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Security and your computer

With the recent outbreak of data encrypting malware, keeping your computer secure is a major issue. There isn't just one thing that you can do to secure your computer, but multiple. So here are few ways to make sure your computer is as secure as possible.

Security and your computer

Operating system security

Is your device up to date?
Is your device up to date?

Keeping your operating system up to date is essential for security. Microsoft does a pretty good job of issuing patches and updates for Windows, especially when a new vulnerability is discovered.

But if you are not keeping your OS up to date with patches and updates, you could be making your computer vulnerable to any current or future exploits. And if you are still using an OS like Windows XP or Windows Vista that does not have support from Microsoft anymore, you need to upgrade your OS.

If you have turned off Windows Update, turn it back on. And if Windows Update is not working correctly, here is how to fix it.

Troubleshooting Windows Update problems

Anti-virus security

Is your anti-virus up to date?
Is your anti-virus up to date?

A good anti-virus program is required for security. You can get an anti-virus program that has all of the bells and whistles (firewall, identity protection, custom browser, etc.). Or you can get one with just a virus scanner. Either way, you have to have some form of protection.

Now Microsoft has been including an anti-virus program inside of Windows for a while (Windows Defender) and it works fairly well. But there are plenty of other anti-virus programs out there, including a security suite your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may provide.

But if you want to know how they all stack up, just go over to the independent IT security institute AV Test. They test all of the most popular anti-virus programs on a regular basis. They also cover multiple platforms too (Windows, Mac and Android).

AV-TEST | Antivirus & Security Software & AntiMalware Reviews

I personally like using a layered approach to my computer security, using different programs that complement each other.

How to use layered security to protect your computer

Web browser security

Is your web browser up to date?
Is your web browser up to date?

Having a secure web browser is mandatory in my book. And since web browsers have really become targets for online exploits, you need to know your browser is safe and secure.

I personally like the fact that Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox check for updates when you start them up. And they also get updated more frequently than Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge does.

There are two (2) things I like to do to my browsers to improve their security:

  1. Disable Adobe Flash. Hackers have been exploiting Adobe Flash for years now by getting bogus Flash ads into third-party ad networks.
  2. Anti-virus. I prefer an anti-virus program that integrates into the browser using an extension or add-on.

And since ads also are becoming an issue, I will sometimes recommend using an ad blocker like Adblock Plus. They have a version for almost every browser you can think of.

E-mail security

Is your e-mail secure
Is your e-mail secure?

E-mail is currently one of the most popular ways to spread malware. You have to be very carefully with what e-mail attachments you open. Knowing how to spot a piece of spam e-mail is essential.

How to spot a piece of spam e-mail

I personally use the anti-spam program Mailwasher to filter out the junk and spam from my e-mail. I also have configured my anti-virus program to monitor Mailwasher for viruses, even though Mailwasher by default renders all mail in text format and cannot open attachments.

But when Mailwasher does download a suspicious attachment, my anti-virus program will scan it and flag it as such. I use the Pro version, but Mailwasher does have a free version that is sponsored by advertising.

Eliminate spam from your inbox with MailWasher

Password security

Are your passwords secure?
Are your passwords secure?

Reusing passwords is a big security no-no. It's nice to be able to easily remember your passwords, but it can be a nightmare if someone were able to guess them. That is why you do not want to use the same password over and over again.

If you are like me, coming up with a unique password for every different place you log into can be really hard. Luckily there are password generators that can make it easy to create really secure passwords. One of my favorites is the Norton Identity Safe Password Generator.

Norton Identity Safe Password Generator

Using the Norton Identity Safe Password Generator, you can create passwords up to 32 characters long that have mixed case letters, numbers and punctuation with no similar characters.

Now that you have generated a secure password, why not test it out. Gibson Research Corporation (GRC) has a bunch of cool security tools on their website, one of them being Password Haystack.

Password Haystack

Password Haystack is a brute force password calculator that will tell you how long it will take to guess any password. Go ahead and enter your favorite password and see how long it can take to guess it. You may be surprised at how little time it can take to crack it.

How to perform a clean Windows 10 installation

Doing computer repair for a living, I see quite a few computers that could really benefit from a clean, fresh installation of Windows 10. Usually it is a system that was upgraded to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.

How to perform a clean Windows 10 installation

Then of course there are times that the registry has gotten corrupted or the hard drive has failed. But whatever the case, a clean, fresh installation of Windows 10 is always a great way to get your computer back to tip-top shape.

Now you might be thinking that just performing a reset of Windows 10 would work perfectly fine. And in most cases, you would be right. But if your computer originally came with Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, you could have problems. Let me explain.

When you bought your computer new, it came with a hidden recovery partition that had all of the installation files for your version of Windows. If that version was Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, the files got replaced when you upgraded to Windows 10.

The recovery media issue with upgrading to Windows 10
The recovery media issue with upgrading to Windows 10

But the problem that I have encountered is the upgraded recovery partition sometimes doesn't work. So, when you try and reset Windows 10, it fails. A clean installation of Windows 10 fixes that issue. And with a clean, fresh Windows 10 installation, you will know that everything will work as it should.

The only down-side to a clean Windows 10 installation is the fact that you have to reinstall all of the programs you personally installed. But if your system will not boot, then it is kind of a moot point. You would have to reinstall them anyway.

Backup and inventory

So, the first thing to do is backup your computer. You will need an external drive that is fairly large (I use 1GB and 2GB drives myself) and a blank CD/DVD (system repair disk). Here's how to use Windows Backup that is included inside of Windows 10.

Backup your files with File History and Windows Backup in Windows 10

Second thing to do is to take inventory of the hardware and software inside of your computer. Use a program like Belarc Advisor to create a list of hardware and software in your computer.

Make sure you print a copy of the results. You can also save a copy to an external drive if you like. But a printed copy will work the best, as you can check off items that you take of after the reinstallation of Windows 10.

Create the Windows 10 installation media

This step is fairly easy. All you have to do is download the Windows 10 media creation tool. It is a stand-alone program that does not require installation to run. Just double-click on the program and you are ready to start.

Windows 10 Media Creation Tool options
Windows 10 Media Creation Tool options

You will need either a blank DVD or 8GB USB drive to create the bootable installation media. If you run the media creation tool on the same computer as you are going to reinstall Windows 10 on, it will automatically select the recommenced options.

Clearing the hard drive

Now comes the time to wipe the drive, or at least the partition where Windows 10 is installed. If you have a Dell or HP computer, they have diagnostic partitions, so you may just want to wipe just the OS partition only.

Keep in mind that if you upgraded from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, the recovery partition that came with your computer to restore factory settings no longer functions. Sometimes it might be better to just wipe the whole drive clean and be done with it. But that is completely up to you.

I personally like to use the disk wiping tools included on the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD). All you have to do is download the most current ISO image and burn it to a CD. You can also create a bootable USB drive too. The instructions are on the UBCD website.

Now to boot up your computer up on the UBCD may take a little work, since it is built on a version of Linux. If your computer has Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) enabled, you will have to go into the BIOS and disable it temporarily.

Installing Windows 10

Now that your drive is wiped clean, it is time to install Windows 10. If you are using a DVD, turn your computer on, eject the DVD tray, insert the Windows 10 DVD you created and then restart your computer. If your using a USB drive, just plug it in and start your computer.

Since there is no operating system, your computer will search all available media for a boot record. Once it finds the Windows 10 media, the installation will begin.

During the installation of Windows 10 you will be prompted for your product key. Windows 10 is a little different from previous versions of Windows, in that the product key is not stored on your computer, but on the cloud. Microsoft calls it Digital Entitlement.

With Digital Entitlement, you do not need to enter your product key during installation. Just click on the I don't have a product key link on the bottom of the screen. Once the installation is complete, Windows will automatically activate the first time your system can get online.

From here all you have to do is install the programs and features you want. Then sit back and enjoy your clean, fresh Windows 10 installation.

Use the Microsoft Update Catalog to find and install Windows drivers and updates

Are you having problems finding Windows drivers for your older hardware? Or have you had an update to Windows recently fail to install and want to manually install it? Then the Microsoft Update Catalog may be just what you are looking for.

Using the Microsoft Update Catalog to find Windows drivers and updates

Sometimes repairing Windows based computers can be tough, especially when it comes to drivers and updates. Normally using the standard means of obtaining drivers (Device Manager / manufacturer) and updates (Windows Update) is relatively easy.

But there are times when I cannot find a device driver or an update to Windows fails to install. That is when I go over to the Microsoft Update Catalog and see what I can find.

The Microsoft Update Catalog is a collection of Microsoft drivers, hotfixes and software updates just like Windows Update. In fact, they are the same files you receive through Windows Update.

And just like Windows Update, there are three (3) types of updates available: Important, Recommended and Optional (drivers). The only difference is that you can choose what version you download.

Searching the catalog is fairly straightforward. For failed updates, I just use the Knowledge Base (KB???????) number. For drivers, I use manufacturer / model number or the hardware id from Device Manager.

Finding and installing Windows Updates

Now before downloading updates make sure that Windows Update is working correctly. Check the Windows Update history and see if all updates are failing to install or if it is just one.

If all updates are failing, take a look at this article, Troubleshooting Windows Update problems. If it is only one particular update that is failing, then I would go ahead and download it then manually install it.

First you will need the Knowledge Base number from the Windows Update history to use for the search query.
Finding and installing Windows Updates 1
Once you have it, just type it into the search field and click on Search.

Second thing you will need to know is what version of Windows you have and if it is 32-bit or 64-bit for the search results.
Finding and installing Windows Updates 2
Some updates are specific to one version of Windows. Some are general, across the board, every version of Windows.

Once you find the update you need, just click on the Download button. A separate window will open with the update name and link to it. Just left-click on the link and choose whether you want to open it or save it. Since some of these can be rather large in size, I like save them to my computer first, then install them.

Finding and installing Windows device drivers

Normally the Device Manager inside of Windows works great for finding device drivers. If there is a driver for your version of Windows, it can automatically download and install it.

But what happens when there is not a device driver for your version of Windows? That is when you need to look for one for a previous version of Windows. Let me explain.

For example, you find that Windows 10 doesn't have a driver for your older hardware. You check the manufacturers website and they do not have one either. Or worse, they have gone out of business.

For this exercise, I am going to use a Windows 10 computer and a brand-new RAID controller I have had sitting here for around eight (8) years or so. The box indicates the last operating system that was supported was Microsoft Vista, so it is safe to say that Windows 10 will not have a driver for it.

Normally the first thing I do is psychically check the device for any manufacturer name or model number. If I can find a model name or number, I use it as the search query in the Microsoft Update Catalog.

If I cannot find anything on the device that identifies it, I install it a computer and start it up.
Finding and installing Windows device drivers 1
I then go into Device Manager and let it try to find a driver. If Device Manager cannot find a driver, I then use the hardware id
Finding and installing Windows device drivers 2
as a search query in the Microsoft Update Catalog.

Now I know that there are no drivers for Windows 10, so I have to find one for an earlier version of Windows. I will first look for a Windows 8.1 driver, then a Windows 7 driver, then a Windows Vista and then a Windows XP driver.
Finding and installing Windows device drivers 3
As long as it is the correct platform (32-bit or 64-bit), I should be able to use it.

Once I find a driver, in this case it's for Windows XP 64-bit, I download it to a folder on my local drive. Now the downloaded driver file will have a .CAB extension, so before I can use it, I will need to extract the files / folders from it.

Once I get the files / folders extracted, I go into Device Manager and select Update Driver. I then select Browse my computer for driver software. From there I browse over to and select the folder I extracted the driver files into. I also check the Include subfolders check box. I then just click on Next
Finding and installing Windows device drivers 4
and Windows 10 installs the driver.

For more information on the Microsoft Update Catalog, just follow the links below.

Microsoft Update Catalog
How to download updates that include drivers and hotfixes from the Windows Update Catalog

How to manually install the Windows 10 Creators Update

By now you must have heard about the Windows 10 Creators Update. There is plenty of information on the Internet about all of the new features, but nothing on actually manually installing it. So, let's walk through a manual Windows 10 Creators Update installation.

How to manually install the Windows 10 Creators Update

So, Microsoft has released the latest major update for Windows 10, the Creators Update. With all of the hype about the new features, it was time to check them out.

Now with major updates like this one, I used to install them the day they were released. I hate to admit it, but I actual went out a purchased Windows 95 the day it was released. Not one copy, but two (floppy disks and CD).

But after having issues with being an early adapter, I started taking the 'wait and let all of the bugs get worked out' approach. There is nothing like having to spend a couple of hours restoring your primary production computer after a failed update or upgrade.

And just to make sure that nothing would happened to my production computer, I decided to use a Virtual Machine (VM). For this exercise, I wanted to work with a vanilla installation of Windows 10. No additional software was installed, this includes an anti-virus program.

Now the first thing I did was set up a VM with the most recent version (1607) of Windows 10. I then made sure that it was completely up to date with patches. I then shut down the VM and backed it up.

Now if I was upgrading a regular computer, I would definitely use Windows Backup inside of Windows 10. And of course, you don't want forget to make the accompanying System Repair Disk. See the link below for more information on Windows Backup.

Backup your files with File History and Windows Backup in Windows 10

Now that I have a known good backup, it was time to start the manual update. I opened up the
The Setting icon on the Start Menu inside of Windows 10
Settings in Windows 10 and left-clicked on Update and security.
Windows Update is the first tab on the left-hand column and is also the default page for Update and security.

In the right-hand column, there is a link below the blurb about the Windows 10 Creators Update being available.
Windows 10 Creators Update notification inside of Windows Update
Left-click on Yes, show me how and it takes you to a page about the Creators Update.

On that page, there is a link labeled Update Assistant.
The Windows 10 Creators Update download link
Left-click on the link and it will start the download of the Windows 10 Upgrade program. Save it on your computer, open the folder you saved it to, right-click on the Windows 10 Upgrade program and select Run as Administrator from the context menu that appears.

The first screen that appears just tells me what version of Windows 10 I am currently running and what version I am upgrading to.
The first screen in the Windows 10 Update Assistant
I then left-click on the Update Now button in the lower right-hand corner.

The next screen gives a the compatibly report and everything is good to go.
The second screen in the Windows 10 Update Assistant
Before I have a chance to click on the Next button in the lower right-hand corner, the download automatically begins.

The next screen that appears shows me the progress of the download.
The third screen in the Windows 10 Update Assistant
Before I know it, the download is complete and the installation begins. Time to grab another cup of coffee.

The next screen shows the progress of the update installation.
The forth screen in the Windows 10 Update Assistant
I love the warning about not turning your computer off, like someone would get this far and then say 'forget it' and turn their computer off. But the note on the update taking a while to install is correct.

Finally, after a couple of restarts, the VM comes back to life with the intro screens. You know the ones that say Hi, We didn't do anything with your files.

Finally, the desktop appears with a thank you for updating page and Microsoft Edge displaying a welcome to the Windows 10 Creators Update info page.
The final screen in the Windows 10 Update Assistant
The update is now complete.

So how long did the update take? Almost two (2) hours. And remember that this was a vanilla install of Windows 10 that I updated. I would imagine updating a system that has been in use for a while may take longer.

Now you will notice that there is a new program that has been installed, the Windows 10 Upgrade Assistant. There are shortcuts to it on the Desktop and the Start Menu. If you would like to uninstall the Windows 10 Upgrade assistant, here's how.

  1. Left-click on the Start Menu and left-click the Settings icon (it looks like a gear).
  2. Then left-click on Apps.
  3. Scroll down the list of apps in the right-hand column until you find the Windows 10 Upgrade Assistant.
  4. Left-click on it and then left-click on Uninstall.

How to setup Family Safety for Windows 10 using Microsoft accounts

I don't know about you, but keeping my family safe on their Windows 10 computers is priority number one. Sure, you can install anti-virus software and browser extensions, but what about the kids under 18? Here's how to set up Family Safety using Microsoft accounts.

How to setup Family Safety for Windows 10 using Microsoft accounts

Years ago, the only way I found to really lock down my kid's computers was to add it to a domain and restrict the user permissions. And it did work. But not everyone has a server / domain controller. So, what is a parent to do?

Well, back in Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, Microsoft had a product called Family Safety. It was part of Windows Essentials, which was a separate download. It worked quite well but Microsoft dropped support Windows Essentials and it is no longer available for download.

So, if you think that Family Safety just faded away, you would be wrong. Microsoft has taken all of the features from the original program and added them to its Microsoft account interface.

All of the same great features are there. You can still filter what websites your kids can visit and restrict access to certain apps and games. You can also set what time(s) your kids can use their Windows 10 computer. You can even set the appropriate age for the apps and games that can be accessed.

Now there are some requirements for using Family Safety in Windows 10 that may be a bit disturbing. Everyone, you and your child, needs to have a Microsoft account. This in itself is no biggie. But your child will need an e-mail address to create a Microsoft Account.

I don't know many five year old's that have an e-mail address, but if you create and monitor it yourself, you should be alright. You don't have to let them have access to it. They will only need the Microsoft account e-mail address and password to log into Windows 10.

So, if you are looking at ways to protect your family when they are online, using Microsoft accounts is one way to go.

How to set up Family Safety in Windows 10 using Microsoft accounts

  1. Log into your personal Microsoft account. If you don't have one, then you will need to create one.
  2. Once you are logged in, look along the top menu bar and click on the tab named Family.
  3. Under Your Family click on Add a child.
  4. Enter your child's e-mail address and click on Send invite. If they don't have one, you can create one by clicking Create a new email address for your child. If you do that, then you'll be creating a Microsoft account at the same time. When you have your child's account all set up, you will still need to send them an invite. Now to protect your child's privacy, Microsoft does charge a small one-time fee ($.50) to verify your identity.
  5. Once they (or you) accept the email invite, then you can start configuring their online settings.

What your child sees and can do when they log into their Microsoft account

What your child sees and can do when they log into their Microsoft account

  • Mange sign in preferences just like a standard Microsoft account.
  • Edit personal information like gender, State, ZIP Code and time zone.
  • Edit payment information. This only applies to their personal account, not yours. You can add funds to their Microsoft account through your account. They can also redeem codes and gift cards too.
  • Edit their Xbox profile, if they have Xbox account. If not, they can create one.
  • Edit their Skype profile, if they have Skype account. If not, they can create one.

What you see and can do when you log into your Microsoft account

What you see and can do when you log into your Microsoft account

  • Recent activity. This is where you can view your child's activities in week by week format. You can also turn on or off weekly activity e-mail reports.
  • Web browsing. You can turn on or off the blocking of inappropriate websites. You can create a (white) list of allowed websites and a (black) list of blocked websites. You can also only allow websites on the allowed list, but your kid's computer will need the Windows 10 November update (11/16) or newer version installed for this option to work. And Safe Search is turned on and InPrivate browsing is turned off. Now all of these web filters require that your kid only uses Microsoft Edge or Internet Explorer. You can disable the use of Firefox and Chrome under Apps, games and media.
  • Apps, games and media. Here you can block inappropriate apps and games. This applies not only to Windows 10, but also to Windows Phones and Xbox One. There is a pull-down menu that allows you to select the appropriate age for your child. This will dictate some pre-configured settings which will enable or disable certain features. You can also view the list of the block apps and games. If you want, you can also remove any program you feel should not be on the list.
  • Screen time. This is where you set up the times your kid is allowed on the PC. There is a grid broken down by the days of the week along the side and hours of day going across the top. When you activate the time limits, the default time spans are put into place (7:00 AM to 10:00 PM). You can manually add, remove or modify any of the time spans and you can have multiple time spans per day.
  • Purchase and spending. This is where you can add funds to their Microsoft account for use at the Microsoft and Xbox stores. There is also a pull-down menu that you can choose what types of apps and games you child get; all games and apps, only free games and apps or none. You can also turn on or off the ability to receive e-mail when you child gets an app or game.
  • Find your child. With this feature, you can locate your child using the GPS inside of their Windows 10 Phone. If they don't have a Windows 10 device, you cannot use this feature.
  • Xbox privacy settings. This section I found only to apply to the adult account that is logged in currently, not your kids account. It is probably best to do the editing of your child's Xbox profile under their login.

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