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Gmail flaw shows value of strong passwords

The disclosure of a back door allowing bad guys to repeatedly guess Gmail passwords should remind us all to protect our accounts with long and strong character strings.

There’s a straightforward way to protect your online accounts — use sign-in phrases that are easy for you to remember but hard for others to guess.

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Install MS’s out-of-cycle patches for IE, apps

Two emergency updates released by Microsoft this week correct flaws in Internet Explorer and potentially dozens of third-party programs.

One of the patches is intended primarily for use by application developers, but how far the threat to apps extends — and how many end users will be affected — is not yet clear.

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Learn to read the obscure WindowsUpdate.log file

Every moment your computer is on, a nearly undocumented Microsoft file — WindowsUpdate.log — maintains a record of your system’s patching activity.

Making sense of the information in this update log can be a challenge, but I’ll show you how you can use it to learn the inside story of your PC’s update history.

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Some versions of Windows 7 worth it, others not

With the arrival of Windows 7′s release to manufacturing (RTM) imminent, my inbox is teeming with questions about the next version of every PC user’s favorite whipping boy.

You need to make a few key decisions to ensure that you pick the Windows 7 version that best meets your needs.

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Use OpenDNS to surf safely with these tricks

Windows Secrets editors frequently recommend OpenDNS, a free service that blocks dangerous sites so you can browse the Web securely.

Unfortunately, OpenDNS has a few tricky gotchas for the unwary, but most of the problems can be solved if you set up an account and take advantage of a few tweaks.

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It’s confirmed: Windows may update unexpectedly

Dozens of Windows Secrets readers confirm that Windows sometimes installs updates without displaying a list of patches that a user can accept or decline.

If Automatic Updates were set to install patches without user intervention, no notice would be expected, but a bug appears to be installing patches upon shutdown in certain cases, even though Windows is configured to require user approval.

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Windows may install updates without asking

Windows XP and Vista have started installing updates at shutdown, in certain cases, without displaying a warning or requesting permission, according to reports by several readers.

The forced-install behavior has been witnessed at least three times by Windows Secrets editors, but Microsoft says its procedure for Automatic Updates hasn’t changed in the last 10 months.

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Break from MS Office with free alternatives

If you’re thinking of skipping the next expensive Microsoft Office upgrade, you can begin preparing today for the move to a free Office-like suite or Web service.

A gradual and easy transition allows you to avoid any possible file incompatibilities, because you can still keep an old copy of Office available as a safety net.

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Big-name sites spread latest malware infections

Going by such names as Gumblar, JSRedir-R, Martuz, and Beladin, a new generation of malware has managed to surreptitiously place malicious JavaScript code on tens of thousands of popular Web sites.

The hacker scripts try to infect site visitors and then attempt to use their compromised PCs to spread the infection to yet other sites.

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Windows 7 Starter Edition limits netbook designs

Last week, Microsoft dropped its plan to enforce a three-concurrent-app limit on Windows 7 Starter Edition — the version of the new OS that will be preinstalled only on small PCs, such as netbooks.

Microsoft is still expected, however, to restrict netbook hardware configurations that are eligible for Starter Edition pricing, which means your choices for cheap netbooks may be hobbled — at least in the near term.

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