Why you should keep your computer ON when not using it

If you use a desktop computer, we recommend leaving it ON when not using it. Here’s why:

  • Your computer does important maintenance tasks when “idle” – basically the time when you walk away from it for 5-10 minutes or more. To be idle the computer needs to be left ON – not in sleep mode, standby, logged off, nor powered off.
  • Maintenance tasks include scanning for and installing Windows Updates, virus/malware scans, disk defragmentation, and any other updates that may be regularly checked by other apps.
  • If you are in the habit of turning on your computer, doing your business, then immediately turning it off – your computer may never get the chance to do maintenance tasks, or may eventually try to do them while you’re trying to use the computer. This can cause your computer to be much slower while you’re trying to use it.

If you use a laptop computer, we don’t recommend leaving it ON all the time, but rather leave it idle for a few hours once a week so that it can perform maintenance tasks while you’re not actively using it.

The rare occasion that we recommend turning the computer off is if there are currently thunderstorms approaching your area, or high winds that may cause the power to brown-out or completely go out. In those occasions it would be good to unplug the power and wired internet cables from the computer to help prevent any electrical surges from damaging it.

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

Updated 7/31/19 to include Equifax Data Breach Settlement information:

In July 2019 Equifax agreed to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and 50 U.S. states and territories. The settlement includes up to $425 million to help people affected by the data breach. For more information including a lookup tool to see if your data was affected by the data breach, see the following official FTC website: ftc.gov/Equifax

Beware of scammers who’ve put up fake websites meant to look like the official website. Also you may receive unsolicited email or phone calls from scammers who may try to charge you to file a claim, or ask you for private information such as your social security number.

Originally posted 9/11/17. 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.

[Read more…]

Email scam uses data from breached websites to craft authentic looking email – How to check if your data was exposed

A new email scam has been quickly spreading with different variants that claims to have hacked the recipient’s email account and includes a password used by the recipient. One variant further claims to have caught the recipient looking at pornographic websites, and demanding “ransom” in the form of Bitcoin payment to prevent the release of webcam photos being sent to all the recipient’s contacts. An example email is shown below.

If you’re the recipient of such an email you may think “how does a hacker break in and know my password?” The answer: they didn’t hack your account.

Here’s how they have the information: Data breaches from companies such as LinkedIn, Yahoo and countless others have exposed the email addresses and passwords of millions of users. Clever scammers have taken widely available information from the data breaches and crafted emails that forge the recipient’s email address and insert a password used on a breached web site. With the addition of potentially embarrassing information, the “sextortion” scammer asks for money in the form of Bitcoin to prevent the release of information to everybody in your contact list (which they don’t really have).

In summary, just ignore/delete the email and change the password on any websites that match the password in the email. You shouldn’t be using the same password on multiple sites anyways.

To find out if your email address(es) have been exposed in a data breach, you can safely enter your email address in the following website: https://monitor.firefox.com

Is your smartphone or tablet slowing down? Closing your open apps could help.

If your smartphone or tablet is slowing down, closing your open apps could help speed it up. When you “close” most apps on a smartphone or tablet, it actually remains in memory running in the background. Over time you may have dozens of apps running in the background which can make it feel slower. Read the instructions in the articles below to close open apps.

How to force an app to close on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch

Find, open & close apps – Android Help

FBI urges home users to reboot their routers to disrupt the spread of newly discovered malware

Netgear router power cable plugged in

Netgear router with power cable plugged in. Image courtesy of listing at Bonanza.com

The FBI is urging owners of routers used in most homes and small offices perform a power-cycle (reboot) of their device to help disrupt the spread of a newly discovered malware targeting such devices. Vulnerable routers include popular devices from Netgear, Linksys, and TP-Link – however this is not a complete list.

A reboot is done by unplugging the thin/black power cable from the rear of the router, waiting about 15 seconds, then plugging it back in. After a few minutes all of the lights on the front of the router should return to normal and your internet connection re-established.

If you need help with rebooting your router, call your internet service provider at the phone number listed on your bill for assistance. If you own one of the router brands mentioned above, you can contact Computer Techs and we will reboot your router for a nominal fee.

For more detailed information about the VPNFilter malware, security journalist Brian Krebs has a detailed article here.

If your router is older than 5 years old, learn more about replacing old insecure devices, and installing firmware updates on newer devices by reading Is it time to replace your Wi-Fi. Computer Techs installs router firmware updates as part of our check-up & updates service, as well as our scheduled maintenance plans.

Is it time to replace your Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi enables you to use your computing devices wirelessly throughout your home. If your Wi-Fi router or internet gateway (provided by your internet provider) is over 5 years old, it’s time to replace it with newer, more secure technology.

In the past year security flaws have been found in the Wi-Fi protocol that’s used in all routers and gateways, and patches have been released as firmware updates for only the newest routers manufactured in the past few years.

A benefit of replacing your Wi-Fi not only fixes current known security vulnerabilities, a new Wi-Fi router can increase the range and reliability of your Wi-Fi. The latest mesh networking technology can blanket your home in wireless coverage using 2 or more linked Wi-Fi radios.

You may have to contact your internet service provider to have your Wi-Fi updated. To find out if you need new Wi-Fi, contact us to for an evaluation of your current Wi-Fi equipment.

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…]

Learn how to spot scams that pop-up on your screen – and how to close your browser

Screenshots similar to the one above 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 a toll-free number in order to fix the problems. However, if you call the number you will be connected to a scammer who will use scare tactics to access your computer and attempt to convince you that there are serious problems with your computer, and that paying several hundred dollars for a “fix” is your only recourse. Remote support scams have tricked millions of people into paying an average of a few hundred dollars each 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 icon on the bottom left taskbar, then Shut down or Restart. If the fake warning website covers your full screen where you cannot see the Start button icon, press the Windows key (  or  located near the bottom left corner of your keyboard) which should bring the Start menu to the foreground.
  • 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…]