Tech Tip: Battling Adware That Redirects Your Browser


TECH TIP

If your browser is suddenly full of pop-up ads or taking you to sites you didn’t request, you probably have a malware infection.

Q. I keep getting pop-ups in my browser search bar and sent to a site I’ve never heard of. What is this, a scam?

A. If you are experiencing constant pop-up ads, trips to websites you didn’t intend to visit, a frequently changing home page, ads trying to sell you obscure security software or other odd browser behavior, your computer is probably infected with an aggressive adware program. These types of invasive programs — which can affect Macs along with PCs — often redirect your browser to certain pages so those sites can get revenue by showing advertisements to (unwilling) visitors.

The adware program may have been bundled with other software you installed on the computer, like a “free” tool bar extension or game. Visiting a web page rigged with malicious code can also infect a computer.

Using a malware-scanning app to locate and remove the adware hiding on your computer is probably the easiest way to get rid of the unwanted software. Wirecutter, a product review site owned by The New York Times, recommends the Malwarebytes program for both Windows and Mac computers; a free trial is available. HitmanPro is another anti-malware program for Windows that offers a free trial.

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Restoring your browser’s settings back to the default state can often flush out unwanted extensions that cause the program to behave erratically.CreditThe New York Times

Tech Tip: Prune and Save Web Pages


TECH TIP

Your computer most likely includes free tools for creating or printing stripped-down versions of web articles without ads, videos or other distractions.

Q. Without having to cut and paste text, is there an easy way to make a PDF file from the text of an online article — without the advertisements — so I can read it offline or print it more easily from my computer?

A. If your browser has a “reader mode” that temporarily strips out the ads and other distracting page elements, you should be able to make simple PDF files without extra software. In a nutshell, when you find an article you want to save, switch to reader mode and then use the PDF-saving function in the Print box on your Windows PC or Mac to make a copy of the article in a new file.

Some websites do not support reader modes, but many do. For articles that jump to multiple pages, look for a “read on one page” or a “Read More” button that displays the full text on one screen.

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The “clutter-free printing” option in the latest version of Windows 10 strips out ads, background images and other distractions for printing or saving the document as a PDF file.CreditThe New York Times

Tech Tip: Finding Your Contacts in the New Gmail


TECH TIP

Google’s recent revamp of its mail service has moved a few old features to new places, but you don’t have to look far.

Q. I’m trying to find my contacts list in the new Gmail. Where is it hidden?

A. Google’s recent revamp of its Gmail service for desktop web browsers moves a few things around. In the previous version, you could switch to the contacts list by clicking the Gmail menu on the left side of the page, but that method no longer works once you update to the refreshed Gmail.

You can now get to the contacts page by clicking the Apps icon in the upper right corner of the Gmail inbox. When you click the Apps icon, which is a square made up of nine smaller squares, it unfolds to reveal a panel of icons for other Google programs and services, including Google Photos, Google News and YouTube.

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In the updated version of Gmail for the desktop, you can get to your contacts from the Apps panel on the right side of the window, or by hovering the mouse cursor over a sender’s name until a contact card pops up.CreditThe New York Times

If you do not immediately see the Contacts icon in the window, scroll through the panel until you find it. You can drag the Contacts icon to the top of the collection to find it more easily in the future, and can rearrange the other icons around it as you wish. Click the Contacts icon to open your address book.

You can also edit a sender’s contact card right on the mailbox screen. To do that, hover the cursor over the person’s name in your inbox list. A contact card should pop up, showing the sender’s email address and giving you a few options, like an “Add to Contacts” button if you do not already have the person in your address book. You may see an “Edit Contact” button if you have previously added the sender. Icons for creating a new email, scheduling a calendar event, sending a text and starting a video call with that person are also available.

Tech Tip: Finding Privacy for Email


TECH TIP

Companies that offer free mail accounts typically do so in exchange for the use of your personal data, but you can find providers offering secure, private services.

Q. After reading recently updated privacy policies — are there any web-based mail providers out there that do not scan your mail, mine your data or stick ads on your messages? If I wanted to leave Yahoo for a more secure mail provider, how do I move my mail and address book?

A. Free email services are generally free because those companies make money by selling advertising based on the data you generate. That is the trade-off.

Using an encryption tool, such as OpenPGP, is an option for more secure mail, but another option is to use a web-based mail service that builds in privacy. Most secure mail providers charge a fee, but some have free accounts with limited features and reduced storage capacity.

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ProtonMail is one of the many web-based providers offering secure and private email services.CreditThe New York Times

Many of the more popular secure mail providers are based overseas and are subject to the privacy laws in their particular country of incorporation, so read up before signing up. Services include Countermail (Sweden), FastMail (Australia), Hushmail (Canada), ProtonMail (Switzerland), RunBox (Norway) and Tutanota (Germany).

Tech Tip: Deciding to Rent or Buy Your Office


TECH TIP

You can get Microsoft Office on an annual subscription plan that keeps you up to date with new features or buy it outright with far fewer updates.

Q. Microsoft keeps threatening to disable Word and Excel in a few days unless I pay $70 for the Office 365 yearly renewal. I don’t care about the latest features since not much has changed in the past year. How do I get around this and get rid of the pop-up box every time I open Word or Excel?

A. Microsoft offers a few different versions of its Office suite, and the Office 365 edition is subscription-based — so think of it more as a rental and less of an outright purchase. To get rid of the pop-up boxes and be assured of functioning desktop software when you need it, you must renew the subscription for the $69.99 annual fee for Office 365 Personal. Or you can switch to Office Home & Student 2016 for the one-time purchase price of $149.99.

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If you have Office 365, you can see when your subscription started by logging into your Microsoft account.CreditThe New York Times

Tech Tip: Jumping Into the New Gmail


TECH TIP

Google recently overhauled the web version of its email software, and you can try out the new version — even if you haven’t been formally invited yet.

Q. I am curious about the new version of Gmail for the web, but it does not seem to have reached my account yet. When will it be available to everyone? If I don’t like it, is the upgrade mandatory?

A. Google unveiled an updated web version of its Gmail software on April 25 and is gradually rolling out the new features and visual redesign to regular and business users. If your account has not been updated yet (or you chose not to try out the new version when first offered), click on the gear-shaped Settings icon and choose “Try the new Gmail” at the top of the menu. In addition to a revamped look that sports bigger buttons and menus, the update adds features intended to help you manage your mail.

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If you still have the old version of Gmail (or skipped the first invitation to try the update), click the Settings icon to get your chance to try out the service’s new look and features.CreditThe New York Times

Tech Tip: Staying Safer on Public Networks


TECH TIP

When using an open wireless network at a hotel or coffee shop, make sure that sites getting any of your personal information have their security certificates in order.

Q. When I use an unsecured network and log into a website, does S.S.L. (https://) prevent anyone from capturing my password?

A. Secure Sockets Layer, also known as S.S.L., is a worldwide technology standard that creates a private, encrypted link between the web browser on your computer and the web server you are communicating with online. Using a S.S.L. connection lowers the risk that someone on a public network could intercept sensitive information like credit card numbers or passwords transmitted between you and the site you are using.

Sites that have S.S.L. enabled typically have an U.R.L. that starts with https:// and display a padlock icon in the address bar; some browsers show the site’s name in green as well. However, just because a site is using S.S.L. technology does not mean you are fully protected from internet ills.

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You can usually see a website’s verified security information by clicking the padlock icon in the browser’s address bar.CreditThe New York Times

But just because the connection to the site is secure, it does not mean the site itself is safe — so avoid giving personal information to websites you are not familiar with, even if it shows a secure connection. A Certificate Authority can sell certificates to all kinds of sites, including ones that may be quietly slipping malicious software onto your computer when you visit. (In past years, fraudsters have even set up fake S. S. L. certificates and have tried to break the encryption, so the technology itself is a target.)

Sites can also purchase security certificates with different levels of validation from trusted authorities. These levels include the basic Domain Validation for standard encryption and verification, and go up to Extended Validation, which has the highest level of security because the site goes through a more thorough level of vetting before the certificate is issued. In theory, a sinister site wanting to appear secure could quickly get a simple Domain Validation certificate and set up shop.

So while a S.S.L. connection indicates your communications with a website are encrypted even on public networks, you can increase your safety level for all your browsing by using virtual private network software to encrypt all your internet traffic on open Wi-Fi networks — if you are not able to use your own secured home network for financial matters and other sensitive business. The Federal Trade Commission’s site has a general guide for using public wireless networks, as well as a guide for keeping your own home wireless network secure.


Personal Tech invites questions about computer-based technology to techtip@nytimes.com. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually.

Tech Tip: Setting Options for Ad Blockers


Q. I installed ad-blocking software on my computer, but I still see advertisements on some pages, even though the site did not ask me to turn off the blocker. Why is this?

A. Even when you have the software enabled, browser utilities like AdBlock or AdBlock Plus may still display less-intrusive advertisements from companies that have been approved by the independent Acceptable Ads Committee. The Acceptable Ads initiative was started by AdBlock Plus, which makes money by allowing the ads through its filters.

The initiative attempts to balance the needs of web surfers who do not want to be pelted with aggressive online ads and the needs of websites that rely on advertising revenue to support their content. (Google recently began to filter intrusive ads in its Chrome browser in a similar manner.)

“Acceptable” ads include those that lack animation and do not jam themselves into the middle of the reader’s experience on the site. Even if the ad-blocker program is set to allow nonintrusive ads by default, you can disable the feature in the program’s settings. However, if you use a site frequently and find it worthwhile, you may want to consider allowing its advertising through your filter by allowing acceptable ads or by adding the site to the ad-blocking program’s white list.

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If you are seeing some web ads even with ad-blocking software installed, the program may be set to let certain unobtrusive advertisements get through.

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The New York Times

To “white-list” a site basically means to make an exception for it in your ad-blocking program to allow advertising to appear. While advertising on some web pages can be distracting, excessive and sometimes even laden with malware, most sites run ads because they need the money to sustain themselves.

Some sites have put in ad-blocker detection tools and will stop your browser from loading the page you want to see unless you white-list the site. Some sites ask you to white-list them in exchange for displaying a minimal amount of advertising. If you need to white-list the site you are trying to visit, click the ad-blocker icon in the browser’s tool bar and look for the option to pause or disable the current filtering. The program’s tool-bar menu might have a list of sites you have white-listed, along with controls for fine-tuning your ad filters.

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Tech Tip: Checking Your Browser Version


Q. How do I see what version of Google Chrome is on my computer?

A. For both the Windows and the Mac versions of Google’s Chrome browser, open the program and click the three-dot More menu icon in the upper-right corner of the tool bar. On the More menu, select Help and then choose About Google Chrome. You then land on the About Chrome page, which displays the software’s version number in the middle of the window.

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If you are not sure what version of the Google Chrome browser you are using, visit the About Chrome page in the program’s settings.

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The New York Times

Visiting this page also prompts the program to check for any new updates to itself. Chrome is typically set to keep itself updated automatically and downloads new versions of itself in the background as you use it. The updates — which can include security patches, new features and bug fixes — are installed when you quit the program and reopen it.

To see what version of Mozilla Firefox is running on a Windows PC, open the program, click the Help menu and choose About Firefox. On the Mac edition, click the Firefox menu in the upper-left corner of the screen and choose About Firefox; the steps for checking Apple’s Safari browser are similar, except you click on Safari in the menu bar and choose About Safari.

For Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Edge browsers, check the Options or the Settings menu. In Internet Explorer, click the gear-shaped icon in the upper-right side of the tool bar and select About Internet Explorer. For the Edge browser, select the three-dot more menu in the top-right corner of the browser window and scroll to the bottom of the menu that opens — where the Edge version is listed.

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Tech Tip: Starting Fresh With Firefox


Q. After many years, I started using the Firefox browser again, and the start page for this new version is covered with links and icons. Can I change it?

A. Mozilla, which released Firefox 1.0 in 2004, significantly overhauled the browser last year and named it Firefox Quantum. In addition to retooling the software to make it faster and use less of the computer’s memory than previous versions, the program got a bit of a visual redesign, including a new look for the New Tab page.

The first row of the New Tab page displays icons for the “Top Sites” you visit frequently or have used recently. If you have specific sites you would like to pin to the page or remove from view, you can customize the Top Sites collection. Just move the cursor over the top-right corner of an icon and click to get a menu of options.

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Use the menu on the Firefox New Tab page to pin, remove and edit your shortcuts to favorite and frequently visited sites.

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The New York Times

The Recommended by Pocket section of the New Tab page shows trending or currently relevant news stories collected by Pocket and based on your browsing history. (Pocket’s software lets users save online content for later consumption, and Mozilla owns the company.) The Highlights section at the bottom of the New Tab page displays sites you have recently browsed or bookmarked. To pin or remove these from the page, graze the cursor over the top-right corner of the item and click the three-dot icon to get to the options menu.

You can remove entire sections from the New Tab page by clicking the menu arrow next to the titles. To set all of your preferences for the look of the New Tab page at once, click the gear-shaped icon in the top-right corner.

If you do not want to see any of the bookmark icons and stories on the New Tab page when you start Firefox, you can choose a site to be your regular home page instead. To set a new start page, go to the site you wish to see each time Firefox opens. Next, drag the page’s tab at the top of the window and drop it on the house icon in the Firefox tool bar. Click Yes in the box to confirm your intention to set the open page as your new home page.

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