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Cookie Time

by Andy Thompson on July 9, 2014

There is one type of cookie that the Cookie Monster would not find appealing – computer cookies. But what are they and what are we to do with them? We are going to expand on what is known as “web” or “browser” cookies that are stored on your PC as a result of online browsing. The benefit to keeping these on your system is minor and they can be used in ways we do not wish. As a result, we pass on instructions on how to safely get rid of them.


This article begins with information about cookies: what they are and what we recommend you do about them.  We will also be covering information related to using PC Clean Maestro.  In this way you are more informed about remaining secure and keeping your information private.

Cookie!

A cookie is a file that is sent from a website when you browse to that site.  Every time you visit the same site the Internet browser sends the cookie from your PC to a server to notify the website of the user’s previous activity.  In this way it is easier to login in to some sites that you have previously visited because your name is already present so you only have to add in your password.  Cookies also track information related to your browsing activities such as items in a shopping cart.  Microsoft states:

Think of a cookie as an identification card that’s uniquely yours. Its job is to notify the site when you’ve returned. While it is possible to misuse a cookie in cases where there is personal data in it, cookies by themselves are not malicious.[1]

Microsoft goes on to mention that they use cookies as they provide information as to how often you visit pages so they can determine what information interests you.  In this way, they provide more of the content you like and less of the content you don’t.  For some websites, you can read this as: providing marketing content in the form of advertisements.  In some cases it means keeping track of items you put into a shopping cart in previous sessions when you did not complete the purchase.

Tip: By knowing the function of a cookies you can have a better idea of what to expect when you remove them.  For example, it’s necessary for you to know your login credentials (user name and password) to the sites you visit beforehand so you can enter them in with each visit.  Or, you can choose to keep only the cookies from websites you trust!

As we mentioned, a cookie tells a web server that you have returned to a specific page.  If you personalize a web page, or you have registered for products or services, a cookie can recall your specific information.  For some people, they may appreciate that this is a simplified way to process your personal information, such as billing and shipping addresses, and so on.  The information you previously provided can be retrieved for you.

There are many reasons a given site would wish to use cookies. These range from the ability to personalize information (like on My Yahoo or Excite), or to help with on-line sales/services (like on Amazon Books or eBay), or simply for the purposes of collecting demographic information (like DoubleClick). Cookies also provide programmers with a quick and convenient means of keeping site content fresh and relevant to the user’s interests.[2]

What are the dangers? It is true – cookies are not malicious in and of themselves.  They cannot run programs that deliver viruses or malware to your PC.  Cookies cannot access your PC.  In terms of security and privacy there is a potential threat.  There are those that say that we commonly reveal our personal information in systems that are designed to provide convenience (frequent buyer cards, automatic payments from our banks, etc.).  These proponents of convenience also point out that in terms of privacy, grocery stores know what we eat, gas stations know what we spend on gas, and banks know what we spend each month.  However… the difference is, with cookies the information is on your PC along with access to your personal and financial data.  It is a vault that holds details you do not want to fall into the wrong hands.  Should someone gain access they could do considerable damage.  Some cookie to be cautious and aware of include:

Supercookies:  These are cookies with a higher level origin such as “.com” or “.co.uk”.  These present security holes and need to be blocked by browsers as they can be used to fake logins or change user information.

Zombie cookies:  These are automatically recreated after a user has deleted them; they remain persistent on your PC.

For a complete list of types of cookies and the known drawbacks see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTTP_cookie

What are the options? You can both delete and prevent cookies from being stored on your PC.  Management of PC cookies is something each of us has to decide on.  You will need to examine the trade-offs and benefits.  The sad reality is disabling cookies may result in some web services not functioning correctly and it falls short in making you completely anonymous and web sites can still track your browsing habits.  However, if you have multiple users on your PC and you do a fair bit of online browsing, it is easy to get hundreds of cookies in very short order.  There are reports[3] of acquiring “30 or 40 in a single hour of browsing.”  While there may be some cookies that provide some useful functionality, most of these are for tracking your activities for marketing and advertisement purposes.

While there are options built into your browser (IE, Mozilla, Google Chrome), to disable all cookies from being stored on your PC, we recommend other alternatives.  You can go into your browser settings and list sites whose cookies are to be rejected.  This is a daunting task however compared to periodic removal of cookies.  By using PC Clean Maestro you can easily remove cookies and you can view the list of cookies and choose ones you want to keep – those from trusted sources!

Removing Cookies

Let’s begin.  We want to have the right tools – PC Clean Maestro for one and a good external hard drive for backup.  Safety first!

Best Practices:  #1. Backup Data

As we have stated in our previous article … backup your data!  This article deals with removal – permanent removal – of sensitive and private items.  It is good practice to make a copy of all files that are important to you and safer practice to keep these stored on an external hard drive.

The Steps:

There are three areas to scan and clean using the CompuClever Clean Tool.  We are staying focused on the privacy and security aspects of PC Clean Maestro.  The following instructions detail how to remove items that are a threat to personal security and privacy.

Step 1:  First you need to open the program.  The window will appear similar to as seen below.  We have expanded the Personal Security and Privacy sub-item sections to get a closer look at the items listed.

Step 2:  Select items to scan.  From the check boxes available you can review and clear items you want to not include in the clean process.

Note: You can refer to the help file for instructions on how to use the three-state check box system.

Step 3:  Initiate the scan using the “Start” button.

Step 4:  Review and Clean.  A summary of the scan is displayed including the number of detected items found in each category, the size that can be reclaimed, and a “Details” link.  The link will provide the complete list of items found and the location of each item.  You can clear any selected items before moving on to the next step.

Cookies you want to keep: This is where you can go through the list of cookies.  You can clear items you do not want removed.  These need to be items from known and trusted sources and you know will provide a useful service.

Step 5: Clean.  Click the “Clean” button to permanently delete the selected items.

Note: Once you begin the Clean process, PC Clean Maestro presents a warning dialog when certain privacy items are selected from the Scan results.  This is a preventive step, a safeguard measure, so as to not unintentionally remove items.  Refer to the help file for a description of the warning, the list of items, and recommendations about what you need to do before choosing an option.

Best Practices:  #2. Regular Use of PC Clean Maestro

Create an automated schedule.  Use the Options button in the Main window and select the Clean Scan Schedule.  From here you can configure when you want an automated scheduled scan to run.

Best Practices – Advanced:  #3. Configure Your Browser Privacy

You can configure your browser settings to better restrict the privacy controls.  Refer to your browser settings and look for “privacy” or “security” (or both).  By configuring these settings you choose what items to block or restrict including cookies and Private browsing or Do Not Track (DNT) browsing traffic.  In recent years all major browsers have included a Do Not Track (DNT) option.  This enables a user to choose to not have their online activities tracked.  This applies to Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, and Opera.  The one shortcoming of this: “The Do Not Track system is completely voluntary, and there are no legal or technological requirements for its use. As such, not all websites and advertisers will honor the request or may completely ignore it altogether.”[4]

In Summary:

By using PC Clean Maestro you can easily access personal data items automatically stored on your PC.  Any of these items on their own may not constitute a substantial threat.  However, these items together – personal addresses, passwords, account information, and more – can be used together to provide an intruder what they need to gain access to perform financial transactions or use your data unlawfully. Here is a summary of the items that PC Clean Maestro scans:

Personal Security

  • Personal Identity Information: IDs and passwords used for Windows and for Internet access
  • Saved Forms Entry Data: name, address, phone number, credit card information

Privacy

  • Chat & Instant Messaging History: Skype and Windows Messenger messaging content
  • Internet Browsing History: visited URLs, downloads, search history, cached images-Multimedia History: videos watched
  • Windows & Application History: Windows clipboard, document history, applications used
Note: For a complete list including sub items, see: http://support.compuclever.com/index.php?/Knowledgebase/Article/View/47/3/

We hope this article has helped gain some insight and offered you some effective strategies on cleaning your PC.  We will continue to provide story lines like this that benefit all of us and we will describe them in a manner that is within reach of everyday computer users.  If you have some ideas of topics you would like us to cover, email us at: newsletter@compuclever.com

Spring PC Cleaning

by Andy Thompson on June 6, 2014

It’s spring time. What a wonderful time of the year. We tend to feel energized from a restful winter season and it’s time to take on chores that were neglected or “to do” items that set the stage for our busy endeavors ahead. One of these tasks is cleaning your PC so that it runs efficiently. Believe it or not this process does not have to be equivalent to tearing one’s hair out and it can be very fast using the right tools. In the end you may have two important chores accomplished – a better organization of personal files and dead weight that we can refer to as “clutter” is removed.

We’re going to start off with some information on clutter and how to assess how much free space you may have on your PC. Keep in mind that you may have plenty of free space and still have plenty of clutter on your PC. Assessing the situation can help in determining how your PC is performing and how well it responds to some clean up!

Clutter – Time to Clean

By “cleaning” we are not talking about throwing away things that may have some importance. We are referring to removing what can be considered clutter and organizing files we want to keep. By doing so we can not only improve the performance of the PC but make our lives a lot easier in terms of accessing the files and data we need.

Step 1: Assess

Assess space needs – how much free space do you have remaining. Most of us take pictures and movie files on our cameras and download them to our computer. These add up over time and need to be stored in a safe place (or at least duplicated to your external hard drive in the event you do have sufficient space).

To assess the file space needs you can do the following:

1. Open the Start menu and select Computer. (Some Windows OS systems label this “My Computer” and with Windows 8 you have to type: “this PC” when on the Start screen and select “This PC” from the search results.)

2. Locate your hard drive. This is Local Disk (C:) or Windows (C:) for most computers.

3. View the free space that is displayed for the drive. Tip: you can also right click on the drive and select Properties to see a pie chart of the used and free space.

For most computers there is typically a large amount of storage for your files and you may have a lot of free space available. If you still feel that it has been a while since you have removed unwanted files and, maybe, you feel that your PC is a bit sluggish in some ways.

Typical symptoms of poor PC performance include:
• Slow startup time.
• Slower times to open programs, save files, close programs, and perform regular operations.
• Computer freezes or locks up. This means that your PC does not respond or stalls as if waiting for you to do something. It can be more frequently experienced when more than one program is running at a time.
• Computer crashes or shuts down on its own.
• Redundant programs can lead to excessive action behind the scene (taking up PC processing).

If your feel any of this applies to you and you want to take advantage of a clean PC system, we highly recommended removing clutter from your PC.

Step 2: Backup

Begin by backing up and organizing files (media files especially) that need to be put on to an external hard drive. This article deals with removal – permanent removal – of unwanted items. The key is “unwanted”. We strongly recommend that you make a copy of all files that are important to you. The price of external hard drives makes this a no-brainer and hard drives available these days are often more space than what the average person needs – some are now terabyte in size (1,000 GBs). The added advantage of having a good backup and storage strategy is that you are working toward optimizing free space on your PC.

Recommendation: Try out Microsoft’s Sync Toy. This free tool makes synchronizing your files fast and easy. You can avoid duplication and feel assured that you haven’t missed backing up all your files.

Step 3: Deal With the Junk:

There are files that get onto your computer without us even knowing how they got there. Here’s how they likely got there:

  • Unwanted files get stored on your PC when you browse the Internet. Web browsers produce caches of files when you surf the net.
  • Unwanted files get stored on your PC during downloads. Programs create Temp folders and files to temporarily use during an installation.
  • Remnants remain when you uninstall. Items are not always removed when uninstalling programs. This can happen even after you have successfully completed the un-installation of a program. These are sometimes referred to as “orphan” strings and files which are left in the registry and on the hard drive.
  • Getting files in email attachments and installing applications from the Internet. Some of these become outdated or are not put into use.

These unwanted items build up from regular day-to-day activities.  The result of too many junk files and unnecessary programs is that these items take up disk space and can use available memory thereby resulting in PC slowdown and unexpected behaviours.  Maybe the real question though is: how do you best remove these especially when considering that it is a task that you need to do periodically – it’s not a one-time fix.

Use the Right Tool

We are looking at simplifying the process by using automated tools that do the job quickly and efficiently.  PC Clean Maestro is designed to clean and remove unwanted items such as recycle bin items, temporary Internet download files, items in the Windows Temp folder, and other cache and system files.  All of these items and more can be scanned and cleaned.  After performing a quick scan a complete summary is provided and the total size of the junk items is tallied up.  In some cases, this can add up to gigabytes of “junk” and can account for 5 -10% of your disk capacity.

With PC Clean Maestro (the free functionality of PC Clean Maestro) you can remove junk files and uninstall programs so as to free up space.  By doing so you clear up PC clutter which can bog down the system and lead to poor system performance.  Some best practices are provided so that your experience can be simplified and more trouble-free.

Note:  If it has been a while since you last opened your PC Clean Maestro you may have a message displayed asking you to update to the latest version.  Receiving free updates are part of what is offered with the registered version package and the update is fast!

The Instructions: There are three areas of cleaning that can take place using the Clean Tool.  We are staying focused on the free aspects of PC Clean Maestro.  The following instructions detail how to remove Junk files from your PC.

  1. First you need to open the program.  The window will appear as seen here:
  2. Select items to clean.  We are going to focus on Junk items only so clear the checkboxes for Personal Security and Privacy.  You can then review and select any of the items in the Junk section (Installer Files, Log Files, Temp Files, etc.).
    Note: You can refer to the help file for instructions on how to display all the individual items that are categorized.  You can also get information on the three state check box system.
  3. Initiate the scan using the “Start” button.
  4. Review and Clean.  A summary of the scan is displayed including the number of detected items found in each category, the size that can be reclaimed, and a “Details” link.  The link will provide the complete list of items found and the location of each item.  You can clear any selected items before moving on to the next step.
  5. Clean.  Click the “Clean” button to permanently delete these junk items.

Best Practices:

Create an automated schedule.  Use the Options button in the Main window and select the Clean Scan Schedule.  From here you can configure when you want an automated scheduled scan to run.

In Summary – Lean & Clean:

We’ve covered the basics of cleaning your PC and we’ve introduced one aspect of PC Clean Maestro.  It’s also great to know that anyone can use all the functionality presented here for free.  There are many other features relating to security and privacy that are available for registered users and we will provide steps and tips on how to use these in our articles.

We hope this article has helped gain some insight and offered you some effective strategies on cleaning your PC.  We will continue to provide story lines like this that benefit all of us and we will describe them in a manner that is within reach of everyday computer users.  If you have some ideas of topics you would like us to cover, email us at: newsletter@compuclever.com

Tech Support Fraud

April 9, 2014

Have you ever played that “Whac-A-Mole” game? It’s the one where moles pop up out of a hole and you bonk them on the head and down they go. It doesn’t matter how many you bop on the head – they keep popping up. That’s pretty much how it is with fraudulent phone call scams. There have been some fines handed out to companies and individuals engaged in these scam activities, but they still keep popping up again and again. If you have ever had one of these phone calls you would agree – the callers are convincing.
We’re going to start off with a description of how this scam works followed by legal action taken against the scammers, and recent activity. Following this we will offer advice in terms of what to do when getting called and what to do if you or someone you know has already had a call and been the victim of technical support fraud.

Read the full article →

Facebook Uncovered

March 12, 2014

There is a real and strong allure to joining the crowd on Facebook. Its popularity and set of features makes email look like VHS in comparison to DVD. Make no mistake – this is a sticky subject. There are many criticisms that have surfaced and we will make the attempt to sort through these. We don’t want to get too bogged down with all the information and ultimately each person has to weigh out the pros and cons to make a decision for themselves.

Read the full article →

Hack, Hack

February 13, 2014

Yes it is cold and flu season. But we are referring here to another kind of viral risk – online hacking. It has again crept into the news and hit some of us right in the pocketbook. We explore two recent hacks that have had an impact on the financial security of millions of users. While not much information is released as to how these attacks occur – perhaps so as to not promote further offenses – we can focus on the effects of these attacks and what can be done to protect ourselves. A counter measure to these breaches is the onset of new technological security advances. It can be a challenge for us to keep up with it all but we endeavour to understand it and explore the options.

Read the full article →

Looking back and moving forward

January 17, 2014

During the year 2013 we covered a wide range of topics and moving forward we think there are many suggestions and recommendations that can be used in dealing with PC issues you may be facing right now.  So, we embark on a two-part adventure: to review the best of our articles and to highlight what PC tips and tricks you can take advantage of immediately.  What better way to step up to the plate when asked: What is your New Year’s resolution?  We hope it’s to take charge of your computing needs so that your PC works for you!  This summary of our top PC stories for us is a celebration of a year’s correspondences to you our readership.

Read the full article →

Sitting Down with a Good eBook

December 4, 2013

The holidays are upon us. At this time of the year we tend to find ourselves overdoing it when it comes to consumption and the ever-growing amount of items we have. When it comes to books, some of us are running out of room on our bookshelves and boxing up the extras. Then there’s the amount of trees used to create books. One way of being more space conscious and eco-friendly is to go electronic. You may be surprised to know that there are vast amounts of digitized books available. We’re going to examine the popularity of eBooks, describe in brief just what they are and what you need to know, and we are going to introduce CompuClever’s Ultra eBook Reader. Finally we will provide a list of free resources to whet your appetite for eBook reading if you haven’t already taken up this convenient and easy pastime.

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Can’t open an important file?

November 15, 2013

This article addresses a commonly experienced occurrence – not being able to open a file. We will begin with some basic questions that need to be answered in order to prevent opening the wrong type of file. It’s unfortunate that in today’s cyber world there are so many pitfalls to maintaining a healthy and secure PC but caution is a must when downloading, installing, or opening files on your computer. After that we will look at how to deal with the problem of opening files using PC TuneUp Maestro. There are tools that can help you in several instances including being able to recommend a free program, when one is available, that can open and view the file.

Read the full article →

SyncToy – A free tool for PC backup

October 18, 2013

In some of our previous articles we have advised our readers to perform a backup of files for a variety of good reasons including to avoid loss or destruction of data file and to better organize files so as to reduce clutter and free hard drive space. We have also recommended Microsoft’s Sync Toy and have encouraged users to run this free tool when doing backup procedures. In this article we are going to go in to some depth on how to use this technology. While we do not benefit from others using this program, we do feel its merits are to be shared. There are some terms and actions that require explanation and instruction. Once you get familiar with this program you can be backing up files on a regular basis and you’ll be impressed by just how fast and easy it is.

Read the full article →

Foistware – Remove and Restore

September 13, 2013

In our companion article we introduced foistware and focused on detection and prevention. Here we look at how to remove these items and restore your browser settings. We will cover removal of foistware from Browser toolbars and uninstalling unwanted items using the Uninstaller tool available with PC Clean Maestro. After this we will cover the basics of restoring your browser to its previous condition.

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