MadMod Computing The MadMod Computing Newsletter

June, 2011 - Vol. 2011b

Welcome to this edition of The MadMod Computing Newsletter.   We hope that you enjoy the features of each issue and learn some computing skills along the way. For more topics on other newsletters, check out MadMod Computing Newsletters.

First, a reminder to make backups of your important files, and to keep your anti-virus software up-to-date.   Second use a software firewall and/or a router if using broadband.   Last, obtain all the critical Windows updates.

Featured in This Issue
1.     Ransomware & Prior Backups
2.     32-bit vs 64-bit Computers
3.     Skype (website)

1.    Ransomware & Prior Backups
A new kind of malware is now in the vicinity of our Internet-connected computers.  It's nasty and at the extortion level as the best way to categorize it.  When ransomware runs after the infected computer has restarted, typically the folders My Documents, Pictures, Music, Videos, etc. of the personal variety are encrypted and become totally unavailable.  That is until the ransom is paid via credit card and the supposed decryption key is provided.  (This also allows the theft of the credit card.)

As far as I can judge, there is absolutely NO SAFE WAY to hand over a credit card's details when under an extortion encounter.  If this kind of malware hits you, the malware program can be deleted to make the computer useable again, but the encrypted files cannot be decrypted without the key.  If this episode happens to you, immediately contact law enforcement officials--local police or FBI.  At this point, understand that your important files on this computer can never be accessed again.

Thinking about the consequences of this type of malware, the only reasonable defense against it is to be proactive before the malware hits.  Regularly backup important folders on an external drive or memory key so that you have unencrypted copies of your files and folders.  Hopefully, neither you nor anyone else you know will experience this malware situation, but a few words to the wise on this may be a good idea anyway.  (Guard the fort and protect the precious jewels!)

2.    32-bit vs 64-bit Computers
If you are using a Windows computer, first find out if your computer is using a 32-bit architecture or a 64-bit architecture.  To do this, right-mouse on Computer or My Computer and choose Properties.  The resulting box will display the information along with how much memory you have and other computer details.

So who cares whether it's 32-bits or 64-bits on the architecture?  It matters when software or drivers for printers, cameras, scanners, etc. are connected.  Those devices either work better with the related architecture and they may not work at all with the wrong bit sized driver.

If you recently bought a Windows-based computer, the chances are good it's using a 64-bit architecture.  The bad news is that it may not work with your older printer.  The computer needs a driver that goes with the computer and the printer so a mismatch might exist.  A quick check at the printer manufacturer's website may determine if the needed driver is available.  Manufacturers generally don't write 64-bit drivers for the older printers.  Further, drivers for Windows XP computers generally don't work on Windows Vista or Windows 7 computers either.  (Note that Windows XP is a 32-bit system only, though Windows Vista and Windows 7 have both 32 and 64-bit versions.)

It is thought that in general 32-bit software and drivers will work though perhaps poorly on 64-bit systems, but not vice-versa at all.

It is my hope that 64-bit systems that used to be only for servers, will become the stable standard for regular computers.  It is also my hope that they never migrate to 128-bit systems.

3.    Skype (website)
Skype is an application for using the Internet to make video phone calls.  Between just two computers each with a connected video camera, Skype is free.  If either user is using a regular phone, there is a small per-minute or per-call charge.  When you consider that this means that long distance calls even between countries go at the same rates as local calls, Skype is a phenomenal service with a neat technology.  Skype has succeeded with video calling whereas the regular telephone companies haven't gotten it figured out for the average user.

So what's involved?  Basically you have to overcome three fairly simple issues:

  • 1. Hardware: The computer has to have a video cam either already installed or plugged into a USB port.  Most have a built-in microphone and your computer's speakers should already be okay.
  • 2. Software: The Skype application for Windows, Mac or Linux has to be downloaded and installed.  (The Skype site details this procedure.)
  • 3. Account: A caller ID and password has to be set up at the Skype site to start using Skype for video calls.

To start a phone call, first turn on the video cam (and start its software if necessary) and start the Skype application.  At the login screen, put in your caller ID and your password.  This will connect you to the Skype website & server that manages the connection between your computer and the one you're calling to.

The other computer has to be similarly readied and the caller ID logged in.  At this point either person can now locate the other person's caller ID and initiate a call by pressing the green connect button.  Finally select to share screens as needed and adjust the camera's angle and/or sound level.  To hang up, simply press the red disconnect button.

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