Category: Security

Urgent Windows Update

It’s been a long time since I had an urgent Windows Update message for you.   As you may nor may not remember me telling you — Microsoft puts out monthly security updates every 2nd Tuesday of the month.   By letting your computer simply go to sleep (plugged in for a laptop) you computer should just automatically install the updates.  You never really need to Shut Down your computer (unless you are going on an airplane or will be away for a week or more).    Anyway, sometimes the automatic update system fails or you may be in the habit of shutting your computer off.


Microsoft really wants to make sure you have this week’s update.  It’s so urgent that this story hit the mainstream news last night.   Here is what you need to do.


Click your Start Menu

Go to Settings

Go to  Update & Security

Check For Updates

Restart if and when asked.

Apple Card

*Disclaimer:  This is not an endorsement of the Apple Card or for anyone to take on revolving lines of credit.   With that said, Apple is getting into the credit card game.   There has been an Apple Rewards Visa for years (most recently offered through Barclay’s Bank), but with the new Apple Card, the world’s most beloved technology company is taking a much greater degree of control over the process.   Let’s start with some basic facts.   Credit is being granted to customers through Goldman Sachs.   Yes, you read that right.  They are not merely an institutional investment bank anymore.  Goldman has branched into consumer finance in recent years by offering high yield savings accounts and personal loans through its Marcus brand.  The Apple Card card is a Mastercard.  Apple designed the physical card, which, apparently has a very nice titanium feel to it.   Apple was very involved in the entire process.  In fact they are saying the Apple Card is “offered by us, not banks.”   Security is the highest priority.   There will be no printed number on the card, no expiration date, and no 3 digit code.  There will be no signature on the card.  You can still use it in stores via the chip readers.   On your iPhone, iPad or Mac, you will be able to use the card with any merchant that accepts Apple Pay.   So yes, the card will only be relevant for online shopping for those of you who have one or more of those devices.  Interest rates range from pretty good for those of you who have high credit scores, to very average for those with lower scores.   A check of your Trans Union credit report is required for approval (for those of you who may have a credit freeze in place), but reports have come out that credit scores as low as 620 are getting approved.   Never have I read this much “buzz” in my life about a new credit card on the market.  Customers will be able to accumulate rewards for purchases with Apple.   Let’s see how successful Apple is with this venture.  On one hand, I don’t think they want to encourage irresponsible debt, but they are also doing things with this instrument that other banks are not.  It’s a unique card. The application has been opened up to a limited audience at this time (via the Wallet app) with general availability coming soon.

When Your Search No Longer Says Google

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. 

Control of Technology in the Hands of Too Few?

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.

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/05/google-gmail-purchase-history-cant-be-deleted.html

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? 

Security Update–Google Chrome–Important

Google discovered a major security flaw in Chrome and the put out an update for it on Thursday.

In the upper right hand corner of the browser window — you should see a big GREEN ARROW.   Please click it and choose the update option.  The update will get applied and Chrome will re-open in about 2 minutes or less. 

If you don’t see the arrow — it means you probably already have the update.   But to be sure — click on the “3 dot menu” in the upper right (where you go to get Chrome settings).  Click Help — click About Google Chrome.   Version  # should be 72.0.3626.121

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”.  

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.