Tips and Hints

Tips and Hints (29)

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With the Holidays upon us, and the craziness in every store you go to, more and more shopping is being done online. Why go to a store when you can get better deals delivered right to your door, without ever braving the crowds or weather? But as you’re shopping online this holiday season, be sure you are shopping safe. Here are a few tips to help you shop safer.

Shop At Secure Sites

If you are not entering your information in a secure site, your information is not being encrypted and is considerably more vulnerable. Generally, this means that any pages that ask for, save, or send your personal information should be https:// (as opposed to http:// ). Secure sites, using HTTPS, layers HTTP on top of SSL (Secure Socket Layer) protocol.

b2ap3_thumbnail_virus.jpgYour computer has a virus. Uh-oh. Now what do you do?

For many people, their first instinct is to take their computer to some place like Geek Squad - a big, name-brand chain that they know and trust, even though they've never taken their computer there to be repaired before. The money spent on advertising by places like this have done their job. This course of action is probably the worse choice you could make. I say this from first hand experience.

A number of years ago, I worked for an internet service provider that was implementing a new service that would help with computer problems that didn't fall inside the scope of the internet help desk. They offered virus removal, program installation and removal, computer tuneup services, and more. If you needed help with something on your computer, and it could be done remotely, we likely offered it as a service. I worked in this department for a number of years, and the number of customer I spoke to that had already taken their computer to a big-name chain repair company for virus removal and yet still had a virus was unbelievable. Many of these type of repair stores (and I call them stores on purpose) are not designed to help you keep your current computer running for as long as it can - they are designed to convince you that you need to buy a new computer. Very few true repairs are actually completed in these types of places, at least in my experience. If you take a computer that won't boot (for argument's sake, let's say it is showing you a blue screen) to one of these big chain places, they are more likely to tell you that the computer is scrap, here why don't you buy this overly expensive replacement? than they are to make the necessary repair, such as replacing the faulty hard drive. This actually happened to my grandfather. He didn't have the money to buy the new computer (luckily), and when I came back to visit, it took me less than an hour to get a new hard drive in and start the process of Windows reinstalling.

So since we've determined that you shouldn't go to a big name chain store to remove this virus you have, what SHOULD you do? You have two options:

Pay a small company or individual to do the repair

or

Remove the virus yourself

More than likely, you have a small computer repair shop that you drive by every day. They tend to appear in small shopping strips. Rarely are they in stand alone buildings. Often, if you pay attention at your favorite shopping locations, there will be a bulletin board that has advertisements for services offered. Small computer repair shops, as well as individuals that work for themselves, often advertise on these type of boards. If you don't know where a computer repair shop near you us, take a look on your next drive to work. You probably pass one daily and don't even notice.

If you're looking to save some money, and maybe learn something, skip the repair guy, and keep reading. You may be able to fix this infestation yourself!

b2ap3_thumbnail_PASSWORD1.jpgIf you're concerned with security, passwords should be a big section of your To Do list. Whether it’s a hacker gaining access to your WiFi network, your protected work files, or your email, using a secure password is important. When you’re considering WiFi passwords, opting for WPA2 veruses WEP is a good move. But using WPA2 without using a secure password isn't enough. If a dedicated hacker is determined to access your WiFi, WPA2 is vulnerable to what is called a "dictionary attack". What this means is that using words found in a dictionary, a program tries each word that fits the length of your password. A sophisticated dictionary attack will also combine words. Using words that aren't found in a dictionary, as well as using numbers or special characters, will increase the possible passwords, making it feasibly impossible for a program to break your password. This also holds true for passwords for anything you use - like email or protected accounts.

Secure passwords do not have to be hard to remember, and simply replacing letters with symbols or numbers isn't always enough: @ instead of a, 3 instead of E, ! instead if i, etc. These substitutions are commonly made, and many password cracking programs are designed to incorporate this. When you're thinking about passwords, longer is better. The recommended minimum for a secure password is 10 characters, but that is certainly not a limit. Your particular router should tell you if there is a maximum number of characters your password should be. If you're trying to protect your password from people who know you, not just password cracking programs, it is also a good idea not to use names and dates that are important to you. Birthdates, anniversaries, pet names, etc, are all likely passwords, and easily guessed. Add numbers or special characters in the middle of your password, as opposed to the end.

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We all know it happens. You buy a new computer, and it is lightening fast. But over time, it slows down. Sure, you know you could clear out some of those huge video files you have saved on the computer, especially since some of them are horrible, and it’s not like you’d show them to anyone, ever. But that can’t be the only reason your computer is THIS SLOW. It’s like a snail chasing a turtle through molasses. And you’re right, this isn’t just due to the junk files and unused programs on your computer - though they are contributing to the problem. Computers, just like cars, need to be maintained so they run properly. But you’re not a computer tech - you only know how to turn it on and get online (and maybe if you’re really bored, play solitaire) - so how do you keep your computer running right without it costing an arm and a leg?

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I’m sure we’ve all heard it - someone talking about how microwaves, cell phones, wifi, or some other technology is dangerous. Does technology cause brain cancer? Should we stop using our cell phones and turn off our WiFi to protect ourselves? Before you can decide what is best for you and your family, you need to understand how all of this stuff works, as far as the science behind it. Of course, that can be a little tricky, but hopefully we can make it a little more simple. The key to this is understanding radiation or electromagnetic radiation (EMR).

b2ap3_thumbnail_the-cloud_20141120-200812_1.jpgWe’ve all heard of it. In fact, we all use it, even if you don’t know you’re using it. The Cloud makes life easier. One of the problems with defining the cloud is that it is a new and growing idea. As new providers and new technologies emerge, the definition of the cloud computing changes.

Essentially, “the Cloud” is a storage space or service available from anywhere you have an internet connection. One of the first things that likely comes to mind is email. Web-based email, like Gmail, Yahoo Mail, or Hotmail, store your emails “online”. Your emails do not need to be downloaded to your computer to be read, the way that email was way-back-when in the days of ISP mail and Outlook. Of course, you can opt to download your emails, if you know how, so you can keep a local copy, but most users don’t ever do that. Even though you say your email is ‘online’, it is actually on a server somewhere that is always connected to the internet, and is accessible to you, from any device that has an internet connection and a browser (or an app!). In other words, your email is in The Cloud.

Much of what we do online today is in “the Cloud.” Though it’s not likely to come to mind, social networking sites are in the cloud: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc. All of the data that you use, save, and access is not saved locally on your computer, but instead on a server somewhere specifically designed for that social media platform. There are also a variety of hosting services available that you likely utilize that keep your data in ‘the cloud’: Google drive (or Google docs, if you’re like me and still call it that), Office 365, Photobucket, Flickr, etc. These services allow you to upload and save files so you can access them from any location that has internet. Certain services, like Google Drive for example, allow you to upload nearly any type of file you could want to store as well as offering ‘office’ services (documents, spreadsheets, forms, presentations) that can be created directly from the service itself.

b2ap3_thumbnail_VPN.pngWhen you think of VPN, the first thing that usually comes to mind is work. Many big corporations use VPNs to provide access to confidential work documents, and to allow their employees to safely work remotely. What many people don’t realize is that VPNs are your #1 defense on the internet.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. Much like physical private networks (ie your work’s intranet), VPNs keep the data you’re sending and receiving private. The majority of VPNs also encrypt your data, meaning that even if it were to be intercepted, it would not be useful.

Security Risks Online

The security risks that are present on the internet are nearly uncountable. From phishing scams that try to get your usernames and passwords or personal and financial information to sales scams to loan scams. If someone out there thinks they can benefit from making a victim out of you, they will try it at least once. We’d all like to think that we are smart enough to fall for a scam. Many people believe that they do not have enough money that anyone would want to target them for a scam. Unfortunately, neither of these are true.

b2ap3_thumbnail_antivirus-program.jpgIf you aren’t already using an antivirus/firewall (av/fw) program, or the free trial that came with your computer is running out, you’re likely considering going with one of the industry’s heavy hitters: Symantec, Kaspersky, McAfee, or Trend Micro. These are not necessarily the best choice for you, though. Just because a solution is free or is not widely known, doesn’t mean that it’s not a good program.

One thing you do need to understand of pretty well every av/fw solution that is on the market - whether it is a paid version or a free version - you will be inundated with ads. Every company wants to make money. If you get a free version, you will be given offers for the paid version. If you get the paid version, you will be given offers for the ultimate paid version. If you get the ultimate paid version, you will be given offers for expert computer assistance subscriptions. As horrible as it sounds, internet security software makers prey upon the users who are not computer savvy, using their lack of knowledge and fear of the unknown to make users believe that they NEED the more expensive program and the one-on-one assistance offered as an additional fee.

There are two very important things to remember when considering the right internet security protection for your computer. Number one, it is important to chose a robust program that includes the features that you need. Number two, it is important that fear does not get the best of you. Make informed decisions, and do not ever trust the word of a random person on the other end of the line that is trying to get you to buy a service - at least in regards to your computer’s security and health. If you believe your computer has a virus, take your computer to a local repair shop (I do not recommending using big chains - go local!) and see what they have to say.

b2ap3_thumbnail_windows-file-extensions.jpgComputer users in any country of the world perform similar tasks and majority of computers have similar software installed: various editors (text, table, graphic, audio and video), browsers, players, archivers, antiviruses, image viewers, etc.

Under such ‘total’ use of similar software, its file formats inevitably become popular and most used. Below you will find a short list of most common file formats.

Table of file formats and software for creation/editing of these types of files

b2ap3_thumbnail_iStock_000024097894XSmall.jpgThe essence of computer has changed a lot during the last decade, but not all bottlenecks have been removed from it. One of such bottlenecks is a hard drive. Its because of it that operating system often cannot boot from a cold start for 10 seconds. There is SSD, but using it as main storage is difficult due to small capacity. So it means that SSD cannot crack the modern architecture: there is slow storage and fast random-access memory.

Random-access memory is fast and yet it is volatile. Hard drive is secure, non-volatile, but slow. In its turn, SSD is both faster than hard drive and non-volatile. In future, SSD (or its successor) is simply obliged to replace both random-access memory and hard drive. As of now one can essentially speed up computer with the help of SSD.

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