Gizmo Richards Support Alert Newsletter - Premium SE Edition "Gizmo's top picks of the best
Tech resources and utilities"
Premium SE Edition,  Issue 137
14th September, 2006

In this Premium Edition:
0. EDITORIAL: Security Product Review, Part 3 - Sandboxes

1. TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES
1.1 Ultimate List of Free Windows Software from Microsoft
1.2 Windows XP SP2 is Now a Must
1.3 Useful Windows Run Command Cheat Sheet
1.4 Outstanding Security Testing Site
1.5 Free Wake up Calls
1.6 Overcoming Windows Verification Woes
1.7 One Dictionary to Rule Them All (SE Edition)
1.8 Select the Right Colors for Your Web Site (SE Edition)
1.9 Outlook Passwords Explained (SE Edition)
1.10 The Best Value Gaming PCs (SE Edition)
2. TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES
2.1 The Best Free Project Manager
2.2 Best Free Screen Capture Utility
2.3 Free Text to Speech Utility
2.4 Firefox Extension Provides Enhanced Search
2.5 Top Free Process Viewer Enhanced
2.6 Free Personal Information Manager (SE Edition)
2.7 The Best Free Software Cataloging Utility (SE Edition)
2.8 Excellent Free Font Manager (SE Edition)
2.9 New Free Firewall Impresses (SE Edition)
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
3.1 Microsoft Security News
3.2 Computer Users Rebel Against Security Software
3.3 PCs Compromised by Unpatched Word 2000 Flaw
3.4 New Rootkit Detector
3.5 SpySweeper's New Version Bugs Fixed
3.6 Premium Version of Open Office 2 Released
3.7 German Police Seize Tor Servers
3.8 New Spam Onslaught Challenges Spam Filters
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
4.1 Really Cheap Software
4.2 Free Library Offers Process Information
4.3 How to Make Sure a Game Will Work on Your PC
4.4 Create Your Own Personal 3D Avatar
4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department
4.6 Lots of Commercial Software for Free (SE Edition)
4.7 How to Make Your Windows Desktop Look Like a Mac (SE)
4.8 A New Art Form That Will Surprise You (SE Edition)
4.9 How to Use Wi-Fi Hot Spots Securely (SE Edition)
5. TIP OF THE MONTH
5.1 How to Hide a Windows Folder
6. FREEBIE OF THE MONTH
6.1 Free Network Inventory Management Tool
6.2 The Best Virtual PC for Free (SE Edition)
7. MANAGING YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

0.0 EDITORIAL

his month I'd like to show you my test results for sandbox programs. Of the eight programs I tested, four provided excellent protection against malware while the other four flopped badly. Only one program of the eight passed all the tests with flying colors.

Sandbox programs are security products that allow you to run programs in a kind of virtual PC or sandbox created on your real PC.

The aim is clear: to isolate malicious programs from infecting your real PC by confining them to the sandbox.

The most common application for sandboxing is web browsing. By running your browser in a sandboxed environment your real PC cannot get infected by malicious sites and infected downloads.

Well that's the promise; as we shall see, only half the sandbox programs tested delivered on this promise.

I managed to locate eight sandbox programs. Actually I found quite a few more that used sandbox techniques but these really belonged to other product classes such as HIPS programs or system lockdown products. I also excluded VMWare, Virtual PC and Linux based solutions as they have been well covered in previous issues of this newsletter.

To evaluate the eight sandboxes I used a series of seven different tests based on my own standard tests with additional tests from http://kareldjag.over-blog.com/.

The first was the most important: could the sandbox protect the "real PC" from infection when browsing to a hostile "drive-by download" web site?

Four products passed this test with flying colors. They were:

SandBoxie
GreenBorder
BufferZone
ShadowSurfer

The four products that flunked the "drive-by download" test were:

Altiris SVS
GeSWall
VELite
Virtual Sandbox

As these last four products failed the most important test, I didn't evaluate them further.

The next test was to try to terminate the sandbox using a program running within the sandbox. A sandbox really needs to pass this test otherwise its protection may be rendered useless by aggressive malware running in the sandbox.

All four programs did well and resisted most of the different termination methods I tried. SandBoxie failed one test which involved rebuilding the Service Descriptor Table (SDT) and then termination with Diamond Computer System's Advanced Program Termination utility. This is an obscure attack and I've communicated with the developer of SandBoxie so that he can cover this small hole in its otherwise excellent defenses. A fix is on the way.

In fact, the four top products passed most of my tests - an impressive performance. However, only one managed to pass all seven.

That product was GreenBorder and based on that performance I'd have to rate it at the top of the pack. It was also one of the best implemented products.

It was also the most expensive. Now that really surprises you doesn't it? :>)

Sandboxie is the cheapest product of the four; it's free. More accurately it's donationware. However it provides great protection and hopefully the developer will soon fix its one small weakness.

In truth, all four products are excellent and get my hearty endorsement. They will provide robust protection for your PC against the most hostile malware.

Do you really need one of these products? It depends on your risk level.

If you are a low risk user who only rarely installs programs, doesn't use P2P networks and only browses to well known web sites then you don't need a sandboxing program. You can instead rely on your normal anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall software to protect you.

However if you are a higher risk user then a sandbox program will provide you with the level of protection you really need.

There is another caveat. I know from subscriber letters that these sandbox programs can cause problems on some PCs.

In fact, if you have one of these troublesome PCs, none of these products may work. These cases however should be in the minority; most folks won't have any problem at all. Certainly I haven't. But remember to backup before installing any of these programs

In this brief editorial I've only covered the main findings of my tests. For a full analysis and more detailed product guidance check out the full report on the Support Alert web site.
http://www.techsupportalert.com/security_virtualization.htm

See you next month.

Gizmo
supporters@techsupportalert.com

1.0 TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES

1.1 Ultimate List of Free Windows Software from Microsoft

Over 150 freebies including many I'd never heard of. Many thanks to Art Flores for the link. http://bhandler.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!70F64BC910C9F7F3!1231.entry

1.2 Windows XP SP2 is Now a Must

Windows XP service pack 2 has been released for a long time yet many users have never installed it. In some cases this is simple ignorance but quite often it's because of the problems it causes when installed. The case for installing SP2 is overwhelming on security grounds alone. Now you have another reason: Microsoft support for Windows XP SP1 ends on October 11. If you have had problems with installing XP2 then sort them out by consulting this site [1] or Microsoft's special SP2 support site [2].
[1] http://winhlp.com/WxSP2.htm
[2] http://support.microsoft.com/?pr=windowsxpsp2

1.3 Useful Windows Run Command Cheat Sheet

Most Windows functions that can be carried out through the normal GUI interface can also be accessed via the command line interface. In fact, some functions can ONLY be accessed through the command line. This site lists 99 command line programs covering both categories.
http://www.fixmyxp.com/content/view/20/42/

1.4 Outstanding Security Testing Site

I've long been a critic of the way most security tests are conducted. If you want to see how you should test security products then check out this site [1]. Quite frankly, no one does it better. Their reviews of HIPS products is particular, is definitive.
[1] http://kareldjag.over-blog.com/

1.5 Free Wake up Calls

Subscriber Adeniji Akintobi writes, "Gizmo, I wanted to bring a website to your attention. It's similar to the "Oh Don't Forget" website you recommended in a previous issue except you get phone calls instead of text messages. You can order wake up calls or reminder calls for free." Thanks for that Adeniji, nice site. I note, though, the service is only for the continental USA.
http://www.telepixie.com

1.6 Overcoming Windows Verification Woes

Shy subscriber "Joe" writes, "Gizmo, Why bother with Windows authentication hassles when you can get all the Windows updates from this site [1]?" Quite so Joe and they even offer a browser plug-in to automate the process. Subscriber Al O'Lamoree has another solution: install the automatic patching program NetChk Protect [2] that's currently available to personal users free for 12 months. The later solution has the advantage that it will update all the software on your PC not just Microsoft. However you do need to be tech-savvy to use it.
[1] http://windowsupdate.62nds.com/
[2] http://www.shavlik.com/netchk-protect.aspx

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

1.7 One Dictionary to Rule Them All

This site allows you to search 931 online dictionaries from a single search box. It sounds like a complication but it's not; it actually simplifies the task of finding the meaning of words. Even neater is the reverse dictionary; it's the smartest one I've ever come across. Thanks to Mikel for this suggestion.
http://www.onelook.com/

1.8 Select the Right Colors for Your Web Site

Regular contributor Andreas Büsing writes, "Gizmo, this web service will help you select a matching 9 color palette for your website. Define a single color that you like. Matching colors will then be calculated. Click a color in the palette to promote it to the primary color." Nice find, Andreas. It makes an excellent companion to CPick [2], my favorite free color picker.
[1] http://hlrnet.com/colormatch/index.php
[2] http://home.hccnet.nl/s.j.francke/software/software.htm

1.10 Outlook Passwords Explained

An excellent technical analysis covering how passwords are created and stored in the various versions of Outlook. Warning: High Geek factor.
http://www.passcape.com/html/outlook_passwords.html

1.9 The Best Value Gaming PCs
Here's some useful advice [1] for those thinking of building their own high performance gaming PC on a budget. The "budget" here was $1000 but over at Extreme Tech [2] it was only $800.
[1] http://www.sharkyextreme.com/guides/MVGSBG/article.php/3607756
[2] http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,1697,1822641,00.asp


Got some top sites to suggest? Send them to
supporters@techsupportalert.com

2.0 TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES

2.1 The Best Free Project Manager

Open Workbench is a free Open Source project manager that is so feature rich and so powerful that it should at least be considered before any decision is made to purchase a commercial project management package. It's a product that takes time to get your head around. If you have been using Microsoft Project or other task based manager you'll have to re-orient your thinking because Open Workbench is resource-driven not task-driven. "An Open Workbench plan is built up from estimates for the tasks of work. Estimates are tied to the resource assigned to the tasks. Duration is then driven by the number of hours each resource will work per week to cover the total number of hours required for the tasks. Open Workbench is best suited for groups that estimate total work effort based on the estimates for all the tasks associated with a project, and then create a staffing plan and schedule for those estimates." Once you come to terms with this, you will still have to grapple with learning how to use this powerful product. Here is a partial feature list:

  • Define projects and create associated work breakdown structures with activities, phases, tasks and milestones
  • Create dependencies as finish-start, start-start, finish- finish or start-finish
  • Create subprojects and link them to master projects
  • Create and manage inter-project dependencies
  • Manage advanced task properties such as fixed duration, dependency lag, imposed start/end dates and charge codes
  • Schedule tasks manually or automatically using Auto Schedule
  • Automatically schedule tasks forwards or backwards
  • Schedule across linked master and subprojects
  • Schedule to general or individualized calendars
  • Define resources as people, equipment, materials or expense
  • Assign resources to tasks
  • Configure resources on tasks with uniform, fixed, contour, front or back loading
  • Track status, percent complete and estimates to complete
  • View Gantt charts (both detail and roll-up), PERT charts and the critical path
  • Conduct earned value analysis
  • Define, compare and reset project baseline setting
  • Can read Microsoft Project files

Open Workbench is the real thing, not some amateurish, half baked effort. Like Microsoft Project, it is best suited to large scale projects that can justify the considerable time it takes to learn the product. Those with smaller projects may want to consider some of the simpler (and less powerful) alternatives such as GanttPV [2] or ToDoList [3]. Freeware (registration required), Windows 2000 and later, 9.03MB.

[1] http://www.openworkbench.org/index.php
[2] http://www.pureviolet.net/ganttpv/index.html
[3] http://www.codeproject.com/tools/todolist2.asp

2.2 Best Free Screen Capture Utility

My top suggestions in this category have long been PrintScreen [1] and ScreenHunter Lite [2]. The former has the advantage of simplicity while the later has more features. These are both quality freebies that will meet the needs of most people so I haven't really been looking for alternatives. However, after some glowing recommendations from subscribers about FastStone's Screen Capture [3] I decided to check this program out. In a word, it's outstanding. It's small, doesn't require installation and has more features than you could ever want including the ability to capture scrolling screen shots across more than one screen page. It can also save in BMP, JPEG, JPEG2000, PNG, GIF, TIFF and TGA formats. In many ways it's like the full commercial version of ScreenHunter except that it's free for personal use. This one goes straight into my "46 Best-ever Freeware" list. While at the site check out FastStone's Image Viewer [4]. I think it's the best freebie in its class. Its speed is simply sensational; reminiscent of the old ACDSee before it suffered feature bloat.
[1] http://www.gadwin.com/printscreen/?prnscr
[2] http://www.wisdom-soft.com/products/screenhunter.htm
[3] http://www.faststone.org/FSCaptureDetail.htm Free for personal use, all Windows versions, 1.2MB
[4] http://www.faststone.org/FSViewerDetail.htm Free for personal use, all Windows versions, 2.9MB

2.3 Free Text to Speech Utility

Recently subscriber Jim Powell wrote in to tell me about Dimio's Tool's [1] web site offering a collection of free utilities. When I checked it out I found they were offering a free remote shutdown program, a task manager, folder sync utility and more. But what really caught my eye was DSpeech, a free text to speech and voice recognition program. Unlike other similar utilities DSpeech is small (600KB) and doesn't need to be installed. This makes it ideal for folks who only have an occasional need for text to speech conversion. To use the program you cut and past text into the conversion window and press the "Speak" button. Speech quality is totally dependant on the voices you use. The best voices are commercial products but the site lists some free voices that give quite acceptable quality. Freeware, Windows NT and later, 600KB.
http://dimio.altervista.org/eng/

2.4 Firefox Extension Provides Enhanced Search

Now, how can you go past an extension called "Advanced Dork?" Well, I couldn't and as a result discovered an excellent free tool that performs various advanced Google searches when you right click on any highlighted word or phrase on a web page. The search options include maps, definitions, links, Froogle and a dozen or so more. You can even select which options are displayed in the right click context menu. I use it a lot for finding the meaning of new technical terms as well as locating maps of places unfamiliar to me. https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/2144/

2.5 Top Free Process Viewer Enhanced

I have several process viewers scattered across my various PCs but the one I find myself using most often is "What's Running" [1]. It's not the most powerful; SysInternal's excellent Process Explorer [2] takes that title. It's not the most informative; WinTasks [3] wins there. It's also slow to load. So why do I use it? Easy: it gives me the information I want in the way I want it. That's because "What's Running" is more than a process viewer, it's an excellent startup manager and port enumerator as well. That means I can just flick between the various tabs to get the full lowdown on what's running on my PC without leaving the product. The latest version 2.2 adds even more functionality to an already powerful product and also offers usability enhancements. The new feature I liked most was the ability to jump from an autostart entry to the running processes created by that entry. Try it, you may like it. Free for personal use, Windows 2000 and later, 1.1MB
[1] http://www.sysinternals.com/Utilities/ProcessExplorer.html
[2] http://www.liutilities.com/products/wintaskspro/
[3] http://www.whatsrunning.net/whatsrunning/main.aspx

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

2.6 Free Personal Information Manager

Subscriber Vincent Mont has written to tell me of his experience using the PalmOne Desktop program on a Windows machine as a stand-alone PIM. The program is designed specifically for use with Palm devices but according to Vincent it works perfectly well all by itself. It's an interesting idea so I downloaded a copy to find out for myself. Vincent is quite correct; it's an excellent full function PIM. If you think Microsoft Outlook without the email client you'll get the general idea. I only did a quick check-out rather than a full review but what I saw seemed pretty solid. Naturally a few things such as "Synchronize" don't work without an attached Palm device but most functions work just fine. I also checked the licensing agreement and while it's a little ambiguous I suspect its OK for personal use. Indeed, I can't see Palm objecting as it may well encourage you to buy one of their hand-helds. ;>) Free for personal use, Windows NT SP6 or later plus Mac OS X, 42MB.
http://www.palm.com/us/software/desktop/

2.7 The Best Free Software Cataloging Utility

If you like testing out different programs on your PC you'll probably find a software cataloging program useful. These products will not only inventory what you have currently installed but also document the different programs you've tried in the past or have moved to CD storage. There are a lot of these inventory programs around but one of the best is SoftCat [1], a shareware program from the FNPRG.com. My thanks to subscriber Tom Mighill who wrote in to tell me about the last freeware version of SoftCat which is still available from this site [2]. This version hasn't got as many features as the latest commercial version but will still meet the need of most users. Freeware, Windows 98 and later, 2.0MB
[1] http://www.fnprg.com/softcatplus/index.html
[2] http://pricelessware.org/thelist/org.htm

2.8 Excellent Free Font Manager

Regular contributor Rhiannon Dent recently wrote to tell me about his favorite font manager called "The Font Thing." Now, I have to 'fess up that the only fonts on my PCs are those that come with Windows so I don't pretend to have the expertise to assess font management products. What I can say is Rhiannon's other recommendations have generally been impeccable so if you are into fonts you should check it out. Freeware, all Windows versions, 483KB.
http://members.ozemail.com.au/~scef/tft.html

2.9 New Free Firewall Impresses

A number of readers have asked me what I think of the new Ashampoo firewall. To be frank, I haven't had time to look it at it, however I will be doing a complete survey of firewalls later this year and Ashampoo will be included. If you can't wait you will find this brief review submitted by subscriber Roelof Schuiling of interest:

"Ashampoo Firewall is a free firewall application that has just been released. It seems to be truly freeware; there are no restrictions for commercial use. That's unique. Its biggest advantage is a very nice and clean user interface, where all of the different options are well explained. Its Learning mode is similar to that of competing products.

"There is a choice between Easy and Expert mode. In Easy mode, only the internet connection is being monitored, no internal LAN's. Also, you can only allow or disallow full access to applications in your rules and no individual ports. For experts, there is an option to monitor internal traffic. For example, when the mail client attempts to launch a browser window. It's a good thing this is an optional feature because it causes many confusing popups in Learning mode. A pro: there is a setting which allows you to see the full path of the application. This allows you to better decide whether to accept or refuse a connection. Another handy feature worth mentioning is the Configuration Assistant. It scans the system for known programs and suggests which ports to open. Nice! This saves you the trouble of teaching the firewall which ports to open for these applications. On my system, only settings for Firefox, Thunderbird and Skype were recommended though. The program consumes 19 Megs of RAM, which is pretty resource friendly.

"I heartily recommend this program for its firewall function. I have tested many free firewall applications and rejected most of them because they are too inconvenient for the common user. With all those popups, which ones should you block or allow? Ashampoo Firewall simplifies the choices, and adapts to the user's skill level in an efficient way."

Note: After receiving Roelof's review I asked if he had tested it for leakage over at
www.firewallleaktester.com. I also queried whether the running firewall process could be easily terminated. Here's his response: "My general impression is that Ashampoo is blocking all things I threw at it, but it sometimes freezes up while doing this instead of showing some message. For example, one test (AWVF test 1) instantly rebooted my computer (not good) but after reboot Ashampoo immediately showed it had intercepted the penetration attempt (a good thing). "For your second question: the Ashampoo Firewall CAN easily be terminated from the Windows Task Manager. (A bad thing)"

Freeware, Windows 2000 and later, 3.74 MB.

http://www.ashampoo.com

Got some favorite utilities to suggest? Send them to supporters@techsupportalert.com

3.0 SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES

3.1 Microsoft Security News

Patch Tuesday on September 12 yielded only three patches, one of the smallest for months. Of the three patches only one, a vulnerability in Microsoft Publisher [1], was rated as "Critical."

Also included was a re-release of a massive Internet Explorer cumulative update. This re-release patches a vulnerability missed last time around and ends a public row between Microsoft and the security company eEye who first published details of the overlooked flaw.

Full details of the updates can be found here [2]. All the updates are distributed automatically by the Microsoft Update Service. It is extremely important that users who do not have automatic updates enabled visit the Update Service [3] now.
[1]
http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/Bulletin/MS06-054.mspx
[2] http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/bulletin/ms06-sep.mspx
[3] http://update.microsoft.com (Requires IE5 or later)

3.2 Computer Users Rebel against Security Software

Sick and tired of all this computer security stuff that's being thrust down your neck? Then you'll find this delightful piece submitted by subscriber "Briard" highly satisfying. I don't agree with all Briard says but I do understand how he feels.
http://www.techsupportalert.com/security-blues.htm

3.3 PCs Compromised by Unpatched Word 2000 Flaw

Microsoft on September 5 finally confirmed a problem that had been previously identified by security companies that allowed users PCs to be compromised simply by opening a specially crafted document in Word 2000. All Word 2000 users should avoid opening any Word document from untrusted sources until a patch is released.
http://www.frsirt.com/english/advisories/2006/3448

3.4 New Rootkit Detector

How many free rootkit detectors do we really need? Well, apparently Sophos thinks at least one more. I had a quick look and its new offering [1] and found it simple to use and fast to scan and it also offers to clean any rootkits detected. But does it actually detect rootkits? I did a quick test against some rootkits that I had on hand and it found Hacker Defender but missed FuTo, a special version of Vanquish and Rootkit11. Well, at least it scanned fast. ;>) At this stage, I suggest most average users would be best off with F-Secures's BlackLight scanner [2] while advanced users should use DarkSpy [3] and/or the GMER scanner [4].
[1] http://www.sophos.com/products/free-tools/sophos-anti-rootkit.html
[2] http://www.f-secure.com/blacklight/
[3] http://www.softpedia.com/get/Antivirus/DarkSpy-Anti-Rootkit.shtml
[4] http://www.gmer.net/

3.5 SpySweeper's New Version Bugs Fixed

Last issue I complained about a bug in the new version 5 of WebRoot's excellent SpySweeper program that was eating up a lot of processing power on my PC. The good news is that the latest release appears to have fixed the problem. The bad news is the "fix" appears to consist of disabling the keylogger scanner that was one of the new features of version 5. Well, at least it works now.
http://www.webroot.com

3.6 Premium Version of Open Office 2 Released

This "premium version" is really the same as Open Office V2 with the addition of: * Clip Art (currently more than 2,800 objects)
* Templates (number varies by language)
* Samples (number varies by language)
* Documentation (if available)
* Fonts (more than 90 fonts)
It all adds up to a massive download of around 200MB.
http://sourceforge.net/forum/forum.php?forum_id=605082

3.7 German Police Seize Tor Servers

Tor is a free anonymizing service that's widely used by privacy-conscious surfers. On 7 September the security of their privacy took a severe nose-dive when German police seized a number of Tor servers in that country as part a campaign to crack down on "men who have an strange interest in young children." Note my spam filter inspired sensitivity there. ;>) Folks, this incident is a just another example of what I have long told you: there is no such thing as absolute privacy on the internet. That doesn't mean you have no privacy. Quite the opposite; you can achieve a high degree of privacy. But absolute privacy, no way.
http://www.boingboing.net/2006/09/10/report_german_police.html

3.8 New Spam Onslaught Challenges Spam Filters

Noticing more spam arriving in your mail? Then join the crowd. There is currently a spate of spam that uses large slabs of random text to poison Bayesian Spam filters [1]. There's not much you can do about it except to add another layer of filtering that uses a different technique such as the network filter used in Cloudmark Safety Bar [2].
[1] http://www.spam-burger.com/How-Spammers-Fool-Bayesian-Filters-And-How-To-Stop-Them.html
[2] http://techsupportalert.com/reviews/review-cloudmark.htm

4.0 OTHER USEFUL STUFF

4.1 Really Cheap Software

Regular contributor Leib Moscovitz writes, "Gizmo, in case you didn't see this, they have some very good deals, offered for one day only, and for a limited quantity of each software package. You can also suggest programs for them to feature at a discount.
http://www.bitsdujour.com/

4.2 Free Library Offers Process Information

OK, your firewall pops up a message: "alg.exe is trying to connect to the internet (A)llow (D)eny." You have no idea what to do because you don't know what alg.exe is. Fear not, just go to this free site and type in alg.exe and it will tell you exactly what the program does along with some advice whether it's a friend or foe.
http://www.processlibrary.com/

4.3 How to Make Sure a Game Will Work on Your PC

Subscriber Shafile Rashid writes, "Gizmo, it's common for users to enthusiastically buy a PC game only to find that it won't run on their PCs. At this site [1] you can choose a game then the site will download a small tool on your PC to check your hardware and settings. It will then give you a report whether your PC is capable of running the game. If not, it will usually state the reasons." Nice suggestion, Shafile. I'm not a gamer but I thought I'd check out the service just to ensure that it was free of spyware. I tried it with two browsers: IE and Firefox. With IE, the site uses ActiveX to do the hardware analysis while with Firefox it downloads a small Java applet. I tried both and my security programs gave no warning so it looks fine. However, the ActiveX and Java results were slightly different with the latter more accurate. Yet another reason to use Firefox. ;>)
[1] http://www.systemrequirementslab.com/referrer/srtest

4.4 Create Your Own Personal 3D Avatar

Why use a plain vanilla photo or clipart item to identify yourself when you can create your own unique 3D identity at Meez.com? You can use your personal avatar anywhere including MySpace, Xanga, Skype, ICS services or Blogger. Better still, create multiple identities to suit your mood and environment.
http://www.meez.com

4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department

This Flash animation [1] provides a possible explanation for why your desktop icons seem to move around without you ever touching them. Thanks to Mikel for this one. Feeling nostalgia for the simpler world of old DOS computer games? If so you'll love this suggestion from regular contributor Andreas Büsing. "WinLems [2] is a complete remake of original DOS classic in Windows. Includes a full-featured level editor that gives you complete control over every aspect of making levels. Everything is emulated from the original except for music, which will be added in next release."
[1] http://www.xs4all.nl/~jvdkuyp/flash/see.htm
[2] http://www.wildfiredesign.net/winlems/index.htm

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

4.6 Lots of Commercial Software for Free

Here you can find current versions of popular software products which are free (or near free) after applying vendor rebates. It's a shifting feast so you may have to visit the site a few times before you find something you want. Thanks to subscriber Rhiannon Dent for the link.
http://www.freeafterrebate.info/

4.7 How to Make Your Windows Desktop Look Like a Mac

A couple of issues back I mentioned the Vista Transformation Pack, a product that made XP look like Vista. Flyakite OSX will make it look like a Mac. It does a pretty good job, too; the visual styles, toolbars, cursors, etc. all look and feel very like the real thing. However, to achieve this impressive result, Flyakite OSX makes some quite deep changes to Windows so please create a full system backup before installing. Freeware, Windows XP, 31MB
http://osx.portraitofakite.com

4.8 A New Art Form That Will Surprise You

This site features a new art medium: dusty car windows. The results are truly impressive. Yet another suggestion from R.D.
http://tinyurl.com/loqld

4.9 How to Use Wi-Fi Hot Spots Securely

Ten things that you can do to improve your security when using public access points.
http://www.grafdom.com/news/NewsDetails.asp?catid=5&newsid=495

5.0 TIP OF THE MONTH

5.1 How to Hide a Windows Folder

Folder hiding is a simple way of keeping prying eyes away from your private documents.

From a human point of view it's a good solution; what you can't see, you don't know you want.

Encrypting a folder can have the opposite effect. The folder is visible and if access is attempted, the need to enter a password positively shouts the message that someone is trying to hide something.

This probably explains why there are so many commercial utilities that claim they can securely hide folders.

I use the word "claim" deliberately. It's actually quite difficult to securely hide a folder in Windows without risking problems in the operating system itself.

And there can be all sorts of practical problems. For example, what happens to the hidden folder when you delete a visible folder above it in the folder tree? Will the hidden folder be backed up? Will it be scanned by your AV program? Can the files in the folder be recovered in an emergency such as a system crash?

These are not theoretical problems; they are real and need to be seriously considered.

I've used a number of commercial folder hiding programs over the years and have ended up un-installing them all. They were simply not worth the trouble.

Instead of using complicated and expensive security utilities, I suggest you stealth your folders using a far simpler method using the Windows "hidden" attribute. And once you have hidden your folders you can then protect them using free open source encryption programs.

The Windows hidden attribute works similarly to the more familiar "read only" attribute. It's a property of every file and folder that can be turned on or off. Let's try it.

Create a folder in My Documents and call it "test." Now copy a couple of unimportant files to the folder.

To turn on the hidden attribute right click on the folder icon, select Properties, then the General Tab and check the Hidden box.

The folder should disappear from My Documents. If it doesn't then you have Windows Explorer configured to display hidden files.

To change this, select Tools / Folder options / View then check the "Do not show hidden files and folders" box. Now the test folder should disappear. To make it re-appear select the "Show hidden files and folders" option.

So now you have a way of hiding a folder and revealing it again using your folder settings. Now I'll show you a simple trick that allows you access your hidden folder without constantly changing the folder settings. However, before I can demonstrate this we have to make the folder hidden but the files within it not-hidden.

Go to My Documents and make sure your folder "test" is visible. Open "test" and select all the files by using Control A. Now right click anywhere on the selected files and select Properties / General and uncheck the Hidden attribute. Now your folder is hidden but the files are not.

Go back to My Documents and hide the folder by changing the folder settings. Your test folder should disappear from My Documents.

Now here's the trick. Windows allows you to navigate to a hidden folder. So while in the My Documents folder, type into the address bar "/test" immediately after "My Documents" with no spaces between and hit enter.

Voila you are now in your secret "test" folder and all your documents are visible!

Of course locating your private folder in My Documents is not a great idea as it will be immediately revealed should another user enable the display of hidden files. Better to stash your folder in some obscure location well away from prying eyes but easy to navigate to. Additionally, name the folder to be as uninteresting as possible.

Hiding your folder like this is fine if you only want to keep information from prying eyes but if you really want to properly protect your hidden folder you should encrypt it.

Luckily that's easy; simply use the free open source program AxCrypt:
http://axcrypt.axantum.com/

Using AxCrypt is dead simple so I won't explain how. AxCrypt is also near-unbreakable so make sure you don't forget your password. If you do, your data is lost forever.

Using this technique you can hide and protect your folders without spending a cent and, unlike commercial folder hiding utilities, this technique is not going to potentially create a whole set of other problems.

6.0 FREEBIE OF THE MONTH

6.1 Free Network Inventory Management Tool

This is really nice. Spiceworks is a browser based inventory program that allows LAN managers to quickly discover and document the hardware, software and patch status of their network PCs.

That rather bland description seriously under-sells the usefulness of this product. It's got a terrific filter system that allows you to target your inventory request plus a highly customizable reporting system. On top of that it has a great interface, is easy to use, can handle Linux and Mac OS X workstations and uses standard network protocols.

In short, it's just the tool that managers of small to medium size networks have been looking for. At the moment it's a free beta so go grab it while you can. Note: The program requires XP Pro with 512MB RAM on the administrator's PC. Free beta, 7MB.

http://www.spiceworks.com/

** Bonus Freebie for Premium Edition subscribers **

6.2 The Best Virtual PC for Free

There is little doubt in my mind that the best virtualization product on the market is VMWare Workstation. Indeed, it's what I use for all my security testing and in two years of intensive use with some the most hostile malware products around its protection has never failed. However, at $189 VMWare Workstation is out of reach of most home users.

Thanks to a suggestion from subscriber Dennis Federwitz I'm able to show you a way of getting most of the advantages of VMWare Workstation without spending a cent.

VMWare has for some time offered its free Player [1] that can launch a virtual PC from an image file., The Player can't create the image, though; you need the Workstation product to do that.

However, Dennis has found another way to create images. "Gizmo I just discovered a program that you may find interesting! It is an open source program called VMmanager [2]. Using VMmanager I was able to successfully create a Windows XP VM and install and run it using VMWare player."

I tried it out and it works pretty much the same as VMWare Workstation. In fact, the image files are very similar in size and structure.

Here are some of the features:

- Handles multiple operating systems
- Supports ide and SCSI adapters
- Can use up to 3 network adapters
- Controls network settings:
* Disabled
* Bridged
* NAT
* Host only
* Custom
- Can Modify MAC addresses
- Can control a CD-Rom device:
* Disabled
* Auto detect
* Use ISO file
- Can control a floppy disk:
* Disabled
* Physical drive
* Use image file
- Can modify existing image files

By using VMmanager and VMWare Player together you get most of the functionality of VMWare Workstation. No, you won't have the capacity to store and manage multiple images; you need the full product for that. Then again, most folks don't need that feature.

And of course if you want to create a Windows image you'll need a separate licensed copy of Windows to use to build the image. That's not a technical limitation; it's a Microsoft legal requirement. Mind you, I know a lot of folks who download a copy of Windows from P2P or BitTorrent networks to build their virtual images. It's not a practice I can condone but I can sure understand the motivation.

For those who want to use virtualization for safe browsing and testing downloaded programs, the VMmanager and VMWare Player together provide an excellent solution. Free, Open Source, Windows 2000 and later, 665KB.

[1] http://www.vmware.com/products/player/
[2] http://sourceforge.net/projects/vmmanager

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The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities
http://www.techsupportalert.com/best_46_free_utilities.htm

The Extended List of the Latest Freebies
http://www.techsupportalert.com/more/extended.htm

For lots more free IT newsletters see
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Thanks to subscriber A. Belile for proofreading this issue.

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Support Alert is a registered online serial publication ISSN 1448-7020. Content of this newsletter is (c) Copyright TechSupportAlert.com, 2006

See you next issue

Gizmo
Ian Richards
editor@techsupportalert.com