Tech Secrets: 21 Things 'They' Don’t Want You to Know

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You're Spending Too Much on Printer Ink

If there was ever a business built around scare tactics, it's the business of selling inkjet printers. Try using a refurbished or refilled cartridge, and the printer maker may warn you that you're voiding your service warranty, putting your printer at risk of damage, or possibly ruining your printouts.

Nonsense, says Bill McKenney, CEO of InkTec Zone, which sells equipment for refilling inkjet cartridges to retailers such as Wal-Mart International.

"You won't void the warranty and you won't hurt your printer," says McKenney. "A bad refill job may leak ink inside your machine. Otherwise you'll be fine. And the savings are so significant, there's almost no reason not to do it."

In fact, PCWorld's own lab testing shows that while prints made with third-party, refurbished, or refilled ink cartridges aren't always as good as those made with the printer manufacturer's ink, the cartridges are safe to use in your printer.

The exceptions are so-called prebate cartridges, sold at a slight discount, that contain a chip preventing their being refilled (which should be clearly labeled as one-use-only products).

The Fix: Buying a refurbished cartridge can save you 10 to 20 percent off the price of a new one. Getting refills bumps that savings to 50 percent or more.

The drawbacks are that you may not get quite as much ink with a refill (the amount is usually at least 95 percent, McKenney says), archival prints may not maintain their color quality for as long, and you can refill each cartridge only three to eight times before you'll have to recycle it and get a new one.

End User License Agreements May Not Be Enforceable

It doesn't take much effort to sign an end user license agreement: Rip open a software package, or tick a box on a Website, and you're legally bound. But your obligations depend a lot on where you live, says Jonathan Ezor, director of the Institute for Business, Law & Technology at the Touro Law Center on Long Island.

"EULAs are contracts, and contract law is state law," says Ezor. "It's governed by the state where you live or where the company is based." For example, courts in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas) have found certain types of EULAs invalid.

Other factors include whether the agreement contains unenforceable restrictions, whether it gives consumers sufficient choice, and what method it provides for users to indicate agreement, Ezor adds.

The odds of your going to court over a EULA, however, are slight. The real issue is how companies enforce them, Ezor says.

"What companies really don't want you to know is how easy it is for them to turn things off or erase them," he adds. "Think of what happened last year with the Orwell books that Amazon just erased from people's Kindles."

The Fix: Read the EULA. Does the software "phone home" to verify that you're using the product as its creator intended--and, if you're not, does it have the ability to disable the program remotely? If it doesn't, you're probably free to do as your conscience allows.

The Cyberwar Is Heating Up (and Uncle Sam Is Losing)

We may be at war on the ground in Afghanistan, but bigger battles are being waged beneath the noses of most Americans. For the past several years, U.S. government computer networks have been under siege from foreign adversaries. What the people in charge don't want you to know is that it could have been prevented.

Attacks on Department of Defense computer systems jumped 60 percent in 2009, according to a congressional committee. Last July, a botnet originating in North Korea launched a sustained DDOS attack on several U.S. government agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of the Treasury. In December, China was fingered for attacks that compromised Google last December but also targeted top government research firms, contractors, and think tanks.

Testifying before Congress in February, former national intelligence director Mike McConnell said the United States may be on the brink of an all-out cyberwar--one we are unprepared to fight.

"From the beginning the government's approach to networks was to facilitate access," says Richard Stiennon, chief research analyst for IT-Harvest and author of Surviving Cyber War. "Now that seems naïve. E-mail is its primary means of communications, and that's completely exposed. Attackers from all over are having their way with government computer systems."

The Fix: "Joe and Jane Citizen need to tell the federal government to comply with computer security standards published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)," says Stiennon. "That will get us about 90 percent closer to where we need to be, so we can start focusing on the real bad guys."

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