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Leo's Answers #227 – April 20, 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.)

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*** New Articles

Is it possible to hack an IP address?

Last week while I was using my friends laptop, he found out that his Gmail account had been breached ( according to the account activity on Gmail). I accessed my own Gmail account just before or the same time. Now it seemed like I accessed his email, which I did not. His Gmail account activity shows the same IP address as the one I used.

Is it possible that someone could have hacked in and used the same IP address to access my friends Gmail account?

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In short, probably not.

IP addresses are technically not able to be hacked. They’re fundamental to routing data on the internet, and as such an attempt to hack an IP address would break the hackers connection to whatever he was trying to access.

However, there are actually a couple of common reasons that accesses from two different machines might appear to be from the same IP address.

I’ll look at ’em both.

Continue reading: Is it possible to hack an IP address?
http://ask-leo.com/C4269

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Does leaving my external hard drive connected put its contents at risk from malware?

I have an external drive that I use to backup my data, and it is permanently connected to a USB port. Is there a significant risk that a virus could enter my system destroying all my data including the data on the external drive? (I use Norton protection package that comes with Comcast).

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I won’t call it significant, but yes, there is a risk.

And what you describe isn’t even the biggest risk.

That being said, I’ll put it this way: when coupled with good behaviour and good tools, I leave my external hard drives plugged in all the time as well.

I’ll tell you why.

Continue reading: Does leaving my external hard drive connected put its contents at risk from malware?
http://ask-leo.com/C4264

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How do I transfer my system to a replacement hard drive?

My hard Drive states that failure is imminent & I should replace it immediately. My questions are as follows: When I replace my hard drive, will I need to install a new operating system? Is there a way to clone my current hard drive completely including my operating system? If I am able to clone my entire Hard Drive, will I need hardware or some device to set up between the old hard Drive and the new while I do the transfer? What is the best way to save my existing files if I can’t salvage my entire hard drive? Are there software programs that can help me do this?

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There are indeed programs that can help. They’re called “backup programs”.

While there are many, many ways to do what you’re looking to do, I’m going to review what I think is the most appropriate way.

In fact, it’s the very way that I just recently did exactly what you’re asking about.

Continue reading: How do I transfer my system to a replacement hard drive?
http://ask-leo.com/C4261

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Does using a virtual machine keep me safer?

I’ve just installed Ubuntu 10.4 under Sun Virtual Box. As I was playing and surfing the web with it, I started thinking that this could be a much safer way to surf, as what is happens on the virtual box stays on the virtual box, to paraphrase Tom Hanks. Question: is this really as safe as I think?

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Probably not.

Don’t get me wrong, using a virtual machine (or “VM”) can add a very significant layer of security and safety, and can be an extremely useful approach to increasing both.

But it’s not a perfect solution, and if its limitations aren’t considered it can be quite dangerous simply by giving you a false sense of security in areas that it doesn’t really help.

Continue reading: Does using a virtual machine keep me safer?
http://ask-leo.com/C4260

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Why should I use a different computer to send anonymous email?

About sending anonymous email. You say “step one use someone else’s computer…or public library computers.” Question: why use someone else’s computer? Why not to take a laptop to an internet cafe, create fake account there, send an email, and then later check responses not from home? Do PCs, laptops have a unique ID?

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Computers don’t really have a unique ID that would make it into your outgoing email.

However.

Email headers sometimes contain a lot of information that, when examined, or used with other information, can often result in some surprising deductions.

Like “Oh, it must’ve been Leo that sent that email!”

Continue reading: Why should I use a different computer to send anonymous email?
http://ask-leo.com/C4259

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*** Comments

How do I contact Windows Live Hotmail customer service?

Valdon Daniel II writes:

I have contacted customer service several times and I desperately need assistance. Somehow my email password was changed and it locked me out of my account. I have job related and urgent emails that I need to respond to and can’t access. I changed the password sometime in January 2010. However, someone changed it within the last 1-2 weeks. HELP!!!!! Send response to [email address removed] or call my new home # [phone number removed]. THIS IS URGENT!!! I need access ASAP or can you forward the emails to another account for me?

As is stated in several places I cannot recover lost or hacked accounts. The article you just commented on contains the information I can provide. I’m sorry that you’ve lost what’s in your account (I don’t believe you can get it back), but that’s why I caution so often and so strongly against keeping anything important in only a single, free, email account. Learn from this experience and backup important data in the future.

-Leo

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What’s the difference between an ad and your recommendation?

ausGeoff writes:

Hi there Leo,

Thank you once again for an as-always informative newsletter – much appreciated!

I fully understand (and appreciate from a financial standpoint) where you’re coming from with this discussion about advertising.

I’ve been “into” computing since the mid-1980s so I do acknowledge the need for free sites to survive largely by displaying random (and often non content-controlled) advertising on their site’s pages.