Resources

GTS Computers recommends some of the resources listed to help you make the most of your computer.

Safe internet browsing

Some recommendations for safe internet browsing.

Use Firefox web browser. Google's Chrome is also good, though Firefox is more customizable.

Get Ghostery as an add-on for Firefox or Chrome. It will make you a "ghost" on the internet by blocking approximately 1800 trackers, advertisers, beacons, widgets, etc.

By blocking up to 30 external sites from loading content into each page you visit, it will reduce the time it takes to load pages and make it harder to track you as you navigate about the web. Try it and be shocked at how many sites track your every page load. Including banking sites!

Also, FlashBlock add-on for Firefox is essential. It stops auto-playing video and audio, replacing them with a triangular "play" button that allows you to start when you're ready. No more surprise loud noises on page loads, including annoying advertisements.

For the very security conscious, those that don't mind a bit of effort, NoScript stops Firefox from running JavaScript in web pages unless you approve them. Sites can be white-listed if you trust them. Again, this one takes some work, but many IT professionals use it; you may (or may not) like it too.

If you're concerned about being tracked on the Internet, you may wish to consider using a search engine that does not track or "bubble" you. For example, Google, while they provide amazing services and have been an upstanding Internet citizen, track every single search you've ever made. And match it against your Gmail profile, phone number and address (if you use their Maps, Navigation, or Android contacts), for example.

DuckDuckGo is an oddly-named but pleasant search engine that does not track you.

StartPage is another fine search engine, and they call themselves the world's most private search engine.

Free office software suite

If you're interested in a fully featured Office Software Suite - for free - that can read and write Microsoft Office files, check out LibreOffice.

LibreOffice is "forked" (split) from OpenOffice, which still exists. LO, however, has been rapidly getting updates and has undergone a major code refactoring, which removed old bits, refined useful bits, and added lots of new features.

It's stable, fast, and a pleasure to work with. Plus, no "Ribbon" interface like Microsoft's Office now has.

GTS Computers can do the installation for you if you're not comfortable doing that yourself.

Windows XP: End Of Support in April 2014

In April 2014, Microsoft is ending support (i.e. updates) for Windows XP.

While this is understandable for a commercial outfit, it is also understandable that people who've been using their XP-based computers for years are hesitant to upgrade, as what they have is working for them just fine.

However the situation could quickly become critical from a security standpoint. As security updates for Windows 7 are released, malware authors (aka "hackers") will be able to examine those and look for similar vulnerabilities in unpatched XP. It's thought that there will be an avalanche of new exploits released for XP this way.

There are some solutions that don't require buying a copy of Windows 7 (or Windows 8) and, possibly, a new and more powerful computer to run it.

GTS Computers and Linux to the rescue.

Linux is a free computer operating system that is extremely stable, extremely powerful, flexible, easy to use, and frankly, quite beautiful to look at. It is found at the core of Android phones and tablets (over 1,000,000 new devices registered every day), many if not most web servers you visit (like this one), many if not most email servers you've sent or received email through, and a good number of super computers in research centres.

And it could be the solution to an impending Windows XP security crisis. With today's hackers targeting banking information (remember Target USA for a recent example), it pays to be careful.

Choices.

Linux Mint is the latest popular Linux distribution. It has a choice of desktop environments: Cinnamon or Mate. It has enjoyed explosive growth recently.

Ubuntu is what Linux Mint is based upon. There are several choices here. Ubuntu itself has gone with a "Windows 8" styled touch screen. Some people like it. Power users tend to hate it and have flocked to Linux Mint.

XUbuntu is Ubuntu with a different, lightweight and traditional desktop environment (XFCE). It's quite suitable for lower powered computers and users that don't wish to learn a whole new way to do what they've been doing on computers for years.

LUbuntu is Ubuntu with a different, very lightweight desktop environment (LXDE). It's quite suitable for lower powered computers.

All of the examples above are free, will never pester you about a licence key, and will forever prompt you when it's time to upgrade any software on your system, including upgrading to new versions as they come out. Never have to worry about upgrades again.

They all (?) have "Live CD" downloads whereby you can burn a downloaded ISO file to CD / DVD / USB, boot from that, have a fully working desktop to try out, and provide an icon to launch the install process. They even provide the ability to shrink your existing Windows disk, install themselves in the new free space, and give you the option at boot time which OS to boot into. Extra bonus: you won't need anti-virus nor anti-malware software anymore, so no more having to dedicate half your computer power to keeping the other half (Windows) safe. Extra Extra Bonus: you will be able to access your Windows files with your Linux OS; the development of this web site uses a 5 year old Windows NTFS drive to store the web site files, for example.

GTS Computers can help you make a choice and get yourself set up with a safe, fast, easy-to-use, and stable upgrade to your existing Windows XP system.

UPDATE

Microsoft slips WinXP holdouts $100 to buy new Windows 8 PCs

So says The Register, with the caveats that:

  1. the computer be purchased online from Microsoft,
  2. minimum cost is ~$700 (USD?),
  3. you get Windows 8.

Not sounding like a good deal, to be honest. Not at all.

The comments on that story are a representative view of the IT community's thoughts on XP vs Windows 8 vs Linux (Mint gets a mention or two).

UPDATE 2
The Independent covers the issue:

The zombie OS really will become the walking dead, as the wolves, in the form of hackers, viruses and malware, start to circle. Computers running the operating system will become more vulnerable as Microsoft stops releasing security patches, and there will be no more automatic updates. Meanwhile, hackers may look to reverse-engineer security updates that appear for Windows 7 or 8/8.1, hoping to find unpatched exploits that they can use to gain access to systems. The zombie OS will start to haunt its users, becoming unpredictable and dangerous.

UPDATE 3

See CBC's take on the story.

Microsoft RTF exploit: be careful

Today brings us (yet) another Microsoft vulnerability, one that can have attackers take control of your computer through you simply opening an email attachment. Microsoft announced the issue today (Monday, 2014/03/24).

The RTF (Rich Text Format) is a low-overhead file format for exchanging documents between various word processing applications or in email sometimes.

It's not very common, but be wary of them should they appear in your email. Of course, Outlook may well render the document "for" you before you realize it's even there as an attachment, in which case - too late - someone else controls your computer.

Firstly, from our own aggregation sidebar, Brian Krebs has the story, with a link to a temporary work-around:

Microsoft said the exploits it has seen so far attacking this vulnerability have targeted Word 2010 users, but according to Microsoft’s advisory the flaw is also present in Word 2003, 2007, 2013, Word Viewer and Office for Mac 2011.

Ars Technica has a write-up, as does The Register, which reports

Drew Hintz, Shane Huntley, and Matty Pellegrino of the Google Security Team reported the Word RTF memory-corruption flaw to Microsoft; the bug was assigned CVE-2014-1761 on January 31.

One particularly nasty part of the flaw is that it can be triggered if a specially crafted RTF document attached to an email is previewed in Outlook. Alternatively, "an attacker could host a website that contains a webpage that contains a specially crafted RTF file that is used to attempt to exploit this vulnerability," Microsoft explained.

Might be worthwhile to look at an alternate office product.

This seems to be related to an exploit from 2009: http://www.verisigninc.com/en_US/cyber-security/security-intelligence/vu....