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Issue #594: December 9-15, 2018

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Q: I am using the free version of CCleaner on my Windows 10 Dell laptop computer. It seems to do a good job removing what I call “clutter” from my hard drive when I request a cleaning. Recently, I’ve been getting prompts to upgrade my CCleaner to the so-called, “Professional version” for a faster and safer version. The upgrade costs $19.95. Do you think this upgrade is worth the annual cost versus what I am already getting for free?

– Eric Z.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A:  Do I think it’s worth it?  What I think is that it’s far more important what you think.  I’ll do what I can to give you some perspective, perhaps the same as yours, but hopefully different.  Beyond that, I believe that what I think in this matter is largely unimportant.

So, you have a free product that you use only once-in-a-while, but with which you are happy when you do use it.  Suddenly, Piriform (CCleaner’s publisher) dangles a hook in front of you, and says “Look what we have!  For only $19.95 more,” (that is, “more” than the zero you’re currently paying) “you can get the same features, plus some new ones that you’re not currently getting in the software with which you are already happy.”

The decision of what to do can only be made by you, and only if you have full knowledge of what you’d be getting for the money.  Here’s a link to a page on Piriform’s website that discusses the benefits of the professional version: TinyURL.com/IGTM-0594A.  These benefits include such features as automatic updates of the signatures CCleaner uses to detect issues, being able to schedule CCleaner runs, and superior customer support in the event you need Piriform’s help with something.  If all of that is worth $19.95 to you, then by all means, treat yourself to an upgrade.

But wait.  If you are assuming that you are buying your way into the elite tier of CCleaner users, you had better check out TinyURL.com/IGTM-0594B.  There is another service tier called “Professional Plus” that is (surprise) even more expensive than the one you’re already considering.  This level includes three other products that perform disk defragmentation, file recovery, and a hardware inventory utility that helps make sure upgrades that you obtain are compatible with your system.  What I find particularly interesting is that each of these tools is also available in stand-alone, free versions.  Also on this page, Piriform is offering the Professional-level upgrade you mentioned, not for $19.95, but for only $16.50.

So, I hope you’ll consider your options carefully, then make a decision that works for you, and meets your needs.  And if, in your studies, you happen to find a “Super Ultra Mega Awesome Professional” service tier, by all means, write-in again and let me know about it, and its cost.

• • •

Q: I received a threatening SPAM email from a hacker demanding a ransom of $817 in bitcoin. If I did not pay, he would release porno sites to all my friends stating that I had visited these sites. Also, he would send me a rat virus. I forwarded the email to Cox Phishing Reports.  Is this all I need to do or should I report this to the Sheriff? No virus has appeared yet. Thank-you.

– Kathryn V.
Destin, Florida

A:  You could report it, but exactly what do you expect the Sheriff to do?  I can practically guarantee that this wasn’t perpetrated by anyone locally – probably not even within the United States.  I have received a similar, possibly the same e-mail not once, but twice.  The ones I received were rather disconcerting, because the hacker blatantly included my own e-mail password right in the subject line of the message.  Unfortunately for him, I had changed that password almost two months prior to receiving the first threatening e-mail.  The details of his threat to me were a bit more sinister than what you cited.  He claimed to have taken control of my device’s camera, and further claimed to be inpossession of pictures of me indulging in, well, let’s just say websites of questionable character and taste.  I got a good chuckle over this rather lame attempt to blackmail me, then I emptied my SPAM folder and didn’t look back.  Like you, the promised punishment never arrived, nor do I expect it ever will.

The takeaway from this should be three-fold.  First, don’t believe everything you read.  Internet low-lifes can, and do write anything they can to try and scare or intimidate their victims.  Second, through whatever means, it is very possible for hackers to steal the passwords that protect our privacy.  They got mine somehow, and I know more about cyber-security than most.  Finally, true privacy on the Internet is awfully tough to come by.  If you’re genuinely concerned that you could be harmed if your online activity was exposed, re-consider how you spend your online time.  A good rule is, don’t do anything online that you wouldn’t do if your grandmother was sitting next to you.

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