Say hello to Safeplug, Pogoplug’s $49 Tor-in-a-box for anonymous surfing

Safeplug is essentially Linux-based hardware packaging for Tor, which is slightly-hard-to-use software for people who want to surf the web anonymously. Tor does this using encryption and by bouncing everyone’s traffic around other users’ connections, making it almost – but not always — impossible to see who’s visiting which page.
READ MORE - Say hello to Safeplug, Pogoplug’s $49 Tor-in-a-box for anonymous surfing

The iPhone 5S Fingerprint Scanner Works On Nipples, Too

We wish people would just stick to testing the 5S on cats.

READ MORE - The iPhone 5S Fingerprint Scanner Works On Nipples, Too

Pyongyang touts Arirang smartphone

North Korea has unveiled what it says is a domestically-produced smartphone.
Industry analysts say the “Arirang,’’ built around Google's Android OS, is likely manufactured in China, however.
The existence of the phone, named after a famous Korean folk song, came to light during a factory inspection by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the weekend.
During the tour, Kim was given a detailed briefing on the “performance, quality and packing of the Arirang hand phone,'' Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency reported.
Some analysts suggest the “Arirang'' is aimed at getting North Koreans to use an officially-approved phone that can be properly monitored.
Cell phones were introduced in 2008 through a joint venture with the Egyptian telecom firm Orascom, which says there are now two million users in North Korea.
A domestic intranet was launched in 2002 and some state bodies have their own websites.
The KCNA report on Kim's factory visit noted that the young leader praised the “Arirang's'' developers for coming up with a product that “provides the best convenience to the users while strictly guaranteeing security.’’
KCNA photos of the factory visit show workers with the finished phones, inspecting, testing and packing them. There are no pictures of an actual assembly line.
“Despite KCNA's reporting that the handsets are made at the factory, they are probably made to order by a Chinese manufacturer and shipped to the factory where they are inspected before going on sale,'' said Martyn Williams, who runs the North Korea Tech website.
READ MORE - Pyongyang touts Arirang smartphone

Almost every major consumer electronics manufacturer is now working on a smart watch

Something about the ailing PC industry, competition among makers of smartphones and the endless quest for the next big thing has nearly every major consumer electronics manufacturer working on a smart watch or at least contemplating it. The latest is Dell, whose global VP of personal computing just told The Guardian that the company is thinking about a smart watch despite “challenges in cost, and how to make it a really good experience.”
Analysts are declaring 2013 the year of the smart watch, and seem sure that an entirely new product category is about to be born. Watches are already a $60 billion a year business worldwide, so perhaps the Rolexes and Seikos of the world could see new competition from a motley crew of manufacturers usually associated with PCs, smartphones and televisions. (For what it’s worth, luxury watch makers say they’re not scared.)
There certainly are enough of these devices on the way—dozens and dozens, if rumors are to be believed. Here is Quartz’s roundup of everyone’s smart watch plans.


Status: confirmed June 2013
Launch: 2014
“We are looking at wearable, I think every consumer company should be looking at wearable. Wearable isn’t new … it just hasn’t exploded in the way that it should. But the opportunity’s for billions of dollars’ worth of industry,” ST Liew, president of the smartphone business group at Acer told Pocket Lint. Acer’s smart watch might use inductive (i.e. wireless) charging to make it easy to charge the phone every day, he added.


apple iwatch smart watch
A hypothetical design for Apple’s smart watch.Brett Jordan
Status: rumored since 2009
Launch: 2014 (rumored)
Apple has a team of 100 designers and engineers working on the iWatch, reports Bloomberg, and has filed at least 79 patents covering watch-related wearable technology. Apple is also attempting to trademark the term “iWatch” in Taiwan, Russia, Mexico and Japan.
All the usual features are rumored to be on offer in the iWatch, including calling, caller ID, maps, and health monitoring features like a pedometer and heart rate recording. The iWatch is rumored to have a 1.5-inch display, which is fast becoming a de-facto standard for smart watches. Like Samsung, Apple needs it smart watch to be a hit in order to guarantee future growth.


pebble smartwatch
The Pebble smart watch, heir to the technology that went into Blackberry’s smart watch, raised a record $10,266,845 on Kickstarter.AP/Mary Altaffer
Status: Released February 2010 (subsequently discontinued)
BlackBerry made the unfortunate decision to outsource production of the world’s first BlackBerry-compatible smart watch to an outside company, Allerta. It was called InPulse, and after launch, it was hardly ever heard from again. Then Allerta used what it learned building InPulse to achieve the most successful Kickstarter launch ever, for the Pebble smart watch, which goes on sale at US big box electronics retailer Best Buy on July 7 and is often credited with kicking off the current frenzy for wearable computers.

Foxconn / Hon Hai

Status: confirmed June 2013
Launch: unknown
The company best known for manufacturing the iPhone and discontent among its workers recently demonstrated an iPhone-compatible smart watch that can read a person’s respiration and heartbeat, display alerts like text messages, Facebook notifications and the identity of callers,  and may some day include fingerprint recognition.


Status: leaked March 2013
Launch: unknown
Google’s Android unit, which is getting crazy ambitious lately, is reportedly working on a smart watch, say multiple sources. The fact that this watch is coming from the unit responsible for creating smart phones, and not Google’s experimental X labs, which is currently working on Google Glass, indicates that Google sees smart watches as a near-term commercial reality. Motorola, which is now owned by Google, previously released a sports-oriented smart watch. Google has filed intriguing watch-related patents, including one that would embed a touch pad in the wristband of a watch, so that a user would not have to touch the watch face in order to interact with the device.


Status: leaked March 2013
Launch: unknown
Nothing is known about LG’s rumored smart watch, but the company is expert at creating a range of smart phones to suit every taste—as many as 30 new models by the end of 2014, said a company spokesperson—and has the manufacturing chops to make one on par with Samsung. LG already manufactures the displays used in smartphones (even those sold by Apple and Google) and, presumably the ones that will be used in smart watches.


Smart watches are hardly new—here’s Bill Gates showing one off in 2004—but the technology is finally mature enough for them to become mainstream.AP Photo/Elise Amendola
Status: leaked April 2014
Launch: unknown
Microsoft is rumored to have requested parts from suppliers in Asia, including a 1.5 inch LCD display, in order to build a prototype smart watch. The device is apparently still in the research phase, and one unnamed source told the Wall Street Journal he had met with members of Microsoft’s R&D team about the project. It’s not clear that Microsoft has any intention of releasing a smart watch to the public, but 10 years ago it sold a “Smart Watch” that received updates like sports scores and instant messages via FM radio.


Status: leaked June 2013
Launch: September 2013 (rumored)
Qualcomm is the dominant maker of chips for cell phones, but in general the closest the company ever gets to the consumer is through the creation of ready-to-assemble phone kits that other companies brand and re-sell. But given the company’s larger ambitions—which include supplanting Intel as the dominant maker of chips for PCs—perhaps it’s not surprising that Qualcomm wants to start selling to consumers directly.
If the rumors are true, Qualcomm’s smart watch could be one of the more unique offerings of 2013, owing to its full-color Mirasol display. Mirasol is like the e-ink displays of a Kindle e-reader in that it’s reflective, which means it draws much less power than a traditional back-lit LED display, like those in smartphones. Aside from its display, a recent trademark filing suggests Qualcomm’s “TOQ” smart watch will perform the usual smart watch functions, including “transmitting and reviewing text, data, image, and audio files; [and functioning as a] hands-free devices for mobile phones.”


Status: confirmed March 2013
Launch: unknown
Samsung is clearly in a race with Apple and its rumored iWatch. After today’s disappointing earnings, it’s more apparent than ever that the company’s growth could plateau as the market for its high-end Android smartphones saturates and becomes more competitive. Samsung has been preparing its smart watch “for so long,” said Lee Young, Samsung’s vice president of mobile. “We are working very hard to get ready for it. We are preparing products for the future, and the watch is definitely one of them,” he added.
Given the company’s enormous resources and demonstrated ability to lead in extremely competitive markets, Samsung’s watch could be the one to beat. If reports that it will perform many of the functions of a smartphone are true, it could even disrupt Samsung’s own phones. Samsung’s recent trademark filing for the term “Gear” suggests that, consistent with its smartphone strategy, the company could be preparing an entire smart watch ecosystem including “watches that communicate data to personal digital assistants,” as well as “parts and fittings for watches; wristwatches; electronic clocks and watches; bracelets; watchbands; control clocks.” 


Sony’s SmartWatch looks good, doesn’t work all that well.Sony
Status: released March 2012, relaunched June 2013
Sony has been ahead of the smart watch trend for awhile, but even its revised SmartWatch 2 leaves a lot to be desired, including compatibility with the iPhone. (It doesn’t have it.) Given how enormous this category is becoming, the primary lesson from Sony is that releasing a smartphone-connected display that attaches to your wrist simply isn’t enough. Manufacturers have to figure out the “killer app” for smart watches, and so far they’re falling short.


Status: prototype, unveiled January 2013
Launch: unknown
Toshiba’s concept smart watch feels more serious than its competitors, and features a brushed-aluminum case and leather wristband. It could also includes a sensor that detects the pattern of a wearer’s pulse, and locks the watch if anyone else tries to use it. It’s not clear whether or not it will ever be released.

Who isn’t building a smart watch?

The only major consumer electronics companies who don’t have an announced, leaked, or rumored smart watch project are HP, HTC, Lenovo and Nokia. Given the absolutely insane level of competition in this category, that’s probably wise. Although don’t be surprised if one of these companies announces some kind of wearable computing device sooner rather than later. Nokia, in particular, with its expertise in the kind of compact, low-end electronics common to both smart watches and inexpensive mobile handsets, could be a contender.

Plus, a bevy of off-brand (but competitive) smart watches

Neptune smartwatch detachable
It’s a tiny phone! No, a giant watch!Neptune
A survey of smart watches announced by smaller companies, many founded solely to create smart watches, reveals astonishing variety in form and display technology, if not function. Nearly all of the devices from Geak, Shanda, Agent and Kreyos can pair with a smart phone, and some offer various levels of stand-alone functionality. Notably, both the Androidly and Neptune smart watch are in fact wrist-size smart phones. Plus, there’s a whole other category of sports, health-tracking and GPS smart watches.
Normally, a company like Apple would come along and simply eat the entire category of smart watches by creating a superior general-purpose device, as it did with the iPhone. But size, battery life and weight constraints could mean that the category of smart watches will remain diverse for many years to come, with various companies seeking to address—or invent—particular needs.
One thing that’s clear is that the features that go into a successful smart watch are far from standardized. Until this category has a hit, it’s not clear what users want out of a smart watch. What is clear, given the success of a number of crowd-funded smart watch projectcs, is that users seem eager to buy a computer that sits on their wrist, whatever it might do.
READ MORE - Almost every major consumer electronics manufacturer is now working on a smart watch

Microsoft Xbox One launched: All the features you need to know

Eight years, after the launch of the Xbox 360, Microsoft has launched its successor the Xbox One, which it claims is “the all-in-one entertainment console”. The company says that it will be available for sale by the end of this year but it has not yet revealed the price.

However games from the Xbox 360 won’t work on the new Xbox One, although Microsoft says it will continue to make games for the older machine. Nor will the console require a constant Internet connection. Here’s what is new in the Xbox One:

Tech specifications: The gaming console has 8GB RAM, a Blu-ray drive, and a 500GB onboard hard drive, HDMI in and out. It comes with an 8-core CPU and GPU SoC (system on a chip) and the SoC has been crafted by AMD. The console supports 802.11n Wi-Fi as well as USB 3.0 connectivity.

Better Kinect: Kinect sensor has seen some serious upgrades in terms of the the camera and voice control, body movement detection etc and its bundled with the console now. The camera resolution is 1080p and is capable of capturing wide angles. It can also capture video at 60 frames per second. Oh, and the sensor can also read your heartbeat as you exercise, and tell whether you’re smiling or not.
Xbox One and the controller is seen in this product image. AP
Xbox One and the controller is seen in this product image. AP
You can use the voice control on the Kinect to carry out tasks on the Xbox One such as setting up profiles and even turning the console on. You can also dictate activities to Xbox One. There’s also gesture recognition tech for controlling the system with your hands.

Snap Mode: This will let you run two activities simultaneously. Skype has also been introduced to Xbox universe and you can make Skype calls while running another activity on the Xbox. The Xbox One also has a distinct Windows 8 user interface, along with the Xbox OS and you can switch between the two.

New Xbox controller: Not much has changed as far as the controller is concerned, though unlike the Xbox 360 controller which used AA batteries, this will use integrated rechargeable batteries.
According to ExpertReviews, the start and the select buttons are gone, replaced two new buttons with which look like they will trigger a menu and multi-tasking respectively.

Xbox Live:  It comes with a TV guide which users can navigate by voice commands. The TV guide has a trending section that displays the most popular shows among your friends and the entire Xbox community. Instant Switch feature will you make the switch from gaming to Tv with just a voice command as well.

The console also has deeper Smartglass support, which will let you use your smartphone or tablet on the gaming console to perform secondary functions such as changing channels, etc. There’s also a dedicated game Digital Video recorder to capture and share your winning moments with friends during a game.
READ MORE - Microsoft Xbox One launched: All the features you need to know

It’s official: Password strength meters aren’t security theater

Does your password go up to 11? Probably not. But one day it could.

If you've ever been nagged about the weakness of your password while changing account credentials on Google, Facebook, or any number of other sites, you may have wondered: do these things actually make people choose stronger passcodes? A team of scientists has concluded that the meters do work—or at least they have the potential to do so, assuming they're set up correctly.
The researchers—from the University of California at Berkeley, the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and Microsoft—are among the first to test the effect that the ubiquitous password meters have on real users choosing passwords. They found that meters grading the strength of passwords had a measurable impact in helping users pick stronger passcodes that weren't used on other accounts. But the group also discovered these new, stronger passwords weren't any harder for users to remember than weaker ones.
The scientists were quick to point out caveats to their findings. For one, the meters provided little benefit when users were choosing passwords while setting up a new account, as opposed to changing passwords for an already established account. And the meters provided no improvement for accounts people considered unimportant.
"Within that context they're much more likely to just enter a password that they already used elsewhere because they either don't care about those accounts or that's just normally what they do when they enroll in a new account," Serge Egelman, a research scientist at UC Berkeley and the lead author of the paper, told Ars. "Whereas we show that in a different context—when changing passwords for high-value accounts—then the meters actually do have an observable effect on behavior in that people do choose stronger passwords. And ironically that's the context where we're least likely to see real meters in real life."
The researchers' paper—titled Does My Password Go up to Eleven? The impact of Password Meters on Password Selection—is important because it provides useful guidance to both end users and the security professionals who work to protect them. While more and more sites now offer these meters, Egelman said a surprising number of online banking services and corporate intranets don't yet offer them. Remarkably, neither Microsoft Windows nor Apple's OS X for Macs uses meters for users who are choosing or changing account passwords.
The findings come from an experiment in which affiliates of the University of British Columbia were brought to a laboratory and asked to test the usability of a portal that students, faculty, and staff use to access e-mail, view grades, and check out library books. As soon as they successfully logged into their account, they were presented with a notice requiring them to change their password. While the plaintext was never recorded, the laboratory computer did store a cryptographic hash of the passwords. It also measured other characteristics of both the old and new passwords, including the length and whether they used upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters. Some of the subjects were presented with one of two types of password meters that rated the strength of the new password, while a control group saw no meter at all.
The password meters presented to the test subjects used "zero-order entropy," a technique many meters use to measure password strength. One set of "existing motivator" meters used the measures to rate passwords as "weak," "medium," or "strong." A second set of "peer-pressure motivator" meters used the same data to present the strength of the new password relative to all the users of the system.
In turns out that the subjects who were presented with either type of meter picked significantly "stronger" passwords than those in the control group. The average zero-order entropy of passwords chosen with guidance from the existing motivator meter increased to 60.8 and the entropy of passwords chosen with the peer-pressure motivator grew to 64.9 bits. This means the total number of combinations required to brute-force crack the passwords would be 260.8 and 264.9 respectively. Subjects who saw no meter at all chose passwords that on average were 49.3 bits strong, about the same as the old passwords from all three groups.
"Overall, we observed that both password meters yielded statistically significant differences when compared to the control condition," the researchers reported in the paper. (The findings were recently presented at the CM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Paris.)
In addition to increasing entropy metrics, the researchers found other indications of improved strength. Passwords generated with the help of meters increased from a median of 9.0 to 10.0 characters, included more special characters, and contained more lower-case letters (from a median of 6.0 to 7.0).
"Thus, the meters motivated participants to create longer passwords through the inclusion of symbols and additional lower-case letters," the researchers said.
The subjects were invited back to the laboratory two weeks later and another encouraging finding came up. Those who had chosen stronger passwords with the help of the meter had no more trouble remembering their new passcodes than those who had chosen weaker passwords without using a meter. What's more, those with stronger passwords were no more likely to have reverted back to their old one than those who had chosen weaker passwords.

Building a better mousetrap

It's encouraging to know that password meters have a measurable effect on the passwords chosen by end users. But sadly there's no guarantee meters will actually help people choose passcodes that are more resistant to real-world cracking techniques. That's because the widely used zero-order entropy rating system is a poor metric for measuring the strength of passwords. The strength of the passcodes "Pa$$word1" and "$ecretPa$$word1" (minus the quotes) is 59.1bits and 98.5bits respectively. That's much higher than many passwords offer. What the scoring system fails to account for is that both passwords are so widely used that they're inevitably included in wordlists used in cracking attacks. These are among the first passwords to fall in typical cracking attacks. By contrast, the password "lkx8q2pe0" is considerably stronger because it would require time-consuming brute-force techniques to crack it, and yet it offers just 46.5 bits. (Bits are calculated by x * log_2(y), where x is the number of characters in a passcode and y is the number of available letters, numbers, or special characters).
What this means is that password meters have the ability to help end users choose more crack-resistant passcodes only if the meters are set up correctly. As Ars documented last week, a password advice site from Intel can't be trusted to help users pick passcodes because the methodology it uses is hopelessly flawed. The password meters used in the study and offered on many sites suffer from the same type of weakness, but there's no reason they can't be drastically improved—for instance, by banning the one million most commonly used words.
Egelman said there's no evidence to suggest improved meters wouldn't generate the same measurable effect in guiding people's choice of passwords.
"They don't know what algorithm we're using to drive the meter," he said. "They just know that they do some behavior, they get some feedback, and they keep trying until [they get] feedback they're happy with. I suspect that if we changed what the feedback is based on we would still have the impact on them."
READ MORE - It’s official: Password strength meters aren’t security theater

Your Future Samsung TV May Bend and Twist


Wouldn’t it be nice if you could catch the perfect TV viewing angle from anywhere in your living room? That idea may not be too far off, according to a newly published patent from Samsung. The filing describes a TV with a flexible display that viewers could bend by using a remote control, just like changing the channel.

In addition to adjusting the physical display, the remote control would also alter the images to fit the screen’s new positioning. The television would include a “panel deformation member” that is placed on the display’s rear to control its movements, the patent said.

According to the pantent, future Samsung TV owners would be able to bend or rotate a portion of the screen or the entire display depending on your viewing preference. The remote would communicate with the TV via Bluetooth or infrared connection. Ideally, the controller would pull up a menu that would offer various options on how to alter the screen, allowing the viewer to customize the rotating angle, bending direction and precise degree.

Samsung has been flaunting its flexible OLED displays for quite some time, but until now the technology seemed to be geared toward smartphones rather than TVs. While the Korea-based manufacturer has been teasing the idea of a virtually unbreakable handset for more than a year, there’s no indication as to when this technology could launch.

Samsung unveiled its new F8000 smart TV at this year’s CES in January, placing an emphasis on its personalized recommendation engine, voice commands, and social media integration. If this patent ever becomes a reality, Samsung could customize the TV experience in a new way by focusing on hardware, rather than just tailoring content based on a viewer’s taste.
READ MORE - Your Future Samsung TV May Bend and Twist

The Ultimate (Free) Virus Protection Guide

So you got caught with your pants down on the Internet (figuratively, folks) and contracted a virus. That sucks. Or maybe you were wearing protection but still fell victim to some nasty bit of code that managed to slip by your antivirus software undetected. That sucks even more. Either way, it's nothing to feel ashamed about. The web is a dangerous place and even the most tech savvy users sometimes slip up. You can even get a virus through no fault of your own simply by visiting a reputable website that, unbeknownst to you, has been compromised by a hacker with malicious intent. The web is a war zone, and even if you're not a target, you can still end up a casualty.
That's not to say you can't stack the odds decidedly in your favor, because you can. And you should. To help you do that, we've put together a comprehensive guide on how to protect your PC from malware. We cover everything from smart (and not so smart) computing habits, the best free antivirus programs, and what tools work best for removing an infection when all else fails. Don your hazmat suits and let's get started!
Computer viruses can happen to the best of us, and chances are you're going to confront one at least once in your life online. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to fend them off as best you can. Maximum PC's Paul Lilly shows us to build the best possible defense for free and what to do if those walls ever come tumbling down.
The Ultimate (Free) Virus Protection Guide

Virus 101

If you're reading this, it's safe to assume you already know what a computer virus is, and certainly the majority of Maximum PC readers are well informed. So, we won't spend a ton of text dissecting the different kinds of viruses, but we do want to quickly cover the basics. Strictly speaking, a virus is a program that can replicate itself and is designed to spread from one computer to another, doing things the end-user doesn't want and/or doesn't know about.
A broader term is malware, short for malicious software, and there are many different forms, including viruses, Trojan horses, keyloggers, worms, adware, and spyware, to name a few. These days, malware is most often spread through web browsers. According to Kaspersky, there were nearly 1.6 billion browser-based attacks in 2012, up from 946 million a year prior.
A common misconception is that only Windows users need to concern themselves with malware, but that isn't true. Malware writers have traditionally focused their efforts on Windows, but have started targeting other platforms as they become more popular, including mobile. Even Mac users have to be on the lookout.
"In early 2012, the Flashfake botnet was discovered, consisting of 700,000 computers all running under Mac OS X," Kaspersky states in its most recent security bulletin.
The bottom line is, if you use the Internet, you're a target.

Safe Computing Is a Start

Your best line of defense is still you, the end-user. The less risks you take, the lower your chance of becoming just another statistic, and it all starts with developing smart computing habits. Here are five easy ways you can remove yourself from the line of fire:
  • Never open unexpected email attachments, even if you know the recipient. If a PC belonging to someone else is infected, it could be auto-generating malicious emails with dirty attachments or booby-trapped URLs.
  • It's easy to spoof URLs within emails. Instead of clicking on email links, type the URL directly into your browser, especially if you receive a notice that appears to come from your banking institution or PayPal. This exponentially decreases your risk of falling for a phishing scam. You know what they say about a fool and his money...
  • Stay diligent with updating and patching your software. These updates often patch security holes that malware writers can otherwise exploit. If a program has the option of automatically checking for updates, enable it. We also recommend running Secunia's Personal Software Inspector (PSI) on occasion, which is a free security tool that scans for and identifies vulnerabilities in many third-party programs.
  • Avoid visiting shadier sides of the web. We're in no way trying to play the part of moral police, but sites that serve up illegal downloads or triple-X rated content are popular places to set digital landmines.
  • Use Alt-F4 to close suspicious pop-up ads instead of clicking on the X button. Why? Sometimes the X button is really a part of the ad, and clicking it could redirect you to a malicious website.

A Word About Passwords

As much as you might love your significant other, using his or her name as your password is a really dumb idea. It's far too easy to guess, just like "123456," "iloveyou," "letmein," and others found on SplashData's list of worst passwords.
A good password will be at least eight characters long and will use a mix of letters, numbers, symbols, and capitalization. For example, "Ey3LMpC!" which stands for "I love Maximum PC" is relatively easy to remember and much more secure than a word or phrase that can be broken with a brute force dictionary attack.
You also should be using multiple passwords for different websites so that if one account is compromised, your others are still safe. The downside to this approach is that it can be difficult to remember multiple passwords, especially strong ones. An alternative to remembering them all is to use a password manager like LastPass or KeePass, both of which are free. RoboForm is another option, and though it isn't free, it also fills in forms and allows you to access RoboForm Logins and Identities on all your devices, including mobile. The same is true of 1Password, though it doesn't fill in forms.

Second Line of Defense: Antivirus Software

Whenever the topic of security software comes up, inevitably someone chimes in that it's completely unnecessary so long as you surf the web safely. They'll then provide anecdotal evidence based on their own personal experience, and while it's true you can get by without AV protection, it's a constant roll of the dice. And for what? To save a few CPU cycles? It's simply not worth the risk, and certainly not the cost when there are free options out there. Let's focus on those first.

Avast Free Edition

Every year we run a roundup of security software and you can read the latest one in the April issue of Maximum PC magazine. In it we tested three free antivirus programs — Avast, Microsoft Security Essentials, and AVG — and out of those three, we found Avast to be the best free antivirus software.
We like Avast because it scans for viruses and spyware, and has a built-in remote support tool that allows you to dish out (or receive) assistance to other trusted Avast users, which is extremely handy if you're the IT guy for family and friends. It also offers tons of fine grain control.
One of our few complaints is that Avast doesn't guard against Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs) by default. To change that, click on Security > File System Shield > Settings > Sensitivity and check the box underneath "PUP and suspicious files."
We also recommend doing a full system scan at least once a month. If you keep your PC on 24/7, it's not a bad idea to schedule nightly scans when you're asleep. This ensures that any potential threats are caught before they have much chance to do any harm, provided they get past Avast's real-time scan engine to begin with.

Second Opinions

No virus scanner is capable of catching and neutralizing every single threat; it's simply not possible due to the sheer number of new malware that is created on a daily basis. For this reason, it's in your best interest to solicit a second and/or third opinion on occasion using a dedicated spyware scanner. How often depends on how risky your online behavior. If all you're doing is surfing Maximum PC, sports sites, and updating your Facebook feed, quarterly scans should be sufficient.
One of the best programs out there is Malwarebytes. It's free (there's also a paid version) and it does an excellent job of detecting deeply embedded threats that other scanners miss. Malwarebytes is also great at cleaning up remnants left behind after you've eradicated a virus, such as lingering registry entries.
Another popular program is SuperAntiSpyware, which is also available in free and paid flavors. Scanning with both Malwarebyes and SuperAntiSpyware on occasion is a potent one-two combo to supplement your daily AV program.

Internet Security Suites

If you're willing to pay for security software, an Internet security suite offers more robust protection than what's available in any single free program. One of the best available is Norton Internet Security. Put your pitchforks away, if you haven't taken Norton for a test drive in several years, then you have no idea what you're missing. It's not the same bloated program that it was prior to 2009. That's when Symantec re-wrote the software from the ground up with an emphasis on performance. These days it offers top-notch protection with little impact on system performance

Stick Your Head in the Cloud

A substitute for installing security software is to tap into the cloud. There are several cloud scanners at your disposal, but only a select few will go the extra mile and actually disinfect your machine if it finds something wrong, while others try to upsell you. Panda Security's Panda Active Scan detects and removes, though it only works with Internet Explorer. There's also an option to install a small front-end, but even if you go that route, it's still a cloud-based scanner that won't suck up your system resources.
Another handy bookmark is VirusTotal, a free, on-demand online scanner with a twist. Let's say you downloaded a file or email attachment, but are suspicious of its contents. Before you open it up, just upload it to VirusTotal and it will be put under the microscope of dozens of scan engines. It's the ultimate second opinion for single files and URLs, albeit the maximum file size is 32MB.

Hide Behind a Virtual Machine

Have kids that share your PC? You're a brave soul. Kids have a tendency to click on pop-up requests willy-nilly, but there are steps you can take to mitigate any potential headaches. Here they are:
  • Teach them smart computing habits. It's never too early to learn, and since their brains are like little sponges, they may surprise you with how much they retain.
  • Set up a different user account. It won't save your PC from nasty infections, but hey, do you really want to login and find that your Windows theme has been changed over to Spongebob or Dora the Explorer? We didn't think so.
  • Install Sandboxie, a free application that runs selected programs in an isolated environment. You can configure Sandboxie to run any time a browser is opened, so when your kids inevitably download something they shouldn't have, the changes aren't permanent. This is also a wonderful tool for installing on PCs belonging to friends and family. It works with any browser, too.
If you're particularly reckless on the web, a full-blown virtual machine is the next best thing to a dedicated web box. A virtual machine isn't completely fool proof, but it's close to it. Microsoft's Virtual PC works relatively well, especially if you're mostly interested in surfing the web, and so is VMWare's Player. Another thing VMs are good for is installing suspicious programs and beta software. If something turns out to be malicious, the damage is contained away from your OS.

I'm Already Infected, Now What!?

Despite your best efforts, sometimes the bad guys win. If that happens, or if a family member drops off a badly infected PC, follow these steps to clean it up.

Scan, Scan, and Scan Again

First, try installing a free antivirus program. If it works, great, proceed to scan the system, and then follow that up with Malwarebytes and SuperAntiSpyware sweeps. This three-pronged approach should rid the system of most, if not all malware, unless it's a particularly nasty infection. If it doesn't, don't worry, we're not ready to throw in the towel.
Before we proceed, are you even able to install security programs? Some malware detects when security software is being installed and stops it dead in its tracks. If that's happening to you, try to disable the offending program. Hit CTRL+ALT+DEL to start the Task Manager and look for any suspicious entries in the Processes tab. Anything that's gibberish — for example, "mgbelwisfl" — is probably up to no good. Highlight the entry and press End Process. Are you now able to install AV scanners?
If not, you'll need to boot into Safe Mode, which only loads the bare minimum drivers required to run Windows. To do that, hit the F8 key during boot (press it repeatedly during during bootup if you have trouble with the timing). When prompted, select Safe Mode with Networking. Now try installing/running your security software.


If your system's still displaying malware symptoms (slowed performance, random pop-ups, etc), you may need to dig deeper. HiJackThis is a free utility that generates an in-depth report of registry and file settings, but be warned it doesn't discern between good and harmful settings. If you don't know what the settings are, solicit outside help by posting a HiJackThis log to a computer forum like one here at Maximum PC. Alternately, you can post the contents of the log on Security and/or I Am Not a Geek for quick and basic parsing, though you should still seek outside help before nuking an entry you're unfamiliar with.
Running HiJackThis is simple. Just click the "Scan" button and wait for it to finish scanning your system (it only takes a few seconds). When it's finished, click on "Save Log" to save the contents to a Notepad file, which you can then copy/paste into any of the sites mentioned above.
Assuming you recognize an obvious malicious entry, check the appropriate box(es) and click "Fix checked."

Comodo Cleaning Essentials

At this point, we're starting to run out of options, but all is not yet lost. Comodo Cleaning Essentials (CCE) is a tool that any geek should be toting around in his/her tool chest. It doesn't require any installation, meaning you can run it direct from a USB key, which is perfect for making house calls.
CCE digs deep for a variety of infections, including rootkits, making it an indispensable tool. It even scans the Master Boot Record (MBR), so to say it's thorough is an understatement.
Inside the CCE directory, you'll also find an entry called KillSwitch.exe. It's a much better version of the built-in Task Manager because it provides a bunch of additional information, and will even tell you if a program that's running is safe or known to be malicious. If you can't get into the Task Manager to kill an offending program, try using KillSwitch. If you want, you can even have it replace the Task Manager by enabling the setting in the Options menu.


Persistent infections that manage to evade your best efforts to eradicate could be indicative of a rootkit. A rootkit is particularly stealthy, though not entirely invisible. Download and run Kaskperky's TDSSKiller if you think you might have a rootkit. Like CCE, this utility doesn't require installation and can be carried on a USB stick.


When you're at your wit's end and ready to reinstall Windows, that's when you should try ComboFix, a powerful cleanup tool that can either save the day or leave your PC unable to operate correctly. Before downloading and running ComboFix, backup any data as if you're reinstalling Windows, because in the end, you might have to anyway. Before you proceed, you should also read through the extensive usage guide on Bleeping Computer.
If you've gotten this far and your system is still infected, throw in the towel and start with a fresh Windows installation. Sure, you could keep plugging away in hopes of cleaning up your system, but by the time you're done, you could be rocking a fresh Windows install with no trace of malware.
Know of any tips we missed or have software recommendations of your own? Let us and other readers know by posting them in the comments section below!
Top Image: Shutterstock/JMiks
READ MORE - The Ultimate (Free) Virus Protection Guide

Galaxy S IV Display Shoot-Out: How Does It Compare?

The Samsung Galaxy S smartphones are by far the most popular Android smartphones, and are flagship products for Samsung to show off its latest and greatest OLED display technology. The display on the Galaxy S4 is a major enhancement and improvement over the Galaxy S III—it has a full HD 1920x1080 resolution display with 441 Pixels Per Inch. It is also better calibrated, brighter, and bigger. We'll analyze the Galaxy S4 with an in-depth objective series of Lab tests and measurements included below—and size it up next to the competition.
Samsung provided DisplayMate Technologies with an early production unit to test and analyze for our Display Technology Shoot-Out article series. It is likely that the retail units will have additional display firmware and software tweaks and improvements over our test unit. If that is the case, we will update the article when our unit is upgraded by Samsung.

OLED Displays

While most mobile displays are still LCD based, OLEDs have been capturing a rapidly increasing share of the mobile display market. The technology is still very new, with the Google Nexus One smartphone, launched in January 2010, as the first OLED display product that received widespread notoriety. In a span of just a few years this new display technology has improved at a very impressive rate, now challenging the performance of the best LCDs. Virtually all of the OLED displays used in mobile devices are produced by Samsung Display. We have provided an in-depth analysis on the evolution of OLEDs in our Galaxy S I, S II, and S III Display Technology Shoot-Out article.

The Shoot-Out

To examine the performance of the Samsung Galaxy S4 we ran our in-depth series of Mobile Display Technology Shoot-Out Lab tests and include the Galaxy S III in order to determine how OLED displays have improved, and the iPhone 5 to determine how it compares to a leading high-end LCD display. We take display quality very seriously and provide in-depth objective analysis side-by-side comparisons based on detailed laboratory measurements and extensive viewing tests with both test patterns and test images. To see how far smartphones have progressed in just three years see our 2010 Smartphone Display Shoot-Out, and for a real history lesson see our original 2006 Smartphone Display Shoot-Out.
Galaxy S IV Display Shoot-Out: How Does It Compare?

Results Highlights

In this Results section we provide Highlights of the comprehensive Lab measurements and extensive side-by-side visual comparisons using test photos, test images and test patterns that are presented in later sections. The Comparison Table in the following section summarizes the lab measurements in the following categories: Screen Reflections, Brightness and Contrast, Colors and Intensities, Viewing Angles, Display Power Consumption, Running Time on Battery. You can also skip the Highlights and go directly to the Conclusions.

A Full HD 1920x1080 Display

By far the most interesting recent development in smartphones is a full High Definition 1920x1080 display in a 5.5 inch or smaller screen size – the same pixel resolution as your 50 inch living room HDTV – that's very impressive! First of all, this is a benchmark spec with tremendous marketing power for driving consumer sales. But there are other important reasons for going to Full HD in a smartphone—there is a tremendous amount of HD 1920x1080 content available. Displaying that content at its native resolution (without the need to rescale up or down) results in the best possible image quality, plus rescaling requires processing overhead that uses (wastes) precious battery power. The Galaxy S4 is one of the first few smartphones to offer Full HD.

400+ Pixels Per Inch Displays

Apple started a major revolution in display marketing by introducing their "Retina Display" with 326 Pixels Per Inch (PPI) on the iPhone 4 in 2010. While not equivalent to the resolution of the human retina, people with 20/20 Vision cannot resolve the individual pixels when the display is held at normal viewing distances of 10.5 inches or more. It started a display PPI and Mega Pixel war similar to what happened with smartphone digital cameras, which is still an ongoing wild goose chase now into the stratosphere.
Hopefully the same thing won't happen with mobile displays because there are tradeoffs involved that affect other important display performance issues. The real question is how high do we need to go before reaching a practical visual PPI limit? I'll cover this in an upcoming article. However, a new generation of 400+ PPI displays is already here, driven by the desire to produce a Full HD 1920x1080 display on a smartphone screen. The Galaxy S4 has an incredible 441 Pixels Per Inch. People with 20/20 Vision cannot resolve the individual pixels on a 441 PPI display for viewing distances of 7.8 inches or more, which is exceedingly close for viewing a 5.0 inch display.

PenTile Displays

The pixels on most current OLED displays have only 2 sub-pixels in each pixel instead of the standard 3 Red, Green, and Blue sub-pixels found in most other displays and display technologies. Half of the PenTile pixels have Green and Red sub-pixels and the other half have Green and Blue sub-pixels, so Red and Blue are always shared by two adjacent pixels. This makes PenTile displays easier to manufacture and at a lower cost. It also improves brightness and reduces aging effects. Because the eye has lower visual acuity for color this works very well for photographic and video images. But for digitally generated fine text and graphics with precise pixel layouts the eye can visually detect the reduced number of Red and Blue sub-pixels unless the number of Red and Blue Sub-Pixels Per Inch is very high. And it is for the Galaxy S4 – there are 312 Red and Blue Sub-Pixels Per Inch, which is only a few percent lower than Apple's Benchmark 326 PPI iPhone Retina Display. Visually the Galaxy S4 PenTile display delivers excellent visual sharpness across the board.

Digital Display Technology

Most consumers are not aware that LCDs are actually non-linear analog displays that perform really well only as the result of highly refined electronics and careful factory calibration. This is the same reason why even living room HDTVs provide coarse and imprecise color and image controls, and why professional calibration is desirable. One interesting technical development is that the latest OLED displays use digital Pulse Width Modulation to specify the brightness of every sub-pixel. This makes it possible for OLED displays like the Galaxy S4 to precisely vary and directly digitally control their Intensity Scales, Gamma values, White Points, color calibration and color management of the display in firmware or software. Plasma and DLP displays also use digital Pulse Width Modulation, but the OLED displays perform better because of higher frequencies and faster response times.

Screen Modes

One important application of the Digital Display Technology mentioned above is that this makes it relatively easy to provide a number of different display calibration options and settings that will appeal to differing consumer tastes and preferences under various viewing conditions and applications. The Galaxy S4 (like its bigger cousin the Galaxy Note II) includes 5 user selectable Screen Modes: Adaptive, Dynamic, Standard, Professional Photo, and Movie, which we discuss below and include measurements for the Standard and Movie Modes.

Color Gamut and Color Accuracy

The Galaxy S4 Movie Mode delivers the closest Color and White Point calibration to the standard sRGB/Rec.709 consumer content used in digital camera, HDTV, internet, and computer content, including virtually all photos and videos. Use the Movie Mode for the best color and image accuracy. Its Green primary is still somewhat too saturated – hopefully it will get toned down some as in the Galaxy Note II, which is very accurate. The Professional Photo Mode provides a fairly accurate calibration to the Adobe RGB standard, which is rarely available in consumers displays, and is very useful for high-end digital photography applications. The Standard Mode is the default mode for the Galaxy S4 – it delivers higher color saturation, which appeals to some, and is a better choice for high ambient light viewing conditions, which wash out image colors and contrast. This mode is very similar to the Professional Photo Mode, but has a more bluish White Point. Its Green primary is also too saturated, but noticeably less than in the Galaxy S III. The Dynamic Mode produces the most vibrant image and picture quality.
Galaxy S IV Display Shoot-Out: How Does It Compare?

Brightness and Power Efficiency

OLED displays are generally not as bright as the brightest LCD displays. There are two reasons for this: first, while OLED power efficiency has been steadily improving they are not yet as power efficient as the best LCDs. Second: there is a marketing obsession for producing ultra thin and lightweight smartphones, which sacrifices much needed battery power. Since the display often uses 50 percent or more of the total smartphone power, various display power management schemes are frequently used. The Galaxy S4 uses one innovative approach to overcome this—when Automatic Brightness is turned on, the Peak Brightness becomes significantly brighter in high ambient lighting than is possible with Manual Brightness, up to as high as 475 cd/m2, which is 34 percent higher than is possible with Manual Brightness. This is done so that users can't permanently set the brightness to very high values, which would run down the battery quickly.

Performance in High Ambient Lighting

Smartphones are never used in the dark. In fact, they are often used in very bright ambient lighting, which can significantly degrade and wash out their image and picture quality. The Galaxy S4 performs very well in high ambient lighting in spite of its typically lower screen brightness because it has one of the smallest screen Reflectance values of any display we have ever tested, and its more saturated colors can help cut through the reflected light glare. When Automatic Brightness is turned on, the screen brightness increases considerably at high levels of ambient lighting as mentioned above. The Galaxy S4 is then comparable or brighter than most LCD smartphones, but still 15 percent less than the much smaller iPhone 5, which is the brightest smartphone we have tested.

Viewing Tests

The Galaxy S4 Movie Mode provides very nice, pleasing, and accurate colors and picture quality. The Movie Mode is recommended for indoor and low ambient light viewing. The Standard Mode has significantly more vibrant and saturated colors. Some people like that. The Standard Mode is recommended for medium levels of ambient light viewing because it offsets some of the reflected glare that washes out the images. The Dynamic Mode provides incredibly powerful colors that are overwhelming in low ambient lighting. The Dynamic Mode is recommended for high ambient light viewing only. For all of the Modes a slight green color tint was sometimes noticeable, but not objectionable. It results from the Green primary being more saturated than the Red and Blue primaries. Readjusting the internal color management could fix this.

Comparing Displays on the Galaxy S III and Galaxy S4

The Galaxy S4 display is a major enhancement and improvement over the Galaxy S III – a good reason to consider trading up. The screen has Full HD 1920x1080 resolution with more than double the number of pixels and with 44 percent higher Pixels Per Inch than the Galaxy S III. It is 25 percent brighter (and up to 68 percent brighter with Automatic Brightness) and the display is 20 percent more power efficient. The Galaxy S4 also has 5 user selectable Screen Modes and delivers much better picture quality and color accuracy.

Comparing the Galaxy S4 with the LCD Display on the iPhone 5

The iPhone 5 is now more than half way through its product cycle, which is important to keep in mind for our comparison. However, high-end LCDs like the iPhone 5 are a very mature and refined display technology, so other than screen size, resolution, and the Pixels Per Inch not much is likely to change in the next generation, no matter what Apple decides to do. The iPhone 5 is significantly brighter than the Galaxy S4, particularly for screens with mostly peak white backgrounds. Its color calibration is a bit better, although the Galaxy S4 has a more accurate White. The Galaxy S4 has a much bigger screen, higher resolution, higher PPI, much darker blacks, and better screen uniformity than the iPhone 5. They each have their own particular strengths and weaknesses, but if you scan our color coordinated Comparison Table, both displays are quite good and comparable overall – so it's currently a tie – we'll see how they both evolve and improve in the next generation…

Conclusions: An Impressive OLED Display

The Galaxy S4 continues the rapid and impressive improvement in OLED displays and technology. The first notable OLED smartphone, the Google Nexus One, came in decidedly last place in our 2010 Smartphone Display Shoot-Out. In a span of just three years OLED display technology is now challenging the performance of the best LCDs. Each have their own particular strengths and weaknesses, but if you scan our color coordinated Comparison Table, both displays and technologies perform quite well and look quite good and comparable overall – we'll see how they both evolve and improve in the next generation, which we consider next.
The biggest challenge for OLEDs is continuing to improve their power efficiency and full screen peak brightness. We measured an impressive 20 percent improvement in power efficacy between the Galaxy S4 and S III, and a 25 percent increase in brightness (and up to 68 percent with Automatic Brightness). If this keeps up then OLEDs may pull ahead of LCDs in brightness and power efficiency in the near future.
Of course, LCDs are not standing still either. There has been a remarkable increase in their resolution and Pixels Per Inch. IGZO and more advanced Metal Oxide backplanes will help to significantly improve their efficiency and performance. Quantum Dots should help them to efficiently enlarge their Color Gamuts to catch up with OLEDs, which is important for delivering accurate color and image contrast in high ambient lighting.
Both OLEDs and LCDs need to carefully expand their color management and color calibration. The biggest improvements for mobile displays will come from dynamically changing the display Color Gamuts and Intensity Scales to automatically compensate and correct for reflected glare and image wash out from ambient light. Which ever one succeeds is likely to win in the next generation of mobile displays

Display Shoot-Out Comparison Table

Below we compare the display on the Samsung Galaxy S4 with the Samsung Galaxy S III and Apple iPhone 5 based on objective measurement data and criteria. For additional background and information see the Samsung Galaxy S OLED Display Technology Shoot-Out that compares and analyzes the evolution of the OLED displays on the Galaxy S I, II, and III.
Below is a partial excerpt of the table; you can see the full comparison at DisplayMate.
Galaxy S IV Display Shoot-Out: How Does It Compare?

This article has been republished with permission from, where it can be read in its entirety.
About the Author
Dr. Raymond Soneira is President of DisplayMate Technologies Corporation of Amherst, New Hampshire, which produces video calibration, evaluation, and diagnostic products for consumers, technicians, and manufacturers. See He is a research scientist with a career that spans physics, computer science, and television system design. Dr. Soneira obtained his Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from Princeton University, spent 5 years as a Long-Term Member of the world famous Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, another 5 years as a Principal Investigator in the Computer Systems Research Laboratory at AT&T Bell Laboratories, and has also designed, tested, and installed color television broadcast equipment for the CBS Television Network Engineering and Development Department. He has authored over 35 research articles in scientific journals in physics and computer science, including Scientific American. If you have any comments or questions about the article, you can contact him at
About DisplayMate Technologies
DisplayMate Technologies specializes in advanced mathematical display technology optimizations and precision analytical scientific display diagnostics and calibrations to deliver outstanding image and picture quality and accuracy – while increasing the effective visual Contrast Ratio of the display and producing a higher calibrated brightness than is achievable with traditional calibration methods. This also decreases display power requirements and increases the battery run time in mobile displays. This article is a lite version of our intensive scientific analysis of smartphone and mobile displays – before the benefits of our advanced mathematical DisplayMate Display Optimization Technology, which can correct or improve many of the deficiencies – including higher calibrated brightness, power efficiency, effective screen contrast, picture quality and color and gray scale accuracy under both bright and dim ambient light, and much more. Our advanced scientific optimizations can make lower cost panels look as good or better than more expensive higher performance displays. For more information on our technology see the Summary description of our Adaptive Variable Metric Display Optimizer AVDO. If you are a display or product manufacturer and want our expertise and technology to turn your display into a spectacular one to surpass your competition then Contact DisplayMate Technologies to learn more.
READ MORE - Galaxy S IV Display Shoot-Out: How Does It Compare?


iTypewriter is a typewriter for the ipad. Made by Austin Yang.
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READ MORE - iTypewriter