Ask Rick Maybury 2014

  

 

Ask Rick 306 26/04/14

 

Heart Of The Matter

Just how serious is this threat from the Heartbleed website security flaw? The only reason I ask is because there is so much conflicting advice about what I should do, regarding changing passwords and so on.

Malcolm Bayliss, by email

 

It could have been very serious indeed but the industry has moved quickly and virtually all of the major institutions and sites where it could have been a problem have been fixed. Even so, a lot of websites are still vulnerable. Visiting site’s home page to check its status is worth doing but there are other ways, but only if you are using the Firefox or Chrome browsers. Two plug-ins and an extension have been developed that check for the flaw, they are Foxbleed (http://goo.gl/dOP42q), Heartbleed-ext (http://goo.gl/iKSeJI) and Chromebleed (http://goo.gl/oqrIJh). They indicate, using coloured, heart-shaped icons whether or not the site you are visiting has been patched. As a final precaution you can enter the web address in a Heartbleed Test website (http://goo.gl/NucvEo) that also tells you if the site is safe.  In the end, though, the best advice to stay safe on the web has not changed, and that is to use long, unguessable passwords, (i.e. no names or words), using a mixture of characters and punctuation marks. Use a different password for each site and change them on a regular basis.

 

 

Don’t Blame the Beeb

I have a problem with BBC HD channels viewed via FreeSat. Practically every time I go to one of them the sound is out of sync. Flicking the FreeSat programme schedule on and off solves the problem but, as an ex TV film editor I find it maddening. I have contacted the BBC twice recently only to receive what looks like a standard response, telling me to unplug my receiver for 10 minutes. 

David Samuel-Camps, by email

 

The advice from the BBC is basically sound and this is almost certainly points to a problem with your FreeSat receiver/decoder. You can be reasonably sure that the sound was in sync when the signal left the BBC on its 76,000km round trip up to the satellite, and back down to your dish; after that what happens to it is largely out of the BBC’s hands. Removing the power to the decoder should re-initialise its operating system and this may replace or repair files that have become corrupted. You would be surprised how often this works, but if it does not help then there may be a more deep-seated software bug and the decoder's firmware might need replacing. On some models it is possible to download and install updated firmware yourself but it can be a tricky procedure; check the support section of the manufacturer’s website, otherwise seek assistance from whoever supplied or installed your system.

 

 

Portable Poser

I have a desktop PC running Windows 8.1 Pro. Many applications are available as ‘installed’ or ‘portable’. What, if any, are the advantages and disadvantages of portable versus installed?

Bob Plester, by email

 

Installed applications, as the name implies, are the programs loaded onto your PC and launched by clicking on a shortcut icon on your desktop or Start menu, or by tapping a tile on the W8 Metro screen. In other words these program have been integrated with your computer and their configuration settings and preferences are stored on the hard drive. This usually means they perform better and can more easily use or interact with other software components on your computer. Portable applications run directly from the media that they are stored on. This can be a USB stick, memory card, CD/DVD, external drive and so on. They tend not to launch or run as fast as the equivalent installed program and may use more memory. On the plus side they generally make no changes to the host PC, unless required to do so, and they do not have to be uninstalled, nor should they leave anything behind when you exit the program. In theory this means you could carry an entire PC around with you, on a memory stick, with all of your favourite programs, and that includes the operating system, as well as an office suite, media player, browsers, email program, and so on. Simply pop it into a friend’s PC and they will not have to worry about you interfering with or damaging their computer, though convincing them that it is entirely safe and secure is another matter.

 

Certifiably Annoying

On two out of four similar websites, Internet Explorer tells me that there is a problem with ‘security certificates’. I ignore the message and continue to the site with no apparent hindrance. It all gets a bit tedious; can you help

Robin Piercey, by email

 

Security Certificates are a component of the SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption process used to protect data travelling between a company’s web server and the browser on your PC. They are also responsible for displaying the closed padlock symbol on secure websites, so always check it is showing, before entering personal details, credit or debit card information and so on. The error message is more common on Internet Explorer; it is more widely used, and under constant threat of attack and exploitation and tends to be fairly twitchy. There are several quite innocent reasons why that message appears, and it could be something as simple as incorrect time and date settings on your computer. Certificates can also be out of date, wrongly configured by the issuer or company it is assigned to, or they have lapsed, but generally speaking, you should only be concerned if it appears on a trusted or secure site where you enter personal or private information, and it could be a sign that the site is unsafe. Switching to another browser, like Mozilla Firefox should reduce the number of false alarms but to be on the safe side I suggest installing a free add-on called WOT (Web Of Trust) which displays a coloured traffic light icon next to search engine returns and on displayed pages. Simply go to Tools > Add-ons > Get Add-Ons, type ‘wot’ in the Search box and click the Install button.

 

---end---

© R. Maybury 2014 0704

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