15 July 2007

#29. The Calculating Type

Come right in to my Tool Bar & Grill, where this week we use a better calculator to figure your tab, and where phish is once again the main course.

Say Bye Bye to the Windows Calculator

You get a free, general-purpose and scientific calculator accessory with Windows. So what’s wrong with that? Nothing, really. But what’s right with it? The Internet offers many replacement calculators that do much more for the same price.

My favorite is Moffsoft FreeCalc from http://www.moffsoft.com. It biggest advantage over the Windows calculator is the handy tape feature, which prints the history of your calculations on screen just like an old desktop adding machine. Here, for example, is how I wish my monthly earnings were calculated:

You can copy and paste results, and you can save or print the tape. Moffsoft FreeCalc also offers various color schemes and a resizable window.

If you need advanced financial functions, conversions, and lots more sophisticated features, consider the Moffsoft Calculator 2 shareware. Note, however, that the publisher’s Web site does not claim Vista compatibility for either product.

Gone Phishing

Here is another reminder of the vital importance of using the security tools I described in post #10 (25 January 2007): McAfee SiteAdvisor and the security alerts built into Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2.0. Though phishing is on the rise, you can avoid becoming the catch of the day.

Google researchers recently surveyed billions of Web sites for evidence of drive-by downloads – malicious software acquired unwittingly from visiting the sites. A tiny proportion (about 0.1%) of all the sites were dangerous. However, when the Google team then analyzed a large sample of the suspicious sites in depth, it found that nearly 10% of those were indeed propagating malware. An even greater number of sites appeared to contain code that could be used maliciously.

Interestingly, Google also found that the number of sites using Microsoft IIS Web server software that distributed malware (49%) was more than double Microsoft’s overall share in the sample (23%). The market leader in server software, Apache, held a 66% share but also accounted for 49% of the malware exploits.

Google maintains a list of Web sites that carry malware. Firefox users can choose to either download Mozilla’s blacklist periodically, or to refer to Google’s list when turning on Firefox’s anti-phishing alerts. You can find more good anti-phishing advice from the Internet industry’s Anti-Phishing Working Group at http://www.antiphishing.org/consumer_recs.html.

The danger is growing rapidly. Internet security consultants Sophos found in May that the number of new malicious web pages was about 1,000 greater every day, compared to the preceding month, and that about 5,000 new drive-by attack pages were created every day. Many of these are unlikely to be among your favorites, as they are the pages you reach if you click on spam e-mail for miracle cures, sex or weight-loss drugs, cheap loans, and the like – but some of the infections are on legitimate Web sites, whose owners are not even aware they are spreading malware. StopBadWare.org offers tips for keeping your own Web site clean at http://www.stopbadware.org/home/security.

LinkScanner is a new rival to SiteAdvisor. It, too, shows safety rating icons next to links in Google, Yahoo, and MSN search results. Detailed information on any link is a right-click away. It works in IE 6 and 7 and Firefox with Windows 2000, XP, and Vista. LinkScanner comes in two versions: Lite (free for personal use from http://www.explabs.com/products/lslite.asp) and Pro (annual subscription includes network traffic monitoring). You also can submit a suspect URL to the LinkScanner site version at http://linkscanner.explabs.com/linkscanner/default.asp for an instant evaluation.

However, McAfee SiteAdvisor (http://www.siteadvisor.com) is still my choice. It has been around longer, so I expect it to have a more comprehensive database, and it receives higher ratings from various software download sites.

You’re always an honored guest at the Tool Bar & Grill, where we chalk new utilities and Web sites on the specials menu every week. Feel free to comment below or to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com. And come back with all your friends for next week’s specials!

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