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Improve the performance of Windows 7 and Windows Vista with ReadyBoost

I am always looking at different ways to improve the performance of Windows. One of the ways is to use ReadyBoost that is built into Windows 7 and Windows Vista. ReadyBoost can speed up your computer by caching files that the system accesses frequently on USB flash drives and SD / CF memory cards.

Windows 7 and Windows Vista use an algorithm named Windows SuperFetch to determine which files should be stored in the cache. SuperFetch monitors files that users access (including system files, application files, and documents) and pre-loads those files into the ReadyBoost cache. Because the ReadyBoost cache stores a copy of the files, the flash drive can be removed at any point without affecting the computer, Windows will simply read the original files from the disk.

When to use ReadyBoost to improve performance

  • The computer has a slow hard disk drive. Computers with a primary hard disk Windows Experience Index (WEI) subscore lower than 4.0 will see the most significant improvements.
  • The flash storage provides fast, random, non-sequential reads. Sequential read speed is less important.
  • The flash storage is connected by a fast bus. Typically, USB memory card readers are not sufficiently fast. However, connecting flash memory to an internal memory card reader might provide sufficient performance.

Requirements for USB flash drives, SD / CF memory cards

  • Capacity of at least 256 MB, with at least 64 kilobytes (KB) of free space.
  • At least a 2.5 MB/sec throughput for 4-KB random reads
  • At least a 1.75 MB/sec throughput for 1-MB random writes

You must reserve at least 256 MB. Larger caches can improve performance, but the ReadyBoost cache in Windows 7 cannot be greater than 4 GB on a FAT32 file system or greater than 32 GB on an NTFS file system. Windows Vista has a 4 GB limit on both file systems. So, if your USB flash drive or SD / CF memory card is larger than 4 GB, it will need to formatted in NTFS to create a ReadyBoost cache larger than 4 GB.

How to turn ReadyBoost on or off

  1. Plug a USB flash drive or SD / CF memory card into your computer.

  2. Autoplay dialog box with Speed up my system selected
  3. In the Autoplay dialog box, under General options, click Speed up my system.

  4. Drive options for ReadyBoost
  5. In the Properties dialog box, click the ReadyBoost tab, and then do one of the following:
    • To turn ReadyBoost off, click Do not use this device.
    • To use the maximum available space on the flash drive or memory card for ReadyBoost, click Dedicate this device to ReadyBoost. Windows will leave any files already stored on the device, but it'll use the rest to boost your system speed.
  6. To use less than the maximum available space on the device for ReadyBoost, click Use this device, and then move the slider to choose the amount of available space on the device you want to use.
  7. Click OK.

Security made easier with Microsoft Security Essentials 2

In a previous article, I discussed Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE). I like the easy of use, the integration with Windows Update and the small footprint it has, especially on my netbook. Recently, Microsoft has released Microsoft Security Essentials Version 2 with some new features, including a new and improved protection engine, Windows Firewall integration and a Network Inspection System.

Microsoft Security Essentials Version 2
A new look for MSE V2

As you can see, the user interface changed slightly, with a new color palette and mesh graphics. There are a few more options for the user to configure, but it is still one of the easiest anti-virus applications to setup. For more on the major improvements, here is a quote from the MSE web site:

Windows Firewall integration
Windows Firewall can help prevent attackers or malicious software from gaining access to your computer through the Internet or a network. Now when you install Security Essentials, the installation wizard verifies that Windows Firewall is turned on. If you have intentionally turned off Windows Firewall, you can avoid turning it on by clearing a check box. You can change your Windows Firewall settings at any time via the System and Security settings in Control Panel.

Network Inspection System
Attackers are increasingly carrying out network-based attacks against exposed vulnerabilities before software vendors can develop and distribute security updates. Studies of vulnerabilities show that it can take a month or longer from the time of an initial attack report before a suitable security update is developed, tested, and released. This gap in protection leaves many computers vulnerable to attacks and exploitation for a substantial period of time. Network Inspection System works with real-time protection to better protect you against network-based attacks by greatly reducing the timespan between vulnerability disclosures and update deployment from weeks to a few hours.

Award-winning protection engine
Under the hood of Security Essentials is its award-winning protection engine that is updated regularly. The engine is backed by a team of antimalware researchers from the Microsoft Malware Protection Center, providing responses to the latest malware threats 24 hours a day.

Now, in going through the program, I did find two options quite interesting...

Microsoft Security Essentials Version 2
Enable behavior monitoring and Enable Network Inspection System options in MSE V2

I did a little digging in the MSE V2 Help file and found this description of these features:

Enable behavior monitoring
This option monitors collections of behavior for suspicious patterns that might not be detected by traditional antivirus detection methods.

Enable Network Inspection System
This option helps protect your computer against “zero day” exploits of known vulnerabilities, decreasing the window of time between the moment a vulnerability is discovered and an update is applied.

Here are a few of the other changes inside of MSE V2:

  • Microsoft Security Essentials also supports Windows XP Mode in Windows 7
  • The ability to limit CPU usage during scanning
  • Automatic removal of quarantined files after a set amount of time
  • You can now select between monitoring all files, incoming or outgoing

Microsoft Security Essentials Version 2 is available for Windows XP (SP 2 or SP 3)(x86), Windows Vista (x86, x64) and Windows 7 (x86, x64) and can be downloaded here.

Note:
The only issue I came across was that the update function inside Version 1 would not update the program to Version 2. I tried it on a couple of systems without success. I had to uninstall Version 1 first, then install Version 2.

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

Resetting your network adapter in Windows Vista

Network shell (Netsh) is a tool an administrator can use to configure and monitor network devices on Windows based computers at a command prompt. A common use of Netsh, is to reset the TCP/IP stack back to default settings.

But not only will Netsh reset the TCP/IP stack, but it can also completely reset your network adapter(s). It will also reset the Windows Firewall in Windows Vista too.

Using Netsh in Windows Vista

To use Netsh, you will need to open a Command Prompt as an administrator. There are two ways to do this:

  • Click the Start button, then All Programs, then Accessories, then right-click Command Prompt, and then click Run as administrator. If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  • or

  • Click the Start button. In the search box, type Command Prompt, and then, in the list of results, right-click Command Prompt, and then click Run as administrator. If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

Netsh commands in Windows Vista

The following is a list of the Netsh commands you can use to reset your Windows Vista network adapter:

Resets interface informationnetsh int reset all

Resets TCP/IP and related components to a clean state.netsh int ip reset c:\resetlog.txt

Resets IPv6 configuration state.netsh int ipv6 reset

Resets firewall configuration to default. Restoring the default settings will delete all Windows Firewall settings that you have changed. For example, if you have allowed certain programs through the firewall those programs will be blocked again.netsh firewall reset

Resets Winsock Catalog to a clean state. All Winsock Layered Service Providers which were previously installed must be reinstalled. This command does not affect Winsock Name Space Provider entries.netsh winsock reset

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows Vista

If your computer lacks the Random Access Memory (RAM) needed to run a program or operation, Windows uses Virtual Memory to compensate. Virtual memory combines your computer’s RAM with temporary space on your hard disk. When RAM runs low, virtual memory moves data from RAM to a space called a paging file. Moving data to and from the paging file frees up RAM to complete its work.

The more RAM your computer has, the faster your programs will generally run. If a lack of RAM is slowing your computer, you might be tempted to increase virtual memory to compensate. However, your computer can read data from RAM much more quickly than from a hard disk, so adding RAM is a better solution.

If you receive error messages that warn of low virtual memory, you need to either add more RAM or increase the size of your paging file so that you can run the programs on your computer. Windows usually manages the size automatically, but you can manually change the size of virtual memory if the default size is not enough for your needs.

Find out how much RAM your computer has

Random Access Memory (RAM) is a general indication of performance that is measured either in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB): the larger the number, the faster some programs will run.

To open the System Properties, press Windows logo key + Pause

Windows Vista Sytem RAM Size

In the System section, under Memory (RAM), you can view the amount of RAM your computer has.

Change the size of virtual memory

If you receive warnings that your virtual memory is low, you'll need to increase the minimum size of your paging file. Windows sets the initial minimum size of the paging file at the amount of random access memory (RAM) installed on your computer plus 300 megabytes (MB), and the maximum size at 3 times the amount of RAM installed on your computer. If you see warnings at these recommended levels, then increase the minimum and maximum sizes.

To open the System Properties, press Windows logo key + Pause

Windows Vista Pagefile Settings 1

In the left pane, click Advanced system settings. If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.


Windows Vista Pagefile Settings 2

On the Advanced tab, under Performance, click Settings.


Windows Vista Pagefile Settings 3

Click the Advanced tab, and then, under Virtual memory, click Change.


Windows Vista Pagefile Settings 4

Clear the Automatically manage paging file size for all drives check box.

Under Drive [Volume Label], click the drive that contains the paging file you want to change.

Click Custom size, type a new size in megabytes in the Initial size (MB) or Maximum size (MB) box, click Set, and then click OK. There is a formula for calculating the correct pagefile size. Minimum pagefile size is one and a half (1.5) x amount of memory. Maximum pagefile size is three (3) x minimum pagefile size. Say you have 4 Gb (4,096 Mb) of memory. 1.5 x 4,096 = 6,144 Mb would be the min. pagefile size and 3 x 6,144 = 18,432 Mb would be the max. pagefile size.

Note:
Increases in size usually don't require a restart for the changes to take effect, but if you decrease the size, you'll need to restart your computer. It is recommend that you don't disable or delete the paging file.

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