What is Malware? (and how to prevent and get rid of it)

Malware logo Crystal 128.
Malware logo Crystal 128. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you ever get suspicious that your PC has been infected? Particularly if your applications start falling over or slowing down?

I do.

I start getting worried but then convince myself I’m being paranoid – there are loads of reasons why apps fall over or run slower, and my firewall and antivirus software would have stopped anything suspect, right?

Finally, last week, prompted by an article by Jack Wallen for TechRepublic, I looked into what Malware is and whether I needed to do anything extra to protect my PC. This is particularly important coming up to the silly season as I plan to do as much of my Xmas shopping online as humanly possible. Taking two toddlers anywhere is difficult at the best of times, I can’t even contemplate Xmas shopping with them..

So, what is Malware?

According to Wikipedia Malware is

software used or created to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems.

We are probably most familiar with Malware such as viruses, trojans and worms which have been around since the dawn of computers. Today, Malware on personal PC’s would most likely be looking for personal information to use for profit – possibly by recording your keystrokes (very creepy..). You’ve probably heard at some point that only Windows PC’s are targeted, but it’s important to know that Mac’s are not immune. Since 2007 there has been a rapid increase in the number of viruses found on Mac’s and as more and more users switch to Mac’s the number of viruses will also increase.

What do Trusted Sites have to do with Malware?

Very little hopefully! Website owners pay companies such as Norton (Symantec) to run tests on their site to make sure Malware is kept out. One danger to us is that, without this level of security, a Malware creator may have found a way to inject their Malware into perfectly good software that we want to download – and when we install it, the Malware gets installed too. Most Malware is created so cleverly that you can’t see that you have it installed at all – not even in your programs or processes list. If a website is secured it will have a badge such as the Norton one here and you can be pretty sure it’s safe. Make sure you only download or buy from trusted sites.

Is Spyware a type of Malware?

This is the $64,000 question! Hmmm… yes and no. Spyware is designed to track what you do on the internet and use that information in some way to benefit the Spyware creator, so technically if you haven’t explicitly installed it, yes, it is Malware. It’s a funny one though, because some forms of Spyware are useful – like the ones that target ads at your interests, or suggest similar music or websites you might like (unless you don’t want anyone to know what your interests are….). Some Spyware is also packaged with legitimate software and the licence agreement vaguely worded to cover the use of it by the company – and since practically no one reads licence agreements you don’t know you are agreeing to it. A bit sneaky I reckon.

I’m getting paranoid now, how do I check if I have Malware on my pc?

Your security/firewall/antivirus software should run disk scans and check all your downloads – but it’s also useful to use a few different utilities and run them manually the odd time when you get worried. Malware is constantly evolving so there’s a risk that one utility will detect new ones faster than another.

Just to be safe, I have installed two – Malwarebytes (on a 60 day free trial) which was recommended by Jack Wallen who says its great for detecting Spyware; and Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removing tool because, despite some detractors from the anti-Microsoft camp, it’s seems to work as well as any other tool – and it’s free! They were both very easy to install and run but can take a while to go through all your drives if you have a lot on them.

The good news is neither tool found anything on this PC (and if they had they would have automatically removed it) – woo hoo!

Top tip

The easiest and best way to keep your computer (or tablet, or phone) Malware free is to always keep your operating system and anti-virus software up to date. Make sure you switch automatic updates on – your system will be protected from any new viruses as early as possible.

And for an extra credit..

Ever wanted to know the difference between a virus, a trojan and a worm? If so – read on…

According to Wikipedia, a virus is something that gets distributed by you taking some action – like opening a dodgy attachment from someone which then infects your PC with a virus and can be passed on. During the late 90’s there were a few big ones that used your address book and email to distribute itself on – remember those? Mostly harmless from what I recall, before the online banking and shopping boom of course.

A trojan (from the trojan horse of Greek mythology) is Malware that gets installed along with desirable software. Spyware is commonly distributed in this way – but as mentioned above, you may actually be agreeing to it in the terms and condition.

A worm, on the other hand, actively transmits itself over a network to infect other computers.

So now you know ūüôā

If you’d like to know more about Malware, click through to Jack Wallen’s and Wikipedia’s articles linked above or on some of the articles listed below.

Wishing you a very pleasant and Malware-free online shopping season!

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Top 5 Apps Your Kids Will Love This Week

See on Scoop.itUseful Apps

Chris Crowell is a veteran kindergarten teacher and contributing editor to Children’s Technology Review, a web-based archive of articles and reviews on apps, technology toys and video games. Download a free issue of CTR …

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I’m back!

Hello again! ¬†Two months is a long time between posts… ¬†I’ve had a crazy few months with visiting relatives and an insane time at work (insane busy but mainly insane, insane) and I’ve been finding it hard to focus on putting a post together – but this evening I’ve finally done it – yay me!

I’m planning on finishing in time to hook up with Jess for IBOT¬†next week. ¬†It’s on that bugbear “malware“. ¬†Like most of my posts it will be short and (hopefully) informative, but mainly short. ¬†Lucky for me I called this blog “technology tidbits”, if it ¬†implied anything bigger I’d never get a post out…. til then, adieu!

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Are you acting your social media age?

I hadn’t even heard of some of these…

Social media use by age group
Social Media Demographics via VentureBeat

Joining Trish for Wordless Wednesday here

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Find of the week: Polyvore.com (dress-ups for grown-ups)

I randomly saw a reference to Polyvore this week and had to go try it out. ¬†Hours of fun! It took me just a few minutes (at least that’s what it felt like…) to put together an outfit (known as a “Polyvore set”) and post it here. I could even click through an item and buy it if I happened to have my credit card handy (very dangerous).
It’s like having those cardboard cut out dolls and paper outfits of my childhood but with an unlimited amount of real clothes – what’s not to like??
Try it out here: www.polyvore.com
Have you heard of it?  Have you used it?  What do you think?
1990's style for 2012

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5 essentials Microsoft Surface must get right (IMHO)

 

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 18:  The Microsoft tabl...
LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 18: The Microsoft tablet Surface (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

There’s a lot of talk about what the new Microsoft surface tablet will do – call me skeptical, but I want to actually use it before I get too excited. ¬†I have a Windows 7 tablet that I thought would be a cross over device (both laptop and tablet), just like Windows Surface. As it is, I¬†have 5 major peeves with it, and these are 5 things that the Surface must do well (not just “do”) before I’ll buy it.

Background

I have an Asus EP 121 Slate and have a love hate relationship with it. Mainly because I tried to use it as my primary device for about 6 months (when my laptop died) which accentuated it’s drawbacks. ¬†I absolutely love the concept of the cross over device and have high hopes for Surface.

ASUS Eee Pad Slate
ASUS Eee Pad Slate (Photo credit: Masaru Kamikura)

Microsoft Surface Top 5 “Must Haves”¬†

1. A built in kick stand that works:  Why is this my #1?  Because my Slate just would not stand up properly, period.  What seemed at the start to be a minor inconvenience very quickly became a major issue.  I Skype my folks back home with the kids twice a week and the cover/stand just would not support it properly, especially if the kids so much as breathed on it.  My folks spent quite a bit of time talking to the ceiling, a nice decorative ceiling, but they would have preferred to see their grandkids.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 18:  The Microsoft tabl...
LOS ANGELES, CA РJUNE 18: The Microsoft tablet Surface is unveiled during a news conference at Milk Studios on June 18, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

2. A great integrated keyboard: The keyboard that came with the Slate was always somewhere else. ¬†Not the manufacturers fault you would think, but it was quite big relative to the Slate so would be stored in a cupboard somewhere random and unfindable. ¬†I also found the onscreen keyboard really difficult to use accurately, which is strange considering I can easily type emails on my iPhone. That, combined with the Slate constantly falling over, meant I used my iPhone as my primary emailing device for most of the 6 months I was without a laptop. I can’t wait to find out if the keyboard cover for the Surface works well, it certainly looks fantastic.

3. Light and Truly Portable:¬†The Slate is officially 1.16kg (2.6lbs) but feels much heavier. In fact, it’s 1.57kg (3.5lbs) with battery and case according to my kitchen scales.¬†It’s got a 12.1 inch display and is¬†312 x 207.2 x 16.95 mm (WxDxH) overall. ¬†This combined with the weight means it’s not small and light enough to carry around in my handbag and use as a truly portable device. Surface promises to be 0.7-0.9kgs (1.5 – 2lbs) and 9-13mm thick, almost half the weight and thickness of my Slate.

4. Long Battery Life: ¬†The Slate officially had 4.5 hours but didn’t seem to last that long. It will be interesting to see how Surface fares. ¬†Good battery life on a portable device is obviously essential.

5. ¬†Great Windows 8 touch screen experience: I cannot wait to try out Windows 8 (I did try to upgrade to the pre release but had some issues). Everyone knows that Windows 7 doesn’t provide the best touch screen experience but it’s worth mentioning here as it contributed to my overall underwhelming experience.

So there you have it.  If you have been lucky enough to get close to a Surface tablet and can comment on any of the above, please do!

Anything else you think Surface must do before you’d buy it?

You might also like to read : 10 reasons I can’t wait to get a Microsoft Surface Tablet by Debra Littlejohn Shinder at TechRepublic

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App of the Week: Readability

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

Why Readability?

Last week I wrote this post on how many of us are using tablets as reading/consuming devices on the move and leaving our laptops at home. Readability is making it really easy for me to save articles to read later on the train.

What does it do?

You can save links to your reading list or send them to your Kindle – ¬†“Read Later”. ¬†You can also change the font size etc. to make a web page easier to read – “Read now”.

Readability
Chrome browser extension

How does it work?

1. Set up a Readability account

2. Install the Readability app on your iPhone/tablet

3. Install a Readbility browser add-on on your PC

4. Add the Readability bookmarketlet to Safari  on your iPhone/Tablet

5.  Start building your reading list!

Cost?

Free!!

The Verdict

Brilliant!!  Really easy to set up and use. I used to clog up my Favourites with articles to read later and email links to myself to read on the train Рno more!

There are a few similar apps out there, this is a good article by Allyson Kazmucha at www.imore.com which compares the different offerings.

Anything else?

I used Google Chrome on my Windows 7 laptop and Safari on my iPhone when trying this app out. Multiple browsers and operating systems are supported, including Android – see http://www.readability.com for more details.

Do you use Readability (or one of the other similar apps) already? If so, do you like it? Have you any other apps you’d like to recommend? ¬†I’m always on the look out for good ones..

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6 Reasons Tablets are Killing Netbooks (but not Laptops)

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

Most tablets can’t do everything a Netbook does, so why are tablet sales eating into Netbook sales?

Are we accepting reduced functionality for increased portability?

My sister asked me the other week if she should buy a Netbook or a tablet for staying connected on the move. My gut reaction was to recommend a tablet, but to be thorough I googled to see what the general consensus was. I was surprised by the number of Netbook fans still out there. In fact many of the posts I read had Netbook fans expressing their frustration at the tablet’s limitations. If this is true, why are Netbook sales continuing to decline?

What is a Netbook?

Netbooks first appeared around 2007. ¬†They are a small, lightweight, inexpensive laptop/notebook, whose primary function is to access internet based¬†applications¬†(hence the “Net” book, as in “Internet”).

6 Reasons Why Sales of Netbooks are Declining

1. Web 2.0 and the rise of social media

The way I (and many others) use the internet has changed radically in the last few years. It’s all about information sharing, exchange and consumption (elements of Web 2.0), preferably in snippets using twitter or facebook.¬†¬†I haven’t written a lengthy personal email in years. Anyone I want to stay in touch with is on facebook or skype so there’s no need. ¬†Tablets are consumption devices, which is a common criticism, but when I’m on the move that’s all I really want to do. ¬†I can still easily use twitter or facebook but mostly I’m reading newspapers, newsletters and articles I’ve bookmarked.

2. Portability

Tablets are small, light, slim yet easy to read and navigate. Netbooks are small laptops. Tablets can have an internet connection built into them, unlike most Netbooks (excluding Chromebooks). They are as close to the slim paperback that can be slipped into your pocket to read on the train as possible (if a paperback could smash if you dropped it..) and there’s no danger of you running out of something to read.

3. Usability

BERLIN, GERMANY - JANUARY 11:  German Finance ...
BERLIN, GERMANY – JANUARY 11: Many German government officials and Bundestag members use iPads. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

Tablets, especially the iPad, are incredibly easy to use. It’s not difficult to see why they have mass market appeal, even discounting the coolness factor.

Apps are cheap, child’s play to install and fun to use. I can’t edit a word document effectively, but I find I can work around that (i.e. do it at work or at home). It’s kind of a chicken and egg question. ¬†Did we change how we use the internet because of the attraction of tablets? ¬†Or did they happen to tap into a change that was already on its way and simply accelerate it? Certainly the popularity of the iPhone created a large audience for this type of usage.

4. Portable keyboards are as good(bad) as a small built-in keyboard

If I’m travelling with a tablet I can put up with the awkwardness of a portable keyboard or the onscreen keypad, but if I’m creating or editing more than a few paragraphs I will use a laptop with a full keyboard and a large screen. It’s far too frustrating to use anything else. Trust me on this one, I tried to use a tablet PC to do everything for six months and it nearly drove me crazy. Similarly, from comments I’ve read, the small keyboards on Netbooks tend to have the same effect.

5. The rise of The Cloud

You can’t store much data on a tablet. Netbooks have a significantly larger hard drive but much smaller than a laptop or desktop. ¬†However, if I can store my documents and photos etc. in The Cloud and just download what I need to use, this is no longer an issue.

6. The acceptance of the tablet as a secondary device

I have read multitudes of comments from Netbook users who cannot fathom why tablets are killing the Netbook. ¬†They tend to dismiss the tablet as just an e-reader and not a fully functional device – and they are right. ¬†The big problem for the Netbook is that a large proportion of people don’t need a fully functional portable PC. ¬†We have laptops or desktops at home and at work. There are a few users out there who use a tablet as their primary device but for most (like me) it’s a secondary device, and it’s a perfect fit for this social media, Web 2.0, data sharing age.

The facts and figures:

According to a Canalys report from May of this year, while Netbook sales are declining, both tablet and laptop sales are increasing, which supports the secondary device theory.

while the pad category exhibited the highest growth ‚Äď more than 200% year on year ‚Äď notebook and desktop PC shipments were up too, rising 11% and 8% respectively. Netbook shipments, however, were down 34% on the year-ago quarter ‚Äď the sixth such fall in succession.

Will the Netbook survive?

Netbooks became popular not only because of their portability but because they were cheap. Laptops are continuing to get smaller, slimmer and easier to use, the difference is that the good ones are expensive, relatively speaking.

What is dying is the concept of the Netbook as a cheap portable device to stay connected. The tablet can do all that, and do it better.

What do you think? Do you use a tablet or Netbook? Do you see the tablet as a toy or a legitimate device?

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Portability, 1980’s style?

I saw this yesterday on Engadget. ¬†It’s a portable 3D printer that fits in a briefcase.

Ben Heck's portable 3D printer via Jason Hidalgo at Endgaget
Ben Heck’s portable 3D printer via Jason Hidalgo at Endgaget

Now, I realise that this is an amazing feat of technology, the culmination of decades of research unfathomable only a short time ago. I mean, the fact that we will all soon be able to afford our own 3D printers (see my previous post) is mind blowing and I am in no way trying to belittle this tremendous achievement – but the fact is, this photo really made me giggle.

Back to the future?

You see, it reminded me of those “mobile” phones, back in the 80’s, that were so big they had to be carried round in briefcases. I¬†imagined myself in a park chasing after the kids with my mobile phone in one hand…. and the briefcase in the other… not! ¬†Can you picture city streets full of people chatting on their briefcase mobile phones today? How on earth would they hold their coffee? ¬†Ok, so maybe I’m alone on this one..

gdgt: at&t museum briefcase phone
gdgt: at&t museum briefcase phone (Photo credit: Lynn Friedman)

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “portable” in the context of a “device” I am expecting a pocket or handbag sized device – not a briefcase sized one – irrespective of definitions and whether the printer is actually portable or not.

Are gadgets getting smaller or bigger?

Anyway, it got me thinking about how my perception of “mobile” and/or “portable” has changed over the years. ¬†Do you remember the days when phones were getting smaller and smaller and we all thought we’d end up with the phone parts embedded in our little fingers and thumbs so we’d look like we had imaginary phones? Then the iPhone came along and mobile phones got bigger again. Then the iPad came along and portable devices got bigger again. Right now tablets seem to have¬†stabilized¬†size wise and as they replace laptops as the device of choice for work, the days of lugging briefcase sized gadgets around (for the average person) might be over.

Portability 2012 style

Personally I have never carried around any printer (portable or not, big or small) on a regular basis as I don’t consider then truly portable for day to day use. I consider them portable in the way that a portable television is portable, or a portacot is portable. I can certainly move them to another location without having to call for backup, but I’d think twice before doing it due to the effort and potential complication involved (ever had one of those portacot frames stubbornly refuse to click into place? You’re not alone..).

How do I define whether a device is truly portable?

My home laptop is truly portable (15 inch screen, full keyboard) in that I can easily move it around the house one handed (essential with two toddlers underfoot). Portability was one of my key criteria when looking for a new laptop (see my previous post here).

On that basis I reckon a modern-ish 15″ laptop is my upper limit of a truly portable device these days, from a size and weight perspective. I’m not saying the bigger devices aren’t portable, just that I would be unlikely to carry them around with me on a regular basis, or at all. Just because it says portable on the label, doesn’t mean I’m going to agree!

Your thoughts?

What do you think when you hear the words “portable device”? ¬†Are you expecting something you can carry around in your pocket or handbag? ¬†Do you think your expectations when you hear the word “portable” have changed over the years?

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Ah the memories!

I found this picture today and it really brought me back….
I was completely addicted to Speedway as a kid, what a fantastic game! Other faves were Snake, Duke Nukem 2D (yes 2D, that’s not a typo), and Little Brick Out. Oh the wasted hours.
We had an old Apple 2e (the pic is an Apple 2c, the compact version) and were thrilled that it had a floppy drive – my best friend had a PC with a tape drive which took up to 45 mins to load a game – if it didn’t fail or eat the tape.
Now my dishwasher has cycles shorter than 45 minutes. Progress eh!

Can you remember any other cool games from that era?
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