Leo's Answers #209 – December 15, 2009

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Leo Notenboom


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*** New Articles

Why am I repeatedly locked out of my Hotmail account, and what can I do about it?

I have used the same Hotmail account for my personal email for over 10 years now, and I have never had a problem with it, until recently. About a month ago I started getting locked out of Hotmail. At first I thought a friend was playing a trick by attempting too many passwords, locking my account, and I ignored it. I wasn’t worried about intrusion, as I use a strong password.

However the problem does not go away. My hotmail account gets Locked Out probably twice a day now. It is not terribly problematic, as I can just ‘reset my password’ and be on with it, but yesterday I was required to quickly retrieve a new email while over the phone, and it took me over 2 minutes to retrieve it, almost costing me the phone conversation and ultimately annoying the other person.

What could be causing this? I do not use Messenger or other Windows Live services, and I have AVG installed (scans daily). I have also scanned forum upon forum but seem to find most discussions are thread-jacked by people who forget their security questions, and no one with my problem.


I’ll be honest: I don’t have a good answer for you.

But I can confirm that I see a lot of people reporting locked accounts, and a few – like you – are successful at regaining access, while many more it seems are not.

I’ll review why account locking happens – both the official Windows Live Hotmail explanation, and some speculation of my own – and what, if anything, you can do to avoid it and/or recover from it.

Continue reading: Why am I repeatedly locked out of my Hotmail account, and what can I do about it?

* * *

How can I keep data on my laptop secure?

I travel a lot, and have sensitive data on the laptop I take with me that I need as part of my job. But I’m in fear of losing the laptop and that this data will fall into the wrong hands. What do you suggest?


I know how you feel. I also have sensitive information on my laptop that I would prefer not to fall into the wrong hands. I can handle losing the laptop, but thinking about the data in the wrong hands … well … that would be bad.

I do have a solution that I’ve been using for several years now, and it turns out to be fairly easy, secure, and free.

Continue reading: How can I keep data on my laptop secure?

* * *

Should I use Google’s new DNS services?

Google now offers a free DNS service. Will it affect my wireless home system?


Since Google DNS is something you have to choose to use, it won’t affect you if you don’t use it. I know that’s obvious to some, but Google’s quite big and mysterious to many people so I just wanted to make that clear up front.

And for most people I actually expect that you won’t elect to use Google DNS, and that’s just fine.

If you do use it, it has nothing to do with your “wireless” system or not – it’s a service that would affect any computers on which you choose to enable it, or on all computers that connect to the internet through your Google DNS enabled router.

I’ll review what it is, how it compares to the other replacement DNS service “Open DNS”, and why you might want to use it. I’ll also touch on how to make the switch if you decide that you want to do so.

Continue reading: Should I use Google’s new DNS services?

* * *

What are the steps to upgrade Windows XP to Windows 7?

My wife’s computer has been in need of a “reformat and reinstall” for some time. It just had some flaky behavior that couldn’t really be attributed to anything specific, other than software rot.

After having and using Windows 7 on two new machines in the last couple of months, I’d come to the conclusion that it was a fine, fine replacement for Windows XP in our situation. The only open question was “would it work on her older machine?”.

There were a couple of minor hiccups, but the short answer is: yes.

Let me describe the machine, my process, and what we have running today.

Continue reading: What are the steps to upgrade Windows XP to Windows 7?

* * *

Someone I met in chat is threatening me – am I safe on my computer?

I met a boy in the chat room and talked to him decently and did not give him any of my personal information. After few days his behavior was not good and I stopped talking to him. He sent me email that was an invitation for speed dating. He once said to me in chat that this attitude will be costly for me in future. I am afraid. Can he harm me? Can he hack my computer to get my information? If yes, can he hack my all accounts or only that particular account which he knows?

Am I safe on my computer?


You’re probably just as safe as you were before ever talking to this person.

But you’re not alone in being concerned. I hear about your kind of situation all the time, and the bottom line question is always the same: “am I safe on my computer”?

The answer isn’t really yes or no, I’m afraid. It depends on a lot of different things, which I’ll review for you.

Continue reading: Someone I met in chat is threatening me – am I safe on my computer?

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*** Comments

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

* * *

How do I find out who owns a Hotmail account?

David L. Burkhart writes:

Thanks, Leo. Great work on the article. And I like the tip jar idea, especially the “Buy Leo a Latte!” slogan. I’ll think about it.

I know this article was posted back in 2005, so to bring the future forensic scientists up-to-date, when investigating mail supposedly from a Hotmail, Live, or similar Microsoft e-mail address, look for “X-Originating-IP” in the mail headers. All of these accounts will generate it if the mail is actually sent thru them.

Leo is right; you usually can’t find out specifics on the person or even the computer it was created on without assistance. However, political pressure has put some investigational committees to work on our behalf. So since our tax dollars are going to them whether we use them or not, if you want to respond to spam effectively, let’s learn how to use them.

First of all, if you are receiving the legal form of spam (the kind that properly identifies who it’s from and how to stop receiving it) and you actually had some form of interaction with the company associated with it, simply unsubscribe. There will be instructions in the e-mail for how to do it.

Now, to report the illegal spam, forward the spam to “spam@uce.gov “. And don’t forget to include all of the e-mail header information. For illegal Microsoft mail account related spam, forward it to “report_spam@hotmail.com ” also.

If you are feeling a little more aggressive, you can usually report the illegal activity to the company controlling the server from which it came and, in instances involving Hotmail, to the ISP involved. First, determine the IP address of the mail server. This is usually the first IP address in the e-mail headers. Next, look up the “whois” information on the company that controls IP address; for example, copy and paste the IP address to the search box at “http://ws.arin.net/whois/”. The example doesn’t work 100% of the time, but is usually sufficient. A majority of results will be responsible enough to include an e-mail address for reporting unsavory practices, such as illegal spam. Just look for the word “spam” or “abuse” and forward the spam to that address, again being sure to include e-mail headers. Repeat the above process to report Hotmail spam to the ISP provider, this time using the IP address from the mail headers labeled “X-Originating-IP”.

The more timely your reporting of illegal spam, the better chances the authorities involved have to do something about it.


Someone I met in chat is threatening me – am I safe on my computer?

Mike writes:

Leo, as far as Facebook or MySpace is concerned, I would be far more concerned with the fact that he has her email address than whether he has her real name. I just did a Facebook search on “Nancy Phillips” (a name I made up for the test) and got over 500 results. It would be almost impossible to identify a particular Nancy Phillips with sketchy information based on the name alone. However, if I had that particular Nancy Phillips’ email address, it would be a cinch. The search would take me right to her profile. I myself have an even more common name (which has a very commonly used nickname), and I could tell this group what my name and state are without really being concerned about anybody finding me (there are multiple people with my name just in my county). But if someone had my email address, one search would have me identified.

If she has an even modestly common name, someone would have a LOT of work to do to find her–unless he has her email address (which this fellow does).

*** Leo Recommends

Fujitsu ScanSnap
A Fast, Sheet-fed Document Scanner

This might appeal to only a small portion of my audience, but I’ve fallen in love with this device, and wanted to share it with those who’d find it as useful as I do.

I’m all about computers; I think you get that. But that also means that I’m all about using them – particularly when it comes to documents and document management. I find digital documents easier to store, backup and search than their paper counterparts. In general, I’d much prefer someone send me an email or give me an electronic copy of whatever document they’re wanting to share – no need to waste paper for me.

On the other hand, between home ownership, running a couple of businesses and more, people are sending me paper every day. Paper that, in all honesty, I should keep – at least for a while. And yet, I’d really rather not.

You might guess that my ideal would be to scan all those documents into digital form, and then discard or shred the physical paper in favor of storing and backing up the documents on my computer. The problem is that traditional flatbed scanners are slow and cumbersome for any volume of scanning. And slow. Did I mention slow? And cumbersome?

The Fujitsu ScanSnap solves those issues.

Continue reading: Fujitsu ScanSnap – A Fast, Sheet-fed Document Scanner


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

I so wish the answer to this were a clear and consistent “yes”, but it’s not.

Can I count on mail to a bad address bouncing back?

Will my Outlook Express email that I send bounce back to me to let me know if the recipient’s email address is closed or no longer exists or will it just go out into space never to be seen again?

Unfortunately, the answer is:

a) both

b) neither

and of course

c) all of the above.

Email bounce messages are both annoying and informative. They can help you fix a problem with an email you’ve sent, or they can simply be another message in a big pile of spam.

Unfortunately about the only thing you can count on is that you cannot count on bounce messages.

Continue reading…
Can I count on mail to a bad address bouncing back?

*** Thoughts and Comments

Got any advice for me?

I’ve had my assistant looking into options for carrying a simple cell phone with me when I travel to Australia and New Zealand next month. There are lots of options, many of them seem fairy expensive for what amounts to a convenience or “backup plan” while I’m out and about.

Do you have experience getting a temporary (3 weeks or so) mobile phone while traveling? It needs to work in Australia and New Zealand, and ideally include not-to-horrific rates for calling back to the U.S.. Skype is already here on my laptop, but that assumes a certain amount of internet connectivity that I may or may not have at all times.

If you’ve got suggestions, just let me know here. It’s very much appreciated!


Last week I promised a write-up of the steps I took to upgrade my wife’s computer to Windows 7. That’s this week’s article What are the steps to upgrade Windows XP to Windows 7? The machine continues to work well. I’m still ironing out a couple of minor issues with my own custom management and backup system, but this has been a “no regrets” upgrade. I’m quite pleased with the results, particularly considering the age of the machine.

Next up: my primary desktop. That may wait until the holidays….

Leo A. Notenboom

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Posted: December 15, 2009 in: 2009
Shortlink: https://newsletter.askleo.com/3950
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