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

 

 

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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.

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.

Hackers Going Old School

I have written quite a bit about attacks on computers through poisoned search results, and of course, just hitting an infected webpage.  When these things happen, your computer may starting “talking” to you announcing that if you try to shutdown your computer, your files will be infected, blah blah blah.  Of course, this is nothing more than a scare tactic to get you to click that button for “remote assistance”, which of course the only assistance you will get are your files stolen, held for ransom, and of course the high possibility of identity theft.

However, some hackers are going old school, by using the telephone as a launch point into hacking your computer.  For example, you may get a call on your home or mobile phone, and the caller ID might say “Microsoft”, or “Google Support”.  The person on the other end of the line will say that, “they have received alerts that your email account is sending out a bunch of spam”, or, “we have detected that your computer is infected with viruses, and we need to clean your computer, or we will have to lock down your machine.”

Of course, none of what I described is the case, because like I mentioned in a recent article, these companies have no idea if your computer is sending spam email, or infected with viruses.  These hackers, who are really scammers, use fear tactics, such as using inflected voice tones and a lot of technical jargon to get you all flustered and worried.  It is at that point they will have you turn on your computer, goto a site like Ammy Admin, Aero Admin, or they may use a legitimate remote control software like Teamviewer or LogMeIn, have you enter a code, and then they are on your computer where the games will begin.

So what can you do?  First of all, if the call comes out of left field, with the person on the phone stating something similar to what I mentioned earlier, my best advice is to hang up.  To verify if the call was a scam, call the number back on the caller ID.  Most likely it will refer either to some other number, or national 411 assistance.  Did I forget to mention that when they call on the phone, they also put forth false caller ID information?  Of course, this is assuming that anything other than “PRIVATE” or “BLOCKED” showed up on the caller ID.

This next part is a bit of a sensitive topic, but nonetheless true when it comes to these scammers.  The overwhelming majority of the scam calls you get, the person on the other end will have a heavy foreign accent.  Most of the calls are not coming from the US, but are in fact coming from overseas from the Middle East, India, and even Southeast Asia.  Again, if you get a call out of the blue, with foreign accented person on the line stating they need to connect to your virus laden computer, hang up.

Finally, you must understand that these phone calling hackers do not limit their calls to your mobile or home phone number.  They can and do call business numbers, because they are literally just going down a list of numbers that their criminal boss gave them, and have no idea if they are calling a home, mobile, or business phone number.  Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that you be alert when at the office.  Allowing a hacker who called you to get access to your work computer, will in all likelihood be a career limiting move for you.  In other words, you are likely to be fired.

Hackers use many methods and means to gain access to your information.  While most hacks occur while you use the internet, hackers are not above giving you a good old fashioned phone call to scare you into giving them access to your machine.  However, you have now been equipped with the knowledge to defeat them.  And defeat them we shall!

 

Product Review: Voyager Legend Bluetooth Headset

ImageFor a number of years now, I have used a smartphone without a bluetooth headset.  In fact, 6 years to be precise.  I was always a fan of Jabra headsets, but in regards to the Voyager Legend Headset by Plantronics, this is the cream of the crop of bluetooth headsets.

One of the things that you will instantly fall in love with is the voice interaction.  You turn it on and it verbally tells you it’s on, and then gives a status of what all is connected and how much talk time you have left.  When you are pairing it, you simply hit the voice command button on the mic boom, and say “pairing mode.”  Boom!  You’re done!  Also, if you are wondering does it pair well with a laptop or desktop running bluetooth, the answer is a resounding YES!

The Voyager Legend headset is lightweight and after just an hour or so, I forgot it was on my ear it was so light.  One nice feature I love about this headset are the buttons and switches.  The buttons on other bluetooth headsets are sometimes recessed and not so easy to push, flip, or whatever.  On this one the power button is a raised and pronounced switch clearly marked “off” and “on.”  T/he volume button is right above it and like the power switch, prounced and easy to work with.  When you are increasing the volume you will hear beeps getting louder and louder until the voice prompt tells you that you are at maximum.

Another neat feature of this headset is when you have incoming calls.  You will get a prompt telling you there is an incoming call and giving you the option to answer or ignore.  What is even more special about this is that it reads your contacts and specifically says who is calling.  For example, call comes in and it will annouce, “You have an incoming call from ‘Jim Smith’, answer or ignore?”  Also if you happen to not have this on your ear, once you put it on, it knows you have and will give the usual status report of the headset.  In my personal opinion, these are some of the best features on this phone.

Lastly, the noise cancelling feature of the microphone is exceptional.  Just the other day I was outside on my phone with the wind literally whipping in my ear, yet on the ear with this headset, I could literally hear it mitigating it.  Also, the other person on the other end hardly heard the wind while I spoke.  I have been in server rooms where it’s deafening and I can hear the other person on the line and they can hear me.

The Voyager Legend headset is without a doubt the best bluetooth headset I have ever owned.  This headset is feature rich, and call quality sharp.  If you are looking for a new bluetooth headset, this is the one.  Prices for this range anywhere from $85-$100 online.  You will not find much of a difference in price because quality usually comes at a premium.  In conclusion, the Voyager Legend Headset is a quality headset that will give you plenty of enjoyment by providing quality sound and ease of use.

Black Friday Blog Post coming soon

I cannot believe it’s almost time for Thanksgiving, and after that, some of the biggest shopping days of the entire year.  Are you going to shop online this year?  Some may ask, “Why in this day and age are you even asking such a thing?”  Believe it or not, there are still vast amounts of people that simply do not shop online for various reasons, especially when it comes to technology.

We will be covering the various reasons, tips and tricks to the holiday shopping season, and why if you have never shopped online for computers and other tech, why you are likely missing out of some great deals, as well as easing your nerves.  Stay tuned into TechEdge as we will be all over this like Black Friday shoppers on $199 laptops.

Technology for the “everyday” user.

Welcome to my new blog!  This site is welcome to everyone of various computer experience backgrounds.  Novice or advanced, hopefully you will find the content on this site, informative, helpful, and valuable.

Primarily, however, this site is for computer users who may have a computer, but are not as sophisticated technologically speaking.  For example, new Windows operating system comes out, and you goto site XYZ.com and read a review, and to you the reader, it’s all Greek to you.  Well here at TechEdgeBlog, I take the Greek and translate that into plain English, while at the same time making the information useful.

Here you will find articles related to fixes for common technical problems, product reviews, mobile app reviews, and various other things from the world of technology.  We can even have some fun by posting some things from the lighter side of the internet, sci-fi, and more.

If you are wanting to know a bit more about me, please click the “About” menu and enjoy.  I am also on Twitter as well.  Thank you for visiting and we hope to see back here soon.