Computer Tip of the Day: Browse Safely

Browse Safely
Browse Safely

All of us at one point or another have used the internet for work, school, entertainment, etc. We spend countless hours browsing the news, shopping, watching videos, even ordering food all from our computers or smartphones.

In fact, in 2015, it was estimated that young ones between the ages of 16 and 24 spent more than 27 hours a week on the internet. But as activist Simon Wiesenthal once said, “The combination of hatred and technology is the greatest danger threatening mankind.” This is clearly seen in how technology and the internet are being used to hurt people. According to Cybint, there is a hacker attack every 39 seconds, affecting 1 in 3 Americans each year. With all this being said, it’s clear that precautions must be taken to browse safely and protect data.

Use Strong Passwords

Most, if not all websites today store personal information one way or another, and they keep track of this information using passwords created by the user.

When a hacker obtains a password used by a company or individual, they can use it to obtain data such as SSN’s, Card Information, Addresses, etc. When a hacker has the data available to them they can hurt the individual or company by using it for selfish gain. Here are a few tips for better password protection:

  • Between 8 – 12 Characters
  • Use Special Symbols (@, !, $, _)
  • Combine both letters and numbers
  • Use both uppercase and lowercase letters
  • Here’s an example (@P3t3rJ_1215)

Avoid Shady Emails

Especially for those in the workplace, email is used for many things such as communicating with clients or subscribing to a newsletter.

Due to its use, this is a common tool for hackers to corrupt your computer with malware or viruses via hyperlinks. They can even send false emails to obtain personal information from you and steal crucial data. Here are a few tips to open emails carefully:

  • Do not open emails from unknown sources
  • Avoid downloading attachments in emails
  • Do not give out your email to anyone, only trusted sources
  • Delete spam mail as quickly as possible

Ensure Data is Encrypted

Due to an increase in online forms and data sharing over the internet, attackers use un-encrypted sites to steal information such as passwords, usernames, card information, etc.

When visiting a site to fill out a form such as a bank website, for example, ensure that the website is HTTPS encrypted. An easy way to verify if a website is encrypted is to see if a padlock in the address bar is locked as seen here.

Use Antivirus Software

There are thousands of new malware and viruses being launched every day and it can be hard to keep track of how to protect yourself against such threats that can hurt your computer and yourself.

Thankfully, companies have devoted themselves to help protect you against the nastiest of attacks by offering software (both paid and free) to block those attacks. These companies use tools such as encryption and firewalls to protect your computer and your data. Here are a few trusted companies that offer Antivirus software:

While the internet can be a scary and dangerous place, you can protect yourself with the right tools and precautions to enjoy browsing to the fullest.

The above tips are just a few of the many things that can be done to browse safely, yet there are many more that can offer added protection. If you would like to know more about these tips and tricks for safe browsing, please contact us to learn more; we’d love to hear from you and help you browse safely!

Understanding Computer Operating Systems

Operating Systems
Operating Systems

What’s better? Is it Microsoft Windows, Apple Macintosh, Apple iOS, Android, Linux, or something else?  These are all examples of computer operating systems installed on common types of computer hardware such as desktoplaptoptablet, and smartphone computers. Other common questions that arise when deciding to acquire or purchase a computer include: Does the operating system installed significantly increase the cost of the computer? Can the operating system run the programs needed to carry out the desired type of work?

To answer the question of whether one operating system is better than another, one should first determine the specific work for which an operating system is needed. In short, “better” depends on the budget and general needs of the computer user.

Work as simple as typing documents, for example, could utilize any of the above-operating systems — in most cases, there is a monetary cost difference so let’s check into that. For those who are not familiar with how to install operating systems onto computers, they can be obtained with the operating systems preinstalled so that buyers don’t have to install them — generally, operating systems can be less expensive if purchased preinstalled on a new computer. Apple Macintosh computers are somewhat of another matter when it comes to a budget, however — Apple computers, implying the Macintosh operating system, can be cost-prohibitive, especially when a relatively simple type of work like document writing is the primary work that needs to be done.  

Instead of purchasing a new computer to obtain a newer operating system, an older computer can be upgraded with a free operating system such as a distribution of Linux — popular Linux distributions include UbuntuFedora, and Mint. These operating systems usually come with word processor software installed such as OpenOffice Writer and LibreOffice Writer so that documents can be typed — the software comes with a converter function to convert the documents into pdf format so that they can be read by most other types of computers without hassle. Linux distributions are becoming easier to use and some of them do not even require installation — they can simply be run off of a flash drive or DVD. 

If computer operating systems are in question, please contact us for assistance in determining what is most suitable.

Why Use Parental Controls?

Parental Controls
Parental Controls

Families with an in-house internet connection are inevitably going to have curious children who are dying to explore the internet. For those times when parents are not available to supervise or when parents need time away from their children, computer parental controls can help mitigate the lack of parental supervision. There is a wide array of dangers on the internet wherein even uneducated adults can become victims. This includes but not limited to inadvertently installing spyware onto a computer, divulging personal information that criminals can take advantage of in a variety of ways, and becoming the target of child-predators. Parental controls can take on many shapes, colors, and have a variety of features — the following parental control options and settings are just some available options and are available in most family-owned computers:

  • Website blocking
  • Content Blocking
  • Control Lists (allowing websites that may be used)
  • Blocking File Downloads

It all starts with setting up a separate user account for the child to be given internet restrictions. Once the new user account is set up using the computer administrator’suser account, the computer administrator can begin making the needed changes to the child’s new user account. There is no exact science as to how setting up parental controls on a computer can be done — most computers have built-in software to accomplish the task but third-party software can also be purchased to use instead of the built-in software. 

Website-blocking implies that explicitly marked websites cannot be accessed by the supervised child. Content-blocking allows for tighter and more detailed control of what the child can do. Control-lists are lists of websites that are marked as “safe” for the child’s viewing, or vice versa. Blocking files from downloading prevents the child from downloading files and/or limiting the types of files that may be downloaded.

Supervising and restricting what a child or minor is allowed to view and do on the internet can make the difference between a safe experience or becoming the victim of various types of internet crime. Please contact us for assistance in setting up parental controls.

Computer Tip of the Day: Passphrase Alternative to Passwords

Passphrase Alternative to Passwords

You hear it constantly. “Use strong passwords.” “Don’t reuse passwords.” “Don’t use common words, be sure to mix characters, etc.” To the average technology user, it’s more than enough to be so overwhelming that the rules can encourage bad security habits.

Traditional passwords, even strong ones, are easier to crack by way of brute force (computer-assisted repeat attempts to try different character combinations) than you might think. Combine this with the need for users to remember complex, unique passwords and often relying upon unsecure practices like writing account information down, and it’s no wonder so many accounts are compromised.

Enter the Passphrase

Rather than using gibberish or some arcane, and easily confused, character swapping setup, you can form a surprisingly secure and easily remembered passphrase by stringing together 3-4-word short sentences.

Example: Orange bananas are weird!

Think about how simple that phrase will be to remember. You can even have some fun with your passphrases, coming up with goofy and entertaining snippets that will give you a little chuckle every time you type them in.

By using spaces (Note: some services will not allow spaces in password fields) to separate the words, you create an incredibly resilient ‘password’ to secure your accounts. Some studies even suggest that it will take millennia (yes, millennia) for a brute force attack to eventually guess the passphrase and crack the account. Remember, a space is considered a special character. When you add in capitalization and normal sentence punctuation, plus passphrases that are 20+ characters long, you’ll meet the complexity requirements of most, if not all, services you need to create passwords for.

Lastly, many of your accounts will likely require you to change passwords every few months, at a minimum. Who hasn’t run into a situation where you struggle to come up with a new, unique password on the fly? Passphrases are easier by far to alter, substituting in new words, while not causing overt confusion when you next go to log in.

There are alternatives to creating passphrases to secure your accounts better than traditional passwords. Password managers come to mind. If you don’t trust, or understand, how to use a password manager, or just prefer the control that comes with making your own passwords, consider changing to the passphrase approach.

Contact us to discuss ways we can help you secure you, your business, and your family today.

Computer Tips of the Day: Obvious, But, Not So Obvious Computer Performance Upgrades

Not So Obvious Computer Upgrades
Not So Obvious Computer Upgrades

Time spent on the computer can either be agonizing or blissful. The performance of the computer is one of the main aspects to enjoying your time online. As computers have become more and more the norm in workspaces, school and everyday life, a computer that runs smoothly and quickly is essential. There are several options for optimizing computer performance, here are tips for some of the easiest ways to upgrade computer performance.

Upgrade RAM (Memory)

Many people mix-up a computer’s random-access memory – or ram – with the internal storage capacity. RAM governs the speed of opening applications from your computer’s hard-drive. To quote an article from Dell, “when you start a program, your processor gives a command to retrieve the program from the hard-drive.” Once your computer has done this, the computer needs a sort of “workspace to manipulate” what you wanted to access so you can use it. If you are experiencing slower than normal load times for applications, and even boot times for your operating system, increasing your RAM could help.

Upgrading to a Solid-State Drive (SSD)

If you have upgraded your RAM and are still experiencing subpar levels of performance, it might be time to get replace that old mechanical hard-drive with a shiny new solid-state drive. Solid-State Drives (SSD’s) are increasingly becoming the norm in computers. Mechanical Hard-Drives vaguely resemble record players. A square, with a spinning disk on the inside, with a kind of needle over it. The speed of the spinning disk basically determines how fast or slow the read/write speeds of the drive will be. Over time, as the disk becomes more and more cluttered with data, files become written “across multiple sections” as a Digitaltrends article states. The term for this process is called “fragmenting” and, as the name would suggest, leads to longer read times as files become spread out over multiple sections. Solid-State Drives negate this by having no mechanical parts for reading and writing. Data is stored in cells and is accessed instantaneously, providing incredibly fast read/write speeds. Solid-State Drives will more than double your computer’s performance, and as stated before they are increasingly becoming the norm, making them more affordable to the masses and businesses.

Upgrading Network Speeds

As a previous blog on AE Technology Group pointed out, switching from wireless internet to wired can vastly improve internet loading speeds. However, doing this is not always feasible as your modem and router may be too far away. An easier way, but costly, way to improve WiFi speeds is to buy a WiFi network extender. These can range anywhere from thirty dollars to over one-hundred. If you are in a room far away from your modem and router however, they are easily worth the price. Setup is usually simple and straightforward, with the only complicated part being the right spot to place the extender. I have personal experience with WiFi extenders, and can vouch for their ease of setup and usefulness.

To see more tips for optimizing your computer’s performance, contact us here.