• Posted on July 13, 2017 12:03 pm
    Joseph Forbes
    No comments

    Internet or 'Net' Neutrality, by definition, means that there are no restrictions of any kind on access to content on the Web, no restrictions on downloads or uploads, and no restrictions on communication methods (email, chat, IM, etc.) It also means that access to the internet will not be blocked, slowed down, or sped up depending on where that access is based or who owns the access point(s). In essence, the internet is open to everyone. What does an open internet mean for the average Web user? When we get on the Web, we are able to access the entire Web: that means any website, any video, any download, any email. We use the Web to communicate with others, go to school, do our jobs, and connect with people all over the world. Because of the freedom that governs the Web, this access is granted without any restrictions whatsoever. Why is Net Neutrality important? Growth: Net neutrality is the reason that the Web has grown at such a phenomenal rate from the time it was created in 1991 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (see also History of the World Wide Web). Creativity: Creativity, innovation, and unbridled inventiveness have given us Wikipedia, YouTube, Google, I Can Has Cheezburger, torrents, Hulu, The Internet Movie Database, Reddit, LifeWire, and many more. Communication: Net neutrality has given us the ability to freely communicate with people on a personal basis: government leaders, business owners, celebrities, work colleagues, medical personnel, family, etc., without restrictions.  Strong net neutrality rules should be left in place to ensure all of these things exist and thrive. If Net Neutrality rules are removed, everyone that uses the internet will lose these freedoms. Is Net Neutrality available worldwide? No. There are countries whose governments restrict their citizens’ access to the Web for political reasons. Vimeo has a great video on this very topic that explains how limiting access to the internet can impact everyone in the world. Is Net Neutrality in danger? Possibly. There are many companies that have a vested interest in making sure that access to the Web is not freely available. These companies are already in charge of most of the Web’s infrastructure, and they see potential profit in making the Web “pay for play”. This could result in restrictions on what Web users are able to search for, download, or read. Some people in the United States are even afraid that changes from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could result in a negative net neutrality ruling. At Fight for the Future's Battle for Net Neutrality site, you can send a letter directly to FCC and Congress and let them know how you feel. You can also file a document into the official FCC proceeding to let officials know whether or not you want Net Neutrality regulations to change or remain in place. It's a super wonky form with a couple of weird things (hey, this is the government!) so follow these instructions carefully: Visit ECFS Express at the FCC website. Type 17-108 in the Proceeding(s) box. Press Enter to turn the number to a yellow/orange box. Type your first name and last name in the Name(s) of Filer(s) box. Press Enter to turn your name into a yellow/orange box. Fill in the rest of the form as you would normally fill in an internet form. Check the Email Confirmation box. Tap or click the Continue to review screen button. On the next page, tap or click the Submit button. That's it! You've made your feelings known. What would happen if Net Neutrality were to be restricted or abolished? Net neutrality is the foundation of the freedom that we enjoy on the Web. Losing that freedom could result in consequences such as restricted access to websites and diminished download rights, as well as controlled creativity and corporate-governed services. Some people call that scenario the 'end of the internet.' What are "Internet fast lanes"? How are are they related to Net neutrality?  "Internet fast lanes" are special deals and channels that would give some companies exceptional treatment as far as broadband access and internet traffic. Many people believe that this would violate the concept of net neutrality. Internet fast lanes could cause issues because instead of Internet providers being required to provide the same service for all subscribers regardless of size/company/influence, they could be able to make deals with certain companies that would give them preferred access. This practice could potentially hamper growth, strengthen illegal monopolies, and cost the consumer. In addition, an open internet is essential for a continued free exchange of information – a bedrock concept that the World Wide Web was founded upon. Net neutrality is important Net neutrality in the context of the Web is somewhat new, but the concept of neutral, publicly accessible information and transfer of that information has been around since the days of Alexander Graham Bell. Basic public infrastructure, such as subways, buses, telephone companies, etc., are not allowed to discriminate, restrict, or differentiate common access, and this is the core concept behind net neutrality as well. For those of us who appreciate the Web, and want to preserve the freedom that this amazing invention has given us to exchange information, net neutrality is a core concept that we must work to maintain.

    Blog Entry, DATA, EDUCATION
  • Posted on June 10, 2017 11:11 am
    Joseph Forbes
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    Check Point Threat Intelligence and research teams recently discovered a high volume Chinese threat operation which has infected over 250 million computers worldwide. The installed malware,  Fireball, takes over target browsers and turns them into zombies. Fireball has two main functionalities:  the ability of running any code on victim computers–downloading any file or malware, and  hijacking and manipulating infected users’ web-traffic to generate ad-revenue. Currently, Fireball installs plug-ins and additional configurations to boost its advertisements, but just as easily it can turn into a prominent distributor for any additional malware. This operation is run by Rafotech, a large digital marketing agency based in Beijing. Rafotech uses Fireball to manipulate the victims’ browsers and turn their default search engines and home-pages into fake search engines. This redirects the queries to either yahoo.com or Google.com. The fake search engines include tracking pixels used to collect the users’ private information. Fireball has the ability to  spy on victims, perform efficient malware dropping, and execute any malicious code in the infected machines, this creates a massive security flaw in targeted machines and networks.   KEY FINDINGS Check Point analysts uncovered a high volume Chinese threat operation which has infected over 250 million computers worldwide, and 20% of corporate networks. The malware, called Fireball, acts as a browser-hijacker but and can be turned into a full-functioning malware downloader. Fireball is capable of executing any code on the victim machines, resulting in a wide range of actions from stealing credentials to dropping additional malware. Fireball is spread mostly via bundling i.e. installed on victim machines alongside a wanted program, often without the user’s consent. The operation is run by Chinese digital marketing agency. Top infected countries are India (10.1%) and Brazil (9.6%)   Figure 1: Fireball Infection Flow     250 MILLIONS MACHINES AND 20% OF CORPORATE NETWORKS WORLDWIDE INFECTED The scope of the malware distribution is alarming. According to our analysis, over 250 million computers worldwide have been  infected: specifically,  25.3 million infections in India (10.1%), 24.1 million in Brazil (9.6%), 16.1 million in Mexico (6.4%), and 13.1 million in Indonesia (5.2%). The United States has  witnessed 5.5 million infections (2.2%). Based on Check Point’s global sensors,  20% of all corporate networks are affected . Hit rates in the US (10.7%) and China (4.7%) are alarming;but Indonesia (60%), India (43%) and Brazil (38%) have much more dangerous hit rates. Another indicator of the incredibly high infection rate is the popularity of Rafotech’s fake search engines. According to Alexa’s web traffic data, 14 of these fake search engines are among the top 10,000 websites, with some of them occasionally reaching the top 1,000. Figure 2: Fireball Global Infection Rates (darker pink = more infections)   Ironically, although Rafotech doesn’t admit it produces browser-hijackers and fake search engines, it does (proudly) declare itself a successful marketing agency, reaching 300 million users worldwide – coincidentally similar to our number of estimated infections. Figure 3: Rafotech’s Advertisement on the Company’s Official Website   A BACKDOOR TO EVERY INFECTED NETWORK Fireball and similar browser-hijackers are hybrid creatures, half seemingly legitimate software (see the GOING UNDER THE RADAR section), and half malware. Although Rafotech  uses Fireball only for advertising and initiating traffic to its fake search engines, it  can perform any action on the victims’ machines These actions  can have serious consequences. How severe is it? Try to imagine a pesticide armed with a nuclear bomb. Yes, it can do the job, but it can also do much more. These browser-hijackers are  capable on the browser level. This means that they can drive victims to malicious sites, spy on them and conduct successful malware dropping. From a technical perspective, Fireball displays great sophistication and quality evasion techniques, including anti-detection capabilities, multi-layer structure and a flexible C&C– it is not inferior to a typical malware. Many threat actors would like to have  a fraction of Rafotech’s power, as Fireball provides a critical backdoor, which can be further exploited.   GOING UNDER THE RADAR While the distribution of Fireball is both malicious and illegitimate, it actually carries digital certificates imparting them a legitimate appearance. Confused? You should be. Rafotech carefully walks along the edge of legitimacy, knowing that adware distribution is not considered a crime like malware distribution is. How is that? Many companies provide software or services for free, and make their profits by harvesting data or presenting advertisements. Once a client agrees to the installment of extra features or software to his/her computer, it is hard to claim malicious intent on behalf of the provider. This gray zone led to the birth of a new kind of monetizing method – bundling. Bundling is when a wanted program installs another program alongside it, sometimes with a user’s authorization and sometimes without. Rafotech uses bundling in high volume to spread Fireball.   Figure 4: Bundling in Action   According to our analysis, Rafotech’s distribution methods appear to be illegitimate and don’t follow the criteria which would allow these actions to be considered naïve or legal. The malware and the fake search engines don’t carry indicators connecting them to Rafotech, they cannot be uninstalled by an ordinary user, and they conceal their true nature. So how do they carry digital certificates? One possibility is that issuers make their living from providing certificates, and small issuers with flexible ethics can enjoy the lack of clarity in the adware world’s legality to approve software such as Rafotech’s browser-hijackers. THE INFECTION MODEL As with other types of malware, there are many ways for Fireball to spread. We suspect that two popular vectors are bundling the malware to other Rafotech products – Deal Wifi and Mustang Browser – as well as bundling via other freeware distributors: products such as “Soso Desktop”, “FVP Imageviewer” and others. It’s important to remember that when a user installs freeware, additional malware isn’t necessarily dropped at the same time. If you download a suspicious freeware and nothing happens on the spot, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something isn’t happening behind the scenes. Furthermore, it is likely that Rafotech is using additional distribution methods, such as spreading freeware under fake names, spam, or even buying installs from threat actors. As with everything in the internet, remember that there are no free lunches. When you download freeware, or use cost-free services (streaming and downloads, for example), the service provider is making profit somehow. If it’s not from you or from advertisements, it will come from somewhere else.   Figure 5: Deal Wifi Installation Screen   HOW CAN I KNOW IF I AM INFECTED? To check if you’re infected, first open your web browser. Was your home-page set by you? Are you able to modify it? Are you familiar with your default search engine and can modify that as well? Do you remember installing all of your browser extensions? If the answer to any of these questions is “NO”, this is a sign that you’re infected with adware. You can also use a recommended adware scanner, just to be extra cautious. Figure 6: trotux.com; a Fake Search Engine Run by Rafotech     THE RED BUTTON IN THE WRONG HANDS It doesn’t take much to imagine a scenario in which Rafotech decides to harvest sensitive information from all of its infected machines, and sell this data to threat groups or business rivals. Banking and credit card credentials, medical files, patents and business plans can all be widely exposed and abused by threat actors for various purposes. Based on our estimated infection rate, in such a scenario, one out of five corporations worldwide will be susceptible to a major breach. Severe damage can be caused to key organizations, from major service providers to critical infrastructure operators to medical institutions. The potential loss is indescribable, and repairing the damage caused by such massive data leakage (if even possible) could take years. Rafotech holds the power to initiate a global catastrophe and it is not alone. During our research we’ve tracked down additional browser-hijackers that, to our understanding, were developed by other companies. One such company is ELEX Technology, an Internet Services company also based in Beijing  produces products similar to those of Rafotech. Several findings lead us to suspect that the two companies are related, and may be collaborating in the distribution of browser-hijackers or in trading customers’ traffic. For example, an adware developed by ELEX, named YAC (“Yet Another Cleaner”) is suspected to be connected to Rafotech’s operation, dropping its browser-hijackers.   CONCLUSION In this research we’ve described Rafotech’s browser-hijackers operation – possibly the largest infection operation in history. We believe that although this is not a typical malware attack campaign, it has the potential to cause irreversible damage to its victims as well as worldwide internet users, and therefore it must be blocked by security companies. The full distribution of Fireball is not yet known, but it is clear that it presents a great threat to the global cyber ecosystem. With a quarter billion infected machines and a grip in one of every five corporate networks, Rafotech’s activities make it an immense threat.   HOW DO I REMOVE THE MALWARE, ONCE INFECTED? To remove almost any adware, follow these simple steps: Uninstall the adware by removing the application from the Programs and Features list in the Windows Control Panel.   For Mac OS users: Use the Finder to locate the Applications Drag the suspicious file to the Trash. Empty the Trash.   Note – A usable program is not always installed on the machine and therefore may not be found on the program list.   Scan and clean your machine, using: Anti-Malware software Adware cleaner software   Remove malicious Add-ons, extensions or plug-ins from your browser: On Google Chrome:a.       Click the Chrome menu icon and select Tools > Extensions. b.      Locate and select any suspicious Add-ons. c.       Click the trash can icon to delete.   On Internet Explorer:a.       Click the Setting icon and select Manage Add-ons. b.      Locate and remove any malicious Add-ons. On Mozilla Firefox:a.       Click the Firefox menu icon and go to the Tools tab. b.      Select Add-ons > Extensions. A new window opens. c.       Remove any suspicious Add-ons. d.      Go to the Add-ons manager > Plugins. e.      Locate and disable any malicious plugins.   On Safari:a.       Make sure the browser is active. b.      Click the Safari tab and select preferences. A new window opens. c.       Select the Extensions tab. d.      Locate and uninstall any suspicious extensions.     Restore your internet browser to its default settings: On Google Chrome:a.       Click the Chrome menu icon, and select Settings. b.      In the On startup section, click Set Pages. c.       Delete the malicious pages from the Startup pages list. d.      Find the Show Home button option and select Change. e.      In the Open this page field, delete the malicious search engine page. f.        In the Search section, select Manage search engines. g.       Select the malicious search engine page and remove from the list. On Internet Explorer:a.       Select the Tools tab and then select Internet Options. A new window opens. b.      In the Advanced tab, select Reset. c.       Check the Delete personal settings box. d.      Click the Reset button. On Mozilla Firefox:a.       Enable the browser Menu Bar by clicking the blank space near the page tabs. b.      Click the Help tab, and go to Troubleshooting information. A new window opens. c.       Select Reset Firefox. On Safari:a.       Select the Safari tab and then select Preferences. A new window opens. b.      In the Privacy tab, the Manage Website Data… button. A new window opens. c.       Click the Remove All button.           INDICATORS OF COMPROMISE C&C addresses attirerpage[.]com s2s[.]rafotech[.]com trotux[.]com startpageing123[.]com funcionapage[.]com universalsearches[.]com thewebanswers[.]com nicesearches[.]com youndoo[.]com giqepofa[.]com mustang-browser[.]com forestbrowser[.]com luckysearch123[.]com ooxxsearch[.]com search2000s[.]com walasearch[.]com hohosearch[.]com yessearches[.]com d3l4qa0kmel7is[.]cloudfront[.]net d5ou3dytze6uf[.]cloudfront[.]net d1vh0xkmncek4z[.]cloudfront[.]net d26r15y2ken1t9[.]cloudfront[.]net d11eq81k50lwgi[.]cloudfront[.]net ddyv8sl7ewq1w[.]cloudfront[.]net d3i1asoswufp5k[.]cloudfront[.]net dc44qjwal3p07[.]cloudfront[.]net dv2m1uumnsgtu[.]cloudfront[.]net d1mxvenloqrqmu[.]cloudfront[.]net dfrs12kz9qye2[.]cloudfront[.]net dgkytklfjrqkb[.]cloudfront[.]net dgkytklfjrqkb[.]cloudfront[.]net/main/trmz[.]exe   File Hashes FAB40A7BDE5250A6BC8644F4D6B9C28F 69FFDF99149D19BE7DC1C52F33AAA651 B56D1D35D46630335E03AF9ADD84B488 8C61A6937963507DC87D8BF00385C0BC 7ADB7F56E81456F3B421C01AB19B1900 84DCB96BDD84389D4449F13EAC75098 2B307E28CE531157611825EB0854C15F 7B2868FAA915A7FC6E2D7CC5A965B1E

    Hacking, Internet, Internet Scam Notices
  • Posted on April 25, 2017 12:25 pm
    Joseph Forbes
    No comments

    What DLNA Is DLNA stands for Digital Living Network Alliance. The DLNA is a trade organization that was founded to set standards and guidelines via a certification program for home networking media devices, including many PCs, Smartphones/Tablets, Smart TVs, Blu-ray Disc Players, and Network Media players. DLNA certification lets the consumer know that once connected to your home network, it will automatically communicate with other connected DLNA certified products. DLNA certified devices can: find and play movies; send, display and/or upload photos, find, send, play and/or download music; and send and print photos between compatible network-connected devices. Some examples of DLNA compatibility include the following: If your smartphone and TV are DLNA certified, you should be able to send audio and video from your smartphone to your TV via your home network. If your TV or Blu-ray Disc player and PC are DLNA certified, you should be able to access audio, video, and still-image files stored on your network connected PC and see or listen on through your TV or Blu-ray Disc player. If you have a DLNA certified digital camera, you can send images, using your home network, to your TV, DLNA certified PC or another compatible device. The History of DLNA In the early years of networking home entertainment, it was difficult and confusing to add a new device and get it to communicate with your computers and other network devices. You might have had to know IP addresses and add each device separately along with crossing your fingers for good luck. DLNA has changed all that. The Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) was started in 2003 when several manufacturers got together to create a standard, and implement certification requirements so that all products made by participating manufacturers were compatible in a home network. This meant that certified products were compatible even if they were made by different manufacturers. Different Certifications for Each Device's Role in Sharing Media Products that are DLNA certified typically are recognized, with little or no setup, as soon as you connect them to your network. DLNA certification means that the device plays a role in your home network and that other DLNA products can communicate with it based on their own roles. Some products store the media. Some products control the media and some products play the media. There is a certification for each of these roles. Within each certification, there are DLNA guidelines for Ethernet and WiFi connectivity, for hardware requirements, for software or firmware requirements, for the user interface, for instructions to make the device networkable, and for displaying different formats of media files. "It's like a car's all point inspection," said Alan Messer, DLNA board member and Senior Director of Convergence Technologies and Standards for Samsung Electronics. "Each aspect must pass testing to get a DLNA certification." Through testing and certification, consumers are assured that they can connect DLNA certified products and be able to save, share, stream and show digital media. Images, music, and video stored on one DLNA certified device -- a computer, network attached storage (NAS) drive or media server--will play on other DLNA certified devices -- TVs, AV receivers, and other computers on the network. The DLNA certification is based on product types and categories. It makes more sense if you break it down. Your media lives (is stored) on a hard drive somewhere. The media must be accessible served up to be shown on other devices. The device where the media lives are the Digital Media Server. Another device plays the video, music, and photos so you can watch them. This is the Digital Media Player. Certification can either be built into the hardware or be part of a software application/program that is running on the device. This particularly relates to network attached storage (NAS) drives and computers.  Twonky, TVersity, and TV Mobili are popular software products that act as digital media servers and can be found by other DLNA devices. DLNA Product Categories Made Simple When you connect a DLNA certified network media component to your home network, it simply appears in other networked components' menus. Your computers and other media devices discover and recognize the device without any setup. DLNA certifies home network products by the role they play in your home network. Some products play media. Some products store the media and make it accessible to media players. And still others control and direct media from its source to a particular player in the network. By understanding the different certifications, you can understand how the home network puzzle fits together. When using media sharing software and devices, you see a list of these categories of devices. Knowing what they are and what they do will help to make sense of your home network. While a digital media player obviously plays media, the names of other devices are not as evident. Basic Media Sharing DLNA Certification Categories Digital Media Player (DMP) - The certification category applies to devices that can find and play media from other devices and computers. A certified media player lists the components (sources) where your media is saved. You choose the photos, music or videos that you want to play from a list of media on the player's menu. The media then streams to the player. A media player may be connected to or built into a TV, Blu-ray Disc player and/or home theater AV receiver, so you can watch or listen to the media it is playing. Digital Media Server (DMS) - The certification category applies to devices that store a media library. It may be a computer, a network attached storage (NAS) drive, a smartphone, a DLNA certified networkable digital camera or camcorder, or a network media server device. A media server must have a hard drive or a memory card on which the media is saved. The media saved to the device can be called up by a digital media player. The media server makes the files available to stream media to the player so you can watch or listen to it. Digital Media Renderer (DMR) - The certification category is similar to the digital media player category. The device is this category also play digital media. However, the difference is that DMR-certified devices can be seen by a digital media controller (further explanation below), and media can be streamed to it from a digital media server. While a digital media player can only play what it can see on its menu, a digital media renderer can be controlled externally. Some certified Digital Media Players are also certified as Digital Media Renderers. Both stand-alone network media players and networked TVs and home theater AV receivers can be certified as Digital Media Renderers. Digital Media Controller (DMC)- This certification category applies to go-between devices that can find media on a Digital Media Server and send it to the Digital Media Renderer. Often smartphones, tablets, computer software like Twonky Beam, or even cameras or camcorders are certified as Digital Media Controllers. More On DLNA Certifications Often you will see the DLNA logo on a product or product description. But rarely will you see what certification it has been given. To know a product's capabilities, you need to know its certification. The DLNA website lists many products under each certification. This can help you to find what you need -- a Digital Media Server, a Digital Media Player, a Digital Media Controller, or a Digital Media Renderer. Other DLNA certification categories that include those for digital media printers and specific certifications for mobile devices.The mobile certifications include Mobile Digital Media Server, Mobile Digital Media Player, and Mobile Digital Media Controller.There are also DLNA certifications for Mobile Digital Media Uploader and Mobile Digital Media Downloader. These certifications relate to the mobile device's ability to upload media through the network to a computer or other media server. An uploader can send files to be saved on a media server. A camera may have this ability so you don't have to connect directly to the computer or another device. Similarly, a mobile digital media downloader can find media on your computers or media servers and save the file to itself. For example, you can find music in your music library and load it to your phone via the home network. Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10 are compatible with DLNA as a Digital Media Server, Digital Media Renderer and Digital Media Controller. However, you will need to set up the media sharing and network home group. More and more Digital Media Players are also Digital Media Renderers. This means that you can send files to play on it or you can choose files from sources directly from the player's menu. If you are looking at the list of digital media renderers on your controller -- smartphone or computer app, or camera-- and you don't see a media player that is connected to your home network, then it is not a Digital Media Renderer. You can not send media to that device. Once you have used a Digital Media Controller to start playback from the Digital Media Server (the media library's source) to the Digital Media Renderer (that's playing the streamed media), you no longer need the controller. In other words, if you used a cell phone to start the playback, you could leave with the phone and the playback would continue. More Info Understanding the DLNA certifications helps you to understand what is possible in home networking. DLNA makes it possible to walk in with your cell phone loaded with photos and videos from your day at the beach, press a button and start it playing on your TV without making any connections. A great example of DLNA in action is Samsung's "AllShare"(TM). AllShare is built into Samsung's line of DLNA certified networked entertainment products -- from cameras to laptops, to TVs, home theaters and Blu-ray Disc players--creating a truly connected home entertainment experience. For a complete rundown on Samsung AllShare - refer to our supplementary reference article: Samsung AllShare Simplifies Media Streaming Digital Living Network Alliance Update As of January 5, 2017, the DLNA has disbanded as a non-profit trade organization and has relinquished all certification and other related support services to Spirespark, going forward from February 1, 2017. For more details, refer to the Official Announcement and FAQs posted by the Digital Living Network Alliance.

    Blog Entry, Cloud Apps, TECHNOLOGY
  • Posted on April 7, 2017 11:46 am
    Joseph Forbes
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    Deciding which laptop to buy can be tough, with hundreds of laptop models to choose from and prices ranging from under $200 for Chromebooks to over $2,000 for high-end laptops. In addition to your budget, the kind of work and play you plan on doing on your laptop should help you narrow down your choices. Here are some tips for making a wise laptop purchase. How to Select the Best Laptop for Your Needs 1. Consider your operating system. You have more choices with Windows laptops, but Apple's MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops can also run Windows, which makes these laptops attractive for their versatility. However, Apple's laptops are much pricier. If you're considering this age-old debate between Mac or PC laptop, think about how much you really want to spend (see below) and whether you need a laptop with features (Blu-Ray, touchscreen, TV tuners, etc.) not available on the few variants Apple offers.​ 2. Start with your budget. Netbooks are the cheapest and smallest type of laptop, and you can actually use them for business, but they're very underpowered and limited. They are also being replaced by tablets and more powerful laptops shrinking in size and weight. You can buy a budget laptop, good for most basic tasks like web browsing and word processing, for under $500 (even much less during sale holidays like Black Friday and Cyber Monday); these laptops sometimes use older processors and often come in the 15.6" display size. Generally, the smaller and thinner you want your laptop to be, the more you'll have to pay for it. If you have a couple of hundred more to spend (between $600 and $1000), you can buy a thin-and-light laptop (4 to 6 pounds and 14-inch to 16-inch displays), with better performance: the latest generation processors, a sizable hard drive of 500 GB or more, and more memory. Thin-and-lights are probably the most common types of laptops being sold (and bought) today. For $1,000 or more, you can opt for either a sleek ultraportable laptop--light in weight, and very thin, with screen sizes 13 inches or less--or go the other way, and buy a gaming laptop or a desktop replacement laptop--heavy in weight and with giant 17-inch screens.​   3. Make a checklist of what's most important to you in your next laptop. Think about how you want to use your laptop to rank the features you should look for in your next laptop: Entertainment, such as music and movies? Go for the larger screen sizes, 15-inch or more, and higher resolution, high definition displays (1920x1080 pixels). You'd probably also want as large a hard drive as possible for all your media storage, e.g., hard drives of 750GB or more. A Blu-Ray player would probably be on your list for movie-watching, as well as HDMI ports and/or wireless TV streaming. Travel or a lot of mobile work? Portability will obviously be your biggest consideration. Look for screen sizes 13-inch or under, weights 4 pounds or under, and a rated battery life of 6 hours or more. You might also want a mobile broadband card in your laptop for Internet access on the go. A lot of graphic/multimedia work or gaming? A large, high-definition screen, lots of memory (4GB is low, 8 GB is better), and a dedicated video graphics card should be at the top of your checklist. For the best performance, look for quad-core processors. For a balance of performance and portability, seek out a thin-and-light or ultraportable laptop with 13- or 14-inch display, the mid-range processor (e.g., Intel Core i5 processor), 4GB or more of RAM, and 500GB or more of hard drive space (or, for better performance, a solid state drive). 4. Read reviews. Once you have your checklist, it's time to find the laptops that fit the bill. Check out review roundup sites like ConsumerSearch to see the most recommended laptops, then compare features to your checklist. Keep in mind that a lot of laptop manufacturers, such as Dell and HP, also let you configure laptops to your specifications--adjusting the amount of RAM or choosing a different hard drive, for example. 5. Compare laptops. Finally, I like to make a table comparing the top few options. You could use a spreadsheet and list the specs (processor, memory, hard drive, graphics card, etc.) as well as price for each laptop to make your final choice. This interactive laptop chart can also help you narrow down the options, by filtering available laptops by their specs.

    Blog Entry, Hardware, MONEY
  • Posted on April 1, 2017 10:38 am
    Joseph Forbes
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    Sometimes offers for desktop and laptop computers seem to be priced too low to be real. In the description of these products you might find the term refurbished. Both manufacturers and retailers may be offering these systems below what a normal PC costs, but what is a refurbished product and are they safe to buy? Refurbished computers typically fall into one of two categories. The first type have failed a quality control check during manufacturing. Rather than simply disposing of these systems, the manufacturer will rebuild it to pass quality control but sell it at a discounted price. The other type is a rebuilt system from a customer return likely due to a component failure. Now the refurbishment of the product may be done by the manufacturer or a third party. Manufacturers rebuild the system using the same parts used in the new PCs. A third party that rebuilds the machine may use alternate parts to get it up and running. These alternate parts may change the system from its original design. This makes it important that the consumer read the specifications of the refurbished system and compare them to the standard specs for the product. Another type of product that consumers will find discounted is an open box product. These differ from a refurbished product as it has not been rebuilt. It is simply a product that was returned by a customer but it has not been tested. Consumers should be very careful when purchasing any open box products. Costs Cost is the primary reason people purchase refurbished desktops and laptops. They are often priced below the average computer system currently sold. Of course the amount of discount is only really relevant if you happen to be looking at the same exact product. Most refurbished PCs available will typically be older products that are being compared to the original suggested retail prices for the product when it was first released. As a result, the deals may not always be the best. When pricing a refurbished computer, it is important to note if the system is still available for sale new. If it is, this makes the price comparison very easy to determine. PCs such as this generally can be found for modest discounts of between 10 and 25% off the retail prices. As long as they have similar warranties to the new products these can be an excellent way to get a system for below retail. The problem comes from older systems that are no longer sold. Consumers are often tricked into paying for a system that looks like a good deal but is not. This is where the specifications become extremely important. With those in hand, try to find a comparable brand new system. If one is available, then the same cost analysis of 10 to 25% still holds. If a comparable system is not available, then look for an equally priced new system and see what you get. Often times consumers in this case will find that for the same price they can get a better, newer laptop or desktop. Warranties The key to any refurbished computer system is the warranty. These are products that typically were returned or rejected due to a defect. While that defect may have been corrected and no further problems may develop you want to make sure that some coverage is included for potential faults. The problem is that warranties are typically modified for refurbished products. First and foremost, the warranty should be a manufacturer one. If the warranty is not provided by the manufacturer it should raise a red flag for consumers. A manufacturer warranty will guarantee that the system will be repaired to the original specifications with manufacturer parts or certified replacements can be used with the system. Third party warranties can cause major problems as replacements parts may not be guaranteed and it may take longer for the system to be repaired. The next thing to look at is the length of the warranty. It should provide the same length as if it was purchased new. If the manufacturer is not offering the same coverage consumers should once again beware. The lower cost of the system may be the result of them not offering to support the product. Finally, be wary of extended warranties. If an optional warranty is offered for purchase with the system, it should be a manufacturer extended warranty and not one through a third party. Also be wary of the cost for extended warranties. If the cost of the extended warranties makes the system cost more than buying it new, avoid the purchase. Return Policies As with any product, you may get the refurbished computer and find that it does not meet your needs or has issues. Because of the nature of refurbished systems, you want to be very careful of the return and exchange policies offered by the seller. Most retailers tend to have more restrictive policies regarding refurbished machines and they may be sold as it which means you have no recourse for returning the product. Because of this, always read them carefully before making a purchase. Manufacturer refurbs often have been options than third party sellers. Conclusions Refurbished laptops and desktops are one way consumers can find a good deal, but they have to be much more informed before the purchase. The key is to ask several key questions to know if it is really a good and safe deal: Is it sold by the manufacturer or a retailer? What is the price relative to the same PC new? Is the system comparable to an equivalent priced new PC? What type of warranty comes with the PC? Who will handle warranty work? Is there the option for a return? If all of these can be answered satisfactorily, then consumers can generally feel secure in the purchase of a refurbished PC.

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