Virus |

Reinstalling Windows

Posted April 20th, 2012 by Mark with No Comments

Reinstalling Windows

If your computer’s hard drive fails, or you have a particularly nasty virus, we might have to reinstall Windows for you.  This is one of the more involved and expensive routine services we do – but it’s not obvious why.  To help illustrate, here is a quick rundown of the steps involved in this task:

Basic Steps to Reinstalling Windows

Backup the data – this includes Documents, Email, Pictures, Music, Videos and everything on the desktop.  This can take anywhere form just a few minutes to hours depending on the amount of data you have.

Scan your data – If you had a virus infection, a separate scan (or two) is run on your backed-up data to make sure it is clean.

Backup the product keys for Windows and Microsoft Office to make sure these can be reinstalled and correctly activated.

Backup all of the system’s hardware drivers.  There are drivers for the motherboard, wired and wireless network, audio, modem, video, mouse as well as several others that vary from computer to computer.

Format (completely erase and reset the file system) your existing or a new hard drive.  This process can take a couple of hours on a large hard disk.

Install Windows – Depending on your computer, we may have to order recovery disks from the manufacturer to complete this task, which can add several days to the procedure.

Reinstall all of the system drivers and troubleshoot any problems that may arise (no sound, the video isn’t right, etc.)

Load all available Windows updates so your system is “completely patched”.  This process can easily take several hours.  For Windows XP, for example, there are over 300 updates to bring a fresh install current.  For Windows Vista expecially, this is an involved process requiring many reboots and installs.  Windows 7 is the newest version, so has the fewest updates, but there are still several dozen available.

Install and update antivirus software, iTunes, Email software, various addons like Flash and Java, reinstall Microsoft Office if you had it originally.

Reinstall the backed-up data

Reconfigure email, import backed-up messages & contacts, etc.

Check to make sure everything is ok and functioning.  Typically, there are several adjustments we make to the Windows settings to make your computer more efficient.

We typically charge between 2.5 and 3 hours labor for this process, but the actual project can take several days depending on the complexity of the particular install.

As always, call us at (412) 480-9969 if you have any questions about your computer.  We can help!

Avoiding Spyware

Posted April 16th, 2012 by Mark with 1 Comment

Avoiding Spyware, Viruses & their ilk

Avoiding Spyware

Ok, open Internet Explorer, click on the “Tools” menu, choose “Options”, then click on the “Security” tab.  Locate the box “Allow spyware infections” and UNCHECK it.

Of course, it’s just not that easy – if only there were such a box…Back to reality now.

The bottom line here is that there is no absolute way to prevent being infected.  This is a war, and every day there are new and increasingly-clever spywares trying to infect you and get your money or your data.  Every day the anti-virus and anti-spyware softwares offer updates to protect you against the latest threats.  Depending on which side is ahead in this war today, you can be infected, even with the latest protection, or you can safely carry out your business unaware that your software just fought off a nasty virus.

So – How Do I Avoid Spyware?

  • Have a good anti-virus software, and make sure it is running and up to date.  Know (or find out) how to tell when something is wrong.  Most softwares have visual cues, some do not.
  • Have a good anti-spyware software (maybe more than one), and make sure it is running (or make sure you run it weekly if it is not automatic) and up to date
  • Load your Windows updates.  At least twice monthly there are new Windows updates.  Most all are security related and need to be loaded to give you your best chance at avoiding infection
  • Use a firewall.  Consider getting a router with a built-in firewall, even if you don’t need to share your connection between computers.
  • If you think you are infected, STOP.  Update your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs, then disconnect your computer from the internet.  Now, run full scans with your softwares and remove whatever is found.  If you have an infection that refuses to be deleted, call us.  That’s why we’re here.
  • Stay away from questionable web sites.  Free music, games, ringtones or screensavers aren’t.  Free, that is.  File sharing is risky at best and most-likely illegal.  Clicking on unknown and unbidden emails or attachments is inviting infection.  Don’t click on website popups, even if they look legitimate.  Just say NO.
  • Make sure all users of your computer understand the rules and understand how to run scans with your protection softwares.
  • If you have multiple user accounts on your computer, each user account may need to be scanned separately.
  • Lastly, if you have to lower your protection for some software to work (cough….work VPN’s…cough), make sure you raise it back up again when you are through using that software

Well, there you have it.  The undercurrent here is that this is YOUR computer – YOU are in charge of your defenses.  Make sure you have a backup (Call us to help with this!) just in case.  Call us if you don’t understand what to do next, of if you get infected despite your best efforts.  We’re here to help.


Posted April 15th, 2012 by Mark with No Comments

Secure Passwords, How to Make and Remember Them

Secure Passwords

Let’s all say it together now:  “I HATE PASSWORDS!”  Now, doesn’t that feel better?  For better or worse, passwords are a necessary part of living in the computer culture.  More and more websites and softwares require that you create an account with a password.  To make matters worse, every one of them seems to have different rules for what they accept:  “At least one capital and one lowercase letter” – “2 non-sequential, non-consecutive digits” – “Can’t contain more than 3 matching characters of your user name.”

You get the picture.  It’s obnoxious and getting worse (don’t even get me started on those fuzzy letter things called “Captchas”.)  Most folks resort to one of two methods.  They keep a notebook by their computer where they write down all of their passwords, or to the extent possible, they use the same password for everything.  As you might have already suspected, both of these ideas are bad.  They are like leaving a key to the front door under your mat.  There may have been a time when that was acceptable, but that time is long, long gone.  Oh, and just to get this out of the way, adding the digit “1” to the end of a common word does NOT – I repeat, NOT make a secure password.

So How Do You Make a Secure Password?

For years, I have promoted the “letter substitution” method of creating secure passwords.  Pick a word or phrase you can remember, then substitute similar-looking numbers for some of the letters.  If a “4” looks like an “A”, then “Paris2007” becomes “P4ris2007”.

(extra credit:  Google or Wiki “Leetspeak”).

While this is better than a regular word, it’s not as secure as it once was, and you’re still at risk if you pick one secure password, then use it for everything.

As we store more as well as more-important data on our computers and online, using and (ugh) changing more secure passwords is becoming unavoidable.  Unless you enjoy getting hacked, that is.

So…..I’d like to offer a short tutorial on another method for creating good passwords that you can remember and then (ugh) change and still remember.  I would love to take credit for this, but it comes largely from a great article by Farhad Manjoo found on  First, the method, then some examples.

Step 1:  Make up or pick a phrase or better yet two phrases (they don’t have to relate to each other).  Make one of the phrases have a date or period that you can change.

Step 2: Turn the phrases into an acronym (use only the 1st letter from each word).  Keep capitalization as in the original phrase.

Step 3.  Use letter substitution for some of the letters.  (“1” looks like “l”; “3” looks like “E”, “4” looks like “A”;  “@” can be used for the word “at”; “$” looks like “S”; “7” looks like “T”, “&” can be used for the word “and”; “8” looks like “B”; “0” looks like “O”)

Step 4: To change the password use the period chosen in step 1, and just substitute the current period.

Clear as mud?  Ok, let’s do some examples.

My phrase:  “In high school I scored 14 points in 1st quarter of the homecoming game”

The acronym:  IhsIs14pit1qothg – (you don’t have to remember the acronym – just say the phrase aloud or in your head and type only the first letter of each word – try it, it’s easy!)

The acronym with substitutions:     Ih$I$14pit1qothg – (Notice I only substituted one letter, $ for S.)

To change this password you can divide the year into quarters, so on April 1st or thereabouts, you can change the phrase to “2nd quarter”, which changes the resulting password to “Ih$I$14pit2qothg.”

If you want to change the password monthly, for example, you might use the following phrase:  I like corn on the cob, especially in August.

Acronym:         Ilcotceia

Password with substitutions:    Ilc0tc3ia  (I substituted a “zero” for the “oh” and a “3” for the “e”)

In September, this would change to: Ilc0tc3i$  (adding the “$” for “s” substitution)

Once again, the only part you need to remember is the initial phrase, and which letters you use for substitution.  It’s simpler to only substitute one or two, and more secure to substitute more.  Start easy and work up to more complicated.

For the most important passwords (your brokerage account, for example), use two phrases that are non related, like this:

Phrases: Kermit the frog was green.  Its 10 degrees in January.

Acronym: Ktfwg_I10diJ   (I used an underscore character to separate the phrases since spaces are usually not allowed in passwords)

Password with substitution:      K7fwg_110d1J  (I substituted “7” for “T” and “1” for “I”)

Each month, change the phrase, and make the temperature a multiple of the month (20 for February, 30 for March, 80 for August, etc.)  So, in September, this password would become:  K7fwg_190di$.

Since you are turning the phrase into an acronym, you can use familiar phrases without compromising the security of the passwords.  I love jazz standards of the 40’s, so I often use the first line of a song and a singer as my phrase, e.g. “Johnny One Note was sung by Anita O’Day”.  My second phrase might describe the weather here in Pittsburgh.  “It’s cold in January”.  The resulting password from this combination is “J0NwsbA0DIciJ.”  In July, the second phrase might change to “It’s sunny in July.”  This would make the password “J0NwsbA0DIsiJ.”

Ok, now go out there and change your passwords – I’ll wait.