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Hard Disk and SSD Drives -
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PC Security -
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Microsoft Product Activation -
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PC Buyer Beware! is a comprehensive PC guide covering desktop and laptop/notebook PCs that provides the knowledge required to make sensible buying, building, upgrading, networking, broadband, recovering, repairing and computer-security decisions, helping users to solve hardware and software problems - PC Problems & Solutions - via articles and questions and answers (Q&As) grouped in categories. The quickest way to find the solutions to a particular computer problem is to enter a short and accurate description of it, such as pc freezes or program freezes, both of them very common problems, in the Search pcbuyerbeware.co.uk feature provided at the top of each page. A list of pages containing those or your own keywords will be presented.
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All of the major internal PC components, such as hard disk drives, graphics cards, processors, motherboards, etc., and the external peripheral components, such as monitors, networking equipment, mice, keyboard and printers, have their own section devoted to them. There are separate sections devoted to computer security, software and all of the versions of Windows currently in use – XP, Vista and Windows 7 and Windows 8.
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There are many outfits developing facial-recognition software. Namely, Google, Facebook and the FBI.
Facebook's software is called DeepFace, which says of itself on Facebook's site: "Closing the Gap to Human-Level Performance in Face Verification."
The FBI calls its software Next Generation Identification.
As might have been expected, Google hasn't named its facial-recognition software. The main aspect to bear in mind is that the US and UK security agencies might be able to use any of those developments. Denials cannot be trusted these days.
Apparently, Facebook's software can identify the same person in different images with a 97% accuracy. Apparently, Facebook's aim is to be able to identify people as accurately as possible even when their faces are not showing in images. This is achieved by using body shapes, hairstyles, clothing, footwear, posture, etc. Apparently, an accuracy-level of 83% has been achieved. Bear in mind that useful software of this kind is constantly being developed and improved. In order not to spook its users, Facebook has stated that it is not using the images of people on its website to test its software, it is using images posted to Flickr, which is no doubt spooking their owners.
As usual, Google has come up with a very timely new free service called Google Photos. Now, I wonder what the main aim of that is. It has the ability to categorise the users' images. When you conduct a search, you are presented with these three categories: People, Places and Things. If, say, you click on the More link provided by the People option, you are shown in date order every image you have uploaded to the site.
Google doesn't seem to be able to identify people from anything other than their faces, but that doesn't have to mean that it cannot identify them by using other physical factors for its own purposes, the main one, of course, being building up user profiles that are used to sell customised ads across the web.
Facial-recognition software is being developed to be able to recognise situations in images in the same ways as the human brain does. That is achieved by analysing many images of a person, making a note of the lighting, hair-colour and cut, clothing, posture, etc. So, when it comes across an image of that person with his or her back to the camera, it can determine with a high degree of accuracy who it is and label it as, say, John Michael Smith, present age, 29, back turned to the camera. Then John Michael Smith will be recognised by the software no matter how he has been photographed.
Therefore, it is easy to see where this facial and other identification is heading. People wearing glasses connected to the web or driving cars connected to the web are taking video footage of people walking in the streets or in shops or other places and pretty soon Google and Facebook and the FBI have plenty of data on the people videoed - where they were, their vehicle registration numbers, make/model and colour of car, etc. that can be added to the information they already have about you.
Facial-recognition software is already on millions of smartphones and tablets, the level of which is constantly increasing. Images of people are being harvested by CCTV, ATMs, webcams on laptops and tablets, wearable devices, etc. Who knows what happens to it?
The default settings of the Adobe Flash Player that is used to play video on websites is to allow the visited websites to use the camera and microphone of the computers that is is used on. The user has to disable those default options and even then how can you be sure that they are disabled? That is why I have put a piece of black electrical tape over my laptop's camera and I only use a 2G standard mobile phone that does not have a camera or microphone. The idea being not to allow information about you to be collected secretly.
In my opinion, only fools use Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc., or anything else that requires as much of your private information as it can get and they provide their real information. If you are a performer, etc., you have to post images of and information about yourself on the web, but most people do not have to do that, so they should make up the information they provide or better still not provide it, because it is best not to give these organisations information about you that they can build up with advances in technology such as facial-recognition software. There is information that governments have about you such as what is provided on a passport - an image of you, where you live, date of birth, etc., which is supposed to be private, but is it? The security agencies could be providing it to these social sites in order for them to be able to identify people as completely as possible. Not everyone uses social websites, so how else would they be able to find information about those people? They are not developing facial-recognition software to such highly advanced levels for nothing. They want to use it to sell you ads that you click on and who knows what else?
You will inevitably appear in images taken by friends, relatives, people taking photographs in public, etc., that find their way on to the web, but unless the government provides the social sites with information about you, they won't have any information on you to start the identification process.
There are plus points about this business. For example, you could be warned if people are doing research on you, but, for the most part, it is not going to be advantageous. I find seeing customised ads unacceptable. You merely have to look on the web for something and you will find ads for what you looked for appearing on other websites. This means that Google, the biggest provider of customised ads, is reading your web-browsing history without your permission.
Cyber criminals could get hold of the information about you and steal your identity to apply for credit, mortgages, loans, use convincing scams against you, etc. Many people have lost large amounts of their money in this way already and it will only be getting much worse. It will mostly be the elderly people and the unwary who will be falling victims to that kind of crime. Maybe starting a business that provides effective disguises for people will soon be making someone a billionaire.
The data-storage drives used in desktop and laptop PCs, tablets and smartphones that store their data and the operating system, which is usually a version of Windows, are hard disk drives (HDDs) and the latest technology solid-state drives (SSDs).
SSDs are wholly electronic devices (do not have any moving mechanical parts) that use non-volatile (permanent) flash memory to store their data, which is not lost when they are switched off. Hard disk drives, marvels of technology, use a mixture software drivers, electronics and mechanical drive heads and disks (magnetic platters) to store their data.
Dropping an SSD or one installed into a device will not destroy it because it has no moving parts, but the chances are good that a HDD will be fatally damaged by a serious fall.
Most people are not aware that HDDs and SSDs contain more computing power than the latest smartphones. Top-capacity SSDs don't have as much storage space as top-capacity HDDs. HDDs with a capacity of 10TB are available, but SSDs have just reached a capacity of 1TB and are still significantly more expensive than HDDs of the same capacity. (1TB = 1000GB - 1GB = 1000MB.) The SSD-drive manufacturers have adapted their drives to Windows and other operating systems, which are designed to use HDD technology, not vice versa because adapting an operating system to using SSDs is the much more demanding and costly method.
An SSD should not be used with a version of Windows earlier than Windows 7, because those versions do not have built-in wear-levelling software that ensures that particular flash memory address locations are not overused due to the fact that they have a limited lifespan. Windows reads and writes data to the drive constantly and with an SSD it must not do so to the same memory addresses or they will wear out long before lesser-used locations. Data addresses on HDDs can be accessed an unlimited number of times and will last as long as the drive itself does or Windows will mark them as faulty and not use them.
SSDs have about 10% more capacity than their specifications say they have. This is done to compensate for memory-chip failure. Ten percent of the memory chips can fail without any loss of capacity. It is therefore important to realise that when a computer using an SSD is retired and contains information that its owner would not want to be accessed by anyone else, a drive-cleaning utility/tool will not wipe the extra 10% capacity, only the specified capacity. On a 1TB SSD that 10% amounts to 100GB of space that won't be wiped - as large as some entire drives. Moreover, the disk-wiping utilities provided by drive manufacturers are known not to be 100% reliable in wiping data, so alternative 100% reliable methods of making sure that data does not become available to anyone who could misuse it should be employed.
Note that a disk-defragment program, provided by Windows or a third-party tool, is designed to be used on HDDs and should never be used on an SSD, whose memory locations are always accessed randomly, just as RAM memory is, unlike on a HDD that has fixed data-address locations that can be fragmented. For example, a 5MB file can be accessed and worked on adding 1MB of data. When it is saved the extra 1MB will be saved to empty space anywhere on the drive. The HDD records all of the addresses where the file is saved so can reconstitute it completely when told to do so by an application. Defragmenting the HDD reconstitutes the data as a 6MB file. On an SSD, a 6MB file can be stored in several separated memory locations without affecting retrieval times, because the accessing is not a sequential process as it is with a HDD.
If an SSD is retired due to failure and it contains information that the user would not like anyone else to access, the drive should be smashed to pieces with a hammer. However, if the owner wants to sell the device containing an SSD, the best option is to encrypt the entire drive and then full-format not quick-format it from a Windows Repair CD/DVD disc that can be created by Windows. Note that a quick format leaves the data intact and only deletes file names from the file-allocation system, which leaves the data fully recoverable if it is not overwritten. In that way, no one will be able to access the encrypted 10% of reserve drive space. Windows 7 or later versions can then be clean-installed so that the new owner has a working computer.
Microsoft provides BitLocker encryption software in Pro, Enterprise and Ultimate versions of Vista, Win7 and Win8/8.1. If you have a home version of Windows, you'll have to use a third-party encryption tool.
BitLocker - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BitLocker
I would use a third-party tool in any case, due to the negative reports users have posted on the web about BitLocker. There is plenty of reviewed encryption software on the web that is relatively cheap or free. You must always create backups or system images if you use encryption and you must always create the rescue disc of the backup/imaging software that you use, because you'll need to use it if you lose the encryption key and get locked out of your own computer.
Some new desktop and laptop PCs come with data encryption enabled by default, using what is called self-encryption disk (SED) technology, which is hardware-based (not-software-based) full-drive encryption, which means that it is hard-coded into the drive.
Hardware-based full disk encryption -
On some systems it is not possible to disable automatic encryption. To dispose of the HDD and SSD drives that use it, merely requires changing the encryption key instead of using a drive-wiping tool, which as you now know, leaves 10% of an SSD not wiped. Also remember that drive-wiping tools, even those provided by the drive manufacturers, can be unreliable.
June 22, 2015. - Here is what Microsoft says about how to upgrade Windows 7 SP1 (Service Pack 1 and subsequent updates must be installed) and Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 for free (no other versions of Windows qualify, not even Windows 8.0, which has to be updated to Windows 8.1):
“You can do one of two things: a) Buy a new Windows 8.1 device and upgrade it to Windows 10 for free, or b) Reserve a free upgrade for your existing Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 PC.
“Not every device will run every feature of Windows 10. Be sure to check with your manufacturer before purchasing. Additional details on upgrade qualifications are below.”
An app called “Get Windows 10” checks your system for compatibility and reserves a download, which can be cancelled. It installs an icon in the Notification Area (System Tray). – “Click “Customize” in the System Tray and turn off the Get Windows 10 app notifications in the menu that comes up.”
Here is what Microsoft’s Windows 10 Q&A says:
“Get Windows 10 is an app that’s designed to make the upgrade process easy. It checks to make sure your device is compatible, and it reserves your free upgrade; it also has information to help you learn about the features in Windows 10.
“For devices running Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 Update with Windows Update enabled, the app shows up automatically as a Windows icon in your system tray at the bottom right-hand side of your screen.”
The versions of Win10 are the same as Win8.0/8.1 – a standard home version just called Windows 10, a version called Pro and a version called Enterprise for business enterprises. All of those versions have 32-bit and 64-bit versions. A 32-bit version can only use 3.2GB of RAM memory, which is fairly low now, but a 64-bit version can use as much memory as you can install on the computer’s motherboard. You cannot use a 64-bit version of Win10 to upgrade a 32-bit version of Win7/8.1. If you want the 64-bit version of Win10 you have to upgrade a 64-bit version of Windows 7/8.1.
To upgrade Windows XP to Win10 requires buying a copy of the full version (not the Upgrade version) and then clean-installing it on the computer, preferably on its own hard disk or SSD drive, not on a partition on a hard disk or SSD that contains other versions of Windows or other operating systems.
Windows 10 is available as a free upgrade for those qualifying versions of Windows for a whole year after its July 29 release – up to 28 July 2016. After that it will be charged for and will no doubt cost about as much as Windows 8.1 does now – on Amazon the standard home version is selling for L82 and the Pro version forL148. Note that the Windows 8.1 Pro Pack only upgrades the standard home version to the Pro version. If there is a Windows 10 Pro Pack it will do likewise. After a successfully upgrade, all users qualify for free security updates and fixes for the life of their version Windows 10. There is speculation that version 10 will be the last version of Windows and that upgrades will subsequently merely be called 10.11, 10.2, 10.21, etc.
Of course, you will be able to buy new desktop, laptop and tablet PCs that have Windows 10 preinstalled, but if you are upgrading a PC it’s advisable to wait about two to three months so that all of the bugs in the upgrade process and in Windows 10 itself are fixed.
Windows Update is changing but the changes have not yet been released. It is likely to be as user-friendly as possible and will possibly be automatically applied at any time instead of on Patch Tuesday – the first Tuesday of a month.
Here is an interesting Q&A found on the page linked to below:
Can I reinstall Windows 10 on my computer after upgrading?
“Yes. Once you’ve upgraded to Windows 10 using the free upgrade offer, you will be able to reinstall, including a clean install, on the same device. You won’t need to purchase Windows 10 or go back to your prior version of Windows and upgrade again.
“You’ll also be able to create your own installation media like a USB drive or DVD, and use that to upgrade your device or reinstall after you’ve upgraded.”
Upgrade to Windows 10 for free –
Windows 10 Q&A –
A three-step process involved in solving Windows problems should solve most of them. The first two steps are relatively quick to perform. No reading through a solution is required, which would be confusing or involved.
1. - The first step is to make use of the troubleshooters built into Windows, including Windows XP, which Microsoft no longer supports but which is still being used by a high percentage of computer users.
2. - The second step is to make use of Microsoft's Fix it Solution Center on its website.
3. - The first two steps should result in a fixed problem, but, should that not be the case, the third step involves coming up with the best short search query you can that encapsulates the problem in as few keywords as possible, entering it into your favourite search engine and reading through the pages that look as if they contain a solution to the problem. Microsoft's Bing search engine is good for problems with Microsoft's Windows.
Windows 7 and 8.1 (Microsoft dos not support version 8.0 unless it has been upgraded to version 8.1) contain about 30 built-in troubleshooters. To access them in Windows 7 click the Start Button, open the Control Panel, select View by: Large or Small icons and open the Troubleshooting category. Categorised areas of the system are presented. Just click on the one that is most likely to result in a solution to your problem.
If there is no suitable troubleshooter, the next step is to use Microsoft's online Fix it Solution Center:
Microsoft Fix it - https://support2.microsoft.com/fixit/
When the page on the Fix it website is open, it provides the following three steps numbered 1 to 3:
Select a problem area by clicking on its button - Top Solutions, Windows, Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, Entertainment, etc. Clicking a button places Top Solutions in box 2. When a solution is doubled-clicked it puts automated Run Now options under box 3. Clicking on a Run Now option makes the fix run on your computer. It won't do anything unless it finds a problem, so can't screw anything up.
Note that you can sometimes miss solutions by using the three steps when just using box 3 provides the solution. It has a Filter Solutions search box. You just have to enter a search term in it that encapsulates your problem in as few keywords as possible.
For example, a common problem involves not being able to uninstall software due to a uninstall that failed or was somehow corrupted and doesn't work, leaving the software installed with no way of getting rid of it. To find a solution to a problem like that just choose "All problem areas" in box 2 and enter the keyword uninstall in the Filter Solutions search box on the right side of box 3. You should be provided with a Run Now solution, which, in this case is called "Fix problems that programs cannot be installed or uninstalled", which are mainly caused by corrupt Windows Registry keys. Here is the Microsoft Knowledge Base page that is provided, which should provide a solution to that particular problem:
Fix problems that programs cannot be installed or uninstalled -
June 5, 2015. - "We believe the customer should be in control of their own information," Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, said this week. "You might like these so-called free services, but we don't think they're worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data-mined and sold off for God knows what advertising purpose."
He added: "I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information," he said. "They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetise it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be."
The Google Photos app available for use via a Google account that offers unlimited photo storage, synchronised across devices - smartphone, laptop, desktop and tablet PCs. The most worrying aspect to me is that is uses advanced recognition software to categorise images, organising them into friends, family, pets, work, outings, etc., allowing them to be shared via link or Facebook, Twitter, G+, etc.
If you use it, you are providing Google - and probably the US National Security Agency (NSA) - with plenty of very useful information about your habits, where you go, your lifestyle, your friends, relatives, acquaintances, pets, cars, housing, etc., etc. It would be a simple matter for Google's supercomputers to identify all of the information in your images, including you, your relatives and friends, even addresses if it has already collected information about them from elsewhere, such as from the social sites, Facebook, Twitter, G+, Snapchat, etc., and add it to the personal profiles that it builds up on all of its users with a Google account and even people without Google accounts.
Google can do this without asking for permission from your family and friends if you have uploaded images of them to this service. Just be agreeing to the terms and conditions that you have to agree to in order to use the service, which few people bother to read, you are giving Google permission to analyse the data as it sees fit, which, in my opinion, is yet more unscrupulous behaviour from Google, which has a very long history of being unscrupulous, including channeling its earnings worldwide through tax havens from the countries in which its income is earned, mainly from advertising. For that reason, I won't be using the service because I value my own privacy and I'm sure that my relatives and friends would not appreciate the fact that I am providing Google with information about them.
One image no doubt tells Google more about you than a thousand words. I have just been reading the available reviews about this new photo service on the web and very few of them say anything about the invasion of privacy issue. Here is an article that mentions it.
Google Photos: How big a threat to Apple? -
May 28, 2015. - The Flash Player is now producing a warning, shown in the image below, when you install an update stating that if using Google Chrome or the Chromium operating system, mainly used on Chromebooks, the user has to use the online Global settings webpage not the local onboard settings to set the Flash Player, via the Windows Control Panel, which includes allowing or blocking the use of the camera, microphone and allowing the website using the Flash Player to store information about the computer using it.
The default settings block nothing (allow everything). This looks to me as if Google is setting the default settings so that it can collect the user's data, which could include taking photos of the user and even recording conversations, and is making it as difficult as possible to block them. After all, how many Google Chrome web-browser or Chromebook PC users are going to visit the Adobe website's Global settings page if they don't even know about what the default settings are and what can be blocked.
I block everything that can be blocked on my Windows computers. The Flash Player can also be installed on tablets and smartphones that use the Google Android operating system, which means that you will have to visit the Global online settings page to set those devices. I think that users should not take this potential very high level invasion of their privacy lightly. I go as far as placing electrical tape over the camera on my laptop. I disable both the camera and microphone in the Windows Device Manager, but the Flash Player or other software could enable them.
I set the Flash Player to ask me before installing updates instead of the setting that installs them automatically just in case installing updates restores the default settings that block nothing.
"If you are using Chrome or Chromium browser, to change the Flash Player settings, use the Flash Player Online Settings Manager.
"Note that if you have installed the PPAPI version of Flash Player, you must use the Flash Player Native Control Panel to configure your update settings. If you are using Chrome, you will get the updated versions of Flash Player through the Google Chrome update mechanism."
Flash Player | Change Settings | Chrome, Opera, and other Chromium based browsers – PPAPI -
Global Privacy Settings panel -
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