Computer / Internet News

What you need to know about the Summer 2017 Equifax data breach

Updated 9/13/17 to include information from Consumer Reports:

Equifax, one of the large credit reporting agencies in the U.S. recently announced a data breach that may affect 143 million Americans. In case you’re not familiar with the population of the United States, that number is equal to just about every adult who’s ever applied for credit. Initial reports indicate that exposed data may include names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. Note that Equifax DOES NOT have access to passwords to your financial accounts.

The Federal Trade Commission posted a helpful article with suggestions on what you can do to help protect your financial data now that the data breach has come to light. However, contrary to their advice that includes entering your personal information to check to see if you’ve been affected by the breach and sign up for free credit monitoring through TrustedID Premier, a 3-bureau credit monitoring service (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union) which also is operated by Equifax (yes, the same company that exposed your data in the first place) – security researcher Brian Krebs recommends placing a credit freeze on your file, and further explains how to do it in this article.

Additional information from the FTC includes:

  • Check your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — for free — by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Accounts or activity that you don’t recognize could indicate identity theft. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to find out what to do.
  • Monitor your existing credit card and bank accounts closely for charges you don’t recognize.
  • Consider placing a credit freeze on your files. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. Keep in mind that a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making charges to your existing accounts.
  • If you decide against a credit freeze, consider placing a fraud alert on your files. A fraud alert warns creditors that you may be an identity theft victim and that they should verify that anyone seeking credit in your name really is you.
  • File your taxes early — as soon as you have the tax information you need, before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.

Consumer Reports has updated information on How to Lock Down Your Money After the Equifax Breach.

Learn how to spot scams that pop-up on your screen

The screenshots in this article all have one thing in common. They are all trying to convince you that there are problems with your computer or device, and that you need to call the number displayed in order to fix the problems. However, if you call the number you will be connected to a scammer who will scare tactics to convince you that there are more serious problems with your device, and that paying several hundred dollars for them to “fix” the problems is your only recourse. This scam has tricked thousands of people into paying millions of dollars for non-existent problems.

Never respond to a pop-up on your computer or smartphone screen that urges you to call a number for help. If the Window will not close normally by clicking the red “X” on the upper-right corner of the window, try the following:

  • At the bottom of the window check the checkbox to “Don’t let this page create more messages” or “Prevent this page from creating additional dialogs” then press “OK”. You should then be able to close your browser normally using the red “X”.
  • Turn off or restart your computer using your normal method via the Start button, then Shut down or Restart.
  • If neither of the above methods work, press and HOLD the power button on your computer until it turns off.

After turning your computer back on and/or opening your browser, don’t go back to the website or email that you had visited immediately prior to seeing the pop-up.
[Read more…]

How to improve wireless coverage at home

Do you have poor Wi-Fi coverage inside your home due to low signal or interference from other nearby Wi-Fi routers? How about poor wireless cell coverage at home due to wireless carriers having trouble locating their cellular transmission antennas, towers and poles in residential neighborhoods? Resident complaints that cell towers will decrease property values or become eyesores within the landscape have persuaded elected officials to deny the permits needed to construct new cell sites.

Fortunately there are a few solutions that will improve Wi-Fi and wireless cell coverage in the home and other small-to-medium size buildings where coverage is weak.

Wi-Fi coverage

In the past few years new Wi-Fi technology has allowed manufacturers to produce more powerful Wi-Fi routers, range extenders and mesh network devices that increase range, speed and reduce “dead spots” within the home or office.

Wireless cell coverage

All four major U.S. wireless carriers now offer Wi-Fi Calling, which is available on many of the latest smartphones. Wi-Fi Calling uses the existing Wi-Fi connection in your home to connect your phone to the wireless cellular network through your home broadband internet connection. When connected, calls and text messages will typically be as clear and reliable as your Wi-Fi connection.

Alternatively, the carriers also offer a small device that connects to your home broadband internet connection called a “femtocell” which improves the wireless signal to cell phones located nearby. Each carrier has their own branded femtocell – links for the individual carrier’s femtocell offerings follow:

The advantage of Wi-Fi Calling vs. getting a femtocell is that if you have a compatible smartphone and a Wi-Fi router, there is no extra cost to setup Wi-Fi Calling. A femtocell can cost up to a few hundred dollars, however carriers will sometimes discount or fully subsidize the cost for the device for their more profitable customers.

Computer Techs can help with the setup of new Wi-Fi devices, Wi-Fi Calling on your smartphone or a femtocell – just contact us to setup an appointment.

How to safely manage your passwords

Updated November 2016:

When helping clients login to their computer or websites, I often see them pull out a scratch pad or sticky notes with various passwords scribbled on the page. There’s a better and more secure method to record your login information. [Read more…]

Secure your email account with 2-step verification

With email account hacking being a common occurrence, email providers Google, Microsoft and others introduced a 2-step verification process that can keep unwanted people from accessing your email account, or help you regain access to it in the event of a forgotten password or if it has been taken over by a hacker.

It is important to note that you must setup 2-step verification for your account before hackers have a chance to do it first – and potentially lock you out of your account. Computer Techs recommends that you set-up 2-step verification now, as a pro-active preventative measure to keep hackers from accessing and/or taking over your email account.

2-step verification, (also known as 2-factor or multi-factor authentication) requires that anyone accessing your online account have 2 pieces of information in order to prove legitimate access:

  • Something the user knows (e.g., password, security answer, PIN)
  • Something the user physically has (e.g., phone, smartphone displaying a randomly generated code, ATM card)

If you are unsure about setting up 2-step verification, please contact us and we will set it up for you. If you’d prefer to do it on your own, see the links below for instructions for the most popular email services.

• Google/Gmail:  If you use Gmail on your iPhone, an email program on your computer, or certain other 3rd-party applications that access your Google/Gmail account, you will need to generate a one-time application-specific password in your Google account settings page for each device or application. Please read the information and watch the video Sign in using application-specific passwords before proceeding. You can then follow the instructions at Getting started with 2-step verification.

• Outlook Mail/Hotmail: See this Microsoft support article to setup two-step verification, or this blog post for more information.

• AOL: See AOL’s information about 2-Step Verification: Stronger than your password alone.

• Yahoo: See Two-step verification for extra account security.

• AT&T/Yahoo accounts (sbcglobal.net/att.net/nvbell.net/prodigy.net): Though AT&T/Yahoo email accounts do not offer a 2nd verification method for login, you should register a cell phone number with your account to make resetting your password easier. See Use your wireless number to reset your password.

Additionally we recommend that you secure your other online financial, social and file sharing accounts. See the THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO TWO-FACTOR AUTHENTICATION (2FA) website for tutorials for most popular websites.

Microsoft prompting users to get free upgrade to Windows 10

Updated 3-15-16 to include information on how to back-out of forced installation and how to rollback.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 became available on July 29, 2015, and computer users have been seeing upgrade prompts ever since. If your computer has Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, you may have noticed a mysterious new icon has appeared on the right-hand side of your taskbar. The icon is Microsoft’s notification that invites users to register for their free Windows 10 upgrade. Clicking the small Windows logo prompts users to initiate the download, then receive a notification when the operating system upgrade is ready to be installed. However just because it’s free doesn’t mean that you should install the upgrade.

Windows 10 upgrade prompt

Should I install Windows 10? If your computer has Windows 7 – we recommend that you DO NOT install Windows 10 and stay with Windows 7 until the year 2020 when support for Windows 7 is currently scheduled to be discontinued, then upgrade to the latest operating system or purchase a new computer at that time. Windows 10 is dramatically different, some programs and devices may not work with Windows 10, and there’s no compelling reason to upgrade. If you have Windows 8/8.1, if or when you decide to update make sure your data is backed up and proceed with caution – or have Computer Techs install the upgrade for you. Be aware that operating system upgrades can be problematic and several previous Windows features have been stripped from Windows 10.

Tip: If you’re tired of Microsoft nagging you to upgrade to Windows 10 there’s a handy utility called GWX Control Panel that will disable the icon and prompts. Just download and run the standalone executable found at this web site. If you need help with downloading, running or configuring the program – contact us.

If you’re curious about what Windows 10 has to offer, see Windows 10: Everything you need to know about Microsoft’s PC, smartphone and tablet OS and Microsoft: Get Started with Windows 10.

3-15-16: Microsoft has become more aggressive about forcing the installation of Windows 10 with a Window similar to the one pictured below that offers to install Windows 10 now or later with no obvious method to back-out or close the Window.

Windows update-to-10 schedule

If you don’t want Windows 10 (again we don’t recommended it if you have Windows 7), choose “Start the upgrade now”, then click “Decline” when presented with a EULA window similar to the one pictured below.

Windows 10 upgrade EULA

If you’ve already installed Windows 10, you have up to 30 days to roll back to your previous version of Windows. For detailed instructions see this article, or contact Computer Techs and we’ll do it for you.

Afterwards, follow the advice in the “Tip” above to download and run GWX Control Panel to prevent future upgrade attempts.

Windows 10: The Good, Bad & Ugly

Microsoft’s Windows 10 became available on July 29, and we’ve helped several clients who have purchased a new computer or upgraded their existing computer from Windows 7 or 8/8.1.  On older computers Microsoft’s notification invites users to register to download a free upgrade to Windows 10 – an offer which will be good until July 2016. But just because it’s free doesn’t mean that you should do the upgrade.

The Good: Windows 10 is an improvement over Windows 8/8.1. It brings back a “Start” menu that is more like what Windows 7 had. It also brings back the Windows 7 Backup & Restore feature. New to Windows 10 is improved search capabilities, and a new voice powered virtual assistant, Cortana, that you can speak with if your computer has a microphone. Though it’s fun to use for a little while – it’s likely that many will rarely use the feature.

The Bad:  [Read more…]

Why your most important password is the one that secures your email

Some people think that nobody would be interested in reading their email, so their email password doesn’t need to be secure. However if a hacker accesses your email consider the following common occurrences:

  • A hacker can change your password and lock you out of your account.
  • A hacker can go to financial and shopping websites and have password reset requests sent to your email address. With access to your financially related websites in the hands of a bad guy, you could potentially lose thousands of dollars.
  • A hacker can copy your contact list and/or send emails on your behalf asking for money or send spam and malware that appears to come from you.

If your email password is not unique or easily guessed by others, please see how to change your email password.

How to find your lost or stolen mobile smartphone or tablet

If you’ve lost your mobile smartphone or tablet, or if your device is stolen, you can often find its location by going to a dedicated website on your computer. But before your device can be located, your mobile device needs to be setup to allow it to be located. Now is the time to check and make sure your device is setup – before your phone gets lost or stolen. [Read more…]