When it comes to your browser, toolbars are almost always a bad idea. Sometimes you just
open your web browser for the day and there they are--and no idea where they came from.
They are often snuck in with other software installations, updates, or via a
malware/spyware attack. Some toolbars are just annoying and take up room in your
browser. Others do that AND facilitate browser hijacks that compromise your whole
system’s security. How can you tell if a toolbar is bad? Well, I don’t think ANY toolbars are
necessarily good (or even useful)--but if you’re seeing websites and search engines get
redirected, that definitely needs to be fixed.
The reason it needs to be dealt with is that sometimes this is just the foot in the door to enable even worse malware to cause more problems in your computer later. Also, if it’s forcing you to use a search engine other than Google, you’re not going to get very good search results. In fact, a recent web report by Sophos revealed that Bing (Microsoft’s search engine) has twice as many “poisoned links” in their results as Google. ("Poisoned" links are links that will give your computer malware—i.e., search for one thing and get another!). Another reason I recommend Google for search instead of Bing:
http://www.neowin.net/news/searcher-beware-bing-has-twice-as-many-poison-links-as-googleSo, how do you get rid of all of those toolbars? For more "legitimate" toolbars, such as Ask, Google, Yahoo, etc., you should be able to remove them through the normal sottware removal process (Control Panel - Uninstall a program). Other toolbars, espeically those which redirect your search results (e.g. Babylon toolbar, Yontoo, etc.) can only be totally removed by using specialized software and/or registry editing. If you are noticing that toolbars seem to be slowing down your browsing experience or are directing you to web sites that you were not expecting, please give us a call. We can help you get your computer cleaned up and freed up from the tyranny of the toolbars!
There are many phone and internet scams in existence today which are designed to trick mainly home computer users into thinking that there is something wrong with their computers and then cleverly working to extort money from the victims in order to "fix" the problem which wasn't there in the first place. In a twist on this ruse, computer repair technician and podcaster Scott Johnson records one such call and blogs about the results:
My troll call with a tech support scammer
This is a current popular scam that unfortunately snags a lot of unsuspecting computer users. It’s the Fake Tech Support scam.
You get a call from someone claiming to be with “Microsoft” or from “Windows” and they tell you that your computer has been reporting some problems and viruses, so they need to just log in and check it for you. The reality is that they are probably calling from an internet cafe like the one pictured above, just trying to “reel in” their next victim.
Of course, the end goal for the “tech” is to get the victim to pull out their credit card and pay for this “service”. They will find all kinds of viruses and infections on the computer (that aren’t really there) in order to instill fear in the mind of the owner, and unfortunately a lot of people fall for it.
Recently I found one of these scam companies and contacted them, posing as a customer whose computer was running too slowly (probably the most common complaint any tech hears). I was told I would get a call back in about 10 minutes, and that is what happened.
I was ready for that call – I recorded the audio of the call, as well as what was happening on my computer screen when I allowed the scammer to log in.
One thing to keep in mind, as you hear the “tech” talk about all the infections in my computer – this was a computer that is completely clean. There were no infections in it whatsoever.
Here are some things to notice in the video:
:10 – He identifies himself as being from the Technical Department from Windows Service Center from Microtech (lots of official-sounding names, signifying nothing).
:44 – He tells me my computer has infections before he even connects to it.
1:46 – For some reason he wanted to show me the Wikipedia entry for “Koobface”, the virus he claimed was infecting my computer. Apparently this was supposed to be proof of some sort.
2:05 – This is where he wants to show me the infected files. So he clicks Start – Run and then does a search for inf infection. All this does is bring up files and folders that contain either of those terms. This is a clever misdirect because it is a totally meaningless search. Lots of files will match that search. For example, any file that has the word “information” will come up as a match, because it contains “inf”. So of course lots of files and folders come up when he does this.
When the search results came up, here is how he described them:
“These are the files and folders with the help of which your Windows 7 works and runs. If one of the files has been highly corrupted, then on a chain basis all the files will be corrupted. And for that reason the computer might can stop working. Or it might can crash at any point of time.”
At this point, I’m wondering – if all my Windows files are corrupted, how is the computer running right now?
3:05 – He says he will try to open one of the files, and if Windows cannot open the file then that means it is corrupted. This is another clever ruse. The file he tries to open is “acpi.PNF”. This is a Windows system file (that’s why it is in the Windows folder). It is not meant to be opened and viewed because there is no program associated with the .PNF extension. In other words, if the file was “acpi.doc”, the computer knows that all .DOC files get opened with Word. For a file that ends with .PNF, there is no program to open it. So of course it doesn’t open, and he points to that as “proof” that the file is corrupted.
4:05 – I asked him what is the difference between a “virus” and an “infection”. His response:
“A virus is a very common thing. It always pops up right in front of your desktop screen stating that you have a virus in your computer. Now the online infections are always in a hidden format, corrupting your system, which you know your computer might suddenly stop working or suddenly might crash. And this cannot be defended by any kind of antivirus in your computer, like Norton, AVG, McAfee, or CyberDefender, whatever you use. They cannot go ahead and protect you and save your computer.”
The guy was a smooth talker, but his words were utter nonsense.
4:50 – Now he will try to open that same file, but he will force it to open in Notepad (Windows plain text editor). Since the file is not designed to be opened or viewed, what shows on the screen looks like random gibberish:
I of course, playing the unknowing newbie, expressed shock at that. He told me these were “the infections that are on each and every file on my computer in a hidden format”. It really was laughable what he was asking me to believe. Unfortunately, a lot of people do fall for it.
6:10 – For his final proof that my computer is fully infected, he claims he is about to do a “Windows internal scan”. This is another move that I have to give him a little bit of credit for – it’s pretty clever.
He types Run – then CMD and Enter. This brings up what is called the Command Prompt. It is just something that looks like the old DOS windows on older machines. He says this is where he will do the “scan”. On HIS computer (which I cannot see), he has a large text file which he COPIES (to his clipboard). Then on MY screen, he quickly does a right-click and PASTE – so that large text file starts scrolling up the screen. It does look like a scan, but it is nothing more than just the text he pasted.
When the “scan” is done, guess what – the text all turned RED. I guess that was to make it look infected, and it really did look scary! Of course, if you look near the bottom of the window, there is a command: “color c“. Whenever that command is entered at a command prompt, it turns the text red. Obviously not something the average person would know, so the scammer doesn’t even care that it is sitting right there in front of me in plain sight.
The last line of that window stated that my system damage was 80%, and that my “security warranty” had expired. Apparently this was how all those nasty infections invaded my poor computer. Funny thing is, “security warranty” is just a vague mumbo-jumbo term and there really is no such thing that needs to be “renewed” in Windows. But that is what he wants me to buy.
11:15 – Finally he goes for the close. He quotes me the pricing for renewing this imaginary security license:
For 2 years: $299
For 3 years: $374
For my lifetime: $549 (Note: this is not the lifetime of the computer. It is for the rest of MY life. And this covers any computer I might buy in the future, and any other computer in my house. Any computer problems will be repaired at no cost. Obviously he wants to make the most expensive option also appear to be the best value. But this proposal is about as far-fetched as anything he has told me so far.)
14:00 – The call came to an end in a way that you would never guess. You just have to listen to it.
These guys obviously have things down to a science with this scam. There is one big factor that makes this scam different from a lot of other ones. With most online scams, at some point the victim figures out that he’s been scammed, then there’s no way to get the money back because you usually pay cash or Western Union which is never recoverable. In this case, you pay with a credit card. So wouldn’t you think the scammers would have a problem with their victims complaining and contesting the charge when they find out they got scammed? But it’s not a problem for them for this one reason: the victim never realizes he was scammed. He pays his money, the scammer “fixes” the computer and does another fake scan, and this time the text all comes up white instead of red. So that must mean it got fixed! So since the victim doesn’t know any better, he thinks he just bought something of value, and does not complain. Gotta hand it to these guys, they have figured out a way to part people from their money.
Have you had a call like this? How was it different? I would love to hear what your experience was.
It's no secret that one of the most important elements of computer security is to keep the software on your machine up to date. The people who write malicious software such as viruses, spyware, keyloggers and ransomeware are constantly seeking to exploit security flaws which are discovered and publicized in the various pieces of software which are used in today's computing environment. In previous years, Microsoft Windows and the software which was a part of it (Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player, etc.) were perhaps the biggest targets. While security flaws continue to be exploited in Windows, though, the bigger targets recently have been third-party software applications such as Java and Adobe Flash player, which are installed on virtually all computers. Even Apple employees were hacked in a recent attack which took advantage of a security vulnerability in Java. (Please don't believe the lie that Apple computers and devices are inherently more secure than Windows, especially as their vulnerability to attacks will likely increase proportionality with their market share.
What's one of the best way to keep your computer secure? Keep it up to date! Turn on Windows Updates and allow them to be installed automatically. However, this will only update the Windows software on your computer. What about all of the other software which is the target of malware, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, Flash Player, Java, iTunes, etc.? Thankfully, there is a free tool available which will patch all of these pieces of software in one fell swoop. Patch My PC is a small piece of software which can be either downloaded and run one time or (better) can be saved and run by computer users at regular intervals (e.g. once a week). The program will scan your computer for 12 commonly installed programs and will determine whether or not they are up to date. If they are not, it will highlight which programs need updates and, upon your approval, will download and install those updates automatically. No longer will you have to go to each vendor's website and manually download updates for particular products. Optionally, Patch My PC can also scan for approximately 85 other pieces of software and can install updates for those as well. The tool can also help you disable startup programs which could be slowing down your computer and uninstall unwanted software applications.
While Patch My PC is currently designed as a tool for computer technicians, it is simple an intuitive enough for most home users to incorporate into an overall computer security strategy. A version of the program is supposedly forthcoming. However, with the recent highly publicized security exploits, it would be wise to add this tool to your arsenal now. Click here
to download PatchMyPC.
It's simply amazing that you can buy a used laptop with Windows 7 Ultimate on Craigslist for just $129.00, especially when the Windows 7 Ultimate operating system retails for about $170.00. What's going on here? Someone is buying that used laptop, loading it with a pirated version of Microsoft Windows and then reselling it to make a profit. He or she is, essentially, stealing a copy of Windows and then selling it, along with a piece of used hardware, in an effort to make some money.
What is Software Piracy and Why Should I Care?Software piracy is the unauthorized copying or distribution of copyrighted software. This can be done by copying, downloading, sharing, selling, or installing multiple copies onto personal or work computers. In the case of the Microsoft Windows 7 operating system, which we will deal with in this article, people usually pirate the software either to upgrade their current computer to the latest Microsoft operating system without having to pay for it or they do it to increase the resale value on a used computer, as given in the example above. Consumers should care particularly about software piracy for two reasons. The first is a general, moral reason that any illegal use of a copyrighted work is wrong; it's stealing from the company that invested, in Microsoft's case, millions of dollars to develop that product. Unfortunately, though, this not enough to deter many users from installing a cracked copy of Windows 7 or buying a computer with a pirated copy of Windows 7. The second, more practical reason that consumers should avoid an illegitimate copy of Windows is that Microsoft has put several safeguards in place to detect whether or not particular copies of Windows are genuine. The Windows 7 software regularly "phones home" to report is license status. If the product key associated with the installation of Windows 7 is found to not be genuine (e.g. activated on multiple computers), the operating system can be rendered into a reduced-functionality state and users can be denied important security updates from Microsoft. If this happens, the computer will become increasingly vulnerable to malware and virus attacks, especially if it is connected to the Internet.
What are the Legal Ways to Obtain Microsoft Windows?
There are primarily three legitimate sources to buy Microsoft Windows software: OEM, retail and refurbished. OEM (original equipment manufacturer) software is bundled with the price of new computer. When you purchase a computer from Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc., and open the box, the software that is pre-installed on that computer is OEM software. A new computer will have a Microsoft Certificate of Authenticity sticker on the side or the back of the system, branded with the name of the manufacturer, which will contain the license ID and 25-digit product key for the copy of Microsoft Windows which came pre-installed on your system. If you ever needed to re-install the operating system and re-activate the Windows license, you would use the product key on that sticker.
A second legal source for software is retail or packaged software. In other words, if you would like to upgrade your Windows Vista computer to Windows 7, you could go to a store and buy a Windows 7 upgrade license, which retails from about $100-150, depending on what specific version to which you are upgrading. A retail copy of the software will contain an upgrade edge-to-edge hologram DVD, a Certificate of Authenticity sticker and a 25-digit product key code which you will need to enter during the upgrade process.
A third authorized source for Windows 7 software is a refurbished license. These can only be obtained from Microsoft Authorized Refurbishers or Microsoft Registered Refurbishers. These licenses can only be sold with a computer which has been through a refurbishment process; the software cannot be purchased separately. When a consumer purchases a MAR computer, he or she will receive a Certificate of Authenticity sticker, an re-installation DVD and a card with the 25-digit product key.
How Can I Tell if My Copy of Windows is Genuine?
As mentioned above, it is wise to make sure that you have a Certificate of Authenticity which matches the version of Windows which is installed on your computer (e.g. if you have Windows 7 Home Premium, make sure that your COA is for the same version of Windows.) Also, it is helpful to have the 25-digit product key code which is associated with your installation of Windows. With OEM software, this code will be on the COA sticker. Retail copies will usually have the product key code on a sticker inside the packaging which came with the installation disk (Don't throw that packaging away!) Refurbished computers will be sold with a card which has the product key on it. If you are not sure what your product key code is, you can usually extract it from your installation of Windows by using a software tool such as Magic Jelly Bean. Microsoft also offers a free online tool to check the validity of your installation of Windows.
In our next blog post, we will tackle the question of what to do if you find that your copy of Windows is not genuine.
While home computers were once considered a luxury, today they are becoming more and more of a necessity. It is becoming increasingly common for many households to have several computers. However, it can be expensive for the average family when it comes time to repair or replace an aging Windows XP system. Though PC's have drastically come down in price, it can still cost several hundred dollars to purchase even an entry-level computer.
Another option that home computer users can consider is purchasing a quality refurbished computer. While many home users buy a PC and then keep it until it stops working, many businesses prefer or require to have the latest and fastest desktop and laptop systems and only keep them for 2-3 years. The result is that there are many off-lease models available which still have a good bit of life left in them. System vendors often acquire these computers, test the hardware components, replace any failing hardware and then resell them for a 50-70% of the original asking price when they were new.
What's the Difference Between Refurbished and Used?
Good question! A used computer system is one which has been previously owned and utilized and is being re-sold, essentially "as is". There is no guarantee as to the quality of the hardware components or the presence of the previous owner's data. From a licensing standpoint, a used system is not required to, but may, include the original operating system disks and manuals which came with the system. Many systems which are offered for sale on Craigslist or Ebay fall under this designation. Buying a used computer is similar to buying a used car. You might have a good experience, or you might be buying the previous owner's problems.
A refurbished computer is one which has been previously owned and utilized, but has undergone an extensive process including an internal cleaning of the system, wiping all of the previous owner's data from the hard drive, testing of all hardware components, possibly and upgrade to the hardware components (RAM, hard drive, etc.), a clean installation of the latest Microsoft operating system and installation of the most current security updates. A refurbished computer may also include additional software such as antivirus programs or productivity applications. A refurbished computer, according to Microsoft, is a computer which is installed with genuine Microsoft software and has been outfitted with a Refurbished Certificate of Authenticity. Basically, a refurbished computer has been re-manufactured. It has been made "new" though the parts are a few years old. Is a Refurbished System Right for You?
The answer to this question will depend upon your computing needs. If you have software which requires particularly fast computer hardware (processor, RAM, hard drive, etc.), then a refurbished system may not be the best match for you. However, if your computing needs are fairly basic - web surfing, email, word processing, etc., then a refurbished system may work quite well for you. It is also an affordable and legal way to get a computer with the latest operating system (Windows 7 at this point) installed for less than it would be for you to purchase that operating system in a store. Can I Buy a Refurbished Computer from Just Anybody?Many computers which are sold online claim to be refurbished, but in fact they fall more closely under the "used" catagory. It takes more than just re-installing the operating system to qualify a computer as refurbished. A computer which qualifies as truly refurbished, according to Microsoft, must undergo, at a minimum, the following:
Users who purchase a refurbished computer must receive either a hard-drive or DVD-based recovery solution which allows for the re-installation of the operating system, should that be required.
- external and internal cleaning of components
- Thorough, quality hardware testing.
- If necessary, repair, replacement or addition of parts
- If necessary, upgrades of the random access memory (RAM) and/or the hard disk drive.
- Clearing of all data and software from the previous owner using a data sanitation process in accordance with the Guidelines for Media Sanitization published in the National Institute of Standards and Technology Special Publication 800-88 or similar standard.
- Installation of a Legally-purchased and licensed copy of the Microsoft Windows operating system which matches the certificate of authenticity (COA) sticker on the computer case.
Sarasota Home Computers is proud to announce that it is an official Microsoft Registered Refurbisher which is qualified to offer quality refurbished desktops and laptops to its customers at an affordable price. We work hard to ensure that each system that we offer for sale through our refurbishment program has been thoroughly tested, is in good working order and is able to provide our customers with a quality, stable computing experience. You can be assured that when you purchase a refurbished computer from us that you are getting a quality product at a price which reflects reliable hardware components and a proven quality control process. Please click on our "Refurbished Computers" link to view our current desktop and laptop offerings.
The Microsoft Windows XP operating system, though far and away the most used desktop operating system in the world, is slowly beginning to sink into the sunset. First released in 2001, XP continues to dominate the market share on the majority of computers, even after 11 years. However, Microsoft has set an of support date of April 8, 2014. What this means is that after that date, Windows XP will no longer receive software and security updates from Microsoft, leaving computers running XP increasingly vulnerable to virus and malware attacks. Likewise, many software vendors will take their cue from Microsoft on or before that date and will no longer support their products running on a Windows XP computer.
How do I know what operating system I have?
The quick, easy way to determine what operating system you are running is to bring up the System Properties window. To do this, press and hold the Windows key on your keyboard and then press the "Pause/Break" key (it's on the same row as the F1-F12 keys, to the right above the arrow keys and Page Up/Down keys). If you are running XP, the window will look something like this:
Will my XP computer Still Run after that date? Yes, your computer will still run. However, it will become increasingly more difficult and expensive to repair and support Windows XP machines after this date. If you are running Windows XP on your home computer, you should begin planning now to either upgrade your current computer to a newer operating system or purchase a new computer to replace the XP machine that you have.
Should I upgrade or replace my computer?Most home computers which have Windows XP installed are likely more than 4 or 5 years old. If this is the case, then it may be wise to consider purchasing a new computer rather than upgrading. Hardware components (e.g. motherboard, power supply, RAM, etc.) can become harder to find and increasingly expensive on an older system. However, if your computer is newer, or if you wish to install Windows 7 on your XP machine, start by downloading and running the Microsoft Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. This free tool will help you determine if the hardware on your current machine is capable of running Windows 7 and whether or not there may be compatibility issues with the software currently installed on your machine. Keep in mind that when upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7, all of your programs (e.g. Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, etc.) will have to be re-installed; there is no in-place upgrade option available for XP to 7. In order to upgrade your computer to Windows 7, you will need to purchase a legal copy of Windows 7, which currently retails for about $120-$150. Home users, though, can purchase a Windows 7 Home Premium Family Pack, which can be installed on up to 3 PC's. Upgrading a computer, though, can be a daunting task for many folks. If that is the case, Sarasota Home Computers can assist. We have a flat rate price of $90 for operating system installs and upgrades.
If you choose to purchase a new Windows-based computer within the next 2 years, it will come pre-installed with either Windows 7 or Windows 8 (to be released this Fall). When transitioning to a new computer, the question for many home users is how to get all of the "stuff", music, pictures, documents, etc. from the old machine to the new machine. The software programs that were installed on the old computer must be installed on the new computer. It can also be a little bit intimidating to learn a new operating system, especially if you have used Windows XP for several years. We can help with this transition. Like the operating system re-install, we offer a new computer setup service which includes physically setting up the new system, transferring user files from the old computer to the new system, walking you through the basics of the new operating system and making recommendations about the disposition of your old computer.
For more information on this topic, please read our customer information sheet on When is it Time to Upgrade to a New Computer.
If you are currently running Windows XP on your home computer, don't panic. However, do begin planning now to transition to a newer operating system or a new computer sometime within the next two years.
One of the more common complaints about passwords is that we have so many of them to remember. Virtually every website which allows secure transactions (banking, shopping, member-based sites, etc.) requires a username and password. While best security practices dictate that people use unique, strong passwords to log into each site, it becomes difficult or nearly impossible to remember the plethora of passwords which are required in today's web-surfing environment. One way to deal with the dilemma of remembering multiple passwords is to utilize an online password manager. Though there are several available on the market today, we will explore one in particular: Lastpass.Why You Should Use a Password ManagerAs we mentioned in our previous post, though Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox (the three top web browsers for Windows-based machines) have an option to save passwords that you type into various sites, the passwords are not terribly secure and could be compromised by malicious software or a mildly knowledgeable hacker. Therefore, you should not depend on the tools which are built into your browser. However, a third-party Password Manager will work in conjunction with your browser to store and manage all of your online passwords. Once implemented, you will only have to remember and use one, preferably very strong, master password. Here are 3 primary reasons to consider using a tool such as LastPass to manage your online passwords:
"Wow! That sounds like a great tool, but how much is that going to cost me?" You might ask. Zilch. Zero. Nada. The Lastpass browser plugin is free, and is available for Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera. There is also a tool for Android, iPhone and Blackberry devices, but this requires a subscription to Lastpass Premium for a whopping $12.00 per year. If you have never used an online password manager, give Lastpass a try. You will be glad that you did.
- Security The most important reason to use such a tool is that it provides a higher level of security for your passwords than you otherwise would have. Your passwords will be stored in an encrypted vault with a cipher different from, and hopefully stronger than, your Windows password. All of the encryption and decryption of your Lastpass account takes place on your local computer, rather than on their server. No one at that company has access to all of your stored data. Lastpass also has a built-in tool to generate ultra-secure passwords (e.g. 15+ character, mixture of letters, symbols & numbers) for each site you visit. You can therefore be assured that no one will be able to guess the passwords to your web accounts, as each one will be different and complex. Lastpass also has a tool which will help you to measure the strength of the passwords stored in your vault, giving you an overall online security score.
- Organization - Just as you would use a wallet or purse to organize and store your valuable credit cards, a password management tool allows you to see and manage all of the usernames and passwords for all of the sites that you visit on a regular basis. When you first set up Lastpass, you will be presented with an option to import all of the passwords which are currently stored in your browser. Once imported, all of your usernames and passwords can be seen in an easy-to-use password vault. If you prefer, Lastpass also has a "secure notes" section where you can save additional information such as driver's license numbers, credit card and banking account numbers, etc. If your purse was ever lost or stolen, you could refer to one central location to look up and cancel all of your accounts.
- Convenience. One of the best parts of an online password manager is that it can be set, per website, to automatically log you in. No longer will you have to sit and stare at your computer while you try to remember what the username and/or password is to access a particular website. Lastpass will do this for you. If you have multiple computers, Lastpass can be set up on each of them, thereby allowing you access to your passwords from multiple locations or, when necessary, sharing them with other family members.
These days all of the most critical data in our lives is often saved online - email, banking, bill paying, shopping, etc. Each of these sites requires a username and password. To be honest, this is an area where many of us become lazy, often using the same password, or a slight variant, to log into all of these sites. This is, however, a huge security vulnerability, and makes it easier for hackers and for malicious software to gain access to your accounts. Please consider implementing the following habits into your password routine:
In my next article we will explore some tools that you can use to help you create, remember and manage passwords.
- Use a strong password. What is a strong password? According to Microsoft, and most computer security experts, a strong password is at least 8 characters (the more, the better), has a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols, does not incorporate words found in a dictionary and does not use sequences of numbers or letters (e.g. 12345, abcdefg, qwerty, etc.). While such a password sounds difficult to create and even harder to remember, it's actually easier than you think. To create a strong password, start with a phrase or sentence that is easy for you to remember (e.g. Great people make great passwords), then remove the spaces and change or remove 2 or more letters and at least 1 symbol: Gr8peoplemak3gr8psswrds] Next, check your password strength against a password checker. (This one is great, as it tells you how long it would take a desktop computer to hack the password via a brute force dictionary attack. My sample would take about 806 Octillion years!) Once you have crafted your password, open windows notepad and practice typing your password several times. By doing this, you will help your brain and your fingers "learn" the new password. It should go without saying that you should avoid using the same password for everything.
- Your email password is probably your most important password. Though many of us may not realize it, your email password is generally the "key to kingdom". If you forget your login password for just about any site on the Internet, what is the most common way to recover or reset that password? The answer is your email account. When you initially register with most sites, you are required to enter your email address for this reason. Therefore, if someone can guess and change your email password, that person could effectively reset or get at all of your other online passwords. Consider setting a strong password for your email account. Some email accounts, such as Gmail, even offer 2-factor authentication, In such a scenario, Google would send an additional code to your cell phone that you would have to use in order to reset your Gmail password. This drastically reduces the chances of someone hacking your Gmail account.
- Don't depend on your Internet browser to save your passwords. Though this is convenient, this is not terribly secure. Saved passwords in Internet Explorer and Google Chrome are stored in a Windows registry key. Though they are encrypted, the cipher, or key to unlock the encryption, is your Windows password. If you do not use a password to log onto your Windows computer, then the passwords are effectively not protected. They can be viewed by free programs such as IE PassView or ChromePass. Presumably, if they can be viewed by these programs, they can also be viewed by any malicious software that would be running under your Windows user account. Also, keep in mind that Windows passwords are fairly easy to hack or change. Mozilla Firefox does have a built-in Master Password that encrypts saved passwords with 3DES encryption, which should be fine, assuming that you create a strong master password.
- Avoid "forever" passwords Some sites prompt you to change your password at select intervals (e.g. every 3 months), while other sites will never ask you to change your password. Passwords that never change make it easier on the customer to log into sites, but this is not a good security practice. You might want to consider scheduling a "change my passwords" day every so often in which you change all of your computer and online passwords at the same time.
- Your cell phone needs a password, too. If you have a phone, and it becomes lost or stolen, how much of a problem would it be if someone else accessed the data stored on that phone? If you have a basic cell phone, the data may be limited to names and phone numbers. However, if you have a smart phone, the data that could be compromised could include email, online banking and any other password-protected applications that you have on your device. At a minimum, you should consider password-protecting your phone in some way. For smart phones, you might also want to consider some type of remote-wiping software should your phone be lost or stolen. The same is true for tablet devices, such as iPads and Android tablets.
- No legitimate company will ever request your password. If you receive an email or a phone call from anyone requesting your username or password, no matter how legitimate it may look or sound, do not give out that information. This is known as a phishing attack, and it is designed to trick you into handing over your information. Any company which maintains a secure database of client information has the ability to access that information apart from your account.
While the Internet is an incredible resource for families, it can also expose kids to danger and can be a point of contention between kids and parents. Parents have the responsibility to help their children understand and use the great technological resources which are at their disposal. At the same time, they also have the responsibility to protect their children from those things which could harm them and from people who would take advantage of them. Just a few years ago parents only had to concern themselves with the computers in their home. However, today online access has become much more prolific. Kids now access the internet, in its various forms, through PC's, tablet computers, gaming systems and cell phones.
Begin with a frank discussion with your kids
It is incredibly important to precede any efforts to filter or lock down a home network with an honest discussion with your children about what you expect of them, what they can expect from you and how you will be helping to protect them when they are online. This discussion must cover several areas, including web surfing habits, what information they give out online, cyber bullying, access to password-protected accounts, downloading and installing software from the Internet and general computer and phone usage. A good resource for such a discussion is Kim Komando's 10 Commandments for Kids Online. This statement covers, point by point, most of the areas that parents need to discuss with your children. It's important for kids to know that access to the Internet, and technology in general, is a privilege, not a right. It's also important to point out that there must be ongoing discussions with kids about how technology is used within your home, both in general as well as when issues arise.
Express an Interest in What Your Kids are Doing
Parents need to be truly interested in what their kids are doing online. Ask questions and be willing learn from your kids. Don't know how to send a text message? Have your son or daughter teach you. Never used an iPad before? Let your kid give you a quick lesson. Even if you have little interest in learning how to play an Xbox game, take the time to give it a try. It will let your child know that you care about what is important to them and will go a long way toward strengthening your relationship with him or her.
Set Some House Rules
How many hours a day will family members spend surfing the web, watching TV, sending text messages? It's better to lay down some standards early on, stick to them and negotiate changes when necessary rather than arbitrarily declaring, "You've spent too much time text messaging today. Put the phone down." Along with the rules, decide with your kids beforehand what the consequences will be if the rules are violated. As with other areas of parenting, kids want and need boundaries in the usage of technology. Work with your kids upfront to negotiate what is good and fair.
Technology Tools at Your Disposal
Once you have the "human" aspect of the issue taken care of, you can begin to look at some technological tools which will help you accomplish the task of protecting your kids online. If you are unsure how to do any of the following, please drop us a note or give us a call. We would be happy to help you put these resources in place. One tool to consider using is a custom DNS server. DNS stand for Dynamic Naming Service. It is the service which translates the common name of a website (such as yahoo.com) into the numerical Internet Protocol address that computers use to communicate with one another. Therefore when you type in www.yahoo.com in the address bar in your web browser, the DNS service translates that to 126.96.36.199. The same thing happens when you click on a link. A custom DNS server can block access to certain websites which contain objectionable content. You can set up a custom DNS server either in the Internet settings on a local computer or set it up on the router which provides internet access to your entire household. A great, free resource for families is OpenDNS FamilySheild. The short tutorial at HowToGeek explains how to set this up. The FamilyShield version of OpenDNS will, by default, block 13 categories of adult-related sites and illegal activity. It will also block known malware and phishing sites. Once you have set up OpenDNS, you can monitor where family members are going online, regardless of what device (desktop, laptop, phone, iPad, etc) they are using to access the Internet. You can also block or unblock access to specific sites. Because OpenDNS is web-based, you can monitor and control this from any internet-connected computer.
A Quick Video Overview of OpenDNS
While a custom DNS server is not the only tool that parents can or should use, it can be a good first step in helping parents get a handle on where kids can go on the Internet.
Additional sites and resources for protecting your kids online:
Though we look at it every time that we use our computers, the LCD computer screen is one component that often suffers from neglect. Below are some tips to help make your monitor last as long as possible. Though these tips are generally geared toward desktop LCD displays, the tips apply to laptop screens as well.
Don't Touch It!
Unlike the old CRT computer and television screens in the days of old, LCD screens are sensitive. If you press on the screen with your fingers or a sharp object such as a pencil or a pen, it could easily damage the surface or kill some pixels on the monitor. Therefore, avoid touching the screen whenever possible, unless Likewise, while it may be O.K. to stick a Post-It note or scotch tape on the plastic frame on the outside of your monitor, do not stick anything on the monitor screen itself.
Clean it Right!
You want to be very careful in how you clean your monitor. Because of the heat and the static buildup, it will collect dust from the air over a period of time. However, do not use any ammonia-based products, such as Windex or other window cleaners to clean your monitor. These will damage the anti-reflective coating on the screen. Likewise, do not use paper towels or tissues to clean the LCD, as these are far too abrasive and will leave scratches and lint on your screen. While compressed air can be a great tool for removing the dust from inside of your computer, do not utilize this method to remove dust from your screen, as this can scratch the surface as well. The best way to clean your screen, when needed, is to use a dry microfiber cloth to remove the dust particles. It is best to turn the monitor off when you do this. Do not apply much pressure when you are wiping down the screen, as this can cause dead pixels. If you notice any stubborn areas on your screen which don't come off with a dry cloth, you can lightly dampen the cloth with water or use a cleaning solution which is designed for LCD monitors. When using cleaner, spray it onto the microfiber cloth rather than directly onto the screen. If you would prefer, you can even mix up your own cleaning solution by combining one part water and 1 part isopropyl alchohol in your spray bottle.
If an LCD monitor is well-cared-for, it will often outlast the computer itself. Treat your screen like a delicate pair of glasses and it will give you years of faithful service.