Protect Yourself from Phishing Attacks!

Many of you know that I take frequent road trips. That’s why my vehicles have the EZ-Pass device on them. EZ-Pass automatically collects tolls on highways and bridges on the East Coast. (FYI, FasTrak is used on the West Coast. Here in Colorado we use ExpressToll.) When this article crossed my news feed, I was particularly interested.

“Phishing Scam Alert: There is a phishing email* being sent to drivers across the nation claiming they owe money for unpaid E-ZPass tolls.  This is not an email from The Toll Roads, the Transportation Corridor Agencies, E-ZPass or E-ZPass tolling agencies. E-ZPass is used to collect tolls electronically on the East Coast; FasTrak is used to collect tolls electronically on the West Coast.

ezpass logoIn fact, during the fourth quarter of 2015, phishing attacks saw a huge increase. As expected, financial institutions took the biggest hit, although any company is vulnerable.

Wikipedia has a good definition:

“Phishing is the attempt to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and sometimes, indirectly, money), often for malicious reasons, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.”

Remember that most phishing attacks come via email, so it is very important to remain vigilant about what links you click in the emails you receive. Even when an email looks legitimate, with accurate looking logos and links, if you have any doubt, don’t click!

Social Media is becoming another prime target for phishing. In fact, according to Ian Trump of LogicNow:

“One in five phishing attempts is made through social media. Some of these will be unsophisticated attempts to snare anyone who might miss-click, but others will be more targeted and try to fool people with specific information, attempting to drive the user to a fake website where they will enter their username and password. A compromised social media account has the potential to wreak further havoc, especially given the habit for people to use the same password over and over again for both work and personal accounts.” More info in this article.

Whenever you receive an email saying you owe an organization money, or they need to confirm your information, or anything that makes you wonder if it’s for real, be especially careful. Never click the link on the email. Instead, head to the website you’ve used before to check out the authenticity of the message. If you find that it is a phishing attempt, notify the company too.

Have you been exposed to phishing attacks? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments below!

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

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A Look Back at 2015 in Technology

Every year there are new developments in the Technology world, and 2015 was no exception.  Here are just a few:

VR Headset – At the CES 2015 show in January, no one expected Virtual Reality for the masses to be available this year.  They were wrong!  Announced in time for Black Friday, Oculus as released a headset that works exclusively with the Samsung Galaxy smartphone.  More info here:

iWatch – Apple has been developing their watch since 2011 and it was finally available in the spring of this year.  Reviews on the different tech sites that review these things have been mixed.  Reviews by Amazon consumers are much higher.

Intel Skylake – Chris is pretty excited about the new 6th generation Intel Core Processor.  He says it will run better on mobile technology.  Do you know what the 1st generation was?  Check out this article and astonish your geeky friends!

Tesla – Chris is also excited about the new Ludicrous upgrade to the Tesla Model S P90DL.  Well, anything that takes you from zero to sixty in under three seconds has got to be worthy of some salivation!  Here’s a link to DragTimes video.

Car Hacking – This was a big story this past spring.  Computers in cars are pretty ubiquitous now and are just as susceptible to hacking as other computers are.  The difference  here is that car manufacturers don’t seem concerned and are not doing what they could to make their systems more secure.  A previous blog about a report released by Senator Ed Markey has more information.

DieselGate – Earlier this year we found out that VW and Audi installed software on many of its 2009-2015 diesel models that would essential “cheat” emissions tests.  From this NYTimes article The software sensed when the car was being tested and then activated equipment that reduced emissions, United States officials said. But the software turned the equipment off during regular driving, increasing emissions far above legal limits, possibly to save fuel or to improve the car’s torque and acceleration.”  There’s more info here: Late last month, VW announced their fix for the diesel engines.  Automotive News describes the modifications that will need to be made here

What do you were the most significant technology announcements in 2015?  Share in the comments below!

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 and remote service throughout North America.

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How To Keep Your Online Presence Safe During the Holiday Season

With the holidays coming up, people are doing lots of online shopping.  It is very important to keep your online presence safe!  Last week I heard the Amazon website may have been hacked and user IDs and passwords may have been compromised.

Now is the time to change your password for all of your online accounts.  Especially accounts where you have credit card or other financial information stored!

When you change your password, make it a STRONG password!

Use each type of character that the website allows. For example, some websites only allow you to use letters, capital letters, and numbers.  Others allow you to use special characters like “@”, or “&”, or “#”.  Always use the special characters unless the website doesn’t allow you to. One of the best ways to make a strong password is use a word that is familiar to you and change some of the letters.  For example, you can change “a” to “A” or “@”.  You can change “o” to “O” or “0”.  An “s” can become “5” or “$”.  You get the idea.  It’s also important to use a long password.  Most websites require eight characters, but you should use at least 16 characters wherever the website allows you to.  Adding a date to your familiar word will add another eight characters to your password

Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Use letters and capitals
  2. Use numbers
  3. Use special characters
  4. Replace letters with capitals, numbers, and special characters
  5. Make the password at least 16 characters long, or as long as the website will allow you

So a good strong password could be “1_lIk3-$un5ets_1215” instead of “Ilikesunsets”

When you change your password, make it a UNIQUE password!

Use a different password for each site.  When you use the same password on multiple sites it makes it that much easier for hackers to get into your accounts on other sites as well.  Each site where you have stored credit card information or other financial information should have a different and unique password.  So, yes, you’ll need a different one for Amazon and eBay.  And, you’ll need a different one for Fidelity and  Charles Schwab.

What’s the best way to do this?  Add two or more characters to your strong password to indicate which site it is for.  For example, you could use  “1_lIk3-$un5ets_F1d”, or  “1_lIk3-$un5ets_eby”

Phishing is also a holiday issue!

Phishing is where someone tries to trick you into giving them your sensitive and private information.  Generally, they’ll send you an email.  (They might also call you on your phone.)  They tell you that there is an issue with your Amazon or Charles Schwab account and you need to update your password immediately.  The email looks legitimate and you are tempted to click on the “Log into your account now!” button.  Even if it is a legitimate email, you should always go directly to the official website and log on from there.

 

Do you already use strong passwords?  What tricks do you use?  How do you remember them all?  Share your tips with your fellow readers in the comments below!

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 and remote service throughout North America.

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Patch Tuesday

A couple of years ago, when I started leaving my computer on all the time, I noticed that my computer would be turned off in the morning. Since I knew I hadn’t turned it off, I turned to the most likely culprit. I asked Chris why he had turned off my machine without letting me know so that I could save all of my stuff first!

That’s when he told me about Patch Tuesday. Microsoft has been sending out monthly updates, generally on the second Tuesday of each month, for a long time. They formalized this process in October 2003. According to this article:

“Microsoft has a pattern of releasing a larger number of updates in even-numbered months, and fewer in odd-numbered months.[7][8][9] Minor updates are also released outside Patch Tuesday. Daily updates consist of malware database refreshes for Windows Defender and Microsoft Security Essentials. Sometimes there is an extraordinary Patch Tuesday, two weeks after the regular Patch Tuesday. Some updates could be released at any time.”

Although Microsoft has changed the name to “Update Tuesday”, the new name hasn’t gained wide acceptance in technical communities. The patches generally include code to update your Operating System to fix known bugs and to plug up any vulnerabilities from malware.

Most people notice a “Patch Wednesday” more than Patch Tuesday. Since the updates are generally installed overnight, you might be prompted to turn off your machine on Wednesday morning to finish installation. And, occasionally you’ll experience glitches with your machine on Wednesday.

Patch Wednesday is also called “Crash Wednesday” since your computer is more likely to crash after the Patch Tuesday updates have been installed. We frequently hear from customers on “Patch Wednesday” who tell us that all of a sudden they can’t print, or their internet isn’t working. Lots of times the fix is as easy as turning off the machine and turning it back on again. But sometimes they need us to reinstall drivers or re-configure their router.

It’s also been called “Exploit Wednesday” since there have been times when the Microsoft patches have left machines more vulnerable to malware. In fact, a recent blog by UK engineer “Zeros & Ones” is a bit of a rant about the whole Patch Tuesday process.

“Security is not ‘my bag’ as such – but the people at Microsoft seem to be in a fantastic situation where security issues only arise on Tuesdays. How do they do they seem to manage to get the ‘bad man’ on side?”

If you’re interested in all the patches over the past ten years, check out this website, or this one for the past five years.

What do you think about Patch Tuesday?  Share in the comments below!

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 and remote service throughout North America.

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The Biggest Lie in the Computer Industry?

What’s the biggest lie in the Computer Industry?  It’s the myth that Apple’s don’t get viruses.

Geek For Hire has been out there fixing computers since 2001 and we’ve seen just about everything. When someone tells me they have a Mac, or are switching from a PC to a Mac because Mac’s don’t get viruses, I have to respectfully disagree.

As early as 2012, Apple changed their stance about viruses on their machines. According to the Huffington Post, in June of that year, they changed their verbiage from:

“Safeguard your data. By doing nothing.”

To:

“Safety. Built right in.”

In the last few months, we’ve been seeing more and more viruses on Mac machines. Everything from lots of adware and pop-ups, to “a lady’s voice keeps telling me to run my virus scanner”, to what’s commonly being called “scare-ware”.

What’s out there?

  • Malware is the general term used for any malevolent or bad software that can get loaded onto your computer.
  • Spyware is software installed on your tech device without your knowledge or consent. It collects information about you and relays it to an external person or organization.
  • Adware is frequently called pop-ups. This is where you get lots and lots of pop-ups with advertisements. Lots of people just live with this type of infection not realizing that it’s often accompanied by other more malicious malware.
  • Virus is the most common term used by “real” people for all of these types of infections.
  • Scareware is similar to Adware in that it generates a pop-up. In this case though, the pop-up tells you that your machine has an infection and you need to visit a particular website RIGHT NOW to get the virus removed.

How to keep your computer safe? Be careful what you click on! Don’t open attachments in emails. Don’t click on ads on the websites you visit. Above all, make sure you select an anti-virus program that continually upgrades their software and pushes those changes to your computer. We recommend ESET’s NOD32 anti-virus protection for Mac’s and PC’s.

Did you think Apple machines were impervious to viruses and other malware? What steps do you take to keep your machine safe? Let us know in the comments below!

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 and remote service throughout North America.

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How To Spot An eMail Scam

The scammers are getting better and better. The text of the email looks legit; the email address looks legit; the graphics are professional. How can you tell when your phone company is contacting you vs. when a scammer is impersonating your phone company?

A client received this email last week and gave us a call.

 

CenturyLink email scam

Everything looked good on the email that she forwarded to me. I hovered over all of the links to see what website they actually pointed to. I looked at the logos, and they actually looked like the real ones. A quick search shows that both “Digital Vault” and “@Ease” are real CenturyLink services. Even the deadline, almost three months in the future, seemed like a legitimate phone company corporation deadline.

The only trouble was that our client had no recollection of signing up for a CenturyLink cloud based storage or “Digital Vault”.

She said that she was going to call CenturyLink about this and I urged her to call a number that she already had, rather than any phone numbers included in the email.  When she called CenturyLink, they told her it was a scam and asked that she forward the email to them.

So that’s my advice this week – If you receive an email from a company you have a business relationship with, AND, you’re not expecting an email from then, give them a call on a number you already have saved for them.

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.

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Beware of Click Bait!

This morning, I was doing one of my morning rituals which includes reading through the recent posts on Facebook, and found that a friend of mine who lives on the east coast, liked a story. I worked with him many years ago. He was the manager of a major project which I worked on for many years. This was the largest project in my career, and I know that this system is still “alive” today because I have served a local customer twice who is dispatched by this system. Since I respect my friend, and he doesn’t casually like everything, the things that he does like tends to get my attention. The first thing I did was to like the story too.

The story told of a mother beating her son on national television because he was participating in the recent riots in Baltimore. My friend liked it, so it must be legit. I clicked on the link to the story, which went to a blogsite which I had never seen or heard of before. The content of the page had only a brief retelling of the title of the story, plus several advertisements, but there was no link to the salacious original video that grabbed my attention. Since I didn’t see what I expected, I thought this was a problem with the tight security settings of my daily browser (Firefox, with several add-ons), so I copied the URL from my “high security” browser and pasted it into my “low security” browser which works with everything (Internet Explorer), and fetched the page. The same page was displayed, but this time with many popup advertisements (pop-over and pop-under) which were really concerning to me. There was no salacious video or a link to it. I shut this down fast.

Still being interested in the salacious story, I went to YouTube and searched for the general words of the title of the story, and found several direct links to the video – without additional advertisement or commentary.

In this case, I fell prey to “Click Bait”. I saw a story that interested me, thought it was legit, and clicked on it. It wasn’t legit. I will be doing a total system scan of my computer to check for any residual nastiness.

If you think you’ve fallen prey to “Click Bait”, the best thing to do is to scan your machine for anything malicious. If you need help, give us a call!

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.

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Myth – Mac’s Don’t Get Viruses

Source: Internet meme
Source: Internet meme

More than once I’ve heard someone say they won’t ever get a virus because they have a Mac.

Unfortunately that’s just not true. Mac’s can get viruses just as easily as any other kind of machine. It used to be that malware was written specifically for the Microsoft Operating System, because there were just so darn many of them out there. If our experience at Geek For Hire, Inc. is any guide, plenty of our customers with Apples are getting all kinds of malware.

(By the way, “malware” is the catch-all phrase for any software you haven’t deliberately chosen to load onto your computer. Remember from high school Latin that “mal” means “bad”. “Malware” includes viruses, spyware, rootkits, and more.)

In fact, way back in 2012, Apple itself recognized the flaw. In April, 2012, more than a half million Macs were infected by the Flashback Trojan bug. Shortly after that, PC Magazine reported that Apple “removed from its website the claim that its Mac operating system is not susceptible to PC viruses.”, and changed its tagline to “It’s built to be safe”.

Today, even more malware is being written specifically for the Mac OS. And Apple does not seem to be on top of getting fixes out to their users.  In an article by Digital Trends, they stated:

“Apple has also been criticized for being slow to deal with threats and shut vulnerabilities down. Rootpipe was discovered in October 2014, but the fix only came out this month (April 2015), and it only patches Yosemite, not older editions of OS X. To make matters worse, the patch doesn’t actually fix the problem properly. Apple’s big rival may have a bad reputation, but it has taken decisive action to tackle that perception.”

It’s best to protect yourself with a good anti-virus program for Macs. We like ESET’s Cyber-Security.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to post them below. I’ll try to respond to every single one!

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.

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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.

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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.

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