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

 

Happy Independence Day

Just wanted to give a shout out to my subscribers that there is no tech blog this weekend.  I have started my Independence Day holiday early, so here is wishing everyone a Happy Independence Day!  Please take the time to remember why we have our nation’s independence, and say “thank you” to a veteran, police, fire, and emergency personnel.

Discount Wireless Carriers

I can remember the first time I had a wireless phone.  It was 1994, and it was a massive bag phone with AllTel in southwest Georgia.  There was really only one carrier in the region, so the wireless company had you over a barrel.  Those were the good old days where you were limited to certain number of minutes, and of course, there was no such thing as a “data plan”.  Hey, it was just a phone!

Fast-forward to the modern era, and there are a ton of wireless phone service providers.  The big three of course are AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon.  I am quite certain I will get hate mail from T-Mobile subscribers for not including them in the big three.  The types of phone plans we have today included unlimited calling and free long distance, a data plan.  Those data plans range from 1GB to 5GB or “unlimited data.”

Big Three = Big Costs

The problem with the big three carriers is the costs add up quickly.  For example, in our family two of us had phones with a major carrier.  Our data plan was 3GB per month and that was a shared data plan along with our mobile phone service.  After all taxes and charges, we were paying nearly $200 a month.  To be blunt, that is ridiculous.  When we tried to renegotiate our deal with our carrier for better pricing we were told to take a hike.  So we decided to take them up on their offer and left.

Same Networks – Half The Cost

You may have wondered if going to a discount carrier, like Straight Talk, Net10, or Virgin is worth it?  What kind of quality are you going to get with a discount carrier, and what type of support can you expect?  We are going to answer those questions, and I will be basing them on my experience.  Your results may vary.  There, my disclaimer is out there now!

When you take on discount wireless, or what is called a prepaid wireless carrier, you are literally making phone calls, and using the exactly same data lines that you would with one of the major carriers.  The way it works is, these companies lease the lines for their own service and then offer it as a discount.  Therefore, depending on the area you are in, you could be using the AT&T network, Verizon, or whomever.  Have you looked at your most recent mobile phone bill lately?  Now imagine being able to get the same benefits, or maybe more, but for half of what you are paying?  If you are still interested, read on.

Data Considerations

Many of the big three companies make you choose a data plan.  So you are constantly trying to figure out if you have enough data on your plan to avoid overage charges.  Usually, the data offered is around 3GB per month.  However, with discount carriers, they will offer an unlimited data plan up to a certain amount of data at 4G LTE speeds, like 8GB.  Some discount wireless providers are starting to raise that amount depending on what plan you are currently on.

Also, take note of your current data usage.  Do you find yourself connected to WIFI most of the time?  Chances are you probably are, what with more and more businesses offering free WIFI when you shop in their stores.  Therefore, why are you paying $90 a month for an “unlimited” data plan if you are not using that much data?  If you are a WIFI Commander, then maybe it is time to consider a switch and save some cash.  There is one thing to be mindful of on discount wireless data.  If you reach your data limit, you are throttled down to 2G speeds.  However, you never get data overage charges, unlike the other carriers.

Support

The type of support you get with discount wireless is by and large going to be through chat, email, or a self service portal.  If you are a person that likes to call in and speak with a representative, then this might be the deal breaker on switching.  However, most of the interactions we do with customer service these days are not over the phone.  If you are fine with that, then support is not going to be a major issue.

BYOP – Bring Your Own Phone

Remember the old days of when you switched carriers you had to buy a phone right up front?  Well, with discount carriers you literally can bring any phone to their network.  It is as simple as inserting their SIM card into your old phone and bang!  You are on their network, but still have the familiarity of using your own phone.  This is nice especially if you recently bought a new smartphone and are out $500-700.  While some of the major carriers are also letting you bring your own phone to their network, in my experience and research, the sheer number of phones they allow is nowhere near the variety that discount carriers allow.

Still Want To Switch?

If you have read this far, you are seriously considering switching, so how about a personal testimonial?  As I mentioned earlier, my wife and I left the Big Three after nearly 15 years of service with them.  Admittedly, going to a discount carrier was a bit unnerving.  As a System Administrator, I have to be reached at all times no matter where I am.  Having spotty service, which might as well be no service at all, was going to be disastrous if it went south.

To our surprise, switching to a discount wireless provider was one of the best decisions we have ever made.  I have yet to go anywhere in East Texas and not be able to make or receive a phone call.  Sure, there is always going to be the odd dead spot, but that is with any carrier.  However, call quality is great, data speeds are awesome, and all of that again, for less than half the cost of our old service provider.  If you are considering cutting costs in your technology budget, then moving to a discount wireless provider may be right up your alley.

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

Computers For Children

Note:  I blogged about this back in 2014, so this is an updated article.

When I was growing up, computers were barely making their ways into the lives of kids.  I distinctly remember the year my junior high school setup their first computer lab, with shiny Apple IIe computers.  We thought we were on top of the world at 128K of RAM and big old double density floppy disks.  1985 was such a good year!  (I know I just dated myself)

Nowadays, computers go with kids like peanut butter and jelly.  They are certainly in most, if not all, their classrooms at school, and most homes today have at least one computer in the house.  So if you are a parent and considering getting a computer for a child, this article can be your guide into finding the appropriate computer for your children.

Desktop or Laptop?

For many parents, the first conundrum is whether to get their child a desktop or laptop computer.  Desktops are typically built with more durability, which can help with little hands that may not know their own strength, and have more space for expansion, such as hardware upgrades.  Laptops are nice because they take up very little space and in the last decade have proven themselves to be just as powerful as desktops.  In the last few years, the major benefit of course, is the addition of touchscreens on many laptops being manufactured.

Some of the down sides to a desktop is taking up space in the home.  While laptops are space savers and are portable, they could become a potential web security issue, especially with older children like tweens and teens taking them behind closed doors.  Also, laptops from a cost perspective are considerably more expensive than desktops.  Yes, there are those “amazing” deals you see on laptops out there.  I will address that topic later on.

New or Used?

When considering purchasing a computer for your child, the next question that arises is whether one should get a new or a used computer?  This is really going to come down to your own decision and works right for you.  Here are the benefits and risks associated with both.

When purchasing a new computer, you are getting something that no one else has ever used.  Also, new computers come with a manufacturers warranty for at least the first year, so if you have any problems like the hard drive crashing, you have somewhere you can go for repair support and not pay additional money.  Also, a new computer is going to have the latest technology inside, such as the latest processor, memory, and other hardware items.  However, when you are buying a new computer, you are paying brand new prices, which depending on what you are buying, either desktop or laptop, can be pricey.  Those prices can range from $500 to nearly $1600 or more.

Some parents may consider getting their child a used computer for them to cut their teeth on due to cost concerns.  Used computers are not just the ones you find on Craigslist, but that also includes refurbished computers.  When you purchase a used computer, you are not going to have the latest Intel processor, but what you will get typically is a computer that was made in the last couple of years.  If you are purchasing this for your kids to browse the net, use email, and watch cat videos on Youtube, this may be the way to go and save a lot of money.  I recommend purchasing refurbished computers from trusted sellers, as you typically can get a limited warranty from them.  If you are going to purchase one from Craigslist, it is definitely “buyer beware” territory.  Get a computer geek friend to help you out on that.

PC or Mac?

I will not spend a lot of time on this, but this is something to consider.  First, if you have children that attend school, find out what is the primary operating system they use for all their school related work.  Also, look at the computers your already have in your home and what operating system they run on.  While both have their strengths and weaknesses, I can tell you that the overwhelming number of computers today on the planet, and especially in schools, are PCs, which means they are running Windows.  However, if your family is a Mac family, then you may want to go that route.  Again, this is a personal decision.

 

What About Those “Amazing Deals?”

I have addressed this topic before, when covering Black Friday technology shopping, but this also applies when buying a computer for your child.  You will inevitably come across computer “deals” either in snail-mail advertisements, email, or perhaps TV commercials.  You may see something like, “15 inch laptop with Windows 10 only $299.00!”  Sound great when purchasing for a kid right?  Let me tell you why it’s not.

Computers that are advertised with the latest operating system, but for dirt cheap prices, are because you are getting a cheap PC, which is to say, a piece of crap.  It is a machine built with cheap parts and the very minimum amount of hardware to run the operating system.  A closer look at these “deals” and you will find that they have 2GB to 4GB of RAM trying to run Windows 10.  This means almost right out of the gate, your child is going to complain how slow the computer is, and that will get old really quick.  Frankly, you would make out better on Craigslist than with one of these advertised “deals”.

Time To Get One

Regardless of what route you may go, PC or Mac, desktop or laptop, I would highly recommend getting a computer for your child.  Computers are as much a fact of life for children as they are for adults.  Hopefully this guide will help you with making that decision without breaking the bank.

 

Once Again, Microsoft Releases Security Patches for XP

I know that most of my readers are on at least Windows 7, with most of you on Windows 10.  So you may be wondering, why on Earth am I writing about Windows XP security patches?  The answer is very simple.

Unprecedented

First, Microsoft no longer supports Windows XP, unless you are a government agency still using the OS.  However, last month’s #WannaCry ransomware infection that hit the world wide web like a ton of bricks, prompted Microsoft to make the unprecedented decision to manufacture and release security patches to an OS it no longer supports.  That is how bad the WannaCry event was.

Second, security experts at Microsoft are saying that there is the potential for something worse than WannaCry coming down the pike.  They do not go into great detail, but suffice to say, they make the claim that nation-states could potentially be involved.  That means, foreign governments could be involved with the next cyber-attack.  Incidentally, this is not the first time that would happen.

How To Patch Your XP Machine

While Microsoft made the incredible decision to release patches for XP, they did not make them available through Windows Update.  You will have to download them manually.  Please visit the following link and then sort by “last updated”.  I would start on page two, and beginning in May 2017 I would download all patches through 06/12/2017 and install them.  The main reason why people got hit with WannaCry was due to unpatched systems, so if you do this, you should be good to go.

Time To Upgrade

If you are reading this far, you are probably one of those XP holdouts for a variety of reasons.  Most people just simply have an inherent dislike for change, and XP was a great operating system.  However, to be perfectly frank, it is time to stop being a holdout.  Continuing to use outdated operating systems is asking for trouble.  Remember, attackers know that XP has not been patched since 2014, and thus, are going to write viruses to attack that very operating system.  The likelihood that Microsoft will release another patch for XP is extremely remote.

You need to consider upgrading to a Windows 10 machine today.  No, it is not going to look exactly like your XP machine, but you will get over it.  However, the trade-off is that you will have a system that gets regular security updates, unlike what you have now.  Make no mistake, Microsoft had no obligation to patch XP after support ended, and to be honest, people are lucky this is even happening.  Start shopping around, or better yet, follow this blog by subscribing, to get all the latest updates on tech for some ideas.

Email Management

Email is a wonderful thing.  I can fondly remember that, in the past, if I wanted to send someone a letter, I had to use paper, envelope, and a stamp.  Then of course was the waiting time to hear a reply.  With email, we can send in an instant, and get responses equally as fast.

However, email, can get out of hand by filling up your inbox fast.  When that happens, email ceases to be a “wonderful thing”, and turns into a nightmare.  Fortunately, there are some practices you can put into place today to conquer your inbox, and make your email activity more efficient and organized.

Tackling Your Inbox

If you open your email program, and see that you have an endless number of items in your inbox, you need to deal with that.  We will be referring to Microsoft’s Outlook for the purposes of this article.  First of all, if you let emails build up in your inbox to where you have several hundred, or even thousands of emails, how are you going to find anything?  Now some may say they will use the search feature, but when you use keywords, you are still going to have to drill down through a massive list of messages to find what you are looking for.

Consider creating folders in your email program.  In Outlook, you can simply right click on your Inbox, and then click “New Folder”.  Give them descriptive names like, “Travel Documents”, “Bills”, or “Online Shopping.”  Now go through your Inbox and drag and drop those items to your newly created folders.  Now when you are needing something that is of a particular subject, you can jump straight to that folder and search from there, thereby narrowing your search field.

Lay Down Some Rules

Just about everything in life abides by rules, and your email program is no different.  Rules can be setup to make messages take a certain action.  For example, lets say you have a folder called, “Jim”, and you would like to automatically have emails that come from Jim go straight to that folder.  You can create a rule by right clicking on any email from Jim, goto “Rules”, then goto “Always move messages from Jim..”  You will be presented with a list of folders.  Select the folder you want it to go, and then click “OK”.  You may get a prompt to take that action on currently messages in the Inbox.  Check that box and hit “OK” and you are done!

There are also other actions you can take in the Rules section.  You can go to the top toolbar, and click on “Rules” and then “Create Rule”.  From there you can make messages display popup alerts, get special notifications on invitations, or create a rule to have emails from someone who annoys you auto-delete.  Bottom line is, laying down some rules in Outlook will go a long way to restoring order.

Learn To Let Go

When it comes to email management, the inevitable situation comes up of someone who never deletes email.  When I say never, I mean, NEVER!  At the beginning of this article I made mention of an inbox full of hundreds, or thousands of messages.  Many of which are not even read yet, so if this is you, read on.

If you look at your inbox and see 1000 unread emails, it is time to delete those emails.  Now you may say, “Well I was going to read them later.”  When you get to that many unread emails, be honest, you are never going to get around to reading them.  Start with the oldest messages and start deleting away.  You can hold down the CTRL key while you click your messages to pick and choose.  If you have a bunch you need to delete in succession, select the first message, hold down the SHIFT key, and then click the last message you want to delete.  You have now highlighted all of that selection, now just click DELETE.  Once you have deleted all of the ones you want to get rid of, be sure to empty the Deleted Items folder.  Things should be looking a lot more better at this point.

Get Rid Of Junk Mail/Spam

Do you get a lot of junk email?  Like a lot of it?  Chances are you put your email address in on some website and now ti’s been sold half a dozen times over.  Thus, you are getting spammed.  There are a couple of ways to deal with this, and by doing so, you will cut down greatly the amount of junk email you are receiving.

First, consider unsubscribing from the email list in question.  By law, all advertising emails should have an unsubscribe link, usually at the very bottom of the email.  When you click on that, you usually will be taken to that company’s website, and you will see options to unsubscribe.  Be very careful with this option though.  Some spammers will put an unsubscribe link for you to click on, only for that to subscribe you to more spam.  Therefore, there is another option.

Another way to handle junk emails is to block them from ever coming in.  You can right click on a junk mail message, and then select “Block Sender”.  When you do this, it will go straight to the Junk Mail folder.  Another thing you can do is create a rule to delete it automatically, especially if it is a problematic sender that just will not seem to go away.  Also, when you are in Junk Email options, you can block emails from certain countries from coming in.

Final Analysis

Email management is not as hard as one might think.  Having a more organized email program not only will make things easier to find, but can also speed up the running of your email program.  So if your Outlook is a mess, you have the tools today to get it in order.

 

 

Upgrade Options For Your PC

Time to upgrade?  Ah, yes, that is the question for many people these days when it comes to their computers.  However, when people hear the word “upgrade”, dollar signs immediately appear in the eyes and inevitable groans will follow.  The problem is, your computer is slowing down, or not keeping up with your newer programs, and you do not know what to do.

 

For many computer users today, they are the type of person that buys a new desktop or laptop, and then run that sucker into the ground usage wise.  Perhaps your idea of an upgrade is to get a new system, and it very well may be time for that.  However, there are some things to consider that might be more affordable, and still get the job done.  Some of these suggestions should help extend the life of your machine and are surprisingly easy to do.

 

First things first, find out your system specifications.  You can either refer to the data sheet for your model computer when you purchased it, or just look it up on your current PC.  Goto the Computer icon either in your Start menu or go into File Explorer and locate it.  Right click on it and goto “Properties.”  From there you will see what version of Windows you have, how much RAM (memory) you have, processor speed and the like.  Note:  You are probably not looking to replace your processor, so you can skip that part.

 

In most cases, the first thing to consider on upgrading a system is memory, or RAM as it’s called.  These days, running a system with 4 GB or less is on the low side and you will see a slowdown in performance.  Consider upgrading to 8GB or 16GB of RAM for your machine.  You will want to consult your tech sheet for your model of computer to find out the maximum amount of memory your computer can have installed in it.

 

Also, if you are on a 32 bit operating system, your computer will not recognize anything more than 4GB of RAM.  So for memory upgrades greater than 4GB, for some, you may have to reinstall Windows in a 64 bit version.  To find out whether your machine is 32 or 64 bit, please refer to the paragraph on system information.  RAM upgrades are very inexpensive and will run desktop and laptop users anywhere between $35 and $60 for upgrades.

 

Another thing to consider these days is the solid state drive (SSD) option.  Solid state drives are hard drives that have no moving parts.  Basically, they function the same way that a thumb drive does that you might use, but of course, has a much larger storage area.  The prices on these drives have come down considerably than where they used to be.  Currently online you can get a 250GB SSD for around $100.00, and if you shop around, even less than that.

 

Of course, if you are going to go the SSD route, you will be reinstalling Windows, and if you are doing that, install the 64 bit version so that you can get the benefit of the multitasking features of that type of system.  One thing you will notice immediately upon switching to a solid state drive, your boot up time that normally would last a few minutes, will most likely be reduced to seconds.  That means you can get your coffee after you have logged in instead of before!  Going this route is beneficial in many ways, because not only are you upgrading hardware, it also provides you the opportunity to go through your files and get rid of anything you do not need anymore.

One of the great things about solid state drive upgrades, is that pretty much all SSD manufacturers include imaging software for your current hard drive.  So what does that software do?  It literally makes a copy of your current hard drive, and transfers that to the new hard drive.  All your programs and everything you have setup will be on the new drive.  You will have to purchase a separate drive adapter, called a SATA Adapter, but they are super cheap, some for under $10 online.

 

Whether it is adding some more memory to your machine, or getting a snazzy new solid state drive, these are some viable, yet affordable options for someone to consider if you have a machine that is 2-3 years old.  The best prices I have found are typically online for hardware upgrades, but also keep a close eye out in your local electronics circulars, as they have a tendency to surprise folks at times.  By following these upgrade options, you can breathe new life into your machine, and possibly extend the life of it further than you, or the manufacturer, might have expected.

 

 

Ransomware – Are you prepared?

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last week or so, you probably heard about the massive global hacking attack that so far has hit 150 countries.  This attack used a type of malicious software called “ransomware”.  This attack hit governments and hospitals, but individuals were targeted as well.  Most notably was the National Healthcare Service of Great Britain, which literally shutdown the NHS, causing them to turn patients away due to their systems being inaccessible.

 

What is Ransomware?

So, the question for the average user is, “What is ransomware?”  In a nutshell, it is malicious software that locks all your files up from being opened.  The only way you can unlock them is to enter what is called a “decryption key”.  So, how do you get that decryption key?  You guessed it, you pay a ransom to the hacker.  That ransom may come in the form of doing a money transfer payment, such as a bank wire, or more often, you will pay them in Bitcoin, which is a type of electronic currency.  Of course, there are zero guarantees that you will ever get that decryption key.  Many times, the hacker never sends it.  So now you have not only lost all your data, you’ve lost cash too.  That cash ransom by the way, can be just a few hundred dollars, to thousands.

 

How Do I Get This?

A person can get ransomware several ways.  One of those ways is by clicking on an email attachment that seems legitimate, like a Word document, or a JPEG (picture file).  You can also get ransomware by clicking on a web link in an email that may refer to something like a UPS shipment notification.  In either scenario, you click it, and that is where the fun, or non-fun, begins.  You will usually have your entire screen display something like, “All your files have been encrypted.”, and it will demand you pay a ransom by a certain date, or your files will be gone forever.

 

How Do I Stop This From Happening?

There are ways to mitigate your risk at getting ransomware.  First, make sure your operating system is up to date.  If you have been postponing those Windows Updates, postpone them no longer.  There is a reason why you have updates, and many times it is because Microsoft has discovered a vulnerability that hackers can use to attack you.

For you Mac users who are in smug mode thinking you are immune because you are on a Mac, guess what?  You are not exempt.  Earlier this year a strain of ransomware, specifically designed to attack the Mac OS, was discovered.  So, the update manager that has been telling you to update, you should probably do that like right now.

The second thing you can do is make sure you have antivirus on your computer and that it is up to date.  If you have been seeing that little message popup that your antivirus is expired and you need to renew, do it today.  If it costs too much, then shop around.  There are many free options out there that work just fine.  Some of those antivirus options are Avast or AVG.  Microsoft Windows has its own antivirus, Windows Defender, that is also free of charge and works quite well at stopping viruses, Trojans, and other things that could launch ransomware.

Finally, there are some companies that offer software specifically designed to prevent ransomware.  CryptoPrevent, is a nice little app that runs in the background on your computer.  Also, BitDefender has an app that runs on your machine to stop ransomware before it starts.  Both are hardly noticeable, and do not slow your machine down.   I strongly recommend using a combination of antivirus and some sort of anti-ransomware software together to provide a solid layer of protection.

 

I Got Hit.  What Do I Do?

If you got hit with ransomware, first off my condolences.  However, there may be hope for you to recover your information without having to pay that ransom.  Many security research companies offer free tools for you to install on your machine that will target the ransomware infection, and not only remove it, but will decrypt your files.  However, there is no guarantee on this, because not all ransomware has been cracked that is out there.

Another way to recover from this is to restore from a backup.  Windows has a System Restore functionality that will allow you to revert your PC to a previous point in time.  However, some ransomware, as part of its function, is to delete those backups.  Therefore, this may or may not work.  If you read my recent article on cloud backups and have implemented that strategy, then you have another option.  Wipe your entire hard drive, reinstall Windows, and restore from the cloud.  This last option may prove to be a faster way to recover, because you could literally spend hours trying to clean an infection like ransomware off your machine.

 

Do Not Delay

There are some individuals and businesses that may not want to take the time, or money, to invest in protecting against ransomware.  If you are on the fence, consider what type of impact it would have if you lost everything due to a hacker attack?  Would your business survive if all your customer files were being held for ransom?  How about all those precious pictures of your kids growing up now suddenly gone because you don’t have $10K lying around to pay the ransom for your files?  In conclusion, you cannot afford to delay upgrading your systems security features.  If ransomware can shutdown portions of a government run healthcare system, imagine what it could do to you.

 

Two Factor Authentication – It’s No Longer Optional.

There is an old saying that there are two guarantees in life:  Death and Taxes.  Well, when it comes to personal computing, there are two guarantees as well.  Passwords and password changes.  Yes, if you use a computer, a smartphone, or anything that connects to the internet, you have a username and password as a means of identifying who you are in order to access information.

For many years, the standard has been that your username be unique, as well as your password.  This criteria for many years has been sufficient in guarding your account information at your bank, your social media accounts, everything.  However, this is no longer the case.

Two Factor Authentication (2FA)

What is “two factor authentication?”  Simply put, it is a way of identifying yourself by use of multiple pieces of information.  Without getting into the gory details, it means that you are using something else, in addition to your username and password, to verify your identity.  Many corporations have used this type of technology for years.  However, for consumer users of computers, this is something we are seeing more and more each day.

To give an example, lets say you have a Gmail account.  When you login, you enter your username and password and you press enter to login.  If you have two factor authentication enabled, once you login, you would be presented with a screen asking for an additional code to enter.  That code could come in the form of a text message, or through use of an authentication app.  Once you enter that additional code, you gain access to your account.

At this point, I can already hear you groaning at the idea of having to enter something else to secure your account.  Thoughts like, “That’s annoying!”, or, “I have to enter another piece of information to check my email?”, and finally, “This is stupid!  I’m not going to do it!”, I am quite certain are going through your heads.  However, before you make a hasty decision, consider the following scenario.

Vacation Gone Wrongvacation gone wrong

A husband took his wife and kids on a family vacation to San Francisco.  For this trip, the husband brought his smartphone, and instead of a laptop, he decided to bring his Android tablet.  After a wonderful two weeks in sunny California, they decided to hit up Fisherman’s Wharf for some last minute shopping.  After several hours of walking around, they returned to their vehicle only to find both back windows smashed out.  Several items of luggage were stolen, including, the husband’s bag that had his tablet inside.

That tablet had all sorts of apps, such as email, banking and investment apps, all major social media account apps, and the like.  After having to deal with the frustration of having their stuff stolen, this husband spent the better part of the night changing passwords for literally everything in his digital life.  It was at this point that he setup two factor authentication where he was able to do so.

What If It Was You?

Imagine yourself in the above scenario.  Having to frantically change passwords before the other person got to your digital stuff is not fun at all.  If that person had setup two factor authentication on his accounts prior to the theft, that would have at least put up a roadblock for the thief, while that person went down the list to change passwords.  Two factor authentication is not the “magic wand” of security.  It is simply another means of securing your information.  You can either do that, or run the risk of a hacker getting access to your banking information, or deleting all your photos from your cloud account.

Setting Up 2FA

Setting up 2FA (more jargon to impress friends) is very simple, and you may already be using it.  If you have logged into your bank from another machine that you typically do not use, the website may say they have sent a verification code via text message.  This is a form of 2FA.  Another way you can set this up is to go to your social media sites and look under settings/security.  Usually you will find a way to enter your mobile number and enable two factor authentication.

You may download and use apps like LastPass Authenticator, or Google Authenticator.  These apps allow you to setup 2FA with different sites that allow use of such an app.  You scan a barcode that is provided by a website, and once you have it in there, each login you do will require use of that additional code.  A nice feature of 2FA is that you are instantly notified on login attempts.

Many sites that allow, or even force you to setup 2FA also allow you the ability to check a box to remember you on that machine.  This way you do not have to enter a secondary code each time.  A word of caution on this.  By doing so, if your device is ever stolen, and they can get to your apps and have a greater chance of logging into whatever site(s) you have enabled that feature.  I would caution against doing this from your tablet or mobile phone.

No Excuses

Two factor authentication is not a passing fad, but is a standard in computer security.  When considering whether or not to set it up, ultimately the decision rests with you.  However, each week it seems we hear about another company having a security breach.  Therefore, 2FA is no longer something that is optional, but is a necessity in securing your digital life.

Global Hack Attack – Ransomware

Keep your eyes peeled regarding a global hacking attack that has hit 12 countries so far.  The attackers apparently are using technology stolen from the NSA of all places, to launch ransomware onto people’s machines.  Heavily hit already is Britain’s National Healthcare System.

Now more than ever, we have to be vigilant.  These things usually are transmitted via email attachments.  Some may look weird, but oftentimes, they can appear harmless.  If you think something is strange, go with your gut and do not open that attachment.

You can read more about this story here.  Also, feel free to review an article about email security to brush up on how to protect yourself.