Posted tagged ‘windows xp’

Tinfoil Tom Series – Episode 1: Securing your web browser


f73603379ec11c4bdc493282f4b2d547p_510x270“What’cha lookin’ at?!”
(Thanks to Sarah for this beautiful depiction of paranoia!)

Hi and welcome to the “Tinfoil Tom” series that I intend on running on this very blog. This series of post will be dedicated to end-user computer security – for the slightly paranoid. So it seemed appropriate to start with what you’re doing at this very moment – that is, surfing the web! (Whatever else you were doing is but your own business, in the spirit of tinfoil hats, paranoia and all.)

This guide is first and foremost directed at power-users, but it is written in a way so that (hopefully) anyone can follow it without problems.

The web browser
Try asking someone about their web browser preference and you’ll notice that many people would rather bite your head off than consider an alternative one. That being said, according to me – the power-user browser is Firefox. Opera is not far behind and may very well excel in some categories, but with the grand focus on security, the enormous community and the perpetually growing add-on library that all Firefox users can enjoy, it’s simply unbeatable, and so it will be a prerequisite for this tutorial.

With its out-of-the-box configuration Firefox is one of the most secure browsers, but we won’t stop there! To make your experience even safer – read on for some useful add-ons.

Added security
Here are some great add-ons that will help in tightening your browsers security.

Adblock Plus

beforeafterBefore and after shot. Unfortunately, some of that heavily
appealing “bling-bling” disappears together with the ads.

Whilst not technically a security add-on, Adblock plus make practically all ads on pages disappear, and in such way makes you less targetable to third-party exploits such as XSS attacks, not to mention those bastard animated smileys. *shivers*

Using Ad blocking software has come under heavy fire lately, with many ad-financed sites expressing heavy criticism towards the users, some sites have even started to reject users with ad-blocking software. Luckily, the number of these sites so far is very small, and let us hope it doesn’t spread. One could probably spend a whole series of posts just discussing the moral aspects of ad blocking (Which according to me has heavy parallels to downloading or TiVo‘ing TV shows, effectively skipping the commercials.) but I’ll leave it for another day.

Get Adblock for Firefox here.


logoEvil script is evil.

Before you install this add-on, you should be aware of the fact that breaks almost all modern websites because it interferes (or rather completely shuts off) JavaScript support unless you specifically enable it on a per-site basis. But it also stops a lot of third-party homepages from running scripts and makes a lot of other security improvements under the hood. Although I don’t recommend this add-on for normal users, power users who often visit the same set of homepages may benefit greatly in terms of increased security – this add-on will truly make your browser an impenetrable fortress.

Get NoScript for Firefox here.


tor_stickerJust watching that onion makes my eyes tear up… with laughter!

TorButton is actually a quick proxy gateway to Tor, an online darknet-like anonymization effort, but because the Tor software acts as a standard HTTP proxy, we can use any proxy server in its place, and because the TorButton add-on features many security tweaks, some similar to NoScript, even running it through a transparent server on your own computers adds security, and as far as I have noticed, TorButton breaks much fewer websites and barely requires any user attention. The only problem might be the cumbersome task of properly setting up a proxy server, but for Windows I can recommend CCProxy which I use myself. (Demo version with some non-timebased restrictions, although works fine for our intentions.)

Get TorButton for Firefox here.

Coming up!
In the next episode of the Tinfoil Tom series we will be discussing laptop security, secure file deletion through wiping and file recovery.

In other news…
Randomly speaking of video game soundtracks – the classical Unreal Tournament Score is really such a pearl. Fantastic and surprisingly mellow soundscapes with a hint of almost organic roughness. I’m pretty certain it isn’t being sold anymore (I think it was only included in the special editions to begin with.) but I found a mirror, let’s hope it stays up!

Make any computer run faster – the cool way!


24360-vb_progress_bar_activex__ocx_-copy1Just wait until I try a multiplication!

Many people are familiar with the fact that their computer becomes more sluggish and less responsive over time, but few people know that this is caused by quarks (a sort of microscopic dust) gathering in the internal pathways of the Central Processing Unit (CPU) of the computer as shown in the image below. What happens when you reinstall your operating system is that the pathways are cleared during the first cold boot after reinstallation. Luckily, new research has found that there is another way of clearing the pathways, one that will make your computer feel pretty much as fast when you started it the very first time. Keep reading for instructions.

cpu_schematic2Some of the pathways most prone to clogging
include the 4-channel DMA bus.

Let’s do it – the cool way
The original research made by the HCDE university in Washington shows that the dust-quarks are highly susceptible to cold temperatures and fall apart into smaller particles when exposed for a prolonged amount of time. You might have felt this effect if you have a laptop and brought it in from a cold day outside, but cold itself is not the answer. Due to the way that a modern-day CPU is placed into a socket, the pathways become exposed only when the processor is put upside-down, which is why you  might not have felt a tremendous difference – the computer has to be placed so that the CPU is pointing downwards.

Testing time!
I was very interested in trying this out – here are the instructions:

  • Cover laptop in a plastic bag to avoid any moist from the freezer. (Optional, I had no problems without it)
  • Put laptop or stationary computer upside-down in  the freezer. I tried it for twenty minutes and got a fantastic  speed improvement!

I ran SuperPi both before and after, calculating pi to 1M decimals. The result:
Before: Calculation took 43 seconds
After: Calculation took 36 seconds

This is a fantastic increase (Seven seconds!) , and I urge you all to try this fantastic new find out! Go ahead and let me know how much you managed to improve in the comments!

In other news…
I’m gonna be making the “In other news” section a permanent addition to my posts. That’d be all, folks!

A final note…
In case you haven’t noticed yet, this was my April fool’s joke for 2009! Although putting your computer in the freezer for a few minutes probably won’t kill it, it won’t make it go very much faster either! Cheers everyone!

Building a HTPC Media Center Using Windows XP and MediaPortal


user53582_pic234_1233029457MediaPortal running the Bleazle skin

As of recently, I hadn’t taken the step into a full-fledged HDTV experience. For me, the Xbox continued to serve as the best media center there ever was. But since my plasma is HD-ready at 720p, I decided it was finally time to upgrade.
The PC
I had some old pieces from my former stationary laying around, and decided to build it into a HTPC! The motherboard was an old Socket 754 with an AMD Athlon64 3000+ running at 2ghz, which is really pushing it in terms of processing power when it comes to decoding h.264 (the most common video format used in conjunction with high definition video), but there was nothing to lose by trying either! So I put in 1GB worth of RAM and an ATI Radeon 9200se graphic adapter. I was lucky to have a TV with VGA in, so I didn’t have to use any form av HDMI/DVI adapters or the like.

coreavcwc9The OS and software
After installing Windows XP on it I immediately installed the windows port of XBMC, but was very sad to see that regular playback of a h.264-encoded 720p file was running the processor at a good 80-95%, and that’s without any excessive motion on the screen, unfortunately finding a hi-def video that tried to push the CPU to its fullest proved to be a difficult task, but it was pretty clear that the poor soldier wasn’t going to make it. I had heard of CoreAVC, and decided to see if it performed better, as I was told that it was a far more efficient decoder than the one mplayer (which is what XBMC uses for playback) was using. Unfortunately, XBMC does not support the use of CoreAVC, and so with a little tear in my eye I set out to find a suitable replacement. I was earlier told of a windows-only fork called MediaPortal, and lo and behold – the 1.0.0 stable release had just come out! The software installed nicely, and you could select CoreAVC as the renderer for h.264 content. Now MediaPortal has its own flaws – despite being a direct fork of the XBMC project it has no support for playback from uncompressed RAR files. Also, subtitle support is simply broken in this particluar release, as you can not change the color or the size of the subtitles (they’re really miniscule by default!) which is outright embarrassing for a big release like this. Performing new tests on the same videos now showed a CPU usage ranging from 40-60%, which was an incredible improvement, and at 7.95 USD CoreAVC was definitely worth the cost for bringing flawless 720p playback to an old struggling computer.


The remote control
A remote control is something no media center should be without. MediaPortal has  support for multiple brands of remote controls, amongst them the Windows MCE Remote. Since they’re discontinued I couldn’t find a Swedish reseller and so I looked on eBay for some knockoffs, but I was afraid that there might be something that prevented it from working and that I’d have a nice 20 USD paper-weight (which wasn’t even especially heavy!) After some inspection of the market I decided that a full-fledged wireless keyboard would be out of the question too, seeing as they started at around 80 USD unless you wanted the low-end models. I was briefly looking at the Ione Scorpius P20 but was told that it had very bad syncing issues, where the receiver would lose contact with the unit itself after reboots, which would be very difficult to tolerate in the long run. Finally I arrived at my decision, a resonably priced Logitech Cordless Number Pad! Not only is it a quality product, it actually has somewhat of a remote control form factor thing going on, and it’s pretty stylish, although several people have said that it “looks like a calculator”, which truth be told isn’t really a compliment!


Remap hell
I had some hopes that the pad would run in “no num-lock mode” and would simply convert the numbers to corresponding arrows which works great for controls in MediaPortal, but that was not the case. The solution Logitech has implemented is actually very brutal. If you don’t have num lock enabled the drivers enable them for a split second on any attached keyboards when you press a button on the unit, which you can notice as the num lock icon flashes briefly on the secondary attached keyboard. I tried using the MediaPortal configuration utility, but even after removing all mapping to the 1-9 keys it was still giving me trouble with using them as controls. After some googling I found that the easiest way would be to remap keys under windows, but the key mapping software I tried (not naming any names) did not work properly. Finally I stumbled upon the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit Tools (mirror), which contained the wonderful Remapkeys.exe utility. Unlike the other software I tried this worked like a charm. Since my keyboard keys are named in Swedish the picture above might not prove useful to you, but I remapped the keyboard arrows to 2,4,6 and 8, space to 0 and the escape key to 5, which makes for basic operations in MediaPortal.

Building and setting up a HTPC is a very fun and interesting project, not to mention that it gives you access to some high-definition glory!