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.

Does your computer have adware?

Adware is advertisement-supported software that is usually is bundled with other programs that are downloaded from the internet. For example you may download a free program from the internet, but in order for the website to make money they typically bundle the program with adware, browser toolbars and/or browser hijackers.

These Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs) will display advertisements, re-direct your internet search results and even change your browser home/start page. Adware should be removed as soon as possible because the ads often contain popups that report false computer error and update messages that lead to the installation of malware and other more severe computer problems. If your home page gets changed by adware, searching the internet through that page will often lead to untrustworthy and advertising supported search results.

Adware is sometimes avoidable if you carefully read each page as you are installing a program, and uncheck any optional adware boxes before clicking “Next”.

Contact Computer Techs today to have adware removed correctly and thoroughly by a professional.

How to change your email password

Below are links to instructions for changing your password at most major email providers. Please review how to safely manage your passwords when creating a new password.

AOL Mail

AT&T/Yahoo email – att.net, sbcglobal.net, prodigy.net, nvbell.net

Charter email

Gmail

Hotmail/Outlook.com

Yahoo Mail

If you access email on your smart phone, tablet or email program on your computer, don’t forget to update the password on those device(s) with the new password you created in the steps above.

 

Microsoft offers cheaper Office 365 subscription and free online version

Microsoft now offers a cheaper subscription option to their Office 365 suite. For $69 per year (or $6.99 per month), you can use the full suite of Microsoft Office products including Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook and others on 1 computer plus 1 tablet computing device. Their original subscription option which is still available allows the use of the full suite of Office products on 5 computers plus 5 tablets in a household for $99 per year (or $9.99 per month).

Office optionsLast month Microsoft released a version of Office designed for the iPad. Though the app is free to install, a Microsoft Office subscription is required in order to create or edit files. Oddly the initial release of the app doesn’t have the ability to print but Microsoft says that the feature will be coming in a future release of the app.

Besides a subscription to Office, Microsoft currently offers several versions of Office 2013 with a one-time purchase starting at $139 per computer. Alternatively you can access free simplified web page versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint and OneNote at Office Online. See Get started at Office.com

For more information on the subscription and one-time purchase options see Compare Microsoft Office versions.

Heartbleed flaw impacts half a million websites – change your passwords

The “Heartbleed bug” is a flaw in the OpenSSL encryption standard that is used by half a million websites which was uncovered on April 7. Most websites that require a password to access use OpenSSL encryption to “scramble” the data transferred between your computer and the website’s server. OpenSSL has since been patched and millions of websites – many that you likely use – are being updated and new encryption certificates and keys are being issued.Heartbleed

So what does this all mean for the average computer user? [Read more…]

How to tell what version of Windows is on your computer

It’s been widely publicized that Microsoft ended support for Windows XP in April 2014. Some people have been asking how to tell what version of Windows their computer has. One easy way to tell is to look at “Start” button which is usually located in the lower-left corner of the desktop screen.

[Read more…]