Sunday, November 29, 2015

Your New Dell Computer May Put You At Risk

Several months ago computer maker Lenovo created a stir with its "Superfish" fiasco. Now we find that Dell has fumbled, as well. If you purchased a Dell desktop or laptop computer after July 30, 2015 you may be vulnerable to online spying and malware attacks.



Dell, mistakenly, installed a root certificate with an exposed private key. So, what does this mean? Hackers can use this key to impersonate any website and trick a user into revealing login credentials - even on secure https sites. The certificate called eDellRoot was designed to assist with customer support, but it unfortunately does much more. So, what should a Dell owner do?

1. Check your computer for the bug. Go to https://edellroot.secur3.us/ . If your browser gives you a security warning - you are safe.

2. If the test above does not produce a security warning, you will need to run the Dell patch to remove the eDellRoot certificate. You may download the patch from the link below:


Modern computing devices have become increasingly complex, and securing these systems against exploits has become a herculean task. Dell's mistake is serious, but they did act quickly and decisively to ameliorate the issue.  

Friday, October 9, 2015

How to Create Contact Groups On Your Apple Watch - Running WatchOS 2

Apple Watch owners have been anxiously awaiting WatchOS 2. The new ability to run Apps natively and independent of the tethered Iphone is expected to unleash a myriad of new capabilities.

Now that the update has arrived, we are beginning to explore some of those possibilities. 



The initial release of Apple Watch allowed users to setup 12 "Favorite" Contacts. These come in handy for quickly Calling, Texting or "Poking" a friend or relative. Many users found 12 to be somewhat limiting. The good news is - you can now create Contact Groups on the watch. Of course, it's much easier to setup the Groups from your Iphone. Here's how:

1. Launch the Watch App on your Iphone.
2. Scroll down and select Friends.
3. Swipe to the left to create a new Group.
4. You can drag and drop present contacts into a group.
5. When a Group is selected, you can give it a name (Work, Family, etc.) in the text box at the top. 
6. When you are finished, open Contacts on your Apple Watch by clicking the Side Button (not the Crown). When you scroll to a Group you should see it's name before selecting a particular contact.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Five Windows 10 Keyboard Shortcuts That Everyone Should Know

Windows 10 adoption, recently (as of late September 2015), hit the 100 million mark, as consumers continue updating their Windows 7 and 8.1 PCs. Many Windows 7 users have been faced with a fairly sharp learning curve.

The new touch features are handy if you have a Touch Enabled device. But, if you are "old school" you may long for your favorite Keyboard Shortcuts. So, here are five quick "Windows Key" favorites that every Windows 10 user should know.



1. Windows Key + A  -  Open the Action Center.
2. Windows Key + C  -  Open Cortana (The Microsoft Voice Assistant) in Listening Mode.
3. Windows Key + I  -   Open Settings.
4. Windows Key + L  -  Lock Your PC or Switch Users.
5. Windows Key + S  -  Open Search

Monday, September 28, 2015

Apple's New IOS 9 Has Some Great Features, But There's One You May Want To Disable

Have you updated your Iphone or IPad to IOS 9? Recent reports indicate that nearly half of all IPhone owners have stepped up to IOS 9. Overall, the lastest version has been, generally, well received. Apple has dropped a multitude of new features and fixed many of the remaining IOS 8 bugs.

There is, however, a new "feature" that you may want to turn off. I don't, personally, consider this a feature and I think it was unwise to enable it by default. The culprit is called WI-Fi Assist. It is designed to ensure that you always maintain a good connection to the Internet. If your Iphone/Ipad WIFI connection becomes unstable or weak, your Cellular Connection steps in and supplements or takes over.



Ok, so what's wrong with that? If you are on a Fixed Data Plan with your carrier - most of us are, you could rapidly go over your quota, and not know it. So, my suggestion is - turn it off. 

1. Go to Settings, then Cellular.
2. Scroll down to the very bottom.
3. If WI-Fi Assist is on (that is the default), turn it off.


How To Stop Your Apple Music Trial Subscription, Before Your Account Is Charged.

It has been almost 3 months since Apple unveiled "Apple Music" - Cupertino's entry into the crowded music subscription model. Many Apple fans signed up for a free 3 month trial subscription. Assuming you jumped in at the release, your trial will expire on September 30, 2015. Are you planning on paying $9.99 per month for "all you can eat" music? Perhaps you already use an alternative music streaming service. There are a plethora of choices - Spotify, Rdio, Google Play Music, Pandora, Rhapsody, etc. With the exception of Pandora, all of these services are very similar. Sure there are specific features that are unique to each, but all provide unlimited streaming access to millions of songs.



If you accepted Apple's trial offer, but are unwilling to pay the $9.99/month fee, you will need to turn off the automatic renewal. Fortunately, Apple has made the process simple. Here's how to unsubscribe from your Iphone or Ipad.

1. Open the Apple Music App on your device.
2. Click on your Profile Avatar in the upper left corner.
3. Click on View Apple ID. You will be asked for your Itunes Password.
4. Under the Subscriptions Categor, click on Manage.
5. Select Your Apple Music Membership.
6. You will see a button to Turn Off Auto Renewal.

Music Subscription Services are fantastic for "Music Lovers." The ability to have access to 20 million songs at home and in your pocket, is remarkable. Apple Music and Google Play are currently the only choices if you would like to store and have access to your personal digital collection, along with the other 20 million. This feature not only makes your collection available everywhere, but it also provides a nice backup.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Clean Up Your Mac With An Old Friend From Your Windows Days - Malwarebytes For Mac

Malware & Adware on my Mac? You're kidding right? Nope, it's no longer just a Microsoft Windows problem. Mac infestations represent a small percentage of the total number of exploits, but the trend is growing.

Seasoned Windows users know that one of the best, free, malware cleanup utilities is Malwarebytes. The folks at Malwarebytes recently acquired Mac favorite - AdwareMedic and renamed it Malwarebytes for Mac  The newly branded product will manually scan your Mac and remove any Adware and Malware that you may have inadvertently picked up. The scanner is fast and efficient.



Presently the application is designed to remove previous infections. Since, it does not run in the background, monitoring your activity, it will not prevent an active attack. Too gain resident protection for your Mac, check out our article on Mac Security.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Are Your IPhone 6 Plus Photos Blurry? You May Be Entitled To A Replacement

The Iphone 6 Plus has been praised for having one of the best smartphone cameras available. Unfortunately, some users have had poor results. Apple has recently acknowledged that a small number of IPhone 6 Plus devices have a manufacturing defect that causes the rear iSight camera to produce blurred photos. The units in question were sold between September 2014 and January 2015.

 

Does your device qualify? Go to Apple's support page and enter your phone’s serial number to determine if your IPhone 6 Plus is eligible for a replacement. "If your iPhone 6 Plus is producing blurry photos and falls into the eligible serial number range, Apple will replace your device’s iSight camera, free of charge."

You will need to bring your IPhone to an Apple store, authorized dealer or contact Apple Care directly to repair the defect.

 

 

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Best Android Smartphone For Those On A Budget - Moto G (2015)

There are subtle changes taking place in the Smartphone markets. Carriers in the U.S. are moving away from the "subsidy model" that has been with us for many years. Under this plan you walked into a store, dropped $200 for a "Flagship" Phone (IPhone, Android or Windows), signed a two year lock-in contract and paid a monthly service fee for your phone and data. Of course, that top of the line IPhone or Samsung device retails for $600 - $750 and the carrier is subsidizing the rest.

We are now seeing more prepaid, no contract plans, and the major carriers are moving away from "locked" smartphones. You can now purchase an "unlocked (one that can be moved between carriers)" device and pay a monthly fee. You are free in many cases to stop paying and switch providers whenever you want - assuming your device's hardware supports the appropriate frequencies and technology.

This is great for the consumer, but there is one glaring consequence. Buying a "Flagship" smartphone, upfront and unlocked, may induce "sticker shock". The IPhone 6 Plus starts at $749.00. Fortunately, those that are unwilling to invest that much cash have a couple of options. First, the carriers will, generally, let you spread out the payments by adding a monthly fee to the cost of your service. Second, consider buying a "non-flagship" phone.

 

Unless you are a person who has to have the "latest and greatest", there are some excellent bargain smartphones. Some will provide 90% of the capability of the Flagship products, for a fraction of the cost. A recent entry from Motorola is, in my opinion, one of the best - at a bargain price.

The 3rd generation Moto G (2015) "one ups" the 2014 model, which was highly rated. This new customizable Andoid smartphone can be purchased for a mere $179.00 (8GB), although I would definitely recommend the 16GB version for $219.00. Keep in mind that this price is for an unlocked device that you can use with most any GSM carrier and a few CDMA options - this excludes Verizon & Sprint, at the present time. Grab this phone and a $40 - $50 prepaid plan and you are good to go. Want to switch carriers for a better deal? No problem, no contract - just make sure they support GSM (AT&T, T-Mobile and many MVNOs like Cricket, etc.).

So, what's so special about the new Moto G? It's just about the closest thing to a "Flagship" smartphone you can buy - for a fraction of the price. I will not attempt to run through all of the specs, since they are readily available online. Here are a few highlights:

1. An excellent 5" 720p HD Gorilla Glass display.

2. A slot for a removable micro SD card - store your photos and music.

3. 4G LTE on GSM.

4. Rear Camera Auto HDR - 13 MP, Front Camera - 5 MP.

5. Splendid, all day battery life.

6. Build your own custom color options.

7. Water resistant.

In addition, the Moto G is almost pure Google Android. There are very few manufacture addons, which often cripple the standard Android experience. "Vanilla" Android also I enables more timely Android OS updates, which are very slow to arrive on many devices. The Moto G 3rd Gen ships with the latest Android 5.1.1 - Lollipop. Presently, the 16 GB models are very popular and often in short supply. This will change as manufacturing ramps up.

So, if you are tired of the paying top dollar for the latest and greatest, and you are interested in Android, you can't go wrong with the new Moto G (2015).

 

Friday, August 14, 2015

So, You Installed Windows 10, But It's Not What You Thought. Let's Roll It Back.

Windows 10 has now been around almost a month and the reviews have been, generally, positive. For me it has been a good upgrade. Microsoft has successfully created a blend of the traditional Windows 7 features and the "Metro/Modern" tile interface. It works reasonably well on all form factors - Desktops, Notebooks, Tablets and Smarphones. As expected, there are many bugs that Microsoft will have to kill in the coming months. If you aren't the adventurous type, and you have not upgraded, you may want to wait.

Some folks jumped in and now have "cold feet". Perhaps you upgraded from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 because it was free, and now you want to roll back. Well, the good news is you can - if you do it soon and meet a few conditions. Here's how.

 

1. You only have 30 days from the time you upgraded to rollback.

2. When you upgraded, the process created a folder that includes needed to roll back. Generally, this folder can be found here: C:\Windows.old. Make sure you have it.

3. As always, before you make any major changes to your system, make sure you have a good backup of your data files. You should not need it, but anything can happen.

4. Open the Start menu or Notification Panel, select the Settings app, and go to Update & Security > Recovery.

5. You should see an option that says Go back to Windows 8.1 or Go back to Windows 7. Click on Get started and follow the instructions. The rollback, just like the upgrade, will take time to complete. In addition, you may have to do a little "tweaking" to get all of your settings exactly like they were prior to the upgrade.

Don't forget, if you change your mind, you have until July 29, 2016 to snag your free copy of Windows 10.

 

 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

So You Like Windows 10, But Dislike The New Edge Browser - Let's Get Your Old One Back.

During the first few days of it's release, Windows 10 was reportedly installed on some 70 million computers. Since, you are reading this "how to" you may be included in this count. But, if you have not upgraded, there is no need to rush - you have almost a year to obtain the free "bits". If you just have to have it, you can get it today - check out our article on upgrading to Windows 10 now.

Microsoft has included a new Internet Browser with Windows 10 called Edge. It shows promise, but it is not entirely complete. Presently, there is no support for addons or extensions. Unfortunately, when you upgrade to Windows 10, Edge becomes your default web browser. If you are like many other users, you probably have a personal preference - Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, etc. So, how do you get your old browser back - and make it default.

 

1. Go to Settings. You can get there from the Start menu or the Notification icon in the lower right tray.

2. Select System followed by Default Apps.

3. Click Microsoft Edge under the "Web browser" heading.

4. Select your favorite browser from the pop up list.

5. Your new choice is now set as your default for Internet Browsing.

Microsoft will be adding extension support and other new features to Edge soon. It may be worth checking it out, once again, in a few months.

 

 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tired Of Waiting For Windows 10? Here's How To Install It Today.

Did you "reserve" your free copy of Windows 10 - weeks ago, and now find that you are continuing to wait for the final installation files. Where are they? Microsoft has millions of copies to deliver and it may take awhile. Keep in mind, you have almost a year to grab your free copy, so there's no real hurry. But, if you want it now, there is a simple way to make it happen. Here's how.

 

1. First you need to download a copy of the Microsoft Windows 10 Media Creation Tool. Select the correct version for your computer - 32 bit (x86) or 64 bit (x64). If you are not sure which you have - read on.

2. To find out which version of Windows 10 you need, open File Explorer on your computer, right click on My Computer or This PC, and select Properties. You can determine whether you're running a 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows. If you are currently running Windows 7 Starter, Windows 7 Home Basic, Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 8.1 with Bing, choose Windows 10 Home as Edition. If you are currently running Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Ultimate, Windows 8 Pro, Windows 8.1 Pro, Windows 8 Professional, Windows 8.1 Professional with Media Centre, choose Windows 10 Pro as Edition.

3. When you run the Tool, it will give you the option of automatically upgrading your specific computer to Windows 10, or you can make a bootable DVD or USB to install Windows 10 on one or more computers. Making a bootable USB Flash drive is a great option. It will come in handy if you have problems or need to reinstall later. For this choice, you will need a blank USB Flash Drive (at least 3GB) to make a 32 bit or 64 bit Installation Drive. If you want both versions on the same USB Drive you will need a 8GB version. There is an option for a DVD, as well, but few modern computers include DVDs.

4. Creating the tool takes a little time, but when it's done you will be ready to upgrade to Microsoft's latest and greatest.

 

 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

How To Speed Up Your Browser And Improve Your Security - Let's Tame Adobe Flash!

During the last few months we have heard a myriad of IT professionals and Tech journalists call for the end of Adobe Flash. Some may remember that the late Steve Jobs, raised the same alarm back in 2010 when he refused to put Flash on the IPad. So, what is Adobe Flash? Why do we use it? Should you abandon it?

Adobe Flash is a widely used technology for displaying video and interactive content across the Internet. In spite of being obsolete, many advertisers continue to use Flash, and their ads consume a lot of computer resources. In general, this slows down your computer and browser, degrades your experience and drains your laptop battery. Many developers have already switched to a more modern and less obtrusive technology for rendering web content, called html 5.

 

In addition to poor performance, there is a more deleterious consequence of using Flash. It is a constant source of Malware Injection. Running Flash in your Internet Browser makes you much more vulnerable to Zero Day malware exploits - even from websites that you may assume to be safe.

As always, tightening up security comes with added inconvenience. Some websites you visit will still be using Flash and it may cause a few stumbles. In general, things will be faster, more secure and you will see fewer ads. So how can you tame Flash within your Internet Browser? Let's take a look at each of the popular browsers. Ipad and IPhone users don't need to be concerned - Thanks to Steve, you don't have Flash!

1. Internet Explorer - Internet Explorer can be setup to ask you before it loads generic plugin content (including Flash), but this option is well-hidden on the add-ons screen. Click the gear icon on Internet Explorer’s toolbar and select Manage Add-ons. Select Toolbars and Extensions. Click the Show box, and select All add-ons. Locate the Shockwave Flash Object plug-in under Adobe Systems Incorporated, right-click it, and select More information. Click the Remove all sites button and Flash won’t load automatically on any website you visit. When you do go to a site with Flash content, you’ll be asked whether you want to allow it.

2. Google Chrome - Google Chrome has a built-in click-to-play feature for all plug-ins, including Flash. To enable it, click Chrome’s menu button and select Settings. Click Show advanced settings, click Content settings under Privacy, scroll down to Plug-ins, and select "Click to play" or "Let me choose when to run plugin content". When you visit a website with Flash, you will asked whether you would like to allow it. There is also a nice Chrome Extension called Flashcontrol that will do the same thing.

3. Safari - For Safari on Apple Mac OS X you can enable click-to-play for plug-ins. This setting Is granular and can be adjusted individually for each plug-in you have installed In your browser. Click the Safari menu, and select Preferences. Click the Security icon and select Manage Website Settings to the right of Internet plug-ins. Select a plug-in (Flash), click the When visiting other websites box, and select Ask.

4. Mozilla Firefox - Enable click to play by going to the Menu Button -> Addons -> Plugins, Find Shockwave Flash and change the drop-down to Ask to Activate. You can also use the Firefox Extension - FlashBlock - which works very well.

Some websites load Flash content in the background and may need Flash content to work properly, but this is becoming increasingly less likely as sites move to html 5.

 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Windows 10 Will Arrive Soon - Should You Upgrade?

Microsoft is beginning to advertise the latest release of it's Windows operating system - Windows 10. What happened to Windows 9, you ask? Well, it appears that MS would like to put plenty of distance between Windows 8 and the new release. Windows 8/8.1 has not been a huge success, and many users remain loyal to Windows 7 - which has proven to be an exception Operating System. Some users continue to stick with Windows XP, which is not a good idea. Windows XP is now outdated and poses substantial security risks for users and the Internet, in general.

 

So what about Windows 10? In short, I like it. Microsoft has resurrected some of the best Windows 7 features, that were abandoned during the Windows 8 mobile push. Windows 10 is quite usable in desktop mode, and the touch tiles continue to work well for tablets and other mobile devices. Overall it's a nice blend of Windows 7 & Windows 8 with many additional security features.

Is it really free? Windows 10 arrives July 29, 2015 and it will be a free upgrade for those using Windows 7, 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1. You will have to perform the upgrade within one year to grab the free offer. After you upgrade, all future releases will be free for the life of your device. You may have already seen an icon in your tray that will allow you to reserve your copy.

So, should I upgrade, as soon as it's available. Unless you are "Geek", probably not. Wait a month or so and many of early bugs will be fixed. The latest pre-release of Windows 10 is excellent and I have encountered very few issues, but why take any chances on your primary computing device.

The new release will arrive as a normal "Windows Update" and Microsoft indicates that the "bits" will be downloaded to your "compatible" computer. You are then free to upgrade whenever you want. Enjoy a free gift from Microsoft!

 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Tired Eyes? Tell Your IPad Or IPhone To Read Your Ebook Aloud

Have you ever tried Audio Books? They are not just for those with impaired vision. Audio books add a new dimension to your latest novel. Professional Readers can give an average book new life and draw you into the action. Audio Books are particularly well suited for long car trips. There are, however, two drawbacks - price and limited selection. A typical Audio best seller can command double the price of it's Ebook counterpart, and many selections are simply not available in the Audio Book format.

Fortunately, we do have another choice - it is not as engaging as a well narrated Audio Book, but it's a good substitute when your eyes are tired or you're solo, in a car. Simply have SIRI (the IOS voice assistant) read it aloud. Here's how.

 

1. On your IPhone or IPad - Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech. Toggle on Speak Screen. To start SIRI reading, pick a screen of text and swipe down with two fingers from the top of the screen. You can have Siri read any text that's currently displayed, from any app.

2. SIRI will read everything on your screen - including things you may not want - like page numbers. Select an Ebook (Kindle, IBook, EPub, etc) and give it a try. When she reaches the end of a page she will turn to the next page. Take note of the small arrow on the side of the screen. When selected you will find several options - play, pause and speed.

3. Keep in mind that your Screen Lock will override your reading session, so you may want to go to Go to Settings > General > Auto-Lock, and make sure Auto-Lock is set to Never. Don't forget to reset your lock, when you are done.

Obviously, Siri Is not a substitute for a Professional Reader, and she doesn't read as well as a normal human being. It takes time to get used to its monotone voice. SIRI will also, occasionally, mispronounce a word. But overall the experience is very good - particularly when you need to rest those weary eyes.

 

 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Traveling This Summer? How To Use Your Smartphone Banking Apps - Safely

Years ago, almost everyone visited a Bank at least once a week. As ATM machines proliferated bank visits dropped off. Broadband Internet enabled the next step, allowing Online Banking from the comfort of home - with a desktop PC.

Today, nearly every Financial Institution has an App that allows customers to perform 90% of their transactions from a Smartphone or Tablet. Pay Bills, Deposit Checks, Transfer Money between accounts, monitor credit card transactions - it's all available using a pocket device. These services are particularly convenient when traveling. But, there is a downside - security. Convenience and security are always difficult to reconcile. So, here are a few tips that should help you "navigate these waters" safely.

 

1. Always use the latest version of your Banking App. Check for updates - the Apps are often updated to patch vulnerabilities.

2. Don't use your Banking Apps when you are connected to a Public WIFI Hotspot. Airports, Coffee Shops, Hotels are all notorious for open WIFI hackers. Your App may provide a secure encrypted connection across these Networks, but there are too many variables. Stick with your Cellular Connection when using your Banking App.

3. Suppose you are unable to obtain a Cellular signal and your only alternative is WIFI? Consider a good VPN (Virtual Private Network). You can find more information about VPN's here.

4. Always use a PIN code on your mobile device.

5. Always logout of your Banking App when you have finished using it - even if you have a PIN code on your mobile device.

6. Make sure that you are using a "Good Password" on your Banking App. What is a Good Password? One that includes at least 12 random - numbers, letters, characters (-/:;&@$), upper and lowercase. This Password should not be used with any other service - it must be unique.

Happy travels!

 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

How To Take Great Photos Of Fireworks Shows With Your Smartphone Camera

Today, July 4, 2015, America celebrates 239 years of independence. Sunset will usher in thousands of Fireworks Shows across the country. A few of the viewers will bring the appropriate equipment to capture these beautiful displays, but most will shooting with the camera in their pocket - the Smartphone. So, how do you snap great shots with these point and shoot devices.

 

First, all Smartphone cameras are not equal. The quality varies widely, particularly when shooting the night sky. No matter which device you use you will need the ability to set a slow shutter speed - long exposure shot. In most cases, this will require a special App. Here are three suggestions - one for each of the major Smartphone platforms.

1. IPhone (IOS) - Slow Shutter Cam ($.99) - will allow you to lengthen your iPhone's shutter speed. With both Automatic and Manual capture modes, Slow Shutter Cam is the closest you can get to turning your phone into a real, high-quality camera.

2. Android - Camera FV-5 ($3.95) - a professional camera application for mobile devices, that puts DSLR-like manual controls in your fingertips. Tailored to enthusiast and professional photographers, with this camera application you can capture the best raw photographs so that you can post-process them later and get stunning results. There is a learning curve, but the results are worth the effort.

3. Windows Phone - ProShot ($2.99) - Includes different modes such as Auto, Program, Manual, and two Custom modes, with the ability to manually adjust Shutter Speed, ISO, White Balance, Exposure Compensation, Focus, Flash, Aspect Ratio, AF Assist Lamp, etc,.

Now for a few tips:

1. Turn the flash off.

2. Try the HDR & Burst modes.

3. If you use a slow-shutter app, use a tripod. You can pick up a small Portable tripod like the GorillaPod that will attach to most anything.

4. Try to get as close to the action as possible - don't use the digital zoom.

5. If you are using Slow Shutter Cam for IPhone, pick Light Trail from the Capture mode, set your shutter speed to Bulb, and then manually start and stop the capture. For the Sensitivity setting, it is condition specific, so start with something like 1/16 and go from there. This should allow you to get the rocket trails and "blooms" when they explode, but experiment to find what works best for your particular situation.

Happy Independence Day!

 

 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

How To Try Apple Music - Free For 90 Days, And Cancel Your Subscription Before Being Charged

Apple Music is not the first Music Streaming Service, but it has certainly captured the news cycle. Music lovers know that there are a plethora of streaming services - Spotify, Rdio, Google Play All Access, Pandora, etc. Most of these are similar and charge around $10.00 per month for "all you can eat" music streaming. Generally their Catalogs include around 30 million songs.

Apple disrupted the music business, years ago, with the debut of digital music via ITunes. Instead of buying complete Albums (CDs) users could now grab a single track for $.99. Times have changed and many of the former Music Collectors have moved to Streaming Subscriptions. You don't own the selections, but you have unlimited access to millions of songs. Apple was a little late to this game, but that's not unusual for the Cupertino giant.

 

You may be an enthusiast who has tested all of the various Music Services, or perhaps you have never indulged. Well, Apple is going to let you try Apple Music - Free for 90 days. Currently, it works on your IOS devices and via ITunes on both Mac and Windows. If you have an ITunes Account the process of subscribing and canceling (if needed) is very simple. Here's how you do it on your IOS device.

1. You must have the lastest version of IOS on your IPhone, IPad or IPod - minimum IOS 8.4. To check go to Settings>General>About>Version. If not you will need to upgrade. Go to Settings>General>Software Update and follow the prompts.

2. Find the white Music icon on the home screen of your device. You will be given the option to either go to your music or to begin your free three-month trial of Apple Music. If you click the trial button you will be asked to choose a membership type (either individual or family), sign in, agree to Apple's terms of use and confirm your purchase (you won't actually be billed until after 90 days). This will give you access to the on-demand streaming service.

3. Apple Music is divided into 5 sections. For You shows you personalized playlists and albums based on the genre and artist preferences you pick out when you first open the app, as well as your play history. New shows a list of new songs and albums, currently popular content, videos and thematic playlists. Radio features Beats 1, Apple’s 24/7 live radio station, and algorithmically driven stations based on genre. Connect is a social network that lets artists connect directly to fans. My Music shows the songs you have in your library, as well as any playlists you’ve built.

4. You have 3 months to enjoy the free music. After that your ITunes account will be charged $9.99 per month. Suppose you decide to opt out? Open Apple Music and Tap the Account icon in the upper left corner of the app. Select View Apple ID. Select Manage under the Subscriptions subheader. Select Your Membership above Apple Music Membership. Turn the slider next to Automatic Renewal to Off. Keep in mind that you'll have to return to this screen to reactivate your subscription when your free trial ends - if you decide to continue the service.

Enjoy listening!

 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

How To Optimize Your Home WIFI To Get The Strongest Signal And Coverage

One of the most frequently asked questions that I receive is "How can I improve the WIFI reception in my home." Any RF engineer will tell you that there are a myriad of answers to this question. Your WIFI router transmits RF (radio frequency) and it can be blocked and absorbed by most anything in your home. In addition, there are other transient RF waves, in your space, that will "interfere" with those that are being emitted by your router.

First, let's take a look at the more involved and costly solutions, and then we will look at the simple fixes that won't cost you a dime.

 

1. Update your router's firmware with an open source product like DD-WRT. This is not possible on all routers and it is rather "geeky" - not suggested for the average user. This will allow you to increase the output level of the RF signal and give you many more options for "fine tuning".

2. Purchase a new router. Most of the new routers like the TP-Link Archer C9 will provide a stronger signal and cover a larger area. In addition, they are "dual band" - transmitting on 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. This is a significant advantage in crowded areas where the 2.4 spectrum may be over-saturated. Areas like apartments or condos, where there are many WIFI routers in close proximity, create huge problems with interference. The 5 GHz band has many more channels and less chance for collisions.

3. Purchase a Repeater or Range Extender. These devices are bridges that basically grab the RF signal from your original WIFI router and extend it to another area of your home. While this setup will increase your range, it generally, reduces the throughput of your Internet connection. Sometimes a better solution is to purchase a Powerline Repeater. This transmits the signal via Ethernet through your electrical lines, as if the lines were Cat 5 twisted pair cable. The Powerline Repeater, coupled with a second router or access point in another part of the home has proved to be satisfactory solution for many users.

4. Of course, the ideal solution is often the most difficult to achieve. Run Ethernet cable from your main router to a distant part of your home and connect a second router (preferably the same brand as the first) in Bridge Mode. Easier said than done, in most homes.

Ok, now for the simple steps that everyone can perform - WIFI Channel Selection and Router Placement.

1. The placement of your WIFi router is crucial. Sometimes moving it 4 or 5 feet will make a huge difference. But, how do you know where to place it? Surely, trial and error is not a good solution. Fortunately, there is an "App for that". In fact, there are two good ones. I recommend WIFI Analyzer. Unfortunately, it's Android only. If you have an Android based Smartphone or Tablet, you can get it in the Google Play Store - free. There is no equivalent App for IPhone or IPad because IOS does not permit this type of hardware access. There is a, less elegant, alternative. NirSoft's WifiInfoView is a simple Windows application, with a few less features, but it gets the job done. These applications will allow you to test the WIFI signal strength of your router from different locations in your home. You can move the router, slightly, and recheck the areas that have weak reception.

2. Adjust the WIFI Channel. All WIFI routers allow you to change (Within the Administrative Settings) the transmit channel (frequency). Generally, WIFI routers have Channel Ranges 1 - 11. Channels 1, 6, and 11 are the most frequently used for 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi. These three channels are the only ones that don’t overlap with each other. When you scan your area with WIFI Analyzer or WifiInfoView, you will see the details of all of the WIFI routers close to your location. You need to put your router on a Channel that is the least crowded. If 5 neighbors are on Channel 1 you should use 6 or 11. The further you are from the congested channels, the better. Correct channel selection will significantly improve your signal strength and expand the broadcast area within your home.

Try the simple steps first - you may save a little time and money.

 

 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Five Quick Tips For Your New Apple Watch

Apple sold millions of Apple Watches during the pre-order phase a few months ago. Now that the new Smartwatch is actually available in "brick and mortar" stores, sales are expected to increase.

As new users learn how to use the device, Apple will be busy sorting out bugs and preparing Watch OS2. The updated OS is expected this Fall (2015), and many analysts say, that it represents the platform that Apple had hoped to launch at the debut.

While Apple takes pride in offering simple, intuitive interfaces, there is a slight "learning curve" with the new Apple Watch. So, here are a few tips for the new user.

 

1. Make the text larger - The watch is quite small, so you may want to increase the size of the text. Apple makes this easy in the accessibility settings. Go to Settings > Brightness & Text Size.

2. Mute the Sound - If you have sound enabled on the Watch, you may need to quickly silence it. Just cover the display with your hand for three seconds or more to instantly mute any new sounds. To turn this on, open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, then go to My Watch > Sounds & Haptics > Cover to Mute.

3. Force your Watch to reboot - Sometimes the Apple Watch will freeze or crash due to a problematic App. You can turn the Watch off by pressing and holding the side button until you see the Power Off slider, then drag it across the screen. If your Watch is completely frozen, you can perform a force reboot by holding both the side button and Digital Crown for at least ten seconds, until you see the Apple logo.

4. Create custom Messages responses - As you know, you can't type directly on your Apple Watch. Apple does provide a few custom responses to be used in text messages. In addition, you can set up your own responses using your attached iPhone. To do so, open the Apple Watch app, then go to My Watch > Messages > Default Replies.

5. Save custom watch faces - Apple provided 10 different Watch Faces with the first OS release. You can customize each of the Faces - by changing the "Complications"and colors. Fortunately, you can also Save them. To do so, Force Touch (long press) on the Watch display, then swipe all the way to the left and tap the New plus button. From there, you can customize the new version of your watch face and save it for later use.

 

 

 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How To Reserve Your Free Copy Of Windows 10 If You Don't See The Tray Icon

Starting in late July, 2015 users that are currently running Windows 7 or Windows 8 will be able to upgrade to Windows 10 - free. What happened to Windows 9? Well, Microsoft would rather not discuss 9 - they want to get a fresh start with Version 10. You may have noticed that a small, white, Windows Icon recently appeared in the lower right tray of your Windows 7 or 8 desktop. The icon is a reminder to "reserve your free copy of Windows 10".

 

Unfortunately, some users have not seen this icon and assume that they are not eligible for the upgrade. In most cases this is just a bug and you will still be able to grab Windows 10 when it's released on July 29, 2015. Here are a few things you can do to make the reservation icon appear.

1. Make sure that Windows Update is enabled and running. Also, check "Computer Properties" to insure that you are running Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 Update.

2. The icon arrived as part of Windows Update KB3035583. Open Windows Update and click on View Update History to see if you have it. If you don't, you can download the update manually from Microsoft.

3. If you do have it and the icon doesn't show, try to launch it manually: Open the Run Box (Windows Key + R), type "C:\Windows\System32\GWX\GWX.exe", and tap Enter. Next, Reboot your computer and see if it appears in the lower tray.

4. If the previous steps didn't resolve the issue, uninstall KB3015583 from the Windows Update Panel, and reinstall the update using the manual link above. Reboot once again.

Reserving your free copy of Windows 10 is convenient, but not absolutely necessary. You will have one year to upgrade (July 29, 2015 - July 29, 2016), as long as your computer meets the specifications below.

  1. Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster processor or SoC.
  2. RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit OS.
  3. Hard disk space: 16 GB for 32-bit OS 20 GB for 64-bit OS.
  4. Graphics Card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver.
  5. Display Resolution: 1024x600



 

Friday, June 19, 2015

How To Increase Privacy And Decrease Third Party Tracking On Your IPhone And IPad

It is often said that "if you are not paying for a product - you are the product." This may not tell the complete story, but all of us know that advertising runs the Internet. How many Internet Services do you use that are free? Email, news, music, video, podcasts, cloud storage, social networks - the list is long. All of these services have to find some way to monetize - online content is not free.

Most users understand this model and are willing to live with online/mobile ads that are non-intrusive. However, many are obnoxious and employ surreptitious tracking methods that are often seen as an invasion of privacy. The goal is to deliver "targeted ads", but this requires a wealth of information about "you" - the target.

You may not be concerned about this type of tracking. But, if you would like to err on the side of Privacy, here are a few changes you may want to implement on your IPhone or IPad.

 

1. Turn off Diagnostics and Usage Data on your iPhone. Tap Settings > Privacy > Diagnostics and Usage and select Don’t Send.

2. Turn off Geo-Location for Photos. Tap Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Camera and select Never.

3. Turn off Location based Ads. Tap Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services and set Location-Based iAds to Off.

4. Limit Ad Tracking. Tap Settings > Privacy > Advertising and set Limit Ad Tracking to On. While you are here tap the Reset Advertising Identifier so you are using a new ID number that advertisers cannot track.

5. Turn on Do Not Track. Do Not Track is a Safari option that prevents reputable websites from tracking your information. Tap on Settings > Safari and set Do Not Track to On.

6. Use Duck Duck Go instead of Google for Searching. tap on Settings > Safari > Search Engine and tap on DuckDuckGo. This web engine is designed for anonymity - no tracking, or sharing of your personal information.

 

 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What You Should Do To Protect Your Identity If You Become Part Of A Large Scale Breach

We have often talked about online security. Taking the appropriate steps to secure your computer, mobile device, passwords, WIFI, home router, etc., will go along way towards securing your identity. Check out the Security Section of our Tech Tips to explore these. Unfortunately, no matter how careful and prepared you are personally, you cannot control the action or inaction of others. Governments (Local, State and Federal), Private Corporations, Hospitals, etc. have access to virtually all of your private information - Financial, Medical, it's there for the taking.

Most of this information is accessible across the Internet. So, you are at the mercy of others to secure it. But, as we have seen, they do a very poor job. Everyday we hear about new "Hacks and Breaches". Big Box stores, Government Agencies, Social Networks and Internet Based Companies have all been targeted by Private and Nation State Hackers. Is it, even, possible to prevent these attacks? One hundred percent mitigation is not possible, but the majority of the recent, large, compromises were due to incompetence. We have the technology to secure this data, but "best practices" were simply ignored.

Cryptographers and Security Experts know that modern encryption methods are highly effective. Records that have been properly encrypted are almost impossible to breach in any reasonable amount of time. Most of the attacks in recent years have employed simple Social Engineering - tricking, poorly trained, employees into releasing private information, in order to gain access to data. In far too many cases this data was being stored in plain text - readable by anyone. In the US, poor practices are most evident in the State and Federal Government agencies. A few years ago the South Carolina Department Of Revenue suffered a breach that exposed information on 4 million taxpayers - including Social Security Numbers. Recently, the Federal Government dropped the ball and handed the hackers 4 million personnel records. The OPM Chief Information Officer, reportedly said Encryption and data obfuscating techniques "are new capabilities that we’re building into our databases." This is an incredible statement. These techniques have been available, and in wide use, for many years. Our government agencies require private information, but are reckless and negligent when it comes to protecting it.

There is one step that everyone can take that will, immediately, give you added protection. It is somewhat inconvenient and not widely known. Freeze your Credit Files. All three of the Credit Bureaus (Equifax, Transunion and Experian) are required by law, to lock your files upon request. In some states there is a fee, but in many it is free. Freezing or Locking your Credit Files prevents anyone, except a government law enforcement agency, from accessing your file. This makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. That’s because most creditors need to see your credit report before they approve a new account. If they can’t see your file, they, generally, will not extend the credit. You will have to unlock the file anytime you apply for credit. This can be done via phone or online. It's a little inconvenient, but security and convenience are most always on opposite sides of the spectrum.

So, it's not a matter of "if" your private information will be compromised - it will eventually happen. When it does, what should you do?

The Federal Trade Comission (FTC) recently unveiled a new website IdentityTheft.gov, that provides a wealth of information to help, if you have become a victim of one of these breaches. The site provides simple steps designed to assist in your recovery. All of the forms, links and phone numbers that you will need are embedded in the process.

This is an excellent resource, that in spite of all of our best efforts, we may eventually need.

 

 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

How To Quickly Move All Of Your Microsoft Outlook Data To A New Computer

Ok, so you have a new computer and perhaps a new version of Microsoft Outlook, and you want to move all of your email, contacts, tasks, calendars, etc. over to the new PC. Fortunately, Outlook is very adept at importing and converting data from older versions to the very latest. You will, simply, need to backup the data on the old computer and import it within the new version of Outlook - here's how.

1. Before you can transfer your data, you have to know where it is. Outlook keeps all of its data in one file, with a .pst extension. It is most likely named Outlook.pst. In addition, there could be multiple .pst files if you have several Internet accounts, but the larger Outlook.pst is the one with your archived emails, calendar, etc. So, how do you find the file in order to back it up?

2. The location varies depending on your version of Outlook. For example, if you've been using Outlook 2010, it's probably stored in an Outlook Files folder within your Documents folder. Other versions may store the .pst file somewhere inside the hidden Appdata folder, and it can be difficult to find - unless you "unhide" those Folders. You can always find the location by looking in the Outlook Program itself.

3. In Outlook 2010 - 2013, click the File tab, then Info in the left pane. Select Account Settings and then Account Settings once again. In Outlook 2007 and older versions, look in Tools > Options.

4. Next, click the Data Files button. You will see the location of the Outlook.pst file. You can then copy the file to an external USB or Flash drive. The file may be quite large, depending on the amount of email, etc.

5. Once you've installed Outlook on the new PC, it will create a new .pst file. You will need to import data from the old file to the new one. Plug in your backup drive and locate the .pst file that you created above.

6. Launch Outlook. If this is your first time launching it on this PC, go through the wizard. Once Outlook is up and running, click the File tab and select Open & Export > Import/Export. In the resulting Import and Export wizard, select Import from another program or file, then Outlook Data File (.pst).

7. Click Next, for the "file to import" option, click the Browse button and select the old .pst file.

8. The next page will ask you what to import. If you want to import everything, stick with the default, otherwise choose your Folders.

9. When you click Finish, the wizard will go away, and the import will start. Be patient, this process can be slow – depending on the size of your file.

When the process is complete you may need to close and re-open Outlook.

 

 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How To Connect Your WIFI Only IPad To The Internet When There's No WIFI

The IPad makes a great traveling companion. You can read a book, listen to music, review your photos, watch a movie and even get some work completed. Suppose some of those items are not on your IPad. We have become much more dependent on the "cloud" as online storage services have become ubiquitous and virtually free. What do you do if you need that larger IPad screen "real estate", but are unable to find a WIFI connection to the Internet? The base IPad doesn't include cellular data access (LTE), and it costs an additional $130 for this feature - which cannot be added after purchase. If you did "pony up" the extra cash for that cellular modem, you will still need to pay an additional monthly fee for a specific "bucket" of data.

 

On occasion, you may be able to locate a free WIFI Hotspot. These are convenient, but as we have said before, they are often insecure. Fortunately, there is another alternative - use your Smartphone as a Hotspot. Since, your mobile phone is already connected to the Internet via it's cellular data connection, use it as a gateway for your IPad or any other WIFI tablet or laptop. A few years ago, Mobile Carriers, particularly in the US, discouraged this practice by charging customers a monthly service fee for enabling Hotspot or Tethering. Times have changed, and most carriers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint) now include Hotspot as a feature within their Prepaid Services. Of course, an IPad that is using your Smartphones connection to the Internet, is also using data. So, the IPad's data use will count against your Smartphone's monthly data allotment.

So, how do you use Hotspot? Generally your Smartphone (IPhone, Android, Windows) will have a Menu in the Settings area with an item called Hotspot or Tethering. When you turn this on, your Smartphone will broadcast a WIFI Name (SSID), just like any other wifi router. Simply connect your tablet via wifi, using the Name and Password shown in the Hotspot Menu. Here are the specific directions for the IPhone.

1. On your IPhone - Tap Settings and then select the Personal Hotspot menu.

2. Turn on your Personal Hotspot and view the Name and Password to access the connection. This Password can be changed to whatever you want - but choose wisely.

3. On your IPad - Tap Settings>WIFI and look for the Name of your IPhone above. Tap the Name and enter the Password. You are now using your IPhone as a WIFI Hotspot for your IPad.

Enjoy the larger display, but remember that you are using your IPhone's data - there is no "free ride".

 

 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Don't Let A Faulty IPhone Home Button Slow You Down - Add One To Your Home Screen

The Home Button on IOS (IPhone & IPad) devices encounters considerable abuse. Just think about how many times you press this little circle each day. The "five finger squeeze gesture" (put all 5 fingers on the screen and squeeze to return to the Home Screen) can reduce some of the use, but it only works on the IPad.

 

I often hear from users who have older IPhones in excellent condition - except the Home Button has become "flaky". Fortunately, there is a way to ameliorate this issue. Simply add a Home Touch Screen Button to your device. Apple provided this feature to help people with dexterity problems, but it is an excellent way to postpone that repair or new purchase.

1. Go to Settings.

2. Scroll down and select General.

3. Select Accessibility.

4. Find the option for AssistiveTouch (near the bottom) and select it.

5. Turn AssistiveTouch on.

Go back to your Home Screen and you’ll see a little black square icon with a white circle in it - the AssistiveTouch symbol. You can move it wherever you want - it will remain visable in any App.

Clicking this icon brings up a menu in the middle of the screen with several options. One of these is the Home Button. This Button has the same function as your physical Home Button.

As you can see from the other icons, AssistiveTouch can be used to duplicate other physical buttons. You may want to explore and see if there are any other shortcuts that you might find useful.

 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

How To Remove That Annoying "Get Windows 10" Tray Icon From Your PC

Microsoft Windows users, worldwide, were "treated" to a new Popup early last week. The little white Windows logo suddenly appeared in the lower right Tray - beckoning unsuspecting users to "Get Windows 10". Initially, many assumed that this was some type of Malware. Viruses have become so common that everyone should react with an abundance of caution.

This time it was genuine Microsoft. To be sure, the pesky image is in part, a simple ad. Microsoft is letting you know that your computer qualifies for a free upgrade to Windows 10. You can use the icon to "reserve a copy". The truth is, you don't have to reserve a copy. Windows 10 will be available, as a free upgrade, on your consumer Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 computer, for a period of one year (July 29, 2015 - July 29, 2016).

 

So, should you reserve your copy now? It appears that Windows 10 reservations will be delivered through the normal Windows Update Channel. It will be downloaded and installed just like your monthly security updates. At this point we don't know if it will Automatically install, based on your Update settings. I suspect you will receive a warning before the update occurs, giving you the opportunity to postpone the process.

Most cutting edge "Geeks" will upgrade on July 29, 2015. If you don't fall into this category, or if your computer is "mission critical", just wait. Most of the bugs will be fixed prior to the one year deadline, and the new features are not - "must have". If you want to cancel your reservation, Right-click the system tray icon and select Check your upgrade status. Click the Cancel reservation link. If you don't see the link, click the hamburger button in the top-left, click View information, and then click the Cancel reservation.

So, if you don't want to have that little reminder running in the background, and appearing in your tray, here's how you can remove it.

  1. Go to Control Panel > Programs and Features > Installed Updates.
  2. Search for KB3035583, double-click it, and then click Yes, to uninstall the update.
  3. Finally, Reboot your computer and the tray icon should be gone.

Remember, as a consumer, you have a one year window to grab the Windows 10 upgrade free - something Microsoft has never done before. If you decide later that you would like to accept the "Reservation" you can always reinstall the KB3035583 update, manually, and get the Tray Icon back.

I have been impressed with the pre-release versions of Windows 10 and I suspect most general users will pleased.

 

 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How To Disable Or Increase The Text Message Alerts On Your IPhone Or IPad

You may have found that those repeated Text Message Alerts on your IPhone/Ipad can be distracting. Or perhaps you work in a noisy environment and need more alerts. Fortunately, Apple has provided a simple, but somewhat hidden, setting that will let you customize the number of times a specific Alert is repeated.

 
So, let's set it up.
  1. Open your Settings App.
  2. Scroll down to Notifications and select it.
  3. From the Notifications Panel - Select Messages.
  4. Scroll down to the bottom. Select Repeat Alerts.
  5. You should now see several options - ranging from completely disabling repeat alerts to extending the alerts to 10 times after a message has been received. To disable the repeat alert, check the Never option or set the number that works for you.

Keep in mind that repeat Alerts, if engaged, occur approximately every 2 minutes.

Monday, June 1, 2015

How To Avoid Installing Junkware & Bundleware On Your Windows PC.

There are many excellent Freeware applications for your Windows based computer. Most of the developers that offer these programs have to find some way to monetize their efforts. Unfortunately, there has been a growing trend toward bundling other, often nefarious, apps with the base App that you were seeking. You have probably encountered this every time you have to update Adobe Flash on your PC.

The bundled "Junkware" is often obfuscated, and installs without your knowledge. In addition, there are a bewildering array of check boxes and defaults that confuse and trick the unsuspecting user.

Generally, if you choose a Custom installation and read the instructions very carefully, you can navigate the obstacles and successfully avoid the junk. But, there is a better way!

 

There is a great little, free, Windows application called Unchecky, that will make your freeware installation a breeze. Unchecky will run on all versions of Windows - XP and above.

Just download the program and run the installer. Unchecky runs in the background and uses few resources. You will probably not know that it is running until you install a new program and find that it has automatically unchecked the "Junkware" and provided you with a clean install.

Unchecky stumbles occasionally with older software, but works fine with most newer applications. It is particularly suited for normal computer users who may not be willing, or inclined, to perform complex custom installations.

 

 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Iphone Texting Bug Now Effects Twitter & Snapchat - How You Can Avoid Being "Bitten".

You may have heard about the latest IOS exploit. Someone sends you a malicious text message with a specific string of characters, and when you receive the notification, the text crashes the Messages App, as well as, your device. This bug effects all IOS devices - IPhone, IPod, IPad and Apple Watch. We now know that it also creates havoc with some 3rd party IOS Apps such as Twitter and Snapchat. A similarly formatted DM or Mention sent to your Twitter address, or a text chat via the Snapchat App, will crash your device.

 

Apple is currently working on a fix and plans to release it soon, but this bug is spreading rapidly. So, what can you do? Apple has posted a 3 step workaround for the Messages App problem - using SIRI.

  1. Ask SIRI to read "unread messages."
  2. Use SIRI to reply to the malicious message. After you reply, you'll be able to open the Messages again.
  3. If the issue continues, tap and hold the malicious message, tap More, and delete the message from the thread.

In order to prevent the exploit on 3rd party Apps like Twitter & Snapchat - Go to Settings>Notifications and turn off Notifications for Twitter and Snapchat.

This may be inconvenient, but I suspect Apple will roll out an update - very soon.


Friday, May 29, 2015

Another WIFI Router Exploit Has Been Exposed - Is Your Home Router Safe?

Home WIFI routers are powerful little devices. Unfortunately, as we have said before, they have become commodities. Although cheap and generally ignored, they are the first line of protection between you and the Internet Frontier. Most folks just plug them in and walk away. The manufactures rarely bother updating the firmware and they gradually become a security nightmare.

Every few months we hear about a new exploit. Well, we have another one that compromises NetUSB. This security flaw affects a wide range of different routers from a number of different manufacturers. It could allow attackers to remotely execute malicious code that compromises connected devices on your network.

Essentially, NetUSB allows any USB device plugged directly into a router to be available to other devices. So that could be a printer, external hard drive, USB storage key, etc. In order for Windows & Mac machines to access the devices plugged into a router, there’s a client-side driver for USB running over IP.

First, your router must have a USB port in order to be compromised. Many older routers didn't include a USB interface for sharing. If your router does have a USB port, disconnecting the device form the port does not ameliorate the issue. So, what can you do? The biggest concern would be a remote attack from the Internet. NetUSB uses port 20005. Is port 20005 open to the Internet, on your router? Here's the test.

  1. Thanks to Steve Gibson you can scan your router to check this port. If it reports back as Stealth - you are fine. This indicates that you are not exposed from the Internet. You could still have an issue "inside" your local area network, so you may want continue with steps 2 and 3 below. If the scan does not indicate Stealth, you definitely should continue the steps below. Go here to run the scan. https://grc.com/x/portprobe=20005
  2. Check to see if your manufacture has a firmware update for this problem, as well as, other security issues.
  3. Look in the Administrative Web Interface to see if you can turn off sharing on the USB port. Some routers do provide a toggle to shut this down.

If you are unable correct the issue you will have to wait for the manufacture to update the firmware or purchase a new router. If the port probe does indicate
Stealth - I would be far less concerned, and simply wait for the update.

Home router exploits have become a major problem in the last few years. Check often for firmware updates and retire those older routers every few years.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How To Protect Your Mac From Malware - Yep, It's No Longer "Just A Windows Problem".

I know what you're thinking - "this is fantasy, my Apple Mac can't get Malware." There is no doubt that for many years Malware was exclusively designed for the Microsoft Windows platform. Why? Because 98% of the existing PCs were running Microsoft Windows. If you are going to create a profitable underground business (and that's what Malware exploits provide) you go where the users are.

Today, the "Malware Business" has become very lucrative. Mac OS X and it's Mobile counterpart, IOS have gained considerable market share, so these systems are now on the "bad guys" radar.

 

Before you panic, you should know that the chance that your Mac will be infected is still quite low. Apple devices continue to be secondary "Targets" and the unified hardware/software design makes exploits unlikely, but not impossible. In fact, Apple keeps a close eye on malware development and uses an internal "antivirus" built into OS X, called XProtect. This system consists of the quarantine of any app downloaded from the Internet - rather than the Curated App Store, the use of signing certificates to verify that an app is coming from a legit source, and regular security updates that include a databases of known malware targeting Mac OS X.

First, you should check to be sure that your Mac malware database is always up to date. Here's how:

  1. Open System Preferences
  2. Open the App Store Preferences
  3. Make sure that these two items are checked: 1. Automatically Check For Updates and 2. Install System Data Files and Security Updates.

In addition, I would recommend installing an anti-virus program. Some Mac users would say it's not needed, but I believe it's a good precaution. There are plenty of excellent, free applications from well known Anti-Malware vendors. I have two recommendations - both are well supported and require very little user intervention. Give
Sophos and ClamXav a look. ClamXav is also available in the Mac App Store.

You will be pleased with either choice and your Mac will be well protected.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

How To Speed Up Your Computer - What's the Single Most Important Upgrade?

Probably the most frequent question posed to a "Geek" is - How can I make my older computer run faster? This question has been around as long as desktop computers. Years ago the answers would always include - add more Memory (RAM), replace your CPU, get a new Hard Drive with faster seek/read/write performance, defrag the HD, cleanup the temporary files & cache, etc. In addition, the "smoke and mirror" programs that claim to boost performance have always been touted in advertising and TV commercials.

The truth is, some of the items mentioned above will provide marginal speed improvements. But, if you really want to significantly improve the speed and performance of a modern computing device, there is only one upgrade that is worth the trouble. Replace the Mechanical Hard Drive with an SSD. While this type of upgrade is not trivial, it is well worth the effort. Your computer will start faster and execute programs 10X quicker than when it was new. So, what is an SSD? The SSD is a Solid State Drive. Unlike the normal Hard Drive, that has a spinning magnetic platter and moving head, the SSD has no moving parts. It's similar to a high capacity Flash (Thumb) Drive. After upgrading, you’ll be amazed at the performance improvements and wonder why you waited.

 

I know what you're thinking - if this is so great why doesn't everyone upgrade. The answer has been cost. When SSDs first arrived they were prohibitively expensive. Too expensive for OEMs to include them on new computers. But, times have changed. Today, SSD prices have dropped considerably and they are well within reach of normal users. Larger capacity drives, in the greater than 1 TB category, remain pricey, but most users don't need this much storage for their applications and normal data. Music, Videos, Photos and other space intensive data can be stored elsewhere - even in the "Cloud".

A 256GB SSD is now around $100 and a 512GB (plenty for most folks) can be had for $200. Amazon and Crucial are good places to shop for SSDs. Crucial is a great starting place because they can match a suitable upgrade based on the Make and Model of your Desktop or Laptop device.

As I mentioned above, swapping out your hard drive is not for everyone. On the "Geek Scale" it would be 1 out of 10 in terms of difficulty. On the "Normal Folks Scale" it's more like 5 out of 10. If you are handy with a screw driver - give it a try. Basically, you have to "clone" (applications and data) your present drive to the SSD, remove the old drive from the computer and install the new SSD. Before you start, inventory your present drive and cleanup/uninstall things that you don't need. You will need to purchase an SSD that is at least as large as the "used space" on your present drive. Let's say you have a 1 TB drive, but you're only using 250GB. You may want to consider a 512GB SSD.

For "normal folks" I recommend a USB to SSD adapter and cloning software to make the process quick and simple. You can't go wrong with the Apricon SATA Wire Hard Drive Upgrade Kit - $20. It provides the cable and software you will need to "clone" your present drive to the SSD.

So, if you want to see a real boost and have an extra couple hundred bucks, it's definitely worth it. It's certainly cheaper than a new computer that may not include an SSD.

 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Don't Take A Chance With Your Precious Memories - Save Your Photos To "The Cloud" - Free

Smartphone cameras are not only handy, but they have created a new genre of amateur photographers. Ask a photographer to recommend the best camera and the answer is often "the one in your pocket". You can't capture a great shot without a camera, and our smartphones are nearly always present.

It is estimated that 25 billion photos were taken from the dawn of the camera (around 1826), through 1980. In the year 2014 alone, 1 Trillion photos were snapped - 300 billion uploaded to Facebook. Whether it's narcissism or preservation of history and memories - we take lots of photos. Where do you store your digital photos? Have you ever lost or accidentally deleted an important picture? Hard Drives, SD Cards and Flash Drives will fail, it's just a matter of when. Backups are important, but they are often lost in Fires, Hurricanes, Floods and Earthquakes. Have you considered storing or "backing up" your photos to "The Cloud"? Perhaps now is the time.

"The Cloud" is not mysterious. It's simply a computer (Server) located in a large data center that is accessible from the Internet. There are many great Cloud Services, but if you want to store photos - check out Flickr. Yahoo owns the Flickr Photo Service and you can store 1 TB (Terabyte) of photos and Videos, free. Based on the average sized photo - that's a half million shots. If you have a Yahoo account you are all set. Otherwise, just setup an account and grab your free space.

Install the free Flickr App on your Iphone or Android based smartphone and you can turn on Auto Upload. Every photo you take will then be uploaded to your Private Album (on Yahoo's server) - safe and secure. Windows Phone 8.1 users should take a look at the, 3rd party App, Flickr Booth, in the Windows Store. Here's what you get:

  1. Put your free 1000GB to work - auto-uploadr grabs all photos and videos on your device.
  2. Your photos will be private, until you choose to share them!
  3. A timeline view with browsing, organization and sharing.
  4. Make photo edits straight from your photos on your device.
  5. New and enhanced photo filters to help get your snaps share-ready.
  6. Share to Instagram.
  7. Your can access your photos from anywhere on most any device.

 

The Flickr Mobile Apps are intuitive and uploads are generally quick and easy. Keep in mind that uploading large photo collections will take time - depending on your Broadband connection. Flickr has always been a great choice for amateur photographers, and these new features, coupled with a "great price", make it a "no brainier".

 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How To Setup Custom Notification Sounds On Your Windows Phone 8.1

Anyone who has used a smartphone for more than a week, knows how useful notifications can be - if they don't get out of control. First, survey your apps and turn off Notifications on those that you don't need. You can easily take care of this on your Windows Phone 8.1 by going to Settings>System>Notifications+Actions.

Popup Notifications are helpful, but smartphones are generally out of sight. So, customizing Alert Sounds can keep you on task and reduce the constant interruptions. Windows Phone 8.1 will let you assign specific sounds to your Apps and to each of your Contacts. When a Notification arrives you will know whether you need to respond immediately or wait until it is more convenient.

 

To Assign an Alert Sound to a Specific Contact:

  1. Open a specific Contact (People Icon) and Click on the More ... At the bottom.
  2. Click on Edit. Select a Ringtone Sound and a Text Tone Sound.

To Assign an Alert Sound To a Specific App:

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Click on Ringtones+Sounds.
  3. Click on Manage App Sounds. You will see a list of Apps that support Custom Alert Sounds.
  4. Just Click on the appropriate App to customize the Alert Sound.
  5. Custom alert sound options include showing the app in the Action Center, turning on/off the notification banners, turning on/off the vibrate alert, and choosing the notification sound.

That's it. You can now rest easy knowing that the next Alert you hear, may not be as important as you thought.

 

 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Keep Your Home WIFI Network Safe - UPnP May Leave You Vulnerable To Attack

The UPnP protocol has always been somewhat of a security concern, but findings by Rapid7 have demonstrated that it must now be taken seriously. UPnP was designed to allow easy discovery and setup of various devices (routers, printers, media servers, DVRs, webcams etc.) on a local network. Unfortunately, UPnP does not have any type of authentication - no passwords. This might be OK within a local network, but it's potentially very dangerous when enabled on the WAN or Internet side of your router. Apparently, this is the case for some 40 million devices.

We now know that many home routers accept UPnP requests from the WAN (external side) of the router interface. This means that anyone on the Internet who has the IP address of the WAN interface of your home router can send a UPnP request, and your router will respond. This creates a direct "backdoor" into your local network. It's like giving a Burglar the keys to your home. So, what can you do?

First, log into you router's administrative setup from a browser. The procedure (IP address and Credentials) will vary depending on the manufacture of your device. Find UPnP in the advanced settings and turn it off. Note that this simply turns off UPnP on the inside interface of your router. Unfortunately, this may not completely solve the issue. Next, you need to determine if your router is vulnerable on the exterior (WAN side) interface. Many thanks to Steve Gibson for providing a port scanner that will run a UPnP external test against your router. Go to GRC.com to run this test. Click on SERVICES and SHIELDSUP! and then select PROCEED. Select GRC'S Instant UPnP Exposure Test. This will scan the external interface of your router and report on your vulnerability status. If your router is exploitable, and you have shutdown UPnP as indicated above, you should check and make sure that your router has the lastest Firmware Update. Update the Firmware according to the manufactures instructions and run the scan again. If your device remains vulnerable, you will need to look into purchasing a new router that is not susceptible to this flaw.

Another alternative, although not as convenient, would be to close ports 1900 UDP and 2869 TCP (if you are using Windows) in your Firewall Settings.

Finally, if you do need to use UPnP on your local network and you are "technically savvy" consider replacing the firmware on your router with Open Source Products like "Tomato" or "DD-WRT".

For more information about securing your WIFI router check out this post.