Outsmarting The Hackers

Hackers are getting smarter and are finding it easier to log into your email, bank and social media accounts.  For that reason, it is so important to regularly change your passwords on all of your accounts.  If you think any of your accounts may have been hacked, change your password recovery email as well.

Some people have a hard time remembering their passwords.  I’ve found that it is a good idea to use a couple of different words which are significant to you, but change it up a bit.   Use numbers, symbols, and capital letters to make the password harder to guess, but easy for you to remember.  As an example, using the word ““PASSWORD””, I’ll show you how easy it is to change a common word into a secure password for you:

  • P@55w0rd! –  Capitalize the first letter, change the ““a”” to  the @ symbol, change the two S’s to 5’s, change the “o” to a zero, and add an exclamation on the end.
  • P@55W0rd! – – Capitalize the first letter, change the “a” to  the @ symbol, change the two S’s to 5’s, Capitalize the “W”, change the “o” to a zero, and add an exclamation on the end.
  • !P@55w0rd! – – Start with an exclamation point, Capitalize the first letter, change the “a” to  the @ symbol, change the two S’s to 5’s, change the “o” to a zero, and add an exclamation on the end.

When you use this system, you can change it monthly by adding the date.  For example, add “April”, or “04” to the end.

It’s also better to use more than one word.  Sometimes when Chris is setting up a new password he will use the title of a nearby book.  For example, Mark Reisner’s “Cadillac Desert” is on my desk right now.  Using Chris’ system, my new password could be:

  • CadillacDesert – with the first letter of each word capitalized and no spaces.
  • Cadillac Desert – with the first letter of each word capitalized and one space between the two words.
  • Cadillac_Desert – with the first letter of each word capitalized and the underscore symbol between the two words.
  • C@dill@cDesert – with the first letter of each word capitalized and the “a” turned into the @ symbol.

You get the idea!  Play around with some possible passwords for you.  Once you have a few that work and that you can easily remember, it will be easy to change it up on a regular basis and to keep your online life that much more secure!

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has been providing computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PC’s for the past fourteen years. His company is highly rated by both the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and by Angie’s List. You can find more on our website.  Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area and remote service throughout North America.

How Often Should You Turn Off Your Machine?

When I got my first computer, I would turn it off every time I left my office for more than a half hour. A few years later I would turn it off when I left for the day. Now, I’ll turn it off a couple of times a week. Why the change? You might wonder how often you need to turn off your machine, or if you even need to turn it off at all!

Do I need to turn off my machine?

The short answer is Yes! Every couple of days save all of your documents, close all of your applications, and turn the machine off. Leave it off overnight, or just for a few minutes. The machine will clean itself, reorganize files, empty the trash, install any updates, and generally make itself faster and more efficient for the next time you turn it on. Other reasons to turn your machine off include saving power.

It’s really a balancing act. The process of turning your machine off and back on takes its toll on the mechanics of your computer. But leaving the machine on all the time does the same thing. If you use your machine constantly throughout the day, by all means, leave it on. If you access your machine from a remote location, then you definitely need to keep it on!  (Check out this article for the difference between “Hibernation” and “Sleep”.)

If you use it for only an hour or two at a time, then you should turn it off when you are done. If you know you won’t use your machine all weekend, you should turn it off.off buttonBut, if you use your machine all day long, there’s really no need to turn it off every day. Once a week should do it.

Remember, when you turn off your machine, don’t do it with the power button. Use the off button on the screen menu. This allows the machine to shut off in a graceful fashion.

Some other things you should do for the general health and well-being of your machine are:

  • Always use a surge protector. These help even out any power spikes so that they don’t damage your machine. We also advise that you use a UPS (Universal Power Supply). This is a battery back up system that protects your equipment from power surges, and provides a limited time of battery life. This is helpful when you’re in the middle of working on a project when the power goes out. It gives you enough time to finish up and save everything.
  • During lightning storms, you turn off AND unplug all of your electronics. Even a surge protector can’t always help protect your equipment if there is a nearby lightning strike.
  • Uninstall and delete any programs that you are no longer using. Even if you’re not using a program, it may have something running in the background undermining the efficiency of your machine. (Yes, we can help you with this if you don’t feel comfortable choosing which programs to uninstall.)
  • Keep your machine clean! Periodically open it up and remove all the dust and pet hair that have accumulated. Dust tends to accumulate on the fan, which is there to keep your machine cool. If too much dust is there, the fan won’t run properly and your machine will overheat. (We can help you with this too!)

How often do you turn off your machine?  Do you turn if off during lightening storms?

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has  been providing computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PC’s for the past fourteen years. His company is highly rated by both the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and by Angie’s List. You can find more at http://www.GeekForHireInc.com Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service (Tier 3) to the Denver / Boulder / Front Range area. They can provide remote service throughout North America.

Repair vs. Replace: Time to Get a New Mac?

We’re often asked when a customer should repair their current computer vs. just getting a new one. It’s a hard decision to make. If we’re able to fix it in a reasonable amount of time, we’ll always recommend not replacing. But “reasonable amount of time” varies from person to person.

Chris Eddy adds: “My standard recommendation is to keep the machine, until it fails to serve well as a tool, or is too expensive to repair. “

Here’s a case study for a recent customer considering a new Mac.

The customer had an older (2008) MacBook and wanted to know whether to upgrade it or replace it.  It generally worked fine and performed adequately for most tasks, but the customer was encountering more times when they would be waiting for things to complete, and they were concerned about whether it would be adequate for installing and using SketchUp in the future.

General Findings:

  • Cosmetically, the machine was in beautiful condition.  A backlit keyboard was not available at the time the machine was made and it’s a nice touch to have in a darkened room, but not the only reason to consider a new machine.
  • The hard drive still had about 80% of free space on it, so free disk space wasn’t a problem.  I tested the hard drive, and no errors were found within 5 minutes, which is a good sign that the machine was probably not in danger of immediate detonation.
  • The machine had 4GB of RAM in it, which is the physical maximum amount of RAM that the machine can use.
  • Current Ram usage was at about 50%, which should support SketchUp Ram-wise. Any current performance difficulties the machine currently has will not be improved by the addition  of SketchUp.

Monitor:

  • The customer wants to use a larger monitor than the 13″ display that this notebook machine has.   It’s a nice screen, but it’s not enough screen real-estate for future use.
  • The customer could be served by a new Apple notebook computer with an external monitor.
  • The current Macbook Air can come with an 11″ or 13″ screen size, and the current Macbook Pro can come with a 13″ or 15″ screen size.
  • Another option for this customer is to possibly get an iMac, which is an all-in-one desktop computer that can come with a monitor size of 22″ or 27″.  Both monitors are large and beautiful.
  • The choice of external monitor could be either an Apple monitor, which will be beautiful – but expensive because the Apple “Premium” is alive and well.  A large monitor from a different manufacturer could be gotten from the open market, at a lower cost and still be good quality.  Dell makes some absolutely beautiful monitors, especially the “U” line of monitors, and we get 30% discounts from Dell – which we pass on directly to our customers.

Keeping your old machine once you get a new one:

There is value in having one machine rather than two, because this is a major “life simplification”; all of your programs and your data is in one place rather than two, and you don’t have to worry about synchronizing the two machines.  If something does go wrong you can focus on one machine rather than two.  Sometimes people just want to keep their “old” machines as a backup. Or they want to keep the old machine to access old data, or keep the old hard drive to keep an archival copy of the historical record of your old data. My standard recommendation is to not keep the old machine, but do keep the old hard drive for at least a few months.  Migrate to the new machine, and enjoy it. You probably won’t ever go back to the old machine.  (If you do, you’ll soon remember why you replaced it!)

SSD:

Regardless of which machine you get, always upgrade to a Solid State Drive. The SSD performs /much/ faster than a physical hard drive, and even the Fusion drive will start to slow down soon after the machine is brought home.  The SSD will provide the most consistent good performance over time, however it will be more expensive – remember the “Apple Premium”.

The new MacPro:

One possible option is the new MacPro. This is Apple’s new “Desktop” computer. (…and it looks like a small trash can!)    The MacPro is a very quick computer and can be ordered with features that will make it outrageously fast – but remember the “Apple Premium”.Mac Pro screen capture

Buying Strategy:

If you do decide it’s time for a new Mac, head to the Apple store. BUT, go there with the specific intent of /not/ buying today.  I’ve found that there is a reality distortion field within the store that has subtle influences to motivate you to want to buy a new machine right there and right now.

If you find something you like, fine, but buy it tomorrow – not today.  This is going to be an expensive purchase of a new tool, and you are going to have it for a long time. It’s in your best interests to let the thinking of this new tool “Marinate” in your brain for at least 24 hours before actually pulling the trigger and getting the tool.

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has been providing computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PC’s for the past fourteen years.  His company is highly rated by both the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and by Angie’s List.  Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service to the Denver /  Boulder /  Front Range area.  They can provide remote service throughout North America.

Your Next Computer Might Be a Phone

Do you find yourself using your phone or tablet more and more instead of the computer on your desk? You’re not alone! If you know anything about me, you know that I like to take frequent road trips. It doesn’t matter if I’m in Denver or Manhattan; as long as I have my iPhone with me, I can continue to make appointments for Chris, follow up with our awesome clients, or internet research. With my new tablet, I can do still more, like updating spreadsheets and even write our blog. Our son recently purchased the new iPhone 6 which reviewers are calling a phablet – a phone AND a tablet. He has no need for a “real” computer and can do any necessary technology on his new phone.

Wired Magazine has come to the same conclusion in this article, although they do think it may take another few years.

“But thanks to increased processing power, better battery life, vastly improved networking speeds, and larger screen sizes on mobile devices, the shift away from the desktop is accelerating.

“Will we always need a desktop? No, not all of us will,” says consumer trends industry expert and Kantar Worldwide’s chief researcher, Carolina Milanesi. “Some of us already don’t.” “

The article concludes with this thought:

“But paired with a monitor and a Bluetooth keyboard at work, or streaming over Wi-Fi to a TV set at home, in a few years, there’s no real reason why, for the vast majority of us, a smartphone couldn’t handle all our daily computing needs.”

There are a few downsides to not having a “real” computer. A full sized keyboard that actually plugs in is one that comes to mind. Geek For Hire has seen so many issues with wireless keyboards & mice, from connection problems to bad batteries, I have a hard time recommending their use.

Another downside is no CD/DVD player. For someone who gets all of their music and entertainment online, that’s not a killer issue. I still buy CD’s, so that is an issue for me!

Finally, please remember that your SmartPhone is a computer. It doesn’t matter what the size is or what you’re using it for. Just like your PC or Mac, please install an anti-virus and keep the anti-virus up-to-date.  Just because you have an iPhone made by Apple doesn’t mean you’re immune to malware and viruses.  Ransomware is one of the biggest new threats facing your technology of every size as this little girl from Tennessee found out.

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has been providing computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PC’s for the past fourteen years.  He is highly rated by both the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and by Angie’s List.  Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service to the Denver/ Boulder/ Front Range area.  They can provide remote service throughout North America.

Car-Hacking…

I read an interesting report released by Senator Markey last month.  His office was concerned that appropriate measures were not being taken to secure cars and trucks on American highways.  With most modern cars having built in WiFi, Bluetooth and other technology, they wondered what happened to the collected data, and how vulnerable the cars were to outside influence.  Turns out they were right to be concerned.

Here are their key findings:

  1. “Nearly 100% of cars on the market include wireless technologies that could pose vulnerabilities to hacking or privacy intrusions.
  2. Most automobile manufacturers were unaware of or unable to report on past hacking incidents.
  3. Security measures to prevent remote access to vehicle electronics are inconsistent and haphazard across all automobile manufacturers, and many manufacturers did not seem to understand the questions posed by Senator Markey.
  4. Only two automobile manufacturers were able to describe any capabilities to diagnose or meaningfully respond to an infiltration in real-time, and most say they rely on technologies that cannot be used for this purpose at all.
  5. Automobile manufacturers collect large amounts of data on driving history and vehicle performance.
  6. A majority of automakers offer technologies that collect and wirelessly transmit driving history data to data centers, including third-party data centers, and most do not describe effective means to secure the data.
  7. Manufacturers use personal vehicle data in various ways, often vaguely to “improve the customer experience” and usually involving third parties, and retention policies – how long they store information about drivers – vary considerably among manufacturers.
  8. Customers are often not explicitly made aware of data collection and, when they are, they often cannot opt out without disabling valuable features, such as navigation.”

Most striking to me was this sentence:

“The diversity of responses received by Senator Markey shows that each manufacturer is handling the introduction of new technology in very different ways, and for the most part these actions are insufficient to ensure security and privacy for vehicle consumers.”

While it’s unlikely that a particular car will be targeted for hacking, the privacy issue is concerning to me. Read your manual or check with your dealer to see if there is a way to turn off data collection. It may be as simple as turning off your GPS feature, but check with your dealer to be sure.  If you have an older car without GPS, OnStar, Bluetooth, etc., you likely do not have to worry about this.

Here is the Press Release from Senator Markey’s office along with a link to the original report: http://www.markey.senate.gov/news/press-releases/markey-report-reveals-automobile-security-and-privacy-vulnerabilities

Chris Eddy of Geek For Hire, Inc. has been providing computer service to families and small businesses with Mac’s and PC’s for the past fourteen years.  He is highly rated by both the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and by Angie’s List.  Geek For Hire, Inc. provides onsite service to the Denver/ Boulder/ Front Range area.  They can provide remote service throughout North America.

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