Five Nice Innovations in the Latest Windows Operating System (OS)

Windows Vista never quite caught on the way that Microsoft had hoped. The User Account Control (UAC) feature, which was supposed to enhance security by prompting users before allowing many programs to open, instead proved such an Microsoft Windows 7 Logoannoyance that users simply shut it off – leaving them more vulnerable than when they started. The “simplified” User Interface (UI), with its ribbons and tabs, mystified die-hard devotees of the old drop-down menu system. And the System Tray’s myriad of unused applets that acted, as one reviewer put it, “like belligerent squatters,” only added to the frustration (http://www.pcworld.com/article/172602/windows_7_review.html).

The Windows 7 OS, in contrast, has had a much more favorable public reception. Here are a few key changes that have reviewers cheering:

  1. Faster feel. Users find that applications in Windows 7 open more quickly, and they don’t spend as much time waiting for processes to complete.
  2. Libraries. It’s much easier to find documents in Windows 7. The new Libraries function in Windows Explorer lets you create a virtual location that can aggregate content from several locations at once. You can put network folders, SharePoint documents, and regular folders in your Documents Library, giving you quick access even to documents that are tucked away under several organizational layers.
  3. Easy switching between Wi-Fi networks. Just click on the Wi-Fi adapter in your system tray to bring up a menu of available wireless networks, select the one you want to connect to, and you’re done.
  4. User Account Control (UAC) without annoyances. You can now tweak UAC so that it’s actually helpful. Instead of just an on/off, where your choice is to be forever pestered by repetitive prompts or leave yourself open to the perils of the Internet, you can adjust the level of security you want. Two intermediate levels now exist between the “Always notify” and “Never notify” settings.
  5. A simpler System Tray. The big problem with the System Tray in Vista was that software installers could just dump applets in there without your approval. This led to cluttered System Trays and flurries of word balloons every time you accidentally moused over the area. In Windows 7, applets (except for the clock) don’t go directly into the System Tray; they land in a holding pen and have to be dragged to the System Tray. And they can’t float word balloons unless you permit them.

These are just a few of our favorite features in the new Windows 7.  Which ones do you like best?  Any improvements you hope to see in the next release?

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When You’re Running Security Updates, Don’t Forget About Software

After years of reminders to run system scans and update your virus and malware definitions, you may finally be performing these tasks with some regularity. However, while you’re busy installing updates to your browser and your security settings, make sure you’re not forgetting to update Adobe Acrobat Reader, Flash, and other popular software products.

McAfee recently predicted that in 2010, Adobe would surpass Microsoft as hackers’ primary target.  Click here to read the full article from McAfee.  Once again, popularity has invited the attention of crooks: Acrobat Reader and Flash are very common programs, which makes them low-hanging fruit for hackers. PDF-based malware, in particular, is on the rise.

The problem is compounded by people’s tendency to ignore or forget the need to update the many different types of software they have installed on their machines. This may be due in part to the mistaken belief that as long as they have their antivirus definitions up to date, they’re protected from intrusion. Add to this the fact that, historically, some hastily issued security patches from makers like Microsoft have caused as many problems as they were supposed to fix. Finish it off with a healthy dose of end-user skepticism about the legitimacy of spontaneous prompts to update your software, and you can see why many people still run outdated — and vulnerable — versions of common programs. To this point, Microsoft is releasing a record number of patches on February 9th, tying October 2009 for the most security bulletins released in a single month. You can read the full announcement  at PCWorld.com.

At CMIT, we carefully review all recommended software patches before rolling them out to our clients’ machines to make sure they function correctly. If you’re not on one of our managed services plans and are installing updates yourself, do some research before you take any action. Is there recent news on any of the tech sites about new vulnerabilities in the program you’re about to update? Does the update that you’re about to download come from a trusted source? Make sure you can answer “yes” to these questions before you proceed.

If you’re ever in doubt about whether to install a security patch or other update to Acrobat Reader, Flash, Internet Explorer, or anything else, go ahead and check with us. Chances are you won’t be the first person who has asked about it!

Is your small business struggling with a mile-long “To-Do” list that lets important tasks fall through the cracks? Do you feel out of the loop and wish you had a simple way to get an overview of your major projects? Have you ever had trouble closing the loop on purchase approvals, client service issues, or business critical tasks? Sign up for our FREE WEBINAR on Thursday, February 25th at 12 pm CST and learn how you can run your office more efficiently by keeping track of tasks and processes. Click here to register.

Microsoft kicks fake security software off 400,000 PCs

In the second month of a campaign against fake security software, Microsoft has booted the rogue application “Antivirus 2009” from almost 400,000 PCs, the company recently claimed.

December’s version of the Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT), a free utility that Microsoft pushes to Windows users as part of Patch Tuesday, targeted one of the most popular phony security app, Antivirus 2009. According to Microsoft, the MSRT erased the fake from over 394,000 PCs in the first nine days after it released this month’s edition on Dec. 9.

Last month, Microsoft trumpeted a similar cleaning operation against another family of bogus security software that it said had purged nearly a million machines of programs like “Advanced Antivirus,” “Ultimate Antivirus 2008” and “XPert Antivirus.”

December’s campaign targeted a different family — dubbed “W32/FakeXPA” by Microsoft — that includes fake security software going by names such as “Antivirus XP,” “AntivirusXP 2008” and “Antivirus 2009.”

Windows users increasingly have been plagued with worthless security software as criminals bundle the money makers with other malware or seed significant users with waves of spam touting the programs. According to one researcher, cybercrooks can pull in as much as $5 million a year by installing the rogue programs on PCs, then dunning users with infection claims and constant pop-ups until the victims pay $40 or $50 to purchase the useless applications.

Microsoft also aimed the December version of MSRT at an affiliated piece of malware, called “W32/Yektel,” that works alongside W32FakeXPA and is often bundled with the phony security software.

Classified by Microsoft as a Trojan horse, Yektel takes advantage of users’ worries about browser security by inserting false warnings into Internet Explorer. Those warnings, explained Microsoft researcher Hamish O’Dea in a post to the company’s malware protection center blog two weeks ago, appear at random and mimic IE’s own legitimate drop-down alerts.

Newer variations of the Yektel Trojan go a step further, and insert phony warnings into Google search results, said O’Dea. Whenever these even-sneakier versions detect IE rendering a URL that includes “google,” it inserts a fake message that reads “Google has detected unregistered Antivirus 2009 copy on your computer. Google recommends you activate Antivirus 2009 to protect your PC from malicious intrusions from the Internet.”
The links from Yektel’s IE and Google warnings, of course, take users to a Web site where users are urged to pay $50 to register Antivirus 2009.

Windows users can download the MSRT manually from Microsoft’s Web site or via the Windows Update service.