Simple Security Stuff–February 2019

I realize that the last two weeks of update were truly “honors class” material.   The take home points are — 1) I always install ad blockers for my clients.  2) You should have a second (or 3rd) browser installed should there be issues with your primary browser.  3) The ability to use my preferred ad blocker in Google Chrome may change by the end of the year.  4) I can help you with this issue should the time come.

Let’s go remedial this week.


Simple Security Stuff – February 2019

When sending out group e-mails:  put yourself in the To field, put everyone else in the Bcc field.

-Never make your password out of revealing or obvious information (Birth date, maiden name, password123, etc.).

-One trend in password creation that I like is to create a sentence (ex.  ILiketheYankeesin19).

-You need to be using a separate password for each website.  You can start with the same base and add a unique suffix for each particular website.

-Ideally, you should use a software password manager.  I set up either Last Pass or 1Password for my clients.  They are secure and they work.

-If you are not ready to use a password manager: Never ever ever store your passwords in a Word document on the computer.  If you are going to store them this way, we need to put them on a flash drive that you can plug into your computer when you need to look at them.  (Please contact me if you are in this situation).

-If you still aren’t ready to use a password manager (hint), I don’t mind you using a paper based “notebook”.  

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Browsers and Ad Blockers 2019–Part 2

PSA:   All of you with a Google account have probably gotten an e-mail from Google recently about the closing of some of their services.   I have already advised a couple of clients in a panic over this issue.   Please go back and read the e-mail carefully.  Your Google account is NOT closing.  Your Google + account is closing (Google Plus).    Google what? Yeah, most of you probably never knew that Google launched a half baked social network several years back in an attempt to take on Facebook.  By default, you also had a Google + account.   I thought it was good for sharing photos and longer text posts than were typically the norm on Facebook.  It seemed like a great tool for groups.  Unfortunately, it never caught fire.  Google + is shutting down on April 2nd.  Your Google account and Gmail functionality will be just fine.

Browsers and Ad Blockers – Part 2


Taking all Mac and Windows computers into consideration, the Google Chrome browser is by far the most used in the world.  Among my Mac using clients, I would say that 50 to 60% of them use Safari as their primary browser.  However, even with them, Chrome is still popular.   No matter what your browser of choice is, remember that its critical to have a second browser installed on your computer.   Your regular browser may become corrupted, infected, or just not work well on certain sites.  That second (or even third) browser can be a lifeline. 

On your Safari browser, I had no choice but to install the Ad Block Plus ad blocker.  On your Firefox or Chrome browsers, I have installed either Ad Block Plus or uBlock Origin.  In recent years I have favored uBlock Origin.  It was developed by a Canadian programmer named Raymond Hill.  It is open source, provided free of charge, with no donations sought.  Unfortunately, in recent years, Ad Block Plus has gone on the take — accepting revenue by allowing “acceptable ads”.   This option can be turned off, but it left a lot of users with a bad taste in their mouths. 

As with the other major browsers, Google Chrome puts out several updates a year which are delivered to you automatically.   You have to remember that Google’s primary business is advertising.  Frankly, I am surprised that they did not block the ability to limit ads in Chrome a long time ago.  That could be changing.   In a new version of Chrome, coming out later this year, changes will be made “under the hood” that render uBlock Origin useless.   You will either have to stick with the ads or switch to using Ad Block Plus, which may also be rendered less functional but still operational.

These changes to Google Chrome are proposed at this time and not set in stone.  Should they become reality, the Firefox browser will remain unaffected in terms of uBlock Origin.    It wouldn’t hurt to make sure that you have a browser other than Chrome installed on your computer.  After all, having alternate browsers is about more than just one issue.  Having options gives you independence and computing stability.   Here are links to options beyond Chrome:

Firefox — Firefox.com

Brave (started by former Firefox CEO) —  https://brave.com/

Vivaldi (started by the founders of Opera) —  https://vivaldi.com/

Find the browser that fits you.

Browsers and Ad Blockers 2019–Part 1

Face Time

Apple really messed this one up.  I know you iPhone, iPad and Mac users out there really like Facetime.  It means a lot in your business and family communications.  It’s built into all of those 3 devices I just mentioned.  You don’t need a separate Skype account for it to work.  Apple got this one right.  However, there is a hiccup.  A Facetime flaw was found in group Facetime calls that allowed you to be secretly recorded even if you don’t answer the call.  Cupertino — we have a problem!!   Apple is taking this so seriously that they have disabled the group Facetime feature until they can roll out a fix later this week.   Please be checking your iPhone once a day over the next week. I am expecting an update by the end of the week.   If you really want to be safe, you could turn off Facetime entirely as a short term precaution.    Settings >> Facetime >>  Flip the switch.  I won’t be doing that, but I don’t blame you if you want to.  Just be sure to turn it on the next time you want to do a Facetime chat with your brother in St. Louis. 

Browsers and Ad Blockers – Part 1

I wrote several Updates on ad blockers back in 2015 and 2016.  Those posts can be found on my blog theacronym.com by searching for the term “ad blocker”.   I have used an ad blocker in my browsers for at least 10 years.  I have used an ad blocker on my iPhone since they were allowed back in 2015.  I install ad blockers on nearly every single client computer I work on.  I think I have only been told one time to remove the ad blocker entirely.  (Hint: it may end up being a mistake.)  Of course, I show my clients how to turn off the ad blocker for a particular website should it be requested.   I described the notion of ad blocking as a dilemma we face as Internet users.  Much of the web that we use is free.  Those websites pay their bills with ads.  If everyone blocks ads, these sites can’t pay their bills.  They will either need to come up with new revenue models or cease to exist.  The vast majority of Internet users are not blocking ads, so you are in a rare group. 

I don’t feel bad about blocking ads.  Why?  Many of my clients computers have been infected with annoying adware and malware due to bad ads.  Why are there bad ads?  Most website do not manage their ads.  They turn them over to a 3rd party service.  Every so often those ad networks do not properly screen the code behind particular ads or the websites they link to.  Your computer is adversely affected, likely resulting in an expensive service call to someone like me.   Either because I have to (ie. to watch a TV show on a network’s website) or because I want to support a particular site, I do unblock ads on a case by case basis.  I am less offended by websites that serve up their own ads and don’t rely on an outside company.  These sites are few and far between, unfortunately.  I am very willing to unblock these “1st party” ads. 

My go to ad blockers on the computer are Ad Block Plus or uBlock Origin, and I tend to favor the second one.  You likely have one of the 2 installed by me.  On iOS devices I like Ad Guard, though there are other choices.  For some clients, I have taken the notion of blocking one step further and gone with a “sledgehammer approach” blocking all advertising servers at the network level of the computer before they even get the the browser.   This may be the right call if you have had serious security problems due to ads in the past or are very averse to ads.  

Coming next week — Part 2  — How the most popular browser may try to limit your ability to block ads later this year.  Stay tuned. 

The Ethics of Cell Phone Buying

New Year – New You

What would you like to improve in your technology picture this year?  How can I help you get more out of your devices and services?  What would you like to learn? Some areas that clients have mentioned to me already include:

-Using a password manager (finally)

-Breaking free of cable TV

-Learning how to use streaming video services (ie. Netflix + Amazon Prime)

-Upgrading the 4 or 5 year old iPhone / iPad to a newer model

-Upgrading to a new Mac now that Apple has released new consumer level models for the first time in years

Please let me know how I can partner with you on this journey.  I am ready and willing to be deployed. 

Cord Cutting Intro – Wrap Up

We had some substantial discussions about cord cutting over the past two weeks as a result of my Parts 1 and 2 e-mails on this topic.  Don’t hesitate to ask me about your situation.  I think the cord cutting movement will experience major growth in 2019.  One of our local talk radio shows, which usually has a political focus, devoted 3 hours to the idea of breaking free from these $200+ bills last week.   The bottom line is, I think it is possible to get down to an Internet + cord cutting TV service combination for about $110 a month (approx $70 + $40).  As for home phone — you may choose to go without, you can move it to a service like Magic Jack (as I have done $40 / year), or even move that number to the phone company.   And just remember, if you are not ready to be a cord cutter yet — you can always be a streamer.  Trying to drive a hard bargain and cutting features to save money on your existing cable package is another option.  Contact me for a cord cutting assessment. 

And on to this week’s feature —

The Ethics of Cell Phone Buying

You can buy your new smart phone from the Apple Store.  You could go direct through Android device manufacturers like One Plus, Google, or Motorola.  Buying an unlocked phone on Amazon may be an option too.  Best Buy sells a handful of unlocked phones and also ones connected with carriers like Verizon and ATT.  However, a significant percentage of customers (my clients included) go to one of their carrier’s stores.  If you might want to change your plan or take advantage of carrier specific promotions, shopping at an ATT Store, Verizon store, or T Mobile store may be the way to go.  I’m not telling you that you should or shouldn’t.  One thing I can say in their favor is that the salesperson jobs there are career positions.  These are not traditional retail (ie. Apple) or big box store jobs that pay at a level where the worker needs to work 2 or 3 jobs to possibly survive in the community where the store is located.  The sales professionals in carrier stores are commissioned.   You may have never known this, but if you purchase your phone there the salesperson will not make much of a commission unless you buy a few accessories with your phone.  It seems weird to me, because the acquisition of a customer who will pay bills month after month has to have value to the company.  However, this is the way compensation works.  Very often, we do purchase accessories with our new phones.   A case, car charger, and screen protector can be very helpful add-ons.    On the other hand, you may be like me.   You might be the type to buy your phone accessories from Amazon that they don’t have in carrier stores.  That’s ok too.  All I am saying is that this is food for thought.  If you shop for phones in your carrier’s store, it is a good idea to consider buying your accessories there.  You won’t have to wait for them either. 

Cord Cutting Part 2

Cord Cutting Part 2:  How Much Speed Do You Need?


Last week I covered what cord cutting was, some of the main providers (Hulu TV, You Tube TV, Sony Play Station VUE), and what you should expect to pay (around $40 per month for Hulu and You Tube).

Equipment Required

You will need streaming video box to play your live TV replacement service.   Costs range from the $40’s (Amazon Fire Stick + Roku player) to $200 (Apple TV box).   Unless you have a compelling reason to go with the Apple TV, I think the Amazon Fire Stick or Roku would work out just fine for most of my clients.   Keep in mind that Amazon and You Tube still are not getting along right now, so if you want to subscribe to You Tube TV, I would go with a Roku.   With any of these services, you can watch live TV at any time on your computer, smartphone or iPad (I’m not going to say “tablet” because with the standard iPad being $329, its unwise to look elsewhere). 

How Much Speed Do You Need?

If you are on a DSL internet package from 2003, that won’t work.  However, most of you are likely capable of streaming HD video.  With multiple concurrent internet users in my home at any one time, I would probably feel comfortable with of an internet speed of 40 mbps or more (which means 40 megabits per second in the download direction).  I see cable internet speeds frequently advertised for 150 or 250 mbps, but if there are just two people at home, you really don’t need to pay for that much speed.  You certainly can if you like.  I have some cord cutting customers getting by on 22 mpbs from the phone company.  It works!   Cutting down to Internet only (or internet plus phone) should cost you about $45 to $60 with the phone company and $70 with the cable company for a serviceable option — for the Internet portion of the bill. (Extra savings:  if you only get Internet from the cable company, you can save a ton by owning your own cable modem.)   The streamers I am helping don’t have much concern about a home phone, but you can still have one as a cord cutter. 

Packages

It is true that with the cable company or the phone company, the sun sets on some packages offered.  I had a client tell me recently that she was told by her cable company that she could never get her package back if she changed.  Another client, who is not a candidate for streaming, recently changed her package to get the Home and Garden channel.  She was upset when she lost one of her favorite channels.  In a subsequent conversation with Comcast she was told that there was no option of reverting.  While they may be full of bloated bills and price gimmicks, the cable companies (like Verizon, for example) are not so evil that they proactively cancel customers on “grandfathered packages.”   If you are in a contract, you may be getting a 12 month or 24 month discount for being on a given package.  That discount expires, but there is a good chance you can keep your package, even if it is no longer offered to new sign ups.    Keep in mind, your provider may make it difficult for you to stay on that package.  The price could be jacked up or features could be removed, seemingly on a monthly basis.  On the other hand, you may be able to ride along the easy road with it forever.

Truth be told, when you decide to be a cord cutter, multi-service packages from one provider don’t matter much.  Internet is the only thing that matters.  You will be getting your TV elsewhere.

Conclusion

Maybe you just want to try Amazon Prime Video (since you are paying for it already).   Maybe Netflix is super appealing to you.  You may just want to rent some movies from time to time.   Be a streamer!    Or you may be sick of the $200+ bills and want to take 100% control of your live channel subscription experience.   A “free TV” antenna may be good enough if you don’t care about anything more than local channels.   With a Roku box (and the like) you can get a really good traditional pay TV replacement service for about $40 a month.   If you don’t like the menus and setup on Hulu Live TV, you can go to YouTube TV the next month, and so on.   You are not locked down.  You have choices.   Welcome to 2019!

Snip, snip.

ATT E-Mail Account Support Scam

I’ve dealt with this a couple of times now so I wanted to bring it to your attention again. 

The AT&T support “scam” is not new to me. I am going to use quotation marks around that word because I can’t say whether it was true fraud or just deceptive business practices. The story goes something like this. A local internet customer (either with Frontier or now the cable company) has an old @att.net, @sbcglobal.net, or @snet.net e-mail address. They have problems with the account. These e-mails were provided through a partnership of ATT and Yahoo in the past. Frontier did not take over the e-mail accounts and legitimately, they are not servicing them. So, the customer such as calls ATT for support after searching for the phone number on the internet.  I have to stop right there and say that they may not have truly reached ATT.  Therefore, “ATT” doesn’t really want to deal with it so they recommend an outside firm that charges anywhere from $200 to $800 for support with the ATT e-mail account and perhaps other computer issues. In my opinion, the ATT employee that made this referral may have been doing this unofficially, without the blessing of ATT. Either way, it is shady to me. The calls may be routed to India. The customer gives them access to their computer.

If it were me, I would want a professional to examine my computer to see if there were any traces of access that “ATT” or the other firm still had to my computer. I would back up my data and then I would do a “clean install” of Windows or mac OS for security purposes to truly eliminate all threats. This procedure takes 1.5 to 2.5 hours.

Cord Cutting Part 1: Introduction

I deal with a very diverse buffet of client issues over the course of a month:  residential consumer concerns, small business, non-profit, Mac, Windows, iPhone, (some) Android, buying and setting up new equipment, overhauling old computers (software + hardware), teaching clients new skills, helping organize  one’s digital life, and so on.  One topic of great client interest lately has been CORD CUTTING.   When appropriate, I have become a big proponent of it.  In a brief session, 1 to 2 hours usually, I can help WILLING  clients (usually they approach me) gain a lot of peace of mind and major savings by cutting out traditional pay TV and moving to a streaming or free (yes free) strategy. 

Over this week and next, I am going to share with you about cord cutting.  Even if you think you would never cut back on your cable / satellite pay TV services, I think you will learn something over these next 2 updates.  You may develop an interest in trying streaming video because you are probably an Amazon Prime member. Your eyes may be opened to the power of the internet connection.  Finally, you may find these e-mails valuable for a friend or family member.

Cord Cutting

There may be some different definitions of this concept out there, but for me it boils down to 3 possibilities.

A.  Cutting traditional pay TV services entirely and switching to a streaming,  channel based live-TV replacement

B.  Cutting back on traditional pay TV services and augmenting with a streaming video service like Amazon Prime or Netflix

C. Cutting traditional pay TV services and relying on free over the air TV for local networks (and possibly adding Prime or Netflix too)

*Let me just stop right there and say, if all you care about is local channels like ABC, CBS, local FOX, PBS, etc — there is a good chance you can pick up 10-15 free channels in the Hartford area with a simple indoor antenna.  To boot, as long as you get a good signal, the picture will be BETTER than you would get from cable for those local channels.  


Channel Based Live TV Streaming Services

There are about services that come to mind:  Hulu TV, You Tube TV (a real TV service, not the same as regular You Tube videos), Sling TV, Sony VUE, and Direct TV now.  The cost is about $40 a month.  Dozens of channels are included, even locals, and sports.   Premium channels like HBO and Showtime can be added for an extra charge.

Real Life Examples

The clients I have worked with have all canceled their cable  / satellite TV service. A good internet package was maintained (either with the phone or cable company). They may or may not have kept home phone service.  While sort of a separate topic, if home phone is of little importance to you but you want to keep the number, I can get you on a $40 a year (not month, year) plan.   All clients are over 70 and in some cases over 80 years old.  They chose Hulu TV (but you should choose You Tube TV if you want the Red Sox channel).  They get their local stations included for $40 a month. 

Become A Streamer

After getting this intro, you may be in this camp:  I don’t want to change my TV package but I want to watch Amazon Prime Video and or Netflix on the TV.  Great I can help with that too. 

Next Week:  Cord Cutting Part 2

I will incorporate topics such as  — How Much Speed Do You Need?, equipment required, and your questions.   Please ask so that I can make this as complete as possible.

If you are ready, my “scissors” are ready.  Let’s cut.