Top Story

When Automatic Updates can be harmful

For years I’ve been advising Windows consumers to disable Automatic Updates:
Keep Microsoft’s mitts off your machine until you’re darn sure the
proffered patches do more good than harm.

I’ve taken a lot of flak for that heretical stance, vilified for intimating that
Microsoft’s patching process leaves consumers in the lurch. Bah. Recent events
have proved my point conclusively: Windows auto-update is for chumps.

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April 11 patch re-released with fixes

Microsoft re-released on Apr. 25 a security patch that had been issued 14
days earlier in the company’s monthly Patch Tuesday schedule.

The original version of security bulletin MS06-015 causes problems with Microsoft
Office and other apps when you try to open or save files in the My Documents
folder; with Internet Explorer when you type Web addresses into the Address Bar;
and with an untold number of other programs.

The Redmond company says the problems are being caused older versions of HP
Share-to-Web software, nVidia graphics drivers, and Kerio Personal Firewall. But
I believe there may be other conflicts at work, as I discuss below.

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More ways to use disposable addresses

I described in the
Mar. 30
newsletter how to use "disposable" e-mail addresses. These are
unique addresses that you give to Web sites and other
people who want to send you mail. If they happen to reveal your address to spammers,
you simply turn off that one address rather than trying to filter out a wave
of spam.

My readers, it turns out, have a lot of ideas about using disposable addresses.
Follow along with me as we hear about some great tricks, many of which cost little
or nothing.

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Get a disposable e-mail address

Every time you give out your e-mail address, you take a risk that your address will
get on spammers’ lists and you’ll be bombarded with junk mail.

As a test (which I’ll describe in my
Datamation column in a few weeks), I entered an e-mail address into a signup box at one of
those “get a free laptop” promotional sites. In less than six weeks, the address
I provided was hit with more than 1,000 junk messages — over 23 per day — and they
show no sign of slowing down.

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Readers respond on controlling reboots

Patching Windows is good, and rebooting right after you’ve patched is good,
too. But if you’re right in the middle of something, seeing Windows reboot
when you didn’t expect it can be very bad.

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Stop Windows’ 10-minute reboot reminders

A raging controversy over whether Windows patches ever reboot a PC without
permission has been solved. Reboots can happen when you’re not expecting
it — but you can minimize the problem or eliminate it entirely.

This subject sparked a debate when reader Evan Katz wrote in to ask whether
Microsoft patches had started rebooting Windows automatically, even when the
Automatic Updates control panel is configured to notify the user of downloads
instead of installing them without notice. His comments were printed in the paid
version of our Dec. 15, 2005,

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Readers respond on Deep Six spamwall

Our tests of antispam appliances in the
Jan. 26 newsletter made a definite impression on our readers. The article received
a reader rating of 4.15
out of a possible 5,
our highest-rated article so far (well, in all two of the issues that’ve
supported reader
ratings to date). And several subscribers
sent us their own results from testing the least-expensive appliance in our
review: the Deep Six Technologies DS200 Spamwall, which we found to be highly effective.

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Connection scoring beats spam filtering

A simple device that prevents spammers from delivering junk to your mail server
outperforms complex spam filtering appliances costing up to seven times as much,
according to tests the Windows Secrets Newsletter.

If your company is suffering from onslaughts of spam, our tests indicate that this new approach
can halt more than 99% of your unwanted flow without blocking legitimate e-mail. Best of all,
the new technology does this without creating a large “quarantine” of suspected spam that you or
your employees must manually comb through.

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WMF hole still reverbrates with users

What a way to start the year! The now-well-known WMF vulnerability, which allows an infected
image to silently take over your PC, was first publicized just before New Year’s
Eve. It resulted in a frantic week for Microsoft and millions of Windows
users who wanted to protect themselves.

I considered the risk of infection from hacked Windows metafiles (.wmf
files) to be so dire that I published an unprecedented
two news updates in the same week. (In the past 12 months, I’d felt the need to
release only 5 news updates.)

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Install Microsoft’s WMF patch

Microsoft released on Jan. 5 an emergency patch, named MS06-001, which corrects
Windows’ so-called WMF (Windows metafile) vulnerability. A WMF exploit can silently infect
a PC when it merely displays an image in any browser, instant
messaging, P2P, e-mail, or in a directory listing in Windows Explorer; when
desktop-search applications index an infected image file; and in other ways.

I published a special
news update earlier
in the week urging readers to install an unofficial patch for this problem. This
workaround was also strongly recommended F-Secure, the SANS Institute’s Internet Storm
Center (ISC), and several other security sites.

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