How to Protect Your Computer During a Thunderstorm

This entry is part 13 of 13 in the series Education

Each year computer technicians are flooded with repair requests from customers whose systems have been damaged from thunderstorms, some of which will be irreparable. Damage during a thunderstorm can be prevented by anyone willing to take a few preventive steps.

Surge Protectors:
Surge Protectors contain a fuse or a breaker that is designed to blow or tripRead Morewhen coming into contact with an electric surge. With these devices you literally get what you pay for in protection-some surge protectors come with a guarantee to replace any items that are damaged by surges while plugged into the device. Invest in the best one you can afford.

UPS (Universal Power Supply):
A Universal Power Supply is a step up from a surge protector in terms of protection. UPS devices not only protect your computer from surges but also work to prevent unexpected shutdowns due to power dips and outages. For instance, if your computer were writing information to its’ hard drive when the power was suddenly shut off that information will not get saved-and your hard drive could be damaged by being interrupted during such a sensitive process. A case of data corruption may prevent Windows from being able to load, forcing you to reinstall your operating system and possibly lose precious files as well. Worse-case scenario can result in a failed hard drive as the sensitive drive electronics are interrupted during the write process. A universal power supply will not only protect your computer from power surges during a thunderstorm but will also enable you to gracefully save all of your open files and shut down your computer properly during a power outage, protecting your system from damage.

Knots in the Power Cord:
Some people have learned the hard way the damage that could be wreaked from thunderstorms. Here is one old tech trick. Tie five overhand knots in your power cords, spacing them an inch or so apart. Do the same thing for phone cords as well. The jolt of electricity will burn itself out traveling back over itself, frying the electric and phone cords but sparing your computer. I wouldn’t swear by this method but have heard of some people who have had a couple of scorched phone cords after thunderstorms but did not lost a single modem or computer. I honestly do not know the technicalities of how this one works; only that it is one tech trick that is could be rather effective.

Disconnecting your Computer:
The best way to protect your computer during a thunderstorm is to disconnect it entirely from the electrical system in your house. Unplug your computer from the wall outlet and make sure that any device that is attached to the computer is disconnected from the power as well. Disconnect your phone line/DSL/cable/satellite connection from your modem and power that device off as well. By literally severing the connection between power sources and computer you are removing the pathways for a surge and are insulating your system from any possibility of damage. Continue reading

CryptoLocker Update

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series Viruses


Earlier this year, I wrote about what was then the newest and most widespread malware infecting computers worldwide, known as CryptoLocker. At the time I referred to it as “Game-Changing Malware.”

There have been quite a few developments along these lines since then, and this type of malware has become one of the most destructive threats of all time. Most of these developments have been of what we would have to consider a negative variety, but there is also a ray of good news thrown in for some victims of a CryptoLocker infection. First, here is a review of the evolution of encrypting ransomware over the past 10 months.

Evolution of encrypting ransomware, September, 2013 – August, 2014

Just about the time the original CryptoLocker was starting to make a significant impact (and a lot of money for its authors), a variation appeared that looked very much like the original. The infection methods were the same, the encryption was apparently done in the same way, and the message that showed up on the infected computer was almost identical to the original. There were only two obvious differences.

The original CryptoLocker initially set a price of $100 for the decryption key; this imitator demanded $300. But by that time the original authors had also raised their price to the same $300. The original gave the victim two options for paying the ransom – either a MoneyPak non-refundable debit card or payment in Bitcoin; the imitator would only accept payment via Bitcoin.

But on further analysis, several anti-virus vendors determined that this imitator was most likely produced by a totally different programmer or, more likely, programming team. They discovered that it was written in a different programming language from the original, and many other differences became apparent upon disassembly of the program and comparison to the original.

Since then, at least 6 similar programs have been released into the wild with a CryptoLocker-type payload. These are known generically as encrypting ransomware, and they continue to spread and evolve into even more-sophisticated threats. Most of these variants are obviously different programs, produced by different programming groups, each with its own twist on the distribution, payment amount and payment mechanism, and the message that is displayed after the user’s data files have been encrypted. Continue reading


This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Kids


In their book, “Toddlers on Technology,” Patti Wollman Summers (early childhood educator and Head of the Parenting Program at the Mandell School), neuropsychologist Ann DeSollar-Hale, PhD, and Heather Ibrahim-Leathers explore the way today’s toddlers are interacting with technology. Is time spent with digital media helpful, harmful, or both?

According to a study released in October 2013 by Common Sense Media, “Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013”:

“Among families with children age 8 and under, there has been a five-fold increase in ownership of tablet devices such as iPads, from 8% of all families in 2011 to 40% in 2013.”

In spite of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation that parents restrict access to media for children under the age of 2, Common Sense Media reports that “38% of children under 2 have used a mobile device for media (compared to 10% two years ago).”

While these statistics maybe alarming to the AAP, the writers of “Toddlers on Technology” insist that exposure to appropriate apps on a mobile touchscreen device actually has some significant benefits, even for young children. Continue reading

Recycle Bin Useage

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series recycle bin

You see it there, lurking in the corner, but how does one exactly use the Recycle Bin? I am here to tell you how.

Normally when you delete a photo or a file it is not really deleted, first it really only goes to the recycle bin. This gives you a second chance to change your mind and fetch it back in case you deleted it by mistake. Continue reading



GoDaddy customers, beware!

There is a new phishing scam making the email rounds this month. Here is an example of what to look for:

Subject: Status Alert: Your account contains more than [number] directories.


Your account contains more than [number] directories and may pose a potential performance risk to the server.

Please reduce the number of directories for your account to prevent possible account deactivation.

In order to prevent your account from being locked out we recommend that you create special tmp directory.

Or use the link below:

[innocuous-looking GoDaddy link which really points to a Russian domain]


If you happen to receive this email, don’t click any links inside it! You can contact GoDaddy directly through their website at GoDaddy.comor by calling them at GoDaddy Phone Number 480-505-8877. Continue reading


This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series social network

Secret is the latest social media site to garner buzz. It’s different from Facebook or Twitter because you post anonymously to a pool of people gathered from your contact list, or linked through a series of friends-of-friends. You may ponder, “How is it social to post anonymously?” The hot new app is a like a social media masquerade ball and fans insist that the anonymity allows them to be more themselves than when they have to “face” their fellow users.

Anyone who’s used Facebook or Twitter has likely censored themselves at some point or another. By the time you gather a social pool of a few hundred “friends” including relatives, co-workers and neighbors, it becomes apparent that a too-honest observation or comment can step on some real-world feelings.

Many wish they could be more honest about what they think, or engage in more heated political or social debates, but instead post mostly bland, non-confrontational updates. After scrolling through another post about your nephew’s haircut and “the cutest cat video ever,” the rare current event opinion link is tempting to respond to. But most of us defer or comment with a watered-down version of our actual opinion. Sometimes it’d be nice to engage in a real, honest debate without worrying about Aunt Vera disavowing you for your scandalous ways. Continue reading

Ten reasons not to fix computers for free

Do you feel like a heel if you don’t want to fix computer problems for friends and family? Here are some of the reasons you shouldn’t feel guilty.




Like most IT pros, I have had plenty of friends and family members ask me to fix their PCs. Although I have always tried to help people whenever I can, I have come to the realization that with a few exceptions it is a bad idea to fix people’s PCs for free. 

Don’t get the wrong idea. There are some people that I truly don’t mind helping. I would never refuse to help my wife with a computer problem, nor would I cut off my mother. Unfortunately though, the majority of those that I have helped have abused the situation. As such, this article is a list of ten reasons why I don’t recommend fixing PCs for free.

1. Future problems are your fault

When a friend or family member asks you to fix their computer, they do so because they do not know enough to fix the problem themselves. Because the person typically does not understand the cause of or the solution to the problem, they probably also are not going to understand which problems are related and which are not. As a result, anything that happens to the computer after you touch it may be perceived to be your fault. All the computer’s owner knows is that the problem did not occur until after you worked on the computer.

2. People may not respect your time

Before I stopped fixing computers for friends and family, I had a big problem with people not respecting my time. Friends would call me at all hours of the day or night and expect me to drop whatever I was doing, drive to their house, and fix their computer right then.

3. Things sometimes go wrong

The third reason why I don’t recommend fixing people’s computers for free is because if you break it, you bought it. I have never personally run into a problem with this one, but I do know someone who brought a friend’s laptop home to fix, only to have his three year old daughter knock the laptop off the table and break it.

4. People don’t value things that are free

People seem to be conditioned to accept the idea that the best things in life are those that are the most expensive. This can be a problem when it comes to fixing people’s computers for free, because your advice might be perceived as carrying no more weight than anyone else’s.

To give you a more concrete example, there is someone in my family who constantly calls me with computer questions. I try to be nice and answer the questions, but often times this person does not like the answer. In those situations this person will tell me that my brother, my aunt, or somebody else in my family with absolutely no IT experience told them the opposite of what I am telling them. Inevitably, this person ends up ignoring my advice.

5. They expect free tech support for life

When you fix someone’s computer for free and you do a good job, you can become a victim of your own success. The next time that the person needs help, they will remember what a good job you did. In the future you may be asked to assist with everything from malware removal to operating system upgrades.

6. People adopt risky habits because they are getting free tech support

This one might be my biggest pet peeve related to helping friends with their computer problems. If a friend or family member assumes that you will always be there to bail them out when they have computer problems then they have no incentive try to prevent problems from happening. As such, they might adopt risky habits or even do some things that just do not make sense.

I will give you a couple of quick examples of this one. I have one friend whose teenage son infected his computer with all sorts of malware while trying to find free adult content on the Internet. The infection was so bad that it took me all weekend to fix. I suggested to my friend that he either keep his son off of his computer, or only allow him to access the Internet through a hardened sandboxed environment. A few days later my friend told me the infection was back. After asking him a few questions, I discovered that he had given his son the admin password so that he could “download something for school.”

The other example was that I once did a hard disk replacement for a family member. I won’t bore you with the details, but the hard disk replacement was anything but smooth. There were issues with everything from BIOS compatibility to the physical case design. After spending all evening working on it, I finally got everything working. By the time that I arrived home I had a message on my voice mail from the person whose computer I had just upgraded. She said that she had let her eight-year-old son disassemble the computer because she wanted him to learn about computers, but he couldn’t figure out how to put it back together.

7. It doesn’t end with computers

Another reason why I don’t recommend doing free computer repairs for friends or family is because the job might not end with computer repairs. Once the person figures out that you are good with electronics they may have you working on other things. For instance, I once helped a neighbor recover some data off of a failed hard disk. Two weeks later he had me on the roof helping to realign his satellite dish.

8. Things can snowball

Sometimes when you fix a friend’s computer for free, the expectations of free technical support can snowball into free support for everyone. I once fixed a computer for someone in my family. When I was done, the person told me that they have a friend who is also having problems and asked if I could look at that too.

9. Your service isn’t just free, it is costing you money

For instance, you are probably spending money on gas to drive to your friend’s house. You might also end up using supplies such as blank media or printer ink. I have even had friends who expect me to supply them with the software licenses.

10. Fixing computers is too much like work

The best reason of all for not fixing friend’s computers for free might be that doing so is too much like work. If you spend all day at work fixing computer problems, do you really want to deal with the same thing when you leave the office?

What is your policy on volunteering your tech skills for friends and family?



This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series anti virus


You probably already know how important it is to have virus and malware protection on any computer that gets on the Internet, but with so many options it can be difficult to know what you need, and it’s easy to overpay. Here are three free programs that every Windows PC should have installed to stay safe and run smoothly.

Microsoft Security Essentials is a free antivirus program that comes pre-installed on Windows 8 machines and is available for download here: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/security-essentials-download. It’s compatible with older versions of Windows, including Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7. Once you install the program, cruise through the settings to insure that updates will download and install automatically, and scans will take place regularly and without your input.

If you’re concerned that allowing Security Essentials to run automatically will slow your system down, rest assured that it has very little impact on your computer’s resources. It’s also one of the most user-friendly security programs around, with a simple interface and easy to use features.

Recent antivirus tests have indicated that while Microsoft Security Essentials does a great job removing viruses, it is beginning to lag behind some of its competitors in quickly detecting new viruses and malware. This would indicate that Microsoft isn’t keeping the software as up to date as in the past. If you’re willing to take on a somewhat more complicated application in order to gain a bit in protection, consider checking out Avast Free Antivirus (free).

Why do I recommend Microsoft Security Essentials foremost if Avast is more effective? Because if a product isn’t simple and fully automated, you won’t be as likely to use it. The best antivirus is one that you install and never have to look at again, and Microsoft Security Essentials fits that bill. Also, because it’s created and updated by the same company that created your Windows Operating System, Security Essentials seamlessly integrates into Windows, making it one of the best virus removal tools for Windows PCs.

When a new virus or malware program hits the nets, it’s commonly referred to as “zero-day” or “zero-hour” malware. Our favorite software application to find and shield you from the newest bugs that traditional antivirus programs typically miss is Malwarebytes (free and premium versions available). Malware Industry Analyst Adam Kujawa explained how Malwarebytes works to Lifehacker contributor Alan Henry: Continue reading

Are Bad Capacitors Killing Your Computer?

This entry is part 5 of 13 in the series Education

Are Bad Capacitors Killing Your Computer?

Every time I work on a computer I clean the dust and visually inspect the innards. One of the things I look at inside the computer is the capacitors on the main board. There is a known common problem that is causing some capacitors to leak and fail.

The Problem
The first flawed capacitors were seen in 1999, but most of the affected capacitors were made in the early to mid 2000s, and while news of their failures (usually after a few years of use) has forced most manufacturers to fix the defects, some bad capacitors were still being sold or integrated into designs as of early 2007.

The Cause
An incorrect electrolyte formula within a faulty capacitor causes the production of hydrogen gas, leading to bulging or deformation of the capacitor’s case, and eventual venting of the electrolyte. In rare cases, faulty capacitors have even been reported to pop or explode forcefully. Although modern manufacturing techniques normally ensure they vent safely rather than explode, manufacturers have been known to omit the key safety features that allow this.

What to Look For Visually
– Bulging of the vent on the top of the capacitor. (The ‘vent’ is the impression stamped in the top of the can. The impression forms the seams of the vent. It is designed so that if the capacitor becomes pressurized it will split at the vent’s seams relieving the pressure rather than making it explode.)
Sitting crooked on the circuit board as the bottom rubber plug is pushed out.
– Electrolyte (a crusty brown substance) leaked onto the motherboard from the base of the capacitor.
– Venting from the top of the capacitor, visible as rust-like brown deposits, or a visible hole in the vent.

Failed and Bulging Capacitors

Computer Symptoms
1 Not turning on all the time; beeping noises; having to hit reset or try turning the computer on again.
2 Instabilities (hangs, BSODs, kernel panics, etc.), especially when symptoms get progressively more frequent over time.
3 Memory errors, especially ones that get more frequent with time.
4 Spontaneous reboots, or freeze wile booting.
5 Never starting the POST; fans spin but the system appears dead

Open public Wi-Fi is not safe

This entry is part 6 of 13 in the series Education


Open public wi-fi is not safe, thousands of amateur hackers are watching, made easy by a new hack tool called Firesheep…

This tool takes almost everything you need to be a Wi-Fi hacker and makes it look like an everyday program that anybody can use. And, as it transpires, a lot of people are using it.

How it works is an individual running Firesheep can use it to scan all the information being exchanged on the public Wi-Fi. What happens next is a list pops up detailing all the accounts being used and accessible. At that point the Firesheep user can link in and do whatever the user can.

Many accounts associated with websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Google, various e-mail providers and several other types of services have been determined to be vulnerable through the use of Firesheep.

Gregg Keizer reports on Computerworld.com that “Although it’s common for sites to encrypt user log-ons with HTTPS or SSL, few encrypt the actual traffic.” This allows the session or stored cookie to be broadcast over the Wi-Fi, and cookies can contain a lot of information about a user. Once a hijacker obtains the information contained in a cookie, the captor can do almost, if not everything, the user can do. Continue reading

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