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Practical Computing Advice and Tutorials

Sun: 26 May 2019


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System Protection

Knowledge Is Power ~ Sir Francis Bacon

There are a few things you can do to protect your system from Malware, and the more you learn, the more you'll understand how your computer can be compromised and what steps you can take to prevent that.

At the very least, you should make sure that the system you use has the latest updates and patches installed, not only from the OS provider, but also from any 3rd party software that's on your system.

Operating Systems' updates may happen as an automatic process and you should get a notification that updates are available, but 3rd party apps may require that you check this for yourself. As a general rule, updates should be installed, unless you have a good reason for not doing so.

Well developed apps will have an update option, somewhere. A good place to look is under the 'Help' menu, which may have an 'About' option, from which 'Check for updates' may be available.


Pirated Software

There are many very good and productive apps that are both free to download and free to use [free as in you don't need to pay for them]. But some apps are not free. If you use 'Pirated Software', that is software for which the author requires a payment, but you have either downloaded a 'cracked' version or have been given a copy for which you've not paid the author, you're asking for trouble and you could very well be installing malware by using Pirated Software. If you're lucky, a good Antivirus app will detect this, but you can't rely on it, because well developed malware is able to avoid that kind of inspection. Aside from that, it's theft, which is not only illegal, but it's also immoral, and deprives the author of the revenue needed to support the app as well as develop new apps.


Antivirus Software

An entire industry has been developed to combat malware and a lot of packages are unnecessarily bloated and expensive, requiring a subscription fee to Keep you safe. My take on this is that it's extortion, as there are some very good 'Free to use' solutions that simply monitor your system and keep you informed about what's going on, while at the same time, offering you an option to purchase additional features. Using these packages has to be a well considered option and a full investigation of all the options is not what this site is about. If I were to advise of a good place to start, I'd say start here:~
free-anti-virus-software


Email Attachments and Links

I know, you hear it all the time...Don't open email attachments and don't click on links, but this advice has to be taken literally if you want to protect your computer from malware. That said, we all get emails with links and attachments, so how should you deal with them?

First things first: Computer Operating Mode. If you're NOT doing system administration, then you should NOT be using an Admin Account. That's your first line of defence. If you're running your computer in 'User Mode', any process that tries to start as a result of opening an email attachment, should result in a request for the Admin Password and you should treat any such request as a BIG RED FLAG!

It is possible to download attachments, and then have them checked before opening them: Choose the "Save File" option, not the "Open With" option. See my Tools & Links page for more information about what to do with the file, once it's been saved. Just because the file has not triggered an alert from your AV software, does not mean that the file is safe; it just means that your AV software doesn't recognise it as being malicious.


Macros in Word & Excel

One of the easiest ways for your computer to be compromised is by opening a document in Microsoft Word or Excel in which a malicious Macro has been embedded. A 'Macro' is a set of instructions that will execute the commands contained therein. While Macros can be a very handy way to automate a process and perform some useful functions, they can also be used in a malicious way, so make sure that auto execution of Macros has been disabled and if you get a MS Office document sent to you from ANYWHERE, use one of the checking tools from my Tools & Links page to scan the document before you open it: You don't need to run any Macro instructions to simply view the document, so don't be fooled by any message that tries to trick you into doing so.


Hidden Links & Redirects

Clicking links embedded in any email is risky, to say the least, even if you think you know where the email came from. I say think, because you can't assume that the email has not been spoofed. It's way better to type the url into the address bar of your web browser. Or, if you're not sure if the url is legit, use a srevice such as the one I've linked, below, to first scan it.

https://www.virustotal.com/en/

Hidden links are easy on the eye, but it's also easy to disguise such links and hide the true intention. With most web browsers, simply hovering your mouse pointer over a link will give you an indication, or a hint of where the link will take you. But, again, be very careful and always be suspicious, especially if you're unsure about the origin of the email, or even a link on a web page. If you're in a hurry, or you're unsure, it's probably best to simply ignore it and then come back to it when you have more time to check things before hand: Some links have a redirect action, that is, the link will take you to a page other than the one that's been shown on the page or even by the browser hint, so If In Doubt, Check It Out.


Web Browsing & Content Blockers

One of the fundamental ways that malicious codes can get into your system is by simply browsing the Internet. JavaScript is widely used on many Web Pages and is used for all kinds of stuff, such as advertising, site navigation, and visitor analytics, but it can also be of malicious intent. Simply blocking JavaScript is one way to stop any malicious codes in its tracks, but many sites rely on advertising for revenue and as such, content blocking is a controversial subject. I've had my own moral dilemma over this, but when you become aware of stories such as this one:~

https://freedom-to-tinker.com/2017/11/15/no-boundaries-exfiltration-of-personal-data-by-session-replay-scripts/

...blocking JavaScript seems to be a very prudent choice.

The fact is that allowing scripts and/or flash content to run in your web browser can expose you to malicious content, but even if that were not the case, I would still choose to block ads that had nothing to do with the subject matter of the websites that I visit. I don't use my PC as an extension of my entertainment system; I have dedicated computers for that (my T.V, my PVR, etc...). The websites that I visit are for information, not for entertainment, but it's the malicious content and tracking data that's provided a need for content blockers, and the benign ads are an unfortunate victim of content blockers.

Privacy Badger

https://www.eff.org/privacybadger

While not a 'content blocker' per se, Privacy Badger will block spying ads and invisible trackers, and is primarily a privacy tool, rather than a content/ad blocker. If you're morally against blocking all ads, then give this a try.

NoScript

https://noscript.net/

Giorgio Maone has given us the NoScript Firefox Extension (thank you Giorgio) and is a very good example of how things should be done: Block everything by default, and then only allow what's needed. It's like a Firewall for Firefox!


Adblock Plus

https://adblockplus.org/

Adblock Plus (ABP) was created in 2006 by Wladimir Palant (thank you Wladimir). It's way more than a simple Ad Blocker and will protect you from a variety of threats as well as cleaning up page content.

Thorin Klosowski has done a very good feature on ABP, which you can read here:

https://lifehacker.com/everything-you-can-do-with-adblock-plus-that-isn-t-jus-1469861264

uBlock Origin

https://github.com/gorhill/uBlock/wiki/Blocking-mode

My thanks to Raymond Hill for this excellent wide-spectrum blocker.

The link will provide the information you need. All I can say is that it's very comprehensive.

I'll be posting a tutorial on how best to use this tool, so please call back soon.

Some sites will refuse to show you any content if you're filtering ads with a Content Blocker, while others may simply grumble a little. If I get to a site that won't show me the main content without the ads, that's fine with me; I simply won't use that site; I'll find an alternative. The way I see it is that I've zero intention of buying anything from anywhere, unless that's my motivation for visiting a particular site, in which case, fine show me all the ads you have, otherwise, I simply don't want to know.

The browser extensions I've mentioned here are but a few of the ones you can get, but are the ones that I use.