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:

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

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…]

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 ( 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.