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How to Secure Your Laptop

Laptops are stolen every day.  In fact, nowadays, with the amount of data that can be stolen in a split second (laptops, flash drives, and portable hard drives) laptop security is more important than ever.  This article will touch on how to properly secure your laptop and its contents.

Laptop:  Luckily the most vulnerable item is also relatively easy to secure.  Every laptop comes preconfigured with everything you will need to properly secure it.  I recommend multi layered security for your computer; this means setting a Windows password, a BIOS / Power On Password, and a Hard Drive Password.  A Windows password is a great place to start- Let me explain why.  Windows lets you specify multiple users on any given system, and set varying levels of access for each one.  You have an admin account, user accounts, and guest accounts.  Only admins have complete access and are capable of implementing system wide changes.  It is recommended you make any major changes under the Admin login, and create a normal user login for your daily computing tasks.

Windows will prompt you to select a user upon startup, and to provide the correct password for that user.  This will prevent any unauthorized user from accessing your laptop, or and information on it- to a certain degree.  There are ways around Windows passwords and they are easily circumvented by knowledgeable thieves, so this type of password by itself is not sufficient to keep your data safe.  You will also need to set a power on password to ensure protection.  A power on password prevents any user from accessing the boot menu, thus preventing any boot from removable media (which is how you circumvent a windows password).  Without the correct power on password, the system will not progress any further in the boot sequence.  A power on password adds an additional layer of security.  To specify a power on password, access the BIOS menu (usually F2 on boot) and enable it under “security”.  It will usually be disabled for easy setup, however it is always there and able for you to enable anytime you wish.  Keep in mind an identity thief can easily slide your computer’s hard drive out and into another computer, so we will need further protection.

A power on password protects your laptop; however it will not safeguard your data by itself.  Your personal data remains on your hard drive, and hard drives are easily removed from laptops.  There is no way I know of to prevent a thief from removing your hard drive completely from your laptop and placing it in another computer.  So, to ensure your data is safe you will need to also set a hard drive password.  A hard drive password prevents access to a hard drive by unauthorized users.  A would-be thief can’t even format the drive without knowing the correct password.  All of these passwords are set by accessing the BIOS.  Right after you turn on your computer, you will see text in the bottom half of the screen.  Follow the instructions for the BIOS, usually F2.  Under security settings, you are looking for “Enable HDD Password” or “HDD Protection”.  Enable the password and create a new one.  Your data is now reasonably secure.  Unless you are carrying state secrets, I doubt anyone is willing to spend the time to un-encrypt your Hard Drive.

You might think setting all of these passwords is overkill, however if your laptop is ever stolen you will now have peace of mind.  I have had a laptop stolen before; and I can tell you there is no worse feeling than realizing how much confidential information may have just been stolen.  This level of security is not necessary on every computer you own, just the portable ones you carry with you into public.

Why You Should Delete Every Program You Do Not Use

When you bought your computer, I’m sure there were quite a few programs installed on it that you weren’t familiar with.  Removing unnecessary programs is one of the keys to keeping a computer running quickly after many years.  If you want quick performance after a few years it is important you optimize your computer.  Deleting every program you do not use is an important part of this.

You can use the programs feature built into Windows, or you can use a third party program like CCleaner.  Each will sort all programs installed on your computer by size, frequency of use, or date installed.  Use these sort functions to remove programs you are not sure of.  If there are a bunch of programs installed on your computer on the same date, before you bought your computer, this is the factory trialware, bloatware, and crapware.  Remove everything you do not use and you will see significantly improved computer performance.  Your computer will run faster and be more responsive.  You will also have a computer that lasts longer at performing basic tasks, and I bet you will even notice a slight increase in battery life as well (if you use a laptop).  If you are unsure what any program does, Google it before you remove it just in case it is something you need.

Each program you install takes up valuable resources, in both terms of the hard drive and the background processes.  Many programs run on startup, even if you are not using them; this means they are consuming the limited resources of your laptop or PC.  Dozens of these programs running at once in the background could dramatically slow down your PC.

You will likely see a significant performance increase from uninstalling any unneeded programs and your computer will thank you in the long run.

Interesting Uses for an Ancient Handheld – Old Smartphone Uses

If you have an old smartphone or an old Blackberry device lying around that you no longer use, there are still many things you can use it for.

Camera – Assuming the camera still works, you can put an SD card in it, and start taking pictures with it.  Most smartphones have decent quality cameras on them; this would save you from having to buy a camera just for one event.

Media Storage – Again using the SD card you can load music and movies on your smartphone, and use it to play them back.  So you can have an mp3 player and a portable movie player rolled into one.

Webcam – Using the camera, there are programs you can download that will allow you to use a phone as a webcam.  You can just leave it plugged in all the time via USB, and it will transmit and charge at the same time.

SD Card – If nothing else, many phones at least have a SD card that you can salvage.  Most of these older phones contain SD cards that are 4GB or 8GB; but you might just find a 16GB if your old device is more recent.  You can use the SD card for mobile media storage, or you can use it just like a flash drive if you have a SD Card reader.

Emergency Phone – Any phone, even phones without service must still be able to dial 911; this is a law.  So if you don’t happen to have a home phone anymore, just keep your old phone somewhere you can get to it and make sure to keep it off and charge it once a month.

These are just a few of the many old smartphone uses.

Squeezing Battery Life from your Laptop – Maximize Laptop Run Time

If you are like most people nowadays, you are probably dependent upon your laptop.  Our notebooks are our virtual windows to the world, and our ability to get projects done and meet deadlines.

If you have ever found yourself in a situation where you desperately needed more battery life to finish a project, and your laptop was dying; this article is for you.  How to maximize your laptop run time:

 

Steps to do before you use your laptop:

Add RAM if you haven’t already.  Having more RAM than you need will reduce the hard drive activity; thus conserving battery life.

Lower your screen brightness for good when on battery power.  It may seem annoying; however you won’t notice the lower brightness after a few days.  Your battery will thank you for it by lasting longer.  Up to 30% longer if you dim just as much as 25%.  Brightness is a battery killer.

Switch to a boring wallpaper.  Moving or graphically intense wallpapers slightly reduce battery life.

Re-install Windows every 6 months.  After a few months, your laptop will be full of missing shortcuts, registry errors, programs you don’t use, spyware, and maybe even a virus or two.  Resetting your laptop will breathe new life into your laptop, and since it will be leaner and faster, it will also run longer on the same battery.  Also related: defragment your hard drive regularly.

 

Steps to do when your laptop is almost dead or dying:

Dim the screen.  Alot.  This will reduce the largest drain on your battery.  Turn on an overhead light if you can instead.

Launch the task manager (ctrl+alt+del) and check what programs are running.  Close all programs you are currently not using.  Everything.  Immediately.

Turn down the sound.  Every little bit helps.  I have personally done this while watching a movie, and the laptop lasted 15 minutes longer than it normally would have after the low battery warning came on.  It’s simple physics.  Make sure you turn down the volume on the laptop itself, not your speakers or headphones.

Remove all USB devices that are connected.  These use power from the laptops battery to run.

Turn off wireless if you can.  Bluetooth as well.  Again, reducing the connections will improve battery life.

Temporarily turn off the screen when you are thinking and not reading or typing.  You can quickly do this via some laptop shortcuts, locking the computer (Windows Key+L), or simply closing the lid.

Remove any CD or DVD in the CD drive.  Your laptop scans its optical drive regularly to see if a CD is still detected. This uses a small amount of power.

How to Erase your Hard Drive

April 26th, 2012 | Posted by admin in Easy Tips - (0 Comments)

How to Erase your Hard Drive

Did you know that when you delete a file from your hard drive it doesn’t actually remove that file?  Nope, it removes all shortcuts to it; however leaves the actual file.  The file will when eventually be overwritten by another file.  I bet you can see the problem here…

What if you are getting rid of your laptop, computer, or hard drive, and need to securely remove all data from it?  Well you are in luck.  There are a number of free programs that will wipe all free space for you, solving this problem.  My favorite is CCleaner.

CCleaner will wipe all free space to any standard you specify.  Security standards vary by the number overwrites performed on the disk.  Three overwrites are usually sufficient, and is the DOD (Department of Defense) standard for securing hard drives.

On the other hand, if you want to completely wipe all of your info off the hard drive without booting into an operating system, my personal favorite is DBaN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke).  This is an ISO you burn to a blank CD- Boot from this CD and it will prompt you with a couple choices for erasing your hard drive quickly and easily. You can download DBaN here-  http://www.dban.org/

Now you know how to properly secure all of your personal data quickly.

Interesting Uses for an Old Laptop

April 25th, 2012 | Posted by admin in Buying New Stuff - (0 Comments)

Interesting Uses for an Old Laptop

If you happen to have an older laptop lying around, there are plenty of productive uses for it.  Besides donating it, recycling it, or selling it; there are many productive uses for your old machine, assuming it still powers up.

Home Server or Home Theatre PC.  Depending on if the hard drive in your laptop is any good, you may still be able to use it for its hard drive.  Stream content from the internet to your TV, store movies and music, and check your email.  If you want to be able to stream HD content to your computer, you might want to consider purchasing a low-end graphics card for your old computer with HDMI output.  These cards can be surprisingly inexpensive, and are usually quite affordable.  Older computers can still usually play a HD movie, and virtually all of them can play music.  If the hard drive on your old laptop is too small, considering using a portable hard drive.  You can buy a 1TB external hard drive nowadays for under $100.

Print Server.  If you have an older printer that is not Wi-Fi ready, considering keeping an older laptop nearby.  Assuming the laptop has Wi-Fi, this will give you the capability to print from anywhere in your house.  As an added bonus you can set up a home server just for printing, scanning, emailing or faxing documents with the laptop right nearby to make changes.

Guest computer.  Most laptops, no matter how old can still browse the internet, check email, do word processing, and display pictures.  Consider setting up your old laptop in a common area in your house for anyone to use.

Music.  Nowadays with satellite radio and most radio stations on the web anyhow, consider setting up a music laptop in a common area.  This laptop can play content all day long when hooked up to a speaker.  Stream your favorite radio station, favorite playlists, or pull up YouTube to play a random song that you can’t get out of your head.

Torrent Server.  If you are into torrents, consider setting an always connected torrent server.  This server can stay continuously connected to seed and download torrents; just ensure you connect an external hard drive if you have a small one on your laptop.

Picture Frame.  Set up a slide loop of pictures for your laptop constantly display.  Any computer procured for any of the above reasons can also do double duty as an electronic picture frame; just set it up as a screen saver.

3 Cool Shortcuts You May Not Have Known About – Handy PC Shortcuts

Alt+Tab – Allows you to quickly cycle between all open programs.  Useful if you need to switch back and forth between programs, or if you just need to hide an open window very quickly.  Ctrl-Esc also minimizes the open window, however most people know that.

Windows Logo+L Key – Locks your computer.

Shift+Delete – Deletes the highlighted file without first placing it in the recycle bin.

What to do about Computer Viruses

April 24th, 2012 | Posted by admin in Easy Tips - (0 Comments)

What to do about Computer Viruses

Viruses can wreak havoc on your system.  They can slow down you system, corrupt it, and cause you to lose critical data.  Some of the more common types of viruses are; Trojans, Scareware, and Botnets.

Trojans burrow themselves deep into your hard drive and conceal themselves.  They will attempt to capture confidential information on your computer, and information about you.  This includes but it not limited to stealing credit card information, personal information, and information about your clients (if you are using a business computer).

Scareware attempts to conceal itself as a legitimate anti-virus or anti-spyware program; however it is anything but.  It will say anything to get you to download it, and once you do it will continually pop up on your computer prompting you to perform scans that always find countless viruses.  It will then prompt you for your credit card information to compete the removal of any “viruses”.  These programs will not go away, and are clearly not legitimate programs.  They usually have poor graphics similar to the Windows logo, and names like XP-Security-2012.  Scareware is also known as rouge security software as it is not supported by a legitimate company.  Always Google any software and determine its authenticity before you download and install it.

Botnets are an infected network of computers, linked together for a common malicious purpose.  Many programs contain hidden programs, spyware, and malware that may attempt to make your computer part of a Botnet.  The best defense against having your system hijacked and use without your knowledge is anti-virus software and anti-spyware software.  With any luck these programs will stop a Botnet download; if not maybe they will remove it later.

Needless to say; anti-virus software is essential for continued successful operation of your computer.  You will either need to download a free virus scanner, such as AVG, or a paid program like Norton.

Anti-spyware programs will probably catch most malicious programs; however viruses can be tricky and hide under the radar and from these programs, which is why some companies spend millions developing known virus databases and fixes.

AVG is an excellent free solution, and is the recommended anti-virus program if you are on a budget.  AVG can be downloaded from CNET for free, or from any other number of trusted websites.  A quick search for “AVG anti-virus free” should suffice.

Anti-virus software is not all that great however; the price you pay for protection is a small sacrifice in power.  Problem is antivirus software ties up valuable system resources, and scans every message, email, document, activity, download and can bog down your system.  If you have a more powerful computer this isn’t a problem, however if you are using a laptop or similar smaller power computer this could become an issue.  The drain on performance could prevent you from running some programs, performing some tasks, or playing some games.  This can be annoying.  The recommended solution is to disable your anti-virus protection during normal use if this is the case, and schedule it to perform a weekly or monthly scan at a time when you are not using it.  This might be during the night, or on the weekends.  Keeping your computer secure is a continuous process, but you will be rewarded in the long run with a reliable and fast computer.

What is msconfig?

April 24th, 2012 | Posted by admin in Easy Tips - (0 Comments)

What is msconfig?

Msconfig stands for Microsoft Configuration.  “Msconfig” is a tool to allow you to choose what programs run on startup, view system services, access System Restore, and perform a diagnostic startup to troubleshoot an issue.

To access msconfig, click on start, or the Windows logo, then on run, and type msconfig.  Hit enter and the System Configuration Utility will load up.  There will be a number of tabs, usually labeled as such:

General

System

Win

Boot

Services

Startup

Tools

And these might look like a foreign language to you.  No need to worry; we will explain what these tabs mean.

General – Gives you a choice from either a normal, diagnostic, or selective startup.  There is also a shortcut to System Restore here. Normalis normal startup on next boot, diagnostic loads all basic drivers and services only, and selective only loads those services you specify.  Handy if your computer keeps crashing and you need to isolate the problem.

System, Win, and Boot are reserved for boot settings for older operating systems.  You will not usually be changing the settings here.

Services – A list of all the services that will run on your computer when you boot up.  It is not usually required to disable any of the services, however occasionally you may need to deactivate a service that is giving you trouble.  For instance if you have a malware infection and need to isolate the culprit, this is a god place to start.

Startup – A list of all the programs that run on startup.  Programs are much more resource intensive than services, so disable everything here you do not want or need.  Please note some windows programs have not so obvious names, so if you are unsure about a program, Google it first.  Disabling the wrong program here could make your system unstable.

Tools – A neat little shortcut list with all of the most commonly used Windows tools.  Tools like command prompt, event viewer, registry editor, system information, and task manager can be accessed from here.

What is Ivy Bridge?

April 23rd, 2012 | Posted by admin in I've Always Wondered... - (0 Comments)

What is Ivy Bridge?

The Ivy Bridge line of processors will succeed the Sandy Bridge line, and is expected to be released on April 23rd 2012.  The first microprocessors to be released will be a line of 14 quad core processors.

What is better about Ivy Bridge?

Ivy Bridge will be Intel’s first 3-D microchip.  Promising to deliver increased performance where it counts both in reduced power consumption and increased processing power.  Ivy Bridge processors are expected to be backwards compatible with the previous Sandy Bridge platform as well.  A number of other features are also expected to come standard; such as native USB 3.0 Support, and decreased system standby power consumption.

By creating a “3-D” microchip, Intel claims that it has created a cooler, faster, and more efficient chip.  Intel’s main competitor, AMD, has also been working on similar chip developments.  While AMD hasn’t claimed to have developed a 3-D chip yet; they are continuously exploring the limits of processing power and efficiency, and are not likely to fade away anytime soon.

ARM

Ivy Bridge development has taken place rather quickly, as Intel is under intense fire from Britain’s ARM.  ARM has a large share of the mobile processor market; a share that Intel is gunning for.  Both Intel and AMD predict increased demand for more power efficient processors in the future, and are positioning themselves to capitalize on this growth.  The wave of the future, it seems, is mobile devices that can last all day, and several days in a continuously connected standby mode.  Providing users with the capability to stay connected all day without sacrificing battery life is where market share will be either won or lost.  Mobile users want more battery life, and an eighteen hour laptop it seems is just a few years around the corner.

Haswell

Intel has already publicly stated it has begun work on its new line of processors “Haswell” as a direct replacement for both the Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge line of processors.  “Haswell” will be significantly more power efficient in both standby and regular modes.  Intel has even hinted that it will be toying with the idea of “Power Recycling”, reusing heat generated by the chip to power the chip itself.  This could offer significant power savings, and perhaps one day the capability to run your laptop for days at a time.