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Leo's Answers #221 – March 9, 2010

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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. (The “ask a question” form is temporarily disabled while I’m on vacation. More on that below.)

Newsletter questions? Check the newsletter administration page. You can also unsubscribe using the link at the bottom of this email.

*** New Articles

How do I know when it’s safe to allow programs that cause the User Account Control (UAC) notification to occur?

With Vista and now Windows 7, I get prompted to allow or dis-allow programs looking to access my computer – to give my permission for that or to deny. I have no idea how to know what is legit, illegitimate, or grey area (like manufacturer of my laptop collecting info on my computer use to try to sell me more stuff). Any ideas?

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What you’re seeing, of course, is Windows “User Account Control” or UAC – a feature not unlike that present in both Linux and the Mac operating systems. The basic premise is that before software does anything that would (or could) potentially install software or otherwise harm your computer, the system simply asks first.

The knee-jerk reaction is “if you’re not sure, say no”. However, there are some things you can keep in mind that will let you be a little more sure a little more often, and as a result allow you to make a more informed decision.

Continue reading: How do I know when it’s safe to allow programs that cause the User Account Control (UAC) notification to occur?
http://ask-leo.com/C4207

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When do I actually need to run a virus scan?

Do you have more than one anti-virus program running at any one time, to stop newly arriving viruses, or do you just have them ready to run when you’ve got a virus and want to clean it out?

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Virus scanners are best used to prevent viruses from ever reaching your machine, but you raise a very good issue that most folks don’t realize.

There are two types of scans, and each has a place and a purpose.

Continue reading: When do I actually need to run a virus scan?
http://ask-leo.com/C2250

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What are the pros and cons of web-based email over desktop email?

My wife and I once used Eudora where email was downloaded, but right now seem to be happy with the huge amount of space we have available for our web-based email on the ISP’s servers. We do lots of housekeeping, retaining only what we need for as long as we need it. What other things should we consider? What does a traditional email program like Thunderbird provide that we might consider?

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Web-based and PC-based or downloaded email are two fairly radically different ways to approach email. As you can imagine, there are arguments in favor of or against each, and which might be most appropriate for you depends on many things, not the least of which is what “feels” right to you.

I’ll look at both, identifying what I think are the important issues, and also outline the approach I take.

Continue reading: What are the pros and cons of web-based email over desktop email?
http://ask-leo.com/C4203

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Why did you tell people you weren’t going to be home?

In your past few newsletters you mentioned that you were on a trip to down under. I wonder whether this is good practice. Lately there has been some rumor here about an internet site that mentions who is at home and who is not, based on public information they gather from the internet. They do this just to show how volatile people make themselves for burglary, just by tweeting around where they hang out. And although this site does it just to show and warn people (or at least they say so), others do the same thing for less altruistic reasons. And you helped them a great deal: shouting aloud “I’m not home!” Wouldn’t it be worth to spend an article about this?

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I’ve actually had a couple of people ask me this since I returned from my three week trip to Australia and New Zealand.

It is something I considered before I left, so it was indeed a decision I made rather than an accident.

I’ll share some of my thoughts.

Continue reading: Why did you tell people you weren’t going to be home?
http://ask-leo.com/C4199

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Why is email between Hotmail accounts lost?

I used to exchange email with my husband using Hotmail. For the last year I can only send but can’t receive from him anymore? What do you think happened? Would putting my email address as an alternative email in his account help? How can we resolve this problem?

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To be completely honest, I’m not sure you can resolve it.

I’ve been getting more and more reports of email being lost – simply not being received – by Hotmail accounts.

And while I haven’t seen any patterns, I’ll speculate some on possible causes.

Continue reading: Why is email between Hotmail accounts lost?
http://ask-leo.com/C4196

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*** Comments

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

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Do I need a firewall, and if so, what kind?

Brian writes:

If you don’t have file sharing turned on, and you know the things to avoid on internet such as popups, then I fail to see the justification for a firewall. This seems to me to be one of those forms of brainwashing that’s occurred in the computer world where due to typical user stupidity, people are absolutely convinced that this is therefore their “internet condom”. Can you provide any more plausible/logical reason on *why* this is even helpful if you know your way around a pc backwards-and-forwards?

There have been vulnerabilities – both as bugs and as configuration choices – in network-facing protocols other than file sharing that have allowed malware to infect a system not protected by a firewall – even for systems owned by people who claim to know their way around a computer backwards and forwards.

-Leo

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How do I know what to believe on the internet?

Mark writes:

Here’s my unsolicited testimony. Try the WOT (web of trust) plug in for Firefox and IE. It’s a user rated service that warns about untrustworthy websites. It’s not perfect but it’s a good tool in avoiding scams. BTW they give Ask Leo an excellent rating. 🙂

The concern I have with sites like WOT is that you still don’t know who’s writing the opinions – they could, in fact, be fake, or have a hidden agenda. I’m not saying that they are. But if I piss someone off with a review or opinion they disagree with, one way they could “get back at me” would be to go fabricate a negative review of my site. Or consider a site that plans to cause trouble in the future – all they need do is seed sites like WOT with (fake) glowing reviews to give people a false sense of safety. WOT and sites like it are a fine resource, but sadly they, too, must be taken with a grain of salt.

-Leo

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I have a massive malware infection, should I just get a new machine?

Charles Tilley writes:

In the first place, prevention is always less expensive than cure. You don’t have to pay big bucks for prevention, in fact, I’ve never spent a cent in my entire computing life towards it. For a long time, I used Avast, along with SuperAnti Spyware for a second scan. I do these twice weekly. There’s also Windows Live Safety Scanner, they have XP & below and a Vista / Windows 7 versions. Then(if you’re a legit Windows user), you get a free tool from Microsoft every month, their Malicious Software Removal Tool. This runs automatically, but you can run it manually. In Vista / Windows 7 click Start, type “mrt” w/o the quotes, you can run the scanner how you want. Since I’ve moved to Windows 7, I’ve made only one change, I switched to Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE), as my main anti-virus. You have every tool here to keep your system clean, if only you will USE them along with smart computing practices. No Pirate Bay, P2P sites and so forth. We can talk cure all we want, prevention is the key. And whatever browser you choose (that’s your preference), keep it updated to the latest version. By doing these things, you shouldn’t need to worry about a malware infected PC, and enjoy your cyber life.

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How do you ask a question when you don’t even know the right words to use?

Allen Woodside writes:

Dear Leo, I’m so glad your archive includes the topic: “How do you ask a question when you don’t even know the right words to use?” I’ve had several computers and operating systems since the mid eighties and I’m still learning something new every day and especially with every up graded system. Sometimes I’m asked for help by friends or family. As eager as I am to lend some help, I’m often hampered by the person’s lack of understanding of fundamental computer related terms necessary to either describe the problem or ask a question. (Whatchamacallit, dojigger, thingamjig, etc., just doesn’t cut it!) I’m sending everyone I know a link to this article that is so well written. I’m also going to mention an important lesson I learned both professionally and as a computer owner. It’s quite simple…