Saturday, July 30, 2016

Java Cache Sizes are piggy. Whittle them down to size.

How-to article:  Recommend adjusting Java's cache size.

The default cache setting on your Windows Java install is obscenely large.

You can lower the default value by 95% (with no ill effects).  This will save disk, make backups faster, and reduces your java footprint for viruses.


1.  In the Windows Control Panel, double-click "Java 32-bit"
2.  Click "Settings"

Click for larger view
3. Move the disk space slider from the default, usually around 32G, down to any setting near 500MB to 1000MB.  This is more than enough space for normal web-browsing.  The actual size is unimportant.

With a smaller cache, older files auto-purge, as space requires.  If the files are later needed they automatically re-download.  I have been running these settings for years, with no ill-effects.

If you are using Google Docs or Microsoft Office 365, you might consider 2 or 3Gig (2000 - 3000MB) -- allowing for particularly large programs.  At the other end of the spectrum, do not go too low or your browser may spend too much time downloading.

4.  Cleanup old files

In the same dialog, click "Delete Files" 

I tend to leave [ ] Installed Applications and Applets unchecked, but these can be easily cleared, if desired.

(this is deleting cache files.  If the files are needed by some other page, it will re-download automatically).

Especially when spinning a hard-disk drive image, I often clean up this cache, along with my browser cache.  This often saves 'jiga-bytes' of disk, making the backup smaller and faster.

Regardless, a smaller cache size reduces bloat -- especially considering that some large percentage of the programs that live in cache will never be needed again because you may never visit that website a second time. 

An added bonus: If the machine you are working on happened to have picked up a virus, this is one of the first places I delete when cleaning up.  Keeping the cache smaller, gives viruses less places to hide.

Related article:
Java Control Panel Icon "Application not found"

Friday, July 29, 2016

Best Virus Scanner - Required reading for all family members

Best Virus Scanner and Best Surfing Habits - Required reading for all family members -- especially teenagers.

(revised: 2016.08.  Originally named "Best Virus Scanner if you like to surf porn" - I still think this is an apt title, but decided to cast my net to a wider audience. - TRW)

My sister asked the other day what virus scanner I like to use.  My answer surprised her:  None.  More to the point, a virus scanner is not that important. 

The issue is this:  Virus scanners are behind the curve.  By the time the scanner can catch a particular virus, you were already infected.  If you hadn't yet caught the virus, it mutated and won't be caught by your scanner anyway.

On all of the virus-infected computers I have worked on these past many years, all were running a virus scanner -- and yet, they were still infected.  This is a user-problem.

The Key is This:

Most viruses sneak in because other programs (such as Adobe Flash, or your browser) are buggy -- or because you allow the virus to install!

The key to the virus problem is this:  Keep Java and Flash up-to-date, and surf carefully!  Secondly, use any browser except Internet Explorer (you want to avoid ActiveX controls, which only IE supports).  I use Mozilla and Chrome.

See Keyliner article "Time to Remove Adobe Flash and McAfee").

Here are hints:

* Click "Cancel" on all unexpected or surprise pop-ups.

If you didn't ask for a program to install, don't allow it.   

* Popups that say: "A virus has been detected, do you want to clean it now" are viruses.

No matter how important the message looks, no matter how authentic looking, close the browser and reboot.  If you say yes, you will be infected. These are the viruses asking for permission to install.  If after a reboot you still get the message, that may be your real virus scanner -- only then allow it and only if it is your virus scanner's title bar.

* If Windows displays a faded screen with a UAC prompt "do you want to allow the following program to make changes to this computer", click Cancel -- especially if you are surfing. 

* Free games are not free, you will get unwelcome visitors when installed.  Spyware, key loggers, advertisements and other goodies invariably come with the package. Many of these are subtle and you will never know they are there.

* If the webpage says a 'browser plugin is missing' or you cannot play this video or game without installing a new Codec or Video Player, click Cancel.

Instead, go to the vendor's site and install it yourself.  Do not accept an invitation to install a plug-in from a third-party website or email.  Yes, this is a pain to research and find, but it is infinitely safer. 

* Coupon-printing programs are evil.  Mom, are you reading this?

* Free "ToolBars" (even from reputable vendors), are spyware and are universally bad.

This includes the "Ask" toolbar, Yahoo Toolbar, and "Google Toolbars."  If you have any of these toolbars installed, all good anti-virus programs will remove them.  Why?  They are spying on you.

Sadly, Java and Flash installers often offer to install toolbars.  They make money on each install.  Uncheck the options.

* TOR and Torrent Free Music downloads are infested.

My friend and I call free music programs "virus installers." 
Music and movies are not free.  If they were, you wouldn't have to pay for them at the store.... 

* Never allow "McAfee Security Scan Plus to install. 

McAfee is particularly troublesome because of their sneakily installed program called "McAfee Security Scan Plus", found when ever you install Adobe Reader or Flash.  This program does nothing to stop viruses and once you are infected, it advertises their product.  Always chose the advanced installation options or uncheck all optional offers.

And then there is the performance problem.  Symantec's and McAfee's antivirus programs are so bloated, a computer struggles to even exist. On many-a-slow-computer, where I thought there was a virus, I found no problems.  However, once the anti-virus software was uninstalled, the machine ran fine.

What to do:

If you need a program or a plugin, go to the vendor's site and install it yourself.  Do not accept an invitation to install from a third-party webpage or email.  Trust your source.

Surf around to see if the program is bad.  See what people comment about.  If in doubt, don't.

Name-brand software download sites such as "CNET", "SourceForge", and "PC-Mag" are not trustworthy.  Go to the author's or publisher's home page to do the download and even then, research.  Yes, this is a pain.  (As of mid 2016, SourceForge has promised to clean up their act.  Unclear if they succeeded.)

What I do:

I am a safe surfer and I have taught my family to cancel all installation prompts.  But I still use a virus scanner. You will laugh -- I use Microsoft's Security Essentials (MSE). MSE is free and unobtrusive.

More importantly, MSE has never found a virus on my computer -- and some would say on any computer.  Yes, the program is that bad. Even Microsoft of ashamed of their program.  By all accounts, Microsoft's Security Essentials is the worse program on the market, but the price is right and it is not a resource pig.  Mr. Satya Nadella, are you reading this?  Make us proud and fix this!

More importantly, I have lots of backups.  Four of them -- and you should too.  Consider this:

1.  A constant backup of all data, using something like a Western Digital Drive personal SAN drive.  Keyliner reviewed here.

2.  An occasional full-computer disk image (/backup) using Acronis.  Keyliner reviewed here.

3.  A periodic USB disk backup, copying my data folder - then, disconnect the disk.

4.  A periodic Google or Microsoft One-Drive backup offsite for the most important files.  Then disconnect the auto-sync feature or close the program (you do not want a virus to infect your machine and then infect the backup through the sync folder).

What to do If you like to Surf Porn or Download Free Music or have Teenagers?
If you are going to buy a real virus scanner, because you have teenagers or other unskilled users, consider these two vendors instead of McAfee and Symantec.  Pick one or the other, never two at the same time:

MalwareBytes "Full Protection"
Kaspersky "Total Security"

I often use the stand-alone versions of these programs but have not purchased or tried their real-time scanners.  With that said, I have faith in both of these products.

What if it is too late?

If your machine were infected, clean-up the mess after-the-fact using all of these (free) programs:

A.  MalwareBytes Free Scanner
B.  Kaspersky Offline (bootable CD) Scanner
C.  Microsoft Security Essentials (bootable CD)

See this Keyliner article for the steps: 
Virus Cleanup Steps

These three programs will almost always clean a machine -- but expect to spend two days waiting for scans to complete.  You will need a second, uninfected computer to get the software.

Pray you do not get a ransom-ware virus because nothing will save the machine short of a backup/restore.  

Related Articles:
Virus Cleanup Steps
Java Cache and Viruses