Leo's Answers #171 – March 24, 2009

Ask Leo!

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Leo Notenboom


I appreciate your efforts at steering us pilgrims through the maze of computer traps.
- Norman

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*** Contents

*** This Week's New Articles on Ask Leo!

What's the difference between subscribing to a website via RSS and Email?

Is there a difference between subscribing to a web site's email mailing list and subscribing to the same site's RSS feed?

Yes, they're two completely different things, and what they each contain is up to the site's owner.

I'll show you what I mean with examples from my own email and RSS feeds.

Continue reading: "What's the difference between subscribing to a website via RSS and Email?"

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Is it safe to install an infected drive into a working machine to clean it?

I occasionally help people with computer problems (avg 2-3/mo.) and a majority have to do with infections - popups, running slow, etc. I generally am successful running Adaware, House Call, Spybot and installing/running AVG along with defragging, emptying temp folder, reducing restore size from 12%, etc. Occasionally I have to format and reinstall everything.

I had a PC recently that was so infected and so slow it would not load or run any corrective software or even go on the internet. I thought I would have to format but before that, I removed the hard drive and installed it as a slave in another computer. There I was able to run the anti-virus/spyware/malware software. When I put it back in the original computer, most of the problems were gone, and I was able to complete the cleanup without any further problem.

My first question is, is this a safe and reasonable technique? And second, if it is, is there a way to use it on a laptop, other than by removing the hard drive, adding a laptop/EIDE adapter and using it as a slave like I did before?

Well, it's probably about 95% safe and reasonable. And also fairly common, since the alternative is to reformat and reinstall.

It's that 5% that should worry you.

Add yes, there are ways to do it for your laptop's drive as well.

Continue reading: "Is it safe to install an infected drive into a working machine to clean it?"

* * *

How does GMail's "undo send" work?

I heard that Google added an "undo" to their send button. How can that work? I thought you said that once you send an email it's out of your control?

(This is anticipatory - I expect people to be asking.)

I stand by that statement: GMail's "undo send" is not really an "undo" at all. It's certainly helpful, but it's not what you might think.

Continue reading: "How does GMail's "undo send" work?"

* * *

I can't pass a firewall test, what should I do?

How important is it to test your firewall with a firewall test? I've read about many firewall tests like Shields Up, and I've thought about using them. I know that firewall tests check for open ports, so how do ports become open and vulnerable in the first place? Is there really any way to avoid that? I do not use my computer for much other than simple surfing and I never download anything. I have my firewall set on learning mode. Would a firewall test be more important for someone who downloads, plays games, etc? I read that many of these tests are easy to fail for reasons most casuals users would not understand. I do not understand very much about firewalls and do not understand some settings enough to change them. I would not want to take a firewall test for it to tell me I've failed, and then spent days trying to figure out why, when in truth my firewall is fine.

I love Steve Gibson, and his firewall testing utility Shields Up, I really do. Unfortunately Steve's taken a rather extreme position in how he reports your firewall's status - anything less that total invisibility is labeled with a big red "FAILED".

In my opinion that's both impractical, and unnecessarily alarming for the average user.

But the test itself, which I FAILED right here at home, returns some very valuable information nonetheless.

Continue reading: "I can't pass a firewall test, what should I do?"

* * *

I Googled my phone number and it turned up my home address - is that legal?

I Googled my home phone number and it came back with my name, address and phone listed under an area I live near. Not wanting my info on the web, I contacted the directory listing service it appeared under and according to them the phone company sold them my private information. And, there's really nothing they could do. Isn't there any law to protect us against selling private information?

First, we need to understand if your information is really private. I'm guessing it's not.

Then we need to understand whether or not you gave the utility company implicit permission to sell your information. I'm guessing you did.

And you're not alone.

Continue reading: "I Googled my phone number and it turned up my home address - is that legal?"

* * *

What's the best way for a non-profit group to interact online?

How can groups communicate more efficiently than sending group emails?

Example: Our Alumni Association recently held a fund raiser with 15 people on the committee. Over the two months of planning, emails were sent to the whole group each time small details needed to be ironed out. Then, emails were sent out to only the key people, which left others out of the loop and in turn created MORE emails to answer questions about decisions that were made because some people weren't informed along the way. Another problem was that due to the enormous amount of emails being sent to the group, many group members didn't read them and then put up road blocks to action steps because they were uniformed.

My bottom line Leo is this: What's the best way for non-profits to hold meetings, conduct business and communicate with its members for efficient fund raising events or other activities?

Well, I do have to say that I don't think there's a single "best" way. And in fact, in my experience the options available to non-profits are often more limited than those available to businesses - and not at all for the reasons you might think.

So instead of proposing The Answer, instead I'll throw out a few ideas.

But I'll start by explaining what I've seen as the bigger problem that might apply to your non profit.

Continue reading: "What's the best way for a non-profit group to interact online?"

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*** Featured Comments

A sampling of some of the comments that have been posted recently on Ask Leo!

* * *

Is an outbound firewall needed?

Black Jack writes:

Regarding "it's too late". Suppose keylogger or trojan already infected computer. It's no good, i agree. But outbound firewall *prevented* this bad thing from sending out electronic payment system details, hence made keylogger or trojan useless as it never succeeds in completing its objective - sending data to its master.

"But lets assume that you did get infected by a truly malicious key logger - one that was attempting to hide, and send all your keystrokes to some overseas hacker. Well, at the risk of repeating myself too many times: it's too late. Your machine has been compromised, and you can no longer trust it; and that includes trusting your firewall. Yes, your outbound firewall might block the transmission - or it might not. The malware could, in fact, include additional code to actually reconfigure your firewall to let the malware's communication through. It's been done."

You are referring in this example to unknown vulnerable firewall software, but applying conclusions to outbound firewall in general. Is that slyness or fortuity?

Why haven't you told anything about outbound firewall software which is guarded by Host Intrusion Prevention System (HIPS), which *prevents* malware from: - including any code to firewall; - reconfiguring it ; - modifying operating system in other way in order to send data bypassing outbound firewall. Comodo Internet Security (CIS) is example of such firewall software. Maybe there are some other firewall products out there which can do same? Pls, inform me.

"You have said that when an outbound firewall stops something it is already too late. But don't you think outbound firewall might stop a key logger from at least sending logs to an email or remote computer? Or would it not?"

You substituted "outbound firewall" for unknown leaky outbound firewall software. Why? There are real world outbound firewalls that don't leak (i know one - CIS).

"It's intrusive. Outbound firewalls are only practically available as components of software firewalls that you install on your machine. As such, these firewalls take up additional resources to do their job. Rather than do that, a router will give you the inbound protection you need without taking up additional resources on your machine. "

"Additional resources" is subjective term. For example, what is better: spend system's additional resources (how many? :) ) OR save resources, but risk to be infected with trojan (zero day virus - anti-virus won't detect it) that will leak electronic payment system login & password.

"It's frequently wrong. ...With too many errors, indecipherable messages or false positives, people tend to ignore the warnings after a while, rendering the outbound firewall ineffective."

In some cases *people* "tend to ignore the warnings...". But what's wrong with outbound firewall? Lack of clarity etc. is subjective not to say more. And differs from user to user, from one firewall software to another.

"Is there a case for an outgoing firewall at all? Many experts will disagree with me and say absolutely, that they add a lot of value and that the issues I've raised are simply off target or over-stated. But I remain of the opinion that if an outgoing firewall is, in fact, adding value it's because your incoming protection is inadequate."

Many ordinary users may have their pc infected even with adequate incoming protection. Friend's infected flash drive, executable from trusted source which in fact is malware, social engineering, malicious e-mail attachments. What to do with those examples when people's computers (those behind NAT or those part of closed enterprise networks) got infected from "inside"? Anti-Virus-Spyware and other signature-based detection software will NOT detect malicious executables (trojans, keyloggers) if they are zero day viruses/malware (those viruses/malware, for which specific antivirus software signatures are not yet available).

*

DropMyRights - Login as Administrator, but run select applications with limitations

Elizabeth Boston writes:

This problem has been resolved in Windows Vista. When a limited user wants to install a program or perform an operation that requires administrator access in Vista, a dialog box pops up allowing you to enter an administrator user name and password. If the user knows (or has a parent come in and enter the password) the application will be allowed to run.

This is better than the old days when I would have to log into my administrator account, make the child's account an administrator, log back into the child's account and install the program, then log back into the administrator account again to make the child a limited user. (phew, I'm out of breath just typing that)

Thanks Elizabeth. Vista gets a bad rap on various issues, but this is one that they appear to have done well with.
For those reading, Elizabeth is The Computer Lady and also does Q&A and has her own newsletter too.

-Leo

*** This Week's Most Popular

The ten most popular articles in the last 7 days on Ask Leo!

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  10. Svchost and Svchost.exe - Crashs, CPU maximization, viruses, exploits and more.

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Each week I recommend a specific product or resource that I've found valuable and that I think you may as well. What does my recommendation mean?

*** Popular Articles from the Archives

When you purchase a new machine, this is a very common situation to be in:

Can I transfer my software to my new machine?

I want to buy a new laptop. Can I transfer the programs from my Dell desktop to the new laptop, things like Microsoft Office, Windows Media, etc., or do I need to buy this software again?

As with so many questions here, the answer starts with "it depends".

It depends on what you mean by "transfer", and it depends on what the license is for each of the software packages.

You may have to re-purchase some, but I'm guessing that for most, you won't.

Continue reading...
Can I transfer my software to my new machine?
http://ask-leo.com/can_i_transfer_my_software_to_my_new_machine.html

*** Thoughts and Comments

It was long, long over due.

If something seems a tad different about the newsletter, or the web site, have a close look at my picture. I finally got around to updating it. (I also updated the larger photo on the Who is Leo? page.) The old picture actually dates back a good 8 years or so, all the way back to my Microsoft days, and was taken there when I published an article in MSDN magazine. Even there, while the article is still around my picture is long, long gone.

A lot's changed. Not with me, mind you - I'm sure I haven't changed a bit. (OK, maybe a little.)

Photography has changed.

I was able to watch the photographer load up the pictures in Adobe Photoshop, as well as some other retouching software, and I gotta say ... I'll never ever look at professional photographs the same way again. A few mouse clicks and *poof* I was 10 years younger! OK, not quite, but the before and after comparisons between the original and the "cleaned up" photo are fairly startling. It's still a fairly accurate photograph of me - he didn't erase 20 pounds or anything like that - but let's just say I lost a wrinkle or two. Smile

And even though I have a nifty camera and a copy of Photoshop myself, I also have to say that there's really no substitute for finding someone who's got the equipment to do a good job for a professional looking result. Photoshop can fix a lot, but the better the original, particularly with respect to lighting, the better the final results.

'till next time...

Leo
Leo A. Notenboom

* * *

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