Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When Security Goes Wrong

WXPNews: Published by Sunbelt Software since 2001

Vol. 9, #90 - Sep 29, 2009 - Issue #398

 When Security Goes Wrong

  1. Editor's Corner
    • When Security Goes Wrong
    • Follow-up: Are deleted files really gone?
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • No more service packs for XP
    • Should operating systems automatically partition your drive?
    • U.S. DoE lab sees "no reason" to switch from XP to Windows 7
    • 10 Reasons XP will be around for a while
    • Slow and Steady: Bing keeps gaining ground
  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • Show your desktop to up to 15 people at a time across the Internet
  5. XP Security News
    • Malware hijacks System Restore
  6. XP Question Corner
    • What happened to dynamic disks?
  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • How System Restore handles hard disk space usage
    • Disk Cleanup Tool stops responding
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • BigOven: Easily Organize and Share Recipes...Online And on Your Desktop!

Kiss Your Antivirus Bloatware Goodbye

We asked users of antivirus products what they didn't like about their AV software. They told us they are resource hogs and slowed their computer down. They told us that scan times took way too long, and that the AV software nagged them. In short, old-style AV software takes too much Memory and CPU. Time to switch to VIPRE! It gives you malware protection that combines antivirus, antispyware, anti-rootkit and other technologies into a seamless, tightly-integrated product. Even if you run "free" antivirus software, it hijacks 20% of your PC, so it's really not free at all! Get VIPRE now and see how fast your PC can really be:

 Editor's Corner

When Security Goes Wrong

Both in "real life" and in the lives we live logged onto our computers, we've learned that we must take precautionary measures to avoid being hurt by other people who want to do us personal harm, take our money, trespass on our territory, or even destroy our property just for fun. Exactly what security methods we employ depends on a number of factors.

These include environmental risk factors, such as the crime rate in the areas where we live or work, or the relative safety of the web sites we visit and the applications we use. If you live in a high crime district, you're likely to put more locks on your doors than if you live in a gated community with its own security patrol. Likewise, if you frequently download files from "warez" (pirated software) sites or exchange illegal music files with strangers via a P2P program or visit "adult" venues, you should have stronger security measures in place because you're at more risk.

Sometimes, though, our security mechanisms go wrong. That's what happened to me recently, when the security alarm in my house started going off in the middle of the night, almost every night. The first few times it happened, I jumped out of bed, fully alert and ready to check out the house and defend myself against an intruder if necessary. I checked every door and window and made sure every room was clear, just as I used to do on an alarm call back when I was a cop. But when it kept happening, I noticed my attitude changing. Instead of assuming there had been a breach, I assumed it was another false alarm. I even got to the point where I seriously considered just not arming the system so I could get a good night's sleep.

This is the same thing that happens when our computer security programs give us frequent false alarms. If your firewall program pops up a message every time you try to access the Internet, you may stop even paying attention to what those messages say. One of the biggest complaints about Windows Vista is its User Account Control (UAC) security feature, which "sounds the alarm" and makes you identify yourself whenever you try to do normal, routine tasks such as installing an application. Many tech savvy users got fed up with it and turned it off completely. I've had folks tell me that they uninstalled their antivirus programs because those programs slowed down their computers, interfered with their productivity applications and made it harder for them to do what they needed to do.

False alarms are annoying and can lead to complacency, so that when a real security incident occurs, you don't believe the system that has "cried wolf" so many times in the past. But sometimes security goes even further off track. The guard dog you bought to protect you bites the neighbor's child, resulting in a big lawsuit. You shoot your teenager who's sneaking back into the house late, thinking he's a burglar. Your encryption software works so well that you find yourself locked out of all your own important files - forever. Your firewall prevents you from accessing the Internet at all.

In most of the cases where our security measures actually do us harm (rather than just annoying us), it's because we're doing something wrong. We didn't get the dog properly trained; we didn't follow the correct procedure in use of deadly force; we used a password/passphrase that we couldn't easily remember or we lost the recovery key; we misconfigured our firewall settings. The good thing about that is that all of these catastrophes could have been prevented.

It's always important to understand a security product before you implement it. You can't just buy a gun, stick it in the bedside drawer, and expect it to protect you against the bad guys. You have to learn how it works and practice with it - but that's still not enough. You also need to study your state's or country's laws regarding the circumstances under which using it is legally justified. Likewise, those who buy a software "security suite" and install it without learning how it works are just asking for trouble. You may end up thinking you're protected when you aren't, or you may block applications that you need to be able to use.

You might assume that when it comes to security, more is better, but that's not always the case. Sometimes deploying multiple security mechanisms result in a conflict that renders one or both ineffective. It's like putting in a motion detector to sense if there's someone in your back yard, and also putting a big dog in the back yard to deter intruders. The problem is that the dog sets off the motion detector. In the same way, running two software apps to do the same job (especially two antivirus programs or two firewalls) is often not a good idea. This can cause conflicts and slow your computer to a crawl. Note that there is no problem with having multiple programs installed - just as there's no problem with owning both a dog and a motion detector - just don't have them both running at the same time.

What does work well is to have multiple security mechanisms that operate at different levels or have different areas of responsibility. For instance, you could have a fenced outer perimeter for the dog to patrol, and have the motion sensor set to cover only the inner area of the yard closest to the house. Then if an intruder makes it past the dog, there is a second chance to catch him with the motion detector before he can try to get into the house. Of course, the locks on your doors and windows serve as a third level of security, your alarm system is the fourth (if the bad guy manages to get past those locks) and so on.

You can do the same thing with your computer network. Even though you shouldn't run more than one firewall on your PC (called a host based firewall), it's fine to have a network firewall at the perimeter of your LAN that keeps most intruders from ever getting to your PC in conjunction along with a host firewall on the PC, in case some do. Then you could use encryption on your confidential files, so that even if a hacker gets through both firewalls, he won't be able to view that sensitive information.

When security goes wrong, it can be worse than having no security at all. But in most cases, making security work for you instead of against is only a matter of learning how to use it properly or figuring out how to reconfigure it so that it will be less sensitive. In the case of my overactive alarm system, checks of the system found no apparent problems. The only theory we could come up with was that the tiny lizards that get into the house in early autumn, when the weather first starts to cool, were coming through cracks in the door and breaking the contacts. This same thing happened around this time last year. After the first genuine cold front (which apparently kills them or sends them into hibernation), there have been no more middle of the night false alarms. Wouldn't it be nice if a change in the weather could fix our computer security problems as well?

Tell us what you think. Is security sometimes more trouble than it's worth? Have you ever disabled your security mechanisms (whether on your computer or in the "real world") because they were driving you crazy? Should security vendors take more responsibility for ensuring that their products work properly? What problems have you experienced that were caused by your attempts to make your computer more secure? We invite you to discuss this topic in our forum here:

Follow-up: Are deleted files really gone?

In last week's editorial, we discussed the propensity of computer data to hang around long after you thought it was gone - except, of course, in those cases where you accidentally deleted it and now want it back. DapperDan pointed out a typo in paragraph 12, where "usable" should be "unusable." Thanks for that catch! He also asks if defragging a drive would overwrite the blank spaces. Defragging involves moving parts of files to make them contiguous and thus it could overwrite some of the blank spaces - but in no way should it be counted upon to obliterate the previous data. For reasons explained in the article, if you really want to ensure that something is gone, it requires multiple overwrites at the very least - and physical destruction of the drive is still the only guarantee against data being recovered.

Dkniskern asked why, during Outlook's compacting process, it took two and a half minutes to compact a deleted items folder that was "empty." This requires an understanding of how the deleted items folder works (this applies when you use a PST file in Outlook; if you're using an Exchange server for your mail, it works differently). The .PST file is just a database and items such as email messages are database records. The database index keeps track of each message and where it's located on the drive. When you empty the deleted items, Outlook just removes those items' entries in the database - much the same way the Windows file system works. When you compact the .PST, that's when the item is actually removed, so during the compacting process, what Outlook is doing during that two and a half minutes is actually removing the items. If it's been a long time since the file was compacted, there may be a lot of them.

Exlagnf has a problem with System Restore: it will no longer restore to any restore point. I've seen this problem several times and there seem to be several different causes (and thus several different solutions). Some folks have reported that thoroughly defragging their drives restored System Restore to a functioning state. Others have had to do a repair of Windows to get System Restore working again. For some, System Restore will work in Safe Mode when they were not able to restore in Normal Mode. And finally, yes, there have been reported conflicts between System Restore and some versions of ZoneAlarm.

Thank you to ClownBoy79 for the long post on how to delete the Outlook Express mail folders, and to KHFleischer for the little trip down memory lane that reminds us how far we've come since the days of MS-DOS, when losing files was much more commonly. Also thanks to BarryD for sharing his story, and to all of you who participated in the discussion on this topic.

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

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Quotes of the Week

No one can build his security on the nobleness of another person. - Willa Cather (1873 - 1947)

We as a society chose to get more connected, and one of the perils of doing that is, the more connected you are with everyone, the more connected you are with malicious people as well. - Microsoft security manager Scott Culp

Never trust a computer you can't throw out a window. - Steve Wozniak

Keep The Bad Guys Out With The Sunbelt Personal Firewall

Why do I need a firewall? Together with antivirus and antispyware, a firewall is a "must" to protect your computer. PC Magazine gave the Sunbelt Personal Firewall a "Very Good" rating with 4 Stars and a conclusion of "good protection". Check out the Reviews on the site and it will be clear why you need the Sunbelt Personal Firewall to protect your PC. One good example: Unlike the Windows XP and Vista Firewall, you can tell the Sunbelt Personal Firewall to look carefully at the data leaving your browser, so that sensitive information like your credit card numbers, email address, bank account, social security number and PIN code do not get stolen by hackers!

 Cool Tools

Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without


Search for a driver and you get a ton of Driver Software offers instead. But how do you know which one is good? Try Driver Genious 9.0. Free scan.

Replace the horrendous Word 2007 ribbon with familiar Office 2003 functionality. Try Classic Menu For Word 2007.

Backups? Why back up when you can sync? Simply replicate every piece of data to another drive in real-time. Set it and forget it.

Spotmau PowerSuite Professional 2008: Fantastic! All the tools necessary to fix most common computer problems. Clone and backup too!

PC Tune-Up: 4 Easy Steps That Eliminate Frustrating Slow Computer Problems:

Registry First Aid 7.0 - New Release Is Faster, Safer and Even More Effective

Improve your English writing skills with WhiteSmoke a smarter solution for high quality writing. Download the free trial version here.

Rip DVDs for your iPod/iPhone or Apple TV. Bundle includes video converter too! Try it free!

Unclog Vista! Advanced Vista Optimizer will tweak Vista for Max performance. Easy to use:

 News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

No more service packs for XP

It was bound to happen eventually: although Microsoft will continue support (security updates, etc.) for Windows XP Service Pack 3 until 2014, they are shifting their focus away from their most popular OS. Microsoft had already announced that there would be no more service packs for the 32 bit version, but now it looks like the same is true of 64 bit XP. Find out more here:

Should operating systems automatically partition your drive?

Dividing the hard disk into separate partitions and keeping your data on drive that's separate from your operating system is second nature to many of us - but it's not what happens by default when you install an operating system. Now Jason Hiner is petitioning both Microsoft and Apple to make this the default behavior, so that people will be less likely to lose all their important documents, photos, music, etc. if the OS fails and a clean reinstall is the only solution. Do you agree, or do you think it's a non-issue as long as we all back up our data as we're supposed to? Head on over to ZDnet and weigh in on that question:

U.S. DoE lab sees "no reason" to switch from XP to Windows 7

The folks who make these decisions at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which is the Department of Energy's oldest physics lab, have decided not to switch from Windows XP to Windows 7 when the new operating system comes out - at least, not yet. They do plan to deploy Win7 eventually, but only on new hardware and only after the first service pack is released. They're not the only ones. According to a survey done by ScriptLogic, only 34% of companies that responded plan to deploy Windows 7 by the end of 2010. Read more here:

10 Reasons XP will be around for a while

In all the excitement surrounding the release of Windows 7, you might be feeling a bit behind the times if you're still using XP. If so, you're in good company. A TechRepublic poll conducted a few months ago indicated that 96% of the 13,000 respondents say they are still using Windows XP as their primary operating system. Brien Posey offers ten reasons XP won't be going away anytime soon in this article:

Slow and Steady: Bing keeps gaining ground

Since its debut just three months ago, Microsoft's new search engine has steadily increased its market share and is the fastest growing search engine. That doesn't mean Google is going out of business anytime soon; it still holds over 64% of the market. But with Microsoft's new Visual Search feature and the agreement they've signed with Yahoo, Google is smart to take the threat seriously. Read more here:

 How To: Using XP Features

Show your desktop to up to 15 people at a time across the Internet

If you need to hold a meeting and demonstrate tasks on your computer or display a PowerPoint slideshow, Word document or anything else on your screen to a small group of people simultaneously, you can use Microsoft's free SharedView utility to do it. You'll need XP Service Pack 2 or higher and a Windows Live ID. Download the application here:
  1. Open the SharedView program from the Start menu.
  2. Sign in with your Windows Live ID.
  3. In the left pane drop-down menu, click Start a New Session.
  4. To invite other people to join the session, click E-mail Message. Your default email client opens with an email message giving instructions for joining the session.
  5. Enter addresses of the people you want to invite to the session and send the message.
  6. In the Start A New Session menu, click Start.
You can also attach handouts to the session that other participants can download. You can give participants access to view your entire desktop or a particular application or document. There is also a Chat feature so you can all discuss what you're seeing. You can read more about it here:

 XP Security News

Malware hijacks System Restore

Think you can get rid of that malicious software by restoring your computer to an earlier point? Now cyber crime gangs have at their disposal rootkits that allow their malware to survive even after System Restore is used to revert to its previous clean state. They're using it, along with other exploits, in Internet cafes to steal online gaming credentials that can be worth big bucks. Find out more here:

 XP Question Corner

What happened to dynamic disks?

I have a Windows XP computer that I got many years ago. In the Disk Manager, it lets me convert disks to "dynamic." This was good because I could combine space on two different disks (spanned volume). I recently got a laptop and installed XP with SP3 on it. I discovered it doesn't have this "dynamic disk" option. My desktop computer is still running Service Pack 2. Does SP3 take away the dynamic disk option? If I upgrade the desktop to SP3, will my dynamic disks go away? Thanks for your help. - Rhonda L.

Service pack 3 doesn't take away dynamic disks in XP - but XP has never supported dynamic disks on XP running on portable computers. Since most laptops only have one hard disk (usually configured as one big partition), there is no need to span volumes. Also note that dynamic disks are supported on XP Pro only; the Home edition doesn't give you this option even when running on a desktop machine. The good news is that updating your XP desktop to SP3 will not affect your spanned volume.

 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

How System Restore handles hard disk space usage

If your XP computer doesn't have a lot of extra disk space, you might be wondering if System Restore can eat up all your free space, leaving you with no room to save your data and interfering with your programs? This KB article 300044 should put your mind at ease. It explains how System Restore uses disk space, automatically suspending itself if disk space gets too low:

Disk Cleanup Tool stops responding

If you attempt to run the Disk Cleanup Tool in Windows XP to clear out unneeded files and recover disk space, sometime it may stop responding and fail to complete the operation. This usually happens because you have a corrupted temporary file on your computer. The solution is to remove the temporary files, and Microsoft has provided a Guided Help tool in KB article 823302, along with the instructions for how to do it manually. See

 Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: WXPNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

 Product of the Week

BigOven: Easily Organize and Share Recipes...Online And on Your Desktop!

BigOven™ recipe software for Microsoft Windows® is an easy new way for you to discover great recipes, build everyday grocery lists quickly, and organize your collection. BigOven combines easy recipe software that helps you enter and capture all your favorite recipes with a massive recipe archive of over 150,000 recipes. BigOven helps you get organized, save time and money at the grocery store, and share your favorites with others over the Internet. If you cook, and you have a Windows PC, you should give BigOven a try! WXPNews readers get an exclusive 15% discount.

 About WXPnews

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These documents are provided for informational purposes only. The information contained in this document represents the current view of Sunbelt Software on the issues discussed as of the date of publication. Because Sunbelt must respond to changes in market conditions, it should not be interpreted to be a commitment on the part of Sunbelt and Sunbelt cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information presented after the date of publication.


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