Computer Tips

This is for PCs.
Version 2014 now under updating. Comments always welcome.

Setting up a system

Load the operating system and your main applications then backup the partition. See below for software options.

Security

Protecting you confidential data

Don’t give data away

If you every give away an old computer, even if you erase files or do a regular reformat of the hard disk, data can still be recovered from the drive. Use Darik’s Boot and Nuke to properly erase the drive. And then a good strategy could be to put Linux on the machine. The best Linux these days is Ubunto. You can download an ISO image and burn a CD that will boot and run Linux off the CD. A bit slow but fun. I’ve installed a virtual machine VMware also, to run Linux on Windows. More on this later.

Encryption

This becomes more important every day. The best and most secure way is by encryption. That way even if some malicious person gains access to your system directly or through some software the data is still safe. I am using now the free True Crypt program. It is great. You make a file that the program will mount as a virtual disk drive. Then the file is transportable and can be backed up to CD or USB key. You can partition your hard disk and make the whole partition encrypted but I don’t need that. I now have a 60 MB file that is encrypted and am moving all confidential data files into this file. One caution, when you setup the program make sure you go into Settings –> Preferences and check the box Mount volumes as removable media. Otherwise if you delete files, they will go into the regular Recycle Bin and be unencrypted! Well, install it and read the help file, it has a tutorial to setup a file. Then what I do to use it is I have my file mount as the drive X:. Then you can use this drive as any other disk, moving files onto it, opening files etc. And there is not speed issues. So, if you have lots of very private data, you could even periodically backup the data, give the password to your lawyer, then if you keel over, your data is accessible. I am going to head this way, scan all important documents etc. Also it is very handy as you know where everything is and don’t have to worry. (Of course, the original documents are still just as important!) Truecrypt even has an explanation of how to get fancy with plausible deniability, which is right out of spy movies. It is if someone forces you to give the password there will still remain hidden data that nobody could figure out is hidden data.

Another option is to use the venerable PKZip program in the newer version of Secure Zip Express which is now free for personal use.

Protecting Passwords

First, don’t use the browser to save passwords on your PC. It isn’t secure and you can’t recover them.

Note if you use Apple, passwords can be saved.

Otherwise what I use is Lastpass.

There is also a popular product called 1Password, though I don’t see the point of it over Lastpass and even it over Keypass.

If you want a free option you can use KeePass . It is free and open source, and the password file is encrypted. I am digging through all my passwords and even software or domain registrations and putting them in this file. I am putting also the confirmation Emails from vendors into the entries. You can also put an attachment in an item. Only one attachment, but I suppose if you zipped multiple files together that would be a work around.

Anti Virus

I just use Microsoft Security Essentials. Other security suites are overkill and cost money.

Corporate McAffee or Norton Symantec are good. The consumer versions load up the system too much with extra features, etc. Otherwise, try Nod32 or others. See this link.

I’m running Avg Anti-Virus free on the old Windows XP machine now. Seems OK.

Also see this post on makeuseof with some other antivirus and antispyware links.

Anti Adware

You might be surprised what is starting up. Run Autoruns and have a look.

Kid safety

Both of the upcoming operating systems: Windows Vista and OSX Leopard, have vastly improved parental controls. You can also get a 30-day trial of Cyber Patrol to use until Windows Vista is released. A previous advertiser, the is a hardware device that will act as a parental control device.

Bsafe Online may also be an option.

Anonymizing

There are many options. You also use this to appear to be elsewhere.
For shopping, but there is a risk.
To use services such as Netflix.

You know if you are online at Starbucks on or a hotel network, all your information can be sniffed.
I use Anonymizer which also makes me look like I’m in the USA as it sets up a secure connection to the US servers. It is about $30 a year. It also allows Skype to pass through. My only complaint is their software wants to update too ofter, but they may have a valid reason, perhaps to keep ahead of those places blocking proxis. Note that in early 2008 Anonmizer was bought by another company which could change their viability.

HotSpotVPN can also be used but it is 3 times the price of Anonymizer. I’m using it now on the newer laptop but it doesn’t seem to allow Skyp to work through its proxy.

LogMeIn Hamachi can be used to connect different computers like home to office on a secure link. It is free.I tried to run it and it isn’t working. It won’t connect to another server. That may be the slow Internet out of Kuwait?

Here is a blog posting with more proxy options.

And, if you want to go from within a browser there is

There is also the free OpenVPN. SSL-Explorer would also be a helpful tool.

And: PublicVPN.com

And: Hotspot Shield which is free. I haven’t tried it yet. I’m using Hotspot VPN until my year runs out then I’ll reevaluate.

Backups

Backup your partition

Windows has it built in. Probably this is enough. Though it doens’t save versions.
For that Acronis TrueImage $49.99 Works on Windows & Mac & LINUX filesystem disks. I’ve used it but it is a bit to pretty. I like Drive Snapshot as it is very simple.

I’m liking Drive Snapshot lately. Simple and fast.

DriveImage XML is free, and I’m going to try it.

I have Symantec Ghost but it is more oriented to IT environments. It costs $40. I will stick with it for now. Maybe some day I’ll go for the Acronis package but my Ghost is paid for.

Backing up your data

On PCs I use the excellent program there is SyncBackSE. I’m trying the pro version now (April 2009) as it does FTP backups which I’ll take advantage of.

There is FileBack PC which Steve Gibson of GRC uses.
And

Also there is a freeby from Microsoft SyncToy which you can schedule with the Windows Scheduler. I’ve been using it but it isn’t as robust as I’d like. For example if a drive is gone it errors out and I’ve seen cases where it didn’t back up stuff I thought should have been.

Make additional partitions

(Check on PC) Free imaging.

Norton Partition Magic for $69.95. I don’t know what the other options are. There are probably some open source ones?

Backup your data.

I’m not doing anything fancy yet. I use external disk drives, and intend to store them offsite. Particularly for my photos for which I have nearly 100 GB. When I first wrote this I had 100 GB of photos. Now I have over 2 TB!

Keeping the system healthy

Spinrite to check the hard drives. The only thing is it won’t work on the laptops, they get too hot. It needs a way to slow down or pause. Now it just stops when the drive gets too hot. I’m going to Email them.

Restoring the system

You need a boot disk. More on this later.

5 thoughts on “Computer Tips”

  1. Using technologies more advanced such as IPSEC and OpenVPN can significantly enhance the anonymity of your connection. Most VPN services will grant you access to services such as facebook, Skype etc which might be blocked in certain territories.

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