Another Day, Another Adobe Flash Exploit

Flash used to be what I would call “Update of the Day Club”.  Start your computer and get into doing what you need, and surprise of surprises, there would be an update window popping up for Flash.

We seem to be back to that.

It’s a nuisance because with at least Firefox, it forces you to close your browser and go through the nonsense necessary to restart it.  Since Firefox isn’t exactly 100% accurate in reopening pages and tabs, I hold my breath each time.

In this case, there’s no reason to trash Firefox.  There was an exploit found with “Shockwave Flash” as it shows up in the addons page and it tells you it wants to be updated.

Except.

There is no update as of this writing.

So? What do you do?  Tread lightly, my friend.  What you need to do is put yourself through a bit of annoyance or uninstall the blighted software completely.

Since the annoyance is less of a problem than uninstalling Flash at this time, I’ll show you how to do that.

What I am doing is to tell the browser to ask me to run it.  I was going to uninstall it completely.  Youtube does not use Flash as a default to play videos any longer, favoring the newer HTML5.  Facebook does use Flash and at this point it does not apparently use HTML5.

Here is how to go in and tell Flash to run when you want it.  It will leave an ugly placeholder in Facebook with the a grey Lego brick or the international symbol for no, and some warning messages, but you can always turn it back on to watch that particular video of a dog doing something cute if you really want to.

In Firefox:

In the address bar enter:   about:addons and hit enter to load the page.

On your Addons page:

  • Find Shockwave Flash
  • Click the button that most likely says “Always Activate” and select “Ask to Activate
  • click the link to “Check to see if your plugins are up to date” to open another tab.

On your “Check Your Plugins” Page

  • Click the big red button that says “Update Now” under “Potentially Vulnerable Plugins” and follow the prompts to update your Flash.
  • This space intentionally left blank.
  • Flash will update through multiple steps that are documented on Flash’s site.  
  • They include downloading a program.  
  • Make certain that you clear the box that asks if you want to download any “Optional Offer” like McAfee or any other “helpful” programs since they are not helpful and will simply clutter up your computer or it could even lock it up.
  • Flash’s install will require you to close your Firefox, so save your work.
  • Note:  As Of This Writing, there is no update to Flash that will fix this problem.  That is why I told you to set Flash to “Ask To Activate”.
  • Flash will not be updated on Android, Apple’s IOS, or Linux.
  • Flash will eventually be updated on Windows 7 or newer, or Mac OSX… just not as of this writing.

Windows 7 – You Have Five Years Left

Start the drum beating.

Microsoft reminded us that yesterday, January 13, 2015, that they stop all support for Windows 7 on January 14, 2020.

Now for most people they will yawn and move on.  After all they will wear out the cheap $250 laptop they are using now and move onto another cheap $250 laptop by then, sliding it under the bed or into the closet and forgetting about it until cleaning day.

“Hey!  I need to do something about that old computer!”.

For large businesses who haven’t even migrated onto Windows 8, they will look at the notices and hopefully begin to plan.  It is five years in the future, and while you still can get Windows 7 today, the machines they buy today will still be in use in three years, and possibly five.

Most people just shrug and accept the operating system that comes with the computer anyway.  It’s easier and you don’t have to worry about it until it gets too many viruses and you start looking for an answer.  At $200 per “In Store” virus removal at a big box store’s “Squad”, it is probably cheaper to just “move on” and get new at the low end.

It’s not one of those doom and gloom things, after all.  You have five years.  The machine you are using to read this blather will most likely be “recycled” but it is something to consider.

If you are one of those poor folks who has soldiered on with Windows Vista, you have until April 11, 2017 – a mere two years and a bit.  Then the most hated operating system since Windows 8.0 will be completely unsupported, just like the dearly departed Windows XP.

To be fair, once you get all the Service Packs, Bug Fixes, and Additional Changes installed in Windows Vista, it works fairly well.  It’s just bloated, slow, and you’ll be better off on Windows 8.1 as well.

But for Windows 7, this means that you will still get patches, just no new features.  Virus updates, bug fixes, and any other patches will get sent along as usual, but nothing really new.

Oh, and about that old computer?  If it runs Windows 7, it probably can run Windows 8.  If it runs Windows 7, I am certain it can run some variation of Linux, and if you really are nervous about support, some of those server versions of Linux are supported for another 15 years while others get another 5 with easy upgrade paths.

After all, that is what this blog is written on – Linux on a hand me down computer.  But Linux isn’t for everyone, even if I did train a 69 year old lady and her 35 year old son how to use it. 

Great story for an interview, though!

Now That You Have The New PC, What Do You Do With The Old One?

No, I don’t need it.

Well I mean, if it’s something really cool like a Mac Book Air, or a Thinkpad Yoga or something like that I could easily find a home for it here, but that’s not what I’m getting at.

So you had a computer for a while.  I don’t mean a tablet.  Tablets are their own weird problem.

A Laptop or Desktop Windows PC.  For sake of discussion.

And this is not meant to be comprehensive.  There are too many different vendors of computers, there are Macs, there are different places to keep the “original discs”.. you get the picture.

If you really need someone to hold your hand while doing this, you may want to consider finding someone nearby.  I’ve done this a number of times, and it is safe to do, but I am in South Florida and I have my own rates that I charge for this kind of service.

Advertisements aside….

You used the old PC for years.  I have a friend who had an old machine he just upgraded that he used for 10 years.  He’s lucky he could keep it going that long.  But normally people use their main computer for 2 years or maybe 3.

You get used to its quirks, it’s current operating system, it’s way of storing files, its noisy fan, that sort of thing.

I keep hearing the story of people that take the hard drive out of the machine and throw it out, or they just roll it into the hall closet and try to forget about it.

Some homes have three or four computers that way.

No.  Just stop.  Someone else could use that machine anyway, especially if it is a Core 2 Duo or newer machine.

First of all, you need some of those files.  They’re typically under a few specific spots.

Open your File Manager: Start,  “This PC”  on Windows 8/8.1 or “My Computer” under Windows 7.

I wish they’d stop renaming things, it doesn’t help.

The things you normally need are in places that are listed:  Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, and Pictures.  If you are someone like me who goes and puts things in places that mean something to “ME”, you will know where they are.  I can’t tell you where that is from here, you’ll have to search for them yourself.

But Windows has for years kept things in specific folders where it wants you to save things.  If you followed Windows’ lead, then that does make life easier. 

You will need to copy those folders off.  Use an external hard drive, about $50, and copy the lot onto the drive.  If you know how to share the computer and the hard drive across the network, you probably know more than what you’ll get out of this article.  At that point you can copy the folders across the network.

Yes, you are already on a network since you are most likely on wifi and reading this here.  But hopefully you’re at home.

At any rate, copy those files back onto the new machine in the same fashion and in the same folders.  When you are done, delete them from the old computer.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily “clean” the computer.  What that did was to remove the pointer.  What everyone is afraid of is someone getting the computer and grabbing the data that was on it before.  The easiest way to fix that is to write over the data. 

There’s a middle step here that makes life easier.  If you created the original “Install” DVDs or have a way to “Set the Computer Back To Factory Settings”, do that now.  Your computer will go back to the way it was when you first plugged it in.  That doesn’t clear out your empty space, but it does delete everything and makes it all fresh and new.  It also is a one way trip and you can’t go back.  This is a bit of a shortcut since it makes space that needs to be cleared, and it also gets rid of your data.

Once you have done that, you need to clear all that extra space.

An automatic solution is one of those programs that writes “nulls” to the hard drive.  There are quite a few of them and many are free. 

This one, DP Shredder will simply delete files or folders, and there’s a handy little button that will let it clear out the free space on the hard drive, including the space you just made by deleting files.  He wrote the software correctly since it is a rare thing these days.  It is portable and does not require an install.  However it does come in a “.7z” extension which means that first you need a program to extract that.  You can install the 7-Zip program which is free, and extract the DP_Shredder.exe to run the program. 

Now that you ran DP Shredder, and that literally took hours I’m sure, your computer is cleared of your private data.

You can safely give the computer to the charity of your choice, the kid next door, or anyone you choose.  Your old data is gone.

New Firefox and Other Browser Update Weirdness

I’m settling in to get some things done and notice a blurb.

There’s going to be a rollout of the next Firefox over the next few weeks.  I pay close attention to that because I use Firefox extensively.  I’d be lost without it. 

I’m so tightly trained to use Firefox that I have to step back and actually “think” how to use any other browser.  Since I use Windows 8.1, Windows 7, Mac OSX Mavericks, and Debian Linux on a daily basis as well as Android and an occasional toe dipped into Apple’s iOS, I have to remain as flexible as possible and Firefox is on all of those computers. 

Except the iPhone but I hardly ever use them.

I will eventually install Firefox on the Windows machines when it tells me that it is available.  I’m not in a rush.  The last time they changed the way it looks, the User Interface or UI, it borked it for me.  I ended up installing things to make it look the way it did before I updated the browser while growling at Firefox in general.  Keystrokes and mouse clicks and all that moved.  They removed the status bar. The bookmark strip got lost, or rather hid, and that stores some of your bookmarks.  They removed the title bar.

Why?  Never heard a reason, but I installed Classic Theme Restorer and it brought it all back.  Immediately after that I installed Adblock Edge to get rid of the blasted adverts and other nasties that hitch a ride onto your computer as a result.  More Privacy means for a faster experience as well as fewer viruses and spyware pushed onto your local computer.  Nobody actually “Likes” ads anyway, we accept their presence and usually are annoyed or distracted by them, but “Like”?  I doubt it.

Rule Number One of Software User Experience (UX) is if you change the way something looks, you will break the way people work.  I learned that back in the days of the Mainframe and College. 

Rule Number Two of Software User Experience is that if you do change it there will be unintended consequences.

In My Case:

I have a computer that has what they call a “Clickpad“.  It’s also running Debian Linux.  I know Linux in general fairly well, but Debian Linux doesn’t manage Clickpads well.  Clickpads are those weird trackpads that are flush with the case.  You click on the pad instead of having normal buttons like every other Synaptic trackpad. 

I do know that is fixed in the next version of Debian, and I do know how to fix it now, but it is an annoyance that I have to deal with.  It basically forgets that it has a physical button in Debian Stable/Wheezy, and you’re stuck with whatever you touch on the trackpad.  I only get a Right Click when I tap.  I have since configured a two fingered tap to be a Left Click.

What that all did change did is to break the way Firefox works.  You see, on that particular computer, I can’t Right Click.  I can’t get the pop up context menu.  They changed the UI right away from it. 

Since that machine is Debian Linux, I have to wait for the next version anyway.  It isn’t even using Firefox, but something rebranded as “IceWeasel“.  To put it short, and sarcastic, Debian had a spat with Firefox over the branding.  Since Firefox/Mozilla doesn’t want anything proprietary at all on their default install, someone in the Debian Project grabbed the source code, recompiled it, created the graphics, and renamed everything to IceWeasel.  It works like Firefox but is Older.  About a version back. 

If you’re running Stable, or Wheezy, you could be quite a few versions back.  Jessie has a more current Firefox, but it also has a lot more annoying bugs in it because it is “Testing”.

But Windows?  Yeah, you’ll get it soon.  Just remember Classic Theme Restorer and Adblock Edge, and you’ll be fine.

As for the Mac?  When it is available, you’ll get a blip on the bottom of the screen telling you you’re ready for an upgrade.  You can also go back to the old theme if you want, but I do recommend Adblock Edge as well.

Why the harping on the ads?  It’s a much faster browsing experience when you surf a page without the ads.  No blinky pictures, crawling things, or text ads.  If you don’t download them, you use less data.  Things pop faster.

Trust me on that one.  You can always turn it off later.

Computer Hygene 101 – Checking Your Disc For Errors

Every so often you’ll get a message that your disc drive may have corruption.  Windows has been getting better at automatically checking this sort of thing, but sometimes it gets confused and you may have to do it on your own.

Since I live in the Florida Power and Light area of Florida, and we get a lot of what I call “Power Pops”, we also get a lot of files that get corrupted.  Since hurricanes have hit South Florida before, the infrastructure here can be quite creaky and things surge and break.  That “ate” two of my computers when I moved down here and I have two different filters on this computer I am typing on.

My own opinion is that a computer is safer on a power strip or an “Uninterruptable Power Source”, and a laptop will tolerate power fluctuations better because the wall current runs through a brick that takes some punishment as well.

From time to time you may have to run a “chkdsk” on your hard drive.  That’s a program in Windows that will look at the hard drive and attempt to fix any errors found.  My own opinion is that if chkdsk can’t fix it, you’re best to consider your options – however make sure you have a good backup of what is on that disc. 

After all Data is more expensive than Hardware!

Since Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 are slightly different in the way you run chkdsk, I’ll treat them separately.

Relax, it only looks difficult!

Windows 7:

  1. Click on the Start Button – or hit the Windows Key on your keyboard.
  2. Click on “All Programs” to expand the menu.
  3. Click on Accessories to expand the menu.
  4. Find Command Prompt and Right Click on the item.  You will know you have done that correctly because you will get a pop up menu to show. 
  5. Click on “Run as Administrator“.  This will let you have more control over your computer.  It also will allow you to do things like delete your windows files – so be aware of what you are doing.
  6. “User Account Control” will grey your screen and pop up a window asking “Do you want to allow the following program to make changes to this computer?”.   Click on the “Yes” button.
  7. The “Administrator: Command Prompt” window will open.
  8. In the command prompt, type the following command:  chkdsk c: /f and hit enter.
  9. You will get a message saying “Chkdsk cannot run because the volume is in use by another process.  Would you like to schedule this volume to be checked the next time the system restarts?  (Y/N)
  10. Type: y 
  11. Hit enter.
  12. Type: exit
  13. Hit enter.
  14. Restart your computer. 

Windows 8 and 8.1

  1. Go to your start screen.
  2. In the upper right there is a search box.  
  3. In the search box type: cmd
  4. You will have a list of items.  Find Command Prompt and Right Click on the item.  You will know you have done that correctly because you will get a pop up menu to show. 
  5. Click on “Run as Administrator“.  This will let you have more control over your computer.  It also will allow you to do things like delete your windows files – so be aware of what you are doing.
  6. “User Account Control” will grey your screen and pop up a window asking “Do you want to allow the following program to make changes to this computer?”.   Click on the “Yes” button.
  7. The “Administrator: Command Prompt” window will open.
  8. In the command prompt window, type the following command:  chkdsk c: /f and hit enter.
  9. You will get a message saying “Chkdsk cannot run because the volume is in use by another process.  Would you like to schedule this volume to be checked the next time the system restarts?  (Y/N)
  10. Type:
  11. Hit enter.
  12. Type: exit
  13. Hit enter.
  14. Restart your computer.

Cool Your Laptop – Downshift Your Power

I use my laptop all day.  For me, most days that means from before 6AM to around 10:30PM. 

They get hot.  Every one I have ever used would get hot, no matter what processor the machine had inside of it.  I tried mats which worked for a while but they can block the vents.  I tried shifting it onto a table and that gave me a stiff neck trying to maintain a fixed position. 

Solution.  I slowed down the processor.   In my case, it was only 10 percent and that was enough to stop my leg from turning lobster pink.

Your mileage may vary, but just knocking 10 percent off of the maximum speed might solve your problem.  You probably won’t notice this difference in speed, I didn’t.

On Windows 7 or Windows 8, or Windows 8.1.

  1. Go into your Control Panel. Start, Control Panel.
  2. At this point, since Microsoft tends to move things around you will make it easier to find if you set the control panel to view by “Large Icons”.
  3. Click Power Options.
  4. The “Choose or customize a power plan” screen will show.
  5. The “Plans shown on the battery meter” line that is highlighted and has a button selected is the one you want.  In my case it is “Balanced (recommended)” but yours could be currently Power Saver.
  6. Click on the blue link that says “Change plan settings” off to the right of the plan.
  7. The “Change settings for the plan:” screen will show.
  8. Click on the blue link that says “Change advanced power settings”.
  9. The Power Options window will open.
  10. Under this window, locate the line that reads “Processor power management” and click the plus button to the left of it.
  11. Locate the “Maximum processor state” line and click the plus button to the left of it.
  12. You can set the “On battery” and “Plugged in” maximum processor speed at this time.  Click on the number to the right of the line and the amount will change to allow you to type in a new amount or click on the arrows to raise or lower the amount.  Mine is set to 90%.

Got Windows? Hit Windows Update – Even Windows XP

So that bug I have been banging on about?

The one that is a bug of doom, effects every version of Internet Explorer from Version 6 through present?

Windows XP
Windows Vista
Windows 7
Windows 8
and
Windows 8.1?

Yeah, the fix is in.

Microsoft has relented since 1/4 of the entire PC Market is still running Windows XP.  Not to patch this one would cause havoc on the Internet and crash web servers, and make little babies cry.

This morning, I started finding messages in the security blogs that mentioned it.  This bug, the 1776 bug, with a rather nasty hole has been exploited.

As far as XP is concerned, Microsoft has said in the past that while support has ceased for it, they may at their own choice make patches to it in the future.   Since this was a big one, and it is the future, take advantage of it.

Even if you don’t use Internet Explorer, you will want to get this fix.

The steps are simple.  You may have already downloaded the fix and there could be a message waiting for you to either shut down or restart your computer to apply the fix

If not, just:

Click Start
Click Control Panel
Click Windows Update
Click Install Updates

and you’re on your way!

Now, if you will excuse me, my computer wants to be restarted.  I guess I really do need to take a break anyway!