Make your Mac go faster

Make your Mac go faster

make-your-mac-faster-feature
There are a lot of things that you can do to help boost the performance of your Mac. Below I have listed the ones that will have the biggest impact.

More Ram

The more RAM you have, the better. The main reason Macs tend to run slowly is because apps and processes consume a lot of RAM. RAM can be very expensive and adding it after you have bought a Mac is becoming almost impossible now as most new Macs have the ram soldered to the motherboard. So what is the next best option? Try and minimize how much you use. Don’t keep lots of apps running in the background if you are not using them, close all Safari tabs. Use Activity Monitor to identify apps that are hogging a lot of your RAM and then quit them

Hard drive space

You will also find the more storage space you have on your boot drive, the better OS X will run. This is because OS X sometimes uses the boot drive as a cache if it needs more room than is available in RAM. I would always recommend that you keep at least 10% of your HD free for OS X to use. If you Open a Finder Window and then select ‘Show status bar’ from the View Menu so you can see how much is available. Try and archive any documents you don’t need regular access to, and you should also consider using an external HD or even a NAS drive for your iTunes Library. Always empty your Downloads folder, and use an app like Gemini to help identify and delete duplicate files.

Desktop clutter

Files on your Desktop will slow down your Mac too. OS X draws a new window (complete with its own Preview) for every file on your Desktop; this can hog system resources if you keep lots of files on your Desktop. File them, Trash them, or put them in a folder.

Spotlight and Time Machine

Spotlight and Time Machine are both very good features, but they can sometimes cause performance issues, especially if you are using a network drive to back up or let Spotlight index an external drive. To stop Spotlight from indexing your external drive, go to the Spotlight panel in System Preferences, then click on the Privacy tab, then you want to drag the drive in to the windows or press the ‘+’ and then select the drive you wish to stop being indexed. If you find Time Machine is slowing down your system, you can always pause the back up till you are finished what you are doing. If you find it is a regular occurrence, you might want to think about using a USB external drive as your back up as this tends to be much faster.

Shut down/delete unused apps

Any apps you have running in the background will be using some of your systems resources, most apps will launch quickly, so there is no real reason to keep them open if you are not using them. You can quit them by either right –clicking on there icon in the dock and then click quit or by pressing the ⌘+Tab to bring up the app switcher, keep pressing the Tab key till you are on the app you want to quit then press ⌘+ Q. Unused apps will tie up disk space so its always best to get rid of them. To make use everything is completely removed you want to use something like AppZapper.

Restart you Mac regularly

Many of us, only ever restart our Macs if we have a problem. It’s always easier to close the lid and let your Mac Book Pro/Air sleep then boot it up. Restarting your Mac will help clear out its cache and will re-initialize hardware, so rebooting regularly can also have performance benefits. Modern Macs, especially those with an SSD installed, can boot almost as fast as they can from Sleep, If you Mac is running slow try and restart it and see if that helps. If you have to leave your Mac on it would recommend restarting it once every few days.

Turn off visual effects

If you have an old Mac, you might want to consider turning off the animations as they can have an effect on your systems performance, Go to System Preferences, then Dock, or choose Dock from the Apple menu if you are not on Yosemite. Uncheck the boxes marked ‘magnification’, ‘Animate opening applications’ and ‘ Automatically hide and show the Dock’. Click on the ‘Minimize windows’ menu and choose ‘Scale effect’.

Empty Safari Tab/clear cache

If you have a look at the Activity Monitor’s RAM tab you will probably see that the most intensive processes are the Safari Tabs. The more you have open, the bigger the performance hit will be. Close all the ones you are not using, try bookmarking the ones you might need again. Open Preferences from the Safari menu, if you are using a pre-Yosemite version of OS X, click Reset Safari in the safari menu, and choose Remove all Website Data, then Reset. In Yosemite, choose ‘Clear History and Website Data’ from the Safari menu and pick an option from the drop-down menu.

Reduce Log in Items and Restart

Log in items are those apps and processes that automatically start when you restart or log in to your account. They are often related to software you no longer need or use. Go to System Preferences, then Users & Groups, then Login items. You will want to click on the padlock at the bottom of the screen so you can make changes. Click on the first login item you no long need and then click on the ‘-‘ at the bottom of the window. Repeat this for all the other login items you don’t want to load at start up then restart.

Keep software up to date

Out-of-date software can sometimes cause performance problems. If the app was not downloaded through the App Sore, click on the application menu and then select ‘Check for Updates’ and download any if available. Now go to the App Store and click on updates and download them if any are available.

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Remove Hidden Junk From Your PC

Remove Hidden Junk From Your PC

Computer Help

Unwanted clutter can swamp your hard drive and slow down your PC’s performance. I will show you how to keep your computer free of rubbish.

Think of your PC like a house: no matter how much space you have it will soon start to fill up with clutter, if you don’t keep on to of it. If you are not careful your computer will have files everywhere and no space for new stuff.

Even new PC’s can come pre-loaded with gigabytes worth of junk by the manufacturer, the hard drive will be stuffed with trials or utilities they think you want but none of us tend to use.

It’s not just the space junk files take up, having to much junk will also drastically slow your PC to.
I am going to show you how to clear out all the rubbish and speed up your PC, I have created regular maintenance tasks that you should do daily, weekly or monthly, even if you are getting a new PC. I have also picked some of the best free utilities that will help to make cleaning your PC easy.

Things To Do When You Get A New PC

You would think you don’t have to remove any junk from your brand new, factory-fresh PC, but that is not the case.

PC manufactures have very small profit margins and the way they get a little more profit is pre-loading your PC with trial versions of various applications, and they then take a cut if you go on to buy the full program. A good example of this is almost every new PC will come with a pre-installed 30-day trial of a paid for internet security suit, even though windows 8 now comes with its own built in antivirus protection and there are also some very good free alternatives.

Manufactures will sometimes install their own utilities on your brand new PC too. Own branded diagnostics tools are a common favorite, but all they tend to do is waste space if you never use them. Lenovo is a good example of this as they pre-install no fewer than six different utilities on their new PC, at least half of these are just a waste of space.

This so called ‘creapware’ does not only take hard disk space but it can some times double the time it takes for your PC to boot as it can have unnecessary programs to run at start up.

Uninstalling creapware

You can use the ‘Uninstall a program’ tool in the control panel of windows to uninstall programs you don’t want or need, but even on a new PC it’s not always easy to see what you do or don’t need and if a program is worth keeping. Slim Computer is a very handy and free utility that will scan your computer and identify any unwanted programs like, applications, browser tool bars and programs that run at startup.

Find out which programs you can remove using Slim Computer's Uninstaller Tool
Find out which programs you can remove using Slim Computer’s Uninstaller Tool

You can tell Slim Computer just how ruthless you want it to be when identifying unwanted programs, when you run it for the first time. Slim Computers best feature is how it uses community ratings into the uninstaller tool; this helps it know how useful installed programs are as the community provides feedback and reviews of the software and reasons to keep it, these are all stored on online so you can always get the most up today information on the programs unlike other uninstallers which use a pre-loaded database. The info is shown using a sliding scale where red is waste of space and green is good, to get additional information click on the “more info” button.

The other good feature of Slim Computer is when you have finished with it you can simply uninstall it or even better, click on settings and then choose Portable Version, which will then install Slim Computer on a USB Drive, so you can use it on all or your computers and it won’t take up any hard drive space.

Remove unnecessary apps

Manufactures have a habit of pre-loading your new windows 8 or 8.1 PC with apps as well. Removing them is easy if you don’t want them, open up the All Apps view in Windows 8.1 by clicking on the down arrow in the bottom left hand corner of the start screen (Windows 8 users will need to right click the Start Screen and select All Apps), then you simply right click on any unwanted App, and click Uninstall.

Delete old Windows Files

Open the Disk Cleanup tool to safely delete data from a previous Window OS Upgrade

Open the Disk Cleanup tool to safely delete data from a previous Window OS Upgrade

If you have ever upgraded Windows OS rather than buying a new brand new PC, somewhere on your hard drive you will find a large file called Windows.old, this would have all the data from your previous copy of Windows. If the upgrade went smoothly all of your old files and setting should have been copied over to the new copy of Windows so this means you can delete the file Windows.old (but I would still give it a few days just to make sure all if fine).
The best way to delete the Windows.old file is through the disk cleanup tool (Start, my computer, and right click on the :c drive and click properties, then disk cleanup), once it has done its checks make sure that ‘Previous Windows Installation’ box is ticked and click clean.

 

 Things To Do Every Day

There really is not that much maintenance that you need to bother with on a daily basis, its more ‘best practice’ than ‘absolutely essential’.

Clean you Desktop

The first thing I would recommend you do is clear the Desktop of any unnecessary files/folders before you turn off your computer. Try to think of the Desktop as a loading bay: were you would store all your temporary files till you decide where you are going to keep them. The Desktop should never be used as permanent storage area.
What tends to happen is people would use the desktop as a dumping ground for downloads and files taken off a USB stick and of cause shortcuts to programs, over time the desktop can look cluttered, with icons everywhere.

Try and get in the habit of clearing your Desktop at the end of each use, if files need to be kept on the Desktop keep them in a folder. Delete any shortcuts you don’t need. Windows XP has a Desktop Cleaning Wizard that will suggest items that can be removed, how ever in windows 7 and 8 this was moved to the System Maintenance tools.

Clean up your desktop by running the maintenance tasks troubleseshooter

Clean up your desktop by running the maintenance tasks troubleseshooter

The other simple task I would suggest is rebooting your PC, Many people simply leave their PC’s switched on for extended periods of time, or put their laptop into standby mode by simply shutting the lid. Doing this can lead to programs and processes accumulating in the background and this can slow down your PC, if you press Crtl+Alt+Delete on your keyboard, this will open up Task Manager, by clicking on the Performance tab you will be able to see which programs are hogging the most memory. By doing a Reboot this will stop all processes and programs running and give you back your lost memory. Get in to the habit of shutting down your PC when you don’t need to use it, as this will help clear out the temporary clutter it stores. It will also help stop the windows update asking you for a restart.

Things To Do Every Week

Sometimes your PC will get clogged up with thing you did not even know were there in the first place. You should always be careful at what is being installed when installing a new piece of software, epically if you have downloaded it, make sure there are no pre-ticked boxes as these will normally install other software on your PC. Apple is a good example of this as they are always trying to impose QuickTime Player or Safari when you download iTunes. Below I will show you how to identify and remove any unwanted applications.

Remove spyware

Sometimes the things that sneak on to your PC can be harder to remove. I am talking about things like spyware, which sit in the background and collect personal data, or adware, that will pop up annoying adverts at random intervals. Both of these will consume disk space and take system resources like ram, you should remove them as soon as possible. A good Anti-virus should guard you from both, so make sure that its scheduled to do a full scan at least once a week to help protect your self and find any unwanted guests. Trend Micro’s HouseCall  is a free browser based malware scanner that can help to root out spyware and unwanted web browser plug-ins, and it does not need to be installed on your PC. However this is not a replacement for a good antivirus program as they will always be monitoring your PC but is handy if you just want to double check your existing software or think it might of missed something.

Get rid of spyware, adware and other uninvited guests using Trend Micro HouseCal

Get rid of spyware, adware and other uninvited guests using Trend Micro HouseCall

Get rid of toolbars

Browser toolbars are another good example of junk software that companies can install without you knowing. A good example is Oracle’s Java as this will install the Ask toolbar on your browser and change the default search to Ask unless you specifically un-tick boxes when installing. Before you know it your browser can become cluttered with all sorts of unwanted buttons and menus you will probably never even use or even asked for.

You can delve into your browser’s settings and manually remove the toolbars but sometimes the menus are hidden away. Slim Computer can help you remove them, open Slim (you should have it installed on a USB if you followed my advice earlier), and click on the Browsers button on the left-hand side. Doing this will scan all the browsers installed on your PC and will reveal all toolbars, plugins and extensions that are installed on each of them and a rating on how useful each one is. To remove you simply tick the box alongside any thing you don’t want on your Browser and then click Remove Selected. Slim Computer will also tell you if your default search engine has changed and if it has will let you switch back to your default one.

Empty the Recycle Bin

The other thing I would recommend you do weekly is emptying the Recycle Bin. If you delete a file in windows it will just shift it to the Recycle Bin, where is tends to sit wasting as much space as it did before. You will have to manually empty the Recycle Bin to get back all the wasted space. To do this you right-click on the Recycle Bin and select ‘Empty Recycle Bin’ however if you don’t want to keep emptying the Recycle Bin you can tell windows it bypass the Recycle Bin, by right-clicking the Recycle Bin, then selecting Properties and then tick the option to ‘Remove Files Immediately’. I would not recommend this as there is no way to get anything back you might accidentally delete as you wont be able to restore it from the Recycle Bin.

Things To Do Every Month

Monthly is the right frequency to do a proper clear-out, so you should set aside a few minutes each month to clear out all the junk that your PC has accumulated over the past few weeks and get rid of any space-hogging applications that you don’t need or use anymore. The right software will help make this easier.

Delete hidden temporary files

Glary Utilities is a very useful tool and has recently been updated with a fresh new look, it can be used for clearing disk space and preventing programs from slowing your PC. You can buy the Pro version for around $29.95 (around £18), the Pro version includes automatic updates, technical support and a few other benefits. The free version is very handy to have to.

Clean your Registry, delete unnecessary updates, remove temporary files and much more with Glary's Utilities

Clean your Registry, delete unnecessary updates, remove temporary files and much more with Glary’s 1-Click Maintenance

The first thing you will want to do after it has installed is click on the 1-Click Maintenance tab and run the cleaner. This will search your PC for everything that hogs system resourses, and all manner of space fillers – like files you have downloaded over the internet and old windows updates and will offer to delete them for you. 1-Click Maintenance tool will also check your PC for things like Spyware as well as any other programs that are slowing down your PC on start up. You can review what it has found in each category by clicking Show Details – however I would advise that you un-tick the web browser cache in the Temporary Files Cleaner as this usually does not take up much space and will speed up your web browsing – Once you are happy click the Repair Problems button and let Glary Utilities wipe everything

Clean up your hard drive

Now its time to find out what is taking all of your hard drive space. Click on the little pie-chart icon at the bottom of ‘Glary Utilities’ on the main menu, this will then open the Disk Analyzer. Windows can be really bad at showing you what’s eating up your hard disk space, but Glarys Disk Analyzer will quickly identify the disk hogs. Click on the disk you want to scan this would normally be the C: drive, and click OK. Once it has done, you will be shown a breakdown of all the folders on your PC, they will be ranked in order of how much space they take in your PC.

Use Glary Disk Analyser to check which files and folders are taking the most space on your PC

Use Glary Disk Analyser to check which files and folders are taking the most space on your PC

In most cases, the Users folder – were you store all of your documents, photos and music will be at the top, if you double click on the folder it will then show you each individual user (that is if you have different users), this will allow you to see which user is using the most disk space. Double-click again and it will show you the type of files that are taking up the most space, doing this will help you find out what is taking all the space and delete any files or folders you know longer need or want, but you also need to remember to empty the Recycle Bin afterwards.

Identify programs you don’t need

Glary Utilities also has an excellent Uninstall Manger, and can be found by clicking on the Recycle Bin-like icon on the main menu. Its very similar to Windows’ own ‘Uninstall a program’, but Glary own version comes with couple of very handy filters on the left-hand side so you can easily identify Large Programs that are taking up the most space, the best feature is the Rarely Used Programs. To remove a program you no longer want, just click on it to highlight it and then click the Uninstall This Program button in the bottom right of the screen, but don’t get confused with the Remove Entry button at the top – all this will do is simply remove the item from the list, not your PC.

Use Glary Uninstall Manager to help you identify programs you rarely use and are taking up space on your hard drive

Use Glary Uninstall Manager to help you identify programs you rarely use and are taking up space on your hard drive

Find and remove duplicate files

Duplicate files can take up significant amounts of disk space. Glary has a duplicate file finder witch can be found in its Advanced Tools section, but its one of the only few tools that is unreliable and awkward to use. I would recommend Auslogic Duplicate File Finder witch is also free, it now also supports Windows 8.1 thanks to and update. During the installation you need to be careful and make sure you untick the options that will try and install other Auslogic products.

Find and removed duplicate files that are lurking on your hard drive using Auslogic;s free tool

Find and removed duplicate files that are lurking on your hard drive using Auslogic;s free tool

Once you have it installed you can then select which type of files you want to search for, what size to search for and were you would like to put the duplicated files – but don’t worry as no files will be deleted until you have had time to review them. Once the scan has finished, you can right-click on the file and the select Open to view it. Once you are happy the file is a true duplicate press the arrow and choose Select All Duplicates and simply press Delete, and all the duplicates will go to the Recycle Bin.

Clear out your downloads

The Downloads folder is were everything you have downloaded will normally end up. If you leave it to build up, it can easily contain gigabytes of unneeded files. Go through the folder and delete anything you are sure you won’t need anymore. This folder will often contain the installer for all the programs you have downloaded. It’s perfectly safe to delete these (they would normally have ‘setup’ or ‘exe’ at the end of the filename) if you have already installed the software.

Things You Should Never Do

Overzealous cleaning can sometime do more harm than never cleaning at all. This is a quick list of things you should never do:

DON’T MANUALLY REMOVE WINDOWS FILES

Many PC’s have been ruined by someone who has deleted a file or folder they did not recognize. If in doubt you should always leave it alone, you should never delete anything that is stored in the Windows folder on your hard drive, unless you are absolutely sure you know what it is. Clean-up tools like Glary Utilities will find and dispose of any unnecessary Windows files for you.

DON’T DELETE THE RECOVERY PARTITION

Hard drives will often contain what’s know as a recovery partition, this will usually have a separate drive letter and will be labeled ‘Recovery (D:)’. This can be as big as 10GB in size, you may be tempted to try and reclaim this space but don’t as this is your Windows installation DVD, you will need it if you ever have to re-install Windows

DON’T PAY FOR A DEDICATED REGISTRY CLEANER

There are loads of paid-for and free tools that are dedicated to cleaning the Windows Registry (your PC’s database of setting and configurations). Many of the general cleaning tools like Glary Utilities or CCleaner Free will include a Registry cleaner, so there should be no need to buy and download a separate one.

DON’T DELETE SYSTEM RESTORE POINTS

The System Restore is a feature that will allow you to return your PC to a previous state; this can be a very effective way of repairing a broken PC. Many ‘experts’ have suggested you can save space by deleting older Restore Points, but I would advise not doing this. System Restore only takes up a small amount of space and you can always restrict the amount of space it uses by pressing Windows+pause/Brake and then clicking System Protection in the window that has just popped up. The click on the Configure button and use the Max Usage slider to specify the amount of space you want to allow (2% should be fine but its up to you)

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Are Hackers Using Your Passwords?

Are Hackers Using Your Passwords?

Over the last 3 years millions of passwords have been stolen below I explain how you can check to see if you have been a victim.

Hacker Typing On Laptop

Have hackers got hold of one of your usernames and passwords? They probably have and you don’t even know it yet. Just look at some of the big companies that have been hacked over the past few years – Adobe (over 38 million customers had there account details stolen), Evernote (50 Million), Apple (12 million), twitter (250,000) and Sony (77 million). This is just a few of the biggest ones but there have been hundreds more. Hackers target things like Usernames, email address, passwords and of cause credit card numbers. People usually have the same username and password for multiple accounts so cracking just one account can leave others exposed.

So why do the big companies keep letting there guards down? How can you tell if you account details have been stolen? So what can you do if you find your details have been stolen? How can you stop them being stolen in the first place?

Attacks on the rise

It seems that barely a week can pass without a report that another company has been hacked – its gotten that common now it only makes the headlines if it has affected tens of millions of people.

Independent security analyst Graham Cluley has been quoted saying “It certainly feels as if successful data breaches are on the rise.” “What we are witnessing is a natural consequence because more companies are embracing the web and storing our personal information online, hackers understand the potential commercial value of stealing information and a failure for adequate security to be put in place quickly enough”

Adobes security was insufficient in one on the most high-profile hacks in recent months. It was initially estimated that only three million customers were affected, but Adobe later admitted it was closer to 38 million customers that had there accounts details stolen. There were some independent estimates that put the figures as high as 153 million, but Adobe claimed that this figure included a lot of duplicate and redundant data.
Adobe reset the passwords and informed all of their affected customers. But this was after a huge file of data was posted on the Internet allowing anyone to read the files. It was shocking what security experts found in the data. Adobe had failed to encrypt the passwords to an appropriately high standard – this floor allowed security researches to calculate the exact password, but the leaked records also showed the user’s password hint in plan text, with there email address. Hundreds of thousands of users had entered hints like “name”, “me” or “birthday”, this left hackers with easy access to account that were protected with an easy to crack password.

This attack on Adobe was much more serious than the one earlier in March 2013 were Evernote had 12 million accounts compromised. Hacker’s uncovered 540 million usernames, email address and passwords, but the passwords were encrypted (Hashed), making it very unlikely the hackers could brake the encryption. Evernote reset the passwords for all its affected customers as a precaution anyway.

The dangers of using the same password

‘Usual’ was the third most commonly used password hint in the hacked Adobe files, (that were used by a staggering 387,222 of their customers) despite being constantly warned not to use the same password for ever site and have a unique password for every site, back in 2012 Yahoo suffered an massive data breach, when all the compromised accounts were analysed they revealed that a staggering 59% of the people that had there accounts accessed when Sony got hacked in 2011 were using the same password on both services. The hackers must have been rubbing their hands in glee when they sore the frequency of the ‘usual’ password hint. By cracking that password they would have access to not only the Adobe account but also any others that were using the same password and username. If the password they used was also the same they used for their email account (the email address was the username in the case of the Adobe victims) the hackers would of struck gold.

Email accounts are a treasure chest of your personal information for a hacker; they can see things like your contacts, credit-card statements, bank statements, online shopping receipts and much more. Most of all hackers want control, what better way to get control than being able to rest your passwords on all the websites you use, they can do this because normally the reset link is sent to the registered users email address, this gives the hacker free rein to go shopping on their credit card if it is linked to any accounts they have access to until the victim realises what is going on.

Sloppy Security?

You might keep wondering do the big well-resourced companies keep letting their guard down? It can’t be beyond their technical capability’s or budget to secure their website properly? Kasperskys senior security researcher David Emm has been quoted saying “it’s not often the websites themselves let hackers in, it’s the company’s own staff”

Emm went on to say, “that many of the recent hacks have involved so-called ‘spear phishing’ attacks. These are similar to the scam emails you might find in your inbox everyday, but are specifically targeted to certain employees of the company. The hackers research the employees to find the most vulnerable one, following them on social networks like Facebook so they can find out who there colleagues are and what software and web services they use at work, once the hacker has the information they need they will then send the employee a targeted email that contains a malicious link, that when clicked, will give the hacker access to the company’s customer database.”

“They structure the email to look like it has come from someone inside the company, it will have some information about them or the company that they have managed to find out about them through social networks and researching to try and catch them off guard,” Emm then went on to say “you click on the link or the attached file because you think it’s a legitimate one and this is what gives the hackers their initial foothold in the company. That human factor is pretty consistent – we find this in a lot of attack.”

Spear-Phishing is not the only way that hackers can gain access to company servers. They can also take advantage of the companies poorly configured web server and carry out internal espionage.
Hackers have even been known to drop an infected USB drive in the company car park hoping an employee will then pick it up and plug it into their work PC, and giving the hacker access to the company’s network.

Emm has also been quoted saying, “there is another reason why we are not seeing more data leaks, and employees are now being targeted outside of the workplace. In previous years, employees would do a majority of their work at their office desk and have the protection of the company’s firewall and security measures. Now employees work on different devices in all different locations.”

“We are just as likely to use their personal smartphone for business use. They can work from home, the airport, a hotel or even a coffee bar (which is unsecure and allows hackers to intercept the data). IT managers now have a much harder job trying to put a security wrapper around each individual staff member.”

How to tell if you have been hacked

So how can you tell if hackers have stolen your details? The European Commission regulations that came in to affect last summer obliged companies that got hacked to inform all their customers that were affected that their data has been compromised. It can be days after the attack has been reported before the company then sends out emails urging their customers to change there password (and sometimes these types of emails get lost in the spam folder).

If all the hacker wants to do is embarrass the targeted company, you will often find a file containing the usernames and passwords of affected customers posted on the internet, often on a site like Pastebin, which lets the hackers store text for a certain period, Major hacks will normally end up on Pastebin’s trending Pastes section.

Don’t assume if you username and password is not on the list of hacked accounts published on Pastebin or other sites you are safe. Hackers can often drip-feed the stolen files so it can take days or even weeks before the full extent of the hack is revealed. If you ever hear that a site you use has been hacked you should change your password just as a precaution, just like you would change your locks after a brake in.

haveibeenpwned Screenshot

haveibeenpwned Screenshot

You can always check to see if your account has been one of the many high-profile hacks in recent years that got compromised – these include, Adobe, Sony and Tesco. To check just enter your username and e-mail address at haveibeenpwned. The site was created by Troy Hunt a security software specialist, the site will check all published databases from dozen of attacks and will tell you if it finds your login details. Remember to enter current and previous email address; this could include both personal and business email address and any usernames you can remember.

If you find your details have been stolen, make sure you change your password for the site that has been compromised and any others you might use the same password and user name for. Haveibeenpwned will let you set up email alerts to warn you immediately if your email address shows up in any of the databases. In case you were wondering what ‘pwned’ means it’s a hackers use it as a slang word for ‘owned’.

Haveibeenpwned is a reputable site, that is run by a well-know and trusted member of the security community, but please use caution as there might be copycat sites promising to let you know if your accounts been hacked. And if you use these hackers do not have to bother going to lengths of braking in to a website to gain access to your details as you will of just handed them all they need.

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Avoid dodgy Android Apps

Avoid dodgy Android Apps

Over the past few years there have been an increasing number of Android apps that don’t work as described or that can even pose a security threat to your phone or tablet. Below I will try to explain how to spot them and report them.

Do

Choose security apps from a known company.

Back in April, Google had to refund more than 30,000 customers who purchased the £2.38 fake anti-virus app Virus Shield, from developer Deviant Solutions. The app claimed to protect Android users from “harmful viruses, malware and spyware”, but it did nothing other than change from a red cross to a tick when you taped it. Apart from Google allowing the app to be sold in the Play store in the 1st place, the most worrying part of the story is how the Virus Shield app managed to reach a 4.7-out-of-5 user rating and was in the store’s Top New Paid Apps Chart!

Virus shield fooled more than 30,00 customers in to thinking it was a worthwhile app

Virus shield fooled more than 30,00 customers in to thinking it was a worthwhile app

So you don’t fall for a similar scam, its wise to stick with anti-virus apps from a well-known company. Most of the big names provide tools to help protect your android device from malware, like AVG, Avast and Comodo. Using these apps will help you be sure they will work properly and detect and remove infected files, and they are also regularly updated so they can combat the latest threats.

This does not mean you can always trust a name you recognise. Last month, Kaspersky found fake anti-virus apps imitating their products in both the Play and Windows Phone stores. Roman Uncheck, a Senior Malware Analyst at Kaspersky Labs said, “its quite possible that more and more of these fake apps will start appearing. One thing that’s for sure is that official stores cannot cope with these kinds of scams and need better security measures in place.

Don’t

Believe everything you read on Google Play

User reviews can be helpful when you are not sure about installing an app, especially one that you have to pay for. If you find an app that has mostly bad comments that suggest the app is slow, prone to crash or doesn’t work as described you will want to steer clear of these. Surely if an app has received five-star glowing reviews it must be good, even if you have never heard of them right? This is not always the case as is has become increasingly common for apps developers to buy fake reviews and ratings for their products on the Play and iTunes app store, much like the way you can pay and get thousands of fake Twitter followers.

Companies like BuyAppStore Reviews and BestReviewApp have masses of paid reviewers, who are selling their opinions, you can then buy in bulk to get positive feedback and download for your app. Buy AppStore Reviews have promised that “each of their reviews they provide will be given 4 or 5 stars”, they charge $19.99 (£11.95) for 10 ratings and five reviews to $74.99 (£44.80) for their Gold Promotion Pack of 50 ratings and 30 reviews. Another trick developers can use is to include a message in their apps, that will then encourage the user to give them five stars reviews in exchange for an in-app bonus.

Google is aware of this type of scheme and on its ‘fake Ratings and Reviews’ support page states “you should not attempt to influence your app’s ratings and reviews, by posting fake ratings or reviews”. Google has said that developers should not offer users rewards for giving positive reviews of their apps. “But it’s acceptable to ask users to rate the apps without giving them an incentive”.

The tell-tail signs to see if a review is real or paid for are: click on the reviewers name and see what else they have reviewed, look at the comments they have left, are they all identical if so this would indicate they have just cut and pasted the review especially if they use vague comments like: – “Great app, Just what I was looking for!” these type of comments are easy to repeat across most apps. Apps with higher ratio of reviews to ratings should raise your suspicions (only around 20% of users would rate an app but not bother to review it). Watch out for fake negative reviews and ratings, as spiteful developers are also using them to bring down their rivals’ averages.

If however you think you have found a false review hover your mouse over it and click the flag icon to mark it as spam. Games are the ones most likely to attract this sort of review, according to TechCrunch, so always take what you have read with a pinch of salt.

Do

Research unfamiliar app developers

Google play prides itself in having more of an ‘open’ app store unlike Apple, this means developers only need to certify apps themselves before they are made public. Apps that are made available for iOS will have to go through rigorous testing and be approved by Apple before they are allowed into Apple’s Store (but some questionable apps have still slipped through Apples testing process).

This makes Google’s Play store a grate way for 1st time-developers to showcase there apps, but it also means there is little quality control, other than Google’s Bouncer tool, which scans all submissions for malware.

To help reduce the risk of downloading a dodgy app you should always read the description carefully and look for signs like poor spelling and grammar (a professional developer will always proofread their submission carefully); vague details about what the app does; lack of screen shots; incorrect company logo. You should always click the developers name to see what else they might have made and the reviews they might have gotten.

Look for the top developer label as a mark of quality and reliability

Look for the top developer label as a mark of quality and reliability

Google labels their popular app creators as ‘Tip Developers’, but this does not always mean you should dismiss anyone who does not have a history of making apps. If you are ever in doubt, you could always contact the developer directly and ask for more information about the app, if its legitimate they won’t mind replying to help reassure you.

Don’t

Install apps from outside Google Play

There have been a fair share of dodgy apps hosted by Google Play in the last few years, Recent figures from cyber-security firm Opswat found that a third of all Android apps outside the Play store were infected with malware, while two-thirds could be regarded as “suspicious”, this also included repackaged versions of popular apps like Angry Birds and Twitter.
To help stop risky apps being installed on your Android phone or tablet, go to: Settings, Security and Swipe to ‘Unknown sources’ and untick ‘Allow installation of apps from sources other than the Play store’.

You should also make sure that ‘Verified Apps’ is ticked, doing this will help to warn you about potentially dangerous apps, but this is not a substitute for a dedicated mobile security app. The problem with blocking everything from outside of the Play store is you then cant install apps that are safe but Google objected to, the most notable one being Adblocker Plus, which was pulled last year from the Google play store, you can still install it from its website. Android will not let you block some apps but let other pass, so it’s a case of all or nothing.

You can only install Adblock Plus by allowing apps from unknown sources.

You can only install Adblock Plus by allowing apps from unknown sources.

Do

Check permissions before and after installing

List of Permissions Gmail Requires

List of Permissions Gmail Requires

The permissions required by some Android apps can sound a lot more alarming than they are, but some do go beyond what we expect, apps that require “full internet access” or to be able to “Directly call phone numbers” for no obvious reasons should set your alarm bells ringing. This is especially true when an app requests that you update it manually, so it can add a new permission.

When you install an app from Google Play, it will ask for permissions so you can decide if you want to still install it. If you want to check the permissions apps have on your device, go to settings, Apps and select an app, Swipe to permissions section and press one to read more about it.

You can always use F-Secure App Permissions to review all the app on your device and the permissions they have, so you can see which ones might cost you money, use your current location, see all your personal info and can make changes to your system settings. Unfortunately you can’t revoke permissions (at least, not on a non-rooted device), but if you are not happy with the permissions an app has you can always uninstall it.

Do

Request refunds for rubbish apps

In the past, if you bought an app from the Play Store and it was a letdown, you only had 15 minutes to claim a full refund, this is still what Google has on its ‘Return paid apps and games’ page and in the box that opens when your buy an app.

The Android Police did some research and discovered Google had quietly changed its returns policy, by extending the time limit for an app refund from 15 minutes to 48 hours, Google also issue the refunds themselves rather than passing the option to the developer. Once you have been granted a refund the app will disappear from your device.

You might still be able to get a refund after 48h, but there would need to be a good reason why. Google covers the cost of the refunds themselves, protecting developers from lost sales. Following the embarrassment of the fake Virus Shield app, Google offered every one that purchased the add $5 (£2.99) to spend in the Play store as well as a full refund, but please don’t expect this for ever bad app in the Play Store!

You have more than 15 minutes to claim an app refund, despite what the Play store states

You have more than 15 minutes to claim an app refund, despite what the Play store states

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Guide to Windows 8.1

Guide to Windows 8.1

One look at Windows 8.1 and you can see it is very different to Microsoft’s previous operating systems. Here are just some of Windows 8.1 key features, improvements and additions.

Windows App Store

Windows 8 App Store

Windows 8 App Store

Windows 8.1 now comes with its own app store but that’s not really a massive surprise as Apple has had great success with is app store on there Mac’s and iOS devices. Microsoft’s store is an easy way to get free and paid-for software direct from the comfort of your armchair. It’s a good way to get free trials so you can try before you buy. Many Windows 8 apps are designed to be used with swiping gestures on a touchscreen but most will work well with a keyboard and mouse.

Microsoft Account Integration

You sign in to Windows 8.1 and Microsoft’s online cloud service using your Microsoft account. If you have several Window 8.1 devices, you can sync all your settings and preferences across all devices. You will also be able to sync themes, browser favourites, apps, files, folders, and contacts, which include Hotmail, Facebook contacts and people you follow on twitter.

Internet Explorer 11

Over the years Microsoft’s Internet Explorer has had its fair share of criticism, but with its new Internet Explore 11 which is a leaner, easy to use and much faster browser than its predecessors, Microsoft have now for the first time ever opted to use a ‘do not track’ feature and it will be enabled by default. This means websites that sign up to the system wont be able to show you targeted advertising or follow you on line activates.

Virus Protection

Good news for Windows 8.1 users as they are now protected right out of the box from viruses and malicious software. Windows 8.1 now combines the features of Windows Defender with those of Microsoft’s Security Essentials. It is still a lightweight solution, but Windows 8.1 compatible security products are becoming more available from third parties. To avoid antitrust issues Microsoft now disables Windows Defender if any other comparable security software is installed.

The Interface

Windows 8 Interface

Windows 8 Interface

The first thing you will notice once Windows 8.1 starts up is the new tiled interface. This is in a way the replacement for the old Start menu that has been around since 1995. Microsoft have adopted its tiled view from its Windows phones, the new interface features a series of ‘live’ tiles.  These tiles are designed for touch-screens, and they display live information such as news headlines, weather, stock market updates. The tiles work well on a touch screen but not so well with a mouse and keyboard, but its good news if you still use a mouse and keyboard as you can now set windows 8.1 to boot directly to desktop.

Traditional Desktop

Touchscreen friendly tiles largely dominate Windows 8 front end, but the old faithful windows interface is still present. If you still want to use a mouse and keyboard it’s certainly the best option as it has an almost identical file and menu system you are used to in windows of old. Microsoft have given the desktop visuals a much-needed polish.

OneDrive

One Drive

Microsofts One Drive

Microsoft’s Online storage has been around for a while now, the OneDrive app will let you access anything you have stored in your OneDrive account, giving you easy access to all of your files, photos etc.….  As is said earlier when you sign in to your Microsoft account it will sync all the setting in Windows 8.1 (this includes OneDrive). Microsoft is trying to make any Windows 8.1 computer ‘your computer” by signing in to one account.

Windows Reader

In older versions of Windows if you wanted to read a PDF you would have to download additional software like Adobe Reader. Windows 8.1 has its own built in PDF reader so there is no need to download additional software, it may only be a small thing but it’s a good example of how Microsoft is considering what people want and do on there computers. It seems Microsoft is taking it’s cue from Apple by making sure Windows 8.1 covers the most common and basic tasks right out of the box.

Integrated Social Networks

Windows 8.1 has taken its inspiration from smartphones and tablets as it can now be linked to social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google, as well as Microsoft accounts. The People App puts together updates from these services; this will make it easy to follow updates. It will be very familiar to those using a windows phone. The People App will display the latest updates and let you post from your Twitter and Facebook accounts. All contacts information is combined, so that means if they have a Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn account they will all be added to their individual contact screen.

Charms

Windows 8 Charm Bar

Windows 8 Charm Bar

The Charms bar has a daft name, but it’s a very useful addition. To access it perform a quick outward swipe from the right-hand side of the screen. From top to bottom it includes search, share, start devices and settings, this makes it easy to gain access to some of Window’s most commonly used features, but some of the functions like search and share will be varied depending on what app you have open.

Touch

The new Windows 8.1 is all about touchscreen and gestures, as long as you are using a device that will support touch controls. The controls may take some time to get used to. Swiping around apps is intuitive, but accessing menus or preforming more complicated gestures will be a bit of a learning curve. Swiping from top to bottom, left to right will open up different options and extra features in apps; there is also a pinch to zoom witch most of us are all used to now. But if you don’t have a touchscreen and still use a keyboard and mouse they are also supported in Windows 8.1.

The Ribbon

Windows 8 Ribbions

Windows 8 Ribbions

The ribbon will be coming to file explorer in Windows 8.1. The previous tool bar found in recent editions of Microsoft Office will be making the leap to the main operating system and is included in file explorer that is used in the desktop of Windows 8. The new ribbon has a series of large buttons to help perform common tasks faster, so there are buttons for copy, paste, delete, rename and new folder. The ribbon will be split in five sections – File, Home, Share, View and Manage. If you did not like the ribbon in Office you are not going to like its appearance in Windows 8.1.

New Price

Its good news at last as Microsoft have decided to charge just £99.99 for Windows 8.1, and even better news if you all ready have windows 8 you can upgrade to 8.1 for free, There is also a special students price for windows 8.1 of £49.99. Previous Windows operating systems used to cost more than 4x that. Windows 8.1 is so cheap Microsoft won’t be selling a lot of Boxed copies as most people will upgrade or buy the software as a download. Microsoft are also hoping the new low price will tempt people to upgrade from the older version of there operating system to its new Windows 8.1

Windows RT

There is a lightweight version of Windows 8 that can be used on low-spec tablets. Windows RT is designed to run on tablets powered by ARM processors. It will come with Microsoft Office 2013 and uses the simple touchscreen interface. Windows RT is not available to buy but comes preinstalled on some tablets like Microsoft’s Surface.

Picture Passwords

We all struggle to remember passwords we have for all the various accounts and services we use. Windows 8 attempts to solve this by letting people log in using a picture. To use a picture password, go to the Settings app and select the relevant option.  Picture password will use a picture of your choosing from your photo collection, Circles, lines and taps can also be used to create a gesture-based password that’s easy to remember but hard to guess.

Fewer Restarts

The ‘Windows has installed updates and needs to restart’ is a familiar annoyance for most users of Microsoft’s operating systems. Restarting is essential for some major updates but it does not make it any less irritating when it interrupts or causes you to loose unsaved work. Windows 8 restarts are less frequent. Microsoft said it would combine restarts when updating into its security updates, so that’s only one restart a month.

Better Protection

Microsoft’s Smart-screen technology has been expanded and integrated into Windows 8.1 to help people work out what software they should or should not download. For it to work Microsoft collects information about everything you download in Windows 8, this information won’t be stored. This feature is enabled by default and will display a warning when you try and attempt to install untrusted or potentially dangerous software. It works by working out the reputation of the download – were it came from, results from anti-virus scans and the past instances of that piece of software being downloaded on other machines.

Best of the Rest

The blue screen of death was once a terrifying sight for users, but its had a facelift. It no longer shows the baffling combination of technobabble and error codes, in its place Windows 8.1 offers a sad-looking face with a notice saying something has gone wrong with your computers and needs to restart

Windows 8.1 no longer supports DVD playback as we rely less and less on discs. Microsoft used to include the codec for this in older versions of Windows but now users will have to get separate software to play a DVD.

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