Archive for April, 2013

Orange Business Services has announced the global expansion of "Business Together as a Service" — a move the company touts as the "market’s first Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) offer available for large enterprises on a global scale," according to the company’s statement. The cloud service, originally deployed in France and Europe, is hosted in three regional data centers (Atlanta, Frankfurt and Singapore) that are part of the Orange Business Services dedicated cloud computing infrastructure. The service is available on six continents.

Best free antivirus programs and virus propection tips 

So you got caught with your pants down on the Internet (figuratively, folks) and contracted a virus. That sucks. Or maybe you were wearing protection but still fell victim to some nasty bit of code that managed to slip by your antivirus software undetected. That sucks even more. Either way, it’s nothing to feel ashamed about. The web is a dangerous place and even the most tech savvy users sometimes slip up. You can even get a virus through no fault of your own simply by visiting a reputable website that, unbeknownst to you, has been compromised by a hacker with malicious intent. The web is a war zone, and even if you’re not a target, you can still end up a casualty.

That’s not to say you can’t stack the odds decidedly in your favor, because you can. And you should. To help you do that, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to protect your PC from malware. We cover everything from smart (and not so smart) computing habits, the best free antivirus programs, and what tools work best for removing an infection when all else fails. Don your hazmat suits and let’s get started!

Spyware
If your PC looks like this, you’re doing something wrong.

Virus 101

If you’re reading this, it’s safe to assume you already know what a computer virus is, and certainly the majority of Maximum PC readers are well informed. So, we won’t spend a ton of text dissecting the different kinds of viruses, but we do want to quickly cover the basics. Strictly speaking, a virus is a program that can replicate itself and is designed to spread from one computer to another, doing things the end-user doesn’t want and/or doesn’t know about.

A broader term is malware, short for malicious software, and there are many different forms, including viruses, Trojan horses, keyloggers, worms, adware, and spyware, to name a few. These days, malware is most often spread through web browsers. According to Kaspersky, there were nearly 1.6 billion browser-based attacks in 2012, up from 946 million a year prior.

A common misconception is that only Windows users need to concern themselves with malware, but that isn’t true. Malware writers have traditionally focused their efforts on Windows, but have started targeting other platforms as they become more popular, including mobile. Even Mac users have to be on the lookout.

“In early 2012, the Flashfake botnet was discovered, consisting of 700,000 computers all running under Mac OS X,” Kaspersky states in its most recent security bulletin.

The bottom line is, if you use the Internet, you’re a target.

Safe Computing is a Start

Your best line of defense is still you, the end-user. The less risks you take, the lower your chance of becoming just another statistic, and it all starts with developing smart computing habits. Here are five easy ways you can remove yourself from the line of fire:

  1. Never open unexpected email attachments, even if you know the recipient. If a PC belonging to someone else is infected, it could be auto-generating malicious emails with dirty attachments or booby-trapped URLs.
  2. It’s easy to spoof URLs within emails. Instead of clicking on email links, type the URL directly into your browser, especially if you receive a notice that appears to come from your banking institution or PayPal. This exponentially decreases your risk of falling for a phishing scam. You know what they say about a fool and his money…
  3. Stay diligent with updating and patching your software. These updates often patch security holes that malware writers can otherwise exploit. If a program has the option of automatically checking for updates, enable it. We also recommend running Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector (PSI) on occasion, which is a free security tool that scans for and identifies vulnerabilities in many third-party programs.
  4. Avoid visiting shadier sides of the web. We’re in no way trying to play the part of moral police, but sites that serve up illegal downloads or triple-X rated content are popular places to set digital landmines.
  5. Use Alt-F4 to close suspicious pop-up ads instead of clicking on the X button. Why? Sometimes the X button is really a part of the ad, and clicking it could redirect you to a malicious website.

A Word About Passwords

As much as you might love your significant other, using his or her name as your password is a really dumb idea. It’s far too easy to guess, just like “123456,” “iloveyou,” “letmein,” and others found on SplashData’s list of worst passwords.

A good password will be at least eight characters long and will use a mix of letters, numbers, symbols, and capitalization. For example, “Ey3LMpC!” which stands for “I love Maximum PC” is relatively easy to remember and much more secure than a word or phrase that can be broken with a brute force dictionary attack.

1Password

You also should be using multiple passwords for different websites so that if one account is compromised, your others are still safe. The downside to this approach is that it can be difficult to remember multiple passwords, especially strong ones. An alternative to remembering them all is to use a password manager like LastPass or KeePass, both of which are free. RoboForm is another option, and though it isn’t free, it also fills in forms and allows you to access RoboForm Logins and Identities on all your devices, including mobile. The same is true of 1Password, though it doesn’t fill in forms.

Second Line of Defense: Antivirus Software

Whenever the topic of security software comes up, inevitably someone chimes in that it’s completely unnecessary so long as you surf the web safely. They’ll then provide anecdotal evidence based on their own personal experience, and while it’s true you can get by without AV protection, it’s a constant roll of the dice. And for what? To save a few CPU cycles? It’s simply not worth the risk, and certainly not the cost when there are free options out there. Let’s focus on those first.

-Avast Free Edition (Free, www.avast.com/en-us/index)

Avast Free Edition

Every year we run a roundup of security software and you can read the latest one in the April issue of Maximum PC magazine. In it we tested three free antivirus programs — Avast, Microsoft Security Essentials, and AVG — and out of those three, we found Avast to be the best free antivirus software.

We like Avast because it scans for viruses and spyware, and has a built-in remote support tool that allows you to dish out (or receive) assistance to other trusted Avast users, which is extremely handy if you’re the IT guy for family and friends. It also offers tons of fine grain control.

One of our few complaints is that Avast doesn’t guard against Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs) by default. To change that, click on Security > File System Shield > Settings > Sensitivity and check the box underneath “PUP and suspicious files.”

We also recommend doing a full system scan at least once a month. If you keep your PC on 24/7, it’s not a bad idea to schedule nightly scans when you’re asleep. This ensures that any potential threats are caught before they have much chance to do any harm, provided they get past Avast’s real-time scan engine to begin with.

-Second Opinions

No virus scanner is capable of catching and neutralizing every single threat; it’s simply not possible due to the sheer number of new malware that is created on a daily basis. For this reason, it’s in your best interest to solicit a second and/or third opinion on occasion using a dedicated spyware scanner. How often depends on how risky your online behavior. If all you’re doing is surfing Maximum PC, sports sites, and updating your Facebook feed, quarterly scans should be sufficient.

One of the best programs out there is Malwarebytes. It’s free (there’s also a paid version) and it does an excellent job of detecting deeply embedded threats that other scanners miss. Malwarebytes is also great at cleaning up remnants left behind after you’ve eradicated a virus, such as lingering registry entries.

Another popular program is SuperAntiSpyware, which is also available in free and paid flavors. Scanning with both Malwarebyes and SuperAntiSpyware on occasion is a potent one-two combo to supplement your daily AV program.

-Internet Security Suites

Norton Internet Security

If you’re willing to pay for security software, an Internet security suite offers more robust protection than what’s available in any single free program. One of the best available is Norton Internet Security. Put your pitchforks away, if you haven’t taken Norton for a test drive in several years, then you have no idea what you’re missing. It’s not the same bloated program that it was prior to 2009. That’s when Symantec re-wrote the software from the ground up with an emphasis on performance. These days it offers top-notch protection with little impact on system performance

Click the next page to see what you should do when your computer has already been infected!


 

Stick Your Head in the Cloud

 

A substitute for installing security software is to tap into the cloud. There are several cloud scanners at your disposal, but only a select few will go the extra mile and actually disinfect your machine if it finds something wrong, while others try to upsell you. Panda Security’s Panda Active Scan detects and removes, though it only works with Internet Explorer. There’s also an option to install a small front-end, but even if you go that route, it’s still a cloud-based scanner that won’t suck up your system resources.

Malwarebytes

Another handy bookmark is VirusTotal, a free, on-demand online scanner with a twist. Let’s say you downloaded a file or email attachment, but are suspicious of its contents. Before you open it up, just upload it to VirusTotal and it will be put under the microscope of dozens of scan engines. It’s the ultimate second opinion for single files and URLs, albeit the maximum file size is 32MB.

Hide Behind a Virtual Machine

Have kids that share your PC? You’re a brave soul. Kids have a tendency to click on pop-up requests willy-nilly, but there are steps you can take to mitigate any potential headaches. Here they are:

  1. Teach them smart computing habits. It’s never too early to learn, and since their brains are like little sponges, they may surprise you with how much they retain.
  2. Set up a different user account. It won’t save your PC from nasty infections, but hey, do you really want to login and find that your Windows theme has been changed over to Spongebob or Dora the Explorer? We didn’t think so.
  3. Install Sandboxie, a free application that runs selected programs in an isolated environment. You can configure Sandboxie to run any time a browser is opened, so when your kids inevitably download something they shouldn’t have, the changes aren’t permanent. This is also a wonderful tool for installing on PCs belonging to friends and family. It works with any browser, too.

Sandboxie

If you’re particularly reckless on the web, a full-blown virtual machine is the next best thing to a dedicated web box. A virtual machine isn’t completely fool proof, but it’s close to it. Microsoft’s Virtual PC works relatively well, especially if you’re mostly interested in surfing the web, and so is VMWare’s Player. Another thing VMs are good for is installing suspicious programs and beta software. If something turns out to be malicious, the damage is contained away from your OS.

I’m Already Infected, Now What!?

Despite your best efforts, sometimes the bad guys win. If that happens, or if a family member drops off a badly infected PC, follow these steps to clean it up.

-Scan, Scan, and Scan Again

First, try installing a free antivirus program. If it works, great, proceed to scan the system, and then follow that up with Malwarebytes and SuperAntiSpyware sweeps. This three-pronged approach should rid the system of most, if not all malware, unless it’s a particularly nasty infection. If it doesn’t, don’t worry, we’re not ready to throw in the towel.

Task Manager

Before we proceed, are you even able to install security programs? Some malware detects when security software is being installed and stops it dead in its tracks. If that’s happening to you, try to disable the offending program. Hit CTRL+ALT+DEL to start the Task Manager and look for any suspicious entries in the Processes tab. Anything that’s gibberish — for example, “mgbelwisfl” — is probably up to no good. Highlight the entry and press End Process. Are you now able to install AV scanners?

If not, you’ll need to boot into Safe Mode, which only loads the bare minimum drivers required to run Windows. To do that, hit the F8 key during boot (press it repeatedly during during bootup if you have trouble with the timing). When prompted, select Safe Mode with Networking. Now try installing/running your security software.

-HiJackThis

HiJackThis

If your system’s still displaying malware symptoms (slowed performance, random pop-ups, etc), you may need to dig deeper. HiJackThis is a free utility that generates an in-depth report of registry and file settings, but be warned it doesn’t discern between good and harmful settings. If you don’t know what the settings are, solicit outside help by posting a HiJackThis log to a computer forum like one here at Maximum PC. Alternately, you can post the contents of the log on HiJackThis.de Security and/or I Am Not a Geek for quick and basic parsing, though you should still seek outside help before nuking an entry you’re unfamiliar with.

Running HiJackThis is simple. Just click the “Scan” button and wait for it to finish scanning your system (it only takes a few seconds). When it’s finished, click on “Save Log” to save the contents to a Notepad file, which you can then copy/paste into any of the sites mentioned above.

Assuming you recognize an obvious malicious entry, check the appropriate box(es) and click “Fix checked.”

-Comodo Cleaning Essentials

At this point, we’re starting to run out of options, but all is not yet lost. Comodo Cleaning Essentials (CCE) is a tool that any geek should be toting around in his/her tool chest. It doesn’t require any installation, meaning you can run it direct from a USB key, which is perfect for making house calls.

Comodo Cleaning Essentials

CCE digs deep for a variety of infections, including rootkits, making it an indispensable tool. It even scans the Master Boot Record (MBR), so to say it’s thorough is an understatement.

Inside the CCE directory, you’ll also find an entry called KillSwitch.exe. It’s a much better version of the built-in Task Manager because it provides a bunch of additional information, and will even tell you if a program that’s running is safe or known to be malicious. If you can’t get into the Task Manager to kill an offending program, try using KillSwitch. If you want, you can even have it replace the Task Manager by enabling the setting in the Options menu.

-TDSSKiller

TDSSKiller

Persistent infections that manage to evade your best efforts to eradicate could be indicative of a rootkit. A rootkit is particularly stealthy, though not entirely invisible. Download and run Kaskperky’s TDSSKiller if you think you might have a rootkit. Like CCE, this utility doesn’t require installation and can be carried on a USB stick.

-ComboFix

When you’re at your wit’s end and ready to reinstall Windows, that’s when you should try ComboFix, a powerful cleanup tool that can either save the day or leave your PC unable to operate correctly. Before downloading and running ComboFix, backup any data as if you’re reinstalling Windows, because in the end, you might have to anyway. Before you proceed, you should also read through the extensive usage guide on Bleeping Computer.

If you’ve gotten this far and your system is still infected, throw in the towel and start with a fresh Windows installation. Sure, you could keep plugging away in hopes of cleaning up your system, but by the time you’re done, you could be rocking a fresh Windows install with no trace of malware.

Know of any tips we missed or have software recommendations of your own? Let us and other readers know by posting them in the comments section below!


Go to Source

We build a machine that’s red and black to hopefully beat our benchmarks black and blue

Variety is the spice of the Lab, so this month we decided to eschew our traditional builds and go with one you don’t see every day—an all-AMD gaming PC, built with (most of) the best parts we could get our hands on. We’re sure some of you will question the purpose of this build, so our pre-emptive answer is we built it because we could, and we were curious to see how a balls-out AMD build would benchmark, as we haven’t seen over-the-top AMD rig since The Matrix: Revolutions let us down. Plus, everyone is always ragging on us for ignoring AMD, so here you go AMD enthusiasts—an entire PC built just for you.  

amd pc

The AMD Gaming PC

We ended up pairing AMD’s relatively new “Vishera” Piledriver CPU, the 4GHz FX-8350 (or “Octomom,” as we like to call it) with a totally jacked HD 7970 from Asus and a small army of AMD-ish components, which we figured would make for an interesting build. Finally, we’ve heard your feedback about how you don’t need to see another picture of RAM being inserted into its slot, so this month we’re going to talk about our component selection and the building process instead of showing you how we actually built it.  

It’s Time to Choose 

The impetus for this system was the release of the relatively new “Vishera” CPU from AMD along with an updated version of the Asus Crosshair V Formula Z motherboard running the 990FX chipset. We had just received both of these parts, so we knew what we had to do—take a lunch break to consider our options. While tossing back root beers we formulated the basis of the system—an AMD processor and motherboard were a given, but what else? We had yet to sample the overclocked HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP from Asus, so we added that to the equation. We then remembered AMD-branded RAM had just been announced, so we added that to the ticket as we ordered another round of brewskies. To finish the system, we settled on the Thermaltake V3 AMD edition chassis, some red-band Corsair AF120 case fans, and a red Corsair Force GS SSD, as well, to tie the room together.

 

INGREDIENTS
PART URL Price
Case Thermaltake V3 AMD Edition www.thermaltakeusa.com

$50

PSU Corsair TX750M 750W www.corsair.com $115
Mobo Asus Crosshair V Formula Z www.asus.com $230
CPU AMD 4GHz FX-8350 www.amd.com $220
Cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus www.coolermaster.com $20
GPU Asus Radeon HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP www.asus.com $450
RAM 8GB AMD Performance Edition DDR3/1600 www.amd.com $50
Hard Drive WD RE 4TB www.wd.com $460
SSD Corsair Force GS SSD 240GB www.corsair.com $220
Fans Corsair AF120 Quiet Edition (x2) www.corsair.com $28
OS Windows 7 Professional 64-bit www.microsoft.com $140
Total     $1,983
Click the next page to see our CPU, motherboard, and video card specs


1. The CPU and Motherboard

AMD’s new CPU is the first proc we’ve ever seen that comes clocked from the factory at 4GHz, and it’s a surprisingly affordable eight-core processor, too. Though 4GHz is the highest stock-clock speed we’ve ever seen, don’t get too excited. The FX-8350 is not even in the same universe as something like a hexa-core Intel Core i7-3960X, despite having two additional cores and a clock-speed advantage.

The motherboard is the latest version of the Asus Crosshair V and has every feature imaginable, including an actual digital kitchen sink. It’s running the AMD 990FX chipset and dishes up a total of eight SATA 6Gb/s ports and two eSATA 6Gb/s ports as well as a new SupremeFX III audio chip and three PCI Express x16 slots for three-way SLI or CrossFire. Plus, the paint job is totally righteous.

Asus’s Crosshair V Formula Z is the perfect home for a flagship CPU like the FX-8350.

 2. OUR TOP PICK

Of course we went with a Radeon HD 7970 for this build—you would do the same thing if you were in our statically shielded shoes. But instead of just going with a Nilla Wafer card, we rang up Asus and requested its overclocked bitch-maker, the HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP. In English, this means the card is a 7970 but it has the company’s ludicrously huge DirectCU II triple-slot cooler, and TOP means its core clock speed is nudged up to 1GHz from its stock speed of 925MHz. This card requires two 8-pin connectors and can power up to six displays at once, and did we mention it’s effing massive?

This overclocked, triple-slot pixel-pusher runs neck-and-neck with the GTX 680 and is totally silent.

 3. WE MAKE OUR CASE

We can already hear the smack-talk about taking a $50 case and stuffing two-grand worth of gear into it. Point taken—and yes, we chose it for its color scheme. But since our build wasn’t too ambitious, the case actually worked out OK, though we did experience a few issues. The first sign of trouble was a warning in the manual not to use a video card that exceeds 10.4 inches. We stared at our 11-inch GPU, gritted our teeth, and wedged it into the PCIe slot with… no problem at all. It worked perfectly. The second issue was the rear-facing 3.5-inch hard drive bays, which we haven’t seen in a while and did not miss. Installing drives once the mobo and GPU are inside is a PITA, plain and simple. The biggest issue we had was a lack of holes to route our PSU cables, so please cut us some slack on that (we know you won’t).

amd case

Thermaltake’s V3 AMD is specifi cally designed for AMD processors and RAM. OK, we made that up.

Click the next page to check out the PC’s SSD, PSU, and RAM


4. STORAGE DUTIES

Our SSD selection will probably be another controversial choice, but we picked it for two reasons. First, it’s red. Second, it’s fast. The second part is crucial, because if the drive was red and slow, it would not be in this rig, period. But since it’s fast, and red, in it went. Though we never officially reviewed this drive, it’s the flagship of Corsair’s previous Force lineup, and features fast MLC Toggle NAND and a SandForce SF-2281 controller, so it’s got some hardware cred. In testing, it hummed right along at 464MB/412MB read and write speeds. Since no man can survive on an SSD alone, we paired it with WD’s cavernous 4TB RE enterprise drive, which spins at 7,200rpm and is big enough to hold our multimedia stash, barely. Since the Thermaltake case only has 4 3.5-inch drive bays, we figured we had better go big on this one.

A SandForce SSD from Corsair and 4TB of rotating storage should serve our file-hoarding needs nicely.

5. MORE POWER

Our PSU choice was made interesting by the fact that the original no-name model we chose failed during testing. The system would boot fine and run normally until we really stressed it out, at which point we found ourselves staring at a matrix of orange squares on our LCD. We tried updating the mobo’s BIOS, updating our video drivers, and even swapping the power cables, but nothing worked. Finally, we grabbed the Corsair TX750M and plugged it into the 24-pin and 8-pin connectors, leaving the original PSU attached to the GPU, and everything worked just fine. Eventually, we yanked the original PSU out and went with Corsair. This just reinforces an ageold lesson: Don’t get cheap when it comes to your rig’s power supply. It’s not worth the headache.

An inadequate power supply put a halt to our benchmarking. Thankfully, Corsair stepped in and saved the day.

6. RED RAM

AMD has begun selling branded memory, so we figured we’d plop some sticks into the machine to see if anything bad would happen. The RAM is made by Patriot and VisionTek but is validated by AMD for use with its CPUs and chipsets, so take that for what it’s worth. The company is offering branded sticks in 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB modules in four flavors: Value, Entertainment, Performance, and Radeon. We used 8GB of Performance RAM, which was clocked at 1,600MHz at 1.5V out of the box. Even though AMD warns users against overclocking, it also indicates on its website that it can be safely run at 1.65V in order to achieve more aggressive timings.

We tried some AMD Performance Edition RAM and are happy to report it was rock solid and stable.

Click the next page to see our overall conclusion and benchmark numbers

 


 

1. The V3 case only comes with one 12cm exhaust fan, but we replaced it with two Corsair AF120 Quiet case fans because they look snazzy and are whisper-quiet.

2. We originally wanted a Phanteks cooler in red, but a time crunch forced us to go with our favorite cooler of the past year, the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus. It’s still the best bang for-the-buck cooler in the land and is amazingly quiet.

3. Thermaltake says this case isn’t made for extra-long GPUs and extra-tall CPU coolers, but both of ours fit with zero clearance problems.

4. The Thermaltake V3 AMD edition lacks holes for cable routing, so we ended up with a traffic jam in the lower quadrant of the chassis.

THE NUMBERS AREN’T PRETTY

As you look at the benchmark chart below, you should hear the sad trombone sound from The Price is Right playing in your head because this system got smoked by our zero-point rig, which has a hexa-core Sandy Bridge-E and GeForce GTX 690 video card. Its best result was in the x264 HD 5.0 encoding test, where our AMD rig lost by 30 percent to Core i7-3930K, its least punishing defeat, which was likely the result of the AMD part’s higher clock speed. In every other test the extra cores and clocks that AMD brings to the table didn’t make a difference against Intel’s more efficient microarchitecture, even if it’s an older generation. We witnessed a beatdown in all the CPU-based tests, including Adobe Premiere Pro 6, where the Vishera system took almost 1.5 hours to complete a test that took our SNB-E machine just 33 minutes. We saw the same disparity in every other test, but it’s not a surprise since Vishera was not designed to go head-to-head with a $1,000 Intel Core i7 CPU. Sadly, our HD 7970 also got smacked around in both 3DMark and Batman, where it was picked on by the zero-point’s GTX 690 GPU. You can interpret this two ways: the first is, hey, it’s no so bad, considering that the ZP’s CPU and GPU cost twice as much as the AMD’s parts. The other way is, damn, those Sandy Bridge-E CPUs are fast.

Benchmarks

ZERO

POINT

Premiere Pro CS6 (sec) 2,000 5,160 (-61%)
Stitch.Efx 2.0 (sec) 831 1,489 (-44%)
ProShow Producer 5.0 (sec) 1,446 2,902 (-50%)
x264 HD 5.0 (fps) 21.1 14.8 (-30%)
Batmans Arkam City (fps) 76 51 (-33%)
3 DMark 11 5,847  3,122 (-47%)

Our current desktop test bed consists of a hexa-core 3.2GHz Core i7-3930K @ 3.8GHz, 8GB of Corsair DDR3/1600, on an Asus Sabertooth X79 motherboard. We are running a GeForce GTX 690, an OCZ Vertex 3 SSD, and 64-bit Windows 7 Professional.


Go to Source

XO Communications has announced enhancements to the company’s hosted PBX service. The latest features upgrades now will provide better alternatives for multi-location business customers by offering a customer-provided bandwidth option. With the enhancements, XO Hosted PBX customers will now be able to connect to the XO VoIP service, leveraging the XO Hosted PBX features with an Internet connection from any broadband provider.

XO Communications has announced enhancements to the company’s hosted PBX service. The latest features upgrades now will provide better alternatives for multi-location business customers by offering a customer-provided bandwidth option. With the enhancements, XO Hosted PBX customers will now be able to connect to the XO VoIP service, leveraging the XO Hosted PBX features with an Internet connection from any broadband provider.

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