How Do I Best Extend My Wireless Network for Laptop Access?

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I have a basic D-Link “n” router. The signal does not penetrate well throughout my house. What is the best way to get excellent coverage everywhere? I was thinking of adding a wireless access point at the opposite end of the
house.

There are a couple of good approaches to extending your wireless network for your laptop or other wireless devices. Depending on the characteristics of your home, adding one or more wireless access points may well be the best approach.

On the other hand, it’s not appropriate for all situations, so I’ll look at a couple of common alternatives as well.

Read moreHow Do I Best Extend My Wireless Network for Laptop Access?

How Do I Back Up My Computer?

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How do I “back up” my computer? I am sure my question is ridiculous to you, but I honestly have no clue what I should be doing.

Your question isn’t ridiculous at all. In fact, I’m certain it’s one reason so many people don’t back up: they simply don’t know how.

For something as critically important as backing up, that’s more than a little scary. I hear from people who lose important, valuable information all the time. Whether it’s from malware, hardware failure, account hacks, or other disasters, a backup can easily prevent such loss.

First, let’s look at what it means to back up a computer, and what your options are. Then, I’ll share some guidelines and tell you what I recommend for typical users.

Read moreHow Do I Back Up My Computer?

Where’s My Disk Space Going?

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Our disk drive is split into a C: and a D: drive. We only ever save on the D: drive, but the C: drive has only about 540MB left available! Apart from about 5GB of photos, I can’t understand what is taking up all the memory. The memory seems to continually go down and is now getting to a critical level. I have run malware checks and deleted all critical errors, but still not been able to free up any memory. I can’t even defrag as I need 20% free to run this option.

Disappearing disk space is a very common scenario.

Somehow, no matter how much we have, disk space never seems enough. As we collect pictures and programs (and the programs themselves collect data), more and more disk space is consumed. With so much happening on our computers these days, it’s difficult to understand what’s taking up space.

Fortunately, I can recommend a free tool that can give us some very helpful data.

Read moreWhere’s My Disk Space Going?

Stop Spreading Manure

It’s an example of yet another brouhaha: a report a few years ago that Google blatantly admitted you should have no expectation of privacy whatsoever when using their services. The internet went crazy. Many sources proclaimed, “How outrageous! We told you so! Google is evil!” Mainstream news outlets picked up stories from smaller publishers, and they all confirmed the entire sordid mess.

Except the internet was wrong. Manure, to use a polite term, was being spread far, wide, and fast.

That’s where things get complicated.

Read moreStop Spreading Manure

How to Remove PUPs, Foistware, Drive-bys, Toolbars, and Other Annoying Things

Ending up with random software on your machine that you never wanted in the first place is annoying as all heck.

Unfortunately, it’s happening more and more. I’d say that PUPs (Potentially Unwanted Programs, although there’s rarely any “potentially” about it), rogue toolbars, and search-engine hijacks are some of the most common issues I see in my inbox.

I’ll talk a little about prevention, but first, let’s walk through the steps I recommend when you suddenly realize you’ve been saddled with software you didn’t know you’d agreed to and certainly never wanted.

Read moreHow to Remove PUPs, Foistware, Drive-bys, Toolbars, and Other Annoying Things

My Computer Is Infected with Malware. Should I Just Throw It Out?

Some time ago, news broke that the U.S. government had plans to destroy up to $3 million worth of computers. In fact, they had already destroyed thousands of dollars of computers by the time the story came out.

Why were they doing it? Because of a malware infection.

I get the question, “Should I just throw it out?” due to malware more often than you think. It’s the knee-jerk reaction of someone who has a machine that is fairly infected and feels utterly hopeless about getting it cleared up again.

But I want to be very clear about something. There is never, ever a reason to destroy hardware because of malware.

Read moreMy Computer Is Infected with Malware. Should I Just Throw It Out?

I Run Anti-virus Software. Why Do I Still Sometimes Get Infected?

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I have AVG virus protection always on and have the Windows firewall enabled. Why do I still get infected with some Trojan horses? I check for updates every day so I am sure I am up-to-date.

That’s a very good question. Most people believe they’re totally protected because they have an anti-malware program.

Unfortunately, that’s not true.

The answer is partly the nature of anti-malware software …

… and partly the nature of the race.

Read moreI Run Anti-virus Software. Why Do I Still Sometimes Get Infected?

How Should I Set Up My Home Network?

Let’s say you just bought your second computer. Perhaps you purchased a new laptop, tablet, new machine for your spouse, or another machine for yourself. Maybe you want to connect your smartphone via Wi-Fi when you’re at home, to reduce the usage of your mobile data plan. Perhaps you got a smart TV, light switch, video-streaming box, or Echo or Echo-like device.

Whatever the device, you want to connect it to the internet. It would also be nice to share things, like printers or extra disk space, among compatible devices.

You, my friend, need a LAN, or Local Area Network. There are lots of ways to set one up; I’ll review the basic setup for the most common case.

Already have a network, but not sure how to grow it? I’ll look at that, too.

First, let’s look at the two types of networks: wired and wireless.

Read moreHow Should I Set Up My Home Network?

How Do I Use an Open Wi-Fi Hotspot Safely?

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I’ve returned to the same coffee shop where I was a few months ago, where I noticed my email had been hijacked/hacked. This time, I’m using my phone, but the last time, when I noticed the hack, I was using my computer and doing email over an open-internet, free Wi-Fi network.

Do you think that could be the source of the problem or just a coincidence? I’m still afraid to do email from here.

It definitely could have been. Unfortunately, it’s hard to say for sure; it could have been something else unrelated.

As we can’t really diagnose the past, let’s look ahead instead.

It can be absolutely safe to send and receive email from a coffee shop or any other location that provides unsecured or “open” Wi-Fi. In fact, I do it all the time.

But to ensure your safety, you do have to follow some very important practices.

Read moreHow Do I Use an Open Wi-Fi Hotspot Safely?

Half a Dozen Uses for OneDrive

If you don’t trust Microsoft, you should probably stop reading. If you don’t trust Microsoft, you probably won’t trust OneDrive with your files.

If you’ve decided you’re never going to trust “the cloud”, you can stop reading now as well. There’s no getting around the fact that OneDrive is, at its heart, a cloud-based service.

If you have Windows 10, especially if you have Microsoft’s Office 365, you already have OneDrive available to you. (If not, it’s easy to get.) If you’re interested in learning how you can put OneDrive to use, read on.

I’m convinced that OneDrive is one of Microsoft’s most under-appreciated services.

Read moreHalf a Dozen Uses for OneDrive

Dealing with Browser Problems

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I haven’t seen you mention Firefox problems. I’ve been using it for internet but it goes into “not responding” mode, particularly when I click on a link in a news email.

Actually, I talk about browser problems all the time. Particularly since people encounter browser problems all the time. 🙂

The problem, though, is that it’s never as simple as telling you “Well, here’s what you do to stop ‘not responding’ problems”. There are so many possible causes, there’s no way to know which one might applies to your situation.

What I use instead is a more general approach to dealing with internet web browser problems that applies to all popular browsers — not only FireFox, but Chrome, Internet Explorer, and more.

Read moreDealing with Browser Problems

How Do I Remove Malware?

One question that shows up almost every day in the Ask Leo! inbox is how to remove malware.

Every day.

The scenarios differ, but the problem is the same: a machine has been infected with spyware, a virus, or some other form of malware, and that machine’s owner is having a tough time getting rid of it.

And often there is anti-malware software installed that “should” have taken care of it before it got to this stage.

Hopefully, that’ll never be you. If it is, let’s review the steps I recommend for removing malware and reducing the chances it’ll happen again.

Read moreHow Do I Remove Malware?

CHKDSK: What Is It and How Do I Run It?

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I have disk problems and you said I should run CHKDSK. Great. What is that?

Fair enough. It’s easy for us computer geeks to take things for granted that we shouldn’t.

CHKDSK is a command line tool that checks disks.

I’ll talk about what I mean by command line, and what it means to check a disk.

I’ll also show you how to run CHKDSK step by step.

Read moreCHKDSK: What Is It and How Do I Run It?

7 Steps to a Secure Router

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I’d like to know how to clear the history of my Linksys router. I’d also like to know how I can make it more secure and protect it from hacking.

The topic is an important one: how do you make sure you have a secure router? As your firewall, it’s your first line of defense against malware trying to get at your computer from the internet.

You want to make sure there aren’t big gaping holes. And sadly, very often and by default, there are.

Here are the most important seven eight steps to a more secure router.

(Updated 18-Dec-2016 to include checking for firmware updates after a high-profile vulnerability disclosure by a major router manufacturer.)

Read more7 Steps to a Secure Router

Is Copyright Still an Issue If Something’s Not Available Anywhere?

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I want to be able to copy some old VHS to DVD via my PC. Your site answers all the questions except one, as 99% of my VHS tapes have copyright restrictions. Is there a device I can obtain that will allow me to copy these tapes? As most of these movies are now ‘out of production’ and unobtainable I do not see copyright as an issue.

Before I dive in, I need to be super clear: I’m not a lawyer. Never have been, and don’t plan on becoming one. This is not legal advice; use it at your own risk, no animals were harmed, some objects may appear smaller, and so on and so on.

That being said, what follows is my pretty clear opinion, which I believe to be relatively accurate.

The bottom line: copyright is most definitely an issue.

Read moreIs Copyright Still an Issue If Something’s Not Available Anywhere?

How Do I Get Data Off of the Hard Drive in a Dead Computer?

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My computer died on me. I can’t get it to boot up. I need to take the hard drive out and pull my files off from it. How do I retrieve the files from the hard drive in a dead computer? Thanks for any help you can give me.

This is a pretty common scenario. Depending on what caused the computer’s demise, there’s a relatively good chance you can retrieve the information off that hard drive.

Of course, if it’s the drive itself that caused the failure, things get a little more interesting.

There are several approaches to this problem. I’ll start with my favorite: not needing to do it at all.

Read moreHow Do I Get Data Off of the Hard Drive in a Dead Computer?

Can I Stop or ‘Un-send’ an Email I Sent by Mistake?

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I wrote an email from my Yahoo email account and sent it to the wrong email address in Europe. Is it any way I can retrieve the email I sent to the wrong email address and delete it before the wrong recipient can read my email?

No.

There are a couple of exceptions (one of which isn’t really an exception at all), but the answer you need to keep in mind and always remember is simply no.

Once email has been sent, it has been sent. It cannot be “unsent”.

I’ll describe why that is and what those so-called “exceptions” are all about.

Read moreCan I Stop or ‘Un-send’ an Email I Sent by Mistake?

Is Changing My Password Enough?

I regularly hear from people who’ve had their email or other online account compromised, are able to recover access to it, and change their password, only to have the account stolen again almost immediately.

The problem is simple, but the solution is a bit of work.

First, you have to realize that while someone else has access to your account, they have access to everything related to that account.

As a result, changing your password just isn’t enough. You need to do more.

Read moreIs Changing My Password Enough?

Can I Tell If Email I Sent Has Been Read by the Recipient?

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I sent an email to a friend and he claims never to have gotten it. I don’t believe him; things he’s said led me to believe that he did get it and that he did read it. Is there a way I can tell for sure?

I’m amazed at the number of questions I get that boil down to people not trusting each other. Not that there isn’t cause, I suppose, with spam, phishing, and viruses running all over the place. But this seems like the simplest case of all – was your email read or not?

The answer to your question is no, there is no way to tell for sure that your email has been delivered or has been read.

I always get a lot of pushback on that.

Read moreCan I Tell If Email I Sent Has Been Read by the Recipient?

How Do I Remove Myself from the Search Engines?

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It was unwise of me to put in my name in some guestbooks. I’d like to remove my information from the search results of the major search engines: Google, Yahoo, and so forth. I tried in vain to contact the webmasters of those sites. I’m becoming fussier about that and it’s getting more awkward as far as my profession is concerned. Would you please assist me in dealing with this problem?

Search engines are amazing. They’ve collected and indexed billions and billions of pages of information out on the internet, making them available for any of us to find, review, and use.

Getting into search engines is not terribly difficult. Getting out? The news is not good.

In fact, in my opinion, it’s a lost cause.

Read moreHow Do I Remove Myself from the Search Engines?

What Good is Incognito Mode?

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I use incognito mode in my web browser to keep my online activities private. I mentioned that to a friend and he said it wasn’t private at all. If he’s right … what’s the point?

You’re both right, and you’re both wrong.

Incognito mode in Google Chrome (also referred to as “Private” or “InPrivate” in Firefox, Internet Explorer, Edge, and other browsers) protects your privacy to a point.

It’s critical to know where that is, because beyond that point, Incognito does exactly nothing to keep you more private.

Read moreWhat Good is Incognito Mode?

The Deep, Dark Secret Behind Ask Leo!

I was exchanging email with someone the other day, and he asked about my business and what I do.

What I came up with on the spur of the moment so perfectly captured one aspect of Ask Leo! that I took myself aback. 🙂

You’d think that after nearly a dozen years of doing this, I’d have a pretty clear “elevator pitch”. Indeed, I do have a pretty good “why” that I captured earlier this year. But that’s different than a “what”.

The answer I shared crystallized something important about how I do what I do …

… my ulterior motive, if you will.

Read moreThe Deep, Dark Secret Behind Ask Leo!

12 Steps to Keep from Getting Your Account Hacked

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My account has been hacked into several times. If I’m able to recover it, it just gets hacked again. Sometimes I can’t recover it, and I have to start all over with a new account. What can I do to stop this all from happening?

I don’t get this question a lot. But I really, really wish I did. What I get instead, repeatedly, is “I’ve been hacked, please recover my account/password for me!” (Which, for the record, I cannot do, no matter how often, or how nicely, or not so nicely, I’m asked.)

The only salvation is in prevention, and this applies to email, social media, and pretty much any password-protected account you might have.

What can you do to make sure your account doesn’t get hacked in the first place?

Read more12 Steps to Keep from Getting Your Account Hacked

Is the Cloud Dangerous?

One of the comments I received on my article on lessons learned from a fairly public online hacking was very concise:

“That’s why the cloud is dangerous.”

I think a lot of people feel that to varying degrees.

I disagree strongly.

I also think believing the cloud is dangerous prevents you from taking advantage of the things it can do for you — things like protecting your data…

… as well as a number of things you’re already doing, and have been doing for years.

Read moreIs the Cloud Dangerous?

How Do I Gain Access to My Deceased Relative’s Computer?

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My {relative} passed away recently. I desperately need to gain access to the contents of their computer so I can recover {important financial documents}, {one-of-a-kind pictures}, {his or her last thoughts}, etc. The machine has a login password that he never shared with anyone. Can I get in? If so, how?

As you can see, this is a composite question based on a scenario I hear from time to time.

A relative or acquaintance has passed away and left behind a password-protected PC containing files that are important for any number of possible reasons.

You may be able to get in. On the other hand, particularly if your late relative was security conscious, you may not.

Read moreHow Do I Gain Access to My Deceased Relative’s Computer?

Can I Get Someone’s Name and Address from Their IP Address?

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I have the IP address of someone who’s causing me some problems. Can I get their name and location from that?

Yes and no. But mostly no.

This is perhaps one of the most common questions I get. Unfortunately, people’s expectations have been colored — often dramatically — by popular television shows and movies.

Unfortunately, this is real life, which isn’t nearly as easy or exciting.

Read moreCan I Get Someone’s Name and Address from Their IP Address?

This Is Why I Back Up

This is why I go digital at every opportunity.

For years, I’ve had a collection of 8mm and Super-8 movies stored in my basement. As technology has progressed and the projector deteriorated, I realized that the only way I would ever see them would be to get them converted to a digital format.

That involved shipping them across the country. If that makes you nervous, it absolutely should. It did me.

Read moreThis Is Why I Back Up

If I Had to Do It Over…

I never planned to be a writer.

When I entered college in 1975, I had no plan at all. I had a vague interest in electronics, and seeing that on my application, the University of Washington saw fit to put me into College of Electrical Engineering.

It was there I encountered what would become my career’s passion.

Read moreIf I Had to Do It Over…

How Do I Unsubscribe from All These Unwanted Emails?

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I am receiving a lot of unwanted e-mails from diet pills to pet supplies and I don’t want to keep deleting 100 e-mails every time I check my mail. I hate going into each e-mail one-by-one to unsubscribe and I don’t know how safe it is for me to open those e-mails in the first place. I was wondering is there an easy free way to unsubscribe without needing to open the e-mail.

I know that this is confusing, but it’s important to realize that there are emails that you can and should unsubscribe from, and emails that you absolutely should never, ever “unsubscribe” from.

I’ll explain why that is, and what the relatively simple rules turn out to be.

Read moreHow Do I Unsubscribe from All These Unwanted Emails?

Someone’s Sending from My Email Address! How Do I Stop Them?!

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People are telling me I’ve sent them email I know I haven’t. Supposedly it’s spam, and that’s not something I do. Has my account been hacked? How do I stop it?

While possible, it’s highly unlikely your account has been hacked. Whatever is happening is something significantly more benign. Sadly, it’s something you can do almost nothing about.

There are a couple of variations, so before we begin, let me also mention some articles that might more closely match your situation.

Read moreSomeone’s Sending from My Email Address! How Do I Stop Them?!

What Happens When I Die?

Making technology both convenient and secure is a problem we deal with daily. We make trade-offs and use techniques that we hope strike an appropriate balance.

A more difficult dilemma that we rarely think about, however, is death. If something were to happen to you, would the people you leave behind be able to access the information they need? What happens to your encrypted data, online accounts, social media, online finances, pictures, and digital-whatever-else if for some reason you’re not around or able to access it?

I hear regularly from people frantically trying to access important, sentimental, or critical data that a recently deceased or incapacitated friend or family member has locked up tightly.

It’s not particularly pleasant to think about, but with all the security measures we put into place to keep bad people out, it’s worth having a plan for letting the good people in.

Read moreWhat Happens When I Die?

What Backup Program Should I Use?

Backing up is kind of like eating healthier: everyone knows we should, and few of us actually do. Much like the heart attack victim who no longer binges on french fries, when it comes to backing up, the most religious are those who’ve been bitten hard by a failure in their past.

Asking what backup program to use is very much like asking, “What’s the best exercise program?”

The best program for exercise — or backup — is whichever one you’ll actually do. In order to choose what’s going to work best for you, there are several questions to ask.

Read moreWhat Backup Program Should I Use?

This Doesn’t Need to Happen

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I lost a huge amount of research and work when my computer crashed this summer.

That’s a quote from an email I received from someone who, honestly, I expected better of. He’s a prominent figure in my industry, and someone who has a large team of people supporting him.

To have a simple computer crash cause “huge” data loss … well, as I said, this doesn’t need to happen. Ever. Not to him, and not to you or me.

Sadly, he’s not the only one running the risk.

Read moreThis Doesn’t Need to Happen

How Do I View the List of BCC’ed Recipients on an Email I’ve Received?

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I want to find the list of “undisclosed recipients” of the email I’ve received. Is there a way?

No.

“Undisclosed recipients” is often placed in the “To:” line by email programs when the message being sent has no entries in the “To:” or “Cc:” lines. The sender has used the “Bcc:” feature of email to send the email to one or more people without revealing who they are.

So, how do you find out who they are?

Read moreHow Do I View the List of BCC’ed Recipients on an Email I’ve Received?

Why Is My Mail to this Person Not Getting Through?

Even after all these years, email spam remains a serious problem. With some people (like me) getting literally hundreds of unwanted messages per day, most internet service providers (as well as some individuals) take drastic steps to reduce the amount of junk mail arriving in their inboxes.

A problem with any anti-spam measure is that it will block some amount of legitimate email as well.

If email sent to one person is not getting through, but email sent to other people is generally working, it could be your email is being blocked by an anti-spam tool.

Read moreWhy Is My Mail to this Person Not Getting Through?

What’s a Screen Shot and How Do I Make One?

A screen shot, screenshot, or screen capture is a way to “take a picture” of your computer screen (or a portion thereof).

Why would you want to do that?

Well, let’s say you’re trying to explain a computer problem to a technical friend of yours, and you’re trying to describe what you see on the screen — the dialogs, buttons, messages, whatever. You’re not sure of the terms to use, and your friend is having a difficult time understanding your description.

And of course, your friend insists that the exact wording of everything you see is incredibly important (for the record, he’s right.)

You know what they say: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” And it can go a long way to eliminating miscommunication.

Let’s take a picture of your screen you can email to your friend.

Read moreWhat’s a Screen Shot and How Do I Make One?

Are Free Email Services Worth It?

This is a major update to what I consider one of my most important articles, dating all the way back to 2004 (with intermediate updates in 2010 and 2013).

My answer has changed from “mostly no” to “mostly yes”, with the following important caveats:

  • You must understand the costs.
  • You must understand the risks.
  • You must prepare for disaster.
  • You must take responsibility.

I’ll dive into each of these in detail, but before I do, I’ll share one concrete datapoint: all of my email is currently being processed via free email accounts. Clearly, I believe it can be done safely.

Read moreAre Free Email Services Worth It?