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SafeRun - a useful tool - why is it there and how do I use it

Whether a PC is set-up home or business use it needs to as safe and secure as possible, especially from desparate hackers trawling the Internet for weaknesses. I won't attempt to describe other aspects of a typical armoury but the one I describe here is one that we have created for a specific purpose described below.

The ONE THING you NEED TO KNOW when you first use the facility is that IT DELIBERATELY STOPS you from INSTALLING SOFTWARE directly FROM the INTERNET. It forces you as a user to download or detach (from e-mail) any software into a folder which you then have to separately open and execute!

Why is this needed and won't it slow me down in my every-day work?

Firstly, as an end-user of a PC I would be worried if you were spending more than 10 minutes per month downloading software - that can only happen if the latter (software) is in some way deficient or otherwise badly designed and/or implemented.

Secondly, although many people still think that you need to 'click in a bad place'. THIS IS NOW INCORRECT! You can now easily catch what is referred-to as a 'Drive-By Virus' JUST by visiting ONE PAGE of a SITE!

And if you think that those are not the type of sites that YOU visit
THINK AGAIN because over 10% of web sites are contaminated with viruses AND THAT INCLUDES
BIG BRANDS - see Sophos link below - ITV, Sony, Adobe, BusinessWeek, Yahoo!, UK NHS, UNICEF, MySpace
Sophos alone finds one new infected page every 4.5 seconds OF THE YEAR! that's over 6m! p.a.

And ... don't think that Firefox and the deliberate lack of support for Active-X
will help you. MS Internet Explorer may be the most exposed but Firefox has problems too...

In short - not only is there a serious threat to all users of the Web but in terms of your own daily actions you may think you have not done anything to be concerned about and indeed - the latest malware (bad software) actually WANTS YOU to FEEL SAFE because it doesn't want to alert you to the fact that it has taken over your PC and is sending information about you, your family, your browsing habits, your passwords, your e-mail and other accounts etc. back to China, Russia or wherever their paymaster is located today! See Making money out of Spam for the economics of malware.

What is SafeRun and how do I use it?

SafeRun will be on your PC's hard drive ready to be launched whenever you click on an application that is likely to be at risk. It takes the request and before it launches the application it tells Windows XP to run it as what is known with 'Limited User' priviliges even though you will very, very likely be (logged on as) an Administrator of your PC.

If malware attempts to make changes to Windows XP while it is running as a limited user it will be stopped from doing so in most cases. There may be loopholes, perhaps even as yet unknown to the world that a new breed of malware can exploit to 'get out of jail'! but it is an excellent first start because:

  1. It does force any user of legitimate software to take a two-step approach to installing software - this in itself is good discipline as the complaints from users about PCs running slowly always stem from this cause although the source can of course be CDs or other ways of loading software - products automatically updating themselves over the Internet for instance!!!
  2. As at March 2009 we have yet to hear of malware that can escape the straightjacket that is created - although it will inevitably happen, hopefully it will be difficult!

So links to applications (see below for a list) that show up with the word 'SafeR' at the end of them should be launched in this 'Safer' manner. If there are links in the Start Menu or on the Desktop which do NOT have the word 'SafeR' on them then please assume that they offer no such protection because it is quite common for software to 're-install itself with links' whenever there is a major refresh or version change (see Self Updating Software) - especially if there is a change of Icon as there was moving from MS Internet Explorer version 6 to 7.

What application are launched using SafeRun?

This depends upon when AND IF! your PC software was installed by us, in chronological order of appearance they have been (since July 2008 to March 2009) the following added to the list:

  • Internet Explorer
  • Outlook Express
  • Windows Media Player
  • Firefox Web browser
  • Thundebird e-mail
  • MSN Messenger
  • Media Player Classic
  • Windows Messenger
  • Windows Live Messenger
  • Windows Explorer**
  • Net Meeting
  • Remote Assistance

Note ** above means that this is NOT the default but is available when appropriate.

Please feel free to comment and make suggestions for new entries to this list. If it isn't obvious they are primarily programs which use the Internet to interact with a variety of other software and more tangible targets beyond that - people, companies, mail servers, music etc..

Firstly you should click on the normal Windows Start button (or just press the 'Windows Logo Key' to the bottom left of your keyboard) and then click on 'Control Panel', which is usually half way up the right hand column. Then click on 'Security Centre'

This is the security centre of XP from Start -> Control Panel -> Security Centre.

This dialogue is not simple because the place that you click upon to make changes is where it says 'Security Centre' at the BOTTOM of the page as opposed to all of the status messages with similar text and the illusion of clickable buttons that are prolific above the actual link to click.

If you are on Broadband there is little downside in leaving the updates on the MS web site until you are ready to review, download and install them typically within a 10-15 minutes period. Bear in mind that updates often require a restart to become effective so you MAY wish to choose a time and day when that is convenient and start the download 20-30 minutes before you are ready to restart.

A 'reasonable' compromise between keeping up-to-date and avoiding the very occassional problem caused by updates is to take the 'Download updates for me, but let me choose when to install them' option. With THIS option you should wait until the update has had a chance to be retrospectively 'nuked' by Microsoft if it is indeed a 'bad' one. So waiting until the Thursday morning after an update would be a good time to allow your PC to install the update and remember that it is likely to want the PC to be restarted anyway.

If you are on dial-up then you would benefit from the downloading that can be done whilst you are generally surfing, especially as it happens 'in the background' without much disruption. The only downside is that your choice about installing them is typically 'all or nothing' whereas you get a choice with the option described above and below.

When there are updates to download you will be prompted by Windows - usually by a 'balloon' notification in the icon area in the far bottom-right of your monitor. You will then see the window to the left.

This window cannot be made to default to the 'Custom' setting so you have to remember to select that every time you get this window.

This window allows you to be selective about the updates that you download and gives you the control to avoid a bad update as long as you are aware that there is one and you know which of them to deselect.

Obviously you click on 'Install' when you are happy that the (ticked) list is what you want.

Please note that you fully SHOULD CLOSE DOWN your PC at the VERY LEAST EVERY MONTH** and my normal recommendation is every week(end).

If you have now changed your settings from Automatic to something where you have to 'opt-in' to the action being taken then you need two things:

  1. Remember that you will almost certainly need to apply the updates sooner or later and even if you are a 'safe surfer' then you are at risk for a little longer now
  2. Knowledge of when an update has got some potential downside! To that end we are considering creating a distribution list of people who would like to be notified of any likely problems with Windows Updates or indeed more than likely - not the case! If that would be of interest to you then please use the Contact us page to tell us of your interest, OTHERWISE we suggest that you bookmark the following Google query as a basic method of discovering any large-scale, generic problems such as the recent problems with Zonealarm.

    For a very, VERY brief comment about the status of patches then click here for a summary without details.

If you don't understand all or some of the content of this page

Obviously we can provide advice to suit your specific circumstances - call 0844 884 2244*¹¹ from a landline and we will be happy to call you back to find out what would be best for you.

If you want to take the best 'simple' option then we suggest that you:

  1. Make a note of the telephone number(s) to call in case of service failure(s) - there is a page here with a few hints and a form that you can use to document the contact details that you may need
  2. Bookmark the following page to use when you have connectivity problems... or call 0844 884 2244*¹¹
  3. Turn Automatic Updates ON - apply automatically - see the image above
  4. Make a note in your diary if it's easy to do so that every 2nd Tuesday of the month is 'Patch Tuesday' and if the next time you restart (boot) your PC after that you have a problem then you MAY want to refer to the page of hints above as you MAY have been given an update from MS that has caused the problem.
  5. Don't forget to restart rather than hibernate your PC (see Fast PC startup using no electricity) the next time you close your PC after 'Patch Tuesday'

I hope the information above has been useful, let me know if not! Any Comments, suggestions or corrections to: Contact us please. This would be especially useful if the software environment you have is different to mine and the headings, text or prompts are different.

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14Jan16: not 0 or 0 !