I Can’t Find It

September 11th, 2008

Have you ever experienced the frustration of turning on your computer, opening up a web browser and being greeted with a page that tells you that the website you are looking for can’t be found? Let me tell you, for a person who makes his living using the internet, that is one of the worst feelings in the world.

What to do?

First thing, make sure you ARE connected.

How do you do that you ask? Well, read on…

Check your connection

If you are using a dialup connection, the easiest way to do that is to pick up a phone in the house and see if there is a static-like noise on the line. If there is, you are connected. If there is not, check to make sure that the phone you have picked up is connected to a wall jack that is live.

If you are using a highspeed DSL/cable connection, be sure that the DSL light (on the DSL modem) or the Link light (on the cable modem) is lit up. If they are not, or they are blinking, unplug the modem from the wall or power strip, wait for about 5 seconds, then plug it back in. It should only take a moment or two for the modem to reconnect to your ISP. Once the connection light is solid again then proceed.

Pinging

Once you have determined that you are connected, open up a command prompt: Click on the Start button, click on run, then in the ‘Open’ box type in ‘cmd’ (if you are running Windows 98/ME, type in ‘command’), then click ‘OK’.

This will open up another window that has a black background and a line of text that should read something similar to:

C:\Documents and Settings\TheNameofYourComputer>

The easiest way to check to see if you have a connection to the internet is to ‘ping’ a website. At the blinking cursor, type in ‘ping ronscomputerservice.net’ (without the quotes) and then press the enter key on the keyboard.

If you are connected to the internet you should get results like this:

Pinging ronscomputerservice.net [66.117.3.211] with 32 bytes of data:

Reply from 66.117.3.211: bytes=32 time=181ms TTL=47
Reply from 66.117.3.211: bytes=32 time=99ms TTL=47
Reply from 66.117.3.211: bytes=32 time=226ms TTL=47
Reply from 66.117.3.211: bytes=32 time=249ms TTL=47

If you get a ‘request timed out’ or ‘unknown host’ then you are probably not connected. Go through the steps above to recheck your connection.

Stymied by the firewall

Once you have determined that you are connected and you still can’t get to any websites, it’s time to start looking for a firewall or some other software that may be blocking your access.

The most common firewall in use today is a software based one. These applications usually come bundled with the antivirus software you are using. You are using antivirus software, aren’t you??

Norton Internet Security and McAfee Personal Firewall are two of the most common of these firewalls. Both usually come preinstalled on new computers and need to be activated to be used. Unfortunately, both of them usually only have a 3-6 month trial period to use them, then you have to pay to keep using them.

What you will have to do is disable the firewall to find out if it is the culprit that is not allowing you to get out to the internet.

With both NIS and McAfee this is just a matter of finding the program icon in the System Tray (in the lower right hand corner of your computer screen next to the clock), right clicking on it, then clicking on ‘disable’. At this point you should have choice as to how long you would like to turn it off. Choose whatever time period you would like.

Ahhh, it’s fixed

Open up Internet Explorer again and…, it should go to whatever you have set as your homepage.

The Secure Computer (Pipe) Dream

September 10th, 2008

Keeping your data and activity secure on a computer that is connected to the internet is a multi-layered process. No system is completely secure no matter how hard you attempt to make it be, however, there are a number of ways to increase your protection against system corruption/crash or intrusion.

Your first line of defense is to have your operating system (Windows update) secure and up to date. The normal way to do this is to have it set to do updates automatically. Using this approach, the operating system will be available to download and install updates that are released either by Microsoft or by the company whose antivirus software you have running on the computer.

The second line of defense is to have some sort of firewall software or hardware installed to prevent spyware from being installed. Typically a hardware firewall works the best. Software firewalls such as Norton’s Internet Security or McAfee’s Personal Firewall (or whatever your flavor of the day is) tend to cause a system to bog down and not run as fast or efficient as it previously was. On top of slowing down your computer, a software firewall make ‘break’ when it is updated. What I mean by that is when the software does an automatic update, you may have problems receiving or sending emails or possibly getting to any websites. If that happens, it is best to try to disable the firewall and see if that makes a difference.

Thirdly is the rootkit. Rootkits have been well publicized in the recent past. A rootkit is a general description for a set of programs which work to take control of the computer from its legitimate users. Typically these are installed unbeknownst to the user when installing a piece of software (shareware/freeware) that has been downloaded from the internet. Detecting and removing a rootkit requires special software. Most antivirus applications may detect a rootkit that is installed, but they are not designed to remove them. You can find more information about this at my website.

Why Windows Update?

Microsoft provides a website that you can visit to manually update your computer when you want to if you don’t have it set to do this automatically. Having the computer set to download and install Windows updates automatically is probably the best thing to do since you won’t have to remember to update it manually. Microsoft releases updates on a regular basis, typically once a month. It can be more frequently if they have determined that there has been a newly discovered way to damage the computer.

You do have the choice to NOT install updates, or to pick and choose which ones to install or not. You need to have the system set to download, but not install, updates. Then when the computer ‘announces’ that there are updates available, you can choose which ones to install. I like this option because there may be some updates that don’t need to be installed. For the typical home user, install all of them.

Antivirus/Firewall Updates

These are a must! Especially antivirus updates. Most AV products are set to go out to their servers and download new ‘definitions’ on a regular basis. This time frame can change depending on if there are new virus threats out there. As mentioned above, Microsoft typically releases updates on ‘Patch Tuesday’, the second Tuesday of each month. Antivirus company’s can release definition updates as frequently as twice a week, but typically it is once a week. The same goes for Firewall updates.

One thing that can happen with both the antivirus and firewall updates is that you may lose your ‘connection’ to the internet. In other words, if you find that all of a sudden you try to access the internet through Internet Explorer or are trying to receive emails, you may get an error message stating that you have no connection. At this point in time you should disable either or both of these applications and then try to access again. If you can access after disabling, you should restart your computer and try again. If not, contact the support area for the software and get instructions on how to reverse the updates, if possible.

Rootkits

There are people out there that hold the opinion that it is impractical to attempt to remove rootkit software if you suspect that your computer is infected with one of these. The idea is that it will take much more time and effort to try to rid your system of this software that it would to just reinstall the operating system and other software. The subject of rootkits is a bit deeper than what can be covered here and I will leave that for a future article.

Bottom Line

As always, once you have taken the measures necessary to secure your computer against the bad guys with updates and firewalls and scanning the system regularly, it is still up to you, the pc owner to monitor activity on the computer. Even the most experienced computer user has been known to infect a computer unknowingly. the people who have constructed your operating system have done all they can to provide you with a secure computer, it is still up to the individual to maintain standard precautions like antivirus, firewall and malware detecting software to minimize the times a security breach can even find its way onto your computer to try and break its security.

To Firewall or not to Firewall

September 9th, 2008

In my years as a help desk analyst for a local ISP here in Minnesota, one of the biggest frustrations of typical internet users is that the firewall software that they have installed ‘breaks’ their access to the internet. Especially dial up users.

Whether it’s Norton Internet Security, McAfee’s Security Center or any other third party firewall software, the individual settings for that software can (and eventually will) completely shutdown your access to the internet.

The most common symptoms of this is getting the ‘page cannot be displayed’ message in Internet Explorer or a ‘timeout’ error message in Outlook Express or Outlook.

What typically happens is that the firewall software will do an automated update (especially if it is part of a ‘suite’; an antivirus and firewall software combination, for example). The update may prompt a restart of the computer, and upon restarting, you won’t be able to access the internet or receive email.

System Protection

A firewall is an important part of system protection. Especially for a person who uses a dial up connection. It blocks the attempts of anyone on the Internet trying to connect to or access your system without your permission. The firewall should also ask for your permission—which you can grant permanently by establishing an exception—to allow connections you need for programs such as email, instant messenging or gaming. In addition, they can provide some protection against viruses and trojans.

However, when your firewall blocks your ability to access the internet, then it’s overstepped it’s usefulness. If you can’t get to any websites or receive emails and you aren’t sure what is happening, here’s what to do—short of calling your ISP’s technical support or turning off the firewall completely.

Windows Firewall

Included in Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, Microsoft has a built-in application called Windows Firewall. By default, this firewall is turned on when installation of SP 2 is completed.

To access Windows Firewall, go to the Start menu, open the Control Panel, and click Windows Firewall.

If Windows Firewall is blocking Internet Explorer, you might receive a security alert indicating such is the case. If so, click Unblock in this dialog box, and your problem should be solved.

However, if you can’t use Internet Explorer and don’t receive a security alert, a better course of action is to open Windows Security Center—it is best to make sure you are logged on as an administrator when doing this—and click the Windows Firewall link so you can manage its security settings.

In Windows Firewall, click the Exceptions tab. This displays the list of programs and services that Windows Firewall will not block. If Internet Explorer is not listed, click the Add Program button and use the Browse button to find it. (The file Iexplore.exe should be located in C:\PROGRAM FILES\INTERNET EXPLORER.) Highlight it and click OK, then click OK once more.

Third-Party Firewalls

If you’ve installed another firewall, the installation process more than likely will ask you to turn off Windows Firewall, or it may automatically disable Windows Firewall.

As mentioned, installing a third-party firewall, even if it’s just an incoming firewall that is part of another program, will result in disabling Windows Firewall. (If this doesn’t happen automatically, or if you aren’t prompted to do so, you should disable Windows Firewall because in most cases it’s best to have just one firewall running at a time.) Once the firewall is installed and activated, if you encounter a problem using IE, check the security settings.

I won’t go into changing specific settings within Norton or McAfee since that is an article all by itself. Suffice it to say that the ‘help’ area of the software itself should be fairly helpful.

The easiest way to find out if your firewall software is causing the problem is to right click on the program icon in the system tray of your taskbar and disabling or turning it off completely and see if that solves the problem.

High Speed Connections

Typically, users who access the internet through a high speed DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) connection, don’t have to concern themselves as much with firewall software. The reason for this is that a typical dsl connection involves the use of a modem, which acts as a DHCP server. This modem acts as a hardware firewall using NAT (Network Address Translation). Put simply, the computer you are using is assigned a private IP address (let’s say 192.168.0.5) and the modem is using an IP address that is assigned by your ISP.

Let’s say you have an instance of Internet Explorer open and you type ‘www.yahoo.com’ into the address bar. The computer will send a message to the dsl modem requesting the information from the yahoo website. The dsl modem will relay that request to the webserver at yahoo.com and then receive a reply. Once this reply is received, the modem will determine what computer (yours..192.168.0.5) sent the request, and it will forward the information from yahoo to it. This all happens in a matter of seconds.

I would recommend that users of Cable connections use some sort of firewall software since the computer they are using is directly connected to the internet. Unless of course you have more than one computer in the home and you are using a router.

Update Your Virus Protection

If a firewall detects a security risk, such as one posed by a virus or worm, it might prevent a user from going online through IE. This is why it’s very important to keep your antivirus program updated. When you update your antivirus program, you are staying on top of the virus definitions the program uses to identify the latest virus threats.

Of course, it’s ideal to do this on a regular basis so that your system does not get infected. But if you find access to IE blocked and tweaking the settings in your firewall doesn’t work, the problem might actually be a virus. One solution is to go online with a different computer and visit the Web site of the manufacturer of your antivirus program. Download the latest definitions to a CD and then insert the disc into the computer with the nonfunctioning IE.

Once you load the new definitions, initialize a full-system scan with your antivirus program and then use a repair wizard or similarly named tool to fix any security risks that are found. Restart your system, and you should be able to launch IE.

Have You Been Phishing Lately?

September 8th, 2008

Despite the increasing sophistication of anti-phishing and spam e-mail filters, there is one rather old-fashioned tool still required to maximize the effectiveness of these tools. An informed human brain is still required to avoid losing valuable information to online thieves.

Imitators

Since the early days of computer crime involving the harvesting of credit card and social security numbers, the online criminal has become increasingly clever at imitating secure payment processing and financial sites. To combat this, many processes from photo identification to Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption have been developed in an attempt to keep peoples’ personal data protected.

It has been proven since the beginning of human civilization that making a law against an activity will not prevent people from doing it anyway. The only real aid for the consumer against these unwarranted attempts of thievery by international law and treaty is that it does allow punishments for those caught.

Common Sense

There is not a “common sense” Read the rest »

New Computer—Old Email, or How to Back up and Transfer Your Email

July 4th, 2008

If you have a brand new computer, or are thinking about buying one in the near future, one of the things that you will need to consider is how to transfer your emails from the old system to the new system.

At least once a week in my job as a help desk analyst, I am helping a customer set up Outlook Express or Outlook (there are other email clients that are used, but these two are the most popular) on their new computer. Once we are finished Read the rest »

Got Backups?

July 4th, 2008

The kids are finally in bed, dishes are done, kitchen is cleaned and you want to get on the computer to check your emails and upload those fantastic pictures you took last weekend at the lake to (insert favorite online photo processing service).

BSOD

You turn the computer on and one of four things happen: 1) it starts normally and you are on your merry way; Read the rest »

Welcome to the newly designed Ron’s Computer Service

July 1st, 2008

Thanks for visiting Ron’s Computer Service. As you can see (for returning visitors) I have drastically changed the look of the site. I think it will be much easier to keep this updated with relevant content for the people who consider themselves to be computer challenged. I will be adding the content that was here before in the next week or so, so please be patient and please, come back again and again.

My first ‘new’ article is about email security and what you should do to be sure you don’t become a victim of spammers.

Enjoy the read and if you have any comments for me, please feel free to leave them.

Ron…….

I still remember receiving my first phishing email. I can’t remember who the ISP was back then, but I had been chosen as the winner of a million dollars. As good as it sounded, I was skeptical at best. So without much thought, I opened the email and clicked on the link inside to check if I truly was a millionaire after all. Almost instantly, my computer crashed, and every time I tried to restart it, it would crash again.

Countless computer crashes and thousands of spam emails later, I had learned the lesson that just opening spam email can bring harm to my computer. Unfortunately Read the rest »