Monthly Articles

Buy a Modem For Your Time-Warner Internet and Save $4.00 a Month on Your Bill

Last week I wrote about how starting next month our Time-Warner Internet was going to start costing us an additional $4.00 a month since they are now going to be charging us a fee for leasing the modem that previously was just included in the monthly charge.

Since then I’ve purchased a modem and today replaced my Time-Warner owned modem with a modem that I own, meaning I won’t have to pay the additional monthly fee going forward and my modem will be paid for in under 18 months.  I have to say, it was just about as quick and easy as Time-Warner said it would be.  There are a few different modems to choose from depending on your level of service:

If you have their basic Internet service (with or without phone), then you can get the Motorola SB5101U at Walmart for $55 (it will pay for itself by Christmas next year.)  If you have their Turbo, Extreme or Ultimate service you’ll want the Motorola SB6141.  You can get it at Amazon.com for $130, but I found that the older model SB6121 (which is what I bought for myself) for $80 from Newegg.com works just fine with my Turbo service and the speed is the same.  Walmart has it for $90.

It’s a slightly different process if you also have phone service through Time-Warner, so I’ll cover both below:

If you have Internet only (no phone service) with Time-Warner, then all you have to do is disconnect the old modem and plug in the new one.  There is the cable wire from the wall to the modem and the Ethernet cable that goes from the router to the modem.  Just disconnect them from one and connect them to the other.  Then you call Time-Warner at 512-485-5555 and talk to tech-support.  On the bottom of the modem (and also on the box) is the MAC address, give them that address and they will activate your modem and you’re in business (see the photo at the bottom of the article.)  Return the old modem to Time-Warner and you’re free from the additional fee.

If you have phone service along with Internet from Time-Warner, then the good news is you won’t have to return the modem, rather, you’ll have to get a splitter similar to the photo to the left, and split the cable so that the signal goes to both your old box (for the phone) and your new modem (for the Internet.)  You can get a splitter at Radio Shack, Home Depot or Lowes.  Be sure to pick up a couple of short lengths of cable to connect the splitter to your boxes.  The cable from the wall goes to the “IN” side and the cables to your boxes connect to the “OUT” connectors.  Once you’re hooked up, call Time-Warner at 512-485-5555, and give the tech-support people the MAC address from the label on the bottom of the modem or the outside of the box (see the photo at the bottom of the article.)

I checked with Time-Warner (a gal named Rachel) and she told me that when your new modem is activated, then even though you are keeping the old modem (for phone service only) you will NOT be charged the $3.95.

So if you’ve had enough of being nickel and dimed by the cable company (the phone company isn’t any better so don’t suddenly jump ship to AT&T), then get yourself a modem and save yourself some money.

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3 Secrets to Avoiding Viruses and Malware

I posted this a year and a half ago – but by popular demand, here it is again:

 

Viruses, spyware, adware, worms, trojans, rootkits, bots… they are all terms referring to what is generically known as malware, software that does bad things.  It might log your keystrokes, then send those keystrokes (like when you log into your bank) to the bad guy, it might use your computer to send spam email, it could pop up on your screen telling you that you’re infected with all kinds of viruses and you need to buy their virus removal program, and it won’t go away until you do.  No matter what it does, you DON’T want it on your computer.

Unfortunately a lot of computer users think that since they have anti-virus software on their computer they can’t get viruses, so it’s ok to be somewhat reckless on the internet.  Well, thinking that you won’t get infected because you have anti-virus software is like thinking you can’t get killed in your car because it has airbags.  You drive your car 120 mph into an oncoming truck and see just how well that airbag protects you.

So, if your anti-virus software can’t completely protect you, what can you do?  Follow these three guidelines (I call them secrets because so many people don’t seem to be aware of them) and it will be very hard for your computer to get bit by a bug.

imageDON’T OPEN ATTACHMENTS AND DON’T CLICK ON LINKS IN EMAIL. Email and web pages are the primary avenue of attack for the bad guys.  Clicking on links in email is a easy way to download a virus or get taken to a web site full of malware looking for ways to get into your computer.  The same goes for attachments, opening an attachment is like playing Russian Roulette with your computer.  So how do we make this a practical guideline?

If you’re expecting the email, then of course it’s ok to open.  If you were at a family reunion last weekend, and someone in the family sends you an email with photos attached and in the email says “here are some photos from the reunion”, then of course, open them and enjoy.  But if you get a message from a friend of yours and all it says is “check out this video of you on the Internet!”, don’t click on the link!  In all likelihood your friend has a virus on his/her computer, and the VIRUS sent the email, not your friend.  This is a common way that a virus spreads.  It goes through your email address book and sends a generic message to everyone that appeals to our natural sense of curiosity.  You get that email and the first thing you think is “wow, what is this video that my friend is talking about?”  2 seconds later you find yourself clicking on the link because you’re curious.  At this point it’s too late and you’ve probably infected your system.

I know you’d like to look at that PowerPoint file of the cute kittens and puppies, or follow that link to read about the 3 headed baby, but just resist the urge and keep your system safe.  If you think the link is safe but you hear my words echoing in the back of your mind, just remember that the actual destination of the link can be hidden, so to be safe open your web browser and TYPE the address in yourself:

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KEEP YOUR COPY OF WINDOWS AND OTHER SOFTWARE UP TO DATE. The bad guys are always looking for a new way to get inside your computer.  The most important (and likely) targets are your operating system (Windows), your web browser (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Google Chrome), Adobe Acrobat Reader (for viewing PDF files), Adobe Flash (used to view video on sites like YouTube and most animation) and Java (by Oracle.)  In fact Java is quickly becoming the bad guys’ favorite way to get into your pc.  Java is used to allow programmers to write a program that can run on different operating systems without having to customize it.  There aren’t a lot of programs out there that require Java, and probably the best thing you can do it just REMOVE Java from your computer.  Just go to your Control Panel and click on Add/Remove Programs (Windows XP) or Programs and Features (Vista and Windows 7) and select Java for removal.  If you later find out that you need it, you can go to Java.com and download the latest version.  If you have Java and you know you need it, be sure you have the latest version (as of this writing, version 6 update 22.)

For Adobe Acrobat Reader and Flash you can go to Adobe.com/downloads and make sure you have the latest versions.

Firefox and Safari are good about notifying you when you need to download and install an update, Google Chrome pretty much just does it for you in the background.  Internet Explorer will get updated the 2nd Tuesday of every month when the Windows Updates are pushed to your computer.

Microsoft updates Windows the 2nd Tuesday of every month, so it’s important that you have automatic updates turned on and you install them when you see the icon in your taskbar tray.

It’s very important that you update your computer as soon as you get a notification, be it for Acrobat Reader, Java or Windows.  The moment these updates are published, the bad guys are analyzing them to see how they can take advantage of people who DON’T update their computers.  Also, sometimes the bad guys find the flaws first, and already are exploiting computers before the fixed are published, so don’t put this off.

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USE MOZILLA FIREFOX WITH THE “NO-SCRIPT” ADD-ON. Each web browser has things to like about it: Internet Explorer for its integration with Windows, Google Chrome for its speed, Apple Safari for its speed and more “Mac-like” appearance (and I do like the “Top-Sites” feature.)  But I always recommend Firefox with no-script because it’s the absolute best way to avoid having a malicious web site get into your computer.

So what is “no-script”?  For that matter, what is a script?  Think of the word “prescription”.  A prescription is a set of instructions from your doctor to the pharmacist, you may be delivering it but you’re just the messenger – the pharmacist reads and follows the instructions.  In the world of the Internet, scripts are instructions from the web server (the computer at the other end delivering the web pages to you) to your computer.  Scripts themselves are not inherently evil.  Scripts are necessary just for you to read this page, in fact most sites you visit employ some scripts to automate how the page looks or what information you see.  Unfortunately web browsers are a little too quick to accommodate the instructions from web servers, and a site that has been set up by a bad guy (or compromised by one) can deliver all kinds of nasty stuff on your computer, just by going to a web page.

No script is what’s called an “add-on”.  Think of it like a mini-program that plugs into Firefox, like an accessory.  There are TONS of different add-ons you can use with Firefox, I use 3 or 4 but No-script is an absolute must.  No-script prevents ANY and ALL scripts from running on a web page without your approval.  What’s nice about no-script is that once you’ve approved a site, you don’t have to do it again.  For example, you trust Google and maybe use Gmail, so once you’ve approved Gmail, you won’t have to do it again.  So the first week or so you’ll be approving lots of web sites because it will be the first time No-script has seen them, but it will eventually calm down, and just intervene when you go to a new site for the first time.  The VALUE of no-script comes into play when you accidentally mis-type a web site, say Goggle.com instead of Google.com, or Foznews.com instead of Foxnews.com.  The bad guys purchase these names because they know every know and then people make mistakes, and they just wait for you to come to them.  They also design their web pages to show up high when you search on popular topics.  For example, back in February if you searched for Jessica Biel screensavers or maybe Jennifer Aniston screensavers, about HALF of the search results took you to sites with malicious software just waiting for you.

If you should happen to click on a search result that takes you to a web site that you’re sure is not what it’s supposed to be AND you’re running No-script, then the very worst thing that will happen is you’ll see some text and perhaps graphics/pictures – but that’s all.  NOTHING will be able to install itself onto your computer, all you have to do is click on the back button go back where you started and you can rest easy knowing your computer is safe.  For a DETAILED step-by-step walkthrough of installing Firefox and setting up NoScript, see my post in Apps/Tools or click here.

There you have it.  It seems like a lot at first, but it will save you aggravation and money in the long run if you’ll just convince yourself that it’s worth it (ask my clients who unfortunately had to pay over $200 to get their computer running again after picking up some nasty viruses.)  Follow the above steps, you’ll be glad you did.

Your Router at Home May NOT be Protecting You!

imageA new flaw in how your average home router connects to other devices within the network has been discovered and may expose your entire home network (meaning all your computers) to a bad guy.

A “FEATURE” in newer routers is the ability to easily connect your devices like computers or printers to the network.  This feature is called WPS – Wi-Fi Protected Setup.  This problem is that you’re not so protected.  Because of the way it was set up, it is not difficult at all for someone to figure out how to connect to your “secured” network. 

The good news is that if your router is 3 or more years old, it probably doesn’t have WPS and you don’t have to worry, but many of the new routers have this feature.

To be safe you should log into your router and DISABLE WPS in the router, now you can keep the bad guys out (assuming you’re NOT using WEP encryption, but that’s another article.)

So if your router has a button on the front for easily connecting to another device you need to log into the router and turn that feature off.  If you’re not sure if you’re vulnerable or not sure, then call your favorite computer professional and have them turn off WPS on your router.  If they don’t understand why, then you need a new professional handling your computer issues.

Viruses are Nasty, Don’t Compound One Lie With Another

imageOften I find that a person’s computer was infected because they fell for the LIE that was told to them by a bad guy.  The most common one is the pop-up window that LOOKS like it comes from their anti-virus software or Windows telling them that they ARE infected.  The trick is that at the moment, they are NOT infected – the pop-up window is just a cleverly designed paged that gives the impression that it is scanning your hard drive and finding all kinds of problems.  In the window will be a “call to action” to click on a button to download a “fix” or program to get rid of your problems, and often is another button saying “No Thanks” or “Ask me Later”.  Clicking on either button (or anywhere within the window) is fatal because THAT is when the real virus gets downloaded onto your computer.  It asks for your permission, you say yes and that’s it, you’re infected.  If you should ever encounter one of these windows, the best thing to do is DON’T touch, close any other programs you may be running and reboot your computer.  If you’re lucky it was just a malicious html (web) page and is gone – if it comes back then they got in another way, probably through an unpatched vulnerability in Adobe Reader, Flash or Java.  I wrote about how NOT to get infected in my monthly article exactly one year ago, if you need a refresher or missed it the first time you can read it here: http://goo.gl/afEha

You’ll notice I titled this article “Don’t Compound One Lie With Another.”  What’s the other lie?  It’s when a tech person tell you over the phone without seeing your computer that they can get rid of any virus, period.  There are so many viruses out there, so many ways to infect your computer and so many places to put the virus on your computer that anyone who tells you that is either delusional or lying.  I’m not saying that you CAN’T get rid of a particular infestation, professionals have tools at their disposal that you may not know about and a knowledge of where viruses like to hide to make sure that they are in fact gone – but some viruses just don’t want to go.  For example, there are infections that “wrap” themselves around you operating systems’ files, making it impossible to remove without actually breaking your computer.  Another type is known as a “root kit” – these guys hide where your hard drive first looks when it starts Windows, and Windows just thinks it’s “part of the family” and keeps it safe from things like your anti-virus software.  Sometimes, the only way to ensure that the infestation is gone is to completely wipe the hard drive and reinstall Windows from a disc you trust (after having backed up your data of course.) 

So if you find yourself infected (and if you’ve followed my advice it’s unlikely you will) and you call someone for help, make sure they give you a best and worst case scenario of your situation.  Getting rid of the symptoms of a virus usually isn’t too hard, but that doesn’t mean other stuff isn’t still going on silently in the background.  Being free of symptoms and being free of the virus can often be two different things.

I had someone call me with a virus and was hoping to get a “deal” on getting rid of it.  I briefly explained what it would probably cost and what it could possible cost and they explained the last time they got a virus they took it to someone who got rid of it for less.  If that someone had done them the service of telling them how NOT get a virus, I wouldn’t have even been having the conversation with them.  They said “Thank you” and would get back to me.  They might have saved a few dollars, but it gets expensive to keep re-infecting a computer.

Get an honest opinion, and if they tell you how to avoid getting re-infected (and they should) please pay attention.  Let viruses be other people’s problem, not yours.

Steve Jobs 1955-2011

imageIf you read about the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and 19th centuries, you’ll read about how steam-powered machines, all-metal machine tools and advancing production techniques marked a dramatic shift in the lives of people.  When I was in school we learned about Eli Whitney, who invented the cotton gin and made possible the mass growing and harvesting of cotton, making it profitable as a crop and all that manufactured cotton can do for people.

Jump ahead two hundred years.  Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak release their first computer on April Fools Day in 1976 and Apple Computers was born.  35 years later Apple is one of if not THE biggest companies in America.  At times they have more money in the bank earning interest than the United State of America’s government.  The success of Apple Computer isn’t because they built computers.  Thousands of computer companies have come and gone since the first Apple computer, some were mom and pop shops building and selling their own models, some were once large and well-know names that you might say “oh yeah, I remember them, what ever happened to them?”  Apple is who they are today because of the vision on one man – Steve Jobs.  There are things about how Apple does things that some people don’t like, things like how when in the Apple world it is VERY hard to get apps from sources outside the regular Apple source.  Apple will argue it is for ensuring a consistent and secure customer experience, and it does that.  Others will say it limits what people can do with the product they own.  Regardless of what you might think, it’s hard to argue with Apple’s success, and THAT is directly related to the leadership of Steve Jobs.

We are fortunate to be living today in a time that will some day in history books be referred to as the computer (or digital) revolution, and no name will be referred to more as having a singular impact on how the average person created, learned or communicated in this new digital world than Steve Jobs.  Bill Gates will be remembered perhaps as the one man who made the personal computer popular and affordable for most people, but even Microsoft’s success can in part be attributed to Apple.  Would we even have Windows if Apple hadn’t built their Macintosh with the graphical user interface? 

When you think about the innovation that has driven the digital revolution of our time, you have to attribute that to Steve Jobs.  His vision and passion has made possible in computers, tablets and phones (and I don’t care WHO has built them) possible what was unthinkable even 15 years ago.

It’s a shame to lose someone so soon, but his imprint has been firmly left and hopefully we’ll continue to benefit from his vision for years to come.  I was in high school when my parents got our first VCR, and I’ve been blessed to move from the days when a simple/basic calculation that could only add, subtract, multiply and divide cost $100 to today where you can own a phone that you can carry with you anywhere, plays games, tells you where you are on the planet and how you find your destination, takes pictures, watch movies, listen to music, and much more for the same price.  And oh yeah, it does complex math as well.

Thank you Steve for making such a wonderful impact on all out lives.

Crisis and Carbonite

imageThe fire in Steiner Ranch (the community where I and many of my clients live in the NW Austin area) really drove home the need for off-site (these days usually online) backup.  24 homes here were completely destroyed by fire.  When I say completely, that includes anything that may have been on a computer and even on an external backup drive there in the home.  They are gone – along with any digital photos of kids at their first birthday, first day of school or even graduation.  Also gone are any school or work-related documents, presentation, etc. 

We’ve been back in our homes 24 hours since the mandatory evacuation and one of my clients called me today with three neighbors who wanted Carbonite on their computer to protect their data.

So what is Carbonite and what is “online backup”?  For a full explanation of backup strategy, please read my monthly article from last October titled 3-2-1 Backup.  Online backup is getting a copy of your data files (documents, photos, music, files YOU create) out of your home and onto a server off-site so that it’s safe in the event of something like robbery or fire.  Homeowners of the 24 destroyed home don’t have to worry about the information on their computers if they had Carbonite.  Carbonite would have continuously been monitoring their system and securely (as in encrypted so no one could snoop) uploaded their data to secure servers where it would be safely stored until needed.  There are of course things more important, and I don’t want to minimize the extent of their tragic loss – I just want to address the tech aspects of the disaster.  Once you replace your computer, then you can log into your Carbonite account and RESTORE all your lost data.  Your photos, music and documents that otherwise would have been lost.

When I evacuated I didn’t worry about my data – I just pulled the plug on my computers to protect them from the power surge when the power returned and walked out of the house with my dogs and a few personal items (things I truly couldn’t replace or needed.)  I knew I could get all my data back later from Carbonite if my house burnt down (thankfully it didn’t.) 

Carbonite is only $59 a year.  It automatically backs up all your data.  If you can push the button to turn on your computer, and it is connected to the Internet, then your data is safe.  You don’t have to run a special program or have any special knowledge.  As a bonus, your data is available to you from any computer you use.  If you’re away from home and want (or need) a file that was on your home computer, you can log onto Carbonite and access your files online.

I only wrote this post because it seemed evident this was a concern among computer users faced with the very REAL possibility of losing what was on their computers.  I hadn’t done so up to this point because the last thing I wanted was to have it appear as an exploited attempt to take advantage of a bad situation (frankly I’m a horrible salesperson.)  So like I said earlier, Carbonite is only $59 a year.  If you think I’m taking advantage of circumstances, then just go to Carbonite’s web site and sign up directly through them.  Otherwise, give me a call and I’ll take care of you for the very same $59.  You can set it up yourself or allow me to do it – either way the cost is the same to you (allowing me to do it puts a couple of dollars a year onto my table.)  But whatever you do – PLEASE make sure you have some kind of off-site backup.  I’ve set up many clients with an onsite backup system involving an external have drive and software that performs the backup at a specified time – but often I’ve sadly discovered that the external drives hadn’t been used for months, meaning the computer hadn’t been backed up for months.  And even with an external drive there in the home, that doesn’t protect you from fire or theft (if they take the computer, they’ll take the external drive too.)

So call me and get some peace of mind over those digital memories.  In a disaster, you have enough to worry about – just walk away from your computer, take care of more important things and let Carbonite take care of your data.

Before You Buy ANYTHING……

imageOne of my very least favorite phrases to hear my clients say over the phone is “I just bought a ….. and have some questions” or “… I need your help”. 

Please, before you put down your hard-earned money on a new piece of technology, call me!  I’ve had a client overpay by $500 for a new laptop, I’ve had clients buy printers that I know will easily end up costing triple in service calls.

Folks, I do my very best to keep up on the latest technologies and the latest prices.  Why?  TO SAVE YOU MONEY!  Part of my diabolical plan is to save you soooo much money that paying me later when you actually DO need help will seem like a total bargain.  When you go to a “big-box” store, not only are their sales people trying to sell you stuff, their SERVICE people are trying to sell you also.  Not only will they sell you a subscription for anti-virus software, they will then charge you to install it.  Will they tell you that you can download Microsoft Security Essentials for free and save $100?  No!  Will they tell you that the item you’re buying today was on sale for $150 less last week and probably will be on sale again within a month?  No!  Will they tell you that the model you’re looking at has more power than you need for your purposes, and that the identical model with a lower power processor is perfect for you and will save you $150?  No!  Will they tell you that the brand you’ve been using for years and want to purchase again is now totally owned by a different company and the quality isn’t anywhere near as good as in your old equipment?  NO!!!

So what will they tell you?  How smart you are for the research you’ve done.  Why the one you’ve chosen is an “excellent choice”.   Ok, I understand – you don’t like asking for directions.  You don’t use a GPS.  You don’t use coupons even when you can.  If someone says try blue, you’ll go for red.  I get it.

Surely you MUST be an expert in whatever field you are in.  I’m also sure your opinion is of value to whomever asks for it.  You just need to admit that you’re NOT an expert in technology (if you were, then why are you reading my blog – because this isn’t for you.) 

So what does it cost you to call me BEFORE you buy?  NOTHING!  I really want to SAVE you money.  If I don’t know off the top of my head who has the best deal on a given item, I’ll find out.  I’ll also make sure that what you WANT to buy matches what you NEED.  Perhaps you should spend more but in most cases I’ll tell you that you can and should spend less.  Why would I do this for free – well, so you’ll call me when you have a genuine problem.  If you call me after the fact and tell me you spent too much on a product, there isn’t much I can do to help you at this point.  Anyone who knows me at all or watches my show KNOWS what computer and printer brand to avoid, and also which ISP I recommend you avoid. 

So… before you buy ANTHING – CALL me, the Tek-Chic and once I know what you NEED, I’ll advise you on what to get, where to get it and how much you should spend.

Before You Post on Facebook – THINK!

imageRecently on my personal Facebook news feed I saw that a friend of mine had “commented” on a post of one of her friends.  It was an interesting comment so I followed it to her friend’s home page.  While on her friend’s page, I noticed that there was a post made by on of her friends asking her to text her and she included her phone number!  Now, this 2nd girl who posted her phone number actually has her security settings set fairly restrictive, as I wasn’t able to see too much on her page.

What she didn’t know is that her friend’s page (where she posted her phone number) had virtually NO security set on it – that’s how I was able to see her phone number.  And if I was able to see it, then the whole world is able to see it.  This girl didn’t post her area code, but she didn’t need to since her friend had ALL of her own information public, it was easy to assume they probably live in the same town, and sure enough I was right.  How did I know?  After a quick Google search to look up the area code for this particular town, I called her and left a message on her phone (her greeting confirmed I had the right person.)  So now I know her full name, the area she lives in (if not the exact town) and her cell phone number.  If I was a bad guy or some weird stalker (I guess that’s a bad guy too) then I’m sure it wouldn’t be too hard with another 30 minutes of work to find out where she lives and with a little more time where she works or who she hangs out with.  This isn’t information a 19-20 year old woman may want total strangers to have access to.

So what’s the point of my little story here (which is true by the way)?  If you’re going to post on Facebook, ASSUME that it will be public and can be seen by anyone and everyone.  Facebook is NOT the place to post ANYTHING that you would like to keep between you and your friends.  You might have your security settings locked down, but it you post to a friend’s page, you don’t know what their security settings are like, and for all you know the whole world can see what you posted.  In addition, even if you believe your friends have their security settings properly set, they in all likelihood are using a weak and easy to crack password – so if their account get’s hacked, everything you once thought was private is now in the hands of a bad guy, including any of your personal information you only share with “Friends”. 

So THINK before posting on Facebook, or for that matter anywhere on the web.  No one will protect your privacy if you don’t do it yourself.

Why You MUST Protect Your Email Account

imageWhat would someone learn about you if they were able to go through your email?   Well let’s see, for starters they will know your name if they didn’t already.  They will know your contacts and all the information you store about your contacts.  They will learn about many of the companies you do business with.  They will probably find out who you have your frequent flyer miles with.  They will find out who you have credit cards with, where you bank and possibly even your political and religious inclinations.

So if you were a bad guy, what could you do with this information?  Go through your own email and see what kind of information a bad guy might use.  Did people send you emails on your birthday – bingo, the bad guy knows your birthday.  It’s probably easy to figure out where you live – before you know it you’ve become the victim of identity theft.

But let me give you an even scarier scenario.  The bad guy already knows your email address and your password (because you had an easy password to hack it took him no time at all to get into your account.)  Now that the bad guys have full access to your email, what you do think will happen when they go web sites belonging to your bank, your credit card companies and businesses (like Amazon and Apple) that keep your credit card information “on file”, enter your email address and click the button “I forgot my password”.  Have you ever forgotten your password and used that feature?  What do most of them do?  They send an EMAIL to you with a link that lets you reset your password.  So here’s the bad guy that clicks that button and all he has to do is watch your inbox and wait a few seconds for that email to arrive.  He clicks the link in the email, resets your password and BAM, the bad guy is now in your bank account – wire transferring money online to accounts you don’t own, your credit card accounts and can now go shopping with your credit cards at Amazon (and others.)

So oh no!  Lions and Tigers and Bears – oh my!  What can I do???  The first and best thing you can do is make sure you have a very strong password on your account.  It should be at least 10 characters long and have at least one of all of the following: Upper and lowercase alphabet characters, numbers and special characters.  If your dog is named “scooby” and your password is “scooby1”, your password will get cracked in about 1 second when a bad guy gets to your email account.  Make it “Scooby1” and it might take a second and a half.  Make is something like ###Scooby1$$$ and suddenly you have an almost impossible password to crack (no totally impossible, but since it will take over 100 CENTURIES for them to crack your password, they’ll probably give up before that.

The longer your password is, it gets exponentially harder to crack. So pad your password with numbers and special characters at both ends and you’ll have a password you can remember but will keep the bad guys out.

I would really feel sad if anyone who knows about my blog got hacked and lost money or had to go through the ordeal of dealing with identity theft, when simply beefing up their email password would have prevented it.

BUT THERE’S MORE YOU CAN DO!  I recently wrote about multi-factor authentication.  As far as I know, only Google is offering multi-factor authentication for its Gmail service.  The article I wrote is HERE, so I won’t go into detail here, but the idea that you have not only know the password but ALSO have (in this case) a phone to receive a text message with an access code makes it impossible for a hacker to get into your account, ever if you have a sorry, easy to guess password.

When I log into my Gmail account at home, it only asks me once a month to authenticate with a second number which is sent to my cell phone.  If I need to log in at a computer I don’t normally use, for example at a client’s home, I can log in and it will prompt me for a second code which is on my phone.   I don’t click the “30 day” box and so even if my login username and password was seen, it can’t be used again on that computer (or any other except for my home computer) without the secondary code which by the way changes every 60 seconds.

So here are the TWO reasons I tell my clients why they should not use their cable tv or telephone providers email address, and get an email account with Gmail.  #1) You will never have to change your email address again unless you want to.  When your email address is ***@austin.rr.com (for Time-Warner customers) or ***@sbcglobal.net or something similar for AT&T customers, all you have to do is either move to a new location where your old service provider doesn’t have service or you just hate the current service you get and you want to change to someone else.  This means your old email account will get cut off and you will have to tell everyone you know and do business with about your new email address – until you can’t stand them anymore and move to someone new again and get a NEW email address again. 

So submit yourself to the pain just ONCE, and get a Gmail account.  You can still use your old email account but over the next several months you can tell your friends to start using the new address and six months from now you can STOP using that old account that is also probably filled with spam (just a bonus – no spam from your old account) and now you have an account that is not only free of spam, but you have much better security control over.

Call if you need help, but PLEASE, if your email address ends in austin.rr.com, att.net. sbcglobal.net, yahoo.com, aol.com, or pretty much any other account that doesn’t offer multi-factor authentication, get a new email address with Google and use a GREAT password on all your accounts.

Own Your Name on the Internet

imageRight now, your identity is probably at the mercy of your ISP (Internet service provider) in that you use them for your email.  Here in Austin you might be known as [email protected]” or [email protected]”. Neither is very good and only lasts as long as you keep paying your ISP for the “privilege” of accessing the Internet through their wires (or cables.) 

Did you know that you can OWN your own email address for only $10 a year?   That’s right, you could be “ThisIsMe.com” for the rest of your life for $10 a year (ok, the price may go up in the future but I don’t have anything to do with it.)  You don’t have to be a business to own a domain, ANYONE can own a domain. 

Now, it take a little but of technical persitence, but if you’re patient and can read simple instructions, you can do this.  Google makes it really simple. 

It’s called “Google Apps”.  Though it gives you a lot more, let’s start by saying it give you up to 50 email addresses for free within your own domain.  A domain is the top level name used on the Internet.  For example, Google.com is a top-level domain.  No one else can own Google.com. 

Now let’s say your family name is Smith (trust me – it’s been taken), you might want to own “Smith.com”.  OK, so it’s been taken, try SmithFamily.com, or “The CrazySmithFamily.com”.  Use whatever you wish, but if it’s available you can OWN it for $10 a year.  So let’s say you now own “TheCrazySmithFamily.com” domain – now ANYTHING in front of the @ symbol is owned by you.  Google Apps gives you 50 free accounts in fronts of the @ symbol.  If your family is bigger than that, well then you need a professional helping you with your email. 

Using Google Apps gives you (when it comes to email) the advantages of the Gmail engine, the spam filtering and the ability to import from your OLD email address(es) like Yahoo.com or AOL.com or WHATEVER.com so over time you can get all your email sent to your old address WHILE you get them used to using your NEW email address.

You will NEVER have to change your email address again!  You will always be able to access your email on any computer by just logging on to your Google account.  If you use Outlook, Thunderbird or some other email client on your Windows desktop, you just set it up to go get your email from Google.  Mac mail works pretty much the same way.  It’s quick and easy. 

As for me, I use Time-Warner Cable for my Internet access.  Time-Warner Cable was kind enough to give me an email account.  I have NO IDEA what that is.  I OWN my domain Tek-Chic.com and all the email accounts within it (like [email protected]) and if someday I want to change WHO provides me access to the Internet, I don’t have to worry about people sending email to me at a new address.

All this really is easy.  Contact me if you need help coming up with a unique name that hasn’t been used yet or just need help getting it all set up.  The great thing is that this is a one-time setup and you don’t have to bother with it again. 

You will LOVE owning your own domain and the freedom it give you – so go get it.  Follow this link to start setting your own domain name with Google: http://bit.ly/TekChic0335

Is Your Hard Drive About to Fail?

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This month I’d like to talk about hard drives, specifically yours.  Hard drives have become incredibly inexpensive.  Replacing a hard drive in a computer is pretty easy.  What can be difficult (if not impossible) and most likely expensive is returning your computer to its previous state following a hard drive failure.  If any component in your computer is likely to fail, it’s the hard drive.  Your hard drive is a series of platters, spinning anywhere from 5400 to 7200 times a minute (that’s up to 120 times a second) with arms that extend over the platter.  The read/write head that “floats” over the platter is so close that the smallest particle of dust could cause it to crash, which is why they are assembled is a completely dust-free clean rooms and are completely sealed so that no dust can enter during use (the photo here is of one that has been opened up.)  The tolerances are extremely small, and the information is packed very tightly.  It is easy to find a one terabyte hard drive for $60 or less these days.  All the information on your hard drive is a series of BITS, each bit is either a zero or a one.  A one terabyte hard drive contains 8,796,093,022,208 bits (in round numbers almost 9 trillion bits.)  All this adds up to the fact that there is a lot that can go wrong.

So how can you protect yourself from a hard drive disaster?  Well for starters, eventually that hard drive in your computer WILL fail, it just doesn’t have to be a disaster.  First you can look for the signs of trouble.  Any unusual noise coming from your computer should be cause for concern, especially if it sounds like a slight “tick” or worse a “clunk”.  I this is happening then you are encountering mechanical issues and that hard drive is not long for this world.  Another sign is when your computer seems to stutter.  Now this could be caused by any number of things, but it could be from the hard drive having trouble reading a particular portion of the hard drive (referred to as sectors.)  All hard drives have sectors that are bad, and it has enough built-in smarts to usually work around them.  But over time additional sectors can go bad and cause problems because it may contain information critical to the operation of the computer (like Windows systems files.)  image

If you’re hearing ticking or clunking sounds, then you need help and you need it fast.  \First, shut down your computer.  Running it further only brings you that much closer to total failure.  You need a new hard drive.  If you’re not afraid to poke around the inside of your computer, you might be able to do it yourself.  If you have a desktop computer, open it up and look for the hard drive.  You need to identify if it’s an older IDE or newer SATA type of hard drive.  An IDE drive will have a 2-inch wide cable (usually grey), a SATA cable is only about 3/4” wide.  You will need to install a new drive with the old one, and then use a program that will allow you to make a “clone” of your old drive on the new hard drive.  There are free programs like Clonezilla that will do the job (you download a file that you burn to make a bootable CD.)  You boot to the CD and tell the software to make a copy of the old drive onto the new drive.  When you’re done, disconnect your old drive and your new system will probably boot right away (you may have to go into your systems BIOS to tell it to boot from the new drive.)  With a laptop it’s a little different because you don’t have room to install a second hard drive.  You’ll need an external USB dock or case to connect the drive to in order to make the clone (so figure around an extra $40 or so above the price of the hard drive.)  Since my audience is mostly “normal” people who have better things to do with their time than poke around the inside of their computers, you will likely want a professional to do this for you.  They will have the right hardware and software to do the job quickly.

Bad sectors harder to diagnose because the symptoms can be attributed to any number of things, but my phone usually rings when Windows suddenly stops booting, resulting in a blue screen or it just reboots and goes around and around in an endless cycle.  BEFORE things get this bad, you can run Checkdisk on your Windows machine as a preventive maintenance tool.  Open “My Computer”, right-click on your C drive, choose “Properties” and on the “Tools” tab you’ll find “Error Checking”.  This will do a fast scan, looking for data that is difficult to read and will try to move it and mark the spot bad.  Professionals will have (or should) a program called SpinRite, which is much more thorough than Checkdisk, but at $90 costs more than a replacement hard drive.  If your computer won’t boot, SpinRite is what a professional will use to try to fix a drive with bad sectors.  If your computer is having trouble reading part of the hard drive, it might hang momentarily while it tries to read a particular spot – if it’s successful the computer will then come back to life.  If not, you might just get an error message, or the computer may reboot.  These symptoms could be caused by something else, but regardless DON’T wait until the computer is completely unusable before calling for help.  By then it might be too late to bring your hard drive back to life.

So, how to you avoid this becoming a disaster?  BACK UP YOUR DATA!  A disaster is when your hard drive dies, and the ONLY copies of photos and videos of your children were on it.  A disaster is when you keep your companies books (including payroll) on it and you don’t have a copy.  You children won’t go back and be young again so you can retake those photos, and how long will it take to completely recreate a year’s worth of financial information for your business?  If your data is backed up, then a hard drive failure goes from a disaster to an inconvenience (and will be much cheaper in the long run.)  Read my article from October titled “3-2-1- Backup” to understand how to make sure a hard drive failure (or theft or fire) doesn’t create a data disaster in your life.

Don’t worry about whether or not you’ll have a hard drive fail on you at some time – it will.  It might be next week, it might be three years from now, but it WILL happen.  Just don’t be someone who read this, shrugged it off and didn’t prepare.  I have lots of clients who will attest that spending a few dollars to back up their system would have been (past tense emphasized) a welcome thing following a drive failure.

So What IS an Android Phone Anyway?

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For all you NON-Android phone users, you might not know or understand exactly what an Android phone is.  When some tells you they have an iPhone, you know it was made by Apple, and they have one of 4 phones, the original, the 3G, the 3GS or the current iPhone 4.  Apple introduced the first iPhone in 2007 and it revolutionized what people think a smartphone should be like.  It was by far ahead of anything currently on the market – no one was close!

Well, even before the iPhone even came out, in 2005 Google bought the company that created the Android operating system.  But they didn’t build a phone like Apple, rather, they turned it into an operating system that would be free for any phone manufacturer and carrier to use.  So when you buy an “Android” phone, it might be made by Samsung, HTC, Motorola or LG – and sold by Spring, T-Mobile, Verizon or AT&T.  You probably have seen the Verizon commercials for their version of the Android phone called simply the “Droid”.  And they now have the Droid Incredible, the Droid 2 and the Droid X, all with different features but based on the Android operating system.  Sprint”s number one Android phone is the HTC EVO 4G (my personal phone of choice)  and they have a new one called the EVO Shift 4G which is smaller with a slide-out keyboard.  T-Mobile and AT&T have their Android-based phones also.

So if you want to buy an iPhone, your decision is simple – there is only one and it’s made by Apple.  AT&T has had an exclusive for the last 4 years, but starting Feb. 3rd you can pre-order one from Verizon and actually get one one on February 10th.

If you want an Android phone, it’s a little more confusing – not so different from buying a Mac or buying a PC.  If you want a Mac, only one company makes them – Apple.   They have a few laptops and a couple of desktops and that’s it.  If you want a PC, you have a dozen or more companies that sell Windows-based computers in all kinds of different configurations, which can make it very difficult to tell which one is the right one to buy.

In many ways the Android operating system is better than the iPhone, it multi-tasks better and providers (other than AT&T) are happy to let you use the built-in GPS turn-by-turn directions that comes with Android, if you want to do that with your iPhone AT&T wants to charge you extra.  The Android operating system also lets you run “widgets” which are programs that actually run right there on your screen.  For example, on Android you can have it display your calendar right there on your screen without having to do a thing  AND tell you how much battery life you have left– on the iPhone you must OPEN the calendar app to see your calendar.  EVERYTHING on the iPhone is an app, you can tell the time and that’s about it.  With widgets you can in one look see your calendar, the weather forecast and your last voice-mail message without touching anything.

The iPhone is simpler, and for a lot of people that’s a good thing.  Many people don’t want to have to figure things out, and that is where Apple excels – they make it simple.  But if you’re willing to put in some effort to figure out how to get the most out of your phone, then Android is waiting for you.  Pick the carrier that has the best coverage in your area and then pick your phone – there will be several to choose from.

Now, I’m a geek and proudly admit it – and am glad to say I sold my iPhone 7 months ago to a client and now have an EVO 4G and the both of us are happy.  I think Android offers you more but requires more from you to make everything work.

Apple brings out a new iPhone once a year, there is a new Android phone coming out almost every month.  So before you buy the iPhone because “that’s the best phone” (according to what you’ve heard), ask about the Android phones your carrier has.  Android is a great operating system and may provide you with more  capabilities than even that iPhone can.

Technology and Working From Home

imageWorking from home can be very liberating if you’re able to address the distractions and issues that working from home can bring. I will be focusing on the technology side of working from home, but there are other sites with good information on other aspects. Here are articles by others on Working from Home Guidelines, Avoiding Work at Home Distractions, Working at Home With a Baby, and Getting Housework Done When Working From Home.

Whether the telephone is the extent of the technology you use, or you work for a large company and access a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to connect to your company’s network and resources, there are technology solutions to make your workday easier and more efficient.

Google Voice: Do you pay for a separate phone line to work at home? Google Voice is a FREE service that will let you do away with the expense of that second line. Even if you just use your existing home number, wouldn’t it be nice to have a separate number that can be answered in a more professional manner, and could have its own voice mail? Google Voice gives you your own local phone number that you can forward to one or several phones at the same time. Your caller only sees your Google Voice number. If you don’t answer, your custom voicemail message will greet them. After they leave a message, Google voice can send you an email and even a text message with a (rough) transcript of the message. Imagine leaving the house for lunch and that an important client calls you. You can have your calls forwarded to your cell phone, or just see the text message that the client called and you can call them back immediately. Log in to your Google Voice page and play back the voice messages through your computer. If you have a cell phone running Android you can even have Google Voice take over for your cell phone’s voice mail if you like.

To make a call through Google Voice, just click the number in your contact list online (or the number in your call log) and Google Voice will first call your phone, then connect you to your party.

With Google Voice you may even be able to get a “vanity” number in your area. When you sign up you can enter a particular number string or letters you like to have in your phone number, and Google Voice will show you any and all possible combinations that are available. That’s how Kimberly Ashby of ScoobySitters.com got her phone number 512-981-PETS for her pet sitting business. See entered “PETS” and had several choices presented to her. My own phone number through Google Voice, 512-981-7835 is 981-7TEK.

To get your own Google Voice number, all you have to do is go to https://www.google.com/voice and create your account. And again, it’s FREE!

Multi-Function Printers: Though these are pretty common in today’s home offices, they’ve come a long way in the last couple of years, including improved printing quality, adding the capability to work wirelessly with your network (meaning you no longer have to have it within 5 feet of your computer,) printing directly from your digital camera’s memory card and some will even let you print to them away from home over the Internet. Oh, and did I mention that prices have dramatically dropped? Over the past several months I’ve seen several printers on sale for less than the cost of replacing the ink cartridges. This is of course because INK is where the profit is for the printer manufacturers, in fact as much as HALF of Hewlett-Packard’s total corporate profit comes from the sale of ink cartridges. Doing a little math, I found that if you have an HP OfficeJet 4315, you’re paying $13,627 per gallon for black ink. Now if you’re “lucky” enough to own an OfficeJet 7110, your price for black ink plummets to “only” $4,338 a gallon – lucky you! Well, now you know why prices for the printers have dropped.

If you don’t have a multi-function printer, you certainly should consider one. With a wireless unit you can place it anywhere in your office (or anywhere in your home for that matter.) Almost any model you purchase these days will do very good to excellent photo-quality prints if you need them, they will copy and scan to your computer, and many but not all will also fax (if you still need that capability.) Some have the ability to print on both sides of the paper (duplex) which can help save your cost of paper. It’s not hard to find a decent wireless multi-function printer for around $100, and I’ve seen them on sale for as low as $43. I usually recommend Epson or Canon printers, particularly because they are known for having really good scanners (which will result in better printouts.) If most of your printing is just black and white pages, you might consider getting a laser printer, or laser multi-function printer. Laser printers use toner (like a copy machine) rather than ink and the cost per page to print is much less than with ink-jet printers. If you do much printing, the additional cost of a laser multi-function printer will quickly be offset by the money you’ll save on toner.

Add a Second Monitor: Adding a second monitor can increase your productivity by allowing you to keep your email open in one screen while you continue to work in another. Copying and pasting from one window to another is much easier if you can have them both open at the same time. You can be doing your research in one screen and writing your notes in another. Prices on monitors have also dramatically dropped – it’s not unusual to find a 23” monitor for $140 and huge 27-28” monitors for $250.

If you have a laptop, you probably already have a connector for an additional monitor on the side or the back. If you have a desktop, you might have to add an additional video card to your system, but for general business work you can get a basic video card for $30.

Backing Up Your Data: I’ve already written an article on the importance of backing up and you’ll find it here. Whether you use a local hard drive or Carbonite or some other solution, BE SURE you’re backing up your data every day.

Speed Up Your Internet: Investigate increasing the speed of your Internet connection with your current provider, probably either your local telephone or cable company. Don’t be afraid to shop around, even though you may be “saving” money with your bundled package, you might find a better deal elsewhere. One little known option is a company called DSL Extreme. In most areas they are able to contract with the local phone company and provide service at a better price. Also, they handle the hassle of dealing with the phone company for you. If you’re after the absolute fastest speed possible, your best bet is probably with the cable company. If your telephone company offers a fiber-optic connection such as Verizon FIOS and AT&T’s U-Verse, then you might get faster speeds with them, but check them out. Most companies offer a “business grade” service for your home, which can get you faster service when there is an outage or you need to contact them for support. If you would like to know what kind of speed you’re getting at home, go to SpeedTest.net and test your connection. It’s best to do it from a computer with a wired connection to your network if you can.

Buy Smart: When it’s time to upgrade or replace your equipment, don’t just go ask the first 17 year old you see at Best Buy, check with an IT (information technology) specialist who understands your particular needs. You’ll almost always end up saving money in the long run.

3 Secrets to Avoiding Viruses and Malware

Viruses, spyware, adware, worms, trojans, rootkits, bots… they are all terms referring to what is generically known as malware, software that does bad things.  It might log your keystrokes, then send those keystrokes (like when you log into your bank) to the bad guy, it might use your computer to send spam email, it could pop up on your screen telling you that you’re infected with all kinds of viruses and you need to buy their virus removal program, and it won’t go away until you do.  No matter what it does, you DON’T want it on your computer.

Unfortunately a lot of computer users think that since they have anti-virus software on their computer they can’t get viruses, so it’s ok to be somewhat reckless on the internet.  Well, thinking that you won’t get infected because you have anti-virus software is like thinking you can’t get killed in your car because it has airbags.  You drive your car 120 mph into an oncoming truck and see just how well that airbag protects you.

So, if your anti-virus software can’t completely protect you, what can you do?  Follow these three guidelines (I call them secrets because so many people don’t seem to be aware of them) and it will be very hard for your computer to get bit by a bug.

imageDON’T OPEN ATTACHMENTS AND DON’T CLICK ON LINKS IN EMAIL. Email and web pages are the primary avenue of attack for the bad guys.  Clicking on links in email is a easy way to download a virus or get taken to a web site full of malware looking for ways to get into your computer.  The same goes for attachments, opening an attachment is like playing Russian Roulette with your computer.  So how do we make this a practical guideline?
If you’re expecting the email, then of course it’s ok to open.  If you were at a family reunion last weekend, and someone in the family sends you an email with photos attached and in the email says “here are some photos from the reunion”, then of course, open them and enjoy.  But if you get a message from a friend of yours and all it says is “check out this video of you on the Internet!”, don’t click on the link!  In all likelihood your friend has a virus on his/her computer, and the VIRUS sent the email, not your friend.  This is a common way that a virus spreads.  It goes through your email address book and sends a generic message to everyone that appeals to our natural sense of curiosity.  You get that email and the first thing you think is “wow, what is this video that my friend is talking about?”  2 seconds later you find yourself clicking on the link because you’re curious.  At this point it’s too late and you’ve probably infected your system.
I know you’d like to look at that PowerPoint file of the cute kittens and puppies, or follow that link to read about the 3 headed baby, but just resist the urge and keep your system safe.  If you think the link is safe but you hear my words echoing in the back of your mind, just remember that the actual destination of the link can be hidden, so to be safe open your web browser and TYPE the address in yourself:
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KEEP YOUR COPY OF WINDOWS AND OTHER SOFTWARE UP TO DATE. The bad guys are always looking for a new way to get inside your computer.  The most important (and likely) targets are your operating system (Windows), your web browser (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Google Chrome), Adobe Acrobat Reader (for viewing PDF files), Adobe Flash (used to view video on sites like YouTube and most animation) and Java (by Oracle.)  In fact Java is quickly becoming the bad guys’ favorite way to get into your pc.  Java is used to allow programmers to write a program that can run on different operating systems without having to customize it.  There aren’t a lot of programs out there that require Java, and probably the best thing you can do it just REMOVE Java from your computer.  Just go to your Control Panel and click on Add/Remove Programs (Windows XP) or Programs and Features (Vista and Windows 7) and select Java for removal.  If you later find out that you need it, you can go to Java.com and download the latest version.  If you have Java and you know you need it, be sure you have the latest version (as of this writing, version 6 update 22.)

For Adobe Acrobat Reader and Flash you can go to Adobe.com/downloads and make sure you have the latest versions.

Firefox and Safari are good about notifying you when you need to download and install an update, Google Chrome pretty much just does it for you in the background.  Internet Explorer will get updated the 2nd Tuesday of every month when the Windows Updates are pushed to your computer.

Microsoft updates Windows the 2nd Tuesday of every month, so it’s important that you have automatic updates turned on and you install them when you see the icon in your taskbar tray.

It’s very important that you update your computer as soon as you get a notification, be it for Acrobat Reader, Java or Windows.  The moment these updates are published, the bad guys are analyzing them to see how they can take advantage of people who DON’T update their computers.  Also, sometimes the bad guys find the flaws first, and already are exploiting computers before the fixed are published, so don’t put this off.

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USE MOZILLA FIREFOX WITH THE “NO-SCRIPT” ADD-ON. Each web browser has things to like about it: Internet Explorer for its integration with Windows, Google Chrome for its speed, Apple Safari for its speed and more “Mac-like” appearance (and I do like the “Top-Sites” feature.)  But I always recommend Firefox with no-script because it’s the absolute best way to avoid having a malicious web site get into your computer.

So what is “no-script”?  For that matter, what is a script?  Think of the word “prescription”.  A prescription is a set of instructions from your doctor to the pharmacist, you may be delivering it but you’re just the messenger – the pharmacist reads and follows the instructions.  In the world of the Internet, scripts are instructions from the web server (the computer at the other end delivering the web pages to you) to your computer.  Scripts themselves are not inherently evil.  Scripts are necessary just for you to read this page, in fact most sites you visit employ some scripts to automate how the page looks or what information you see.  Unfortunately web browsers are a little too quick to accommodate the instructions from web servers, and a site that has been set up by a bad guy (or compromised by one) can deliver all kinds of nasty stuff on your computer, just by going to a web page.

No script is what’s called an “add-on”.  Think of it like a mini-program that plugs into Firefox, like an accessory.  There are TONS of different add-ons you can use with Firefox, I use 3 or 4 but No-script is an absolute must.  No-script prevents ANY and ALL scripts from running on a web page without your approval.  What’s nice about no-script is that once you’ve approved a site, you don’t have to do it again.  For example, you trust Google and maybe use Gmail, so once you’ve approved Gmail, you won’t have to do it again.  So the first week or so you’ll be approving lots of web sites because it will be the first time No-script has seen them, but it will eventually calm down, and just intervene when you go to a new site for the first time.  The VALUE of no-script comes into play when you accidentally mis-type a web site, say Goggle.com instead of Google.com, or Foznews.com instead of Foxnews.com.  The bad guys purchase these names because they know every know and then people make mistakes, and they just wait for you to come to them.  They also design their web pages to show up high when you search on popular topics.  For example, back in February if you searched for Jessica Biel screensavers or maybe Jennifer Aniston screensavers, about HALF of the search results took you to sites with malicious software just waiting for you.

If you should happen to click on a search result that takes you to a web site that you’re sure is not what it’s supposed to be AND you’re running No-script, then the very worst thing that will happen is you’ll see some text and perhaps graphics/pictures – but that’s all.  NOTHING will be able to install itself onto your computer, all you have to do is click on the back button go back where you started and you can rest easy knowing your computer is safe.  For a DETAILED step-by-step walkthrough of installing Firefox and setting up NoScript, see my post in Apps/Tools or click here.

There you have it.  It seems like a lot at first, but it will save you aggravation and money in the long run if you’ll just convince yourself that it’s worth it (ask my clients who unfortunately had to pay over $200 to get their computer running again after picking up some nasty viruses.)  Follow the above steps, you’ll be glad you did.

3-2-1 Backup!

I’ll save you some time.  If you don’t backup your computer now, and nothing anyone says is going to change that, stop reading now and start printing out those photos you’re going to lose someday.

If you are already backing up, or are willing to entertain the idea that someday you WILL have a computer failure or worse (like theft or fire) and will lose everything you have on your computer, then keep reading.

Peter Krogh is a professional photographer and an expert in digital asset management.  He teaches the “3-2-1 Rule”, which goes like this: You need to have 3 copies of your digital data, on 2 different types of media and 1 copy off-site.

Let’s start with WHAT you should be backing up.  Your copy of Windows or OS-X or Linux (whatever operating system you use) can be replaced, so can your Word, Excel and PowerPoint programs.  Just go to the store and buy another copy if you need to, or re-install from the discs if you have them.  I’m talking the digital data YOU have created, either with a program, or perhaps with a camera.  Maybe you have lots of spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations you’ve created for work.  Or you have school papers you’ve written, and have a couple of papers currently in process.  Maybe you’re a music lover and have LOTS of music you’ve downloaded (legally of course) at considerable expense, and of course there is email that sits on your computer.  Last but not least are your photos from your digital camera.  Everyone has that ONE picture or video that would just kill them to lose – maybe it’s Emily singing in the talent show, or Michael crossing home plate after hitting his home run, or Jacob’s first baby picture.  THIS is what you want to be backing up, things you NEVER want to lose.

It’s important to start with knowing where your originals are.  I’ve seen people who have their music on the computer’s hard drive, their photos on an external hard drive, and keep the work files on a USB flash drive.  Just because your data isn’t on your primary hard drive doesn’t mean you’ve backed it up, so KNOW where your originals are so you can be sure you’re backing them up.

Having a 3-2-1 strategy isn’t hard.  Knowing where all your originals is the first step, NOW we can back them up.  3 copies means just that, 3 copies.  2 different types of media means 2 different types of storage technologies, that could be CD’s or DVD’s, USB flash drives, even old floppy discs or zip drives.  The reason for this is because one type of technology may be more susceptible to a particular type of accident or disaster than another.  If your house is flooded and your computer is underwater, that hard drive might never spin again, but you can probably clean those DVD’s and read from them again.  In a fire, those DVD’s are going to melt pretty quick but the hard drive MIGHT last long enough to still work.  Disasters like fire and theft are why you need ONE copy off-site.  Perhaps in addition to copying your files to an external hard drive, you copy and new or changed files to a DVD and mail it to a friend or family member to file away for you, or you can take it to your office, getting it out of the house.  Another option is for off-site backup is a fast-growing category known as online backup.  There are lots of players out there, the two best known are Carbonite and Mozy (full disclosure – I’m a Carbonite reseller.)  Both Mozy and Carbonite offer unlimited storage for a flat fee of about $5 a month, and the backups occur in the background automatically, so you don’t have to remember to do anything.  I really like this method because all you have to do to backup your data is turn on your computer (and be connected to the Internet of course.)  The downside to the online backup method is that it can take a LONG time to get your data initially up to the internet, anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on just how much data you have.  And if you DO lose your original and local back to fire or theft, it might take a full day or two for all your files to download back onto your computer (but you can always immediately get the important files you need.)

For your local backups to an external hard drive, the best way to do it is just drag and drop the files from the computer to the external drive.  If you want to use software, I like SyncBack SE on Windows and ChronoSync on the Mac.  For backup up to CD’s or DVD’s use your burner’s software. 

I hear about people every week who encountered a computer failure and DESPERATELY need to retrieve their data, and of course they have no backups.  PLEASE don’t become one of those people.  One day it will happen to you, and it’s much cheaper and easier on your nerves in the long run.

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