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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.

Creating stunning documents, spreadsheets and slide-shows with OpenOffice 4

With the cost of Microsoft Office going up, not to mention the subscription / non-subscription thing, it's nice to know there are alternatives out there. One of the best office alternatives has to be OpenOffice. And it just so happens that the Apache Software Foundation recently released a new version of their free productivity software, OpenOffice 4.

The main screen inside of OpenOffice 4
The main screen inside of OpenOffice 4

For those who are not familiar with it, OpenOffice is a suite of office productivity programs that rivals Microsoft Office. It has everything you could need for creating great looking documents, spreadsheets and slide-show presentations. Here's a complete list of all of the programs included in OpenOffice 4.

ProgramEquivalent toProgram type
Writer Microsoft Word Word processor
Calc Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet
Impress Microsoft PowerPoint Multi-media slide-show presentation
Draw Microsoft Paint Graphic design
Base Microsoft Access Database
Math Design Science Mathtype Formula creation

OpenOffice 4 has some major improvements over previous versions. There's a new Sidebar that contains the most commonly used functions for that program, which can be docked, floating or completely hidden. There is also greatly improved compatibly with Microsoft Office documents. The drawing, graphics and gallery functions have also been enhanced, along with the copy & paste and drag & drop functionality.

The new Sidebar inside of OpenOffice 4 shown docked and floating
The new Sidebar inside of OpenOffice 4 shown docked and floating

OpenOffice does use Java, but it's not required for installation, as it can be added in later on. Compatibility with other document formats is pretty impressive, but Star Office is no longer supported. OpenOffice can automatically load / convert and convert / save Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) and Design Science Mathtype documents. The only file types that it cannot save to is the Microsoft Office 2007 - 2013 .???x formats.

And since OpenOffice is open-source, there are hundreds of third party extensions to expand on the functionality of the applications. Add in a copy of GIMP or Paint.NET and you have a complete, and free, desktop publishing package.

OpenOffice 4 is available for the Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems. For more information on OpenOffice 4, just follow the links below:

Apache OpenOffice Open Source Project
OpenOffice 4 Release Notes
Download OpenOffice 4

How to securely erase all of the data from your Windows based computer

Do you have an old Windows based computer you would like to get rid of but want to make sure that all of your data is securely erased? Or maybe you would like to wipe all of the data from your hard drive and perform a clean installation of Windows? Either way, you'll want to make the data is completely wiped out. Here's how to securely erase all of the data from your Windows based computer.

Back-up all folder(s) and/or file(s) you want to save

This is the time to double and triple-check for any folder(s) and/or file(s) you may want to keep. If you plan on reinstalling Windows, make sure that you have all of the installation media available. If you need to create the recovery media that is stored on your computer, this is the time to do it. Once the hard drive is wiped cleaned, the recovery media images will be gone too.

Download and create bootable media with disk wiping software

The best way to completely wipe clean a hard drive is by booting the computer up on a CD/DVD disk or USB drive. This way you can erase all of the space on the hard drive. There are several free utilities for doing this, including Darik's Boot And Nuke, CMRR - Secure Erase and PC Disk Eraser. I recommend the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD), which has all of these and more already built-in. Just download the image file (.ISO) and use your favorite disk burning software or Windows built-in disk burning to create the bootable media. You can even create a UBCD bootable USB drive.

Encrypt the contents of your hard drive

This step may seem unnecessary, but it does make data recovery virtually impossible on the drive you are going to wipe. Windows has a feature called Encrypting File System (EFS) built-in, but it's disabled by default. It allows files to be encrypted transparently with a File Encryption Key (FEK). For more on EFS, check out this Wikipedia article. So even if someone was able to recover the data on the drive after the wiping, it would be in very poor condition. After that, the data would have to be unencrypted, and being in such bad condition, would be really hard, if not impossible.

  1. Open File Explorer / Windows Explorer (Windows logo key Windows logo key + E).
  2. Select the file(s) and/or folder(s) you want to encrypt.
  3. Right-click on the items selected and then left-click on Properties from the context menu that appears.
  4. On the General tab, left-click on Advanced.
  5. Left-click the check box for Encrypt contents to secure data.
  6. Left-click on OK. Be patient, encrypting the folders and/or files may take some time.

Insert bootable media and restart system

When you restart your system, it should boot up on the media you created. Follow the on screen instructions. If using the UBCD, navigate to HDD > Disk Wiping for the list of utilities. Each program will have similar data destruction settings. I always look for the latest Department of Defense standard (currently DOD 5220.22-M). If you really want to clean your hard drive, just run two or more of the disk wiping programs included on the UBCD.

If your system does not boot up on the media you just created, you may have to change the boot order for the computer. Check the 'splash' screen that first appears when you start your computer. Sometimes there is an option for boot device and/or menu, usually an F key. If not, you will have to change it manually inside the BIOS (Basic Input Output System). The BIOS can usually be accessed by pressing the DEL or F2 key when the 'splash' screen appears. It's always recommended to check the documentation for your motherboard on which keys are used to access the BIOS and where in the BIOS to change the boot order.

Perform advanced disk defragmentation with Defraggler from Piriform

Have you ever opened a filling cabinet just to find the folders just scattered around? The files are all over the place and you cannot find what you're looking for. The same thing can happen to the folders / files on your Windows based computer. Windows does come with a disk defrag program, but its options are very limited. If you're looking for something more in a disk defrag program, check out Defraggler by Piriform.

Drive view inside of Defraggler
Drive view inside of Defraggler

With Defraggler you can do much more than just defragment your hard drive. You can do a quick or full defrag, defrag just free space and my favorite, boot-time defrag. And it uses the same technology as Windows built-in defragmenter to read and write files. You can even have the option to replace Windows built-in defrag program with Defraggler.

Block detail view inside of Defraggler
Block detail view inside of Defraggler

Defraggler also has something that has been missing from Windows built-in defragmenter for years, a drive map showing the status of files on your hard drive. And what is really cool is that you can left-click on a block and defraggler will tell you what file(s) are located in it. And best of all, it's free. Here's a quote from the Piriform website:

Defragment exactly what you want
Most defrag tools only allow you to defrag an entire drive. Defraggler lets you specify one or more files, folders, or the whole drive to defragment.

Safe and Secure
When Defraggler reads or writes a file, it uses the exact same techniques that Windows uses. Using Defraggler is just as safe for your files as using Windows.

Compact and portable
Defraggler's tough on your files – and light on your system.

Interactive drive map
At a glance, you can see how fragmented your hard drive is. Defraggler's drive map shows you blocks that are empty, not fragmented, or needing defragmentation.

Quick Defrag
Give your hard drive a quick touch-up with Quick Defrag.

Defragment free space
Organizes empty disk space to further prevent fragmentation.

Scheduled defragmentation
Defragment while you sleep - and wake up with a faster PC. Set Defraggler to run daily, weekly or monthly.

Multi-lingual support
No matter what your native tongue is, Defraggler speaks your language. It currently supports 37 languages.

For more information on Defraggler, just follow the link below:

Defraggler - File and Disk Defragmentation

Check the protected system files in Windows with System File Checker

There may come a time when your Windows based computer starts to run improperly. Installing and uninstalling software, viruses and malware are just a few things that can corrupt the integrity of system files. When it comes to computer repair on a system running Windows, I always like to check for corrupt system files. You can too with Windows built-in System File Checker (SFC).

System File Checker running in Command Prompt inside of Windows 8
System File Checker running in Command Prompt inside of Windows 8

SFC scans the integrity of all protected system files and replaces incorrect versions with correct Microsoft versions. Everything SFC does is documented in the CBS.log file. So, if SFC finds any files that it cannot repair, check the CBS.log for more information. See the bottom of command line syntax(s) and parameter(s) for details on how to view the CBS.log.

Running SFC in Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8

To ensure that SFC runs with administrator privileges on Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8, you will need to run it at an administrative Command Prompt.

  1. Open a Command Prompt with Administrative privileges
    How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows Vista and Windows 7
    How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 8
  2. Use the following command line syntax(s) and parameter(s) to run SFC:

sfc [/scannow] [/verifyonly] [/scanfile=<file>] [/verifyfile=<file>] [/offwinddir=<offline windows directory>/offbootdir=<offline boot directory>]

/scannow Scans integrity of all protected system files and repairs files with problems when possible.
/verifyonly Scans integrity of all protected system files. No repair operation is performed.
/scanfile Scans integrity of the referenced file, repairs file if problems are identified. Specify full path <file>.
/verifyfile Verifies the integrity of the file with full path <file>. No repair operation is performed.
/offbootdir For offline repair specify the location of the offline boot directory.
/offwinddir For offline repair specify the location of the offline windows directory.
/? Displays help at the command prompt.

You can view the CBS.log file in Notepad by using the following code at the same administrative Command Prompt used to start SFC.
notepad %systemroot%\Logs\CBS\CBS.log

Running SFC in Windows XP

To use SFC, you will need to open a Command Prompt.

  1. Click the Start button, then Programs, then Accessories, then click on Command Prompt
    or
    Press Windows logo key + R. This will bring up the Run dialog box. Type CMD and click OK
  2. Use the following command line syntax(s) and parameter(s) to run SFC:

sfc [/scannow] [/scanonce] [/scanboot] [/revert] [/purgecache] [/cachesize=<x>]

/scannow Scans all protected system files once.
/scanonce Scans all protected system files once.
/scanboot Scans all protected system files every time the computer is restarted.
/revert Returns the scan to its default operation.
/purgecache Purges the Windows File Protection file cache and scans all protected system files immediately.
/cachesize=<x> Sets the size, in MB, of the Windows File Protection file cache.
/? Displays help at the command prompt.

When SFC is done, you can view the log file in Notepad by using the following code at the same Command Prompt used to start SFC.
notepad %systemroot%\Logs\CBS\CBS.log

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4722 East Monte Vista Road
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(602) 795-1111

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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.

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