Leo's Answers #210 – December 22, 2009

A Weekly Newsletter From
Ask Leo!
Leo Notenboom

Hello!

Do you have a question for me? Don't hit reply! Head instead for the Ask Leo! home page and search the site first - seriously, around half the questions people ask are already answered there. You can also browse the archives, past newsletters and more. If you still can't find the answer you're looking for then by all means ask your question here (it's the fastest way).

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*** New Articles

How long does Hotmail keep email?

Do you know how long the item in the hotmail-inbox is preserved? In other words: when will the messages automatically be removes by MSN? Furthermore: does MSN keep a log of all mails received on the incoming mail server? The reason I ask is that I receive legally important mails which I want to be able to reproduce or proof its existence.

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In my opinion, if you need it for legal purposes you should not, not, NOT be using Hotmail. Or any free email service, for that matter.

I have nothing against them, per se, they're fine services when used properly. But if you saw the constant stream of questions I get relating to lost accounts, lost email and worse, and the inconsistent or total lack of customer support at times, you'd understand why I take such a hard line on free email accounts.

I'll answer your question, but I'll also recommend some alternatives.

Continue reading: How long does Hotmail keep email?
http://ask-leo.com/C3955

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Why are there limits to attachment sizes in some places and not others?

Why is hotmail limited to 10 MB in attachment when other emails like Mozilla Thunderbird allow for more? And do most bulletin boards have limits when trying to put images and scans on them. Numerous people have used the above then stop using them because most do not realize there are limits with images and scanned documents allowed as attachments.

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Well, first we have to make sure to compare apples to apples - comparing Hotmail to Thunderbird is really an invalid comparison. I realize that you see them as "email", but in fact they are two very, very different things.

And then we need to talk about costs, and speed.

Hotmail's costs, and your recipient's speed.

Continue reading: Why are there limits to attachment sizes in some places and not others?
http://ask-leo.com/C3954

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Should I Compress and Encrypt my backups?

In my backup program should I click compress contents to save disk space? And encrypt contents to secure data? Why wouldn't I always want to do both?

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Compression is in general an easy choice these days - turn it on unless you run into issues I'll talk about in a moment.

Encryption requires a little more thought. It boils down to a risk/risk tradeoff - the risk of your backup being compromised, versus the risk of not being able to get back into it yourself.

Continue reading: Should I Compress and Encrypt my backups?
http://ask-leo.com/C3953

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Can someone I'm IM'ing with see my machine or hard disk?

Is it possible for a friend in MSN messenger (or a supposed good friend) to tap into my hard drive once a connection is established with this person? There is one who is an old flame and I wonder at her occasional conversations if indeed she could be snooping such as in My Pictures folders, etc. I do not save any conversations so that could not be found.

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Not if you've set things up properly and follow normal security precautions, no.

And even then, in most cases, it's still extremely difficult.

In reality there's nothing all that special about instant messaging. As long as you take into account all the appropriate cautions for security the most the other person might be able to get is your IP address. And as we've spoken of time and time again, that's not very useful.

Let's review what you need to do to stay safe.

Continue reading: Can someone I'm IM'ing with see my machine or hard disk?
http://ask-leo.com/C3952

* * *

Does a BIOS password protect the contents of my laptop?

As far as safeguarding access to your PC or laptop, won't entering a username or password in the boot menu protect others from getting into your PC at all?

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By "boot menu" I'm going to assume you mean the menu that may be presented by your BIOS immediately after it performs its self-test, and before the operating system is loaded.

In short: with one exception, no.

To be fair, it makes things more difficult - sometimes quite difficult - but ultimately we have to return to something I've been saying for a long time:

If it's not physically secure, it's not secure.

Continue reading: Does a BIOS password protect the contents of my laptop?
http://ask-leo.com/C3951

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*** Comments

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

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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).

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

xXx writes:

Leo, you may not wanna be sure about not being able to locate physically anybody using the IP address. Nowadays it's so easy. Just FYI.

*I work for a SPY compay and we do it all the time.

Prove it, please. I get people telling me "it's easy" (or worse, "it must be easy because my brother's friend's housecleaner did it once") all the time. To the average person without the help of law enforcement it simply isn't that easy. I'll happily rethink that when someone proves me wrong by showing exactly how the average person can do it legally.

-Leo

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What if I just can't get installation media with my new machine?

Digitrunner writes:

Most newer computers and some not so new, especially laptops and netbooks no longer ship with CD's they do however ship with hidden directories that will restore the machine to factory defaults based on certain key presses at boot up...consult your manual or manufacturer's website.

Unfortunately when your hard drive dies those hidden directories are no longer accessible, and you then have nothing. You need installation media.

-Leo

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TrueCrypt - Free Open Source Industrial Strength Encryption

Maxkam1 writes:

TrueCrypt provides additional protection to your data so that when your storage device falls into the wrong hand, the data cannot be retrieve easily. But it does not mean that the data cannot be retrieve at all.

That is correct. Brute force attempts to crack properly setup encryption will take years (if not decades or centuries), but it's theoretically possible. The true weakest link is the passphrase you choose - choose something simple that anyone can guess, and all the encryption in the world won't help you.

-Leo

*** Leo Recommends

Dell
PC Desktops, Laptops and Accessories

I'm taking a bit of a risk with today's recommendation because I know that Dell has its detractors and horror stories. The question as a friend put it is "do they have more, on average, as compared to other computer manufacturers?"

My opinion is they do not.

But I do have a few suggestions to make your Dell experience more like mine, and less like the ones getting all the negative publicity.

I own, or have owned, probably a dozen Dell computers over the years. Each has served me well, and each has lasted longer than the ever-increasing system requirements of operating systems like Windows. My Dells don't leave because they've irreparably failed; they're more likely to fall out of use because they can no longer be expanded to support the latest version of Windows, or handle newer and more demanding applications. My Dells have all lasted for years.

Continue reading...

Dell - PC Desktops, Laptops and Accessories
http://ask-leo.com/C3648

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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

Timely, considering one of this week's current articles.

Why is using Hotmail for my business such a bad idea?

I've seen you rail against using Hotmail for "anything important", and you call out using it for business as a particularly bad idea. Why? What do you have against Hotmail? Why should I incur yet another expense for my small business if I can get email for free?

Because you want your email to get through, and because you want your business to be taken seriously.

I don't have anything against Hotmail, per se, or Microsoft for that matter. Remember, I worked there for many years.

My issues with Hotmail and other free email services arose mostly out of my experience here on Ask Leo!. Or, to put it more correctly, the experience of thousands of people asking me questions.

Those experiences lead me to this conclusion: using Hotmail or any free email service exclusively is bad for your business.

Let me explain why I hold that opinion that so strongly.

Continue reading...
Why is using Hotmail for my business such a bad idea?
http://ask-leo.com/C2875

*** Thoughts and Comments

Many, many thanks to everyone who sent in ideas for cellular coverage while travelling "down under" next month. (NEXT MONTH? Yikes!).

There was a strong consensus to get an unlocked GSM phone, and simply purchase a SIM card, either from one of several on-line venues, or when I arrive. Unfortunately I don't have an unlocked GSM phone - I'm on Verizon, whom I love for their U.S. coverage, but who are not GSM compatible. So you basically confirmed the research that my assistant had done and the costs involved.

My (inexpensive) unlocked GSM phone arrives this week, and I'll be making a decision on which SIM card to grab based on my needs sometime this week as well.

Again, thank you all for the advice, it's very much appreciated.

Some of you may remember Computer Shopper magazine. Up until earlier this year it was a largish print publication that was always fun for us geeks to grab and thumb through.

Like many print media, Computer Shopper has mophed into a pretty nice web site with much of the style, content and flavor of the old print publication.

I ended up looking at them recently after they contacted me and let me know that Ask Leo! was featured in one of their "blogs we like" segments. It was nice to be mentioned, but also nice to see that an industry veteran is still around and doing well.

Leo
Leo A. Notenboom

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Leo A. Notenboom & Puget Sound Software, LLC.


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