BadUSB: What you can do about undetectable malware on a flash drive

After reading about BadUSB, Barbara asked if it was safe to share files through a flash drive. “Would we be safer using a cloud service?”

A cloud service might be safer than a flash drive, although that has its own dangers—especially with privacy. BadUSB shows us that malware can infect and reside in a flash drive’s firmware, which your antivirus program can’t scan the way it can scan the drive’s main storage. It’s like having the malware in your motherboard’s BIOS—except that this motherboard will likely get plugged into multiple computers.

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

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How to encrypt sensitive data? Put it in an encrypted container

Abrham Sorecha asked how to password-protect a folder.

You can't effectively password-protect a folder without encrypting it. And strictly speaking, you can’t truly encrypt a folder, because a folder is not actually a container. It just looks like one to the user. The data comprising the files inside any given folder may be strewn all over the drive’s media.

But there are alternatives. You can encrypt every file in the folder. You can put the folder into an encrypted .zip archive, or into an encrypted vault.

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When your ethernet won't connect

Laura E. McDonald wants to know why her PC "does not recognize the hardwire connection."

If you've got working Wi-Fi and apparently dead ethernet, the first thing to do is turn off the Wi-Fi. Believe it or not, this might tell you that the ethernet is working. If Windows has access to both, it will give top priority to ethernet, but display the Wi-Fi icon in the notification area. There's likely a hardware switch on your PC for turning off Wi-Fi.

And even if that doesn't solve your problem, it will make the tests below easier to run. You'll see immediately if ethernet is working, which is exactly what you need to know.

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Windows autoloading programs: You don't want too many, but you may want these

After reading my article on stopping autoloading programs, Quietone asked “What programs are really needed during start up?”

Most Windows PCs autoload a ridiculous number of programs every time you boot. And as I explained in the previous article, disabling most of them could improve performance. The programs will still be there when you want them, but they wouldn’t be hanging around in RAM, using up resources, when they’re not needed.

But which autoloaders should you not disable? The easy answer is those that really do need to run all of the time to do their jobs. I can’t tell you exactly what they are, because I don’t know your work habits or your hardware. But I can give you a pretty good idea.

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The Windows 10 Technical Preview, keylogging, and you

In its current Technical Preview edition, the next major version of Windows can send your keystrokes and spoken words to Microsoft. Andy Gorfman asked if it will stay that way. “Apart from taking Microsoft on trust, how do we know that [the spyware will be removed].”

Paranoia seems reasonable these days. We know that big-data companies such as Google, Facebook, and yes, Microsoft, gather information about us for commercial reasons. In addition to that, the NSA spies on us, and the big companies may be collaborating with them.

Meanwhile, the Windows 10 Technical Preview Privacy Statement is indeed a scary document. It informs us that “we may collect voice information” and “typed characters.” That’s not what you want in an operating system.

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How to extend the life of your laptop battery

Siddhartha Raval asked how to take care of a laptop battery so that it lasts a long time.

Batteries don't last forever. Like everything except diamonds and viral tweets, they eventually wear out. But with proper care, a laptop battery can still carry a sufficient charge until you're ready to move on to a better laptop.

But it's a tradeoff. Taking the best care of your laptop battery just may be more of a hassle than it's worth.

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Use Google Maps and GPS offline on your Android device

You don’t have cellphone coverage—or affordable cellphone coverage—everywhere. That’s why Joel asked if he could download maps when he has Wi-Fi, and use them when he has no access to the Internet.

The Android version of Google Maps offers a way to download maps for later use, but it’s limited. In case it meets your needs, I’ll tell you about it. Then I’ll recommend a much more powerful app.

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

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