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Much like most “scary” things, however, once you learn how it works and how it’s used against you, it’s much less scary than before. So, let’s break open scareware and see how it works.

What Is Scareware?

Imagine you’re browsing the web one day. You access a particularly innocent-looking website, when suddenly a pop-up appears. This pop-up informs you that it has scanned your system and found a nasty virus. In order to get rid of it, you need to download specific software.

What’s the Goal of Scareware?

Most of the time the goal of the software is to extract money. It will perform a scan on your system, going so far as to list the files in a computer to increase its credibility. Unfortunately, the scan won’t do any legitimate scanning and will simply claim you have a virus. It will then offer to remove the virus, but only if you upgrade the software from its “trial” plan to a “pro” one (which isn’t any more proficient than its trial version at all). Here’s an example from Symantec where they talk about a pretty nasty piece of scareware called SpySheriff.

Of course, to upgrade to the full version, you’re going to have to pay what they’re charging. If a user falls for this trap, the best-case scenario is that they pay the money, and the scammers make off with a little more in their pockets. The worst-case scenario is that the scammers get hold of the user’s entire credit card information, and then the problems really start.

What Should I Do If I See It?

So what should you do if you encounter scareware on the Internet? Is it too late, or can you still dodge it?

Should scareware end up installed on your PC, either because it was installed directly or because it was hidden within a shady installer, then you’re going to want to remove it before it does any damage. Programs such as Malwarebytes are efficient at helping remove these kinds of threats, so download a trusted anti-malware tool to help get rid of the scareware.

But What If I Think It’s Right?


As scary as it first sounds, the tactics used by scareware are only efficient if you don’t know how they work. Now that you do, you’ll be equipped to identify and ignore them when they appear.

Simon Batt

Simon Batt is a Computer Science graduate with a passion for cybersecurity.

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Negative Seo What It Is & How To Protect Yourself

Recent events such as unnatural link warnings from Google, over optimization filters andblog networks being deindexed by Google, the concern of links being able to harm a website has risen again.

The biggest concern is the issue of ‘negative SEO’, which is sabotaging your competitor’s rankings to help you move past them on the search engine result pages.

Some webmasters are very concerned about what negative SEO is and how they can protect themselves. This post will tell you what to do about negative SEO.

Negative SEO: It’s Very Real

…under certain conditions.

First, let’s imagine that the search engines tolerate a certain threshold of optimization for a site before they penalize it for being over optimized.

Let’s call this the ‘over optimization cup’.

To visualize this, just imagine that every site starts with an empty cup. Once the cup gets overfilled, a site is at risk for getting penalized.

A larger, more authoritative site such as Amazon has a much larger cup; that means they can tolerate more dirt in their site buildup. ‘Dirt’ can be defined as spammy links, blatant keyword stuffing, duplicate content or anything that isn’t considered squeaky clean white hat SEO.

In contrast, a smaller, newer site has many forces working against it. For example, it might not have much content or links pointing to it. So right off the bat, we can see a few reasons why the search engines wouldn’t rank this site in the same category as Amazon:

Thin content – e.g. duplicate content

Manipulative on-site SEO – e.g. excessive footer links or keyword stuffing

It’s also easy for Google to identify the small sites as cockroaches in the niche. And when the cockroaches mess around too much, they get stomped on.

Right now, some of you might be jumping up and down because you think you can take your competitors site out of commission by pushing it over the top with some negative SEO. And in some cases, it might work (more on that later).

But if you’re going after a giant like Amazon, you’re not going to succeed.

Here’s why.

Larger Sites Have A Higher Threshold for Spam

Naturally, larger sites have a stronger overall presence (such as # of quality inbound links, in-depth content and domain age). This means their over optimization cup is much larger because the search engines trust these sites more.

To put things in perspective, think of a small site as a sailboat and a large site as a battleship.

Which one can take more abuse?

The battleship.

How To Protect Yourself

There’s no groundbreaking cure to defending your site against negative SEO – all you need to do is follow the standard SEO guidelines of having:

A website with useful content that helps people.

Solid site architecture.

Great website design for usability and trust purposes. Nowadays, design is marketing.

A relatively clean link profile that shows the search engines that you aren’t doing anything over manipulative.

None of this is stuff is very new but with the uproar about over optimization, people are scrambling to figure out how to stop negative SEO. If you have any doubts on your website, be sure to refer to Google’s very own guide on how to build a high-quality website.

Furthermore, if you need a better idea of how to do SEO in moderation, this infographic is a great resource:


Don’t Waste Your Time With It

By now, you might be thinking that negative SEO is something you should add to your arsenal of tricks so you can ultimately make more money and laugh as your competitors go down.

Don’t do that.

Not only is it unethical, it’s a misuse of time.

Executing a negative SEO campaign requires:




A lack of morals

But why is it a misuse of time? Because there’s no guarantee that you will succeed. So instead of allocating valuable resources based on the possibility of taking down a competitor, it would be more efficient to pour those resources into your own site.

Negative SEO: Myths, Realities, and Precautions

SEOmoz did a Whiteboard Friday on different negative SEO techniques:

Rand Fishkin did an excellent job defining some characteristics of high risk and low risk websites:

High risk:

You have engaged in spammy link building

Manipulative on-site stuff

Your site has few brand signals

Low risk:

Clean backlink profile – no manipulative linking (at least intentional). Note: Everyone is going to have some bad backlinks given the number of different scrapers, crawlers, and other different bots.

Clean, high quality design/interface

A site that doesn’t feel SEO’ed – Whenever you have that sixth sense that a site feels manipulative, it probably is. Examples of sites that don’t feel SEO’ed: Zappos/Amazon/TechCrunch/SEOmoz

Strong brand signals – e.g. brand name searches

Lots of people searching for your brand name – e.g. social media, press

Lots of user and usage metrics

If you’re ever wondering if a certain website is ‘high risk’ or ‘low risk’, simply refer to the characteristics above to help you classify a site.


With all the ruckus about over optimization right now, it’s important to arm yourself with knowledge so you can react properly to the situation. In this case, all you need to do is to continue to follow SEO best practices and deliver great value to your customers. To give yourself more of an edge, try being remarkable. It’ll take you much further than a negative SEO campaign.

What are your thoughts of negative SEO?

Image Credit: Fotolia and Jai Mansson

How To Use Firefox Private Network To Protect Yourself Online

Firefox Private Network is an extension for the Firefox browser that aims to protect you from hackers and trackers. You can use it on your home computer but it’s especially useful on a laptop that uses public Wi-Fi networks.

Most web browsers don’t include built-in protection from hackers; you normally have to rely on third-party tools. This is what makes Firefox Private Network so exciting for Firefox users – plus it installs quickly and works with zero hassle.

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Whether you think you’ve been hacked already or you just want to protect your online identity to the best of your ability, Firefox Private Network is an awesome way to help.

Note: Firefox Private Network is free while it’s in beta, but it’s currently only available for people in the United States.

What Does Firefox Private Network Do?

Firefox Private Network makes Firefox safer by encrypting two things while you browse the web – the URLs you visit and the data you send to most websites. This information is then sent through a Cloudflare proxy server to hide your identity.


However, Firefox Private Network isn’t all-inclusive:

Only the data transferred through Firefox is encrypted and hidden, so you can’t expect it to protect your other programs and browsers.

Not all web traffic is encrypted; specifically, non-TCP traffic, such as some video conferencing services, are excluded and will not be hidden.

All of the encryption and proxy details happen automatically in the background as you use Firefox. There aren’t any settings you have to change or options to pick from. When you install Firefox Private Network, there’s just a single button for enabling and disabling it.

You can even use Firefox Private Network with your existing VPN service or with other privacy protection tools running on your computer. You shouldn’t even need to make any changes to those programs; just install this one in Firefox and enjoy the extra layer of protection.

Tip: Firefox has another security tool you might like called Firefox Monitor, which tells you if your email address has been part of a data breach.

Is Firefox Private Network Safe?

Since you’re concerned with privacy, let’s be clear what Firefox does and doesn’t collect about you while you use this extension:

Firefox doesn’t use the tool to collect information about your browsing habits.

Firefox does collect generic details like how you interact with the extension, when you turn it off, and behind-the-scenes details about how the extension is functioning.

Cloudflare receives your computer’s IP address, the IP address of the site you’re browsing to, the time you visited, and a unique identifier.

Cloudflare doesn’t share the data it collects with others, and deletes it after 24 hours (unless it needs to retain it for security or legal reasons).

You can read more in the Firefox Private Network Privacy Notice.

Not everything about a good tool is always rainbows, and that’s also true for Firefox Private Network. Depending on the existing speed of your computer and internet connection, running this anti-hacker software might make your connection really slow since data is being encrypted and then fed through a remote server before any webpages are sent back to you.

If your browser is also running a lot of other extensions – and there are plenty to choose from – adding this one to the group might lower the overall performance of your computer, not to mention it (probably) won’t make Firefox any faster.

However, what’s important to question is if the cost of running this tool is worth the benefit. We think that’s a solid yes! If you find that using it poses other problems, remove some of those extensions you don’t use and stop streaming movies while also trying to browse the web. You can then most likely use Firefox Private Network without any performance or bandwidth issues.

How To Use Firefox Private Network

Open Firefox and visit Firefox Private Network. Select Add to Firefox.

Select Add on the prompt to install Firefox Private Network.

Select the extension icon at the top-right corner of Firefox, and select Sign in.

Log in with your Firefox account details. You can create a Firefox account here if you don’t already have one.

Wait a few seconds for the extension icon to change to include a green check mark. This is how you know that Firefox Private Network is enabled and protecting you.

What Is The Microsoft Update Catalog And How To Use It

Typically, you download and install Windows updates through the Windows Update tool. However, sometimes you may need to manually find and download certain updates. This is where the Microsoft Update Catalog comes in. While it’s not a fancy-looking site, it is the ultimate destination for updates.

What Is the Microsoft Update Catalog

Technically, the Microsoft Update Catalog is made for businesses. Instead of bogging down a network during peak hours, IT admins can download necessary updates from the catalog and manually push them out to computers on the network during off-peak business hours.

Just because it was designed with enterprises in mind doesn’t mean individuals can’t use it too. The catalog works out well if you’re having issues with Windows Update, need updates for a computer that’s offline, or if you’re trying to repair something that went wrong with Windows. Microsoft does recommend that non-business users opt for the Microsoft Download Center, though.

Despite how simple and dated the catalog site looks, it does its job. Think of it as a basic search engine with no bells and whistles. You can search for major and minor updates, hotfixes, drivers, and anything else you’d find in Windows Update.

Finding What You Need

The Microsoft Update Catalog isn’t the most user-friendly. For instance, there aren’t filters to help limit your search parameters. This means it’s best if you already know what you’re looking for.

Press Win + I to open Settings. Choose “Update & Security.” Select “Windows Update.” Failed updates may be listed along with pending updates. If you don’t see anything, select “View Update History.”

Each update has a name, date, and knowledge base number in parentheses. You can also expand Drivers, Definition Updates, and Other Updates to view details about those. You only need to download updates that are listed as Failed.

All these same details for failed updates should be listed on the main Windows Update screen as well.

Once you have your KB number or other details, enter those into the search box on the Microsoft Update Catalog site.

You can use general search terms if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. For instance, you may just want to see the latest Windows 10 updates, so you’d search for “Windows 10.” You could then base things off of the update release date, classification, and product.

Picking the Right Update

As you might have noticed, even when I entered the KB number, a wide variety of updates popped up. This doesn’t mean you need all of those – you just need the one designed for your OS.

In my case, I’d need the Windows 10 64-bit version. You also need to know the current version of your OS. In my case, this is 2004. All the details for each update are listed with the update itself.

If you’re not sure about these details, you can find everything you need by pressing Win + I to open Settings. Select System and scroll down in the left pane and select About. You’ll see details about your system, OS version, and more.

Downloading and Installing Updates

Depending on the size of the download, this could take several minutes or more. With security and major system updates, most files are around 500 MB to several gigabytes.

Follow any instructions on the knowledge base article for your update to install it. You can also store it on an external hard drive or flash drive to install on another system. Just make sure you pick the correct update file(s) based on the destination system’s specifications. In the mean time, don’t forget to check out the latest Windows update problems to learn about the potential issue with Windows update.

Crystal Crowder

Crystal Crowder has spent over 15 years working in the tech industry, first as an IT technician and then as a writer. She works to help teach others how to get the most from their devices, systems, and apps. She stays on top of the latest trends and is always finding solutions to common tech problems.

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How To Shovel Snow Without Hurting Yourself

Shovel snow like a boss. Deposit photos

Snow is a magical substance. You can use these flakes to build an igloo, whip up a batch of candy, or go sledding. But the frozen specks also bring a more onerous activity: shoveling sidewalks, walkways, and driveways. This seemingly endless task isn’t just annoying—it can also be deadly. It’s safe to say that no one ever wants to have a heart attack, but with COVID-19 cases causing record hospitalizations in many parts of the country, now would be a particularly terrible time to have a cardiac scare or be rushed to urgent care with a nasty pull or sprain.

That said, you can greatly minimize your risk by reducing the strain of this vigorous activity. Follow these tips to shovel snow without hurting yourself.

Pick the right moment to start

First, you have to decide when to start shoveling.

It’s usually best to wait until all the snow has fallen before getting out there with your shovel, says physical therapist Nicholas Licameli. That way, you don’t have to do the job twice.

This equation changes if snow is falling heavily for a full day or more, which adds up to a harrowing shoveling experience once the storm is done. In these instances, you can reduce your workload by going out once in the middle of the day. If you do an initial pass of your sidewalks and driveway earlier, you’ll have a smaller pile to tackle once the storm passes.

Choose the right shovel

As with many projects, selecting the right tool will make your task easier. In this case, that means shopping for the best snow shovel.

“I like the shovels that have the natural curve to them,” says Licameli. With that S-shape, you don’t have to bend over as far to lift snow off the ground.

The ideal shovel length will vary greatly person to person, depending on your height. When in doubt, go long. Again, this will help prevent excessive bending. If the handle seems too long, you can always adjust your grip to use the shovel more comfortably.

Another shovel trait that Licameli recommends: a sharp, metal edge on the very end. This will help you slice through thick snow and icy layers without exerting too much force. This will help you save energy and prevent injury.

Limber up

Shoveling snow might not seem as athletic as running a marathon, but it takes a surprisingly high toll on your heart. It’s hard work, and the particular motions and circumstances involved create a perfect storm for raising your blood pressure.

If you have an existing heart condition, you shouldn’t shovel snow without clearance from your doctor. But even if you’ve never had problems with your ticker, don’t make the mistake of jumping right in to hoisting large shovels of snow off the ground.

Instead, treat snow shoveling like you would any other form of vigorous exercise: start with a warm-up and end with a cool-down. Try one of these dynamic warm-ups while you’re still inside, then make sure you slowly ramp up your shoveling pace once you get to work. When you’re all done, take a few minutes to walk around and stretch.

Assume the proper stance

It’s important to shovel in the right position if you want to avoid injuries. First, make sure you have a “neutral spine,” says Licameli. This means your head, neck, mid- and lower back, and tailbone should all more or less line up with one another. Avoid excessive arching of your lower back or stooping your upper back and shoulders. Keep your spin aligned even when you go to scoop up some frozen fluff: Instead of bending your back, try to hinge at your hips and bend your knees.

When you move to take a shovel, back alignment isn’t your only concern. You should also try to engage all your core muscles, which will support your spine. To do so, brace your diaphragm and take a nice, deep breath. Pull up on your pelvic floor, with the same motion you would use when “holding in gas or urine,” says Licameli. Then, “tighten up the midsection—like putting on a tight belt after Thanksgiving dinner.” Combining all these actions will “make your spine the most stable that it could be.”

Licameli likens the spine to a neat stack of toilet paper. Tightening and engaging those core muscles is equivalent to wrapping your TP tower with duct tape. That will make it more stable and protect vertebrae from getting twisted out of line.

Clear one bit at a time

Wet, heavy snow can weigh quite a lot, so it’s important not to strain yourself by attempting to lift too much at once. If there’s a lot of snow on the ground, remove it layer by layer instead of trying to go down to the ground immediately.

Scoop a layer of snow and then use a forward motion to toss it diagonally off to the side of the path you are trying to clear. Alternatively, turn your whole body to toss it into a pile. Don’t twist your back to toss the snow away or fling it over your shoulder, warns Licameli: that can can cause back pain or injury.

It’s also important to switch up your stance every so often. If you’re leading with your left arm, that means you’re pushing with the right side of your body, which can quickly tire out that half. Licameli recommends switching sides every 10 shovels or so. There’s not much else to do while you’re shoveling snow, so you might as well keep count!

Take plenty of breaks

Instead of trying to power through all the snow shoveling at once, you should take regular breaks. The cold tends to numb us, says Licameli, so we don’t notice how tired or dehydrated we get in the same way we might in the heat of the summer. Taking intervals to rest and drink water (or hot cocoa) can prevent those symptoms from getting serious.

Going slow, taking breaks, and warming up periodically can also help prevent your risk of a heart attack. It’s easy to forget that snow shoveling is serious exercise, and if you have heart problems or are used to a more sedentary lifestyle, the exertion can cause quite a shock to your system.

Consider a snow blower

Even with all the best practices, shoveling is a real chore. “What’s easier is to either get a snow blower or move to Florida,” says Licameli.

Joking aside, a snow blower is more of an investment than a new shovel, so spend some time thinking about whether you really get enough snow to warrant the machinery. While price varies greatly by model, a snow blower can easily cost several hundred dollars.

Even if you do opt for a snow blower, using it requires the same neutral spine and core-stabilizing exercises that shoveling does, Licameli says. Keep your spine straight and the core engaged, take breaks, drink water, and take it one pass at a time. After all, you’re moving around a heavy piece of machinery. This can still be physically taxing, especially if you have to swing it around or it gets stuck in a deep patch of snow.

What it really comes down to is this: Treat your spine like a duct-taped stack of toilet paper. It sounds silly, but with that core protection, you’ll be ready for whatever old man winter throws your way.

This article was originally published on December 16, 2023. It has been updated.

What Is Microsoft Sway And How To Use It

Microsoft Sway has been available for years, but remains one of Microsoft’s best-kept secrets. The digital storytelling app provides a quick way to create beautiful, animated presentations that are automatically tailored for different devices.

Unlike PowerPoint, there’s not much of a learning curve to Sway. Think of Microsoft Sway as PowerPoint for people who don’t want to learn PowerPoint. In fact, Sway doesn’t even want you to call them “presentations.” You’ll be creating “Sways.”

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Is Microsoft Sway Free?

Microsoft Sway is a web app that’s free for anyone with a Microsoft account. Go to Sway on your browser and login with your Microsoft account. If you’re using Sway as part of Microsoft 365, you’ll have access to a few extra features that people using a free account won’t have, like removing the footer and adding password protection to your Sway presentation. 

Microsoft 365 users enjoy higher limits to the number of Sway elements they can use in each Sway they create.

Again, these limits are per Sway presentation. The free account will likely suffice for most users.

How You Could Use Sway

A presentation for work

A newsletter for clients

A slideshow of embarrassing photos for a friend’s Zoom birthday party

A compelling story on any topic you wish 

A good first step is to look through the templates that Sway provides or “Get inspired by a featured Sway” and view some great examples of what you can do with the app. Alternatively, you can search for a topic, and Sway will create an outline for you to follow. Don’t you wish PowerPoint would do that for you?

How to Create and Design a Sway

The Sway workspace is divided into two tabs: Storyline and Design. 

Since your final Sway isn’t likely to be a series of slides (although you will have that option), but rather a single, flowing web page that you’ll navigate through by scrolling (either top to bottom or left to right), think of your presentation as a trip you’ll be taking viewers on from start to finish.

Sway’s Storyline Workspace 

Select Create New to begin a Sway from scratch, or select Start from topic to let Sway create an outline for you. Alternatively, you can begin by uploading a PDF, Word, or PowerPoint document, and Sway will use it as a template.

In this case, we’ll search for a topic and select the Create outline button. Sway will create the framework of your presentation for you. 

Sway has automatically given the Sway a title and content cards which you can edit at any time. Delete any card by selecting the trash icon on the card you want to remove.

You add content to your Sway by adding cards to the Storyline, and you can rearrange cards at any time with Sway’s drag-and-drop controls. 

Another way to add content to your Sway is by searching for content on your computer or on the web. From the menu bar, select Insert.

From there you can search a variety of sources for content to add to your Sway.

Select a content source and then type a word or phrase into the field marked Search sources. Finally, select the magnifying glass icon or press Enter. Check the Creative Commons Only box to restrict the results to content that doesn’t require a license to use. 

Card Options

Cards in the Storyline workspace offer a number of options depending on what type of content they hold. Image cards allow you to format the text of the image’s caption, choose the Focus Points on your image, and choose how much you want to emphasize that card.

Setting focus points is important because it helps Sway choose how to position the image. Select the most important part(s) of the image, and Sway will determine the best position for the image depending on your device and the style you choose. 

You can see previews of how your content will look on a computer screen or a mobile device. 

Text cards also provide options for text formatting, linking, and emphasis.

Sway’s Design Workspace

The Design workspace is where you can control the look and feel of your Sway. Select the Design tab from the menu. 

Then select Styles.

You’ll always see a preview of how your Sway will appear to others in the Design workspace. 

If you’re feeling uninspired, select the Remix button to let Sway choose the design and layout for you.

Select the Play button to get the full experience. 

How to Share Your Sway

The Share button gives you several ways to share your Sway. 

You can generate a view or edit link or share to Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, or you can get the code to embed the Sway on a website. 

Save Time and Impress Others with Microsoft Sway

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