup of my Windows 7 computer, will my Outlook emails also be included in the backup or do I have to first back up the emails to a PST file; do the backup and then import the emails back if I ever need to restore the system? In checking the Microsoft site and two other searches, the only answers I find are “…..will backup all files, programs, etc….” and no mention about emails. I hate to assume that the emails will be backed up only to find that they aren’t after spending the time to do it.
This is actually an awesome question and the answer’s actually somewhat frustrating. Your email may or may not be backed up!
So I’m sorry to be unhelpful that way but it really depends on exactly where your email lives. That’s critical and once we know that, then we can make some more helpful statements.
So an image backup of your computer backs up everything that is stored on your computer – everything. So if for example, you use an email program like Outlook (not Outlook.com – that’s a website) Outlook the program, or Thunderbird, or Windows Live Mail, or many of many others? Then absolutely, the email that has been stored by those programs on your computer will be backed up.
Now, you use the term image or a regular backup.
I just don’t know what you mean by a regular backup; there’s really no such thing. Now it might mean that you’re backing up only your data files. Well, then if you’re using an email program, as I’ve just described, and if your email program is storing that email on your computer in a place that the backup program considers a place for data files, then yes, the email is probably getting backed up.
But it might not be if the backup isn’t configured to back up the folders on your machine where your email happens to be stored.
If you access your email via a web browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox or Chrome (common when you’re using an email service like Hotmail.com or Gmail.com or Outlook.com) or perhaps you’re using a website provided by your ISP or some other online email provider? Then your email is not stored on your computer.
In that case, backing up your computer no matter how you do it, does not back up your email because like I said, your email isn’t there.
The key to backing up email, at least the most common and what I’ll say is the easiest way, is to get it on your computer. You do that by installing a mail program and configuring that mail program to connect to your email service choosing IMAP as the access method when you set up the email account in the email program… which by the way is very common these days. IMAP is often the default. That means that email will be copied from the email server to your PC. Suddenly, you have two copies; a barebones backup right there.
One copy remains on the server on the email service and the other then has been copied to your PC. When you then back up your computer, your email will be backed up as long as you perform either an image backup or your back up is configured to include the folders where your email program stores your email.
So, yes, it’s very important to know exactly how your email is handled and where it lives – so that you can know that your email is getting backed up. It’s definitely not the case where you want to just assume one way or the other.
How do I learn more about computers?
Perhaps this is an odd question or this isn’t the right place to ask it but I have to start somewhere and you might be the best beginning. I’m an old lady but a computer user/lover who knows more than most of the people in my category and what I don’t know, I enjoy researching. Eventually, but not always, I find what I need. I constantly find menus and setting and clicking choices and such that I don’t understand and the regular available manuals just don’t explain. There are probably manuals that do but they would undoubtedly be beyond my capabilities to understand or just TMI.
My question is , how can I find a way to learn more and more without being a professional? I want to learn not the mechanics of the computer – not how to build one for example but how to understand and interpret some of what I see and proceed to use it to my advantage. I don’t know what kind of course, what kind of study would give me that. There must be something.
First let me say that I absolutely love your attitude. I truly, truly wish more people were like you. Unfortunately, while there must be something, there are so many “somethings” it’s really difficult to know where to send you.
So, classes are one option. Depending on where you live, there may be classes in computer basics available at community colleges, libraries, senior centers and more. The biggest issue I have with classes is that they typically have a fairly fixed agenda and what I’ll call a focused level.
If you’re at a level below what they’re teaching you’ll probably quickly feel lost. If you’re at a level above, you might end up being bored. I think the most important thing you can walk away from a class is with contacts. Local contacts that you can then, later, ask questions of.
Another option is a local computer user group. New user groups have been around forever and they often present a perfect place for people of various skill levels to get together periodically and help each other out. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that computer user groups are only for the “geeky”. I know of several (some of whom actually republish some of my articles in their group newsletters (that cater to novice and intermediate adult computer users. And once again, this gives you a community of peers that you can then feel comfortable asking questions of.
Online discussion groups and forums are all over the net. Most are topical meaning that you might easily find a discussion that focuses on a specific technology; it’s not uncommon for me to find answers myself in groups like that when I’m researching a question that someone has asked.
There are also more general groups, but they tend to be offshoots of other organizations. I know of open discussion groups on places like Yahoo Groups and Google Groups as well as areas within organizations like the AARP. There’s a thread, a common thread, to what I’ve listed so far and that’s simply this: don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s perhaps the single most important thing that you can do. And yes, it might take a little legwork to find a venue where you feel safe asking what you might feel are stupid questions. You know, here’s the big, big secret about these so-called stupid questions. For every so-called stupid question I actually answer, and publish, I get a number of people saying that they had the exact same question that they were afraid to ask.
But that’s also why I stress finding the right venue be it a discussion group online or in person, that you feel comfortable in, or sites like Ask Leo! or others. I wouldn’t ask a lost password question in a database discussion group, for example, or a Windows question in an Apple forum. But once you find that right place, then absolutely ask away – please!
You’ll note that I’ve not mentioned books and in my opinion, books are great when you’re dealing with a specific task you want to accomplish, tasks like backing up, or keeping your computer clean and speedy. But when it comes to the more general level of how things work, or what menus mean, or just why things are the way they are well, to me at least, books don’t quite cut it.
There’s no real substitute for just diving in and trying things out. And of course, asking questions along the way.
Lastly, I have to address a surprisingly common fear that I encounter all too often: you cannot break your computer by poking around. Yea, you can mess up the software on it and get things in quite the state if you really go after it but that’s all software. None of that actually breaks the computer itself. And that’s why I keep coming back to regular and complete backups. No matter how badly you mess up your computer software (and lord knows, I’ve done this myself, I’ve messed it up real good) restoring to the most recent backup undoes all the damage – quickly. If nothing else, knowing that you have a good backup in place, actually allows you to be a little bit more adventuresome. A little bit more willing to try things out, discover new things and of course, ask questions along the way.
How do I protect the files on a portable hard drive?
Leo, I’m running Windows 7 with Microsoft Security Essentials. Five months ago I bought a Samsung portable external hard drive. It’s come to my notice that these removable media drives can become very vulnerable to virus and bugs affecting them. I’m extremely worried about this. My portable drive is about 1/3 full of video movies and flv and mp4 file types. I have hundreds of movies stored. I want to guarantee that they will remain safe and preserved for hopefully many decades to come. If a virus attacks these portable hard drives then they can shut down. I think one starts getting messages like this drive is not formatted. I want to be ahead of such problems and do all that I can to be sure that no harm comes to my files in the long-term. What can be done to insure longevity and safety to the drive and its contents?
I have a couple of very specific ideas for you but I also want to clear up a couple of very important misconceptions.
First off, external hard drives, or portable drives, are actually no more or less likely to be affected by malware than internal drives. In fact, I’ll actually change that, a little bit, they’re slightly less likely – since most malware affects the system that’s stored on the internal drive.
Yes, some malware can use external drives to travel from system to system but even when they do that, they don’t typically affect the contents of the external drive itself. While I’m sure that there is malware that harms data on external drives, malware is not at all what I would worry about most in your situation.
The phrase “not formatted” as an error message is rarely the result of malware but absolutely it does happen, I hear it from time to time and see it myself.
That brings us to a very important point. Your hard drive will fail! Someday, sometime, without warning even, it will break. I think it’s a fair statement that eventually every hard drive will fail. Some fail sooner, some fail later, some stop being used before they fail so nobody notices it but they will eventually fail. And when they fail they may fail in a way that allows the data to be recovered or it may fail so catastrophically that it destroys all of the data on the drive. Particularly if you’re looking at decades of longevity, you need to accept the fact that your drive will fail someday.
That means you need to prepare for it. Something I keep stressing to people over and over again is a very, very simple rule of thumb. If there’s only one copy it’s not backed up.
If you have only one copy anywhere and that “anywhere” is lost or goes away or fails somehow, then your one copy is gone – forever.
You, my friend, need to start backing up that drive of yours immediately. If the data on that drive is important to you, back it up. If it’s really important to you, back it up again! By that I mean, make a second backup or a third copy. Back it up to another computer; back it to another hard disk; back it up to another portable drive; back it up online. You know, it doesn’t really matter as much where you back it up to (within reason of course) what matters here is that you must start backing up the data on that drive. Regardless of whether it’s malware, or a hard disk failure, or something else failing, a backup can save you.
Heck, since it’s a portable drive, you could lose it – and again, a backup will save you.
Every single one of your concerns is addressed simply by keeping that data backed up. Remember if there’s only one copy it’s not backed up.
Well, by now you probably realize that I do the Ask Leo! Answercast every week – so if you have a question about your computer the internet, or technology head on out to askleo.com to search for your answer or to ask your question. You might hear it answered here in a future Answercast.
I also put out a newsletter every week. The Ask Leo! newsletter includes answers and fixes, and safety tips, opinions, and even the occasional answer as to just why things happen the way they happen.
I’ve said it several times in today’s Answercast and I plug this every single week because it’s so incredibly important. Nothing and I really mean nothing, can save you from almost any disaster, like a proper and recent backup.
All of my answersm, they are are based on my own personal experience and should be used entirely at your own risk. I hate to say it but I just don’t know you, your abilities, or the specifics of your machine and all of those of details can add up to making a huge, huge difference.
The Ask Leo! Answercast is a production of Ask Leo! and is copyright 2014. Thanks for listening. I’m Leo Notenboom and I’ll be back soon with another Ask Leo! Answercast.