Beware bogus ‘Security Essentials’ downloads!

Fred langa By Fred Langa

What’s a sure sign of success? If you’re a Microsoft product, you become the favorite target of hackers — and the newest mark is Security Essentials.

Hackers are offering fake copies of the popular security app to snare the unwary — but a few simple steps easily thwart this ploy.

Fake anti-malware app mimics Security Essentials

Reader Ron Hancock discovered this bit of online nastiness:
  • “In the past you have encouraged people to use Microsoft Security Essentials.

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    “I came across this article on the Windows Security Blog, ‘Fake Microsoft Security Essentials software on the loose. Don’t be fooled by it!’

    “Perhaps it would be useful to highlight this (if it’s true, of course).”
Sadly, it’s true. But it’s not just MSE; there are many bogus security tools offered to the unsuspecting PC user.

You’ve probably seen them: you’re on a Web page and a window pops up with a warning such as “Virus detected!” or “Your PC is insecure!” The pop-up then offers to fix the problem — for a price. The slicker offerings closely mimic the look of real security warnings, making it hard to tell they’re fake.

When victims order the bogus software, they unknowingly put their credit-card numbers and personal information into the hands of cybercriminals!

If that weren’t bad enough, the fake software that victims then download and install is usually malware, and it can be extremely hard to remove — often requiring legitimate, fee-based repairs.

When you see one of those “Your PC is infected!” warnings, close the dialog without clicking any of its links. Go directly to a security site that you know and trust, and run their on-demand scanner. Sites with good, free, on-demand scanners include McAfee (Security Scan Plus), Trend Micro (HouseCall), Symantec (Security Scan), and ESET (Online Scanner).

Likewise, when you want to permanently install a security tool, do so directly from the vendor’s own site — not through unknown, intermediate pages or links.

To complete the loop on this item, Microsoft Security Essentials can be downloaded directly from its own online info page.

MSE is completely free; any site demanding payment for it is clearly a scam!

Finding drivers from defunct hardware vendors

Maurice Richelson needs driver software for an internal DVD drive, but the hardware vendor is toast.
  • “I have, installed in my PC, a DVD+- RW DVD & CD rewritable drive by Micro Advantage. They went out of business. Now I can’t get it to work because I can’t find a driver for it. It’s a model 8DVDRW-B13.”
That’s a weird one, Maurice. In poking around the Web, I found that it’s apparently a relabeled drive originally manufactured by a Taiwan company — BTC — that’s new to me.

You may be able to get the correct driver from BTC’s support page.

If that doesn’t work, driverguide.com (free registration required) lists a driver for the Micro Advantage 8DVDRW-B13. However, since I don’t have that model burner, I have no way of testing to see whether it’s the correct software.

It’s probably worth trying: DriverGuide’s free registration lets you download a couple of drivers for a sort of site test drive. To continue using the service, DG requires a paid membership. (You’ll find requirements and offers on its membership page.)

BTW, I learned this information by doing a standard Web search using the term Micro Advantage 8DVDRW-B13. Oddball and uncommon products may require a bit of poking around through the search results, but you can almost always find useful clues — such as the real manufacturer’s name — in the first few hits. From there, zeroing in on pertinent information is usually pretty quick.

‘Can’t see an external USB drive’ follow-up

Bob Kayhs offers a tip I’ve never run across before:
  • “Referencing the Nov. 4 item, ‘Windows can’t see an external USB drive,’ I have had similar problems with my multiple USB drives and Windows 7.

    “I found that the solution was to go into Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Computer Management, Storage, and then Disk Management.

    “Once I got there, my USB drive showed up in the right-lower panel — but I had to scroll down to see it. It did not have a drive letter.

    “From there, it was a simple task to right-click the USB drive image, click Change Drive Letter and Paths, and assign a path. Like magic, the system recognized the external drive.”
Ooooh, I like that, Bob!

Windows’ Disk Management applet lets you work on your drives in various ways, including reassigning drive letters. But it never occurred to me to manually force a drive letter assignment onto an unrecognized drive.

For those unfamiliar with the Disk Management tool, instructions for Vista/Win7 can be found on a Microsoft Help & How-to page (and for XP on a TechNet page).

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m looking forward to my next drive failure so I can try this out, but I definitely will try it the next time an external drive goes missing on my PC!

Restore custom searches to Internet Explorer 8

Sometimes, when I’m researching reader questions, serendipity strikes and I learn something interesting or useful that has nothing to do with the original question. That presents a quandary, because this is a Q&A column. What to do when I have a very useful A, but no corresponding Q?

The only good answer is to present the information anyway! So let me pass along this tidbit, which made my day when I found it.

Older versions of Internet Explorer used to have an easy-to-use custom search option, where you could quickly roll your own search provider from inside IE. With a few clicks, you could create any preconfigured search you wished.

This custom search feature let you add search engines that weren’t built into IE’s ready-made list of search providers. And it let you build and store highly customized searches that could be huge time-savers if — like me — you found yourself frequently researching the same topics.

The ability to create custom search providers seemed to go away with IE8, and I’ve missed it.

But what really happened is that Microsoft merely moved the feature; it’s now a tiny, clickable footnote at the bottom of the Search Providers section on the IE Add-ons Gallery. Sheesh!

To save you the bother of hunting it down, here’s a direct link to the “Create your own Search Provider” page.

It’s as easy as ever to use. For example, to create a preconfigured, one-click, custom Google search of all the content at Microsoft.com, go to the “Create your own Search Provider” page, then cut and paste the following text into the URL box:

http://www.google.com/search?q=TEST+site%3Amicrosoft.com

Enter Microsoft (or whatever name you wish) into the Name box (see Figure 1), click Install Search Provider, and you’re done!

add custom search to ie8
Figure 1. It’s easy to add custom searches to IE8, once you know where Microsoft hid this powerful feature.

Or, to create a preconfigured, one-click custom Google search of all the content in Windows Secrets back issues, cut and paste this term into the URL box:

http://www.google.com/search?q=TEST+site%3Awindowssecrets.com

Enter Windows Secrets (or whatever name you wish) into the Name box and click the install button.

The clear instructions for creating your own search provider make it really, really easy to set up custom searches for whatever sites and topics interest you the most.

I have no idea why Microsoft chose to bury this powerful search customization as a tiny footnote on a Web page, but I was sure glad to find it.

Hope it helps you, too!

Feedback welcome: Have a question or comment about this story? Post your thoughts, praises, or constructive criticisms in the WS Columns forum.

Readers Ron Hancock and Robert Kayhs will each receive a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of their choice for sending the tips we printed above. Send us your tips via the Windows Secrets contact page.

Fred Langa is a senior editor of the Windows Secrets Newsletter. He was formerly editor of Byte Magazine (1987–91), editorial director of CMP Media (1991–97), and editor of the LangaList e-mail newsletter from its origin in 1997 until its merger with Windows Secrets in November 2006.
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Fred Langa

About Fred Langa

Fred Langa is senior editor. His LangaList Newsletter merged with Windows Secrets on Nov. 16, 2006. Prior to that, Fred was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others.