Geeks in Phoenix

Geek Blog


Inside the Windows 8.1 Update

Microsoft recently released the Windows 8.1 Update (actual name), the latest refinement of Windows 8.1. Most the changes are targeted at keyboard / mouse users, like me. The update comes only months (10/17/13) after the initial release of Windows 8.1 and includes user interface enhancements and security fixes. Here's a look inside the Windows 8.1. Update.

The update builds on the previous Windows 8.1 changes geared towards keyboard / mouse users: the return of the Start button, smaller tile size on the Start screen and booting directly to the Desktop. But the overall focus was still towards touch sensitive devices. The Windows 8.1 Update changes all of that.

The first thing you'll notice is the default behavior of Windows 8.1 has changed. Windows 8.1 now checks to see if there is a touch sensitive display attached to the computer and modifies the way it runs. For example, if your computer doesn't not have a touch screen, the default programs that open pictures, videos and music files go back to the familiar Desktop apps that Windows 7 used. Here's a complete list of the changes to Windows 8.1 behavior:

Windows 8.1 defaults before update Windows 8.1 defaults after update
  • Boots to Start Screen
  • Closing App takes user back to Start Screen
  • Pictures, Music and Video files open with Modern App
  • Boots to Desktop
  • Closing App takes user to the previously used App.
  • After closing all Apps the user ends in the Desktop
  • Pictures, Music and Video files open with Desktop applications

New Windows 8.1 Update Start screen features
New Windows 8.1 Update Start screen features

The Start screen has also seen some Desktop friendly revisions too. Microsoft has finally added a Power button, so you no longer have to log-off to turn off or restart your computer. Also added are familiar Desktop style content menus for the Tile properties. There are also a new set of tiles that are added for new users; This PC, PC Settings, Documents and Pictures. They won't appear for existing users, but can easily be recreated if you want them.

New Metro app Title Bar with Minimize and Close buttons
New Metro app Title Bar with Minimize and Close buttons

Microsoft also made some changes to the Metro (Windows RT) interface too. In an effort to make it more Desktop friendly, Metro apps now have a drop-down Title Bar on top, similar to Desktop programs, with Minimize and Close buttons. Also, Metro apps can now be pinned to the Taskbar (the Store is automatically pinned with the update).

For more information on the Windows 8.1 Update, just follow the link below.

Exploring Windows 8.1 Update

How to move from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1

The end of life for Windows XP has been and still is a major headache for consumers. You've got your old computer set up just the way you like it and its running fine. But there comes a time when you need to move to a newer and more secure operating system. Here's a couple of ways to move from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1.

A screen shot of the website AmIRunningXP.com
A screen shot of the website AmIRunningXP.com

Upgrade the operating system on your existing computer

The biggest problem with this scenario is that there is no way to do an in-place upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1. First is the different partition, folder and file architecture. Second is that the majority of Windows XP installations in-use are 32-bit. All most all versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8 / 8.1 in use are 64-bit. You can still get 32-bit versions of them, but with the 4GB memory limit, they are not very popular. If your computer was built within the last 5-7 years, it may be compatible with Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1.

Windows 7 / Windows 8 / Windows 8.1 hardware requirements:

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
  • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
  • Free hard drive space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver

How to upgrade your existing computer from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1

  1. Download the Windows Upgrade Assistant to check to see if the hardware in your existing system meets the minimum hardware requirements.
    Windows Upgrade Assistant
  2. Check to see if your existing software will run on Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1. Some software may not run on Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1, so checking now may prevent some frustration later down the road.
    Windows Compatibility Center
  3. Check your existing hard drive for errors.
    Detecting and repairing disk errors in Windows XP
  4. Defragment your existing hard drive.
    Using Disk Defragmenter in Windows XP
  5. Do a complete backup of your existing computer to an external hard drive or network drive.
    Using Backup in Windows XP
  6. Download and install PCmover Express for Windows XP or the latest version (Windows 7) of Windows Easy Transfer. Transfer all of the users' documents and settings to an external hard drive or network drive.
    PCmover Express for Windows XP
    Windows Easy Transfer
  7. Perform a clean installation of Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, erasing the existing partition(s)
  8. Set up your new user account(s) with the same name(s) as your old user account(s).
  9. Attach your hardware (printers, scanners, etc.). To get the full functionality of your devices, you may have to install the manufacturer's software.
  10. Install all of the programs you had installed on your previous version of Windows. This way when you transfer your documents and settings the file associations for your documents will be already set up.
  11. Download and install PCmover Express for Windows XP or run Windows Easy Transfer built-in to your new version of Windows.
    PCmover Express for Windows XP

Migrate from your old computer to a new computer

This, by far, is the easiest way to go. Only problem might be if your existing programs are not compatible with the version of Windows on your new computer. If you find that a program won't run right out of the box, you may be able to run it in 'Compatibility Mode' for another version of Windows.

How to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1

  1. Download the Windows Upgrade Assistant to check to see if the hardware attached to your existing system meets the minimum hardware requirements.
    Windows Upgrade Assistant
  2. Check to see if your existing software will run on Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1. Some software may not run on Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1. Checking now may prevent some frustration later down the road.
    Windows Compatibility Center
  3. Do a complete backup of your existing computer to an external hard drive or network drive.
    Using Backup in Windows XP
  4. Download and install PCmover Express for Windows XP or the latest version (Windows 7) of Windows Easy Transfer. Transfer all of the users' documents and settings to an external hard drive or network drive.
    PCmover Express for Windows XP
    Windows Easy Transfer
  5. Set up your new user account(s) with the same name(s) as your old user account(s).
  6. Attach your hardware (printers, scanners, etc.). To get the full functionality of your devices, you may have to install the manufacturer's software.
  7. In install all of the programs you had installed on your previous version of Windows. This way when you transfer your documents and settings, the file associations for your documents will be already set up.
  8. Download and install PCmover Express for Windows XP or run Windows Easy Transfer built-in to your new version of Windows.
    PCmover Express for Windows XP

Also, here's a series of articles I wrote a few years ago on my personal experience upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7.

Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 1)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 2 - Drive Imaging)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 3 - Hardware / Software Inventory)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 4 - Windows 7 Installation)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 5 - Applications and Settings)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 6 - Epilogue)

How to use layered security to protect your computer

It seems whenever I tell someone that I repair computers for a living, I almost always get asked the question "What do you recommend for anti-virus software?". I tell them that I use a layered approach to security, not relying on just one program for protection. I personally don't like to use all-in-one security suites. It's not that I don't trust any particular software; I just don't like having just one piece of software protecting my computer. Here's how to use layered security to protect your computer.

Protecting your computer with layered security
Protecting your computer with layered security

Software firewall

Windows has had a pretty good firewall built-in since Windows Vista and it's turned on by default. It comes pre-installed inside of Windows and is ready to go. There are also some great stand-alone programs like ZoneAlarm. This is also one of those additional features of all-in-one security software. It's your choice.

Anti-virus software

This one is a no brainer. There are plenty of free and retail anti-virus programs on the market, and I have used quite few different ones over the years. Some internet service providers like Cox Communications even offer free security suite software. The only thing to keep in mind when picking an anti-virus program is the performance of the system you're installing it on. I would not install a full-blown security suite like Norton or McAfee on a tablet or netbook.

Anti-malware / anti-spyware software

Anti-virus software normally looks for, you guessed it, viruses. I've cleaned out quite a few pieces of ransomware that anti-virus programs missed because it wasn't a virus. Quite a few of anti-malware programs are meant to be run side-by-side with anti-virus software. But there are a couple of exceptions to this rule: McAfee software doesn't like to work with Malwarebytes Anti-malware, but it can. And never install Microsoft Security Essentials along with SuperAnti-Spyware, as they are completely incompatible. It's a long story, but basically they are the same program.

Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET)

EMET actuality works as a shim between programs and the operating system. It looks for known patterns of attack and can prevent programs from getting access to the operating system. It can prevent a hacker from using security holes in programs until the developer issues an update. Just configure EMET to monitor any program that can access the Internet. I've seen it work first hand (rouge flash inside of browser) and it does what it's meant to do.

Harden / Mitigate the security of your Windows programs with Microsoft EMET

*** Revised 19, February 2016 ***
This article has been revised for EMET v5.5

Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit 5.5

Let's face it, some of the software we use on a daily basis has become subject to security vulnerabilities and exploits. Software manufacturers do their best to develop and test fixes / patches as fast as possible, but this can take time. A lot of users just cannot keep up with all of the updates and hotfixes. A few years ago Microsoft released the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) to deal with just this issue.

View of the main screen inside EMET 5.5
View of the main screen inside EMET 5.5

So what is EMET? EMET monitors selected programs (Internet Explorer, Microsoft Office, etc.) for known attack actions and techniques. When one of the several pseudo mitigation technologies is triggered, EMET will either block the programs' access to the resouce it is trying to reach or just terminate it. EMET expands on the technologies that Microsoft implemented with Data Execution Prevention (DEP), which has been included in the Windows operating system since Windows XP SP2. It will also validate digitally signed SSL certificates inside of Internet Explorer.

View of the application configuration screen inside EMET 5.5
View of the application configuration screen inside EMET 5.5

So how does EMET work? EMET acts as a shim between the program being monitored and the operating system. The monitored program thinks it's talking directly to the operating system, but it's actually talking to it through EMET. EMET comes with predefined profiles for some of the more common programs like Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Adobe Acrobat and Java. You can also add to the predefined profiles or create your own. I recommend that you monitor any program that can open files on or from the Internet.

What security exploits are currently covered

Here's is the current list of mitigations EMET 5.5 currently looks for.

  • Attack Surface Reduction (ASR) Mitigation
  • Export Address Table Filtering (EAF+) Security Mitigation
  • Data Execution Prevention (DEP) Security Mitigation
  • Structured Execution Handling Overwrite Protection (SEHOP) Security Mitigation
  • NullPage Security Mitigation
  • Heapspray Allocation Security Mitigation
  • Export Address Table Filtering (EAF) Security Mitigation
  • Mandatory Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR) Security Mitigation
  • Load Library Check - Return Oriented Programming (ROP) Security Mitigation
  • Memory Protection Check - Return Oriented Programming (ROP) Security Mitigation
  • Caller Checks - Return Oriented Programming (ROP) Security Mitigation
  • Simulate Execution Flow - Return Oriented Programming (ROP) Security Mitigation
  • Stack Pivot - Return Oriented Programming (ROP) Security Mitigation
  • Windows 10 untrusted fonts

What programs should you harden / mitigate

You only want to harden / mitigate certain programs that are targeted on a regular basis. Web browsers like Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer, production / office programs like Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, e-mail clients like Outlook and Windows Live Mail are some of the few. I recommend that you harden any program that can open files on or from the Internet.

What programs should you not harden / mitigate

You should never configure EMET to monitor anti-virus, anti-malware, intrusion prevention / detection software, debuggers, software that handles Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies or software that uses anti-debugging, obfuscation, or hooking technologies.

Installation notes

New installation: Just download EMET and install

Upgrade install: Since the registry keys for EMET changed with this version, you can either export your existing EMET settings using the method in the 'What's new' section below, download the converter or reconfigure all of the program settings. With the drastic change with the EMET data format inside of the registry, I think that it would be just easier to reconfigure EMET then try the export / import method. Either way, remember to uninstall any older version of EMET and restart your computer before you install this version.

What's new in EMET 5.5?

  • Full-featured GPO management, compatible with reporting and compliance requirements
  • Command line: new syntax and options
  • Implementation of certificate pinning now based on root CA thumbprints. Exceptions logic removed.
  • Export and Import now memorize path
  • EMET registry has been refactored. To convert settings from previous versions of EMET (including EMET 5.5 Beta), registry values must be saved in a file then imported back with the use of the converter PowerShell script after EMET 5.5 is installed. Here are the steps to follow:
  1. Export settings. With elevated PowerShell, run the following command:
    .\Migrate-EmetSettings.ps1 -RegFile .\NewEmetSettings.reg -MissingCertCsv .\MissingCerts.csv PowerShell script Migrate-EmetSettings.ps1 is provided with EMET 5.5 RTM. It includes documentation about its usage.
  2. Uninstall former version of EMET.
  3. Install EMET 5.5 RTM. When asked to choose between Use recommended settings and Configure manually later, chose option Configure manually later.
  4. Import settings. With elevated PowerShell, run the following command:
    reg.exe import .\NewEmetSettings.reg

Supported Operating Systems

Windows 10 , Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Vista

  • EMET 5.5 requires .NET Framework 4.5.
  • For Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 you need to install KB2790907 - a mandatory Application Compatibility update that has been released on March 12th, 2013 or any other Application Compatibility updates for Windows 8 after that

For more information on EMET, just follow the links below.

Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit
Download Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) 5.5
Download Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) 5.5 User Guide
Download Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) 5.5 converter

Customer service is #1

Here at Geeks in Phoenix, we take pride in providing excellent customer service. From computer repair, virus removal and data recovery, we aim to give the highest quality of service.

Bring your computer to us and save

Our in-shop computer repair service  is based on the time we work on your computer, not the time it takes your computer to work!

Contact us

Geeks in Phoenix
4722 East Monte Vista Road
Phoenix, Arizona 85008
(602) 795-1111

Like Geeks in Phoenix on Facebook

Follow Geeks in Phoenix on Twitter

Watch Geeks in Phoenix on YouTube

Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in all aspects of Computer Repair / PC Repair / Laptop Repair. Since 2008, our expert computer repair technicians have been providing outstanding Computer Repair, Virus Removal, Data Recovery, Photo Manipulation and Website Support.

Geeks in Phoenix have the best computer repair technicians providing computer repair and service in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe Arizona. We offer In-Shop, On-Site and Remote (with stable Internet connection) computer repair service.

Copyright © 2016 Geeks in Phoenix LLC