• Posted on January 26, 2017 11:55 am
    Joseph Forbes
    No comments

    Keeping track of passwords can seem like a hassle. Most of us have multiple sites we visit which require password logins. So many, in fact, that it's tempting to use the same username/password combo for all of them. Don't. Otherwise, it takes only the compromise of a single site's credentials to have a toppling domino affect on the security of all your online assets. Fortunately, there is a fairly straightforward way to have different passwords for each site you use but still make the passwords easy enough to remember. Creating Unique Passwords Before you begin creating strong passwords, you need to consider the use of those passwords. The intent is to create strong passwords unique to each account, but easy enough to memorize. To do this, first begin by splitting the sites you frequently login to into categories. For example, your category list might read as follows: social networking sites auction sites ecommerce sites email accounts banking sites forums A word of note here about forums. Never use the same password for a site's forum as you would for logging into the site itself. Generally speaking, the security on forums is not as strong as it is (or should be) for the regular site and thus the forum becomes the weakest link in your security. This is why, in the example above, forums are split into a separate category. Now that you have your categories, under each appropriate category, list the sites to which you must log in. For example, if you have a Hotmail, gmail, and Yahoo account, list these under the category 'email accounts'. After you've completed the list, you're ready to begin creating the strong, unique, and easy-to-remember passwords for each. Creating Strong Passwords A strong password should be 14 characters. Each character less than that makes it a little easier to compromise. If a site absolutely won't allow a password that long, then adapt these instructions accordingly. Using the 14 character password rule, use the first 8 characters as the common portion to all passwords, the next 3 to customize by category, and the last 3 to customize by site. So the end result ends up like this: common(8)|category(3)|site(3) Following this simple rule, when you change your passwords in the future - which, remember, you should do often - you'll only need to change the first common 8 characters of each. One of the commonly recommended means of remembering a password is to first create a passphrase, modify it to the character limit, then begin swapping characters for symbols. So to do that: Come up with an 8 letter passphrase that is easy to remember. Take the first letter of each word to form the password. Substitute some of the letters in the word with keyboard symbols and caps (symbols are better than caps). Tack on a three letter abbreviation for the category, also replacing one of the letters with a symbol. Tack on a site specific three letter abbreviation, again replacing a single letter with a symbol. As an example: In step 1 we might use the pass phrase: my favorite uncle was an air force pilot Using the first letters of each word, we end up with: mfuwaafp Then we swap some of those characters with symbols and caps: Mf{w&A5p Then we tack on the category, (i.e. ema for email, and swap out one character of ema: e#a Finally, we add the site abbreviation (i.e. gma for gmail) and swap out one character: gm% We now have a password for our gmail account of Mf{w&A5pe#agm% Repeat for each email site, so perhaps you end up with: Mf{w&A5pe#agm% Mf{w&A5pe#aY%h Mf{w&A5pe#aH0t Now repeat these steps for the additional categories and sites within those categories. While this may look hard to remember, here's a tip to simplify - decide in advance what symbol you will equate with each letter. Be sure to check out these other tips for remembering passwords. You may be surprised to learn that some of the oldest advice may just be the wrong advice.

    Blog Entry, DATA, Internet
  • Posted on January 13, 2017 12:48 pm
    Joseph Forbes
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    So, you just bought a shiny new wireless router. Maybe you got it as a gift, or you just decided it was time to upgrade to a new one. Whatever the case may be, there are a few things you should do to make it more secure as soon as you get it out of the box. Here Are Some Tips on How to Secure Your Brand New Wireless Router: 1. Set a Strong Router Admin Password As soon as your prompted by your new router's setup routine, make sure you change your router's admin password and make it a strong one. Using the default password is a horrible idea because hackers and pretty much anyone else can look it up on the router manufacturer's website or on a site that lists default password information. 2. Upgrade Your Router's Firmware When you bought your new router, chances are, it may have been sitting in a warehouse for months, then on a store shelf for quite some time. During this time the manufacturer may have found some bugs or vulnerabilities in the firmware (software/OS that it built into the router). They may have also added new features and other upgrades that may improve the security or functionality of the router. In order to make sure that you have the latest and greatest version of the router's firmware, you'll need to check your router's firmware version to see if it is current or if there is a newer version available. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on how to check the firmware version and how to perform a firmware upgrade. 3. Turn on WPA2 Wireless Encryption When you set up your new router, you may be prompted to choose a form of wireless encryption. You should avoid the outdated WEP encryption, as well as the original WPA. You should opt for WPA2 (or whatever the most current form of wireless encryption is). Choosing WPA2 will help protect you from wireless hacking attempts. Check out our article on how to enable wireless encryption for full details. 4. Set a Strong SSID (Wireless Network Name) and Pre-Shared Key (Wireless Network Password) A strong wireless network name (SSID) and a strong wireless password is just as important as a strong router admin password. What is a strong network name you ask? A strong network name is a name that is not a default set by the manufacturer and is also not something that is commonly found on a list of most common wireless network names. If you use a common network name, you may be leaving yourself open to Rainbow Table-based encryption attacks that might allow hackers to crack your wireless network password. A strong wireless network password is also a crucial part of your wireless network's security. Check out our article on how to change your wireless network's password for details on why you need to make this password a complex one. 5. Turn on Your Router's Firewall And Configure it Odds are pretty good that your new wireless router features a built-in firewall. You should take advantage of this feature and enable and configure it to protect your network. Make sure to test your firewall to ensure that it's working after you have set it up. 6. Enable Your Router's 'Stealth Mode' (if available) Some Router's have a 'Stealth Mode' that helps to make your router, and the network devices behind it, less conspicuous to hackers on the Internet. Stealth mode helps to hide the status of open ports by not responding to requests sent by hackers to check for the presence of open ports that might be vulnerable to attacks. 7. Disable Your Router's 'Admin Via Wireless' Feature To help prevent hackers from doing a 'drive by' wireless attack where they pull up nearby and attempt to gain access to your router's admin console, disable the "Admin via Wireless" option on your router. Turning this off makes your router only accept administration via one of the Ethernet ports, meaning that unless you have a physical connection to the router then you can't administer it.

    Blog Entry, Internet, Security
  • Posted on January 9, 2017 11:11 am
    Joseph Forbes
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    How your online habits leave you and your computer at risk Keeping safe online takes more than just installing a few security programs. To protect both you and your computer, here are the top ten bad habits you need to avoid. Browsing the Web with javascript enabled by default Today's attackers are more likely to host their malicious files on the web. They may even update those files constantly using automated tools that repackage the binary in an attempt to bypass signature-based scanners. Whether through social engineering or through website exploit, the choice of browser will be of little help. All browsers are equally susceptible to Web-based malware and this includes Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and the much-maligned Internet Explorer. Disabling Javascript on all but the most trusted sites will go a long ways towards safer web browsing. Using Adobe Reader/Acrobat with default settings Adobe Reader comes pre-installed on most computers. And even if you never use it, just the mere presence can leave your computer at risk. Vulnerabilities in Adobe Reader and Adobe Acrobat are the number one most common infection vector, bar none. Making sure you stay up-to-date with the latest version of Adobe products is imperative, but not foolproof. To use Adobe Reader (and Acrobat) safely, you need to make a few tweaks to its settings. Clicking unsolicited links in email or IM Malicious or fraudulent links in email and IM are a significant vector for both malware and social engineering attacks. Reading email in plain text can help identify potentially malicious or fraudulent links. Your best bet: avoid clicking any link in an email or IM that is received unexpectedly - particularly if you do not know the sender. Clicking on popups that claim your computer is infected Rogue scanners are a category of scam software sometimes referred to as scareware. Rogue scanners masquerade as antivirus, antispyware, or other security software, claiming the user's system is infected in order to trick them into paying for a full version. Avoiding infection is easy - don't fall for the bogus claims.   Logging in to an account from a link received in email, IM, or social networking Never, ever login to an account after being directed there via a link received in an email, IM, or social networking message (i.e. Facebook). If you do follow a link that instructs you to login afterwards, close the page, then open a new page and visit the site using a previously bookmarked or known good link.   Not applying security patches for ALL programs Chances are, there are dozens of security vulnerabilities waiting to be exploited on your system. And it's not just Windows patches you need to be concerned with. Adobe Flash, Acrobat Reader, Apple Quicktime, Sun Java and a bevy of other third-party apps typically host security vulnerabilities waiting to be exploited. The free Secunia Software Inspector helps you quickly discover which programs need patching - and where to get it.   Assuming your antivirus provides 100% protection So you have antivirus installed and are keeping it up-to-date. That's a great start. But don't believe everything your antivirus does (or rather doesn't) tell you. Even the most current antivirus can easily miss new malware - and attackers routinely release tens of thousands of new malware variants each month. Hence the importance of following all the tips provided on this page.   Not using antivirus software Many (probably infected) users mistakenly believe they can avoid malware simply by being 'smart'. They labor under the dangerous misconception that somehow malware always asks permission before it installs itself. The vast majority of today's malware is delivered silently, via the Web, by exploiting vulnerabilities in software. Antivirus software is must-have protection. Of course, out-of-date antivirus is almost as bad as no antivirus software at all. Make sure your antivirus software is configured to automatically check for updates as frequently as the program will allow or a minimum of once per day. Not using a firewall on your computer Not using a firewall is akin to leaving your front door wide open on a busy street. There are several free firewall options available today - including the built-in firewall in Windows XP and Vista. Be sure to choose a firewall that offers both inbound and (as importantly) outbound protection.   Falling for phishing or other social engineering scams Just as the Internet makes it easier for legitimate pursuits, it also makes it easier for scammers, con artists, and other online miscreants to carry out their virtual crimes - impacting our real life finances, security, and peace of mind. Scammers often use sad sounding stories or promises of quick riches to hook us into being willing victims to their crimes. Exercising common sense is one of the best ways to avoid online scams. For extra help, consider installing one of the free anti-phishing toolbars

    Blog Entry, Hacking, Internet
  • Posted on January 5, 2017 10:12 am
    Joseph Forbes
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    The problem begins with Microsoft's attempt to update things for Operating Systems (Like Windows 7), to be compatible with the newer Windows Update methods.   Since the release of Windows 8 & 10, including the 8.1, and 10 AU updates, Windows 7 has fallen behind in the care and love from Microsoft.  However sometime in July some patches were applied that broke the Windows Update process for Older Windows 7 systems.   This really affected people with clean/new installs of Windows 7, that haven't had all the updates applied since June/July 2016. I've had this problem with virtual machines I've recently setup that had clean installations of Windows 7, but Service Pack 1, is pretty far behind.  I haven't done my "due diligence" in slipstream Windows Updates into my Install ISO. After awhile, I found out that letting the Windows 7 machines just idle (tax at 100% CPU & RAM) for three days, until finally Windows Update shows a list of available updates to apply.  Then once more, having to apply those updates, and do it again to finish up with any updates that were not discovered beforehand. Step 1. Make sure you have KB 3078601, 3109094, 3138612, 3145739, and 3164033 installed You only have to do this once. To see if you're missing any of them, you can check the Windows Updates installed updates list (Start, Control Panel, under Windows Update click View installed updates). But it’s probably easier to download all of them and try to install them. If one is already installed, the installer will tell you -- no harm done. Step 1a. Make sure you know if you have a 32-bit (so-called “x86”) or 64-bit (“x64”) version of Windows 7. If you’re not sure, click Start, right-click Computer, choose Properties, and look under System type. Step 1b. Use any browser to go to each patch download site: KB 3078601  x64 x32 KB 3109094  x64  x32 KB 3138612  x64  x32 KB 3145739  x64  x32 KB 3164033  x64  x32 Step 1c. On each of those sites, Click Download. You’ll get an MSU file. In Chrome and IE, by default, you see an offer to either Open or Save the file. Save it. In Firefox, by default, the file downloads. These Microsoft servers are notorious for freezing -- sometimes the download won’t start, sometimes it won’t finish. If that happens to you, try reloading the page (click the circle-arrow near the address bar). You can also switch browsers. In any case, if you experience oddities while trying to download you aren’t the only one. Step 1d. Turn off Windows Update. The least confusing way to do that is to click Start > Control Panel > System and Security > Administrative Tools. Double-click on Services. Scroll down the list of Services and click once on Windows Update. Then, in the upper-left corner, click the link marked Stop. Step 1e. Double-click to run each of the five downloaded files. If the installer says you already have the patch, smile and go on to the next. Running those five updates will get you set up for the one significant update you need to run each month. Unless something weird changes (hey, this is Windows), you never need to go through Step 1 again. Step 2. Find this month’s favored patch and install it Unfortunately, the patch itself changes from month to month -- or at least, it has changed in every month since March. Here’s how to finish the job: Step 2a. Go to wu.krelay.de/en and find the latest magical patch. It’s listed at the top of the first table on the wu.krelay.de/en site. In July, the magic patch was KB 3168965. No doubt there will be a new one in August and another in September -- for however long we have to struggle with slow Win7 updates. Step 2b. Armed with the knowledge about whether your Windows 7 installation is 32- or 64-bit, use the links in that first table with any browser to download the correct patch. Step 2c. Save the patch but don’t install it. Step 2d. Make sure the Windows Update service is stopped. See Step 1d above. Step 2e. Double-click to run the downloaded patch. Step 2f. Reboot, as instructed after the patch is installed. (The Windows Update service will restart itself.) Then click on Start, Control Panel, and under Windows Update click Check for updates. If all went well, the check should take a few short minutes. My thanks -- and deep admiration -- to Dalai, ch100, and EP.

    Blog Entry, HAPPINESS, Patches
  • Posted on January 3, 2017 12:00 pm
    Joseph Forbes
    No comments

    Keeping track of passwords can seem like a hassle. Most of us have multiple sites we visit which require password logins. So many, in fact, that it's tempting to use the same username/password combo for all of them. Don't. Otherwise, it takes only the compromise of a single site's credentials to have a toppling domino effect on the security of all your online assets. Fortunately, there is a fairly straightforward way to have different passwords for each site you use but still make the passwords easy enough to remember. Creating Unique Passwords Before you begin creating strong passwords, you need to consider the use of those passwords. The intent is to create strong passwords unique to each account, but easy enough to memorize. To do this, first begin by splitting the sites you frequently login to into categories. For example, your category list might read as follows: social networking sites auction sites ecommerce sites email accounts banking sites forums A word of note here about forums. Never use the same password for a site's forum as you would for logging into the site itself. Generally speaking, the security on forums is not as strong as it is (or should be) for the regular site and thus the forum becomes the weakest link in their security. This is why, in the example above, forums are split into a separate category. Now that you have your categories, under each appropriate category, list the sites to which you must log in.  For example, if you have a Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo account, list these under the category 'email accounts'. After you've completed the list, you're ready to begin creating the strong, unique, and easy-to-remember passwords for each. Creating Strong Passwords A strong password should be 14 characters. Each character less than that makes it a little easier to compromise. If a site absolutely won't allow a password that long, then adapt these instructions accordingly. Using the 14 character password rule, use the first 8 characters as the common portion to all passwords, the next 3 to customize by category, and the last 3 to customize by site.  So the end result ends up like this: common(8)|category(3)|site(3) Following this simple rule, when you change your passwords in the future - which, remember, you should do often - you'll only need to change the first common 8 characters of each. One of the commonly recommended means of remembering a password is to first create a passphrase, modify it to the character limit, then begin swapping characters for symbols. So to do that: Come up with an 8 letter passphrase that is easy to remember. Take the first letter of each word to form the password. Substitute some of the letters in the word with keyboard symbols and caps (symbols are better than caps). Tack on a three letter abbreviation for the category, also replacing one of the letters with a symbol. Tack on a site specific three letter abbreviation, again replacing a single letter with a symbol. As an example: In step 1 we might use the pass phrase: my favorite uncle was an air force pilot Using the first letters of each word, we end up with: mfuwaafp Then we swap some of those characters with symbols and caps: Mf{w&A5p Then we tack on the category, (i.e. ema for email, and swap out one character of ema: e#a Finally, we add the site abbreviation (i.e. gma for gmail) and swap out one character: gm% We now have a password for our gmail account of Mf{w&A5pe#agm% Repeat for each email site, so perhaps you end up with: Mf{w&A5pe#agm% Mf{w&A5pe#aY%h Mf{w&A5pe#aH0t Now repeat these steps for the additional categories and sites within those categories. While this may look hard to remember, here's a tip to simplify - decide in advance what symbol you will equate with each letter.

    Blog Entry, Data Recovery, Hacking
  • Posted on January 2, 2017 4:16 pm
    Joseph Forbes
    No comments

    Hackers have been hacking wireless networks for a long time, but they don't even need to hack your wireless if you never changed your wireless router's admin password from its default value. If you never changed the admin password on your router after you set it up the first time, then all the hacker needs to do is look up the default password and log in. There are lists on the internet that provide hackers with the default admin passwords for most commercially available routers on the market today. Just Google: "Default Router Password List" and you'll find several sites that provide the default passwords for just about every major brand of wireless router available. Other sources of default admin passwords include downloadable PDF manuals available in the support section of most router manufacturer websites. If you're like many people, when you first setup your router you plugged it in, followed a couple of steps on a quick setup card, and everything just started working. End of Story You may have not gone back to change the admin password after you used it to setup the router. Here are the general steps you will need to follow in order to change and/or reset the password on your wireless router: If you have completely lost the password that you set and need to set the router back to its factory default password, perform the following steps: Below are general instructions only. Directions vary by make and model of router. Please consult your router's operating manual before performing any kind of reset procedure, and always follow proper safety precautions indicated in your router's documentation. PLEASE NOTE: The first step in this process will wipe out all of your router's configuration settings and set them back to their out-of-the-box factory defaults. You will have to change all your routers settings such as your wireless network SSID, password, encryption settings, etc, after performing this step. 1. Press and hold the reset button on the back of your wireless router You will probably have to hold the reset button from 10 to 30 seconds depending on your brand of router. If you hold it for too short a time it will simply reset the router but won't revert back to its factory default settings. On some routers you may have to use a pin or thumbtack to press the button if it is recessed inside the router. 2. Connect a computer to one of your router's Ethernet ports (but not the one that says WAN) Most router's have a web browser-accessible administrator page that you must log in to in order to access the router's configuration settings. Some routers disable administration via wireless, so you will need to ensure that you are connected to the router via an Ethernet cable before attempting to access the router's configuration page. 3. In the browser address bar, enter the IP address of your router's administration interface Most routers have what is called a non-routable internal IP address such as 192.168.1.1 or 10.0.0.1. This is an internal address that cannot be accessed from the internet. Here are the standard admin interface addresses used by some of the more popular wireless router manufactures. You may have to consult your specific router's manual for the correct address. The following list is some of the default IP addresses based on my research and may not be accurate for your specific make or model: Linksys - 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.0.1 DLink - 192.168.0.1 or 10.0.0.1 Apple - 10.0.1.1 ASUS - 192.168.1.1 Buffalo - 192.168.11.1 Netgear - 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.0.227 4. Enter the default administrator login name (usually "admin") followed by the default administrator password. You can locate the the default admin name and password for your specific router by checking the manufacturer's website or by Googling "Default Admin Password" followed by your router's brand name and model. 5. Click on the "Admin" page from your router's configuration page and create a strong password Be sure you enter a strong complex password for your router's admin password. If you ever lose this password you will have to repeat the steps above. If you didn't lose you router password but just don't know how to change it, you can skip steps 1 and 2 and enter the admin user name and password that you have into step 4. This will allow you to change your wireless router's password without wiping out all your other router's settings.

    Blog Entry, Hacking, Hardware
  • Posted on December 28, 2016 8:53 am
    Joseph Forbes
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    If you were anywhere near the internet in the U.S. on Friday (Nov 2016), you probably noticed a bunch of your favorite websites were down for much of the day. Now experts are saying it’s all because thousands of devices – like DVRs and web-connected cameras – were hacked. Once the hackers had control over these devices, they manipulated them into sending an overwhelming number of requests to a company that serves up the websites for Netflix, Google, Spotify and Twitter. When the traffic became too much to handle, the sites crashed. It was an old-school attack – often called a distributed denial of service attack, or DDoS – powered by the new web of devices called the internet of things or IoT. Security experts have been warning for a few years that internet-connected devices are susceptible to hacking. They just didn’t know exactly what hackers might do once they broke into your connected television, refrigerator or thermometer, for example. (Other than some disturbing hacks on baby monitors, that is.) Now we have our answer, and it’s worse than what the experts imagined. Focusing on security cameras and DVRs that record footage in businesses outside of the U.S., hackers created an army of devices to take down large chunks of the internet. It’s not all the device manufacturers’ fault. Websites and services will have to adapt and do more to prevent attacks like these from being so effective if we want to keep the internet up and running. Here’s a primer on why the devices are so easy to hack, and how hackers turned them into a zombie army that attacked the internet. How internet-connected devices are easily taken over DVRs and security camera are connected to the internet. That’s on purpose, of course. This feature lets users access them remotely, along with anyone else they need to let in. It’s what lets users check in on security cameras when no one’s at home or at a business, and what lets manufacturers update device software without making a house call. But this feature is also kind of a bug. Devices in the so-called internet of things are stupid-easy to connect to remotely by just about anyone, not just those with whom you want to share access. If something is connected to the internet, it has an IP address. If something has an IP address, it can be found on search engines like Google and Shodan, a searchable registry of IP addresses with information about the connected device. Hackers can find hundreds or thousands of hackable DVRs and cameras just by entering some search terms. Then, they try to break in... How hackers can break into your devices Internet-connected devices often come with default passwords. Think you’re the only one whose username and password are “admin” and “admin”? Many, if not most, device makers don’t require you to set a unique username and password, so many people end up sticking with the defaults. Hackers can find a list of vulnerable DVRs on search engines and try out that default password. If you never changed it, they’re in. But even if you do change those defaults, hackers have other options. Advanced methods utilizing services called SSH and telnet let hackers force their way into your device, since changing the password on your device’s web app does not necessarily change the password coded into the device. So while the camera was storing security video to prevent crime, hackers were quietly brute-forcing their way into the DVR and adding it to their army of attack soldiers. So how did a camera take down Twitter? To take over the cameras, hackers inserted Mirai, malicious software that lets bad guys use at least 100,000 devices as soldiers in its zombie army. That’s according to Flashpoint, a cybersecurity company that has been tracking the proliferation of Mirai across the internet of things since it was first used in a massive attack in September. The technical name for this zombie army is a botnet, and hackers have been making them out of computers for a very long time. Now that hackers can make botnets out of the internet of things, they have a more powerful tool to carry out attacks like the one that happened Friday. They used the botnet to send tons and tons of junk requests to Dyn, a company that manages web traffic for all the websites that were affected. Dyn couldn’t sort out the good requests from the bad, and as a result internet users in many parts of the US were cut off from a number of websites. Now you know how an army of DVRs and cameras kept you off Reddit for most of Friday. We still don’t know who the hackers are and what they’ll do next. It also remains to be seen how websites will change their habits to prevent outages like the ones we saw Friday. As for the manufacturers of internet-connected devices, there has been an interesting development. On Monday, connected-camera manufacturer Xiongmai said it will issue a recall of its devices caught up in the botnet army that attacked Dyn on Friday, according to Reuters. If more companies follow suit, it might give manufacturers more reason to lock down cybersecurity on their devices before putting them up for sale.

    Blog Entry, Cloud Apps, DATA
  • Posted on December 27, 2016 12:05 pm
    Joseph Forbes
    No comments

    It usually goes something like this: YOU: "So I'm having this problem with my..." TECH SUPPORT: "Did you restart it?" YOU: "..." Few things cause more eye rolls than being told to restart something, be it your computer, smartphone, television, or whatever other technology we're talking about. Most of us are used to hearing it by now. The majority of people who I help out have already restarted their computer (or whatnot) before they even talk to me, and the others tend to slap their foreheads with their hands, shocked that they've forgotten this technology panacea. Other people almost seem to take offense when they hear it, like they've been somehow insulted with this too-simple-to-be-helpful advice. But guess what? It actually works! I'd estimate that more than half of the technology problems I see from my clients and readers are fixable with a simple reboot. Why Restarting Something Works So Well Now that the this-actually-works part is out of the way, it begs the question: why does it work? Let's start by talking about what happens when you're computer is running: You open programs, you close programs, maybe you even install and uninstall software or apps. Sometimes programs like your Internet browser are open for hours, or even days, at a time. Lots of other things stop and start too - things you never see yourself. Are you picturing that time lapse montage of your computer usage in your head right now? It's a bit crazy, I know. We use our computers a lot, especially over the course of several days or more. What you might not realize is that a lot of what you, and your operating system does, is leave behind a kind of footprint, usually in the form of background processes you don't really need running anymore, or programs that didn't quite close all the way. These "leftovers" hog your system resources, usually your RAM. If too much of that goes on, you start to get problems, like a sluggish system, programs that won't open anymore, error messages... you name it. When you reboot your computer, every single program and process ends as the power leaves your computer during the restart process. Once your computer starts back up, you have a clean slate of sorts again and, more often than not, a faster, better working computer. Important: Restarting your computer is the same as rebooting it or powering it off and then on manually. Restarting is not the same as resetting, which is a much bigger process and usually means erasing everything and returning it to "factory defaults." See How Do I Restart My Computer? if you're not sure how to restart your Windows PC properly. If you actually are interested in resetting your computer, keep reading... I talk about that more in the last section. Restarting Works on Other Devices Too This same logic applies to other devices that you don't call a computer, but in reality actually are. Devices like your television, smartphone, modem, router, DVR, home security system, digital camera, (etc., etc.) all have tiny operating systems and software that run in to the same issues that your full blown PC sometimes does. Rebooting those devices is usually as easy as removing power for several seconds and then returning it. In other words: unplug it and then plug it back in. See How to Restart Anything if you need some device-specific help with this one. Frequent Restarting is Probably a Sign of a Bigger Problem Needing to restart your computer, on occasion, is perfectly normal, especially if you're doing the kind of work that requires a lot of interaction with the operating system, like updating drivers,installing updates, reinstalling software, etc. Beyond that, however, you might be experiencing issues that a restart is only temporarily fixing for you. A piece of hardware may be failing, important Windows files may be corrupt, or you may have a malware infection. In those cases, follow any troubleshooting that makes sense for the exact problem. System File Checker with the scannow switch is often a good thing to try and of course a full system malware scan is almost always in order. Like I mentioned above, resetting typically means a true reset, often returning the device back to the same state as the day you took whatever-it-is out of the box. This option is also available as a last resort for Windows - it's called "Reset This PC."

    Blog Entry, Hardware, Technical Support
  • Posted on December 22, 2016 12:02 pm
    Joseph Forbes
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    In the early days of computers, storage was calculated in megabytes and most systems relied on floppy drives. With the rise of hard drives, people could store more data but it ws not very portable. CDs brought digital audio but also the means to provide high capacity portable storage that made it easy to share large amount of data and easy to install applications. DVDs expanded on that by bringing movies and TV shows and capacities well beyond what hard drives could even store. Now through a number of factors, finding a PC that includes any sort of optical drive is becoming very difficult. Rise of Smaller Mobile Computers Let's face it, optical discs are still quite large. At nearly five inches in diameter, the discs are big when compared to the size of modern laptops and now tablets. Even though the optical drives have been greatly reduced in size, more and more laptops have dropped the technology to conserve on space. Even though a large number of ultraportable computers have in the past dropped the drive in order to allow for thinner and lighter systems, the original MacBook Air showed just how thin a modern laptop could be without the drive. Now with the rise of tablets for computing, there is even less space to try and incorporate these large drives into the systems. Even if you are not talking about the size of the mobile computer, the space used up by an optical drive can be used for more practical things. After all, that space could be better used for the battery which can extend the overall running time of the system. If the system is designed for performance, it could store a new solid state drive in addition to a hard drive for added performance. Maybe the computer could use a better graphics solution that would be useful for graphics work or even gaming. Capacity Has Not Matched Other Technologies When CD drives first hit the market, they offered a huge storage capacity that rivaled traditional magnetic media of the day. After all, 650 megabytes of storage was well beyond what most hard drives were at the time. DVD expanded this capacity even further with 4.7 gigabytes of storage on the recordable formats. Blu-ray with its narrower optical beam can almost achieve 200 gigabytes but more practical consumer applications are generally much lower at 25 gigabytes. While the growth rate of these capacities is good, it is nowhere near the exponential growth that hard drives achieved. Optical storage is still stuck in the gigabytes while most hard drives are pushing even more terabytes. Using the CD, DVD and Blu-ray for storing data is just not worth it anymore. Terabyte drives are generally found for under a hundred dollars and offer faster access to your data. In fact, many people have more storage in their computers today than they are likely to use over the lifetime of the system. Solid state drives have also seen tremendous gains over the years. The flash memory used in these drives is the same that was found in the USB flash drives that made floppy technology obsolete. An 16GB USB flash drive can be found for under $10 yet stores more data than a dual layer DVD can. The SSD drives used within computers are still fairly expensive for their capacities but they are getting more and more practical every year such that they will likely replace hard drives in many computers thanks to their durability and low power consumption. Rise of Non-Physical Media With the rise of smartphones and their use as digital music players, the need for physical media distribution has slowly eroded. As more and more people started to listening to their music on these players and then their smartphones, they did not generally need a CD player other than to take their existing music collection and rip it into the MP3 format to listen on the new media players. Eventually, the ability to purchase the tracks through the iTunes store, Amazon MP3 store and other media outlets, the once ubiquitous physical media format has increasingly become irrelevant to the industry. Now that same problem that happened to CDs is also happening to the video industry. DVD sales made up a huge portion of the movie industries revenues. Over the years, sales of the discs have declined greatly. Some of this is likely from the ability to stream movies and TVs from services such as Netflix or Hulu. In addition, more and more movies can be purchased in a digital format from stores like iTunes and Amazon just like they can with music. This is extremely convenient especially for those people that want to use a tablet for watching video while traveling. Even the high definition Blu-ray media has failed to catch on compared to previous DVD sales. Even software which always used to be purchased on disc and then installed has moved into the digital distribution channels. Digital distribution for software is not a new idea as it was done years before the internet through shareware and bulletin board systems. Eventually, services such as Steam for PC games rose up and made it easy for consumers to purchase and download programs to use on their computers. The success of this model and that of iTunes lead many companies to start offering digital software distribution for computers. Tablets have taken this even further with their app stores built into the operating systems. Heck, even most modern PCs do not come with physical installation media anymore. Instead, they rely on a separate recovery partition and backups that are made by the consumer after the purchase of the system. Windows Lacks DVD Playback Natively Probably the biggest factor that will lead to the demise of the optical drive in PCs is Microsoft dropping support for DVD playback. In one of their developer blogs, they state that the base versions of the Windows 8 operating system will not include the software necessary for playing back DVD videos. This decision carried over to the latest Windows 10. This is a major development as it was a standard feature in previous versions of the operating system. Now, users will either have to purchase the Media Center pack for the OS or will need a separate playback software on top of the OS. The primary reason for this move has to do with costs. Apparently, Microsoft says that companies licensing the software were concerned about the overall cost of the software to be installed on the PCs. By removing the DVD playback software, the associated license fees for the video playback codecs can also be removed thus reducing the overall cost of the software. Of course, it will just be one more reason that consumers will likely abandon the hardware as it will be useless without the added software expense. HD Formats, DRM and compatibility Finally, the last nail in the coffin for optical media is the whole format wars and piracy concerns that have been plaguing the high definition formats. Originally, it was the battle between HD-DVD and Blu-ray that made adoption of the new format problematic as consumers waited for the format wars to be worked out. Blu-ray was the eventual winner of the two formats but it has not caught on hugely with consumers and much of this has to do with the DRM schema present and the difficulties of working with it. The Blu-ray specification has gone through multiple revision since it was first released. Many of the changes to the format have to do with piracy concerns from the studios. In order to prevent perfect digital copies from eating into sales, changes keep being introduced to make it more secure from being copies. This change has resulted in some newer discs from not being able to be played in older players. Thankfully computers have all the decoding done by software rather than hardware. This makes them more adaptable but it requires constant upgrading of the player software to ensure functionality with upcoming discs. The problem is that security requirements can change which may result in some older hardware or software from being able to view the videos. The end result is that it can be a major headache for the consumers who wish to have the new optical formats in their computers. In fact, users of the Apple software have it even worse as the company refuses to support the technology within the Mac OS X software. This makes the Blu-ray format all but irrelevant for the platform. Conclusions Now optical storage is not going to completely disappear from computers any time soon. It is just very clear that their primary usage is changing and is not a requirement for computers like they once were. Instead of being used for storing data, loading software or watching movies, the drives will likely be there to convert the physical media into the digital files for playback on computers and mobile devices. It is almost certain that the drives will be completely removed from most mobile computers in the near future. There is little use for the drives when it is so much easier to view them off a digital file than the disc. Desktops will still pack them for a while as the technology is so inexpensive to include and there are not the space issue of mobile computers. Of course, the market for external peripheral optical drives will survive for a while for anyone that still wants to have the capability that will be dropped from their future computers.

    Blog Entry, DATA, EDUCATION
  • Posted on December 21, 2016 11:59 am
    Joseph Forbes
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    Solid state drives or SSDs are the latest in high performance storage for computer systems. They offer much higher data transfer rates than traditional hard drives while consuming less energy and also having greater levels of reliability thanks to no moving parts. These attributes make them extremely attractive to those using mobile computers but they are also starting to make their way into high performance desktops as well. Features and performance can vary greatly in the solid state market. Because of this, it is very important to consider things carefully if you are purchasing a solid state drive for your computer. This article will take a look at some of the key features and how they can impact the performance and cost of drives to help buyers make a more informed purchasing decision. Interface The interface on the solid state drive is most likely going to be Serial ATA. Why will this interface be important than? Well, in order to get the highest performance out of the latest generation of solid state drives means that you will need to have a 6Gbps rated SATA interface. Older SATA interfaces will still offer strong performance especially compared to hard drives but they may not be able to achieve their highest levels of performance. Because of this, people with older SATA controllers in their computer may want to buy an older generation solid state drive that has rated maximum read and write speeds closer to their maximum interface speed in order to save some on costs. Another thing to remember is that interfaces are rated in gigabits per second while read and write times on drives are listed in megabytes per second. In order to determine the limitations on interfaces, I have listed the converted values below for the various SATA implementations for readers to better match drives to their PCs SATA versions: SATA III (6Gbps): 750MB/s SATA II (3Gbps): 375MB/s SATA I (1.5Gbps): 187.5MB/s Remember that these are the theoretical maximum throughputs for the various SATA interface standards. Once again, real world performance will typically be a lower than these ratings. For instance, most SATA III solid state drives peak between 500 and 600MB/s. Several new interface technologies are starting to make their way into personal computers but they are still in the very early stages. SATA Express is the primary interface that is set to replace SATA in the desktop market. The interface on the system is backward compatible with older SATA drives but you can not use a SATA Express drive with an older SATA interface. M.2 is an special interface that is really designed for use with mobile or thin computing applications but is being integrated into many new desktop motherboards. While it can use SATA technology, this is a very different interface that is more like a stick of memory slid into the slot. Both allow for faster speeds if the drives are designed to use the faster PCI-Expresstransmission methods. For SATA Express, this is roughly 2Gbps while M.2 can reach up to 4Gbps if it uses four PCI-Express lanes. Drive Height/Length Restrictions If you are planning of installing a solid state drive into a laptop to replace a hard drive you also have to be aware of the physical size limitations. For instance, 2.5-inch drives are typically available in multiple height ranges from as thin as 5mm all the way to 9.5mm. If your laptop can only fit up to 7.5mm height but you get a 9.5mm heigh drive, it will not fit. Similarly, most mSATA or M.2 card drives have length and height requirements. Be sure to check the maximum supported length and height for these as well before purchaing one to make sure it will fit in your system. For instance, some very thin laptops may only support single sided M.2 cards or mSATA cards. Capacity Capacity is a fairly easy concept to understand. A drive is rated by its overall data storage capacity. The overall capacity of solid state drives is still significantly less than what can be achieved with traditional hard drives. The price per gigabyte has been steadily dropping making them more affordable but they still lag behind hard drives significantly especially on the largest capacities. This can cause issues for those that want to store a lot of data on their solid state drive. Typical ranges for solid state drives are between 64GB and 4TB. The problem is that capacity in solid state drives can also play an important role in the performance of the drive as well. Two drives in the same product line with different capacities will likely have different performance. This has to do with the number and type of memory chips on the drive. Typically, capacity is linked to the number of chips. So, a 240GB SSD may have twice the number of NAND chips as a 120GB drive. This allows the drive to spread out the read and writes of the data between the chips which effectively increases performance similar to how RAID can work with multiple hard drives. Now the performance will not be twice as fast because of the overhead of managing the read and writes but it can be significant. Be sure to look at the rated speed specifications for the drive at the capacity level you are looking at to get the best idea of how the capacity might have an impact on performance. Controller / Firmware The performance of a solid state drive can be greatly impacted by the controller and the firmware that are installed on the drive. Some of the companies that make SSD controllers include Intel, Sandforce, Indilinx (now owned by Toshiba), Marvel, Silicon Motion, Toshiba and Samsung. Each of these companies also has multiple controllers available for use with solid state drives. So, why does this matter? Well the controller is responsible for handling the data management between the various memory chips. The controllers can also determine the overall capacity for the drive based on the number of channels for chips. Comparing controllers is not something that is easy to do. Unless you are extremely technical, all it will really do is let you know if a drive is a current or past generation solid state drive. For example, the Sandforce SF-2000 is a newer controller generation than the SF-1000. This should mean that the newer one can support larger capacities and have higher performance. The problem is that two drives from different companies can have the same controller but still have vastly different performance. This is due to the firmware that is included with the SSDs in addition to the specific memory chips they may use. One firmware may emphasis data management differently than another that can boost its performance for specific types of data compared to another. Because of this, it is important to examine the rated speeds in addition to the controller itself. Write / Read Speeds Since solid state drives offer significant performance speeds over hard drives, the read and write speeds are particularly important to look at when buying a drive. There are two different types of read and write operations but most manufacturers will only list the sequential read and write speeds. This is done because sequential speeds are faster thanks to the larger data blocks. The other type is random data access. This typically consists of multiple small data reads and writes that are slower because they require more operations. The manufacturer speed ratings are a good basic measure for comparing solid state drives. Be warned though that the ratings are at their best under the manufacturer testing. Real world performance will likely be below the ratings given. This has to do partly with the various aspects discussed later in the article but also because data can be influenced by other sources. For instance, copying data from a hard drive to a solid state drive will limit the maximum write speeds for the SSD to how fast the data can be read from the hard drive. Write Cycles One issue that buyers of solid state drives might not be aware of is that fact that the memory chips inside of them have a limited number of erase cycles they can support. Over time the cells within the chip will eventually fail. Typically, the manufacturer of the memory chips will have a rated number of cycles that they are guaranteed for. To mitigate the failure of the chips being worn out from constant erasing of specific cells, the controller and firmware will not immediately erase old deleted data. The average consumer will probably not see a solid state drive's memory chips fail within the typical lifetime (upwards of five years) of their system. This is because they don't typically have high read and write tasks. Someone doing heavy database or editing work might see higher write levels though. Because of this, they may want to take into account the rated number of write cycles that a drive is rated for. Most drives will have ratings somewhere in the 3000 to 5000 erase cycles. The larger than cycles, the longer the drive should last. Sadly, many companies are not listing this information anymore on their drives instead requiring users to judge expected life of the drives based upon the warranty lengths provided by the manufacturers. TRIM / Cleanup A process of garbage collection can be used within the firmware to try and cleanup the drive for improve performance. The problem is that if the garbage collection within the drive is too aggressive, it can cause write amplification and shorten the lifespan of the memory chips. Conversely, a conservative garbage collection may extend the life of the drive but significantly reduce the overall performance of the drive. TRIM is a command function that lets the operating system better manage the data cleanup within the solid state memory. It essentially keeps track of what data is in use and what is free to be erased. This has the benefit of keeping the performance of the drive up while not adding to the write amplification that leads to early degradation. Because of this, it is important to get a TRIM compatible drive if your operating system supports the function. Windows has supported this feature since Windows 7 while Apple has supported it since OS X version 10.7 or Lion. Bare Drives vs. Kits The majority of solid state drives are just sold with the drive. This is fine because if you are building a new machine or just adding extra storage to a system, you don't need anything more than just the drive. If however, you are planning on upgrading an older computer from a traditional hard drive to a solid state drive, then you might want to look into getting a kit. Most drive kits include some additional physical items such as a 3.5-inch drive bracket for installing into desktops, SATA cables and most important cloning tools. To properly get the benefits of a solid state drive as a replacement, it must take the place as the boot drive of the existing system. To do this, a SATA to USB cable is provided to allow the drive to be attached to an existing computer system. Then a cloning software is installed to basically mirror the existing hard drive onto the solid state drive. Once that process it complete, the old hard drive can be removed from the system and the solid state drive put in its place. A kit will generally add around $20 to $50 to the cost of the drive.

    Blog Entry, DATA, MONEY
  • Posted on July 9, 2016 8:00 pm
    Joseph Forbes
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    Start with a Plan Before you begin recording, take some time to think about what the focus is for your podcast. How long do you want the show to last and what types of guests do you want to have, if any at all? What kind of speaking tone is best suited for what you're trying to do? Great microphones and recording equipment won't save poorly thought out ideas. Pick a Podcasting Place If you're going to be doing recording on a regular basis, try to pick a place where you can set up your equipment and leave it connected. This is a real time saver, and helps you stay focused on your vocal delivery, instead of worrying about setting up wires and equipment. The ideal place would be somewhere quiet, with a minimum of distractions. If possible, pick a place that has carpet or curtains that absorb and deaden the sound. Reflective rooms with hard floors and hard, parallel walls will bounce your voice off their surfaces and back into the microphone, creating a boxy room ambiance and flutter echoes. If you must record in a bad environment, try to use a directional microphone, and record close to the microphone to minimize the room's ambiance. If you're recording on the road and can't find a quiet place to record, a parked car with the engine off is a surprisingly good acoustic environment. Is This Thing On? Before starting to record, do a ten second test, speaking at your normal voice level. This way, if something's not hooked up, or the microphones level is wrong, you'll catch it before you launch into a long performance. When you start your real recording, check to make sure the recorder has started, and give a few seconds of silence at the front, so that your intro words don't accidentally get cut off. Nothing hurts worse than delivering a perfect performance, only to realize that the microphone level was too low, or that the recorder didn't start. Express Yourself Effective speakers use variations in their voice's tone, pacing, and volume to keep their listeners engaged. Pay special attention to your favorite podcasters or radio hosts the next time you hear them. Can you identify what it is about their voice presentation that draws you in? If your voice sounds scratchy, try an old trick used by singers everywhere: drink some hot tea with honey. Soda and dairy drinks hurt your vocal performance, so you may want to avoid them when you record. Using a pop filter on your microphone helps to reduce popping P's and B's in the recording, and makes the overall recording sound more professional. You're Going to Edit That, Right? Depending on your format, once you finish recording, you may need to do some editing If you had to repeat a sentence in the recording because of a mistake, you'll want to delete the old sentence and replace it. When editing vocal phrases together, be careful not to make a splice in the middle of someone taking a breath. This is a dead giveaway that the audio was edited in that spot. When splicing phrases together, try to pay attention to the pacing in the voice. If a speaker needs to repeat a line, it's helpful to play back a couple lines preceding the one to be recorded when re-recording it. This lets the speaker get into the same voice and rhythm he was using in the original recording. This makes splicing the two together in a convincing way later much easier. Keep Learning There's lots of different skills to master to become a successful podcaster, so if you're not totally happy with your first efforts, don't give up. I've never met a podcaster who thought their first episode was perfect. Podcasts always seem to clarify and reveal their unique nature as time goes on, so the most important thing is to get started and to start learning by doing. Don't let a desire for perfection stop you; Keep doing your best, and you'll end up with appreciative listeners and a great podcast!

    Blog Entry, Internet, Software
  • Posted on July 8, 2016 8:23 pm
    Joseph Forbes
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    There are a lot of reasons to start a podcast, you may want to connect to your existing audience in a more personal way. You may not have an audience but would like to build one. Podcasting is a great way to build a new audience. You may want to become a recognized expert in your chosen niche. Podcasting is a great way to get your message out to the masses. Spencer Haws of Niche Pursuits has a great article about what podcasts are not good for, but he does add that they are great for branding and relationship building. Whatever your motivation, podcasts are a great way to get your voice and message heard, but getting started can be a bit overwhelming. In this article, we break podcasting down into 12 simple steps to get your show on iTunes and have your voice heard. From a big picture perspective, you can break podcasting down into four parts plan, produce, publish and promote. Planning Your Podcast This is probably one of the most fun parts. You get to decide what your show is about. This is where you get to be creative and decide on the name of the show, the tone and message you want to portray, the format such as having co-hosts or guest interviews, and how long the shows will be and how often you will podcast. You also get to decide fun things like the branding, podcast music, logos and cover art that you will be using. The planning stage is a great time to be creative and weigh your creative options while still taking the time to iron out the nitty gritty details. Planning Stage Discover your topic, podcast title, and description Decide on your format, podcast length, frequency and editorial calendar Develop your branding such as your cover art, logo, music, and script Producing Your Podcast This is the part where you get to record your podcast. This is another fun part of your podcast journey. This is where you get to gather up all of your podcast equipment and decide on the type of software you are going to use for recording and editing your show. This is where you get to record and maybe re-record your first show. This is where you develop your microphone technique and your speaking and interview skills. This is where you get to hear what your voice really sounds like. This is the part you will revisit over and over and really develop to grow your brand and voice. Producing Stage Record your show using your microphone and headphones Get your recording into a mp3 format using audio software and your computer Edit your mp3 file - take out ums, pauses and mistakes. Then add your music, intros, outros and advertising if any. Publishing Your Podcast Publishing your podcast is a three step approach. You need to make your recorded podcast files readily available for your listeners. This involves finding a media host. A media host is similar to a web host, but it is an affordable way to have your audio files always available with no downtime or bandwidth restrictions. Libsyn and Blubrry are two of the most popular media hosts. You can also get a podcast feed from your media host. A podcast feed is similar to a blogging RSS feed, but it has all of the information for your podcast. Once you have your feed, you can use it to publish your podcast to podcast directories such as iTunes without doing any additional work other than uploading your new shows to the media host. The feed will automatically update the directories with your new information each time a new episode is added. You will also want a way to interact with your podcast listeners. Publishing your podcast on your existing blog or website or creating one just for the podcast is a good idea. You can create a post for each new episode. On that post, you can have a podcast player with the episode, a link for your listener to subscribe to iTunes, show notes with a summary of that day’s topic and any links mentioned, and a call to action or a way to continue interacting with each listener that visits your site. The content can also help with SEO. You will also want to publish your feed in iTunes. The biggest podcast directory in the world and where many of your new listeners will come from. There are quite a few requirements for publishing in iTunes, but the main things you will need is the validated feed from your media host, the cover image, the podcast title, description, categories, and tags. Publishing Stage Sign up for a media host to submit files and create a feed Create a category on your blog or website to publish each episode and show notes Submit your podcast to iTunes using your podcast feed, title, description, and image Promote Your Podcast After all of the work you want to get as many listeners as possible. Like any online endeavor, promotion is one of the best ways to do that. As you hone your craft and build your content library, you want to promote along the way. The most common ways to promote your podcast is through an established website or mailing list that you already have. You can also grow your audience by interacting with the audience of other podcasters by being a guest or interviewing other podcasters and bloggers. You can also leverage social media using your accounts or your guest's accounts. These are the most common methods, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box. There are a number of steps to get started podcasting, but broken down they are not that overwhelming. Promotion Stage Use your website and mailing list Leverage the audience of guests or bloggers you interact with Find a way to leverage social media for your podcast and potential audience

    Blog Entry, Cloud Apps, Internet