Friday, December 9, 2011

PC Cleanup Scams

Your computer is similar to your car in a lot of ways. Both are expensive, both require a lot of maintenance, both are nearly indispensable in the modern age, and both are probably not as efficient as when you first bought them. And, like most people, this makes you an irresponsible money fountain to the right person. Obviously when you have car trouble you don't just take it to any chop shop down the street and trust them with your livelihood. So why would you do so with your computer?

There are several tools on the market for restoring your computer to factory condition. Unfortunately, there are several scams out there too, just waiting for you to trust them with your precious machine.

Now, I use the term "scam" lightly. Obviously some of the services mentioned in this article are not illegal, just shady. In the same way that you'd hesitate to take a car loan from the cornerstore loan, you should be wary of these services.

Pictured: Legitimate businessman and his clerical assistant.

First on our list of avoidance are the cold callers. Lately there have been reports of companies cold-calling people and informing them that their computer might be running slowly, infected, corrupted, etc, and that they are able to fix it. They instruct those they're speaking on the phone to bring up the PC event log, which normally displays several warnings and other messages related to normal PC function, and explain that the warnings and errors listed there are indicative of infection. They offer an overpriced service and connect remotely to the machine in question, do a basic scan, and pretend to remove other errors. It's all a bunch of show, as they aren't really doing anything.

It's unclear where the money is going or if they're passing along the credit card information to cyber thieves or other criminals, but it's safe to say they don't have your best interests in mind. If you receive one of these calls, the best thing to do is hang up. No legitimate software company like Microsoft or any anti-virus provider will ever call you to inform you of your machine's compromised integrity.

Tom! Get the lawyers, the internet is talking about us again!

Then there are websites that offer similar services. Websites like MyCleanPC and FinallyFast offer legitimate services to optimize your machine and remove any infection. The problem is they usually offer this service at an inflated rate, and usually with hidden subscriptions and add ins that aren't made clear first hand. It's better to talk to a local professional if you aren't sure about cleaning your machine yourself. Faces are easier to hold accountable than websites and phone calls.

There are several factors that go into PC integrity that you just can't detect over the internet, and so these so called experts calling you, or telling you over a website that your PC needs work are really just misleading you into thinking you actually do need their help. The reality is you simply cannot hear undesirable noises coming from a PC over the internet, or judge the speed a computer is running over a remote connection, you can't add or replace hardware or fix software that requires a computer restart, such as BIOS flashing or driver retooling.

There are four major things to clean up when doing routine PC maintenance: junk files, registry errors, defragmenting, and spyware/virus/malware scans. If the service you're buying doesn't cover all those, and doesn't tell you how they're going to do them, they aren't worth your hard earned dollars. Trying to do them yourself, however, is potentially even more dangerous, as you could end up creating registry errors or deleting important files yourself. It's strongly recommended to have a professional do the trick, but a local professional you can trust.

PC Cleanup: It only matters what's on the inside!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Email and It's Intricacies

Email. Everyone uses it, and no one knows how it works, which is ok, considering not many people understand the physics of microwave ovens, but they can still heat their food. What should be understood, however, is that like a microwave, email may be easy to use, but so many parts have to be working perfectly in order to do its job. I'll attempt to explain how.

Email is like a teeny tiny download that your computer, using an email client (the program that lets you view your emails, be it outlook on your computer, or gmail on the web) will download and keep handy. Basically when you compose an email, you're creating a tiny file to send to a server, and other users download that file from that server in order to view it. Of course when you send the email, the "To:" address bar sends a little instruction packet with your file telling the email server who gets to download this email, but it's important to note that while you may send the email to a specific person, the email is still sitting there on that server and anyone with sufficient rights or access can view it at their choosing, even if you tell it to delete.

Just look at all these porn links!

Email requires several things. First, it requires a server to send and receive the emails. Second, it requires someone to host that server, and by host, I mean enable that server to find the other servers all over the internet. Server hosting is a whole 'nother shebang, but for now we're going to skim the topic by stating that the server needs to have the right instructions (called records, of which there are a few types: MX is used in email) to send the files to the right places. Essentially your email would be like a car on the highway, with specific instructions on where to go. The servers (yours and the other servers on the internet) are like the road signs. At each intersection or lane change, the road signs, our servers, tell the little email car which way to go.

What does this all mean? It means that if someone doesn't have the right records, or if the servers have the wrong domain names hosted, or even if only part of some of the records exist, then your email is going to have trouble getting where it's going. In some cases, you may even be able to receive and send emails at your office, or at home on your desktop, but not on your cell phone or tablet. Each one of those devices has a specific way of packaging and sending emails, and your email host needs to have all those records available. If not, then your email is lost in translation, so to speak.

Kind of like this, only less pretty and more executive screaming

Email is far more complicated than this, but for the quick and dirty, essentially this is how it works.

[office photo courtesy of]

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