Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Be careful where you save!

clip_image002Many students use e-mail to send documents to themselves when working in labs. This is fine, but be very careful when you save.

If you open the file by clicking on an e-mail, it will not be saved in “My Documents.” When you log off the computer, your work will be lost. We get questions about these missing files from students this time of year, and there’s usually nothing we can do to help.

To prevent this:

  • Use a flash drive to save your documents instead of e-mailing them to yourself.
  • If you do e-mail, do not open the file by clicking on it. Instead, save the file in “My Documents” and open it there.

If you just click "save," the file will be lost when you log off. Don’t find this out the hard way.

Did you know? Files saved in “My Documents” are available on any I&TS lab computer. If you save the file there, you don’t need to e-mail it to yourself. Just log on and you’ll find it in “My Documents.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's about Time! (Threatfire)

imageThere's a new tool in the antivirus toolbox that looks very promising.  Threatfire works with other antivirus to detect viruses and spyware in a different way:  it detect malware behavior, and not specific malware infections.

This is big.  For many years, I've been making the point about antivirus software:  it's flawed because it depends on virus definitions -- an identifying code specific to a particular virus -- for detection.  This means you need to constantly update.  And now, with the constant mutations of Antivirus XP and its clones, the updates are always way behind the virus makers.

Threatfire doesn't need updated definitions.  Bad behavior is bad behavior no matter what the software.  If something is causing popups, it will find the process and fix it, even if it never saw that particular code before.

You would think this could have been done before now. It actually has been tried, but the nature of computer journalism gave people the impression that the virus definition model was superior.  Years ago, computer magazines would test both behavior-based and definition-based antivirus.  Both would be equally good at detecting viruses and protecting the computer.  But the definition-based antivirus would say "You were infected by the stoned virus" while the behavior-based one would say "You were infected with a virus."  Because definition-based antivirus could name the actual virus, it got higher ratings even though it was no better at protection than the other.

Threatfire is not a replacement for your antivirus, but rather a supplement to it. It will protect against the malware your McAfee or Avast or AVG or Symantec doesn't know about it.

I have only been able to give it a limited test; it seems to work quietly in the background and I haven't had any viruses to test it with.  But assuming it works even close to as advertised, it's an solution that's a decade or more overdue.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Save Ink!

Here's a neat little way to save in when printing:  EcoFont.

It's a great idea: a font with small holes in it. Because of the holes, less ink is required.

At small sizes, like 12 points, the holes are barely noticeable.  It's a tiny big gray, but not enough to make it hard to read.

Just download the font and install it to increase the life of your print cartridges.

(Suggested by Kim Komando).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Basics: The Task Manager

One of the most useful tools for determining what's going on with your computer is the Task Manager. This program lists what currently running on your computer and lets you determine what's using up memory.  You can also use it to shut down things that you don't want running.

Task ManagerTo access the Task Manager, press Ctrl-Alt-Delete (all three keys at once). In some cases, it will pop up; in other configurations, this will bring up a list of options. "Task Manager" is one of them.

There are several tabs on the Task Manager.

  • Applications -- these are programs currently running on the computer. If you click on one and then select "End Task," the program will close. This can be useful if the program stops responding (which will show in the status). You can end the program if it's frozen.
  • Processes -- This is trickier.  These are various processes running on the computer. Sometimes, you can kill a rogue process like a virus so that you can run other programs. You can also use it to shut down things that are taking up too much memory. The processes can be sorted so you can see which one is taking up memory (ignore "System Idle Processes"; that's just free memory, so you want it to be high). Note: If you end the wrong process, the computer might crash. But don't let this faze you:  a restart will fix things.
  • Performance -- Shows how much memory is being used.  If the CPU usage is at 100%, your computer is going to run slow.  The task manager also puts an icon near the clock on the taskbar; it will indicate how much memory is being used with a bright green bar. 
  • Networking -- Shows how your local area connection is working.

How is this useful?  In several ways:

  • If a program is not responding, open the Task Manager and look at the Applications tab.  Look for tasks listed as "not responding."  Click on them and then on "End Task" to free things up (you will get a warning window before they shut down).  It may take a few moments for it to work, but it's quicker than restarting the computer.
  • If your computer is running very slowly, open the Task Manager and look at the processes.  Click on the heading "CPU" twice to sort largest to smallest.  The processes at the top (not counting "System Idle Process") are taking up the most CPU time.  If you can determine what they are, you can end them, or reconfigure. 
  • Occasionally, you may find that your taskbar has disappeared and you can't get it back.  Go into the Task Manager, click on "File" on the menu, and then "New Task (Run)."  Type "Explorer" in the space and click OK.  The taskbar should return.

The Task Manager is a handy way to maintain your computer.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Don't Fall for it

We've been getting some cases of people's e-mail accounts being compromised and used for sending spam. This was generally because the user gave out his password.  Most commonly, people are tricked into it by an e-mail requesting the password.  Here is one example:

From: <Address removed>

Sent: Wednesday, April 01, 2009 7:03 PM





This mail is to inform all our {EDU WEBMAIL} users that we will be upgrading our site in a couple of days from now. So you as a Subscriber of our site you are required to send us your Email account details so as to enable us know if you are still making use of your mail box.


Further informed that we will be deleting all mail account that is not functioning so as to create more space for new user. so you are to send us your mail account details which are as follows:


*User name:



Failure to do this will immediately render your email address deactivated from our database.


Your response should be send to the following e-mail address.


Your Admin Manager: <email address removed>


Yours In Service.





There are several things about this that should raise alarms.

  • First of all, no I&TS department will ever ask for your password. There is absolutely no need for it. In the case above, if we were upgrading our site, we'd would use your same user settings.  If, for some reason, we couldn't use your current username and password, we would create new accounts and let you know what the new information is. We would never have to ask for your password.
  • Note the phrase:  "we will be deleting all mail account that is not functioning." IT departments know the English language well enough to handle basic subject/verb agreement.
  • Though I hid it, the e-mail address for the Admin Manager was not a siena.edu address (it was from the .info domain, which is not all that reputable in any case).  Even if we for some reason needed this information (as I mentioned, we don't), we would ask you to send the e-mail to a siena.edu e-mail address.  This is a given.
  • At a college, it's pretty easy to know what student accounts are active and which aren't.  There is no reason at all to delete an account before you graduate. 
  • If space is needed, and we can't add memory, the solution would be to set quotas, not delete accounts.
  • "FROM THE EDU EMAIL SUPPORT TEAM."  Maybe it's just me, but I'm always suspicious about anything that comes from a "team."  Scammers always seem to use it.  While it can be legitimate, it's at least a warning flag.

There are many other signs of that an e-mail is fake; if you have an example, add a comment.  But the first rule is always the best: never give out personal information when replying to an e-mail.  If you have any doubts, contact the "sender" by another means -- by phone (finding the number in the phone book, not in the e-mail) or by visiting their web page (by typing the address into the address bar, not clicking on a link).

Here's a good overview of how to remain safe from phishing e-mails like this.