Best Practice Ezine #94 – A few good tools
In Damon Runyan’s stories of Broadway one of his characters is called ‘Harry the Horse’. In the 1930’s, just as today, there were many tipsters, but Harry’s unique style was to always have a story to go with his racing tip. Well with Guy’s ezine, you get a tale to go with the computer tip.
A few good tools
I’ll begin by introducing FreePing. What this handy utility does is check for network connectivity. Unlike the normal Ping, with FreePing you get a console where you can display dozens of machines and see at a glance which machine are up (Green Dot) and which are down (Red Dot).
Back in the last century, one company I visited adapted FreePing to catch thieves who were stealing RAM sticks out of their machines. A guard was provided with a FreePing console, which displayed all the machines in the company. When a machine was switched off, to steal the RAM chips, he got a red light and a ‘net send’ message courtesy of FreePing. His team then reacted like a police hit squad and sought out the room with the baddies. The final piece in this primitive, yet pragmatic, security strategy was that employees were instructed never to turn off their machines – ever.
My problem was that as a trainer, who had simply come to run a course, I was an outsider; consequently nobody thought to tell me of the company directive that it was a disciplinary offence to turn off a machine – ever. Once the course had finished and all the delegates left, Guy shutdown the machines only to be confronted by big men with baseball bats. After the initial shock, I explained myself and we had a good laugh about the incident. When I returned to run the advanced course they told me how their method got the result they had been hoping for. Thanks to a FreePing alert, they caught two teenagers with the backs off the machines and attempting to remove the RAM sticks.
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With my recommendation I like to take a view, ‘This is a good program’, or ‘I cannot find a use for xyz utility’ code for Guy does not rate this utility. I also like to favour utilities that have a future. Now I am pleased to place Windows Defender in the category of ‘Good and has a future’. The story here is that Microsoft has trialled it as an add-on for XP, but Defender will be built-in to Vista’s Windows Security Center.
What Windows Defender does is identify, block then isolate a whole range of Spyware programs, including a rootkits that hackers try and sneak onto your machine via Trojan horses. These rootkits provide back-doors to the ‘root’ systems on your machines, as a result outsiders could surreptitiously take over your machine. Naturally these ‘rootkits’ are designed to evade detection and exploit security holes in the operating system that Microsoft is desperately trying to block via security patches.
Because Windows Defender is regularly updated with new rootkit and Spyware signatures it vastly improves security and makes the machine in general and browsing in particular work faster.
As the name Defender suggests, that program is designed to keep out the bad stuff, whereas the Malicious Software Removal Took checks for any programs that either pre-date defenders tools, or infected your machine via a different route.
I confess that I am uncertain if the Malicious Software Removal Tool will eventually be built into Windows Defender, or whether it will remain a separate utility. Guy recommends that you download this utility from Microsoft’s site.
Standard User Analyzer Tool Check
Do you ever fall for the trap where programs work fine for you as Administrator, but users complain they don’t work for them? As these users are trusted sensible people and not Psychos, there must be a problem. The solution is to investigate with Microsoft’s Standard User Analyzer Tool Check. As the name suggests, the program reports on whether an application will run correctly for ordinary users. If you download it, make sure that you also get the ApplicationVerifier.
I like thePermissions Analyzer because it enables me to see WHO has permissions to do WHAT at a glance. When you launch this tool it analyzes a users effective NTFS permissions for a specific file or folder, and takes into account network share access, then displays the results in a nifty desktop dashboard!
Think of all the frustration that this free SolarWinds utility saves when you are troubleshooting authorization problems for user’s access to a resource. Give this permissions monitor a try – it’s free!
I flirted with ProfGen about 10 years ago, what it did was automatically create and map Outlook profiles for each user who logged on at a particular Windows 95 machine. In the back of my mind, I believe that you can now automatically configure Outlook and XP, so that each user gets their own profile. For example, Folder Redirection of the My Documents folder. Should this be true, then you no longer need ProfGen. If you are a professor of profgen please write in and let me know the position.
ProfGen also reminds of the old debate of SDK (Software Developer Kit) versus Group Policy. The question is should you deploy the SDK to customize installations, I am thinking of programs such as Microsoft Office. Alternatively, should you simply use the standard install and then lockdown Office with Group Policy. If time permits you could investigate both methods, the benefit is that you will get a binocular color ‘view’ of the configuration instead of a one dimensional, black and white ‘view’.
My hidden agenda this week is ask readers to send me their favorite utility. If you have a tale to go with your recommendation, so much the better.
I rather like playing devil’s advocate. A while back I was dismissive about Takeown, well Tim has given me reason to change my mind. Tim says:
In the process of taking the ownership of several files in the Windows GUI, I stumbled across the error "Access Denied." It made no sense why an Administrator was receiving the message, but it turns out that it sometimes happens when taking ownership of previous operating system files. Since the GUI failed to help even in Safe Mode, running the command did exactly what the GUI wouldn’t do. That’s about it, though, it may not be killer to anyone else. Tim Garrett
Guy Recommends: The Free IP Address Tracker (IPAT)
Calculating IP Address ranges is a black art, which many network managers solve by creating custom Excel spreadsheets. IPAT cracks this problem of allocating IP addresses in networks in two ways:
For Mr Organized there is a nifty subnet calculator, you enter the network address and the subnet mask, then IPAT works out the usable addresses and their ranges.
For Mr Lazy IPAT discovers and then displays the IP addresses of existing computers. Download the Free IP Address Tracker
Will and Guy’s Humour – Groucho Marx
Groucho Marx – I find television most educational; every time someone turns it on, I read a book.
Guy Thomas – I find paid sites most educational, every time someone creates a pay-to-enter site, I think, more people will come to free sites like ComputerPerformance.
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