Looking for Free Virus, Spyware, and Malware Protection? Try Microsoft Security Essentials

ms-security-essentials-scanningsmallrightWindows only:  Microsoft has just released the public version of their free virus, spyware, and malware protection suite dubbed Microsoft Security Essentials (the successor to their lesser-known Live OneCare product which offered similar features).  Security Essentials is a quick download and simple installation, giving users clear and easy-to-use indications whether your PC is secure or not.

Installing Security Essentials took approximately 60 seconds (not including updating the virus definition files) and my first Quick scan was completed in about 5 minutes.  The Full Scan took significantly more time, but this will be dependent on your processor speed and the size of your hard drive.  The software itself used around 60 MB of RAM while performing a virus scan, which is fairly light compared to other commercial anti-virus products.


Security Essentials offers a simple interface, allowing users to select Quick scan, Full scan, or use custom settings from the Home screen.  Updating the software can be easily done in the Update tab, and the software also utilizes your system’s Windows Update service to stay up-to-date.


Since Security Essentials only offers virus, spyware, and malware protection, this software isn’t intended to compete with full-fledged commercial security suites.  Security Essentials provides good basic protection for normal use and is a great contender in the free protection market.

Microsoft Security Essentials is a free download for Windows XP, Vista, and 7 (but you will have to validate your copy of Windows before installation).  [Download]

Browse Safer: Expand Shortened URLs

expand_urls_featURL shorteners are everywhere, and have exploded in popularity with sites like Twitter that have a character limit per message.  While URL shortening services provide a great way to share links quickly with friends – there is also a significant security risk of being sent to a malicious website.  For example, check out this great link: http://is.gd/2dPpA.

This risk can be mitigated by using a URL expanding service called LongURL, which can help you avoid viruses, phishing, and malware by expanding a shortened URL before you click it.  LongURL supports nearly every popular URL shortener, such as tinyurl.com, is.gd, ping.fm, ur1.ca, bit.ly, snipurl.com, tweetburner.com, metamark.net, url.ie, x.se, 6url.com, yep.it, piurl.com, and more.

Using LongURL via LongURL.org

LongURL can be used in any browser through LongURL.org.  Simply copy and paste (or type) your shortened URL into the box and click expand to be presented with a screenshot of the website, its title, and any details that can be discovered.

expand_urls_expandedUsing the LongURL Add-on in Firefox

LongURL provides a useful add-on for Firefox that seamlessly integrates the service with your browser.  Simply install the LongURL Mobile Expander add-on and you can expand any shortened URL by hovering your mouse over it.  To view additional information about the link, click the ‘More’ button and you will be taken to the LongURL website.


Using LongURL in Greasemonkey

If you prefer to use Greasemonkey (a Firefox add-on that allows you to run user-created scripts to modify websites), check out the LongURL Mobile Expander Greasemonkey script.  After installing the script, any shortened URLs will automatically be expanded when you hover your mouse over them.  To view additional information about the link, click the ‘More’ button and you will be taken to the LongURL website.

Have any tips for safer browsing?  Share them with us in the comments!

How to Add an OS X 10.5 Computer to a Windows Domain

This article will guide you through the steps required to connect a computer running OS X 10.5 to a Windows domain, allowing you to login using your Active Directory credentials. Since Active Directory is so widely used, it is useful to be able to set up any computers running OS X to authenticate through it.

Step 1: Open the Directory Utility tool, which can be found under Applications -> Utilities -> Directory Utilities or by searching for it through the Finder.


Step 2: Click on the Services tab, and make sure the Active Directory service is enabled. You may have to click on the lock in the bottom left corner and enter local administrator credentials to be able to make changes. Next, click on the Configure button.


Step 3: Enter in the address for the Domain you wish to connect to, and a name for the computer you are working on. Under the Advanced Options, you can check ‘Create mobile account at login’ and uncheck ‘Require confirmation before creating a mobile account’ if you want the computer to cache credentials locally, allowing users who have previously logged in to login even if there is no network access. Click Bind and enter proper network credentials. The computer should now show up in Active Directory under the name you gave it.


Step 4: Ensure that the login preferences are set to require a user to type in a username and password. This can be configured by navigating to System Preferences -> Accounts and clicking on the Login Options tab.


That’s all there is to it! Any user logging in will now be authenticated through Active Directory.

Encrypt Your Data with BitLocker

bitlockerData security is more important than ever in modern times, so to help keep your files safe, Windows Vista (Enterprise and Ultimate editions), Windows 7, and Windows Server 2008 include an encryption program called BitLocker.

BitLocker is essentially a software encryption program that encrypts a drive in such a way that if credentials are not verified, it renders the drive completely useless to thieves.  In Windows 7 and Server 2008, BitLocker extends support to removable drives by storing a copy of itself locally on the encrypted drive and and installing itself as needed on any additional computer.

How to Use BitLocker

To enable BitLocker, open My Computer, right click the drive you would like to encrypt, and select “Turn on BitLocker”.

bitlocker_rightclickIn the next screen, you will be asked if you want to use a password or a smart card to unlock the drive.  Since the average user doesn’t have a smart card, we’ll be sticking with a password for this guide.

bitlocker_setpass2_usethisAfter clicking the Next button, you’ll be asked how you want to store your recovery key.  It is a good idea to store this somewhere safe; you’ll need it if you ever lock yourself out of the drive.  This key can be printed or stored in a file.

bitlocker_storekeyTo actually start the encryption process, you need to click “Start Encrypting” in the next window.  Encryption speed will vary on the size, speed, and connection of the drive you are securing.

bitlocker_readyencryptbitlocker_encryptingOnce the encryption process is finished, you’ll see an “Encryption is complete” message.  You can then check out your drive by going to My Computer – you’ll now see that the drive icon is different, indicating it is now secured with BitLocker.

bitlocker_securedriveIf you ever need to change the password on your drive you can simply right click the drive and select “Manage BitLocker”.  You will then be presented with a screen giving you several options including the ability to change or remove the password.

bitlocker_changepassFor more information about BitLocker, check out Microsoft’s BitLocker Feature Guide.

How To: Verify Your Windows 7 ISO is Legitimate

win7validatorWith literally dozens of copies of the Windows 7 ISO floating around the internet (and countless more once the RTM is inevitably leaked) – it has become increasingly important to verify your copy is legitimate before installation.  Verifying your ISO not only lets you know that you have the correct file, it also protects you from viruses or trojans that could be hidden in a illegitimate copy.

To verify your Windows 7 ISO, download the Windows 7 ISO Verifier (no installation required).  You can then drag and drop your ISO onto the executable or double click it and browse to the ISO’s location.  After a few minutes, you will be notified if your version is legitimate.

win7validator_checkingThe application works by generating a hash from your ISO and comparing it to a list of known good hashes (which are stored online so you won’t have to redownload the application when the list updates).

The Windows 7 ISO Verifier was created by Long Zhen and Sven Groot and is a free download for Windows.  [Download]

How To: Securely Erase Your Hard Drive Using DBAN

DBAN-thumbnailIt’s likely that at some point in time, you will either sell your computer or install a new operating system on your current machine.  In either situation, it’s recommended that you wipe your hard drive clean of any and all information.

Most people will tell you to format your computer because it deletes everything from the hard drive, but while formatting does in fact remove information and prepare your hard drive for something new, it doesn’t completely remove traces of your private information.

If you only plan on upgrading your current Windows installation (i.e. Windows XP to Windows 7), then formatting your hard drive will certainly do the trick.  If you want a more thorough clean, however, you should consider the open-source application DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke) as an alternative.

Warning: DBAN will erase ALL data on your hard drive(s).  Do not attempt this unless you have a backup of any important data!

When To Use DBAN

When you format a hard drive it deletes all your information, but it does not securely delete that info by overwriting it like DBAN does.  DBAN uses the Department of Defense 5220.22-M secure data erasing algorithm to overwrite all your files three times.  This is the grade of security the government trusts to destroy classified data and prevents all known techniques of hard disk forensic analysis, so anybody looking to spy on your information will be left without a trace to follow.

If you are just going to throw away a computer and think that taking a hammer to your old hard drive is a good idea, you should think again.  A snoop with a certain level of technical knowledge could still recover sensitive information from the partially ruined drive, and possibly steal your identity.

How To Use DBAN

Using DBAN is easy:  Visit the Darik’s Boot and Nuke website and download the stable release for CD and DVD media.  Once you’ve downloaded it, use your burning program of choice to write the ISO file to the disc.

When the burning process is complete, put the DBAN disc in your optical drive and restart your computer.  Most modern computers will boot to the optical drive by default, but if not you will need to change this setting in your BIOS.

DBAN will begin running with a blue screen and a warning message about the usage and a few erasing options.  Below the warning and options you will see text that reads ‘boot:’


The safe and easy way to run DBAN is by typing “autonuke” (without the quotations – as seen above) after the ‘boot:’ prompt to begin running the program and wiping any hard drives that are part of your computer.  Keep in mind that the larger the hard drive, the longer the wiping process will take.

If the DBAN completed successfully, you will get a success message after the program has finished.  You can eject the disc and strike the power button to power off the machine.

Congratulations!  Your computer has now been cleaned and is ready for a new owner, operating system, or the trash.  You can feel confident that nobody will be able to recover your sensitive information from that hard drive in the future.

Have you tried DBAN or an alternative to wipe your hard drive?  Let us know your opinions in the comments below!

How To: Block Unwanted IPs with uTorrent’s Hidden Blocking Feature and Blocklist Manager

utorrentuTorrent – a popular BitTorrent client for Windows – has a little-known IP blocking feature which can help protect you from unwanted observation by anti-P2P organizations or government institutions.  The easiest way to block unwanted IPs is to download and install PeerGuardian 2, but this software only works well in Windows XP so Windows Vista and Windows 7 users should follow this guide instead.

This guide will show you how to use a program called Blocklist Manager to retrieve and compile a list of all unwanted IPs, then use uTorrent’s built-in blocking feature to block them.  Don’t worry about the length of the procedure, most of these steps only have to be performed once.

It should be noted that while blocking IPs can help hide your BitTorrent usage, it is not perfect and the absolute best method for staying safe is to avoid downloading copyrighted material.


  1. Open uTorrent and click Options –> Preferences.
  2. Click Advanced and locate the entry ipfilter.enable and make sure it is set to true.  Close uTorrent.
  3. Download and install Blocklist ManagerNote:  During installation, your virus scanner may warn you about an application called Win32/Angryscan.A.  This software is optionally included with Blocklist Manager (and can be disabled during installation), but I do not consider it to be harmful.
  4. Open Blocklist Manager and click the Sources button to download a directory of sources (Note: this does not actually download the block lists, just the directory of lists).
  5. Click Tools –> Options.
  6. Click Sources and enable any IP lists you would like to be protected from.  I chose to block all lists except for the Non-LAN List, but the Level 1 and Level 2 lists would probably be sufficient for most users.  Click OK.
  7. Click the Process button to start downloading and compiling any IP lists you selected.  This may take some time, so be patient while it processes the files.
  8. Once the processing is finished, click Export –> Export Manager.  This is where you will tell the program where to save your newly created block list so uTorrent can load it.
  9. Use the following settings (also shown in the image below):
    1. Name: ipfilter.dat
    2. Format: eMule/Donk
    3. Location: (Note: You may need to enable viewing hidden folders for this step)
      1. Windows XP: Click ‘Browse Local’ and navigate to C:\Documents and Settings\\Application Data\uTorrent
        1. Note: you may need to enter ipfilter.dat in the File Name box if you encounter problems exporting the file later.
      2. Windows Vista/7: Click ‘Browse Local’ and navigate to C:\Users\\AppData\Roaming\uTorrent
        1. Note: you may need to enter ipfilter.dat in the File Name box if you encounter problems exporting the file later.
    4. Check the ‘Export Location Active‘ box and click Add.  Click OK.
  10. In the main program again, click the Export List button.  This will save the block list to the uTorrent folder you set in the previous step.
  11. If prompted about overwriting an existing file, click Yes.
  12. Once the export process has finished, verify that no errors occurred in the command area of the program.  If none, your block list was successfully saved to the uTorrent folder.
  13. Open uTorrent and click the Logger tab (as shown below).  If you see a message stating that ipfilter.dat (# of entries) was loaded, everything worked properly!

It is very important to update your ipfilter.dat file regularly to get the most recent block lists.  To do this, download the updated IP lists and export them by repeating Step 7 and Step 10 above, then restart uTorrent to load the new list.

Conficker Worm: How to Check If Your Computer Is Infected

keysToday is April 1st, and with that comes the fear of your computer being infected with the Conficker worm.  Besides following Lifehacker’s tips to protect your PC from Conficker, you can follow a more advanced method of scanning your computer in this guide.

UPDATE: There are new and easier methods to scan your computer for the Conficker worm: