IT Security Risks

Checkout my latest article that I posted over at LinkedIn regarding employees who are security risks.  These are situations that need to be identified and dealt with immediately.

IT Security Risk Employees – How To Identify Them And Best Action Steps

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Holiday Shopping Does Not Have To Be A Hassle

This week starts the season, where for the next two months we will stuff ourselves silly with ridiculously rich food that takes way too long to prepare.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are once again upon us, and on the latter, the biggest shopping day of the season looms for eager shoppers.  If you are in the market for some new computers, some of the ads may seem very tempting with “door buster prices.”  However, there are some things to be aware of during the mad dash.

 

Let’s Be Perfectly Clear

I do not mean to throw any retail stores under the bus, but I do think it is important that we be honest about what some of these stores are offering.  For example, one of the traditions of the last few years at Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, etc is to offer a laptop for under $300.  That sounds amazing right?  Well that is what they are hoping for, and that is, the low price associated with the word “laptop” will get you to separate with some of your money.  The problem is a sub $300 laptop is going to be a piece of junk.  Allow me to explain further.

Wal-Mart is advertising an HP laptop for $249.00 that will be available only on Thanksgiving Day.  Those laptops that are priced sub-$300 are ridiculously under-powered.  Most of them will come with 4GB of RAM (Memory) and Windows 10.  Even if you are just surfing the web, reading emails and doing social media, 4GB of RAM is not enough, and you will see performance issues after a while.  Especially after you apply a nice slew of Windows Updates and install Microsoft Office(a huge Hard Drive consuming program).  While the machine can be upgraded to 8GB of RAM, the processors are usually of the Celeron line, or low end Pentium processors from well over a year ago that is billed as “cheap”.

For just another $150.00 you would be in the Intel i-Series of processors, which are incredibly faster than the Celeron line, start with 8 GB of RAM, and can be upgraded to 16 GB or more, and still get the fancy touchscreen.  Also, you are talking about a computer that is made with more quality parts, than the cheap parts that the aforementioned “deal” is made from.  In short, you are looking at a longer usage life for just a few dollars more, versus likely having issues with the cheaper model in about 15 months.

 

Crowds, Money, and PJs

While we are on the subject of prices, it is important to remind people that when it comes to technology, or really anything, Black Friday is not always the “best day” to buy such things during this time of year.  Cyber-Monday, which is the Monday after Thanksgiving, is a traditional day where online retailers offer deep discounts for products and or services.  This is a great day to get some great deals on gifts, and all from the comfort of your home without fighting crowds in the malls, etc.

Even on Black Friday, try going to the store’s website first before waiting out in the cold.  I have found that many of the in-store advertised items you can get online.  Thus, before you brave the crowds, you may well have most of your shopping done and thus, a less stressful day!  Also, if you are waiting in line, use your smartphones to your advantage.  Retail stores have made their websites more mobile friendly, or better yet, download their app.  My recommendation though is that you download the Black Friday App for either iOS or Android.  This is from BlackFriday.com and has every ad from every major retailer.  Also, CyberMonday.com is another excellent app and website for shopping this holiday season.

For those that may be concerned about shopping online (yes, there are some people who have not done this) because you do not want to give out your credit card number, there is a safe solution for you.  You can visit your local bank and obtain a debit card that you can charge up with a fixed dollar amount.  It will either be a Visa or Mastercard, but with it, you can shop online and have peace of mind knowing that it is not linked to your bank account, thus limiting your risk.

 

Enjoy Your Holiday Shopping

While this is a technology blog, I do try to offer a human factor whenever possible.  Each year it seems the stories about Black Friday stampedes, or fights breaking out over video games, $4 waffle irons, and the like, come to the surface.  The image headlining this article is a scene all too familiar during this time of year.  Shopping for our loved ones sometimes ceases to be a “fun” thing, and instead turns into an “Us vs Them” type of situation.  This is not how it should be.

We are humans, and as such, we should act like it.  We are not a pack of dogs fighting over a piece of meat.  When you are standing in that long line waiting for a particular item to go on sale this Friday, talk to some of the people around you, versus isolating yourself via your smartphones.

Ask them what they are looking for, and if you are in a position to get it for them, team up!  Say, “Hey, I see that right over here, and I’m looking for such-and-such.  Can you grab it if you see it?  We can meet up over here and exchange items.”  Also, use that technology in your hand for more than posting Black Friday selfies.  If you have seen deals at other stores on tech-related items, share the wealth!

Shopping during this time of year does not have to be a hassle, or stressful.  By using technology, you can divide and conquer Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and take advantage of great deals, and avoiding ones that appear to be “great.”  Bottom line is, when it comes to technology, you get what you pay for.  So shop smart, be kind to one another, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Hunter Bonner is an Information Technologist and can be reached at www.techedgeblog.wordpress.com and on Twitter @HunterBonner

 

iPhone X – $999.00 Really?

Today, Apple Computer Inc, had their first Apple Event in the Steve Jobs Theater on their new Spaceship campus.  The event started out with a fitting tribute to a man who was an innovator not just in the field of the personal computer, but revolutionized the smart phone industry.  After the tribute, we were introduced to the iPhone X, on this, the tenth anniversary year of the first iPhone release.

It was then we saw the price.  $999.00.  Ummm, yeah.

I want to state before going any further, that this blog article is not about bashing one ecosystem over another just for the sake of doing it.  This is a critical piece about what Apple is shooting for the moon on, and what the current overall market is currently at.  I suppose that Apply priced it’s latest iPhone at $999 to try and stay ahead of the psychological price of $1000 that so many in the media predicted.  Still, it’s a $1000 phone, which is a first.

What You Get

So, for $1000, it better be something special right?  Well, admittedly the device takes big advantage of facial recognition technology.  This technology tracks facial movements extremely well, as was evidenced in the Animoji demonstration.  Yes, you can select the poop smiley, and if you move your face, or talk, it will move with you.  Also, this device uses facial recognition for securing your device.  Look away from it, and the screen is black.  Look at it, it lights up, flips the lock, and then you swipe up and you are in.  Pretty snazzy!

Hardware wise, it comes with 3 GB of RAM, and a new A11 Bionic Chip, which is supposed to be the fastest out there, and a 12 MP camera.  Apple decided to ditch the home button, and now has a display that is 5.8 inches and has no bezel.  That means, the entire display of the phone goes from edge to edge, and it is a stunning display.  The new iPhone also has the ability to charge wirelessly, with the new Airpower mat.  I am not going to go into every single detail, but you get the point.  Apple believes it put in a bunch of new things into it’s latest creation.

Why You Should Not Get It

This is a bold statement to make in this section, but after looking at what Apple is offering with the iPhone X, you are better off not getting it and here is the reasons why.  First, when looking at the hardware system specs, Apple seems to think they are packing a lot of hardware in for the price.  The reality is, you are paying a lot of money for hardware that does not come even close to some competitors out there.

For example, 3GB of RAM is the best that Apple could do on this?  Take a look at the OnePlus 5 phone, where their entry level phone, which prices at $479, starts with a whopping 6GB of RAM.  Want to move to the top of the line?  Get the best phone they have, and you will have 8GB of RAM.  Apple raves about a 12 MP camera, but the OnePlus 5 has a massive 16 MP camera.  One of the things Apple boasted about getting a 50% charge in 30 minutes.  With the OnePlus 5, you get an entire day’s worth of power inside of 30 minutes.  Oh yes, the top of the line model of this phone will run you $539.  That is $460 less than the iPhone X and you get a lot more bang for your buck.

You Sound Like A Fanboy

After reading this, you may say that I sound like a fanboy of OnePlus devices.  I can tell you that I do not currently, nor have I in the past, owned any OnePlus devices.  However, I used them in this article, because only OnePlus offers that much hardware in a phone, and does so for a great price.  The real fanboys are those that were at this event today, clapping like seals at the idea that your face can be used on the poop emoji to text someone “hello.”  Yes, this is the cutting edge of technology.

Of course, there are people that will likely point out how Apple’s iPhone X is heavily entrenched in augmented reality, and will likely push the industry on new apps that use this sort of technology.  They are probably right, but to be honest, most people today are not looking for augmented reality apps.  They want something that is reliable, does not suck up all their battery life, and helps them get stuff done.  Right now, Pokemon Go, which was nothing more than a splash in the pan, is really the only major app that used augmented reality.

Save Your Money

If you are coming up on an upgrade on your mobile plan, and you just have to stick with the iPhone ecosystem, you do have a lot of choices.  The iPhone 8, which was released today, along with the 7 and 6 models, and even the iPhone SE, are great alternatives that do not reach the stratospheric pricing levels of the iPhone X.  However, if your current iPhone has been working fine, just stick with it.  I would also highly recommend considering saving up money to just outright buy your iPhone on your next upgrade, rather than financing through your carrier.

What Happens From Here?

This writer personally believes that Apple has lost it’s collective mind pricing a phone at $1000. (No, I will not write $999, because I will not buy into their psychological mind games.)  Most people are having a hard enough time affording a smartphone, but then to price it on the same level as a high end laptop, is silly.  Apple is banking that the “fanboys”, and die hard loyalists will shell out the money on the iPhone X, and that for sure is going to happen.  However, there are many alternatives out there from Samsung, HTC, and others that are more affordable, and frankly just as good from a functionality point of view.  I believe that Apple is going to drive away some of it’s market share to the Android ecosystem, but only time will tell.  The only thing that I found disturbing is that no longer is biometric authentication optional, but mandatory on iPhone X.  While some will say this is good for preventing all sorts of theft, it could be a slippery slope in many areas of our lives.

 

Equifax Hacked – What To Do In The Aftermath

This past Thursday, news came out from credit reporting company Equifax, that from mid-May until the end of July 2017, 143 million American’s social security numbers, driver’s license, and a host of other personal identifiable information was compromised by hackers.  The company  did not know about the hack they announced until July 29.  Therefore, from mid-May until the end of July, hackers had free reign of information that can be used most assuredly for identity theft.

To be clear, this article is not going to go into a diatribe about all the various allegations regarding insider trading, giving up the right to class action participation.  If you want to know the official company stance on this incident, please visit https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/ and read for yourself and draw your own conclusions.  What this article is about is what you can, and frankly, should be doing, in the wake of this incident to protect yourself online.

 

Secure Online Accounts

This hack is particularly troubling, because as has been reported, this was not just an email and password hack.  These crooks have personal identifiable information on millions of Americans.  It can be used to access bank accounts, open home loans, and the list goes on.  Therefore, the first thing I highly recommend is that you go to every single site you do financial transactions with and change your password.  This is a pain I know, because when we change our passwords, we sometimes forget them.  However, which would you rather do; change your password, or have your bank account cleaned out?

As I have stated in a previous article , I highly recommend setting up two-factor authentication (2FA) on all your accounts where offered.  https://www.marshallnewsmessenger.com/blogs/reader/entries/2017/may/14/two-factor-authentication-its-no-longer-optional/  By setting up 2FA, you are putting one more roadblock up for hackers to get to your information.  As I stated in that article, I personally and professionally believe that 2FA is no longer optional.  If a particular website does not offer that, use their “contact us” section to send an email and let them know you really would like this feature added.

 

Freezing Credit File

In times like this, it is highly recommended that you put a freeze on your credit file.  What this entails is letting the credit reporting agencies, which are Experian, Trans Union, and of course, hacked Equifax, that you do not want your information regarding your credit file released to anyone without your authorization.  While this is something you are considering doing in the wake of this incident, you may want to consider making it a permanent thing in order to protect you in the future from things like this.  More information on how to do this is provided at the following site.  https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs

 

Stay Vigilant

Most certainly after a major hack of this magnitude, hackers are going to setup fake websites to lure people that were hacked into revealing more information about themselves.  Therefore, be especially vigilant when reading emails.  If you get an email from someone or some company that you do not recognize, it is nothing short of guaranteed that it’s a scam.  These types of scams will have links in them for you to “verify” information for your “security.”  Also, some may use fear of this hack to start phishing phone calls, and may pose as people from Equifax, or the federal government.  Rest assured, no one from the government is going to call you, and for sure Equifax will not be contacting you.  They are too busy handling the flood of calls coming into their call centers.  As of this article, they have had to hire 2,000 additional workers to handle the call load.

 

Do Not Delay

I know that we read the news about hackers doing this and that, and we do not think them all that serious.  However, this is by far, the worst hack in this nation’s history, because this much personal identifiable information has never been stolen before.  Please understand, hackers have likely had your information for a solid three months.  That is more than enough time to make the next few years of your life a living hell from a credit seeking point of view.  Speaking from experience of having a family member’s identity stolen, I can assure you the frustration of changing passwords now, and setting up 2FA is far less frustrating than spending the next several years dealing with identity theft nightmares.

 

Hunter Bonner is a System Administrator.  He can be reached via his blog www.techedgeblog.wordpress.com and on Twitter @TechEdgeBlog

 

 

Bridging The Gap – Connectivity In Hard To Reach Places

In the early years of the internet, you know, back when the internet consisted of a black screen with green letters on it, all connectivity was accomplished naturally with internet cables, called “Ethernet cables.”  Therefore, if you wanted to use a computer, you were limited in where you could put a computer, as there needed to be a place to plug in the internet.

Fast-forward and we saw the advent of wireless routers.  Now we were free to roam around our houses and workplaces cable free and surf the web.  While wireless routers are great, they do have their limitations when it comes to range.  As soon as we walk outside our homes, our speeds drop dramatically, or completely disconnect.  Also, some people would like to run internet to other areas around the outside of their home, but running cable is expensive.  Therefore, what is a person to do?  Fortunately, for you, wireless does have many other options.

Hot dogs and YouTube

Have you ever seen the Kingsford Charcoal commercial of the guy with the “socially connected” grill?  He uses a smartphone app to light the grill, take selfies, and post them to the internet, all through the power of his internet enabled grill.  It is a hilarious commercial to be sure, but what if you wanted internet out on your back porch while grilling, or having guests over for a BBQ?  Well, there is an answer for that, and it is called an “outdoor access point.”

Now, there are some of you tech savvy readers that will say, “Hey, I got an expensive wireless router and my range is good enough to the middle of the back yard.  I do not need a crappy outdoor AP!”  If this is you, then skip this section, however for most people, the wireless router in their home comes built-in to their internet modem from their internet provider.  In short, the wireless range on those devices is not the best.

An outdoor AP is a device that provides internet connectivity, but that is designed to endure the weather.  They are inexpensive, with a decent one costing under $100 and you can install it with simple hand tools.  You will need to configure, or setup, the AP first by connecting it to your computer and going through the setup.  The instructions on how to do this come with the AP and are very simple to follow.  As always, make sure you secure your network by setting up a password to connect.

Next, plug in an internet cable into an available port on your current wireless router and then run it outside.  This may need to go through a wall, or you may be able to run it in-between a window.  Take the outdoor AP and mount it in a place that is not obstructed by other objects, and preferably under some sort of shelter.  You plug in the other end of the internet cable and now you have just extended your internet to your back porch.  Let the YouTube videos of people wiping out on homemade water slides begin!

Building Bridges

So you now have a back porch that is internet connected, but what about other areas outside your home?  Maybe you have a little work shed outside where you work on your car, do some woodworking, or gardening?  Or perhaps you have a guesthouse but the range of your newly installed outdoor AP is not far reaching enough?  Well, at Technology Today, we believe in building bridges for people, and that is exactly what you need in this situation.

Wireless bridges have been used for quite a long time, but were mostly used in commercial settings due to their high costs.  However, in recent years, wireless bridges have dropped dramatically in price due to proliferation of wireless technology, and the speeds of wireless.  Many of them price under $200.

How a wireless bridge works is much the same way you install an outdoor AP.  First you will need to configure it with the instructions inside.  Next take one end of the bridge, mount it outside unobstructed and connect an internet cable to it.  At the other end of where you want internet to be received at, you mount the receiver and line it up visually with the other end.

Run an internet cable from it to inside your work shed or guesthouse, and connect it either directly to your computer, or a wireless router.  Now you are getting the internet from your home wireless to a remote area.  The cost savings of doing this, versus paying someone to run a physical cable to another location is significant.  Using a wireless bridge you will have about half the speed of what you have inside your home, but it’s a lot faster than 4G LTE on your smartphone.

Solutions That Impress

Now that you have setup your outdoor AP, and or wireless bridge, you can now enjoy the internet no matter where you may roam on your property.  When you have guests over for dinner, or parties, they may notice your newly installed devices and start asking questions.  You can explain to them how wireless solutions helped you around your home.  You will impress them with your technical knowledge on wireless tech as you all gather around for selfies with the outdoor AP.  Well, maybe not selfies with the outdoor AP as that is a bit too nerdy.

Hunter Bonner is a System Administrator.  He can be reached through his blog techedgeblog.wordpress.com and on Twitter @TechEdgeBlog