Posts Tagged ‘EZ Armor Security Suite’

The Importance of Microsoft Update

March 1, 2006

[Editor’s note: The following column is meant for Windows users. Though written for newer computers, it can also apply for most older computers. Results may vary.]

In true geek fashion, I’m following up last month’s oh so chic computer firewall column with yet another nerdfest of a piece. I swear I’ll break out into a fun column one of these days, but right now, my spidey senses tell me that you and your computer still need me.

OK, so last month we laid the foundation of your computer’s security by installing the software firewall solution called ZoneAlarm. As I mentioned, this is just the first of many layers to protect your electronic beaut. We still need to get you hooked-up with anti-virus and anti-spyware protection and install all of the Microsoft Update patches.

Note: Road Runner customers who remain unprotected, can choose to use the EZ Armor Security Suite (FREE to RR customers), which includes anti-virus and anti-spyware components. I can’t emphasize how important Anti-Virus software is, so if you don’t have any virus protection software, I highly recommend loading this.

This month, we’re going to cover the importance of Microsoft Update and what it means to you Microsoft users. (Sorry Mac community. BTW, if you’re a expert in the world of Macs and want to be featured as a columnist, I’m listening).

So a lot of you are probably like what is this Microsoft Update you speak so highly of oh wise one right? Well, it’s pretty much what the name implies. It’s a web site that helps you update your Microsoft products, including Windows and Office products. There was once a time when this “service” was called WindowsUpdate, with a separate update site for Office products, but they have intelligently combined the two creating what we now know as Microsoft Update. Any patches, service packs, critical updates, etc. will all be found here for your viewing and loading pleasure, and, because of the propensity of Windows to hackers, loading anything you find here is a must.

So let’s get crackin’!

Perhaps you’ve already seen that little yellow shield (with the exclamation point) in your taskbar and wondered what it was? Well, that’s Microsoft Update trying to tell you that you’ve been slacking in the update department and to get on it. Thank goodness for Bruddah Ed to help you get out of that funk right? (! – New Windows XP systems comes with what’s known as Automatic Updates installed – more on that below – but since it’s been a while that your computer has been updated, let’s get movin’!)

The Importance of Microsoft Update

So here we go…

1) Open your Internet Explorer web browser

2) Click on the Tools menu and select Windows Update (Tools –> Windows Update) or go directly to update.microsoft.com.

The Importance of Microsoft Update

3) You will be redirected to the Microsoft Update site where your browser settings will be checked to see if you have the latest version of Windows updating software loaded to use the MU site. Yes, strange that you need to load software to load software, but that’s just the way it is… Stick with me…

The Importance of Microsoft Update

4) If you do not have the updating software loaded (which uses ActiveX), that familiar yellow info bar at the top of your browser will show up. Go ahead and click on it to load the software (! – Only do this with trusted programs/sites). If you are unfamiliar with what the info bar is, click here.

The Importance of Microsoft Update

5) At this point, you may be asked to load certain Windows components, which may include the Windows Validation Tool. This helps to validate your copy of Microsoft Windows before offering the updates, so as long as you are using a legal copy of Microsoft Windows, you’ll be fine. If not, you’ll only be able to update other Microsoft products.

The Importance of Microsoft Update

6) Once you’ve gone through all the preliminary updates and validation processes, you’ll come to a screen like the one below.

The Importance of Microsoft Update

Alas! You’ve made it… Well, not quite. All of the merriment above was there only because you’ve been a bad boy or girl and have probably never visited this site before. But now that you have, and you’ve gotten yourself to this point, you can join the rest of us bookworms and continue on below (the next time you visit Microsoft Update, you’ll shoot directly to the Welcome screen).

7) For simplicity’s sake, we’ll click on the Express button. This will search your Microsoft products to see if you need to load any of the critical/high-priority updates. Depending upon how long it’s been since your computer’s last update, this may take a few minutes.

The Importance of Microsoft Update

8) If it finds any high-priority or critical updates, it will display them in a list. You can click on the plus sign next to each one to get more details, but for our sake, we just want to hurry and click on the Install Updates button.

The Importance of Microsoft Update

9) Well, what are you waiting for? Did you click the Install Updates button yet? Once you stop dillydallying 😛 , you will see an Installing Updates window come up, giving you a status report on what’s going on. It will download any and all updates in steps and then install them in steps. The screens below (in my particular example) shows the downloading and installing of an important service pack for the Microsoft .NET Framework.

The Importance of Microsoft Update
The Importance of Microsoft Update

10) At some point through this process, you may be greeted by our friendly neighborhood ZoneAlarm Security Alert. Give yourself (and me!) two kudos if so because that means your ZoneAlarm installation from last month’s column is working like a charm. If you look up “msiexec.exe” in the site examples I gave you last month (processlibrary.com, liutilities.com or neuber.com), you’ll see that it’s safe to allow this program to access the Internet, so we’ll go ahead and do that. (! – Only do this with trusted programs).

The Importance of Microsoft Update

11) Depending on the type of update, you may be asked to restart your computer, so let’s do what the man says and I’ll see you when we get back. (! – Be sure to save all of your documents before pressing the Restart Now button)

The Importance of Microsoft Update

Upon your return from reboot, you may think that you are king of the world. Not so fast there Jack. We may not be completely pau with our updates from Microsoft. Oftentimes, updates require prior updates to be installed before loading another, so let’s revisit Microsoft Update this instant.

12) Well lookee here… In my example, there is, in fact an additional update to load after coming back from a reboot. Let’s go through this business again (see steps 7-11 for help) and see what happens.

The Importance of Microsoft Update
The Importance of Microsoft Update

13) You will continue this search–> download–> install–> reboot process until you return to Microsoft Update and don’t find any more updates to install.

Remember that welcome screen that had the Express and Custom buttons? Well, if you go the Custom route, you’ll be offered other non-critical updates and patches. You can load those at your leisure if you wish, but it’s not as important as the High-priority ones we successfully just went through.

The Importance of Microsoft Update

Note: In February, 2006, Microsoft released a downloadable Security and Critical Releases ISO Image (CD). Read the Knowledge Base article for more information and updated links.

And that’s it! You’re all patched up and good to go champ!… For now, that is! And, because you’re such a wise and diligent young Jedi, you will use the force and visit Microsoft Update regularly from now on yes? Microsoft adds updates as they make ’em so it behooves you to check back often to make sure your software is up to date. If, by chance, you suffer from fatal short term memory, you can have your computer automatically do it for you. Let’s look into how to make that magic happen for you.

1) Go to your desktop, right click on My Computer and select Properties.

The Importance of Microsoft Update

(Alternately, you can get to your Automatic Update settings from Security Center in your Control Panel)

The Importance of Microsoft Update

2) In the System Properties window, click on the Automatic Updates tab. In here, you can adjust the time and regularity that your computer will check for updates and install them. I recommend setting it to Automatic. You can adjust the regularity (Every day or given day of the week) and at what time (hour of the day). If you leave your computer on 24/7, I would suggest setting the time at an hour when you’re probably not going to be on the computer. (! – Be forewarned that if reboots are necessary to complete the process, Automatic Updates will automatically restart your computer for you. In other words, if you have any opened and/or unsaved documents that you don’t want to lose, save them before you leave). If you’re the type to turn your computer off and on, then you’ll want to set the time at an hour when your computer is actually on, though you’ll have to keep in mind that Automatic Updates may be doing its thang in the background as you’re doing your thang.

The Importance of Microsoft Update

3) Some of you are control freaks and prefer a little more command over your computer’s activities. In this case, you can select one of the other options. If you do, you’ll get the Windows Update icon in your taskbar from time to time to tell you that there are updates to either download or install (depending on your settings). (! – Be forewarned that if you don’t select Automatic, you may miss or be late on some updates that will compromise the security of your computer).

The Importance of Microsoft Update

And there you have it. Another successful session from sensei Ed on learning how to keep your computer safe and secure. Before long, you won’t need me. You’ll be treating me like you did your parents when you were in your teens. You’ll pout, throw a fit, want nothing to do with me and attempt to do everything yourself and I’ll be temporarily inconsolable. That’s good, but, like any other great parent, I’ll lovingly be here for you – with open arms – whenever you’re ready to come back. Cause we all know you’ll be back. 😉

All kidding aside, congratulate yourself. Your computer should now be protected with a firewall solution in ZoneAlarm and is all patched up thanks to Microsoft Update. As mentioned before, an anti-virus program is equally as important so load that up as soon as you can.

The next level of protection is anti-spyware programs, which I’ll eventually cover in the coming months. With all the nerdy computer talk however, I’ve been getting a heightened case of cabin fever, waking up in cold sweats and breaking out in hives… so I think I need to make like Swing Out Sister and break out. Look for a fun column from yours truly next month. Until then…

Happy Surfing!
-Ed.

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

February 1, 2006

[Editor’s note: The following column is meant for PC compatible computers. Though written for newer computers, it can also apply for most older computers. Results may vary.]

So you’ve finally done it. You’ve made the improbably come true and bought a brand, spakin’ new computer. And it’s even pimped out with an ergonomic keyboard and optical mouse too? No… you don’t say!?

Now before you go all crazy on us and start surfing the web like a human Google, think about what you’re getting yourself into and ponder with me for a second won’t you?

(insert uncomfortable silence here)

The web is lovely and beautiful and yada yada yada, all that mushy stuff, but it’s also a place where them evil Internet lurkers hang out and prey on sweet and innocent computers… much like your fresh-off-the-boat gem that remains unprotected.

“Stop it Ed, you’re scaring me!”

Yeah, I know, but you’ve got to hear it, or another computer will fall victim to these evildoers… And, by golly, I will not stand for it!

So, the first step, above anything else, is to get a Firewall solution. Whattheheck is a firewall you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked that you inquisitive bee you.

Webopedia defines firewall as:

(n.) A system designed to prevent unauthorized access to or from a private network. Firewalls can be implemented in both hardware and software, or a combination of both. Firewalls are frequently used to prevent unauthorized Internet users from accessing private networks connected to the Internet, especially intranets. All messages entering or leaving the intranet pass through the firewall, which examines each message and blocks those that do not meet the specified security criteria.

Now in layman’s terms, this simply means that you need something sitting between your innocent computer and the (sometimes) evil Internet, acting as a gatekeeper of sorts. For this particular column, I will feature Zone Labs’ ZoneAlarm software product, since #1 – it’s easy and #2 – it’s free. (Road Runner customers without virus protection can choose to use the EZ Armor Security Suite, which includes a firewall solution. See addendum below.)

OK, so you took your computer out of the box and set it up – all pretty – on your desk. Assuming you have broadband Internet access like Road Runner, things should move pretty quickly from here. Just follow these steps and you can thank me later:

1) Go to either ZoneLabs.com or Download.com and click on the link to download the latest version of Zone Alarm.

2) For simplicity’s sake, click on “Run” when it prompts you to Run or Save the file (! – Only do this with trusted programs/sites).

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

3) It may prompt you again to see if you really want to run the software, at which point you would click Run (again).

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

4) On the next window, leave everything as is (unless you have a preferred installation location) and click Next

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

5) Enter your information in the next window and click Next (an email address is required to continue). I usually use my real name and address and have never had spam problems with them. If you are extra paranoid and have privacy concerns, you can use a bogus name and x@x.com as your email address and that should work (though you didn’t hear that from me). I also usually check the “I want to register ZoneAlarm so I can download updates.” (though, like I’ve said, I’ve never gotten anything from them) and uncheck the “Inform me about important product and security news.” box (unless you’re that lonely).

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

6) The next window is the License Agreement. Read it (or at least pretend to make an effort to), check the “I accept the terms of the preceding License Agreement.” box and click Install.

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

7) ZoneAlarm will then go through its installing and configuring phases

Protecting Your Computer From Evil
Protecting Your Computer From Evil

8) Following the Configuring phase, a User survey window will appear. You can choose to respond or not. I usually skip it and click Finish.

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

9) The next window will tell you that Setup is complete and ask whether or not you want to start ZoneAlarm. So, class, say it with me… Yes!

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

10) “Your Security Options” is the next window that appears. This window is basically here to try and “upsell” you to use their ZoneAlarm Pro product. Yes, you can try it for free for 15 days (which I’ve done in the past), but in my experience, I had difficultly with it once the trial period was over. So unless you’re willing to pay for the added security (current prices start at $39.95 for 1 PC for 1 year of updates), just select the (basic) ZoneAlarm radio button on the right and click Next.

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

11) Click Finish on the next window.

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

12) ZoneAlarm then takes you to the Configuration Wizard. where you will simply click on Finish. Experts can click on Next to individually configure programs, but I would not recommend it, as I’ve screwed up connections before (locked up things too tightly). Just let ZoneAlarm do its thang and then you can take full control over from that point on (I’ll show you a little later).

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

13) On the Configuration Successful! screen, click Done.

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

14) ZoneAlarm will then start to configure your default programs’ access rights and prompt you to restart your computer to finish the installation process. (! – Once you click the OK button, your computer will automatically reboot itself, so make sure that you’ve saved all of your unsaved documents. This means that if you’re reading this column as you’re installing ZoneAlarm, bookmark this page – as if you hadn’t wisely done so already! 😛 – or print the puppy out so that you can continue when you come back from reboot. Go ahead, go print um, go… See you when you get back!)

Protecting Your Computer From Evil
Protecting Your Computer From Evil

15) Ahhh… Welcome back. What took you so long? I missed you. Anyway, upon your return from reboot, you probably noticed the following window. If you’re interested, you can click on Tell Me More, but it’s another upsell attempt. I would just click on “No, Thank You” and continue…

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

16) Alas… You’ve arrived! You’ve successfully installed ZoneAlarm if you’ve come this far and now see the main ZoneAlarm program window. Give yourself a high-five for me. There are many sections and options to play with from within this window, but, if you don’t know what you’re clicking on, please read the Help first, confide in a favorite techno geek, or leave things as is.

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

17) Go ahead and click on the “X” icon in the upper right hand corner of this main ZoneAlarm window to “close” it. What you’re actually doing is minimizing it to the taskbar so that you can continue working. The first time you do this, you’ll get the following prompt, basically telling you what I just did. Check the “Don’t show this message again” checkbox and click OK.

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

18) To access ZoneAlarm again in the future, just doubleclick on the ZA icon in your taskbar. To shut it down completely (which I don’t advise), right-click on the ZA icon and select Shutdown ZoneAlarm.

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

19) Following is what you can expect to see on a day-to-day basis with ZoneAlarm:

One of ZoneAlarm’s greatest features is that it prompts you whenever a program you’re using is trying to access the Internet. For the most part, the everyday computer user will only need Internet access for software like a web browser (e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox or Netscape Navigator) or email clients (Outlook, Eudora or Thunderbird). Other programs that commonly require Internet access are Instant Messenger types (AOL, MSN, Yahoo!), Virus Protection types (McAfee, Norton) and others. If you’re using a program (or not), that is not one of the above, and ZoneAlarm strangely tells you that something is attempting to access the Internet, you would probably be safer Denying access to that program (you can always adjust the access control from within the main ZoneAlarm window).

If something comes up that you’re not familiar with, do a Google search on the .exe name that appears next to “Application” and you’ll be able to figure out what type of program it is and whether or not you can trust it. A couple good web sources to search through are: www.processlibrary.com, www.liutilities.com/products/wintaskspro/processlibrary, and www.neuber.com/taskmanager/process.

Now, let’s take a look at what I’m talking about. Using MSN Messenger as an example, below is what you’ll see when you first launch Messenger after installing ZoneAlarm.

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

The first positive sign is that the prompt popped up immediately after I started MSN Messenger. When the prompts pop up without you even doing anything, you may have spyware or badware issues, but that’s another column altogether. In any case, I naturally need Messenger to connect to the Internet in order to log in to the server to jump into the instant messaging world. In this case, I would click on Allow. Since I use Messenger quite regularly, I would also click on the “Remember this setting” checkbox so that it doesn’t continue to prompt me every time I launch Messenger.

! – Take note of the colors of the window. If it’s a new program requesting access, it’s the above yellow tinge. If it’s a repeat program, the window’s color will be green-ish (in addition to saying repeat program).

Sometimes, however, a blue-ish prompt requesting server access comes up (see below). Most times I deny it vehemently and with all my might. There is almost always no reason why a program you run (unless you’re an expert computer user with advanced software) would need to operate as a server. Basically, this means that your computer would become available to accept connections from the outside (connections coming in) in addition to the connections going out. Some features of your program may not work completely (like file sharing & webcam in the Messenger example below), but it’s things I can live without. Now, I know a lot of you are thinking, “Stop being such a worry wart, Ed” and that I may be a bit paranoid with this, but I think many more of you will agree that it’s a small price to pay to keep your computer secure.

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

Another great feature of ZoneAlarm is that it will prompt you when it senses activity trying to come into your computer (see below). If you’re an advanced user, you can probably do a lookup on the IP and figure out why or what it’s doing (a good resource for this would be DNSstuff.com) or even who it may be. For the rest of you, I would recommend clicking on our favorite “Don’t show this dialog again” checkbox and letting ZoneAlarm take care of it (block it) in the background. Trust me, you don’t want that prompt to keep popping up every time there’s activity going on.

Protecting Your Computer From EvilProtecting Your Computer From EvilProtecting Your Computer From Evil

From time to time ZoneAlarm will automatically prompt you to let you know that it’s time for an upgrade, which is also free. You can also manually check for an upgrade by going into your Preferences tab within Overview.

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

If there’s an available upgrade, just select upgrade now and click OK. If your ZoneAlarm is up to date, you’ll get the following prompt.

Protecting Your Computer From Evil

Well, that’s it! Pat yourself on the back. You’re now protected by a software firewall solution that will prompt you of Internet activity coming in and out of your computer. Even if you have an older computer, I highly recommend installing ZoneAlarm (or another trusted firewall solution). In addition to the protection and peace of mind, it will give you a good idea of what kinds of programs and/or “attackers” are trying to send/receive info to/from your computer. You may have been unknowingly sending info via spyware/badware before, and clicking on that “Deny” button now just makes you feel like the master of your own domain, you know?

Keep in mind folks that this is just the first of many layers of protection that you should use to secure your computer. Additional layers of protection (and possible future columns from me) include using WindowsUpdate regularly, and installing Anti-Virus software and Anti-Spyware software.

A little protection will go a long way in securing your computer so that you can continue to get your fill of this wondrous World Wide Ed column. 🙂

Happy Surfing!
-Ed.

Addendum: Road Runner customers can choose to use the FREE EZ Armor Security Suite, which includes a firewall solution. This software is free for all Road Runner customers and comes with additional PC protecting software, so it is especially beneficial for those of you who do not have such things as virus, spam and spyware protection and pop-up blockers.