Saving Your PC with Unchecky

How many times have I fixed a friend’s or family member’s computer as well as co-worker’s PC that was running “slow” or reportedly acting “strangely”.  Countless times. Very often what I find is that the PC has been overrun with unwanted software. Or what is better known as crapware. On just about every occasion the owner of the PC has “no idea” how all of that software ended up on their machine.

A new smaller little piece of software, which is free may be the answer to many people for keeping their PC clean of unwanted crapware. It’s name is “Unchecky“.

What is Unchecky?

Unchecky is a lightweight application that aims to “keep your checkboxes clear.”  It automatically unchecks the boxes that allow companies to install promotional crapware on your computer, and issues warnings if you accidentally agree to install something you may not want.

For the casual computer user, Unchecky is something of a godsend.  How many times have you heard “But I swear I didn’t install any of these toolbars, I don’t know how they got there!”  Indeed, most people are smart enough to avoid deliberately installing junk, but it’s a lot easier to inadvertently install something unnecessary when you’re going through the installation process for a legitimate program.

Download.com is notorious for sneaking absolute crap on to your system, and passing off the option as an End User License Agreement, something that most people are accustomed to automatically accepting without reading.  As you can see in the screenshot below, Unchecky was able to detect the scam and issue a warning.

For a competent computer geek, Unchecky is probably not really necessary.  However, if you find yourself skimming through installations and ending up with coupon offers you don’t remember asking for, it may be a good idea to install Unchecky.  Even the most careful geeks can be duped into accepting a promotional offer, or maybe you just want to save some mouse clicks and make installations faster.

Installing Unchecky

This is probably the easiest program in the world to install.  Head over to unchecky.com and click on the big button that says download.  Run the file, click install, click finish, and you’re done!  Since Unchecky is mostly meant for novice users, its simple installation process is well-suited.

Wait, is it running?

Unchecky remains completely unobtrusive, working in the background to keep you safe from junk offers, without even displaying an icon in your notification area.  If you need to make sure it’s running, you can check the task manager.

Updates are automatic as well, so you can literally install Unchecky and then forget about it.  You should never actually notice that it’s running, until you go to install a program and see that all the junk offers have been unselected for you.

How well does it work?

Unchecky works very well in prompting and warning you if you accidentally select “yes” to unwanted software and almost always actually changes the check box to “no” which alone will help you keep your computers free of crapware.

You can install Unchecky here. I highly recommend it.

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Brick & Mortar Stores Under Fire

If you were worried about the future of brick and mortar stores you have cause. There is very good reason to fear that the days of simply walking into a store to shop and browse are almost over. Amazon.com is striking another dagger into the life of physical retail stores.

 

Another Dagger at Physical Stores – Conquering Impulse & Speed 

Amazon wants to make your impulse buys even more impulsive. The e-commerce powerhouse is also now offering free same-day delivery service in some cities (including Philadelphia) to its Prime loyalty club members.

Same-Day Delivery

Amazon reported late this week more than 1 million items including books, electronics and vacation gear will be eligible for same-day delivery in 14 metro areas including New York, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Atlanta. Orders over $35 are eligible for the service. They need to be placed by noon and will be delivered by 9 p.m.

Orders under $35 can still have one day delivery, it just costs $5.99.

Previously the service cost $5.99 for Prime members and $9.98 for non-Prime members for the first item, plus 99 cents for each additional item.

About 20 million items on the site are eligible for free two-day delivery for Prime members. Prime loyalty club membership costs $99 a year.

Amazon in general has been expanding its Prime program’s offerings in an effort to grow its membership with services such as grocery delivery, one-hour delivery in some cities, beefed up video streaming and the creation of a Bluetooth speaker called the Echo that syncs with Prime music.

The delivery sector is heating up with new startups challenging traditional delivery methods. Ride-hailing service Uber is testing local delivery service, and delivery service Postmates has begun working with restaurants like McDonald’s and Starbucks, in addition to offering one-hour delivery services for most restaurants and stores in major metro areas.

Not to be outdone, last week Seattle-based Amazon said it would begin offering one-hour delivery from local stores in New York City’s Manhattan borough.

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Apple’s iOS Text Bug

A new bug affecting iOS and iMessages has emerged that causes the app to continuously crash when a certain text is received. If the text is received while the phone is on the lock screen, it also causes your iPhone to reboot without any notice or explanation. This is a big problem for iPhone users, especially those with mischievous friends and even enemies.

This isn’t the first time a bug like this has emerged. This particular bug has happened appeared times in the past. Apple usually fixes the issue in a timely matter, but until it’s fixed, it is a rather malicious problem. The ability to crash iMessages and reboot someone’s iPhone is limited to iPhone-to-iPhone communication. Since the character strand is so specific, most people should never accidentally experience the crashing. Anyone who does experience the crashing was likely singled out on purpose.

You can find examples of the problem through a simple Twitter search which will return results from hundreds of people who can not access their iMessages app because of it. As you can see, it is already being used maliciously by many, so hopefully Apple rolls out a fix for it soon.

There are several workarounds available. The easiest one is having the person who sent you the malicious message to send another message effectively canceling out the initial strand. Another option is to send yourself a message via Siri, the share sheet, or from your Mac.

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IRS Hacked

Yes it’s another day and another hack. The Associated Press has reported that hackers have stole sensitive tax information from over 100,000 taxpayers. The victim here, besides all those tax payers is the IRS.

The IRS report that the thieves were able to access the information using a “Get Transcript” API. They were able to clear security screens requiring the person’s Social Security Number, date of birth, tax filing status and street address.

The IRS told the AP that about 200,000 attempts were made from “questionable email domains,” and 100,000 of these were successful. It also notes it’s a small portion of the 23 million transcripts that were legitimately downloaded, but a 50 percent success rate for the thieves is not very encouraging. Small perhaps but unacceptable.

On the other hand, the IRS suggests the thieves already had plenty of information on the victims, given the answers needed to get past the authentication process.

The hacks happened from February to mid-May 2015. The Get Transcript service has temporarily been shut down, and the agency is contacting taxpayers who may have had their information compromised.

Learn more by checking out the original AP article.

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Cortana Set to Arrive on iOS and Android

One of the things I miss very much about having and using a Windows Phone is Cortana. Boy was she special. Cortana is much like Siri but she actually works for you. I really – really miss her but is looks like Cortana is going cross platform.

This is because today Microsoft made official what had been rumored two months ago: It will release Android and iOS mobile apps that feature Cortana, Microsoft’s intelligent assistant.

“It all starts with the big picture,” Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, argued in a Tuesday interview. “Microsoft wants to provide a connected experience with all a customer’s devices. Windows is nowhere in phone, nowhere in tablets, so they have to provide an experience that [crosses] these platform lines.”

The Android app will debut next month, and the iOS version later this year, Joe Belfiore, who leads Windows design at Microsoft, said in a blog post.

The Cortana app can do most of the things Cortana does on your PC or on a Windows phone. Those things Cortana will do on rival platforms include reminder notifications, notebook syncing and flight tracking. The apps will not feature Cortana’s voice-activated functionality, as in, “Hey, Cortana” which is kind of a bummer.

By offering Cortana, even in a stripped-functionality form, and native Android and iOS apps for other services, Microsoft is executing on its stated “cloud-first, mobile-first” strategy. Along with other major moves.

Saving Windows Phone with Phone Companion?

Also today, Microsoft revealed that Windows 10 for desktops will come with a “Phone Companion” app that will promote not only Cortana, but other Microsoft services and their necessary Android and iOS apps.

Phone Companion will walk Android and iOS device owners through the steps of acquiring apps such as Cortana, Office, OneDrive OneNote, Outlook and Skype, and if available, set up data synchronization between Windows 10 and non-Windows smartphones or tablets. Photos taken on an iPhone, for example, will sync with the Photos app on Windows 10, while music stored on OneDrive will be playable on an Android or iOS device.

“Phone Companion will reportedly help you connect your Windows PC to whatever phone you own — whether it’s a Windows phone, Android phone, or iPhone,” Microsoft Promised.

Microsoft did not set specific release dates for either the Android or iOS Cortana apps, but said that Phone Companion would be bundled with a Windows 10 preview build expected to go public “in a few weeks.”

Windows 10 is to launch this summer.

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New Cyber Risk Users Your Browser to Hijack Your Router

Cybercriminals have developed a new Web-based attack tool to hijack routers on a large scale when users visit compromised websites or view malicious advertisements in their browsers.

The goal of these attacks is to replace the DNS (Domain Name System) servers configured on routers with rogue ones controlled by attackers. This allows hackers to intercept traffic, spoof websites, hijack search queries, inject rogue ads on Web pages and more.

What is DNS? 

dns-rev-1The DNS is like the Internet’s phonebook and plays a critical role. It translates domain names, which are easy for people to remember, into numerical IP (Internet Protocol) addresses that computers need to know to communicate with each other.

The DNS works in a hierarchical manner. When a user types a website’s name in a browser, the browser asks the operating system for that website’s IP address. The OS then asks the local router, which then queries the DNS servers configured on it — typically servers run by the ISP. The chain continues until the request reaches the authoritative server for the domain name in question or until a server provides that information from its cache.

Hijacking DNS

If attackers insert themselves in this process at any point, they can respond with a rogue IP address. This will trick the browser to look for the website on a different server; one that could, for example, host a fake version designed to steal the user’s credentials.

The attacks typically work like this: Malicious code injected into compromised websites or included in rogue ads automatically redirect users’ browsers to an attack server that determines their OS, IP address, geographical location, browser type, installed plug-ins and other technical details. Based on those attributes the server then selects and launches the exploits from its arsenal that are most likely to succeed.

These types of attacks are possible through a technique called cross-site request forgery (CSRF) that allows a malicious website to force a user’s browser to execute rogue actions on a different website. The target website can be a router’s administration interface that’s only accessible via the local network.

Many websites on the Internet have implemented defenses against CSRF, but routers generally lack such protection.

Depending on the detected model, the attack tool tries to change the router’s DNS settings by exploiting known command injection vulnerabilities or by using common administrative credentials. It uses CSRF for this as well.

If the attack is successful, the router’s primary DNS server is set to one controlled by attackers and the secondary one, which is used as a failover, is set to Google’s public DNS server. In this way, if the malicious server temporarily goes down, the router will still have a perfectly functional DNS server to resolve queries and its owner will have no reason to become suspicious and reconfigure the device.

The vast majority of routers need to be updated manually through a process that requires some technical skill. That’s why many of them never get updated by their owners.

Protecting Yourself

To protect themselves, users should check manufacturers’ websites periodically for firmware updates for their router models and should install them, especially if they contain security fixes. If the router allows it, they should also restrict access to the administration interface to an IP address that no device normally uses, but which they can manually assign to their computer when they need to make changes to the router’s settings.

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Facebook’s Messenger Gets Better

Facebook really – really wants you to use their Messenger app. And there may be reason to consider using it more often because the capabilities of Facebook Messenger continue to grow.  This past Thursday Facebook announced that it is rolling out a caller ID feature for the app. The new feature is aimed at helping Messenger users know more about who is trying to connect with them.

The caller ID feature adds details about people from their public information on Facebook. In addition to a profile photo, for instance, it is likely to also display information about where someone lives as well as the individual’s occupation.

Facebook has been rolling out many new Messenger features this year, as well as other communication apps. For example, last month iit launched an Android app called “Hello” that shows a user a caller’s Facebook profile information when the phone starts ringing. Shortly after that, it also introduced video calling for Messenger, which enables Android and iOS users to launch video chats with one tap from any previous Messenger conversation.

Messenger also made its debut as a standalone app, Messenger.com in April, moving it beyond its previous home on Facebook’s pages. The company said the standalone version makes it easier for users to focus exclusively on their communication with others and reduce potential distractions from other Facebook features such as the News Feed.

Many were leery of Facebook’s stand alone app, Messenger but with these additional features it may become a standard.

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Checking Your ISP’s Performance

While the Title II classification of ISPs as common carriers was a victory for all, there is growing concern that ISPs could go on with business as usual with clever tricks designed to skirt the rules of the classification.

While knowingly stepping outside the boundaries of the Title II classification carries the possibility of hefty fines and additional regulation by the FCC – for the most part – the average consumer would never realize throttling or degradation was even taking place.

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The ‘Internet Health Test‘ by Battle for the Net is an attempt to install a sense of checks and balances for these ISPs by providing a test for Internet users to ensure their speeds aren’t being throttled or otherwise degraded.

To find out if you are experiencing any ISP-related performance degradation, simply click the link above (or below) to hop on over to the Internet Health Test site and press the “Start the test” button. The test runs in a pop-up window and takes just a couple minutes. You’ll be alerted to any performance degradation upon completion.

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The test takes about 90 seconds to run and you can check it out here.

You can check out my results here.

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Office Arrives to Android Phones

If you are a Microsoft Office user and a Android user today will be a happy day for you.

That is because last November, Microsoft released mobile versions of its Word, Excel and PowerPoint office apps on Android, but they were only compatible with tablets.

Office-for-Android-phone-Preview-now-available-1

Today, they have added phone support for beta testers.. These are those users who joined the Microsoft Office Preview Community on Google+ and have signed up for the apps you want to try. Once you do this you are then able to find them on the Google Play Store, where the apps have dropped “for tablet” from their name.

It is about time that Android Phone support has come to Microsoft’s awesome Office apps and it finally brings Android to parity with iOS and Windows Phone.

You can learn more about how to check these apps out below.

Office for Android phone Preview now available

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Microsoft’s Clutter Wants to Help Your Inbox

Last November, I reported that Microsoft made a new service, “Clutter” available to Office 365 users. Of course I had to check it out back in November and found it an extremely useful tool to de-clutter my inbox. I have been using it ever since.

I am glad to see that Microsoft is now enabling the de-cluttering feature by default as part of its email experience for Office 365 users. I bet many users do not even know this existed because it had been off by default and not promoted very well by Microsoft. However enabling this by default soon, default users will probably come to love it.


 

What is Clutter?

As mentioned previously, “Clutter” was a service introduced by Microsoft for Office 36 last November. The service utilizes machine learning to help keep your inbox organized; Clutter can learn from the user and tailor the email inbox allowing for a more productive experience.

Everyday email like newsletters and advertisement may not be spam but they certainly can clutter up your inbox. With clutter messages like these automatically go into a special “Clutter” folder where you can look at them when you want to. This keeps your inbox cleaner and you will be less likely to miss important email messages.

More Enhancements & Control of Your Email Clutter

Starting June 1st, Clutter will be activated by default for those in the First Release program. This will be followed up by a release to standard participants on June 15th. With the mainstream release, Microsoft will also introduce administrative controls and status reports for Clutter. These reports will show you exactly how Clutter is organizing your email and inform you when new email is being moved.

Although Clutter will be enabled by default, users will still have the ability to opt-out and disable the service on Outlook’s webpage, Outlook 2016 Preview, or clicking the the disable link at the bottom of each status report.

Check out my original November 14, 2014 article when “Clutter” was first introduced by Microsoft.

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