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   preview   MAIL HACKED? WHAT TO DO. -- April 21, 2016

… what should I do?

If the hackers didn't change you password so you could still access your account. They sent an email to everyone in your contacts list with a dangerous web link.

Google's system blocked the Gmail account due to the suspicious activity – logins from different countries (including Nigeria) in quick succession then sending out a large number of emails. Warning emails where sent by Google to the owners alternate email and texts to the phone (one reason why setting up those alternates is a good idea).

Our suggestions for immediate action:

Change the Gmail or other mail host password. Make sure the new password is strong with a mix of upper & lower case letters, numbers and special characters.

Change your password on other important web sites; banks, other mail accounts, Paypal and other sites which store your credit card or bank account details.

Email an explanation / apology to everyone who may have received the bogus email. Recommend that they delete the message. If they've clicked on the link and, perhaps, entered detail into a web page they should change their main passwords.

You may need to send the messages from another email address if the hacked email account is still limited.

There's a lot of focus on strong passwords for banking and online shopping which stores your credit card details, and those sites are important. But email accounts are the vital key to your digital world. If someone can access your email account, they can see what other web sites you have, your bank accounts, online shopping etc. – all from past emails.

Worse still, they can change passwords on other accounts because the lost password verifications go to your email address.

The above are some first steps to take. Beyond that, there are preventative measures to make sure you don't get hacked again. If your mail account is successfully attacked once, the baddies are more likely to try again.

Also online at

   preview   Keep your data safe by following the Password Commandments -- December 17, 2015

Your first--and sometimes only--line of PC defense is your password. Even the most carefully crafted password can be rendered useless if you don't keep it secret. This is not such an easy thing to do, especially considering all the clever tricks data thieves have come up with to grab it, with or without your knowledge. More dangerous is the lackadaisical approach many people take to creating, using, and protecting their passwords. Here are 10 ways to use passwords to best effect.

1: Don't write it down. Ever. Either it will be so easy to find that you might as well not use any password at all, or you'll forget where you put it and somebody else will find it and use it to access your system. You may think your password is safe on that sticky note inside the third appendix of "Mastering OS/2, Second Edition," but that's the first place your larcenous pet walker will look (apologies in advance to all pet walkers for disparaging their noble profession).

2: Devise a password-creating system that's all yours. There are dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of Web pages and other resources offering advice on how to craft strong passwords. Of course, these are the first places the people in the business of cracking passwords look for tips. It's not difficult to come up with your own system that combines a variety of methods. One possibility is to start by reversing an inactive phone number from your past, then convert the numbers to letters, so "213-555-1212: would become "bm-eee-ll" (remove the hyphens, if you wish). Make it even stronger by adding the street name of your childhood home converted from letters to numbers, which would change "Maple" into "13-1-15-12-5". Now really mix things up by placing the numbers inside the letters: "bme13115125eell".

The benefits of having your own system over using a random password generator is memorability: If you remember your system, you'll look at the above sequence and see the phone number and street name, not just the actual letters and numbers. No, I won't tell you the password-creation system(s) I use, but they don't have anything to do with old phone numbers or street names. Honest.

3: Don't send your password via e-mail or give it out over the phone. OK, there are exceptions to this "rule," such as when your company's help-desk staff are troubleshooting your system over the phone, but even in those rare instances, it's a good idea to change your password immediately after you give it out (see more on changing your password below).

4: Disable AutoComplete for user names and passwords. Yes, this feature of Internet Explorer, Firefox, and other browsers can save you time when you're online, but it also lets anyone who gains access to your Windows login, or to your PC when you're logged in but away, to visit all the secured sites in its database, change the passwords, and otherwise act in ways you may not appreciate. To disable this feature in IE, click Tools > Internet Options > Content, and choose the Settings button in the AutoComplete section. Uncheck User names and passwords on forms (you may also want to uncheck the other two AutoComplete options: Web addresses and Forms). Click OK, and then choose the General tab, and click Delete > Delete Passwords (and any other options, or Delete all to wipe your browser clean). Click Close and OK.

Uncheck User names and passwords on forms in Internet Explorer's AutoComplete Settings dialog box.
In Firefox, simply click Tools > Clear Private Data (or press Ctrl-Shift-Delete), check all the items, and click Clear Private Data Now.

Mozilla Firefox's Clear Private Data dialog box
Erase personal information from the Mozilla Firefox browser by checking items in the Clear Private Data dialog box.

5: Change your password often. Even if you haven't had reason to share it recently (as mentioned above), get into the habit of refreshing stale passwords. The more important the data your password protects, the more often you should update it. One way to force yourself to change your Windows login password is by using the password options in Local Security Policy (it's called "Local Security Settings" in Windows XP). In XP, click Start > Run, type secpol.msc, and press Enter. In Vista, press the Windows key, type secpol.msc, and press Enter. In both versions, select Password Policy under Account Policies. Double-click Maximum password age in the right pane, enter the number of days you want to go between passwords, and click OK. The other options in this dialog box let you enforce password history, set a minimum password age or length, require that the password meet Windows' complexity requirements, and store encrypted passwords.

6: Clear the cache after using a public PC. If you log into a Web site from a PC other than your own, make sure you wipe out all traces of your use by deleting the browser's personal data. See the steps described in "Disable AutoComplete for user names and passwords" above.

Note that many public PCs reset to the defaults as soon as you log out, but don't trust them. In fact, it's good practice to change your passwords whenever you use them in a public setting, even on your own laptop after attending a conference or other event, for example. Snoops love to hang out at such places, whether using a keystroke logger, or simply looking over your shoulder as you log in.

7: If it's too valuable to lose, don't keep it on your PC. If you just discovered the secret to changing marshmallows into gold, you may not want to trust the formula to any hard drive, whether or not it's password-protected, or connected to a network at all. In addition to the threat of data-crackers, the drive could fail, leaving your fate in the hands of some data-recovery service. If you have to store a digital copy of some important file, place it on an optical disc designed specifically for archiving, and store that disc in a safe place, such as a bank deposit box. And--of course--make a copy that you store in a separate, secure location. When optical drives are replaced by some new-fangled storage medium, copy the data to a secure version of that medium, but you probably don't have to worry about this for at least a couple of years.

8: Create a password-reset disk. It doesn't have to be a floppy, which is a good thing since few new PCs even have floppy-disk drives. But a reset disk is the best protection against a bad memory--yours more likely than the computer's. Log into the account you want to protect, open Control Panel's User Accounts applet, select the account, and in XP, click Prevent a forgotten password in the left pane. In Vista, click Create a password reset disk in the left pane. Step through the Forgotten Password Wizard, selecting the removable medium of your choice when prompted. Label the removable device appropriately, and store it somewhere safe but easy to remember. It's one thing to forget your password, but quite another to forget where you put your password reset disk.

9: Use a password-management utility. I hesitate to rely on a third party to protect my passwords, but one that has been around for a long time is RoboForm, which comes in free and $30 Pro versions.

10: Ask for some help to reset your password. If you've forgotten your password and don't have a password-reset disk handy, log onto another administrator account on the system, open the User Accounts applet in Control Panel, click Change an account in XP, or Manage another account in Vista, select the account, and change the password.

   preview   Wipe vs Shred vs Delete vs Erase: What's the Difference? -- November 22, 2015

You can delete a file without erasing it, erase a drive without wiping it, shred a file without deleting it, and wipe hundreds of files at once... that were already deleted.

Confused? I'm not surprised! These four terms - wipe, shred, delete, and erase - might sometimes be used interchangeably but they shouldn't be.

Each word implies something different being done to a file, folder, or even space that looks empty, on a hard drive, flash drive, or some other storage device.

Here's how these concepts differ and why it's important that you understand exactly how they do:

Delete: "Hide Me, but I'll Be Here If You Really Need Me"

The word delete is one we use a lot. A coworker asks if you still have that document on your tablet and you say "I deleted it" or your friend asks if you've "deleted" that photo of him from the party last night.

It's even entered the common lexicon - my son told me once that he "deleted" his gum wrapper. I'm serious (he had thrown it away). It's synonymous with "get rid of" but in reality, that's anything but true.

Here's the truth: when you delete something, be it on your computer, smartphone, digital camera, or anywhere else, you don't remove it from existence, you just hide it from yourself. The actual data that makes up whatever you deleted is still there.

Deleted files, especially ones that were recently deleted, are easy to get back with data recovery software, much of which is freely available online. That's great news if you've made a mistake, but a big problem if you really, truly did want that file gone.

If you want to truly erase data, you'll need to actually erase the data.

Erase: "Are You Sure? You'll NEVER See Me Again!"

The term erase is what most of us are probably after when we get rid of, or try to get rid of, files.

Erasing something, at least in the technology world, implies that it's gone for good.

There are three generally accepted ways to erase data: wipe or scrub it using a special program designed to do such, disrupt the magnetic field of whatever thing is storing the data, or physically destroy the device.

Unless you never want to use the hard drive, memory card, flash drive, or whatnot again, the first method - wiping or scrubbing the data - is what you'll want to do.

In summary: when you erase a file, you make it impossible to get back.

In many ways, wiping data and scrubbing data are identical ways of erasing data. The main difference between the two is the scope of the erasing...

Wipe: "I'm Going to Erase EVERYTHING"

When you wipe a hard drive, or some other storage device, you erase everything that's currently on it, as well as anything you've previously deleted that might still exist.

Programs that can wipe entire drives are often referred to as data destruction software programs. They work by overwriting every divisible part of the drive, used or otherwise, via one of several data sanitization methods.

In summary: when you wipe a drive, you completely and permanently erase everything on it.

Since a wipe erases everything on a drive, it's usually something you do with a storage device once you're done with it or when you want to start over from scratch.

See my How to Wipe a Hard Drive tutorial for a full walkthorugh of this process, something I recommend you do before you sell or give away your computer or hard drive.

Shred: "I'm Going to Erase This, and Only This"

When you shred a piece of data, usually one or more files or folders, you erase whatever it is you selected, and only those items.

Shredding individual files, like wiping entire drives, erases data by overwriting the space with some pattern of 1's and 0's. Programs that do this are called file shredder programs and there are many free ones available.

In summary: when you shred files, you completely and permanently erase them.

Because shredding is something you can do whenever you want to, on a small collection of files, file shredder tools are often installed and used on a regular basis as way to really erase whatever it is you'd otherwise delete.

What About Formatting? Does it Delete or Erase Data?

If you've ever formatted a drive before, you might have been under the impression that it's one way to truly erase a drive. That may or may not have been the correct impression.

In any version of Windows, a quick format is always a fancy way of deleting - not erasing - the files on the drive. That's part of the reason it's so fast!

In Windows XP, the format process, no matter how you do it, is just a whole-drive-delete. The reason a normal format takes so long is because it's checking the drive for issues.

In Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, and Windows Vista, a normal (non-quick) format automatically does a one-pass, write-zero overwriting of data - a very simple wipe, and probably just fine unless you work for the NSA.

   preview   Free up space on your hard drive using your cloud storage's selective sync option -- October 16, 2015

Running out of hard drive space on your PC used to be a problem. It usually meant you had to get a new PC, or offload some files onto an external hard disk, or upgrade your internal drive. All three options were pretty much a pain.

Cloud storage services haven't solved these hassles completely, but they are making it easier to clear up some space on your hard drive.

Google Drive and Microsoft's OneDrive drive are offering ever increasing amounts of free (and free-ish) storage. New Google Drive users start off with 15GB, as do OneDrive users. If you happen to be an Office 365 subscriber you get unlimited storage on OneDrive as part of your subscription.

Dropbox is still comparatively stingy with 2GB of free space, but most users quickly bump that up to 5GB or more with various giveaways and incentives from the company, which leaps all the way to 1TB with a $10 per month or $100 per year subscription.

All three services let you get selective about which files you bring down from the cloud to your desktop. That means you can leave some stuff in your cloud drive and only download it when necessary. Let's explain how to do that, and considerations to keep in mind before you start stashing your valuable files on third-party servers alone.

***** OneDrive
Keeping stuff in OneDrive and not on your Windows 8.1 desktop is as simple as a right-click.

For Windows 8.1 users, keeping stuff up in the cloud with OneDrive is fairly easy. Open OneDrive in Windows Explorer. Anything under the category heading Availability (in Details View) that says Available offline is stored on your hard drive. If it says Online-only it's in the cloud, which is the default.

To switch anything that's on your hard drive to online-only, just right-click it and select Make available online-only. The file will disappear from your hard drive, but remain available for downloading from the cloud via Windows Explorer any time you need it.

Online-only files will still appear when you open the OneDrive folder in Windows Explorer, but the icons are just small 'pointers' to let you know they're available in your cloud storage space. Opening an online-only file will download a local copy of the file and open it.

***** Google Drive
Google Drive lets you selectively sync folders.

To do the same in Google Drive, click the upward facing arrow in the lower right corner of the taskbar. Find the Google Drive icon, right-click it, and select Preferences... Under the Sync options tab check the box that says Only sync some folders to this computer. Then click the folders you want to keep on your hard drive and click Apply changes. The rest will again be gone from your hard drive, but still available in the cloud.

***** Dropbox
Click Dropbox's Selective Sync... button to move folders off your hard drive.

Finally, Dropbox. Go to the same spot in the taskbar as in the Google Drive example, only click the Dropbox icon this time. (On some PCs, the Dropbox icon may appear next to the upward facing arrow on the taskbar.)

Click the settings cog in the upper right corner of the pop-up window that opens and select Preferences...

Another window will open. There click on the Account tab and choose Selective Sync...

Yet another window opens with a list of folders on your PC. Just de-select the folders that you don't want to keep on your hard drive and click Update, then OK.

In the case of both Dropbox and Google Drive you can always access files not on your hard drive by visiting the website for each service.

***** What to put in the cloud:
Now that you know how to leave your files up in the cloud, the question is what should you leave up there?

If you have a large amount of cloud storage the easiest option is to offload large files that aren't used very often, such as videos or pictures. Those with less storage may have to be more selective, possibly even choosing a mix of documents, photos, and videos.

***** Other considerations:
It's unlikely that your files will disappear from the servers of Dropbox, Google, Microsoft, or any other well known cloud storage provider. Nevertheless, it's still wise to make your own backup of cloud-stored files on an external drive in your own home or, at the very least, with another cloud storage or cloud back-up provider.

Also, keep in mind that once you start depending on the cloud to be your primary storage for personal photos and documents, it pays to maintain the best security you can. Dropbox, Google, and Microsoft all offer two-factor authentication. Make sure you use it. Your password should also be at least 10-12 characters long and completely random. Use a password manager like KeePass or LastPass to store your passwords if you're worried you'll forget it.

Other than that there are also the privacy implications of storing personal data in the cloud. But you've probably already considered that since you're using cloud storage to begin with.

   preview   How to Reset Internet Explorer -- October 16, 2015

1. Close all Internet Explorer and Explorer windows that are currently open.
2. Start Internet Explorer.
3. On the Tools menu, tap or click Internet options. If you don't see the Tools menu, press Alt.
4. In the Internet Options window, tap or click the Advanced tab.
5. Tap or click Reset. If you're using Windows Internet Explorer 6, click Restore Default.
6. In the Reset Internet Explorer Settings dialog box, tap or click Reset.

Select the Delete personal settings check box if you also want to remove browsing history, search providers, Accelerators, home pages, Tracking Protection, and ActiveX Filtering data.

7. When Internet Explorer finishes applying default settings, tap or click Close, and then tap or click OK.
8. Exit and then start Internet Explorer.


If you are running Windows 8, start Internet Explorer for the desktop. Changing your settings will affect both Internet Explorer and Internet Explorer for the desktop.

If you close all visible windows, but still get an error message when trying to reset, you might have programs running that are not visible. Restart Windows, start Internet Explorer, and try resetting again.

If you cannot start Internet Explorer, you can open the settings window by pressing Windows Key + R, typing inetcpl.cpl in the Run box, and then pressing Enter. After the window is open, follow step 4 to step 8.

   preview   How to Reset Chrome Browser Settings -- October 16, 2015

Google Chrome gives you the option to reset your browser settings in one easy click. In some cases, programs that you install can change your Chrome settings without your knowledge. You may see additional extensions and toolbars or a different search engine. Resetting your browser settings will reset the unwanted changes caused by installing other programs. However, your saved bookmarks and passwords will not be cleared or changed.

Reset your browser settings:

1. Click the Chrome menu on the browser toolbar.
2. Select Settings.
3. Click Show advanced settings and find the "Reset browser settings” section.
4. Click Reset browser settings.
5. In the dialog that appears, click Reset.

Note: When the "Help make Google Chrome better by reporting the current settings" checkbox is selected you are anonymously sending Google your Chrome settings. Reporting these settings allows us to analyze trends and work to prevent future unwanted settings changes.

Resetting your browser settings will impact the settings below:

Default search engine and saved search engines will be reset and to their original defaults.
Homepage button will be hidden and the URL that you previously set will be removed.
Default startup tabs will be cleared. The browser will show a new tab when you startup or continue where you left off if you're on a Chromebook.
New Tab page will be empty unless you have a version of Chrome with an extension that controls it. In that case your page may be preserved.
Pinned tabs will be unpinned.
Content settings will be cleared and reset to their installation defaults.
Cookies and site data will be cleared.
Extensions and themes will be disabled.

   preview   How to Reset Firefox Browser -- October 16, 2015

The Reset Firefox feature can fix many issues by restoring Firefox to its factory default state while saving your essential information. Note: This will cause you to lose any Extensions, Open websites, and some Preferences.

To Reset Firefox do the following:

Go to Firefox > Help > Troubleshooting Information.
Click the "Reset Firefox" button.
Firefox will close and reset. After Firefox is done, it will show a window with the information that is imported. Click Finish.
Firefox will open with all factory defaults applied.

What does the reset feature do?

All of your Firefox settings and personal information are stored in your profile folder. The reset feature works by creating a new profile folder for you while saving your most important data.

Firefox will keep the following data:

Browsing history
Open windows and tabs
Web form auto-fill information
Personal dictionary

The following items and settings will be removed:

Extensions and themes: Although they can be incredibly helpful, some extensions and themes can cause problems.
Site-specific preferences, search engines, download history, DOM storage, security certificate settings, security device settings, download actions, plugin MIME types, toolbar customizations and user styles.

Note: After the reset is finished, your old Firefox profile information will be placed on your desktop in a folder named "Old Firefox Data." If the reset didn't fix your problem you can restore some of the information not saved by copying files to the new profile that was created.

   preview   Toshiba Satallite Laptop Reset -- October 16, 2015

Using Partitioned Recovery Method (Free Recovery)

Most Toshiba laptops with come with the factory software recovery image stored in a special hidden partition on the hard drive of the laptop. The factory software recovery image allows the user to recover the laptop to its factory fresh condition as when it was new.
This partition may also be referred to as the Partitioned Recovery Method or Free Recovery option.

IMPORTANT: The recovery process deletes information stored on the internal storage drive. Be sure to save your work to external media before executing the recovery.

Make sure the computer is turned off ("Shut-down" from the Windows Start menu).

Remove any peripherals such an external mouse, keyboard, monitor, USB flash drive etc.

Make sure the AC Adapter is plugged in and working.

On machines with the F key numbers on the top edge of the keys and in White:

• Press and hold the 0 (zero) key and power up the laptop.
• Release the 0 (zero) key when the recovery warning screen appears.

On machines with the F key numbers on the bottom edge of the keys and in Gray:

• Power up the laptop.
• When the initial TOSHIBA screen displays, press the F12 key to enter the boot menu.
• Use the arrow keys to select the HDD Recovery option and press the enter key to begin.

The TOSHIBA recovery wizard warning screen appears stating that when the recovery is executed all data will be deleted and the original factory software image will be rewritten. If the recovery process offers a choice of Operating Systems, select the appropriate one for you.
After you are sure you have everything you want from the laptop saved, click Yes.
When the Toshiba Recovery Wizard opens, the default and recommended option is "Recovery of Factory Default Software".
After selecting your desired recovery method, select Next.
On the next screen you may have recovery method options. The default and recommended method is to Recover to Out of Box state.
Select next to continue.
Follow the on screen instructions as you navigate through the system recovery steps.
The laptop will restart multiple times and install the needed components.