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Help File: Don't press F1 on the Web in Windows XP; a shortcut to iTunes Plus upgrades

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Q: I heard what sounds like an urban legend -- that you shouldn't hit the F1 key if a Web site tells you to. Is that true?

A: That advice seems the sort of thing easily debunked at the myth-busting site, but it's true. Microsoft really does want Windows XP users to ignore Web prompts to press the F1 key.

A security advisory from the government's Computer Emergency Readiness Team ( explains that hostile sites can have XP's Help Viewer application run malicious code if they can first get a user running the Internet Explorer browser to hit the F1 help shortcut key. So Microsoft's primary suggested workaround, until it can ship a patch, is this: "Do not press the F1 key when prompted by a Web site."

Using a browser besides Internet Explorer -- for instance, Mozilla Firefox, Google's Chrome, Apple's Safari or Opera's just-updated, eponymous browser -- will also eliminate this risk.

Although Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003 are also open to this attack, Microsoft reports that Windows Vista and 7 are not -- something to think about the next time somebody suggests those newer releases offer no real benefits over XP.

I can't figure out how to upgrade my iTunes purchases to iTunes Plus.

Making this upgrade -- which replaces digitally locked music with higher-fidelity, more compatible files-- is a worthwhile expense, at 30 cents a song, 60 cents for a music video or $3 an album.

If iTunes somehow won't show an "iTunes Plus" link on the iTunes Store home page's top-right corner, visit Apple's tech-support article ( to find a link that should open iTunes to the right page. (You'll need a current copy of iTunes to finish this transaction.)

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or Visit for his Faster Forward blog.

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