Gizmo Richards Support Alert Newsletter - Premium SE Edition "Gizmo's top picks of the best
Tech resources and utilities"
Premium SE Edition,  Issue 138
19th October, 2006
If you prefer you can read this issue online from the Supporters' Area here>

IN THIS PREMIUM ISSUE:
0. EDITORIAL: The New Generation of Intrusion Prevention Products

1. TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES
1.1 More Free Software from Microsoft
1.2 HijackThis Logs Analyzed Automatically
1.3 Send Emails at Future Dates
1.4 Identify Unknown Programs from Their File Name
1.5 Identify Unknown Processes
1.6 A Free DNS Server That's Better and Safer
1.7 Record Your Screen Sessions for Free (SE Edition)
1.8 Social Bookmarking Sites Compared (SE Edition)
1.9 Common Computer Questions Answered (SE Edition)
2. TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES
2.1 How to Get Acronis True Image for Free
2.2 Covert an Old PC into a Mass Storage Device
2.3 A Free Anti-Spyware Program with Active Protection
2.4 Google Releases Free Bookmark Syncing Tool
2.5 Recover Information from Damaged Data CDs
2.6 Free Tool Re-arranges Your Task Bar (SE Edition)
2.7 Free Utility Checks Web Site for Broken Links (SE Edition)
2.8 The Best Internet Business Guide is Now Free (SE Edition)
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
3.1 Microsoft Security News
3.2 Firefox Updated to V1.5.0.7
3.3 New Version of SandBoxie Fixes Vulnerability
3.4 Weaknesses of Anti-Virus Software
3.5 How to Stop Delivery of Internet Explorer 7
3.6 Organized Crime Behind Latest Malware Wave
3.7 Is Your Security Software Killing Your PC?
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
4.1 Where to Find Good Computer Deals
4.2 Weird Cases for Your iPod
4.3 Free Utility Prevents Digital Photo EXIF Data Loss
4.4 Lots of Free Games
4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department
4.6 How to Find Free Music; Get Access to Blocked Sites (SE)
4.7 Multiple Function Cable Saves Space (SE Edition)
4.8 Free Utility Converts Video Files for Use on Your iPod (SE)
5. TIP OF THE MONTH
5.1 How to Schedule Programs to Run Automatically
6. FREEBIE OF THE MONTH
6.1 A Program Scheduler That Handles Automated Keystrokes
6.2 Free Utility Offers Anonymous and Secure Browsing (SE Edition)
7. MANAGING YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

0.0 EDITORIAL

It's been over a year since I last looked at intrusion prevention and detection systems and since that time the range of products available and the capabilities of these products have changed remarkably. In particular the latest products have improved greatly in usability and are now much less annoying than their predecessors.

Intrusion prevention systems, or HIPS (Host-based Intrusion Prevention Systems) to use the current jargon, are software products you run on your PC that are designed to warn you about programs that are behaving suspiciously and prevent them from doing anything harmful.

Unlike anti virus and anti spyware programs that try to identify malware programs by their signatures, HIPS products try to identify malware programs by their behavior.

For example, most users will at some time have seen a popup warning that looks something like this:

Alg.exe is trying to contact a remote computer.

(A)llow (D)eny

This is a typical HIPS warning message. What it is saying is that the program alg.exe is behaving suspiciously. It is not saying alg.exe is a malicious program; rather it's leaving that decision to you.

This approach has both strengths and weaknesses:

On the plus side it can catch brand new malware programs that aren't yet in your anti virus signature database. This is a real strength as the number of new malware programs in circulation is rising sharply and anti virus vendors are hard pressed to keep their signature files up to date up-to-date.

Another advantage is that it can catch malware that are exploiting previously unknown flaws in Windows and other software products. These so called "zero-day" attacks are also escalating rapidly; indeed, they are approaching plague proportions.

On the downside, HIPS systems put a heavy burden on the user:

First, users have their work interrupted by warning messages. Worse still, most of these warning messages are false alarms created by perfectly legitimate activities such as programs phoning home to check for updates. Simple activities like installing a new utility can became a nightmare with whole strings of warning messages generated.

Second, users are asked to make decisions whether a program is legitimate or not. Take the example HIPS warning I mentioned above. The only way a user can give an intelligent response to this warning is to know exactly what the program alg.exe does and whether it should be exhibiting this behavior. Quite frankly, most users wouldn't know and, equally frankly, it's unreasonable to expect them to.

Anyone who has used WinPatrol, Prevx or other first generation HIPS program knows these problems all too well. In net effect these early HIPS were 99.9% annoyance and 0.1% protection.

The latest HIPS products try to address these problems by using a variety of different techniques, the most common of which are white lists and black lists.

White lists are catalogs of trusted programs. White-listed programs can pretty well do what they want without the HIPS program generating popup warnings. This approach greatly reduces the number of warning messages and more importantly reduces the number of false warnings.

Black lists are catalogs of known malware programs. Any action by these programs is blocked and the user is notified. This approach greatly reduces the need for users to interpret warning messages and to know what programs are malicious.

Prevx1, the replacement for Prevx, is an excellent example of this new generation of HIPS. It combines both black and white lists and on most systems it generates hardly any warning messages unless there is a genuine problem. By contrast its predecessor Prevx was notorious for generating a plethora of messages. So many, in fact, that most users quickly became annoyed and uninstalled the product.

Prevx1 is not the only HIPS product with improved usability. DefenseWall and others have impressed too. And even some older HIPS products like Process Guard and System Safety Monitor have improved in their usability.

This is good news for all. HIPS systems have become more important as the prevalence of zero-day attacks has increased. Anti-virus and anti-spyware products offer only limited defense against these threats but HIPS programs promise a high level of protection.

So how well do these HIPS products actually perform? Do they provide a useful degree of additional protection beyond that offered by your anti-virus and anti-spyware software? Do they still annoy and confuse users? Will they slow your PC down?

The answers to these questions will have to wait to next month's issue. I'll give you a full report on the technical aspects and, equally importantly, I'll provide an end-user's perspective based on the experiences of a group of subscribers who are currently testing these products for me.

If you can't wait then check out the HIPS reviews over at http://kareldjag.over-blog.com/. These reviews are quite technical but they are the most comprehensive I've seen and well worth wading through.

See you next month.

Gizmo
supporters@techsupportalert.com

1.0 TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES

1.1 More Free Software from Microsoft

Last month I gave a link to the "Ultimate List of Free Software from Microsoft [1]." Subscriber Wayne Paterson has written in to let me know the same author has now compiled a new list of Microsoft freebies specifically for MS Office [2].
[1] http://bhandler.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!70F64BC910C9F7F3!1231.entry
[2] http://bhandler.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!70F64BC910C9F7F3!1344.entry

 
 
 
 
1.2 HijackThis Logs Analyzed Automatically

I've mentioned the free HijackThis security utility [1] several times in this newsletter. It's a free program that lists the programs running on your PC, those that start up automatically with Windows, installed browser toolbars and a variety of other key pieces of data that help identify if any malware programs are installed on your PC. Interpreting a HijackThis log is an expert task and I normally recommend posting the log to a specialist Tom Coyote web forum [2] for analysis. This site [3] offers another option: instantaneous on-line analysis. Don't expect it to be as thorough as an experienced human operator but then again you don't have to hang around a day or more waiting to find out if your PC is infected. Just create a HijackThis log then cut and paste it into the web form and press the button. Bingo; instant analysis.
[1] http://www.hijackthis.de/en
[2] http://www.tomcoyote.org/hjt/
[3] http://hjt.networktechs.com/

1.3 Send Emails at Future Dates

A subscriber recently asked how he could schedule to send an email to his children every day for a whole week in advance. It turned out to be easier than I thought as I found two sites that offer this service for free. Good for reminders too.
http://futureme.org/
http://www.mailtothefuture.com

1.4 Identify Unknown Programs from Their File Name

It's often hard to work out the name of an application just from the file name but it's easy with the help of this site. Just enter the file name and you can discover the product name, publisher, original publication date and more. Well worth bookmarking. Thanks to regular contributor Rhiannon Dent for the suggestion.
http://fileadvisor.bit9.com/services/search.aspx

1.5 Identify Unknown Processes

Another site to bookmark. Here you can look up any of the processes running on your PC and find out whether they are friend or foe.
http://www.processlibrary.com/

1.6 A Free DNS Server That's Better and Safer

Subscriber Eric Villarreal writes, "Open DNS offers their DNS server free of charge to replace the DNS servers that one's ISP uses. They claim it to be faster, safer (from phishing sites, which are blocked), and smarter as it changes typos like .og to its correct form, .org and so on. I've been using it for a few days, and it does what it claims. Just one more little thing to keep things safer." Nice find, Eric. I tried it and it works well.
http://www.opendns.com

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

 
1.7 Record Your Screen Sessions for Free

This site is offering a free service that allows you to create movies of your screen sessions including audio if you wish. It's currently only a very early beta and the quality is limited but the fact that it requires no special software is a real plus. In fact, it works with just about any Java enabled browser. Movies can be stored and shared on the site but presently can't be downloaded or converted to standard formats such as Flash or AVI. Registration is required. I use CamtasiaStudio to create my screen recordings but it's an expensive product. If you know a good free recorder that creates movies in standard formats, please email me.
http://www.screencast-o-matic.com

1.8 Social Bookmarking Sites Compared

A thorough comparison of the features offered by nine of the top contenders.
http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/social_bookmarking_faceoff.php

1.9 Common Computer Questions Answered

This site provides simple answers to typical computer questions asked by beginners. It's quite well done actually and a great place to send all those pesky relatives who keep asking you annoying computer questions.
http://www.simplehelp.net/

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

2.0 TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES

2.1 How to Get Acronis True Image for Free

When subscriber Warren Stark emailed me about this I thought it was a hoax but it's not. Acronis is giving away an older version (V7) of its class-leading imaging program. Now V7 may not have the fancy features of the latest version but it's still a great product. In fact, I used it myself when it was the current version. Sure it can't backup to DVD and it requires 2 CD drives for cloning but it's a totally usable product. The only small downside here is you have to register to get a serial number; a tiny price to pay to get a top product. Thanks Warren. Free promotion, Windows 98 and later, 21.3MB.
http://www.acronis.com/mag/vnu-ati7

2.2 Covert an Old PC into a Mass Storage Device

Subscriber Richard Game writes, "Gizmo, I've come across some software that allows you to convert an old PC into a mass storage device by adding one or more additional hard drives. The software replaces the normal operating system so you don't need Windows or Linux. It's not free but I could not be bothered to figure out all the packages and configuration I would need to do this on a normal Linux box to compare the price. Using this software it took only 15 minutes to have an old 500Mhz Dell PC acting as a NAS server. Once the NAS server is attached to a Windows network each drive on the server is detected and labeled automatically within the Network Neighborhood. It doesn't get any simpler than that - the best $30 I have spent in ages." Great find, Richard. It's a good use for an old PC and the economics are really attractive. For example, four 250GB drives should cost you less than $280 and when you add the $30 cost of the server operating system you end up with a terabyte of storage for $310! That's quite enough to rip most CD collections in uncompressed WAV format or store more than 120 DVD movies. And you can use any old Pentium PC as long as it's got a fast network card and plenty of drive bays. Another attractive feature is that you are relieved of the normal operating system maintenance requirements for the server. For example, there's no need for Windows updates. On the downside, you are limited in your security and disk management options compared to a server running a full operating system but for home users this is not a big issue. Of course, similar results could be achieved by using a series of external USB drives but then you have the additional cost of the drive enclosures plus the complexities of separate power supplies for each. Additionally, external drives will put more load on the host PC compared to using a separate server. Commercial software, various prices up to $29.95.
http://www.serverelements.com/naslite-2-cdd.php

2.3 A Free Anti-Spyware Program with Active Protection

Ad-Aware and SpyBot Search and Destroy have long been the mainstays in the free anti-spyware utility category but, alas, their stars have fallen in the last year as these once great products have been overwhelmed by the latest generation of malware products. Hopes for another solution were raised when Microsoft bought out Giant's excellent Antispyware product and released it for free. However, these hopes were dashed when Microsoft changed the Giant product into Windows Defender. It was no enhancement; in fact, a step backwards. So I've been keeping my eye out for a new contender, particularly one with good active protection to prevent initial infection.

One such product is Spyware Terminator [1]. I've known about it for quite a while but have approached it cautiously as there was a cloud hanging over the reputation of the vendor [2]. Thankfully, that cloud has now been lifted. Installation proved to be very simple as the product has an excellent configuration wizard that walks you through the setup. One option offered is the capacity to harness the open source anti-virus product ClamAV to provide another layer of detection in addition to Spyware Terminator's only inbuilt detection. This is a nice idea; ClamAV is not the most effective AV scanner on the market but it's certainly competent and the additional protection can only be a plus. The Spyware Terminator (ST) user interface is very clean and professional, a complete cut above the amateurish look of products like SpyBot S&D. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of ST is its comprehensive active protection. Over fifty different system variables are monitored in four separate areas.

Additionally, there is a built-in HIPS system that works in a similar manner to products like WinPatrol to prevent programs starting up on your PC or making changes without your knowledge. A nice feature here is the ability to set the HIPS warnings to a level appropriate to user experience. Other HIPS products could do well to offer a similar feature.

Unusually for a free product, ST allows you schedule scans automatically. Updates, too, can be set to automatic.

Scanning proved to be on the slow side. A full spyware scan took 896 seconds to scan 21000 objects while Windows Defender took only 503 seconds to scan 78000 objects. A combined Spyware and AV scan took even longer.

I tested spyware scan detection rates on a limited sample of 110 currently circulating malware products obtained from P2P networks. ST detected around 31% by scan and 49% on execution compared to 34% and 56% for Windows Defender and 42 and 71% for the class-leading product WebRoot SpySweeper. The sample size here is too small to get pedantic but it would be reasonable to say that ST approaches Windows Defender in performance but is a distinct notch below the top commercial anti-spyware products.

This conclusion needs to be qualified. ST has a much stronger HIPS capability than Windows Defender and this provides additional protection for experienced users who now how to interpret and respond to warning messages. Less experienced users will benefit less.

In the technical area ST was less impressive. It can be easily terminated using basic methods; Windows Task Manager was sufficient. It doesn't detect rootkits, can't detect process injection, it doesn't scan within archives and can only handle a limited number of compressed executable schemes. Mind you, most other anti-spyware products perform badly in these areas as well.

Where ST does shine is active protection against hostile web sites. Here it is the HIPS that is carrying the main load but the result is impressive. ST protected my PC against infection at my three standard hostile sites, easily outperforming most other anti-spyware products with the exception of SpySweeper.

In conclusion, Spyware Terminator is an excellent free spyware scanner with useful auxiliary anti-virus capabilities. Its active protection is well ahead of the other major free anti-spyware products: SpyBot, Ad-Aware, and Ewido Free. Its detection rates are good, just a notch behind Windows Defender but well ahead of Ad-aware and SpyBot. It does not, however, approach the rates achieved by the top commercial anti-spyware products.

So do I prefer it to Windows Defender? For users of older Windows systems it's a non-question as Windows Defender will not work on these systems. Windows 2000 and XP users do, however, have a choice. I'd have to say at a technical level I think Spyware Terminator's HIPS gives it the edge however this is offset in my mind by lingering concerns over how a high-support product like this can remain viable as a free product. Freeware, Windows 98 and later, 2.3MB

[1] http://www.spywareterminator.com
[2] http://www.spywarewarrior.com/rogue_anti-spyware.htm#spyterm_note

2.4 Google Releases Free Bookmark Syncing Tool

Regular contributor Rhiannon Dent writes, "Gizmo, check out Google Browser Sync for Firefox [1]. It's a free Firefox extension that continuously synchronizes your browser settings including bookmarks, history, persistent cookies, and saved passwords, across your computers. It also allows you to restore open tabs and windows across different machines and browser sessions." It does even more than that, Rhiannon; it provides back up for your bookmarks and other settings as well. For many users that alone would justify installation. I've been using it for a week and am really quite impressed. By default the syncing process is totally automated but can be manually tweaked to suit your needs. I also liked the ability to encrypt your data with a PIN so that not even Google can read your personal information. Overall, a brilliant solution to a common problem. Requires Firefox V1.5 on all PCs that are to be synced.
[1] http://www.google.com/tools/firefox/browsersync/

2.5 Recover Information from Damaged Data CDs

One of the worst PC experiences is to find your precious backup CDs or DVDs are unreadable due to scratches or surface degradation. At this site [1] they list three utilities, including two freebies, that will help you recover your vital data. I've previously used one of these programs, ISOBuster [2], and it does a great job with both CDs and DVDs. Don't expect miracles though, like the guy who wrote to me last year who had put a hot fry pan on a precious CD accidentally left on his kitchen counter. I'm sure even ISOBuster couldn't read the molten plastic mass welded to the bottom of the pan. :>)
[1] http://labnol.blogspot.com/2006/09/recover-data-files-from-damaged.html
[2] http://www.isobuster.com/ Donationware, all Windows versions, 2.6MB

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

 
 
2.6 Free Tool Re-arranges Your Task Bar

Windows allows you to use drop and drag to re-arrange the Quick Launch Bar icons but not the Task Bar buttons. Now you can; just install a free utility called Taskbar Shuffle. There's a stand-alone version as well as a Widget for Google Desktop users. Thanks to subscriber Art Mellor for the suggestion. Freeware, all Windows versions, 624KB
http://www.freewebs.com/nerdcave/taskbarshuffle.htm

2.7 Free Utility Checks Web Site for Broken Links

There are a number of free web services that will do this but I prefer to use Xenu's Link Sleuth, a free utility that does the checking from my own PC. Its multi-threaded design makes for incredibly fast scans, so fast you initially may not believe it's working correctly. It handles FTP and gopher, password protected areas, allows for exclusions, detects orphans, can check external links and much more. Reporting is browser based and comprehensive. All in all, a little gem. Freeware All Windows versions, 531KB
http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html

2.8 The Best Internet Business Guide is Now Free

Whenever anyone asks me how to start an internet business I tell them to buy and read Ken Evoy's $30 e-book called M.Y.S.S. as it's the best single source introduction to the subject available. Now some good news; it appears you can now download M.Y.S.S. for free. It's part of a strategy to sell you a web building and hosting package, although you don't have to buy the package to get the book for free. Folks, this is a really good deal. M.Y.S.S. may be a bit dated but it's still the best introduction to building a commercial site around. If you have any sort of an interest in how to build a web site and attract traffic then I suggest you download this book and read it thoroughly. Be warned though, these folks practice what they preach so don't be surprised to find yourself tempted to buy their latest product. :>) Free e-book, 11MB.
http://myss.sitesell.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

During the month Microsoft released an out-of-course cumulative update [1] for Internet Explorer. The update fixed a critical flaw in the Vector Markup Language that was being widely exploited by hostile web sites to infect unsuspecting visitors with rootkit stealthed keyloggers and other malware. Even fully patched XP SP2 machines were vulnerable to this particularly serious vulnerability, providing yet another example of the rapidly increasing escalation of zero-day computer security threats.

The out-of-course patch brought little joy to Microsoft. Security experts complained of too little too late, referring to the failure to fix yet another critical Internet Explorer flaw that has been known about since July. There was other bad news, too, for Microsoft Office with the discovery of a new PowerPoint exploit in circulation that affects even fully patched systems.

On Patch Tuesday, October 10, Microsoft released ten patches, six of which were rated as "Critical."

The majority of these patches covered flaws that could be exploited by hostile web sites for drive-by downloads and other exploits. Also included were patches to a number of extremely serious Microsoft Office flaws, exploits for which have been in active and widespread circulation for some time.

Full details of the October updates can be found here [2]. All the updates are distributed automatically by the Microsoft Update Service but there have been delays in getting the latest batch of patches to users. Dial-up users in particular need to be aware that the latest updates can be up to 50 megabytes in size and may need several hours to download. If you have any doubts that you have received the updates then visit the Update Service [3] now.

[1] http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/Bulletin/MS06-055.mspx
[2] http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/bulletin/ms06-oct.mspx
[3] http://update.microsoft.com (Requires IE5 or later)

3.2 Firefox Updated to V1.5.0.7

Yet another proactive security update. The latest V1.5.0.7 covers seven potential flaws as well as some improvements to product stability. To my knowledge there are no current exploits in circulation that utilize any of these flaws. However, it is essential that you update as the malware developers routinely reverse engineer security updates to identify flaws to exploit in unpatched machines. Users with Firefox automatic updates enabled should have had the new version automatically delivered and installed. You can check by selecting Help/About from within Firefox. If your version number is less than 1.5.0.7 then update manually from here:
http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/

3.3 New Version of SandBoxie Fixes Vulnerability

Ronen Tzur, the author of SandBoxie, has released a new version 2.62 that fixes a bug that I reported to him. That bug allowed the product to be terminated by rebuilding the SDT. Quite separately I'd like to send my thanks to Antti Koponen who noted an error in my original SandBoxie testing. Antti quite correctly pointed out that SandBoxie does NOT prevent sandboxed programs from accessing user data. I goofed. Well it was a transcription error actually, which is, of course, just another way of saying I goofed. :>) I've now corrected the web version of my report.
http://www.sandboxie.com

3.4 Weaknesses of Anti-Virus Software

This paper offers a thorough documentation of the limitations of AV software as a defense against modern malware. In essence it provides the answer to one of my most common subscriber questions: "Gizmo, I have a really good AV scanner. Do I really need any additional protection for my PC?" The link below is to an Adobe Acrobat PDF file so you'll need the Adobe Reader.
http://www.securityelf.org/html/software_misuse/

3.5 How to Stop Delivery of Internet Explorer 7

IE7 is nearing official release and will be automatically distributed to Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 machines via the Microsoft Update service. That means that if you have automatic updates enabled on your PC, you'll get IE7 whether you want it or not. I think most home PC users would want the update but some commercial users may prefer a phased implementation to prevent potential software incompatibility problems. If you want to prevent IE7 automatically downloading and installing you can use a special toolkit that Microsoft has made available. Full details here:
http://tinyurl.com/kwkg
(microsoft.com)

3.6 Organized Crime Behind Latest Malware Wave

I've mentioned before that the age of the amateur hacker is now passing and instead we are increasingly seeing highly sophisticated attacks by organized criminals. Check out this Reuters article for a few more details about this new trend.
http://go.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=technologyNews&storyID=13501952

3.7 Is Your Security Software Killing Your PC?

There is no doubt that using security products slows down your PC. There's no doubt, too, that some products take up more resources than others. These effects are not subtle; everyone who has replaced Norton AV with NOD32 has been shocked with the performance improvement. Some people extrapolate from this to say you shouldn't run any security software as it will kill your PCs performance. It's an amazing position to take. It's like arguing you should replace the steel body work on your car with aluminum foil to make it accelerate faster. Indeed, it will accelerate faster and your fuel economy will be better, too, but at what cost to your safety? One of the folks who pursues this line of thinking is Tec Republic's Technical Director, George Ou. He supports it with a set of tests that show how much various security products slow your PC down. I generally like George's blog and his tests are most interesting but I just can't agree with his conclusions. To be fair though, his original comments were pitched towards PCs used in corporate environments using perimeter virus screening. However, if you are a home PC user don't even think about removing all your security software just to improve performance. Unless, that is, you have a penchant for Russian Roulette. ;>)
http://blogs.zdnet.com/Ou/?p=327&tag=nl.e622

4.0 OTHER USEFUL STUFF

4.1 Where to Find Good Computer Deals

Regular contributor JW writes, "Gizmo, in the last issue you mentioned the good deals at BitsDuJour [1] and FreeAfterRebate [2]. Here are a few additional shopping sites [3]-[5] that I've found from experience also offer good deals."
[1] http://www.bitsdujour.com/
[2] http://www.freeafterrebate.com
[3] http://www.weeklycloseouts.com/page/en/home.aspx
[4] http://www.antirebate.com/
[5] http://www.ableshoppers.com/

4.2 Weird Cases for Your iPod

This blog author claims to have come up with the five strangest cases ever. Not sure about that but a couple are certainly, eh, different.
http://www.techeblog.com/index.php/tech-gadget/top-5-strangest-ipod-cases

4.3 Free Utility Prevents Digital Photo EXIF Data Loss

Subscriber Tony Bennett writes, "Gizmo, I have found a very good software program called Exifer that preserves EXIF data. In fact, I am so impressed that I'm going to mention it in a talk I'm giving next week to our local photographic group. I've looked at other programs that do this but found nothing as good as this freebie." Thanks Tony. In simple terms, EXIF data is a set of information attached to your digital image files that stores details of how and when the photo was taken. This includes exposure, aperture, date and more. The problem is that a lot of imaging software such as IrfanView and ACDSee destroy the EXIF data. Exifer is a neat little utility that ensures it is preserved. Apparently it won't work with all image processing programs but will work with most. And it's not free; you have to send the author a postcard. :>) Postcardware, Windows 98 and later, 1.62MB
http://www.exifer.friedemann.info/

4.4 Lots of Free Games

Subscriber John Pratt has sent me a very long list of "family-friendly" games that he's also found to be spyware-free. I've listed his favorites below:

Absolute Mastermind
http://web.telia.com/~u43509647/

Block130 (Ball and bricks)
http://www.interq.or.jp/tohoku/kenta/e/download/block/block.htm

YASC Sokoban
http://sourceforge.net/projects/sokobanyasc

Bobble Puzzle
http://djes.free.fr

Skooter
http://www.leandrocorreia.com/skooter/skootere.htm

B-zero (bouncing ball)
http://gamehippo.com

4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department

Confident you can pick a real picture from a computer generated one? Then take this simple test [1]. I scored 4 out of 10. ;>( Want to waste more time? Then check out this neat illusion [2].
[1] http://www.alias.com/eng/etc/fakeorfoto/quiz.html
[2] http://www.patmedia.net/marklevinson/cool/cool_illusion.html

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

4.6 How to Find Free Music, Get Access to Blocked Sites

This site offers a preconfigured advanced Google MP3 search. Just enter the name of the artist and you'll be presented with a list of downloadable files. Now you'll promise me you won't download any copywrite songs won't you? In return I'll promise I'll never tape a TV program again. :>) Also at this site they have another query box that allows you to access sites using Google as a proxy. This means you can access at work sites like Hotmail that may have been blocked. Thanks to regular contributor JW for this one.
http://www.cwire.org/google-search-tools/

4.7 Multiple Function Cable Saves Space

Subscriber Everett Lala writes, "Gizmo, in previous issues you've mentioned how to make your own network cables. I found this tutorial on how to make a 5 way cable and boy, it sure does save me from carrying around a lot of unnecessary cables."
http://www.ossmann.com/5-in-1.html

4.8 Free Utility Converts Video Files for Use on Your iPod

The Jodix "Free iPod Video Converter" converts DVD/VCD, AVI, MPEG, WMV, RM, RMVB, DivX, ASF, VOB video files to iPod video format with a few clicks. It's just an easy-to-use interface tacked on to some stock converters but that doesn't detract from the usefulness of the product. Freeware, All Windows versions, 1.69MB.
http://www.ipod-video-converter.org/

5.0 TIP OF THE MONTH

5.1 How to Schedule Programs to Run Automatically

It's often very handy to be able to schedule tasks to run unattended. The classic example is backup. I backup my key data each night at 2.00 a.m. and thankfully I don't have to be there to make it happen. Instead it takes place automatically using the task scheduler built into the backup program.

However, not all programs have an inbuilt task scheduler. In these cases it's still possible to run the program using the Windows Task Scheduler that comes free with all Windows versions from Windows 98 onwards. In fact, many programs that have automatic scheduling make use of the Windows Task Scheduler to do the real work.

Let's explore the use of Windows Task Scheduler by setting up an automated daily task to clean all the junk files off your hard drive.

The program we will use to do the cleaning is the excellent free utility CCleaner. If you don't have a copy, go grab it now from here: http://www.filehippo.com/download_ccleaner/

After downloading, install the program on your PC. During the installation make sure you un-check the option to install the Yahoo Toolbar, unless, that is, you really want it. After installing CCleaner start the program and check the default cleaning options to make sure these are what you want. For example, if you want to retain your browser history and auto-complete make sure those boxes are unchecked. Once you are happy with the options, shut down CCleaner.

Now start up the Windows Scheduler by clicking Start / Control Panel / Scheduled Tasks / Add Scheduled Task. This will start the Scheduled Task Wizard. Click <Next> and this will bring up a list of programs. Select CCleaner then <Next>. Then select Daily and <Next>. Then whatever time you want the program to automatically run and <Next>. After that, enter your username and passwords followed by <Next>. Don't click <Finish> just yet.

Now we need to use a little trick. If you stop at this point CCleaner will run automatically at the prescribed time but won't actually do any cleaning. It will be just sitting there waiting for you to press some buttons.

To get around this you need to tell CCleaner to run without any user intervention. Thankfully the folks at CCleaner have provided a special command line option to do this.

To add the command line option, check the "Open advanced properties" box in the Task Scheduler Wizard and then <Finish>. In the "Run" box you should have something that looks like this:

"C:\Program Files\CCleaner\ccleaner.exe"

Now click at the end of this line just after the .exe, leave a space and then type in /AUTO so the complete line now looks like this:

"C:\Program Files\CCleaner\ccleaner.exe /AUTO"

The /AUTO tells CCleaner to run automatically once started and exit automatically when finished which is exactly what you want.

Well that's it! You've now created a scheduled job that will clean your hard drive of unwanted files every night.

If you want to create other scheduled jobs such as backup or defragging your hard drive you can do so in the same way. Unfortunately, not all programs have command line options like CCleaner that allow automatic running without user input. For these programs to run automatically you need a program that can automate the entry of keystrokes. There are many such programs available, including some excellent free programs. In fact, if you read the next item, you'll find one. ;>)

6.0 FREEBIE OF THE MONTH

6.1 A Program Scheduler That Handles Automated Keystrokes

It's possible to use the Windows Task Scheduler to automate the running of just about any program. However, some programs require user input once they are started and will sit waiting forever for a keyboard response. There are several solutions to this problem but subscriber Mark Smith has come up with on that is simple, free and effective.

Mark writes, "Gizmo, I just found a utility that has filled a major gap for me. I use Diskeeper Lite for defragging but the scheduling feature is only available in the paid version. I overcame this by using a free utility called System Scheduler [1]. It's simpler to use than Windows Scheduler and also allows you to enter parameters for a scheduled program or file. In particular, it allows you to enter key-presses in an easily understood manner which is great for non-programmers. So for example, with Diskeeper Lite, I could close the nag screen (Alt F4), activate the correct menu selection, Actions (Alt A) and press the key for defragment (D), all on one line without separators even. Very slick. So now I have the only feature that I really wanted in the paid version of Diskeeper!"

Great find, Mark. I'm sure a lot of subscribers will find this very useful. I note that the developer makes a free and a Pro version. The latter has some useful additional features such as the ability to reboot and run as a service but the free will do for most folks. Furthermore, the free version covers both home and business use. Freeware, Windows 9X and later, 1.0MB
[1] http://www.splinterware.com/

** Bonus Freebie for Premium Edition subscribers **

6.2 Free Utility Offers Anonymous and Secure Browsing

TorPark is a special version of the Firefox browser that has been configured to work with the free Tor anonymizing service and run directly from a USB flash drive. It's a neat idea; just plug in your USB stick to any PC with a USB port and Firefox V1.5.0.7 is automatically launched, set up for secure and private surfing.

The most obvious application is internet cafes, public terminals or indeed any PC including your own where you don't want to leave any trace of your private surfing activities. However, what attracts me is not so much the privacy side as the security potential. That's because TorPark creates a secure encrypted connection between the PC you are using and the Tor servers. This allows you to safely transmit information without fear of interception. This makes it ideal for surfing on open Wi-Fi networks. Previously, secure surfing on such networks required the use of private VPN networks, an option only available to corporates, the well heeled and the technically savvy. Now, using TorPark, any surfer can reap the same security benefits for their browsing.

It won't help the security of your email though. And there are other security limitations too. For example, don't think TorPark will now mean you can now securely conduct your internet banking at an internet cafe. I'm sorry, it's still a no-no. That's because, if a keylogger is installed on the PC you are using, it will grab your confidential data before it gets encrypted.

Similarly, don't think TorPark can provide you will total anonymity; last month the German police seized a whole batch of Tor servers. And there are other caveats. Expect your surfing to slow down as it now relayed across multiple Tor surfers. The slowdown may be small or intolerable, it all depends on how heavily the network is loaded. Expect, too, that some web sites won't work correctly, either because they don't allow anonymous surfing or because they use features that won't work in the Tor environment. Happily, this inconvenience can be minimized as TorPark allows you to easily switch between Tor based browsing and normal browsing. You will, of course, loose your anonymity in the process but at least the site will now work.

These reservations aside, TorPark is a terrific product. All users of open Wi-Fi networks and public computers should use it as a matter of course while many other users will see immediate application in their own environment. I've set it up on a spare USB stick and on my hard drive as well. I suggest you do, too. Freeware, Windows NT and later, 9.27MB

http://torpark.nfshost.com/index.php

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The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities
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Gizmo
Ian Richards
editor@techsupportalert.com