Home networking is a very easy task, but is often oversimplified. Securing the network is a very importing task, and a well-secured network is an extremely effective tool at preventing unauthorized use of your computer, keeping attackers out, and controlling network access. Rule one in network security is to get a router. This is crucially important, even if you only have one computer or if you don't need a wireless connection. For some reason, ISP's do not involve routers in their instructions for setting up Internet connections. Some common excuses are that routers are expensive or complicated. However, this is simply not true. An ordinary wired router costs less than $30, and works the same way that a cable splitter does. The router will have several ports on the back, with one that is separated. Plug your DSL or cable modem into the separate port, and your computer(s) into any of the others. To explain how a router achieves its security benefits, a short explanation of the way the Internet works is in order. The Internet is an enormous network of computers, all of which talk to each other. When you view a web page, your computer connects to another called a web server. Because your computer initiates the connection, this is called an outgoing connection. If another computer contacts yours, as is the case when an attacker attempts to break in, this is called an incoming connection. By default, outgoing and incoming connections are both freely allowed, and your computer has to deal with them. Spyware and viruses may configure your computer to accept these connections, which could grant an attacker complete access. However, the picture isn't quite as simple as this. Different connections run on different ports, which are numbers that tell a computer what to do with the connection. For example, a request on port 80 usually asks a computer for a web page or download, whereas a request on port 25 asks for email. A computer with port 25 open may be used to route spam around the world, and I've even seen cases where an attacker setup a complete webserver on a regular desktop machine, and was running an online business for free! A router blocks all ports by default, and since the router sits between your computer and your Internet connection, there is nothing an attacker can do about it. Even if he opens up port 80 on your computer and tries to run a webpage, the router will block any connections from the outside so that the webpage can't be accessed except by other computers on your network. This is especially important when other, more dangerous ports are open, such as 3389, which is what lets an attacker take control of your computer in the first place. Often people think 'How can I access webpages if port 80 is blocked, since obviously the webserver needs to send the web page to my computer over that port? How can the router tell whether the server is giving me a webpage or trying to access one?' The answer to this lies once again in whether the connection is outgoing or incoming. Routers default to allowing all outgoing connections and blocking all outgoing connections. If you have a legitimate use for these ports to be open, such as if you are running your own webserver, they are easy to enable. In fact, you can send information on different ports to different computers, if you have more than one. This is useful if you want to have a separate webserver and mailserver, for example. The ways of configuring this are specific to your router, and are done at your own risk. A common reason for enabling ports is running BitTorrent, which downloads very slowly unless port 6881-6999 is enabled. Finally, some routers have wireless capabilities. Wireless security is very important, because if your network is unsecured, anyone can drive by and connect to it. Routers won't block connections to your computer if the other computer is on the same network! There are two types of wireless security: WEP and WPA. WEP is theorietically insecure, but given that in an average neighborhood there are several totally unprotected networks, most attackers won't bother to crack your key. WEP is very simple to set up, and detailed instructions will be in your router's manual. That's it! With one device (a router, if you haven't been following), you can completely block almost all attacks on your computer.
Backing Up Your System
One of the major issues people have trouble with is backing up files. Most people have little or no organizational structure, and application settings may be spread all over the hard drive. If you're lucky enough to be running Linux, the solution is one simple command:
tar -cvzf myfiles.tgz *However, most people are still on Windows, and backing up can be a trial. This tutorial will attempt to provide a clear demonstration of what needs to be done, as well as pitfalls to avoid. The first step is deciding what needs to be done. Your music collection, for example, might be available on the original CD's, and therefore you might not want to use valuable space making copies. If you don't really care about keeping your application settings, that will also simplify things immensely. If you want to know exactly what you had installed or loaded, you may need to make a list in notepad and save that with your backups. Once you've got something of a game plan together, you need to decide how you're going to backup your files. You might have a big external hard drive, in which case you don't have to worry too much about space. Maybe you have a DVD burner, in which case you'll need to organize your files into chunks of 5Gb or less. If you're using CD's, even more splitting will be necessary! No matter what you decide to do, make sure that your backups are clearly timestamped. Now that those two decisions have been made, we can get to work. First we need to organize all these files into a reasonable directory tree. Start by running CCleaner to clear off files that you don't want, and then set to work organizing. Get all of your personal files and documents into My Documents, being sure to find folders you added under C:\ or your desktop. My Documents will hold all original files, and we'll make a new folder to hold the new, organized ones. Always copy files instead of moving them, unless you are very space-constrained. Obviously your files are your own, and therefore your organizational structure will be unique, but I will offer some guidelines. Start by making a folder on your desktop called Root. This will contain the folders that we'll copy to the DVD or external hard drive. Under Root, add several generic subfolders, such as Pictures, Documents, Music, Application Settings, Email, Old Backups, etc. You probably also want to divide those folders into subfolders of their own. Make sure you have a well-fleshed-out structure before copying any files. Now you're pretty prepared for backing up your files. You have two major steps ahead of you: organizing your personal files, and locating your email and application settings. We'll start on the first step, which may take you several hours if your files aren't already organized. If you see a problem with your folder structure or you need to divide it even further, don't hesitate to do so. The goal here is that you'll easily be able to find files on your backups, and DVD's are often too slow to use traditional search tools effectively. Keep at it until all your files are copied. It'll take a long time, and a lot of perseverance. Music helps pass the time. Once you've done that, we're onto the second big step. This one isn't nearly as daunting as the last one, and if you only have a few applications to back up, will take less than half and hour. If you want a list of the programs you have installed, go into your Control Panel and select Add/Remove Programs. Copy that list into notepad, and save the resulting file in your Root folder. If you are in Windows 2000 or XP, you will be able to find your application settings easily. Go into Windows Explorer, and enter %APPDATA% in the address bar. Under Tools->Options, make sure that you can see hidden files. Look at all the folders in this folder. Most you will be able to recognize as programs or companies that you use. Copy the ones you want to keep into your Application Settings folder in your backup. One very important folder will be that of your email program. This contains all your messages, and you need to back it up in order to keep them. Once you've finished this step, create a file in Application Settings called APPDATA, so you know where you got the folders from (when restoring your backups). If you are using an older version of Windows, your program settings are probably not in one centralized place. The simplest way to deal with this is to enter Program Files in your C drive, and copy over the entire program folders. For email, you probably want to search the Internet for a backup tutorial specific to your program: best not to leave that kind of thing to chance. Once you are done, create a file called PROGFILES, in the same manner XP users did for APPDATA. Once you've finished that, you are done creating the backup. The next step is either very difficult or very simple: transferring the backup to a new medium. If you have a external hard drive, simply copy the Root folder to that drive, renaming it Backup_15Jan2007, changing the date accordingly. If you're using DVD's or CD's, you'll need to move specific folders to different discs to avoid running out of space. Grab a marker and label all of these clearly with names such as "Backup Pictures Jan 15/07". When you've finally done that, you're finished! You may wish to keep the organizational structure you made for the backup, in which case you should transfer everything in the Root folder to My Documents. If you copied everything as you should have, you can simply delete everything in My Documents before doing so. There's always risk in deleting files, though, so be careful! Backing up all your files in this manner at least once a month is good practice, and protects against disasters such as viruses, hard drive crashes, or theft. Always keep your old backups; if you lose the new ones, it's better to have them than nothing. Good luck!
This article is here for the purpose of system recovery. It is not about file recovery, undeleting files, or hard drive repair. Chances are, you need to go to a professional computer shop with those problems, and even they may be unable to recover your data. This article is instead about taking an unusable system (that is, one that will not boot or that is overloaded with spyware), and making it function again. If your system simply will not boot, first try a few relatively simple things to repair it. (Warning: "simple" here does not mean "safe".) Boot into a recovery console and replace your MBR with fdisk /mbr or fixmbr. Heed the warnings: if you are running Linux or another operating system in addition to Windows, you won't be able to access it. Another thing to try would be to fix your computer's heating system: take the computer outside, open it up, and blow out all the dust. Put it together again and maybe add a few cooling fans. If the above options didn't work, or you didn't try them out of fear of damaging your system, you need to fix your computer on the software side. I'm assuming that you can't get into Windows at all, or if you can, you can't do anything with it. We're going to need to completely reload the system. Step one is to get your data and settings off of the computer. Since you can't get into Windows, you'll need to get a LiveCD. For this tutorial, we'll use Ubuntu. Download the install CD for desktop computers. Don't worry! It won't install anything unless you specifically tell it to. The boot screen will provide you with a number of options. Firstly, select the memory test. Run that for a few hours, or overnight. It requires no user interaction and will tell you if the problem is merely bad hardware. If so, a new computer might not be such a bad idea. Simply transfer the hard drive and away you go! After the memory test, reboot and "Start or Install Ubuntu". Once again, nothing will be installed. It is merely loading a temporary version of Linux that will go away as soon as you reboot. It will take several minutes to load. Simply be patient: this is because Ubuntu was designed to be run from the hard drive, and CD players are much slower. Once Ubuntu is loaded, you need a backup medium. I recommend you pick up a USB hard drive. You can use a CD or DVD burner, but it is trickier and the LiveCD may stop working under the stress. Simply plug in your USB drive and wait a few seconds. An icon will appear on your desktop. This is your drive, and you can simply drag stuff onto it to back it up. Now we get into some technical stuff. I have to be specific here, so the commands I give may not work on all systems. In that case, you can email a tech-savvy friend with this tutorial or call over a technician. Press Ctrl+Alt+F1 to switch to a text console. Type cd Desktop; mkdir windir; sudo mount /dev/hda1 windir. If you're lucky, it worked. Press Ctrl+Alt+F7 to get back into your graphics, and look at your desktop. There's a new icon called windir now. Double-click on it to look inside. If it's empty, this tutorial leaves you, although hope doesn't. Call someone experienced with Linux to help you out. If, however, there's files inside, you've gotten onto your Windows stuff! Find all your personal settings and drag them to the USB drive icon. If you're a typical Windows XP user, all of your settings will be in a single folder called Documents and Settings. If not, they could be anywhere. In that case, find your My Documents folder, the folders of any applications you need under Program Files, and any folders you created yourself elsewhere. Move them all to the USB drive. Now close all of your windows, right-click on the USB drive, click 'Eject', and wait for it to finish. When it's done, unplug the USB drive and reboot your system. Remove the Ubuntu CD and set it to the side. You've saved all your files and you need to reinstall your computer. If you've got a Windows CD or a system restore CD, use that to reinstall the system. If not, you've got a problem. You could try calling your computer manufacturer and asking for a CD, or you could simply buy a new one. Or, if you've got a tech available and you're feeling adventurous, you can grab that Ubuntu CD and actually install Linux. I'll walk you through Ubuntu in a future tutorial. While there's little that I can really do through an online tutorial, I hope this helps somebody. Good luck.
Optimizing Your System
If your system is virus and spyware-free and it's still running slow, you are in need of optimization. I've met many people who will simply go out and buy a new computer in this situation. That is the most pointless waste of money ever. If you truly want a brand-new system, use the restore CD's that came with it. But you probably don't want a new system, because your old one can work just fine. Before we do anything, though, we'll optimize your Internet connection. If you aren't already using it, . Use it from now on instead of Internet Explorer. I'd give you a detailed analysis of Firefox's benefits, but it's all on their website now, so I won't repeat it. Once you're in Firefox, point it to about:config. This is a list of every option available to Firefox. Don't be scared; you'll never have to use it again after this, as all the normal options are convienently available under Tools->Options. Filter the list by "pipel" and change the three options that are shown to true, 30, and true. Finally, right-click on the list, go to New, and click Integer. Enter "nglayout.initialpaint.delay" as the name, and 0 as the value. Restart Firefox and head to Google. Isn't that speed amazing? The first step in optimization is to defragment your system. However, in order to defragment reasonably quickly, you need to clean off your hard drive. You wouldn't believe the amount of junk that's on your system, provides no useful purpose, and that you aren't even aware of. To find most of this garbage, you need to download and install a tool called CCleaner (Crap Cleaner) and run it. On the left side of the program is a series of checkboxes. Check them all, even the ones with warnings. Do the same under the "Applications" tab. What they are telling you is that, for example, the ordering of your start menu might be changed, or that your saved forms in your browser will vanish. In other words, no real damage. Click "Run Cleaner" and let it go. Do it again, just to be sure. Now, reboot your machine. Go back into CCleaner, and on the left, click "Issues". Click "Scan for Issues" at the bottom, and when it finishes, click "Fix selected issues...". It will pop up a dialog, asking you if you should back up registry changes. You probably don't need to, but go ahead, just in case. After you agree, you'll get another dialog, showing you the registry issues. Click "Fix All Selected Issues". It will ask if you are sure, and yes, you are. Reboot the machine again, just to make sure you didn't hurt anything. If the system won't boot, force-restart it by unplugging it and plugging it back in. Windows will give you a list of options on how to boot. Select "Last Known Good Configuration", and Windows will automatically undo CCleaner's registry changes. Note that this scenario has never happened, to the best of my knowledge, but it is theorietically possible. At this point your hard drive will be much cleaner. We're going to go a few steps further in the next paragraph, and if you'd like, you can skip to the next. Clean out your system. Uninstall any never-used programs, or ones that duplicate other functionality. Then, find all of your files. A lot of them you'll never want to edit, but simply to read (or view, or listen to). Get them off the system. If you've got a USB hard drive, move them there. Otherwise, burn them to DVD's. If your music collection is under 5Gb, that's a prime candidate. If your photo collection is under 5Gb, or organized into subcollections that are, do the same. Finally, move any old documents that you are keeping for posterity. This includes old budgets, tax forms, web receipts, manuals, and pretty much anything. These documents should have backups anyway! Be sure to label all of your DVD's, as well as timestamp them so that you can differentiate when you make new copies. Now that your system is fairly clean, you can defragment it. Head over to www.raxco.com and download a trial version of PerfectDisk. It will ask for your email address, and you might as well give them a real one: you'll almost certainly want to buy their product, and they're always having sales. Since the PerfectDisk UI changes a bit with every release, I can't give you a detailed explanation of what to click. Experiment a bit to find out what's available, and then run a SmartPlacement defragment on your C drive. You might want to call us over to show you more features of the program; there's a lot more than can be done. It's well worth the $40USD that it costs for the full version. But even so, wait a month or three for a sale. I got my version for $20.
Spyware and Virus Removal
This guide explains how you can clean up your system, remove viruses and spyware, and make it run a bit more like new. It assumes that you are able to boot into your system and run programs well enough to download some tools and run them. Users who can't even boot or whose system is bogged down to the point of unusability will have to wait for a future guide. We'll start by cleaning off the system. If you've installed Norton, MacAffee, SpySweeper or any other maintenance tool that you paid for, uninstall it and never pay for it again. With the exception of disk defragmenters, these tools don't work properly, slow down your system, suck up resources, annoy you, and are a major cash drain. Free alternatives exist, most of which are more effective, efficient, and friendly. Once you've gotten rid of your antivirus software, your system is at major risk. We'll fix that in a moment, but for now unplug your modem. You won't need it for a while, as we're merely cleaning stuff up. Start by going into Add/Remove Programs. Do this via the control panel (Start->Run->"control"). Read through the list. Uninstall anything that you never use, anything that duplicates functionality from other programs, anything with no major configuration (we'll reinstall these later, once the system is back in shape), and games that you have no intention of playing for a while. Once you've done all that, reboot your machine again and then run a disk defragmenter. This isn't really necessary at this point, but it buys you time to let your network-dependant spyware die in the absense of a modem. Once you've done all that, shut down the machine, plug in your modem, allow it to initialize, and turn the machine back on. As soon as you're up, install AVG Free Edition. This will protect your system from viruses more effectively than Norton, but without the cost or performance hit. You can run a full scan if you want, but it will take a long time to finish and you may wish to just run it overnight. Once AVG is setup, download and install Spybot Search and Destroy here. The download site can be difficult to use, but any of the download buttons should work. Once you've got it, run it. Follow the steps to update it, run a full system scan, and then immunize your machine. This will probably clear up a lot of your system's problems. There are other features of the Spybot program, but they are out of the scope of this tutorial. The best way to find them is to experiment. As a supplement to Spybot, you should also download and install SpywareBlaster . Once again, update and immunize. This program won't find spyware on your machine, but it will help prevent spyware from getting there in the first place. There is no noticable performace hit caused by this. Hopefully by now you have cleared off most of the viruses and other garbage from your machine. If you haven't already run AVG, you should do so now. It will finish in under 24 hours, depending on how many files you have, how fast your system is, and how badly virused it is. At this point you will probably be interested in my tutorial on optimizing your system. If the above steps didn't help you at all, you will probably wish to call a technician. Or, if you enjoy taking risks and experimenting, try my tutorial on system recovery.
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