Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fixing a failing hard drive from 2 states away

The "trick" in this story, is that the user had two hard drives in their computer and the second hard drive was large enough to accept all the system/data from the first hard drive.

I get a call from a relative of mine "I need the Helpdesk, my computer is giving me an error saying that my hard drive is in imminent failure. Also, when I turned it on there was a black screen that in white letters said that the S M A R T system detected a failing hard drive."

For most users, this means a trip to the computer store to buy a new hard drive, and pay for a technician to install the OS and copy the data over, and unless you are friends/family, that's what I'd recommend you do as well.

So I fire up TeamViewer8 http://www.teamviewer.com/ (free for personal use), which allows me to remote into his machine, and see the error message he is getting; and click around to further check out the situation.

(X) Microsoft Windows
(X) Windows detected a hard disk problem
Back up your files immediately to prevent information loss, and then contact the computer manufacturer to determine if you need to repiar or replace the disk.
(Clicking "Details" indicates it's the Disk Name "HDS722020ALA330" and Volume C:\ D:\

He lets me know that when he turned on his computer that day, it also had a black screen with white text say that "SMART" was reporting the drive was bad and prompting him to either enter setup or continue.

Just to make sure (in hind site, I probably should have skipped this step) I download and installed HD Tune http://www.hdtune.com/ (free trial), ran an Error Scan and several sectors were returned as "Damaged". I also went to the HP website to check if the machine was in warranty, it had expired 3 months prior.

Ain't that always the way?

Since I had TeamViewer8; and was able to see what was going on with his computer and poke and prod it myself, I picked up on the fact that he had two hard drives, which is somewhat unusual in a home system, and honestly if we had only been speaking on the phone; I wouldn't have though to ask and check for this.

The first drive was 1 partition at 160 gigs of data and two more HP recovery partitions totalling less than 175 gigs. The second drive said "No files" and listed itself as 400 gigabytes free.

I had just heard the guys on the "DogHouse Systems" podcast http://www.doghousesystems.com/ Episode64 talk about an Acronis product being able to clone a system disk by rebooting the computer and entering a special boot mode and doing the boot automatically there.

So on my computer, I go to Acronis http://www.acronis.com/ and see that they are selling "True Image 2013" and giving away a copy of "Disk Director 11" with purchase; assuming True Image will do what I need, I purchase it, then skim the user guides about disk cloning and notice that the Disk Director is really more what fits this situation.

Acronis gives you a link to download Disk Director after purchase, so I email that to my relative, and open the email on their computer; download the program, install it; then tell Disk Director to clone drive 1, onto drive 2; resize, and "Copy NT Signature" (to make it bootable), "turn off computer when done". Then I "commit" the actions, and it prompts to reboot the computer, which I do, and of course TeamViewer8 has to shut down as well.

The relative did have to click past the "S M A R T" error message that comes on before the computer boots. And sure enough, he reported that the special boot mode was entered, and it took most of the night to copy the data (probably because the drive was damaged in some places).

I send the relative a text message saying to call me tomorrow before turning the computer, so we can go into the BIOS and turn off drive 1 so the computer will boot from driver 2.

The next day I get a text message saying that the error is still coming up. I know this is because we haven't turned off drive 1 in the BIOS, but I go ahead and fire up TeamViewer8 again and verify that the copy went through to the other hard drive.

So then I fire up Apple's FaceTime for a phone call, and have him reboot the computer and enter the BIOS by pressing a button as the computer booted up (F10 as I recall for an HP E-490t model) and then I visually walked him through turning of drive 1 in the BIOS. A "Save and Exit" later, and we were back in what looked identical to his previous setup, but now without an error message about a drive failing.

Amazing times we live in.

Is there a device that I could remote into to use a computer (move the mouse, type into it, see what's being displayed), even in the BIOS? If so, please comment and depending on how much it costs, I'll buy it and install it on every relatives computer. I'll pay more if it will let me remotely cut the power to force a reboot of a frozen system. Then I'll get two so in case one freezes, I can reboot the other one :-)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Generic "online scam roundup" for 2013

A friend of mine asked if online bill pay was safe, or if this meant that once he pays bills online his financial information will get leaked. The answer is online bill pay is as safe as your bank is, so if you already trust your bank, you should be fine. I figured I would drop him a few more tips for stuff to watch out for online, and figured I could share them with "you" as well.


If you bank offers online bill pay, the danger is 0. All "online bill pay" does is you tell your bank the name of the company you want to pay, and your account number with them; if it's a big enough company, the bank will have their info already; if it's a small enough company, the bank will ask you to what address you would normally send the check and the name it would be sent to.

Then when you want to pay someone, you login to your banks website and just check the box for that company and how much you want to pay; if it's one of those big companies the bank just does all the "footwork" as if you had mailed in a personal check; if it's a small company (or even a person, I've sent my brother money this way), they will print a paper check and mail it to the address; then the person you paid will take that paper check and deposit it with their bank to get the money.

Your browser (the piece of software you use to browse web pages, Internet Explorer, or Firefox, or Chrome) does not have the information of "name / bank account number / billing address" so it won't automatically turn it over to a "bad" website.

Common online scams:

You aren't buying from xyz.com; you are buying from a seller on xyz.com, and they are the ones that screw you.

If you go to Walmart.com and buy a DVD player, Walmart isn't going to charge your credit card and send you a box of bricks and say they sent you a DVD player. They have to much to lose to just scam everyone that does business with them. But if you are on a site like ebay.com / craigslist.com and you buy an item that is being sold by "A. Nonymous" and they send you a box of bricks; you can try going after him but they will have cut all ties, and tomorrow will be selling again as "B. Nonymous". Even buying from a small companies website will usually work out just fine; the only thing I would caution you is "if it looks to good to be true it probably is" and if the transaction involves more than 'heres my money and address" then I wouldn't trust it.

A friend of mine goes online and finds some camera shop offering a CRAZY deal on a well known camera model. She pays for express shipping to make sure it will get to my sister in time.

A day later, a "pushy man" calls the house and tries to up-sell my mom. Saying that she really needs to buy a case for the camera, and extra batteries, and doesn't she want an additional lens so she can switch to far off shots. She agrees to some of it, but not all.

A day later (and remember, we wanted this shipped express), the "pushy man" calls back and says he can ship it out that day, but only if she will go to "random camera store review website dot com" and leave a positive review of this online camera store; once it's posted, she should email him the link, and he will have it shipped out overnight.


Monthly Service

I'm not exactly sure if it's a "scam" to just forget something; but automatic withdrawals from your credit card/bank will continue until you stop it.

I've gotten surprised more than once by paying another 6 months for an online game I stopped playing a month ago; but at least I can login and still PLAY. I heard a guy mention on a podcast that he discovered he had been paying 30 dollars a month for 6 years to some random website that had since shut down and no longer offered pornography.


Nigerian 419 scam; which is the Spanish Prisoner scam http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Prisoner

"If you can send me a small amount of money, I can get access to a large amount of money and give you a percentage." Then you give some money, but now more money is needed, etc. Then someone says "hey give me some money and I can get the money you lost back". Basically: Never respond to strangers.


Using your email/twitter/facebook as a zombie

The most common way this manifests itself is you get a message saying something compelling and a link; if you click the link you will either come to a page asking for your login/password to your email/twitter/facebook or a webpage that has some code written in it that can trick your browser into downloading some code to your computer; or fool twitter/facebook into letting someone else post for you.

Then suddenly everyone in your address book / friends list gets the same zombie link, or a link to buy herbal viagra, etc.

You avoid this best by not clicking links in messages without first asking yourself if you think it might be valid.

Common invalid emails that you should be suspicious of the links:

It comes from someone you know, yet the words around it are not typical of the way they would write.

The message seems inflammatory IE: "You look ridiculous in this picture" "Did you not know you were being filmed?" etc.

It comes from someone you do not know.

The message is unexpected.

An email from your bank saying "Click here to login and read this important information"

It might be easier to explain what IS a valid link. If you clicked "Forgot Password" on a webpage and you get an email with a link to click to reset the password, that's probably fine. Otherwise, if I get an email from my bank/credit card that wants me to click a link, I just go to my browser and type in citi.com and then login there.


Using your computer as a zombie: Most often comes up when trying to view a video.

Because video software is still all over the map; it's possible you may have gotten to a website before that told you that you needed to install something before you could watch the video; you agree to install the software because you want to view the video. When you agreed to install the video player update, another small program was added to the computer that allows another person to use your computer for their own wants. This could turn out to be locking up your computer until you pay a "ransom" for it; or maybe using your computer and thousands of others to flood a website with traffic and bring it down.


So what's a red blooded american supposed to do? Just be mindful that if the browser starts to ask you a question like "Do you want to speed up performance?" or "Do you want to update your video player?" You should go down to the taskbar along the bottom of the screen, right click the program and choose "Close" and try a different site. If it starts to ask even more questions, I would just restart the computer.