Category Archives: Tips

Protect your Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping with a quick PC tune-up

Before embarking on online shopping trips, it’s worth the few minutes required to make sure your computer does not enable the theft of your identity.

Tens of thousands will have their identities stolen in the next few weeks, because malware was able to help steal valuable information from you such as credit card numbers, online userids and passwords. A few minutes work will go a long way towards preventing this.

That, or you can do nothing, and potentially have to take days off of work to cancel credit cards, write letters, get credit monitoring, and get back to where you are right now with perhaps forty hours’ work.

It’s up to you.

Ready?

1. On your PC, connect to http://update.microsoft.com/ .  Go through the steps required to check that all necessary security patches are installed.

Note: If you are able to connect to Internet sites but are unable to successfully install updates at update.microsoft.com, your PC may already be compromised. If so, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to rid your computer of malware. Delays may be very costly in the long run.

2. To eliminate the need to periodically visit update.microsoft.com, confirm that Automatic Updates are properly set. Use one of the following links for detailed instructions (all are Microsoft articles that open in a new window):

Windows XP | Windows Vista | Windows 7 | Windows 8 (automatic updates are turned on by default)

Note: If you are unable to successfully turn on Automatic Updates, your PC may already be compromised. If so, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to rid your computer of malware. Delays may be very costly in the long run.

3. Ensure that your PC has working anti-virus software. If you know how to find it, make sure that it has downloaded updates in the last few days. Try doing an update now – your anti-virus software should be able to successfully connect and check for new updates. If your Internet connection is working but your anti-virus software is unable to check for updates, it is likely that your PC is already compromised.

Note: if any of the following conditions are true, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to make sure your computer is protected from malware.

a. You cannot find your anti-virus program

b. Your anti-virus program cannot successfully check for updates

c. Your anti-virus program does not seem to be working properly

Several free anti-virus programs are worthy of consideration: AVGAvastZone Alarm Free Antivirus + FirewallPanda Cloud Anti-VirusI cannot stress enough the need for every PC user to have a healthy, working, properly configured anti-virus program on their computer at all times.

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How to make 2013 your breakout year

SEATTLE. January 1, 2013, 12:01am

A person or organization has a breakout year when their skills and accomplishments help them ascend to a higher level of responsibility, visibility, and achievement. Often, someone has a breakout year when they are involved in situations where they excel and produce great results that are widely recognized. Often that leads to those persons or teams being rewarded with even greater responsibility, and more opportunity for achievement and greatness.

We can’t all be a Chris Christie, Andrew McCutchen, or Dan Straily, but we can excel and advance nonetheless. We can “bloom where we’re planted” and improve our lot and that of others.

Set Your Sights High

It is often said that high achievers get that way by setting big goals. Do not be afraid to set a “big hairy audacious” goal for yourself, and then do what you can to achieve it.

Don’t Be Discouraged by Failure

The world’s great achievers (including Edison, Tesla, Curie, and Churchill) did not become famous overnight, nor were they born with superhuman qualities. Instead, they had only fierce determination and a drive to keep trying despite repeated failures and setbacks. Every time they met failure, they got up, dusted themselves off, and set their eyes back on their goals and tried again.

Remember that every great achiever failed numerous times before they succeeded. Learn from your setbacks and try again!

Adopt a Servant’s Attitude

Ronald Reagan once said, “There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” So many people are distracted by posturing, politicking, and looking good – that’s all energy they could be putting into their effort instead. An individual or a team that is focused on meeting goals instead of looking good is far more likely to accomplish what it has set out to do.

I invite you to adopt a new ethic in your work. Rather than dedicate yourself to service to yourself, make it your life’s purpose to serve others. You’ll be surprised at the results, and the rewards you will receive by putting others first.

Adversity May Be Your Path

A breakout year may not mean fame, glory, and riches. Instead, you may find yourself going through difficulties that may be causing you to ask, “Why me?” However, this may be the path that takes you to your own breakout year.

Years ago, I faced adversity in my personal life that shook me to the core. Those who know me understand when I call that time my “dark year(s).” But it was in the face of that adversity that my circumstances changed in miraculous ways, leading to a breakout year in both my personal and professional life. In many ways I’ve been riding the crest of that wave from then until now.

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

I know plenty of people who are obsessed with what they are doing every minute of the day, and how they appear to others. To that I would say, “relax!” Allow yourself to make mistakes, and even take a moment (perhaps later on) to laugh a little bit at the memory of some of your blunders.

Your most powerful response to everything that your career and your life has to offer you is your response to those things that happen to you, for better or worse. Keep your chin up and remember that you will be here another day – a day of potential triumph.

* * *

Make this your breakout year. After all, you deserve it – you really do.  This will be my breakout year, and there’s plenty enough for the both of us.

New Year’s Resolutions: safer Internet usage

Celebration of the New Year is a time of looking back at the closing year and looking forward to the new year. This is often a time when we set new personal goals for improving our lives in meaningful ways.

Given how much we all use personal computing (you do if you are reading this), all of us can stand to make one or more improvements in our computing hygiene, making us safer and better off.

This article contains categories of ideas that you can choose from. Read through these and decide which of them will be best for you to adopt as a resolution.

Home computing

  • Back up your data, so that you can recover it in case of theft, disaster, or other loss.
  • Keep your anti-virus working and healthy.
  • Configure your computer to automatically download and install security patches.
  • Use an online virus scanner to scan your computer, in case your install anti-virus misses one.
  • Use different user accounts for each family / household member.
  • Use OpenDNS to help prevent visiting phishing sites.
  • Use OpenDNS to restrict the types of sites that can be visited from your home (or office) network.
  • Tune up your home firewall (which may be in your DSL router or cable modem).
  • Use different passwords for each online site you log in to; use a password vault to remember your passwords.

Safe smartphone usage

  • Choose a good unlock password for your smart phone. If you insist on using numeric only, use 8 or more digits.
  • Set your smartphone auto-lock to 15 minutes or less.
  • Keep track of where your smartphone is at all times.
  • Install a “find my smartphone” app to discover its location if lost or stolen.
  • Do not save any passwords on your smartphone.
  • Limit your access to sensitive / valuable information (e.g. online banking) from your smartphone, especially if it is Android.

Protecting your identity

  • Keep your anti-virus working and healthy.
  • Check your credit report at least once per year (or, more ideally, every four months by checking your credit report for a different bureau each time).
  • Be conscious of where and how you provide personal information (name, address, date of birth, etc.) to online sites.
  • Resist the urge to click on links or documents in suspicious looking e-mail messages. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is a scam.
  • Carefully review all financial statements from banks and credit cards. Consider closing some accounts if you have too many.
  • Get a home safe or use a bank safe deposit box to store valuables such as passports, birth certificates, seldom-used credit cards, and other valuables.
  • Use a home shredder to shred documents containing sensitive or personal information.

If you feel you need to starting doing all of the above, I suggest you choose the few that are most important and establish them as good habits. Then, return to this list and choose a few more to implement. If you attempt to make too many changes at once, you might become frustrated by all of the changes and revert back to your old ways.

New Christmas computer, part 3: data backup

You’re a few days into your new computer and you are getting used to how it works. Probably you’ve figured out where all of the controls are located in terms of look-and-feel, so by now you’ve been able to personalize it (wallpaper, colors, mouse/touchpad behavior, and so on) and make it “yours.”

If you save data locally in your computer, whether it’s photos, documents, or data related to a local application, the longer you keep your data just on your computer, the more at risk you are of losing your data should something go wrong.

There are a lot of ways to lose your data, and if your data is at all important to you, then you should sit up and pay attention. Sooner or later, you’ll find some or all of your data has gone missing. A few of the ways this can happen are:

  • Stolen computer
  • Hard drive failure (this can happen to SSD’s too – you’re not immune)
  • Operating system  or application malfunction
  • User error

Rather than describe specific tools or services, instead I’ll describe the general methods that can be used to back up your data, as well as some principles that will help you make good decisions about how to back up your data.

Backing up your data means simply this: making a copy of it, from time to time, for safe keeping, in case something goes wrong.

Methods

Available methods for backing up your data include:

  • Copying to a thumb drive, external hard drive, or a CD or DVD
  • Copying over your network to another home (or office) computer
  • Time Machine, if you use a Mac
  • Copying to a cloud-based storage provider such as Mozy, Box.net, Dropbox, or iBackup.
  • Copying to backup media such as magnetic tape

Location

Let’s talk about the location of your backup data. This matters a lot, and you have some choices to make here. The two main choices for location are:

  • Near you and your computer. When you keep your backup data close by, you will be able to conveniently recover any data that you might lose for most any reason: accidental deletion, updates you wish you didn’t make, hardware failures in your computer, or software bugs that helped to corrupt your files. Do be aware, though, that if you only keep your backup data near your computer, then certain events such as fires, floods, or theft may result in your computer and your backup data being lost. For this reason you will want to consider keeping your backup data away from you and your computer.
  • Far away from you and your computer. When you keep your backup data far away from you, it may be slightly less convenient to recover data, but the main advantage is that most types of disasters that may happen to you (fire, flood, theft) is not likely to affect both your original data and your backup data.

One thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have to make an OR-type decision about where to keep your backup data. There is no reason why you cannot do both: keep backup data nearby, and keep backup data far away. This will help to protect you from events like accidental erasure as well as disasters like fires or floods.

Out of your control

One important matter to keep in mind is this: if you are considering use of any of those cloud-based data storage services, then you have to understand the risk of another type of data loss: a compromise of the security used by the data storage service, which could lead to your data being exposed to others. Many cloud based data storage services describe mechanisms such as encryption that they use to protect customer data. But what may seem like solid protection may instead only be window dressing. Depending on the sensitivity of the data you are considering keeping with a cloud-based storage service, you might consider encrypting it yourself before copying it to the storage provider, or you might consider using a different storage provider. Unless you are an expert in data security, you may need to consult with a security expert who may be able to better understand the effectiveness of a storage provider’s claims of safety and security.

My own methods

Being Mac users, we use Time Machine for automatic incremental backups that occur on an hourly, daily, and weekly basis. I rotate two different external hard drives for my Time Machine backups, and usually keep the other hard drive in a safe or take it to work. I also use an Internet based data backup service and regularly back up my most important current information to the service (such as book manuscripts I am currently working on).

Part 2: anti-virus

New Christmas computer, part 2: anti-virus

You are savoring your new PC and visiting your usual haunts: Facebook, Netflix, Hulu, and more.

But if this new PC does not have anti-virus, a firewall, and other precautions, the glitter will soon be gone, and you’ll soon wonder why the problems you’re having in 2013 are related to that new PC.

New machines are a good time to develop new habits. Sure, there’s a little trouble now, but you’ll save hours of grief later.  Think of this as the moments required to fasten the seat belt in your car and perhaps a bit of discomfort – but compare that to the pain and expense of injuries incurred in even a minor crash if you weren’t wearing it. Minor decisions now can have major consequences later.

Habit #2: Install and configure anti-virus

While many new computers come with anti-virus software, often it’s a limited “trial” version from one of the popular brands such as Symantec, McAfee, or Trend Micro. If you don’t mind shelling out $40 or more for a year (or more) of anti-virus protection, go ahead and do so now before you forget. Granted, most of these trial versions are aggressively “in your face” about converting your trial version into a full purchased version.  Caution: if you get into the habit of dismissing the “your trial version is about to run out!” messages, you run the risk of turning a blind eye when your trial anti-virus is no longer protecting you.  Better do it now!

If your computer did not come with anti-virus software, I suggest you make that the first order of business. There are many reputable brands of anti-virus available today, available online or from computer and electronics stores. For basic virus (and Trojan, worms, key loggers, etc.), all of the main brands of anti-virus are very similar.

My personal preference for anti-virus programs (in order) are:

  1. Kaspersky
  2. Sophos
  3. AVG
  4. Norton
  5. McAfee
  6. Panda
  7. Trend Micro

Note: if selecting, installing, and configuring anti-virus seems to be beyond your ability, consult with the store where you purchased your computer, or contact a trusted advisor who is knowledgable on the topic.

Key configuration points when using anti-virus:

  • “Real time” scanning – the anti-virus program examines activity on your computer continuously and blocks any malware that attempts to install itself.
  • Signature updates – the anti-virus program should check at least once each day for new updates, to block the latest viruses from infecting your computer.
  • Periodic whole disk scans – it is a good idea to scan your hard drive at least once a week. If you keep your computer on all the time, schedule the scan to take place when you are not using the computer, as a scan can slow down your computer.
  • Safe Internet usage – many anti-virus programs contain a feature that will try to warn you or steer you away from sites that are known to be harmful.

Many anti-virus programs also come with a firewall and other tools. Some of these may be useful as well – consult your computer retailer or a trusted advisor to see what’s right for you.

Part 1: password security

Part 3: data backup

New Christmas computer, part 1: password security

There it is – a shiny new laptop, desktop, or tablet running Windows. You can’t wait to go to your favorite sites: Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Flickr, Pinterest, Facebook, and see how fast things download, how crisp and bright the new screen, how precise the touchpad and keys.

But if this new PC does not have anti-virus, a firewall, and other precautions, the glitter will soon be gone, and you’ll soon wonder why the problems you’re having in 2013 are related to that new PC.

New machines are a good time to develop new habits. Sure, there’s a little trouble now, but you’ll save hours of grief later.  Think of this as the moments required to fasten the seat belt in your car and perhaps a bit of discomfort – but compare that to the pain and expense of injuries incurred in even a minor crash if you weren’t wearing it. Minor decisions now can have major consequences later.

Habit #1: Use unique passwords on every site

Many people pick what they feel is a “good” password (long and complex, not easily guessed), but they use that password on many or all of their favorite Internet sites. There is a serious problem with this: if any of those Internet sites suffers the type of security breach like we saw many times in 2012, your password may become known to an adversary. Since most peoples’ userids are their email addresses, and because many people use the same password everywhere, an adversary who has discovered your password on one site will try your email address and password on all popular Internet sites and see which of those sites they can also log in to.

How to use unique passwords

It can be difficult remembering a lot of different passwords, especially good passwords. I strongly suggest you begin using a password vault. The best ones are Password Safe and KeePass, both of which run on Windows and Mac. The password generator feature creates strong, random passwords. The best feature of these password vaults is that they make it easier to use passwords: select the site you wish to log in to, push a button to copy your password, and paste the password into the password field.

The reason that unique passwords are powerful is this: if one site’s password database is compromised, none of the other sites you log in to are at risk, since the one site’s password is not used for any other site you use.

Let’s consider an example: you use Facebook, e-mail, and on your online banking site. Your Facebook password is compromised – the attacker uses your e-mail address (in your Facebook profile) and your password, and tries to log in to your e-mail. Since your passwords were the same, your e-mail account is now compromised. Next, the attacker tries to log in to several online banking sites, and finds yours – again, because you used the same password.

E-Mail Password Importance

The password to your e-mail account is especially important, because your e-mail is the key to establishing / recovering the ability to log in to many of your other sites. When you click “forgot password” or “forgot userid” on many sites, getting into those sites is often as easy as clicking Forgot Password or Forgot Userid, and then reading your e-mail to get your password or a link to reset it. An attacker who controls your e-mail controls nearly everything.

If you are not sure how to use Password Safe or KeePass, the sites (links above) have installation and user instructions. If you are still not sure how to proceed, write down good, unique passwords on paper and find a computer expert friend who can help you install Password Safe or KeePass, after which you can transfer your passwords into those programs.

Part 2: anti-virus

Protect your Black Monday shopping with a quick tune-up

I cannot stress enough the need for every PC user to have a healthy, working, properly configured anti-virus program running on their computer at all times.

[updated December 1, 2012]
Before embarking on online shopping trips, it’s worth the few minutes required to make sure your computer does not enable the theft of your identity.

Tens of thousands will have their identities stolen in the next few weeks, because malware was able to help steal valuable information from you such as credit card numbers, online userids and passwords. A few minutes work will go a long way towards preventing this.

That, or you can do nothing, and potentially have to take days off of work to cancel credit cards, write letters, get credit monitoring, and get back to where you are right now with perhaps forty hours’ work.

It’s up to you.

Ready?

1. On your PC, connect to http://update.microsoft.com/ .  Go through the steps required to check that all necessary security patches are installed.

Note: If you are able to connect to Internet sites but are unable to successfully install updates at update.microsoft.com, your PC may already be compromised. If so, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to rid your computer of malware. Delays may be very costly in the long run.

2. To eliminate the need to periodically visit update.microsoft.com, confirm that Automatic Updates are properly set. Use one of the following links for detailed instructions (all are Microsoft articles that open in a new window):

Windows XP | Windows Vista | Windows 7 | Windows 8 (automatic updates are turned on by default)

If you are unable to successfully turn on Automatic Updates, your PC may already be compromised. If so, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to rid your computer of malware. Delays may be very costly in the long run.

3. Ensure that your PC has working anti-virus software. If you know how to find it, make sure that it has downloaded updates in the last few days. Try doing an update now – your anti-virus software should be able to successfully connect and check for new updates. If your Internet connection is working but your anti-virus software is unable to check for updates, it is likely that your PC is already compromised.

Note: if any of the following conditions are true, it is important that you seek professional help immediately to make sure your computer is protected from malware.

a. You cannot find your anti-virus program

b. Your anti-virus program cannot successfully check for updates

c. Your anti-virus program does not seem to be working properly

If you are not sure whether your anti-virus software is working (or if you computer even has anti-virus software), you may wish to download and run Microsoft Security Essentials. This is a free anti-virus program from Microsoft. While some professionals may argue that this is not as effective as any of the commercial brands of anti-virus software (Sophos, Symantec, McAfeeTrend Micro, Panda, etc), it’s better than having nothing at all.

December 1, 2012 Update: Microsoft Security Essentials has lost its certification as being an effective anti-virus program. Full test results available here in an easy to read chart. Note the absence of the “AVTest Certified” logo next to Microsoft Security Essentials.

Several free anti-virus programs are worthy of consideration: AVG, Avast, Zone Alarm Free Antivirus + Firewall, Panda Cloud Anti-Virus. I cannot stress enough the need for every PC user to have a healthy, working, properly configured anti-virus program on their computer at all times.