Massive viruses still take over entire computers or networks in the world of computing at large, but most of the “infections” I deal with in terms of my clients are confined to the browser. That’s a good thing actually. It means that the problem is limited in scope. A browser redirect / hijack is as clear as day to me. You need to know how to spot it as well. When you search in the search box / address bar at the top of your browser (be it Chrome, Firefox, or Safari, etc) and the results page is not a Google page you have a problem. Virtually 100% of my clients have Google set as their default search engine. There is nothing wrong with that. It is the standard option in most browsers. However, when your search shows some weird “searchXYZ” in the address (or somewhere on the page) it means that your browser has been corrupted. Your searches are being captured. It’s also possible that everything you typed in your browser, including passwords and other sensitive information, has been transmitted to an unauthorized 3rd party since the date of the infection. This is a serious situation.
You need to reset your browser and remove the offending extensions. If you can’t do these tasks, ask for help. At that point, Google searching should return to normal.
With this said, there are other legitimate search engines out there. One that has come into the spotlight over the past few years is Duck Duck Go. Unlike Google, DDG is making privacy and a lack of censorship their top priorities. Apple has partnered with DDG by making it a default search option on the Safari browser. When you search for places on DDG, the results come up in Apple Maps. You don’t have to make DDG your default search engine to use it. You can simply go to https://duckduckgo.com/ and search at your leisure. While I still use Google for looking up local businesses and phone numbers, I am a big fan of Duck Duck Go.
I am concerned about this issue and I know many of you are too. An increasing amount of space in both traditional and online media has been given to the great power that so few companies have. There was a big NY Times article on the subject not long ago. We are talking about it at work. We bemoan the technological giants with friends. I could write a ton on the matter at hand, but I want to keep it simple, give you something to nibble on, and invite your thoughts.
As great as Google Assistant is, this story gave me cause for concern.
When you delete an item, it should be gone. However, Google still has access to it in this instance.
So who I am I really talking about when I say the “technological giants” ? Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter, Apple and Microsoft.
Consider Facebook’s power in social media and messaging. Facebook.com, Facebook Messenger, What’s App, and Instagram! Wow. With the exception of traditional text messages, and Apple’s iMessage (blue messages on your iPhone) platform, that is such as large chunk of our digital experience. Facebook owns all of it.
I like to put Apple and Microsoft in a different sub group within the powers that be. They primarily sell stuff that we use. Yes they engage in some data collection an analysis, but Facebook, Google, and Twitter feast off of user information. (With the exception of some Google business services), you don’t really pay for anything from these three. They are in the business of harvesting information for the purpose of selling ads. Amazon is the most well known online retailer. They also have a massive division that provides paid data management services to businesses. Yet, they know everything about our shopping habits. I’m sure they can share some data with manufacturers. Their control of merchandise can make or break a new product or upstart company.
Consider this hypothetical. You really are a big advocate for this one diet. And there are a couple of books that are like “the bible” for your program of eating. However, this diet is controversial. You don’t have any local bookstores you can go to. Amazon is the place to buy the books for this program. You often shop there to buy new copies for the support group you run. Some food lobby starts putting pressure on Amazon to stop carrying these books. A health association chimes in. Amazon decides to stop carrying the books. It becomes much harder to easily disseminate the required information.
Ultimately, Amazon is a private bookstore. They can choose to carry the volumes they want. The problem is — for some Amazon is the only choice. They have put so many of our cherished local bookstores out of business.
Just something to think about! What are you going to do to combat THEIR power? Use a VPN? Use paid e-mail service? What about searching on DuckDuckGo.com instead of Google?
A popular TV show used to run promotional spots saying this week’s episode is “ripped from the headlines.” This update is chock full of valuable info. You may want to print it out for digestion in small bites.
Ripped from the Customer Files
Not Selling Window Dressing
A new client recently approached me and inquired if I could do any maintenance procedures to make the computer a little faster. I DID NOT rush out with little care, acting in an overconfident manner, simply to generate a 1 hour appointment for myself. I gave the client a proper “triage” over the phone. We talked for a half hour. I took a mental note of key facts, the most important being that it was a Toshiba laptop. Toshiba was a big name in the history of laptops and consumer electronics in general. In fact, they were a big seller at Best Buy up until about 6 or 7 years ago. Since that time, I don’t know any clients that have bought them. I don’t see them at the stores. I knew the computer had to be at least 6 years old. In fact it is and possibly a little older. I really put the CARE in VIP Computer Care. On a slow computer, you could certainly back up the data and reinstall the operating system (Windows or Mac). You could replace the hard drive with an SSD (solid state drive). Both of those would likely be at least 3 hour jobs. I explained how I thought those would be reasonable on a 3 or 4 year old computer, but I don’t think I would want those done on my 6+ year old computer. A software only solution doesn’t make up for bad or degrading hardware. Solid State Drives have been wonderful for many of my clients but they don’t negate the fact that the rest of the computer is subject to failure. I emphasized that the best thing to do would be to buy a new computer and that in the $500s to $600s, the safest bet is a business class system from the Dell or Lenovo outlet (not sold in stores). At the right time, the client will have me set up this new computer for them.
Rather than try to gain a customer for one visit, I established what I believe can be a long term relationship. It’s my nature; it’s who I am. 🙂
But I was just sending e-mails to a church prayer group!! I worked with a client recently that literally had their Google account temporarily suspended for inappropriate activity. The client is 80 years old!! What were they doing? How bad could it really be? Here are some lessons. A lot of us send group e-mails. You are receiving this message as a part of a group email. With personal accounts especially, inappropriate composition of the message could trigger some red flags. Here are some good tips. With a group e-mail…
1. Put yourself in the To field
2. Put your recipients in the CC or BCC field. (CC if you want everyone to see each other’s addresses, BCC if you want the list of recipients to remain private.) I always send my messages out via BCC.
3. If your list of recipients approaches 50, sent out 2 (or more) emails with distinct groups of contacts
4. Even with these precautions, you may still have an issue with e-mail going into the SPAM folder of the recipients
4a. You may want to consider a paid e-mail address for your business, club, or group (i.e Microsoft / Google) for about $5 per month
4b. You may want to consider an easy to use newsletter e-mailing service like Mail Chimp. Mail Chimp has a free option for small businesses, groups, and non profits.
The Simplicity of the Chromebook
I was with a client recently who uses a Chromebook as her primary computer. Chromebooks are amazing (along with their desktop sister -Chromebox). A Chromebook is a limited computer but the safest one you can buy. Think of what you can do in your computer’s browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari). I am pondering online banking, shopping, e-mailing, searching Google, letter writing, and other tasks. You can do all of those things on a Chromebook. You can’t do anything else. There are no programs. It runs the Chrome browser — that’s it. It’s operating system is called Chrome OS, not Windows or Mac. The Chromebook has graduated beyond those 11 inch $200 devices you may have seen 5 years ago. There are mid range ($500’s) and even high end Chromebooks available now. A Chromebook is a great secondary computer, for example to take some stress off or extend the life of your primary computer. It may be a primary computer for some. There are lots of options out there, but if you are looking to dip your toes, I think this Lenovo model makes an excellent starter Chromebook (amazon link) https://amzn.to/2UN3RoK
So the real story here was that the client’s Chromebook was corrupted. After entering the login password — a wheel on the screen kept spinning and spinning. In plain, English the operating system was messed up. On a Windows or Mac system, resetting the operating system and copying the files back might be a 2 to 3 hour ordeal (or longer if lots of files were involved). How long did resetting the Chromebook take? 5 minutes. No joke!
Free Credit Reports and Credit Freezes
I meet clients all the time who are worried about their credit reports being jeopardized because of security breaches with department stores, utilities local governments, and other entities. You have worked a lifetime of building up that near perfect credit score — why leave anything to chance? I think I mentioned it about a year and a half ago but I can help you obtain your free credit reports (via the only site authorized by the U.S. government) and if need be, place security freeze on all 3 of your credit reports. We can typically accomplish this in a 1 hour session. Please be advised that should you need to apply for credit in the future, you will have to log onto the website of the bureau being checked and unfreeze that credit report for a few days or however long is needed (your lender may also be willing to do this for you also). That process takes all of 5 minutes. I will make sure you have all of the passwords and user names needed to successfully manage your credit freezes. Remember, I do not hold onto customer passwords.
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.