Beware Browser Hijacks

Most of you use the Google Chrome browser.  It is my browser of choice as well.  However, this message is still applicable if you use Firefox, Safari, or even Microsoft Edge.

The security threat I see most often these days is the browser hijack.  This does not mean your whole computer had been taken over by malware.  However, your browser has been corrupted.  Your homepage may be unfamiliar to you.  Google searches are being rerouted to a strange search engine.  Its even possible that all of your browser traffic is being intercepted.  Scary stuff!

You can tell if you are being hijacked by searching in the search box of your browser or going to Google.com.  Search for whatever you’d like, “new restaurants Philadelphia” for example.  The results page should CLEARLY come up on a Google page (or possibly Bing if you use the Edge browser).  It should be obvious – clear as day.

If you do not see Google search results, you have a problem.  It’s likely that you have mistakenly installed a bad extension in your browser.   Most often, this is not a crisis requiring the operating system to be reinstalled.

However, your browser history needs to be cleared, the offending extensions need to be removed, and the browser needs to be reset.
Don’t lose hope!

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Weekly Technology Update

A. Privacy:  GDPR and Oath.   You may have received a bunch of notices recently detailing the updated privacy policies of various services that you use.  The European Union’s new privacy laws take effect on May 25th.  These regulations are known as GDPR.   They are taking customers’ data a lot more seriously than we are on this side of the pond.  International companies such as Facebook and Google are adhering to these standards even for their American customers.  It’s a solid business practice.  Did you know that you can download all of your Facebook (or Google) data in a single file?  Did you know that you can control how Facebook advertises to you?   GDPR = Good.   To find out more http://money.cnn.com/2018/05/21/technology/gdpr-explained-europe-privacy/index.html

Additionally, some of you who have a Yahoo or AOL account may have received notices about policies from an organization known as Oath.  (My joke is — “zero authorization to violate your privacy,” but I’ll get back on topic.).  Oath is a division of Verizon that oversees both Yahoo and AOL.   Yahoo users may have even been asked to accept the new terms.  You really don’t have a choice if you want to keep using the account.   As a quick primer for those new to the VIP Computer Care family — my favorite free e-mail accounts are Google and Outlook.com.   Customers may choose a paid e-mail account if they want to get actual customer support.  My favorite choices  here are Fastmail ($20 per year), G (G Suite a paid Google account, $5 per month), or Office 365 (a paid e-mail account from Microsoft, $5 per month).

B.  Windows:   I’m still compiling reports of horror stories from users that had bad experiences with the latest version of Windows 10 (version 1803), released on April 30th.  Whenever possible, I have set your Windows computers to a 120 day delay schedule.   Unfortunately, I had to help a customer last weekend who couldn’t delay Windows version upgrades.  He purchased a consumer grade Windows desktop.  I offered the next best thing.  I managed the upgrade for him.  It took 2 hours, which is about what I expected.  With fingers crossed, there were no hiccups.  I am not recommending that I do this proactively for others, at this time, if you have already been set up for a delay.  Ultimately, Microsoft will iron out the wrinkles.  After all, hundreds of millions of business customers rely on Windows.   Version 1803 should be ready for prime time in a few months.  In August, lets talk about upgrading your computer. 

C.  Mac:  Apple’s big annual event, the WWDC, is happening on June 4th.  While it’s not specifically a new hardware event, Apple has been known to release new Macs at this event.   We can only hope that they offer a mea culpa on the Mac Book Pro and their awful keyboards.  At the very least, they could update the Mac Book Air with 2018 innards.  (The 2017 Air, while still my #1 choice at this date and time, features 2015-era parts.)   Additionally, the Mac Mini needs a major refresh.  It has not been updated since October 2014.  Apple needs to keep a $500-600 Mac on the market to welcome new customers into the family. 

When Technology Fails Us

Welcome this installment of my weekly update.   This update is not a tutorial or an introduction to some cool piece of technology that can benefit us.  I want to give you a reminder that the world of tech can be a scary place and that I’m honored to be your navigator in it.   It’s got to get better than this for us.

A.  Windows — The latest version of Windows, Windows 10 version 1803 began rolling out to computers on April 30th.  It’s been a disaster.  I did not know this in advance, but I had the wisdom of telling you to leave well enough alone.  On every computer I have touched over the past few months (when possible), I have set the “feature update” (aka new version of Windows) delay to 120 days.  I say, when possible, because if you have a Windows machine purchased from a big box store there is no option to delay new versions.  PSA: Please let me order your Windows computers for you; I’ll make sure you get the Pro version of Windows.  Just today, Microsoft began blocking the upgrade from installing on certain computers with Intel hard drives.   Can it get any worse?   If it does get worse, I will tell you to change that delay from 120 to 365 days.  There is nothing wrong with staying on the previous version of Windows, version 1709.  It works!

B. Mac — I have shared with you that an iPad Pro may be a viable computing solution for some users.  I have expressed my firm belief in the iMac as one of the best desktops on the market.   Unfortunately, I’ve  also had to discuss the misery of late model Mac Book and Mac Book Pro laptops and their awful keyboards.   Longtime Mac users and pundits alike have panned the keyboards on the Mac Books (since 2015) and Mac Book Pros (since 2016).  It’s an awful experience.  The Mac has plenty to be proud of on the software side, so this is the opposite of Microsoft.   There is a Mac hardware problem!   A few weeks ago an online petition launched demanding a solution to the laptop keyboard problem.  Thousands signed their names.  This week, the Mac faithful are really getting on their soapboxes.  A class action lawsuit has been filed.  The bottom line is — if you need a Mac laptop soon, buy the 2017 Mac Book Air.  It still has a real keyboard and it will be a solid performer for you.

C. Cellular — Finally, this is one problem that I don’t have a solution for (yet).   I read a lot of tech news, guides, and try things out to break them down to make sense for you.  This one just makes me want to take an oatmeal bath.   I will keep this brief and let you read the articles.  There is a private company out there — Securus – that has the ability to track our location down via our cell phones.  Securus is fed customer information by most cellular service providers.  I am not criticizing legitimate surveillance obtained via a warrant. However, this technology has been misused to spy on people who are enemies of authority figures.  In my analysis, only one of the four major cellular providers gave an acceptable answer as to their relationship with Securus (Sprint).  Please read for yourself. 

Links

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/10/technology/cellphone-tracking-law-enforcement.html

https://www.zdnet.com/article/us-cell-carriers-selling-access-to-real-time-location-data/

Technology Update May 10 2018

My thoughts for you today are …

What would you like your technology to do for you?

What would you like to be simpler with your technology?

How do you feel technology is making your life better?  And how has it let you down?

Please keep in mind:  Most Windows laptops and desktops are upgradable.  Pre-2013 MacBook Pro laptops are also upgradable.  I can upgrade the hard drives and / or RAM to breathe new life into your machine.

With summer coming, we have the increased risk of lightning strikes and power surges.   Some of you have whole house surge protection. GREAT.  The rest of you need quality surge protectors for your electronics.  I will provide Amazon links to models that I like.

– Tripp Lite 10 Outlet  http://a.co/iHkvW5E

– Tripp Lite 8 Outlet https://amzn.to/2wtlDCv

Additionally, whether winter, spring, summer, or fall you should have backups of your important data.  You probably have an external hard drive for a backup of all of your files. How about some flash drives (aka thumb drives) for smaller backups of your favorite folders? Flash drives are today what floppy disks were 20 years ago.  It would never hurt to have certain folders backed up to a flash drive.  Flash drives are also very portable.  You can take them with you. It doesn’t hurt to have a couple of flash drives on hand.  Here is an Amazon link.

Samsung 32 GB https://amzn.to/2rAs159

(San Disk is also a good brand, as are PNY and Kingston)

A warning on older Mac apps

If you’re getting all of the automatic updates to your Mac, you should be on version 10.13.4 right now.   If you’ve been a Mac user for any length of time, you may start to get pop up messages saying that the app you are trying to open is not optimized for your Mac.   Don’t worry, you can still open and use that app — FOR NOW.

Macs have featured 64 bit processors for years.  Your mac OS software is also 64 bit.  However apps designed to the old 32 bit standard have been allowed to exist until the present time.  In the very near future, 32 bit apps will be blocked.   I don’t know all of the software that each of you have installed on your Macs, but it is possible that you have some of the old apps.   Two that I know for sure are Office 2008 for Mac and Office 2011.  The solution to that problem is easy — upgrade to Office 2016. 

If and when you are prevented from using 32 bit apps on your Mac, you will have 2 choices.

1) See if if you can live without the app

2) Upgrade to a more modern version of the app

Technology Encouragement

What I really wanted to do today is give you some technology encouragement.  I was asked what I do recently. Very simply, I said, “I help people improve their lives through technology.”  Even considering all of its flaws, technology makes our world a better place.  It allows us to see pictures of loved ones easily and promptly, even from far away.  It allows us to communicate using a medium that is convenient for us on flexible time schedules.  Computers and computer like devices cater to our physical limitations as well.  Technology has given us chance to expand our intellectual pursuits, serve others through community outreach, and pursue new careers.  We feel less alone, we learn, and we grow.   There is no need to fear trying new devices or services.   There is a process of trial and error.  If something doesn’t work, there is probably a new solution right around the corner.  The experience can and should be personal and customized to our needs.  If we get frustrated, we can always put down our device for a few hours or restart it.  Quirks work themselves out.  Through endurance new possibilities abound. 

Facebook and Google Privacy

If you are a Facebook user, I would encourage you to tweak your privacy settings or get some help doing so.  From the computer, when you are on Facebook.com you need to click the triangle in the upper right corner of the Facebook page.  From there click on Settings.  Then click privacy.  Those settings can be tweaked to your liking. I  think the most important one is the setting all the way down at the bottom.   Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile?  That should be set to “No.”   After you have adjusted those options, you will also want to look at Apps and Websites from the Settings page.   There you will see all of the websites and apps that you have given access to using your Facebook account.  Some of these may be valid, but there may be some that you want to revoke.   In the Security and Login section you can turn on two factor authentication for your Facebook account.   I highly recommend it if your Facebook account is important to you and you want to prevent unauthorized access.   Finally, you need to go to your Facebook profile page by clicking on your name at the top of the screen.  You should go through each entry in the About section and decide whether info like your birthday, employers, Likes, and so on are shared with Only Me, Friends, Friends of Friends, or the whole world.   It’s time for a tune up!   You may need to put the same effort into your Google account as well.