9 wickedly useful Web sites for Windows administrators

The Internet abounds with Web sites that offer volumes of information for Windows administrators. We all know of the popular ones

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like TechNet, IT World and trade publications like Network World. But the sites I'm about to reveal in this list of nine are smaller gems that tend to fly under the radar. I like to call them the "supporting players” in that they may not be the superstars on the team but you could never win a game without them. Each of these IT Web sites have saved my backside more times than I can count and I'm confident they will do the same for you. To see this whole list quickly, check out the slideshow.


EventID.net

This Web site is single handedly responsible for getting me out of the office on time and home to my family more days that I can count. EventID.net is a great resource for finding the answers to event ID‘s in the Event Viewer. The site has a database of over 9,000 events and contains links to knowledgebase articles and comments on fixes. The site is so valuable because these fixes are submitted by IT admins like you, me and people in the trenches who have tried and succeeded using the methods described.

The site allows you to search by event ID and source, so you can hone in on the issue even if you can't remember the source (or you don't feel like typing it all out). The site lists all the events and sources in alphabetical order.

The site will let you search and look at user comments for free. However, for a small fee of just $9.00 for three months or $24.00 per year you have the ability to use the active links, which will take you to knowledge base documents, or links to other users who have solved the issue, and will provide detailed information to help you resolve the problem.

Much of this information is of course available for free elsewhere on the 'net, but for such a low price, you can save hours of scrolling through TechNet trying to figure out which Event ID on that site matches your problem.

Some other neat resources are the links to firewall and VPN setup and management and the IT tasks links. Sometimes we go through the day just doing and never thinking about each task we perform. If you need to justify to your boss the need for more resources this is a great way to make your argument. Open these up and tweak them a bit and you have the documentation to show exactly what you are doing for them each day.

EventID

DNS Goodies

This Web site is great for all things DNS and goes way beyond “who is “lookups. The site offers tools for "extended who is" , which gives information such as the type of web server used for a particular domain. Extended who is also allows you to check for SSL certificates, site keywords and host information.

You can also run DNS lookups for A, MX, SOA and PTR records, reverse DNS queries, ping and traceroute. On the security side you can check for open relays, see if you’re blacklisted as a spam server. You can even find the e-mail address to report abuse from a particular site.

DNS Goodies is a good tool to make sure your systems are configured correctly to the outside world and that they are not part of the spam-relaying problem.

I remember once discovering that my domain had been blacklisted. I went to this site and ran every test they had to offer. When I was done I discovered (to my relief) that we were not relaying spam but that the ISP we were using had been warned several times about one of their other New York customers. When the ISP failed to take action against that customer, ICANN blacklisted an entire block of IP addresses 24 of which were mine. The export and e-mail feature allowed me to show my ISP that problem was indeed on its end and actually got them to take actions to correct the problem.

DNS Goodies

FILExt

Being in the accounting industry, I was constantly faced with the issue of clients bringing financial data to us on a CD or a USB thumb drive with file extensions I have never seen.

FILExt is a get site for finding exactly what program they used to create their mystery files so I could figure out how (or if) we could open those files. In a world were anything can be printed or converted to PDF format you would think this does not matter much. But the truth is when you are dealing with clients, you have no control over getting them to use widely accepted file formats and so FILExt is a great resource to save you time and headaches.

But the Web site goes beyond just telling you which program is associated with the file extension. It will let you know the company, versions that extension is associated with and MIME type. And will even in some cases offer information on the installation path and executable file name for the extension.

FILExt

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Tasks List

If file extensions can drive you crazy, how many times have you walked up to a users system did a ctrl-alt-del, went to the task list and thought to yourself, "What the heck are all those processes?"

If you have ever looked at a process running on a system (and I know you have) and tried to find out which application it belongs to, what it does, what you should do about it, then this site will be a tremendous help for you. Answersthatwork.com provides a task list broken down into alphabetical order. Along with providing the process name, you can see the program executable, manufacturer, what it does, and get recommendations about what you should do about the task.

Of course, we all use software that tells us what processes are running and what apps they ultimately belong to. But rarely does that software also offer us advice on what that process is doing and if it should it be in the startup or even installed at all.

I recently ran an update to some software on my Vista system. I then saw this new process running. I wasn't sure if it was a new process for the update that I needed or not. I did some research on the Tasks Lists pages and found it was a device discovery protocol and I did not happen to download the software that went with that device. (I won’t mention who the device manufacturer is that uploaded its hardware discovery software onto my Vista system, but will just say I use Creative Labs' Zen jukebox for my MP3’s). Tasks List is a fantastic tool to help you cut down on assessing what it running on a users machine and why.

Tasks List

Boot Disks

Boot Disks is actually brought to you by the same site that hosts Tasks List (www.answersthatwork.com). I thought when we moved from Windows 2000 to Windows XP the day of the boot disk was gone. Not so. In my work as a consultant I do not know how many times someone calls with a Windows 2000, NT or 9.x machine that needs help. I was even more shocked when I buddies at my old firm would bring me desktops and laptops running Windows 98. Invariably, these customers would tell me that they need the data on their machines, that they have years worth of data that they don't want to lose and don't have backed up anywhere else.

I don't keep copies of OS boot disks for every ancient Windows operating system anymore because I know there are cool boot utilities out there that can recover the data. This site is especially cool because it provides a ready-made boot disk or even an emergency recovery disk in the case of XP. Nothing to store, keep and find -- just download a copy (or burn to CD) and run it.

Boot Disks

Internet Storm Center

We all have our favorite sources of security information and one of mine is the Internet Storm Center (ISC). Now perhaps the (ISC) is not a completely under-the-radar site, but I've still included it because it deserves more of your attention. The ISC is a part of the SANS Institute Web site and it offers a quick view of the current threat condition for the day, using the very familiar Green, Yellow, Orange, Red threat indicators.

The site also contains trends for rising port attacks and reports featuring information such as the Top Sources, AS, reports by Country, Survival time charts and more. This resource is one that you really shouldn't live without. It has reports, warnings and information on attacks available faster than any other site I’ve used so far. If you wish, you can also sign up and be part of the community that is submitting data to the ISC.

Internet Storm Center

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Vmyths

If dealing with a real worm or virus is a headache than dealing with the hysteria of a possible virus is a pain in the neck (or other parts of the anatomy)!

Nothing is worse than walking into the office on a Monday morning to an e-mail, voicemail, sticky note, fax, Instant Message and intercom announcement about the latest e-mail virus that was not.

That is where Vmyths comes into play; I have had too many games of Unreal Tournament interrupted by some overzealous staff member who believes his friend in accounting has the scoop on the latest threat to the company’s network.

Vmyths is great for verifying the already known truth (you should always investigate; you do not want to be the one person who thought Nimda was a Hoax). It also provides you with a legitimate resource for convincing the over hysterical user that no threat exists. Then you get the chance to tell them “Actually thanks to the 375 emails you sent to everyone in your inbox. I now need to check if we are on a spam blocking list.”

Vmyths provides information on hoaxes and legends (as they call them) and reports on the state of Internet security. There is some thought provoking stuff on the site. The team also says that it doesn't take advertisements from security companies, so there is never a temptation to bend the truth about hoaxes.

Vmyths

ShieldsUP!

Now that we have looked at sites for security warnings and for avoiding mass hysteria, let’s talk about one that can help give you an honest assessment of your own security, ShieldsUP! I like ShieldsUP! so much, I’ve written about it before. So I'll be brief in this mention.

To summarize, ShieldsUp! offers several different tests: File Sharing, Common Ports, and All Service Ports (the first 1056 ports anyway), Messenger Spam, Browser Headings, Custom port probes or Specific Port information. The tests take only moments and provide a quick, non-biased results along with suggestions on how to secure the ports found open. ShieldsUp also provides tools and utilities to help you lock down your network.

ShieldsUP

Port’s Database

We are all familiar with the ports for SMTP, FTP and HTTP. If you are really good you know the ports for KEREBEROS and TFTP. But can you name the port assignments for Cisco Stateful NAT or perhaps the port used by VERITAS NetBackup?

My point about ports is there are 65,535 of them. If we remove the possible dynamic and private ports, that still leaves 49,151 port assignments. That's a lot to remember. Thanks to this site you don’t have to remember. Whether you need to remember a standard protocol port or a vendor specific port, the ports database can make life much easier.

Port's Database

In our jobs, we need all the resources we can get a hold of to make sure things are not just working, but working at their optimal capability. These nine Windows Admin sites can help make your world … A Better Windows World!

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