This week we thought we’d have a look at some of the top FREE software available for your PC.
BACKUP: EaseUS ToDo Backup Free
Computer users should always perform two types of backup: one for files and documents, and the other for the system. EaseUS ToDo Backup Free is reasonably good at both types of backup and is straightforward to use. It can back up everything from selected files and file types to entire partitions or drives and includes cloning tools for upgrading from one drive to another. It provides you with backup scheduling options and support for incremental updates so backups are kept as small and efficient as possible. When restoring data, EaseUS Todo Backup gives a timeline of the date and exact time of backups so you can easily pick a point in time in which to find a backed-up file.
OFFICE SUITE: WPS Office Free
Available completely free of charge (although there are ads associated with certain features), WPS Office includes tools for word processing, presentations and spreadsheets and is fully compatible with Microsoft document formats. It includes hundreds of free fonts and templates and has a clear, easy to use interface. All of the most common tools and options are intuitively placed so you won’t spend ages searching for the setting or tool that you need. It even allows you to convert PDF files into Word format.
PHOTO EDITOR: GIMP
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a brilliant photo editor for Windows. It has many excellent tools that are on a par with those you'd find in premium (and not free!) photo editing software, with more being added all the time. It has just about all the essential photo editing tools, features and commands that most users want: special-effect filters; exposure controls, and colour controls, such as hue/saturation; replace colour, bucket fill, paintbrush, eraser, selection tools, etc.
MEDIA PLAYER: VLC Media Player
VLC Media Player has a simple interface and is compatible with almost all video and audio formats. It supports DVDs & Blu Rays, plus MPEG and DivX streaming and can play videos as they're downloading, so you can watch the beginning of a film and then decide whether it's worth downloading in full. It can also search for album covers and a playlist function allows you to play multiple films one after the other.
Image Editor: Paint.NET
This is an image and photo editing software for PCs running Windows. It has a clean interface with support for layers, special effects, and a wide variety of useful and powerful tools. The program includes everything you would expect to find in an image editing package, but there are plenty of surprises considering that this is free software.
Cloud Storage: Dropbox
Nowadays storing information in “the cloud” is pretty much the norm. Dropbox offers 2GB of free storage, which isn’t much, but you can increase it by referring friends and other tasks. Dropbox offers an app for every major device so you can take your files anywhere. It’s also easy to share files with others, and the service has a great interface on the web and desktop. Whether you use it for backup, as a cloud flash drive, or for setting up shared folders with others, you can’t go wrong with Dropbox.
PC Cleaning / Management: CCleaner
Over time, Windows builds up useless files that take up space. CCleaner is our favourite disk cleaner and the foundation to a clean Windows 10 system, but it also has many more useful features inside its toolkit.
Aside from cleaning the caches of all kinds of software, CCleaner lets you easily disable startup programs, find which files are taking up the most space, clean up your messy context menu, and create a quick text file of all installed programs.
Browser: Google Chrome or Vivali
Although Microsoft Edge comes pre-installed on Windows computers, there are several excellent free alternatives which can often be faster, have more options, and in many cases, be more secure than Edge.
Chrome is an extendable, efficient and stable browser that takes up the minimum of screen space. It has many easily obtained and installed extensions as well as support for parental controls. Admittedly it's not brilliant on machines with limited RAM, and because it is developed by Google, you might be uncomfortable with the ways in which your browsing data may be used.
If you haven’t tried Vivaldi, you should give it a go. You might be surprised by how much you love it, as a backup browser if not your main. Since it launched in April 2016, it has grown a great deal and is becoming increasingly popular. It offers great flexibility, and features such as web panels make it attractive as a browser option. However, you may find it a bit slow compared to other browsers and the unfamiliar interface takes a bit of getting used to.
Our last article warned about the rise in Ransomware attacks and how, if your PC is attacked, your data will almost certainly be destroyed and lost forever. In addition, the everyday hazards of spilling water on a laptop or suffering a hard drive failure can also result in disaster.
You can take steps to protect yourself by ensuring you have at least one external backup for your important files and that this backup is performed on a regular basis. In fact, many business users should have two or three backups, all kept in different locations.
There are two main types of backup that you can use to keep your important data safe. The first is ‘file backup’, which allows you to make copies of the files stored on your PC.
File History is a handy tool in Windows 10, which allows you to perform regular, scheduled copies of the data on your PC and store it on an external drive.
To set up File History you’ll first need to ensure a secondary drive is connected to your PC:
Click the Start button then the Settings button (it looks like a gear and is found in the bottom-left corner of the Start menu). Then click Update & security > Back Up > Add a drive and then chose the drive you’d like to use as a backup.
You can now choose which files you want to back up:
Click the Start button then the Settings button. Click Update & security > Backup > More options > Add a folder. Choose a folder you want to back up then click on Choose this folder. If you add the wrong folder or want to remove a folder from the backup list, click the folder in the Back up these folders list then click Remove.
You can change how often a backup occurs, as long as the drive is connected:
Click the Start button then the Settings button. Click Update & security > Backup > More options. Click the dropdown arrow beneath Back up my files, then click frequency options.
You can also change how long the backups are kept on the drive or network by clicking the dropdown arrow beneath Keep my backups, then click a time limit.
REMEMBER THAT ONCE YOUR BACK UP IS FINISHED, YOU MUST DISCONNECT THE EXTERNAL BACKUP DEVICE FROM YOUR PC TO PREVENT RANSOMWARE FROM ATTACKING IT.
The other type of backup is a ‘system backup’ or a 'system image'. This is more complicated as it involves making a backup copy of the entire Windows operating system running on your PC, as well as all your programs, files and settings. If this is something you wish to carry out, give us a call.
As children get older it is inevitable that they will start using social networking sites. Within these sites they will be encouraged to share all aspects of their lives – thoughts, opinions, feelings, pictures etc. – thus creating digital traces of themselves across the internet. However, what they probably fail to realise is that the internet keeps a record of everything we do online. In other words, it creates an “online reputation”.
It is vital for children to understand how to manage their online reputation because once information is uploaded to the internet, it can be very easily and very quickly shared around. This in turn could affect their friendships, leave them open to cyber-bullying and even affect their job prospects (many employers and university admissions teams check social media profiles when researching candidates). Yet a digital footprint is incredibly difficult to remove.
You can help your child keep a positive presence online by ensuring they understand the long-lasting effects of their internet activities and that their online reputation is created not only by what they post about themselves but also by what others post about them.
Emphasise the fact that it’s almost impossible to keep things private online. Even friends or family members could pass on messages you’ve asked them not to.
Children should never post anything online they don’t want thousands of people, including their family, to see.
A computer screen may give the illusion of distance between them and the other people they are communicating with, however being online is the same as living in the real world.
Always ask permission before tagging a friend online and never post inappropriate pictures. Watch out for photos tagged by their friends and remove any that are offensive.
Stop & think before posting a comment online. They could end up hurting someone or being hurt themselves. It is easier for comments to be misunderstood when typed rather than spoken.
Ask your child to tell you about all their email and instant messaging accounts and what the passwords are, thus allowing you to monitor their activities. Don’t feel guilty about it - you’re only giving them a false sense of security by letting them believe that privacy exists on the Internet.
As mentioned in the last blog, this week I’d like to focus on how to back up your entire PC system. Losing the data on your computer can be devastating. At best, maybe you’ve lost your finely crafted CV; at worst, you’ve lost every photo of your children through the years. It’s terrifying to think that one day you could lose all your data
, but it doesn’t have to be the case if you regularly back up your hard drive.File History in Windows 10
is our recommended way to create a full backup. Not only does it automatically create backup copies of your files, you can also use it to restore all your files if you ever lose them, restore a single file or go back to an old version of a file.
Before you start, you will need to buy a good external hard drive, of which there are 2 types:
- Portable hard drives are easy to transport and are powered by your computer’s power supply.
- Stationary hard drives tend to stay in one location for most of the time and require an external power source.
Once you have plugged in your hard drive, you can start your back up:
- Open the Settings app in Windows 10, click on Update & security, then chose Backup from the menu on the left hand side.
- You can now select the drive you want to save the backup to – your external hard drive should be listed in the drop-down menu. Click on it and voilà, File History is now backing up your data!
- An on/off slider will now appear under a new heading called "Automatically back up my files."
File History will back-up all the folders in your User folder, so to add other folders, click on More options
under the on/off slider and scroll down to "Back up these folders."
Add a folder by clicking the "+"
at the top of the list. You can also specify any folders to exclude from the back up so that they don't take up too much space on your drive.
Also within the More options
section, you can adjust how often the backup is performed and how long the backups are kept for.
For added security, we also recommend that you:
- Back up regularly. After an initial full backup of the entire system, set up automatic backups, which store only what has been changed or added, thus saving disk space.
- Test your recovery plan. There is nothing worse than discovering your backup doesn’t work!
- Always complete a full back up before installing new programmes, updates or drivers.
Our home computers contain some of our most precious data, from photos to financial records to school and college work. But all it takes is a fire, theft, a virus, a drink spillage or an inexplicable hard drive failure for all this data to disappear for good. Most of us know that we should backup, but we put off doing it for various reasons. So the aim of this week’s blog is to hopefully convince you to back up at least part of your computer: the data that matters most to you, the data that cannot be replaced.
For a quick, simple and cheap solution to back up part of your computer, we advise:
A real benefit of cloud storage is that it creates a copy of your files in a physically separate location. You can access the files from practically any computer with an internet connection and you can also keep files in sync across multiple devices. Start by signing up with a simple file-syncing service
– Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive are our favourites. Most services provide you with between 2.5GB to 10GB of free space, which is probably all you'll need if you're only backing up some files. However do bear in mind that most cloud storage services sync
files in a certain folder on your computer. This means if you delete a file in that folder, it will disappear from your online storage as well.
USB flash drives.
This is a simple way of backing up selected files. Just pop one into your PC - there are slots on the side of your laptop or on desktops these slots can be found at the front or the back of the machine. You then use Windows Explorer to copy files from your computer to the removable drive. Tip: A simple way of doing this is to “drag and drop” the files using your mouse. Then remove your USB flash drive and keep it somewhere safe, as far away from your PC as you can!Just remember that these
two methods back up certain files, but they're not sufficient to get your PC or laptop back up and running if your hard drive fails or your computer is damaged or stolen. Making a backup of all the files on your computer is a little more complicated and does take more time. In our next few blogs, we will focus on this process using “File History” and “Back Up and Restore” which are easy to use backup utilities built directly into Windows 10.
You may think that the subject of this week’s blog is a bit of a cheat as I have previously written about it but phone scamming is once again on the increase and because it is such a heartless act, I would really like to remind people about it.
Phone scamming happens when a caller pretends to be a “technical support engineer” from either a Windows or Microsoft call centre, who has discovered problems or viruses on your computer. The caller will persuade you to give them access to your machine and once in, will use a common scare tactic of showing you lots of yellow and red exclamation marks and other scary looking error messages on the machine and claim that these are caused by viruses (which of course they are not, they are quite simply logged events such as your printer once having run out of paper or a web page you once tried to access was down).
The “engineer” will of course require immediate payment to clean up the “dangerously infected” computer and install “protection” software onto the system. In addition and unbeknownst to you, they are highly likely to install malware on your PC in order to obtain your online shopping or banking information, thus being able to steal money from your bank account.
Genuine computer companies will never, ever call you to report computer problems. So if someone claiming to be from Microsoft or Windows technical support calls you, we recommend the following:
Do not purchase any software or services.
Ask if there is a fee or subscription associated with the "service." If there is, hang up.
Take down the caller's information and immediately report it to your local authorities.
Never provide your credit card or financial information to someone claiming to be from “Microsoft tech support.”
If you’ve been victimised by a phone scammer:
Contact your credit card or bank Fraud Prevention Team to have the charges reversed and the account protected from future charges.
Change your computer password, along with the password of any online accounts that may have been provided to the scammer.
Update your security software and run a full security scan on your computer. You may also want to contact a local IT professional to have your computer checked for malware.
Please tell your friends and family about these scams. If more and more people are able to stop making it financially worth their while, then the scammers might stop bothering innocent computer users.
Don’t just take our word for it. Here are a few links
Use of fake anti-virus software is a fast-growing scam, especially since people are so aware of the dangers of spyware, adware and malware. Scammers often use the names of well-known companies that specialise in computer security software – such as AVG, Norton, Bullguard, McAfee etc - to gain your trust. The pop-up adverts are almost exact replicas of genuine warning alerts generated by these legitimate security manufacturers - once you click the warning, your computer is infected.
The aim of this scam is to charge you for bogus software and/or obtain your personal information. Once your computer is infected, the scammer is able to gather information to steal your identity or to sell it to other criminals.
Fake virus alerts are usually generated by a Trojan — a program that takes control of your computer after you open an email attachment, click on a pop-up advert or visit a particular website. Sometimes the Trojan creates “false positive” readings, making you believe viruses and spyware have infected your computer, even though nothing has. In other cases, scam software actually implants malicious code into your computer, especially if you request a “free virus scan.”
So how do you know if you have been infected with malware:
To avoid becoming infected, we recommend:
Although the majority of anti-virus pop-up alerts are fake, you may of course have received a legitimate virus warning. If you are unsure whether it is a genuine warning, check the official website of your anti-virus provider or consult a computer professional.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term “cloud storage”, it is essentially a way of saving information to the internet. Cloud providers store your files, photos etc to an on-line location, thus offering an alternative backup to conventional methods of file storage. Using cloud storage, you can not only access but also share your files from any computer anywhere in the world since all you need is an internet connection.
But can you be sure that the information you store on the cloud is safe? The short answer is, for the time being, no you can't. However, you can take some protective measures:
1. Keep Your Computer Virus-Free.
It is imperative that your computer is virus-free otherwise you run the risk of revealing your cloud logon details. Make sure your virus scanner and anti-malware software is up-to-date, and that you run your anti-virus scanner on a regular basis.
2. Read The User Guide
If you are not sure what cloud storage to choose or if you have any questions as to how a particular cloud service works, read the user agreement of the service you are planning to sign up for, however boring you may think it is. Be aware that your cloud service provider must also keep your data as safe and secure as they can. A good provider will be able to offer several secure backups of your files, all stored in different locations. If the service provider only has one storage location, or if they reveal the exact physical whereabouts of their servers, their security may be compromised.
3. Be Serious About Passwords.
I know you’ve heard me banging on and on about it in previous blogs, but so many people still do not take password security seriously. Did you know that 90 percent of all passwords can be cracked within seconds?
4. Avoid Storing Sensitive Information
The best way to protect any highly sensitive information is to keep it well away from the virtual world and use an alternative storage solution.
5. Use An Encrypted Cloud Service.
Some cloud services provide local encryption and decryption of your files as well as storage and backup. It means that the service takes care of both encrypting your files on your own computer and storing them safely on the cloud.
We are often asked what the differences are between malware and viruses and why an anti-virus cannot stop everything. This week I’d like to try to help out a little.
Malware (malicious software) is the big umbrella term. It covers viruses, worms, trojans, adware, spyware etc. Malware can be unwittingly downloaded from infected bogus email attachments, USB sticks, pirated material and hijacked websites.
There are 2 major categories of malware: hidden and visible.
This is malware that is predominately installed without the user’s knowledge. Its intention is to cause damage or for financial gain:
Virus - this may corrupt or delete data on your computer or even delete everything on your hard disk. Viruses spread when the software or document they are attached to is transferred from one computer to another.
Worm - a malicious computer program that is able to copy itself incredibly quickly from machine to machine, usually by exploiting a security hole in a piece of software or the operating system.
Trojan - like the mythical Trojan horse, they are often disguised as a piece of software that looks innocent. Trojans are one of the most common methods a criminal will use to infect your computer and collect personal information.
Visible Malware (Grayware)
Grayware refers to applications or files that are non-malicious, but can still adversely affect the performance of a computer:
Spyware - installs components on a computer for the purpose of recording internet surfing habits. Spyware sends this information to its author or to other interested parties when the computer is online.
Adware - displays advertising banners on web browsers, which many computer users consider invasive. Adware programs often create annoying pop-up ads and a loss of network connection or system performance.
PUPS (Potentially Unwanted Program) – software that uses high amounts of system resources and is a common cause of spam e-mails and slow systems.
The reason your anti-virus won't stop all types of malware is because the release rate of malware is so high. New malware is released on a daily basis and the anti-virus companies just cannot keep up. We advise that you protect your computer as best you can by:
Keeping up-to-date with the latest operating system updates and patches.
Installing anti-virus software and downloading updates.
Ensuring that Adobe Flashplayer is up-to-date. Use their official website (never use a pop-up which informs you that you need to update it): https://get2.adobe.com/flashplayer/
THINK BEFORE YOU CLICK. The best way to prevent a malware infection is YOU. Avoid downloading and installing anything you do not understand or trust.
Hopefully that clears things up a bit!
If you have a laptop, smartphone or tablet with wireless connectivity, you can access the Internet using Wi-Fi or wireless networks in public places such as cafés, airports and hotels.
Here are some tips to enjoy the convenience of public Wi-Fi whilst helping protect your privacy.
Turn off sharing
Ensure you disable sharing settings on your device before connecting to a public Wi-Fi network. Tablets and Smartphones don’t share at all but laptops do, therefore when you connect to a public network, make sure you select the public profile.
Avoid Automatically Connecting to Wi-Fi Hotspots
If your device is set to automatically connect to any available Wi-Fi hotspot, not only will this allow it to connect to public networks without your permission, you may also be connecting to malicious networks set up specifically to steal your information.
Confirm the Network Name
Hackers can set up fake Wi-Fi networks to attract innocent public Wi-Fi users. If you’re in a café, hotel or other public place and you’re not sure that you’re connecting to the official network, ask. Staff should know the name and password of the official network if there is one.
Check the network is secure
Wireless networks might require a password or other security key, or they might be unsecured and open to anyone with a wireless adapter close by. Make sure you connect to a secure network; Windows warns you if it’s insecure by using a yellow shield, Apple tells you it’s secure by putting a padlock on it.
Don’t type in credit card numbers or passwords
The measures mentioned above can provide some protection against identity thieves who prey on wireless networks. However, a hacker with the right tools can use the same public network to see everything you do, including the websites you visit and any passwords or information you type. It's like inviting someone to peer over your shoulder. To be truly safe, never use public networks for banking and shopping.
One more thing about wireless networks: if you've set one up at home, you should secure it too to avoid anyone within range of the signal accessing your personal files. No offense to your neighbours!
We were recently asked by a customer if we could write this column regarding security advice on connecting to public Wi-Fi. If you would like me to write about something specific in a future column, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Computer users everywhere beware - phone scamming is on the increase again. This malicious act occurs when someone claiming to be from either a Windows or Microsoft call centre telephones you. The reason for their call, they say, is to warn you of a virus on your computer and to scare you into believing that you will be permanently kicked off the Internet. The caller will then ask you to run some checks on your computer. These may include Event Viewer, where they will show you numerous yellow and red exclamation marks and claim that these are caused by viruses. This is not true. These events are logged for a myriad of reasons, some of which are historical and quite mundane, such as your printer had run out of paper and failed to print or a web page you had once requested was down. The caller will then ask to take control of your computer and remove the virus for you, once you have paid them up to £200.
For some people, however, it doesn’t end there. Only last week, a local lady was not only conned out of £209 for a bogus virus removal but the scammers then locked her computer out completely and emptied her bank account of an additional £1,000.
These types of scam have been going on since at least 2008 and Microsoft is aware of the problem. However, apart from alerting people to the scams, there isn’t much more they can do. They do have this to say though:
“Neither Microsoft nor our partners make unsolicited phone calls (also known as cold calls) to charge you for computer security or software fixes.
So if someone claiming to be from Microsoft or Windows technical support calls you, we recommend the following:
Please tell your friends and family about these scams. If more and more people are able to stop making it financially worth their while, then the scammers might stop bothering innocent computer users.
For further information, see our blog at www.diamondbyte.co.uk/blog
Don’t just take our word for it.. Here are a few links