On Monday, July 9, hundreds of thousands of Internet users could lose Internet access because of DNS Changer malware from Rove Digital, an illicit online company shut down by police last year. And while global law enforcement agencies and Internet companies warn Web surfers to clean the malware off infected computers, Consumer Reports online experts also warn not to fall for online scams claiming to “disinfect” your PC from online risks.

Last year, an Internet consortium established a stop-gap network of safe computer servers to deal with the illicit computer code, which modifies Domain Name Servers (DNS) to direct unsuspecting Internet users to Rove Digital’s computer servers rather than proper websites and Web search results. But the temporary network is slated to shut down on Monday, which could keep the tens of thousands of PCs and Macs still infected by DNS Changer from accessing the Web.

The DNS Changer Working Group has established a website to detect if your computer is infected with DNS Changer malware. The consortium has also links to various Web security sites for removal tips and tools at: http://www.dcwg.org/fix/.

Dean Gallea, Consumer Reports’ senior program leader for computer testing, warns consumers not to fall for solicitations from unknown sources promising to remove online security risks such as DNS Changer. “Many of these sites host malware themselves,” says Gallea.

Check out Consumer Reports online for more safe Web surfing tips and the Ratings for security software for the best computer programs to protect your online privacy and data.

Sources:
About DNS Changer malware DCWG – The DNS Changer Working Group
Operation Ghost Click and DNS Changer FBI
Malware may knock thousands off Internet on Monday Associated Press via Yahoo News

The Samsung Galaxy S III lives up to its high expectations: It’s one of the most advanced Android smart phones we’ve seen. This newest Galaxy star is our new top-ranked smart phone on the three carriers on which we’ve tested it.

With this phone, Samsung unseats HTC from the highest position in our Ratings of smart phones from AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, which had been occupied by HTC’s One S, Evo 4G LTE, and One, respectively.

Helping the Galaxy S III’s showing is a huge (4.8 inch) and high-definition (720p) screen that makes the phone among the best we’ve seen for a range of tasks, including making and taking calls and typing on its virtual keyboard.

Also, like the aforementioned HTC smart phones, the Galaxy sports a superb high-definition camera that, among other talents, can shoot a series of photos in rapid-fire succession while in camera mode, as well as snap a still picture at any moment while shooting a video.

Yet our engineers also found the Galaxy’s 8-megapixel camera yielded still images that were higher in quality overall than the HTC’s—and among the best from any phone in our Ratings.

In addition, the phone offers an array of gesture- and sensor-based tools to help you share what you capture with it. These include Buddy Share, which automatically matches the subjects in your photos to those in your contact list so you can easily send them a copy of the photo, and Share Shot, which lets you beam pictures (though not videos) to other friends with Galaxy S IIIs from within 200 feet. But in my first look at the phone (”Samsung Galaxy S III shines despite some glitches”) I found some of these features didn’t always work as promised.

Still to come are test results for the Verizon version of the Galaxy S III, which goes on sale on July 10.

Americans are upbeat as financial troubles decline and retail recovers from a five-month slide, according to the Consumer Reports Index, a measure of Americans’ personal financial health. Supporting the improved consumer mood was a decline in financial difficulties, which reached their lowest level since first measured in April 2009.

The sharp rise in consumer sentiment, which jumped to its highest level since October 2008 (53.1 from 47.5 the previous month), saw gains among households earning less than $50,000 (+5.5 pts) as well as households earning $100,000 or more (+7.7 pts).

The Consumer Reports Index comprises five Index measures: Employment, Retail, Sentiment, Stress, and the Trouble Tracker.

The Trouble Tracker, a gauge of financial difficulties in the past 30 days, dropped from 46.5 to 41.8. The decline affected both lower and upper income households, but the financial difficulties faced by those in households earning less than $50,000 was three times as great as that of households earning $100,000 or more (58.9 versus 19.5).

“With more than half the country earning less than 50,000, any improvement among that group may have a significant impact on the economy. They still have some distance to climb, but these are positive signs,” said Ed Farrell, director of Consumer Insight at the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

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The employment measure is now above 50, meaning more people are getting a job than losing one (50.9 up from 49.7 last month), and driven by a 5.5 percent gain in job starts, the improvement reversed a three-month decline.

After a five-month slide, the index’s past 30-day retail measure moved up to 9.9 from 8.9, but was virtually unchanged from a year ago (10.2). Planned purchasing over the next 30 days (8.6), which reflects intent to buy in July, was also up over last month (7.0), but lags last year at this time (7.7). Gains for the retail measure were driven by both personal electronics purchases (17.7 percent, up from 15.0 percent a month earlier), and major home electronics purchases (10.9 percent, up from 7.1 percent).

“This positive start to the summer, with all measures moving in a favorable direction, indicates a better economic picture overall,” said Farrell. “Over the past four years, we have seen that gains can prove to be fragile. Holding and building on these improvements will depend most on continued job growth to ensure a durable gain in the consumer outlook.”

A monthly telephone poll of a nationally representative sample of American adults, the Consumer Reports Index, is conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. A total of 1,013 interviews were completed between June 21 and 24. The margin of error is +/- 3.2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Previously:
Last month’s Consumer Reports Index: New job starts at lowest level in nine months

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Can’t sleep? Join the club: 59 percent of the 26,451 subscribers we recently surveyed said that at least three times a week they woke up tired or had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Work stress, health problems, and financial worries were the top things keeping people up at night. The good news: Most problem sleepers found at least one treatment that helped.

Solutions included prescription sleep medications, along with a number of alternative methods like regular exercise and meditation. In addition to finding what worked for our readers, here are a few do’s and don’ts to help you get a more restful night.

Things to do:

  • Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, including weekends.
  • Exercise earlier in the day. Being active during the day does improve sleep at night. But working out within 2 to 3 hours of bedtime can interfere with slumber by raising your body.
  • Unwind before bed with something that you find relaxing like a warm bath or a good book.
  • Use your bed only for sex and sleep.
  • Turn off your phone and other electronics, since light-emitting screens discourage sleep. Nearly 40 percent of respondents with sleep woes admitted to falling asleep with the TV on while 31 percent left their cell phone on while they slept and 8 percent checked that phone during the night.

Things not to do:

  • Drink caffeine within 6 hours of going to bed.
  • Nap after 3 pm.
  • Eat a big meal right before you bed. But a small snack made up a carbohydrate and a protein, such as peanut butter on crackers, is OK and might even help.
  • Drink alcohol within 4 to 6 hours of bedtime.

Read more about how to cope with sleep problems. And see our Best Buy Drugs recommendations for sleeping pills.

Smart phones may be the cameras you always carry with you—but as point-and-shoots, they have their drawbacks. For one, most have no optical zoom lens; instead, they come with digital zoom, which enlarges pixels and thus reduces image detail as it zooms in. You can get effects like zoom and fish-eye with smart-phone cameras, but they’re generally obtained digitally; optical lenses produce better-quality images.

That’s why some third-party manufacturers have developed small add-on lenses that fit over the phone’s own tiny lens. They let you get in closer to the action or shoot a wide-angle or fish-eye photo without reducing image quality. (See our sample photos at the end of this post.)

We tested two brands that are compatible with the Apple iPhone 4 and 4S. Photojojo makes a fisheye lens ($25), a wide angle/macro lens ($20), and a telephoto lens (also $20); all three sell for about $50). We also tested the Photojojo lenses with several Android phones.

Electronics_Photojojo.jpg

With the Photojojo lenses (shown above), you must attach a ring (two different rings are included, one for iPhones and the other for Android phones), using a peel-and-stick backing, to the phone; the lens then magnetically attaches to the ring.

We also tested the Olloclip, a clip-on device that incorporates a fisheye, macro, and wide-angle lens ($70). The Olloclip simply slides onto your iPhone over the camera lens. Once it is clipped on, you rotate the Olloclip to change the lens type. When not in use, you slide the Olloclip off of the iPhone and store it in a provided pouch.

Electronics_Olloclip.jpg

The Olloclip lens (above) fits securely around the corner of the iPhone, essentially encasing it.

Both brands of lenses were easy to use and produced their intended effects without compromising the phones’ decent image quality; our lens tests showed that neither brand produced artifacts or distortion in the pictures that were taken. Also, they didn’t affect built-in camera functions, such as autofocus.

Both types of lenses covered the phones’ strobes, though, so we weren’t able to use flash. These lenses are best for shooting in well-lighted conditions and outdoors during the daytime.

The Photojojo lenses were small for handling by large hands. We also found that the ring sometimes came off the phone in the course of removing the lens, though we could readily reattach it. And if you use a Photojojo lens with an Android phone, make sure the phone’s lens doesn’t protrude from the front of the body.

With both brands, the fisheye and macro lenses were the most enjoyable to use. As with any close-up macro lens, your hand needs to be steady and subjects need to stay still so you can get a shot that’s not blurry. But close-up shots and video of flowers were stunning.

And the fisheye lens gives you a very surreal look at even the most mundane subject. Videos and photos were lots of fun to shoot with this lens.

Bottom line: Both sets of lenses are worth considering if you often use your phone camera as your main camera and want it to approach the versatility of a point-and-shoot. But be sure that when you set up the lenses that they are positioned directly over the phone lens so that the image is not distorted or cut off.

Want to know more about what’s new in digital photography? See our story, Latest developments in digital cameras and photography, on ConsumerReports.org.

The images below were taken with an iPhone and the Photojojo smart-phone lenses.

Electronics_wide.jpg
Wide-angle

Electronics_fisheye.jpg
Fisheye

Electronics_telephoto.jpg
Telephoto

Toshiba continues its quest to cover a gamut of tablet shapes and sizes with the introduction of the Excite 7.7, so named because of its screen size. The company already offers a 7-inch model, two 10.1-inch tablets (including a very thin one), and a 13-inch model that’s promised for this fall that will be bigger than any tablet available.

Touch and feel.
Although larger than a 7-inch tablet, the Excite 7.7 still feels very portable. It’s thin at 0.31 inches and light at 12.3 ounces. It’s easy to hold and small enough that you can reach across the screen with your thumbs, even in landscape orientation. In portrait mode, it’s narrow enough to comfortably hold in one hand. The aluminum casing keeps it light, and it’s textured on the back so it doesn’t feel slippery. The power, volume, and lock buttons are easy to find but never in your way.

Display.
The AMOLED display looked very good. It was bright, with 1280 x 800 resolution. The blacks looked good, and colors were in the ballpark, although oversaturated and orangish. Viewing angle was quite wide, making it easy for several people to view at once.

Apps. Toshiba took a minimalist approach with the home page. It didn’t add its own interface as many others (including Toshiba itself) have on other models. Instead, it put together bundles of apps, grouped by theme. These include apps for productivity, such as Quickoffice and PrinterShare; for entertainment, including Netflix and Crackle; and for books & news, which includes Toshiba’s and Googe’s book stores, along with Zinio for magazines.

Other specs. The Excite 7.7 starts at $500 with 16GB of storage or $580 for 32GB. Both models use a quad-core processor and run on Android 4.0. The front-facing camera is a 2-megapixel webcam and there’s a microphone. The rear camera is 5 megapixels with a flash. There’s a MicroSD card slot and a Micro USB 2.0 port.

Bottom line. The Excite 7.7 is a nice size that fits between 7-inch and 10-inch tablets, keeping it portable but adding a bit of screen real estate for movie viewing and other activities. We’ll post complete test results in our Ratings soon.

Polaroid introduced its new Z2300 instant digital camera which features an integrated printer with ZINK Technology that enables you to instantly capture, edit and in less than a minute print full color, 2×3-inch prints. The Polaroid Z2300 also makes it…



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