Computer

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No two computer systems are created equal. There are so many ways to go about assembling a functioning computer network that the possibilities are nearly infinite.

But knowing the building blocks of putting together and running a strong system is essential knowledge these days. So get the fundamental training you need with this System Administration and Infrastructure Management course bundle, which is on sale right now for only $41 (a 90 percent discount) from TNW Deals.

This package offers up eight courses featuring 95 hours of training, all tasked with breaking down and helping you understand Linux, Docker, Git, and a host of other foundational system technologies. That includes:

The Complete Guide to LPIC 1 Linux Administrator Exam…

What Is UEFI, and How Is It Different from BIOS?

New computers use UEFI firmware instead of the traditional BIOS. Both are low-level software that starts when you boot your PC before booting your operating system, but UEFI is a more modern solution, supporting larger hard drives, faster boot times, more security features, and—conveniently—graphics and mouse cursors.

We’ve seen newer PCs that ship with UEFI still refer to it as the “BIOS” to avoid confusing people who are used to a traditional PC BIOS. Even if your PC uses the term “BIOS”, modern PCs you buy today almost certainly ship with UEFI firmware instead of a BIOS.

What Is a BIOS?

BIOS is short for Basic Input-Output system. It’s low-level software that resides in a chip on your computer’s motherboard. The BIOS loads when your computer starts up, and the BIOS is responsible for waking up your computer’s hardware components, ensures they’re functioning properly, and then runs the bootloader that boots Windows or whatever other operating system you have installed.

You can configure various settings in the BIOS setup screen. Settings like your computer’s hardware configuration, system time, and boot order are located here. You can access this screen by pressing a specific key—different on different computers, but often Esc, F2, F10, or Delete—while the computer boots. When you save a setting, it’s saved to the memory on your motherboard itself. When you boot your computer, the BIOS will configure your PC with the saved settings.

The BIOS goes through a POST, or Power-On Self Test, before booting your operating system. It checks to ensure your hardware configuration is valid and working properly. If something is wrong, you’ll see an error message or hear a cryptic series of beep codes. You’ll have to look up what different sequences of beeps mean in the computer’s manual.

When your computer boots—and after the POST finishes—the BIOS looks for a Master Boot Record, or MBR, stored on the boot device and uses it to launch the bootloader.

You may also see the acronym CMOS, which stands for Complementary Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor. This refers to the battery-backed memory where the BIOS stores various settings on the motherboard. It’s actually not accurate anymore, since this method has been replaced with flash memory (also referred to as EEPROM) in contemporary systems.

Why the BIOS Is Outdated

The BIOS has been around for a long time, and hasn’t evolved much. Even MS-DOS PCs released in the 1980s had a BIOS!

Of course, the BIOS has evolved and improved over time. Some extensions were developed, including ACPI, the Advanced Configuration and Power Interface. This allows the BIOS to more easily configure devices and perform advanced power management functions, like sleep. But the BIOS hasn’t advanced and improved nearly as much as other PC technology has since the days of MS-DOS.

The traditional BIOS still has serious limitations. It can only boot from drives of 2.1 TB or less. 3 TB drives are now common, and a computer with a BIOS can’t boot from them….

The Ransomware Attack Isn’t Over—Here’s How to Protect Yourself

If your computer’s running on Microsoft Windows, you need to take these steps—right away.

Here’s why: in case you haven’t heard, hackers exploited a vulnerability in older Microsoft Windows servers to execute a large-scale global cyberattack on Friday using ransomware — a malicious software that holds your computer hostage for ransom — and a hacking tool stolen from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). The massive attack left victims locked out of their PCs with a promise of restored access if $300 was paid in digital currency Bitcoin—and a threat of destroyed files if the ransom is not met.

Thus far, at least 200,000 computers have been infected in more than 150 countries, leaving everything from businesses and governments to academic institutions, hospitals and ordinary people affected.

How it works

The malware, which “spreads like a worm,” is transmitted through a phishing email containing a compressed, encrypted file. Since the file is encrypted, security systems do not identify the ransomware, called Wanna Decryptor, until after it is downloaded. Wanna Decryptor, a next-gen version of the WannaCry ransomware, gains access to a given device once the malware-filled file is downloaded: it then encrypts data, locks down the system and demands ransom.

Ransomware does not typically work this quickly. But thanks to a stolen NSA cyber-weapon called EternalBlue, which was made public last month by a hacking group known as the “Shadow Brokers,” the malware spread rapidly by exploiting a security flaw in Microsoft Windows servers.

What users need to do

Simply put: make sure your Microsoft Windows server is up to date. Microsoft issued a patch in mid-March to fix the hole in Windows 7 and other supported versions of Windows: Vista, Server 2008, Server 2008 R2, 8.1, Server 2012, RT 8.1, 10, Server 2012 R2, and Server 2016. But those who did not apply the software update were—and still are—left exposed to the hack.

In light of the attack, Microsoft rolled out patches to protect older versions of Windows that “no longer receive mainstream support” from the company like Windows XP, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2003. Those…

How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

We live in a digital age where all sorts of personal information is stored on our cell phones, computers, and even in the chips of our credit cards. This has opened us up to the possibility of a security breach… and, in turn, identity theft.

identity theft

Over the years, the frequency of identity theft and fraud complaints has continued to increase, and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. It’s important to be informed as to what identity theft actually is and how you can protect yourself. That way, you can prevent this growing crime from happening to you.

Before we discuss ways to protect yourself from identity theft, let’s take a look at how it can happen in the first place.

How Your Identity Can Be Stolen

There are a number of ways your identity can be stolen. With the prevalence of the internet and technology, identity thieves are always coming up with new ways to gain your information.

Hacking

Think of all the pieces of technology you own that are connected to the internet: your smartphone, your tablet, your computer, and your TV, just to name a few. Hackers can find ways to get into those devices and install malicious software that steals your information. For example, keystroke-logging software records what you type on your computer and can pick up any personal information you enter. This may mean giving a thief access to your credit card or Social Security numbers.

Hackers don’t only target individuals; they also target large organizations. The retail giant, Target, was hacked in 2013, exposing many of their customers’ names and credit card numbers.

Phishing

Phishing is the act of sending fraudulent emails to people. The sender claims to be from a reputable company, often playing on fears in order to get the receiver’s personal information.

Two common phishing emails include a “bank” asking you to verify your account and an “email provider” claiming you need to change your password (often claiming that they believe your account has been compromised, and that this password update is a security measure). Email providers have picked up on this scam, thankfully. Gmail will display an alert above an email it believes may be phishing. They may not pick up on each instance, though, so it’s smart to check the sender’s actual email address, avoid clicking links in emails of which you are unsure, and never sending your personal information in a response.

Identity thieves target people by phone and text message, as well. The terms for those acts are “vishing” and “smishing” respectively.

Dumpster diving

Dumpster diving is a technique identity thieves use to retrieve personal information from people’s trash. They search through dumpsters and trash bins looking for mail and other documents that may have personal information they can use. Some common mail pieces that identity thieves may…

Ransomware attacks on hospitals could eventually kill someone

According to a statement by Britain's National Health Service, several hospitals across England have been hit by a large-scale ransomware cyber attack, causing failures to computer systems.
According to a statement by Britain’s National Health Service, several hospitals across England have been hit by a large-scale ransomware cyber attack, causing failures to computer systems.

The ransomware attacks spreading across at least 99 countries on Friday are the type of attack that could one day kill someone.

That sounds like hyperbole, but this attack froze and disrupted computers inside many National Health Service hospitals in the United Kingdom, and it’s not hard to see how an attack on hospital computer systems affects patient care or, at the very least, forces patients in need to find help elsewhere as hospital staff scramble to get vital systems back online. That type of disruption, combined with a person faced with a life-threatening condition, has the potential to result in the loss of life.

Cybersecurity experts have long used the phrase “where bits and bytes meet flesh and blood,” which signifies a cyberattack in which someone is physically harmed.

There’s no indication that someone was harmed on Friday as a result of this particular attack. But UK hospitals were forced to redirect patients from affected hospitals after a ransomeware virus spread through hospital computers, locking them down and demanding bitcoin payment in exchange for the return of the information contained in those computers.

Staff also asked that patients not come in unless they were experiencing an emergency. Some hospital staff couldn’t access patient records, and others had to…

Large-scale ransomware attack spreading through hospitals, banks, and telcos

Large-scale ransomware attack spreading through hospitals, banks, and telcos

Today, a massive cyber attack has crippled the IT systems of several NHS hospitals. Across engl across England, forcing some trusts to redirect emergency patients and send employees home, causing chaos.

According to The Guardian, computers in several NHS England hospitals have been simultaneously struck, locking clinicians out until a ransom had been paid. A photo of the malware shows that the ransomware is asking for $300 to be paid in Bitcoin.

In addition to several local GPs surgeries across Liverpool and Greater Manchester, the following trusts have been confirmed to be impacted:

  • East and North Hertfordshire NHS trust
  • Barts Health in London
  • Essex Partnership University NHS Trusts
  • University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust
  • Southport and Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust
  • Blackpool Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

In response, several trusts and hospitals have been forced to cancel non-essential surgeries, and are requesting patients not attend A&E (accident and emergency) unless it’s absolutely essential.

We apologise but we are having issues with our computer systems. Please don’t attend A&E unless it’s an emergency. Thanks for your patience

— Blackpool Hospitals (@BlackpoolHosp) May 12, 2017

In response to the chaos, some hospitals have been forced to send employees home.

I’ve had confirmed reports from friends in the NHS that they’ve been sent home as their systems were hit by ransomware.

— Scott Helme (@Scott_Helme) May 12, 2017

In a statement, NHS Digital said:

A number of NHS organisations have reported to NHS Digital that they have…

How to Use Multiple Monitors to Be More Productive

three-monitors-one-computer

Many people swear by multiple monitors, whether they’re computer geeks or just people who need to be productive. Why use just one monitor when you can use two or more and see more at once?

Additional monitors allow you to expand your desktop, getting more screen real estate for your open programs. Windows makes it very easy to set up additional monitors, and your computer probably has the necessary ports.

Why Use Multiple Monitors?

multiple-monitors-in-use

Multiple monitors give you more screen real estate. When you hook multiple monitors up to a computer, you can move your mouse back and forth between them, dragging programs between monitors as if you had an extra-large desktop. That way, rather than Alt+Tabbing and task switching to glance at another window, you can just look over with your eyes and then look back to the program you’re using.

Some examples of use cases for multiple monitors include:

  • Coders who want to view their code on one display with the other display reserved for documentation. They can just glance over at the documentation and look back at their primary workspace.
  • Anyone who needs to view something while working. Viewing a web page while writing an email, viewing another document while writing an something, or working with two large spreadsheets and having both visible at once.
  • People who need to keep an eye on information, whether it’s email or up-to-date statistics, while working.
  • Gamers who want to see more of the game world, extending the game across multiple displays.
  • Geeks who just want to watch a video on one screen while doing something else on the other screen.

If you just have a single monitor, you can also use the Snap feature to quickly place multiple Windows applications side by side. But how useful this feature is depends on your monitor’s size and resolution. If you have a large, high-resolution monitor, it will allow you to see a lot. But for many monitors (especially those on laptops), things will seem very cramped. That’s where dual monitors can come in handy.

Hooking Up Multiple Monitors

vga-port-next-to-dvi-port

Hooking up an additional monitor to your computer should be very simple. Most new desktop computers come with more than one port for a monitor—whether DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI, the older VGA port, or a mix. Some computers may include splitter cables that allow you to connect multiple monitors to a single port.

Most laptops also come with ports that allow you to hook up an external monitor. Plug a monitor into your laptop’s DisplayPort, DVI, or HDMI port and Windows will allow you to use both your laptop’s integrated display and the external monitor at once (see the instructions in the next section).

This all depends on the ports your computer has and how your monitor connects. If you have an old VGA monitor lying around and you have a modern laptop with only DVI or HDMI connectors, you may need an adapter that allows you to plug your monitor’s VGA cable into the new port. Be sure to take your computer’s ports into account…

What All of Your Computer’s Specs Really Mean

Computer specs can be a baffling mix of acronyms and numbers at the best of times, but it’s worth learning something about them: It’ll help you choose a new computer, troubleshoot your old computer, and generally understand more about the relationship between the specs on the page and the experience you’re getting.

Such is the complexity of the modern-day computer, we could’ve written an article twice this size on any one of the categories listed below (look at any graphics card forum for proof)—but the main aim here is to help you understand the specs you see listed with desktops and laptops, and give you an idea of the difference they make to performance.

CPU

The Central Processing Unit, or CPU, or processor, is the brains of the operation: it handles all those calculations that keep your computer actually working. The CPU inside your machine is the main (but not the only) contributor to its overall speed and performance.

CPUs have a certain number of cores, mini computing units that are effectively CPUs in their own right—they let your computer work on multiple tasks at the same time, so the more cores the better. On top of this, each core has a clock speed, a measurement of how fast it can do its number crunching, usually measured in gigahertz (GHz).

Comparing the performance of CPUs based on core number and clock speeds is notoriously difficult (sorry shoppers). That’s because multiple factors are involved, most related to the microarchitecture of the CPUs. The microarchitecture is basically the way that the cores and the other bits of a CPU are packed together.

The two big computer CPU makers, Intel and AMD, have their own microarchitecture designs. When you see references to Intel Skylake, Intel Kaby Lake, or AMD Zen (on Ryzen chips), this is what’s being referred to, and newer is always better as successive microarchitectures allow the CPU to work faster and more efficiently (and use less power).

Intel and AMD also apply their own labels—i3, i5, and i7 in Intel’s case—to indicate relative performance within a microarchitecture family. It’s a useful shorthand reference to the power you can expect, with i7 CPUs the best of the bunch from Intel. In AMD’s case, you’re talking about Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5 and the top-end Ryzen 7.

If you want the very best processors around, you should also look out for what Intel calls hyper-threading and what AMD calls simultaneous multi-threading. These technologies effectively double the number of cores (virtually, not physically) so you’ve got significantly improved performance for demanding applications like video editing or CAD software.

Unless you’re building your own PC from scratch, that’s probably all you need to know when looking at system listings, but CPUs have numerous other specs, including the amount of high-speed memory cache and the extra graphics processing capabilities that are on board. If your CPU has enough integrated graphics oomph, you don’t need a separate card or chipset, of which more below.

Graphics

The other big factor in computer performance, particularly if you’re gaming or working with a lot of video and images, is graphics.

We only gave it a brief mention in the processor section, but many Intel CPUs now come with a decent amount of graphics processing power built in, enough for most users to get by with a bit of web browsing, Twittering, essay writing and even light image editing and gaming. You can also get integrated graphics chipsets built into the motherboard…

HDMI vs DisplayPort vs DVI: Which Port Do You Want On Your New Computer?

It doesn’t seem so long ago that we had only one reliable way to connect a computer to an external monitor. Now the good old VGA port, may it rest in peace, is only found on designated “business” machines and adapters. In its place, we have a variety of alternatives, all of which seem to be fighting each other for the limited space on your laptop or graphics card. Let’s break down the options for your next PC purchase.

HDMI

HDMI is the most widely-used of the three options here, if only because it’s the de facto standard for anything connecting to televisions. Because of its wide adoption, HDMI is also included on most recent monitors and many laptops, except for the smallest ultraportable models. The acronym stands for “High Definition Multimedia Interface.”

The standard has been around since the early 2000s, but determining its capabilities is a bit tricky, because it’s gone through so many revisions. The latest release is HDMI 2.1, which supports a staggering 10K resolution (more than 10,000 pixels wide) at 120 hertz. But version 2.1 is just starting to appear in consumer electronics; the latest laptops that feature HDMI ports will probably top out at version 2.0b, which supports 4K video at 60 frames per second with high dynamic range (HDR).

HDMI’s biggest advantage over the older DVI standard is that it also carries and audio signal, allowing users to plug into a TV (or a monitor with built-in speakers) with a single cable. This is great for TVs, but most monitors still lack integrated speakers, so you’ll also have to use a more conventional headphone jack or simply rely on your laptop’s built-in speakers much of the time.

HDMI comes in three primary connection sizes: standard, “Mini,” and “Micro,” getting progressively smaller. The Mini and Micro connections are popular with smaller portable electronics, but if your laptop has an HDMI port, it probably uses the full-sized version. This, combined with a wide variety of compatible monitors and televisions, makes HDMI the most convenient external display option for most users.

DisplayPort

DisplayPort is a bit newer than HDMI, though it’s also a proprietary system. The full-sized plugs look similar, but DisplayPort uses a asymmetrical notched design versus HDMI’s equal trapezoid.

As competing standards, they share a lot of features in their various incarnations. DisplayPort can also carry audio signals on a single cable, and the latest release supports up to 8K resolution at 60 hertz with high dynamic range. The next version…

Can a Short Circuit Damage a Hard Drive?

There are few things that can compare with the sinking feeling you get when you go to turn your computer on and it quickly dies a moment later due to hardware problems. With that issue in mind, today’s SuperUser Q&A post has the answer to a stressed-out reader’s question.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

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The Question

SuperUser reader Baris Usakli wants to know if a short circuit could damage a hard disk drive:

Everything was working fine until one day when my computer would shut down a split second after the power button was pressed. All the fans would start spinning and the lights would come on, but then everything would go dark half a second later. After this happened, pressing the power button had no effect. The only way to get my computer started again was to unplug the power cord, then plug it back in.

I suspected the power supply was the cause at first, so I bought another one, but I still faced the same issue. I unplugged everything and reseated the RAM/GPU and drives. After doing that, my computer booted and I thought I was good to go, but then I noticed my secondary hard disk drive was no longer working.

It was not visible in BIOS or Windows. I replaced the hard disk drive with another one, but after a while, the original issue came back. So I reseated everything again and was able to boot back up, but to my horror, the new hard disk drive was dead as well. At this point, I thought maybe something was shorting the system out, so I took…