The question always comes up: Is this a real email/webpage/pop-up that my computer has been compromised/infected?
The likely answer: Not actually yet.
Most of these things are outright scams, looking to get you to take the bait and make the call, click the think an then...then you're compromised and infected. The real key in all this: The more urgent the message, the more likely it is to be a scam. And when it wants you to do something, and you're unsure, don't; call someone, get a second opinion. Imagine how relieved you'll be, (and not embarrased), when someone else confirms what you're thinking...it's a scam.
If someone reaches out to you on FaceBook or on email, say they're traveling and need help, don't respond to the email or message, call them. Reach out to them through another means, like a text message or a phone call; find out if they really have a problem and a need. If you can't reach them that way, you can always reply and ask them to call you to discuss it further. If it's not them, they won't call you, you know their voice.
All that said, there's more to know to be the best, first line of defense in keeping your home and work computers safe and clean. But, as an end-user, you are the first, and best defense in keeping your system clean.
Here's a site that offers a free, 1-hour course that will give you some tools for your toolbox in how to keep yourself safe:
End User Security Awareness
You will need to register with the site, but as you do that, you can un-check the box that subscribes you to their newsletter.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
So..you got the Windows 10 upgrade, huh?
Recently, Windows 10 has been marked as a "Critical Update" for Windows 7/8.x users. This means if you've got Windows setup to automatically update, you're going to automatically be upgraded to Windows 10. (At least until July 29, 2016, when it's not longer a free upgrade.)
This automatic update/upgrade has been referred to as a 'nasty-trick' played by Microsoft.
And if you click that Red X in the upper right-hand corner, they're going to install the upgrade for you, you're not actually cancelling out of it.
But, that's okay. If you got the upgrade, and just really don't want it, there's good news: In the first 30 days after the upgrade, you can roll back to your previous version of Windows! But, let me be clear, you have to roll back in the first 30 days after the upgrade. If you wait longer than that, it's not an option.
How-to-Geek has a good step-by-step on how to Downgrade to Windows 7/8.x on their website.
However, if you're daring enough to keep Windows 10, at least for the first week or two, and try it out, you might find that you like it. It's good a fair number of ways Microsoft is hooking you in the way Apple might. But, overall, the only significant complaint I've heard is the Windows Start Menu is closer to Windows 7, but people just hate the Metro tiles still.
As a result, I'd recommend giving Classic Shell a try. They let you swap out the Windows 10 hybrid Start Menu for the Windows 7 version we're all more used to now. You even have several ways to make that Windows 7 version look.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Improving your computer performance
Upgrading your computer hardware
If you've worked through all the typical things to clean up your computer, such as using CCleaner, making sure your system is free of spyware and other things with Malwarebytes, even used something like Defraggler to optimize your spinning hard disk for PC's, or OnyX for Mac to make sure things are as optimized as you can make them, the next step to consider are what hardware upgrades you can do to extend the life of your computer, increasing your performance.
It's been my experience that there are two upgrades you can do to get the best 'bang for your buck' when it comes to relatively modern computers. First is RAM. RAM is the work space your computer uses to run applications. Usually it's the least expensive upgrade you can do.
The second upgrade you can do is trade up from a spinning hard disk to a Solid State Drive. This is a hard drive that has no moving parts, but is based on faster, non-volatile memory technology, the same sort that's used in USB drives.
There are several ways to go about figuring out what you need, but I'm going to recommend using Crucial to learn what sort of options you might have available. There may be better deals to have, but it's been my experience that Crucial does a decent job offering things at a fair price. If you want to search out other options, I would encourage you to do so. I'll list some of my recommendations at the end of this article.
If you'll point your browser at the Crucial website, you'll find on the front page a section called "Crucial System Scanner." Check the box and click the button below it. This will download a CrucialScan application, which you'll want to run.
Running the application will open a new web page for you on the Crucial website. This page will be tailored specifically for the computer (PC or Mac) that you run it on. As you can see in my example, it shows you how many memory slots you have in your computer, and what's currently in them. Additionally, it tells you what the maximum amount of memory you can have in your system is. To the right, you can simply purchase the RAM upgrade you want to have shipped to you.
You can also see below the memory your system has, some details about your hard drive. In the lower left side of the window, they show you options for upgrading your hard disk to a Solid State Drive (SSD) for increased speed and performance. I'd recommend a drive at least the same size as yours, or the next size up. (The rule of thumb for storage is that you'll find and keep more data if you have room for it on your drive.)
As promised, some of the SSD recommendations I have outside of those offered by Crucial. I'm a fan of the Samsung EVO and Samsung PRO lines, currently the 850.
The EVO line is meant for consumers, and has a 3 year warranty. At the time of this writing, I see that the 500GB Samsung EVO 850 is pricing at about $150.
The PRO line is meant for professionals, and comes with a 10 year warranty. Again, at the time of this writing I see that the 512GB Samsun PRO 850 is pricing at about $220.
There is a new Samsung EVO line, the 750, that's meant to be a lower, entry-level with a lower price and size options. Tom's Hardware gives a review and some details about it, along with some of the average price range.
Thursday, January 28, 2016
Remote Support or Remote Home Access for the Mac and PC
Previously I talked about several options to let you get back to your home workstation, or perhaps you're the "IT-Guy" in the family and you need to help some friends or relatives who aren't nearby with a computer problem. I've found a couple of videos that will give you some additional information about the products that I talked about for remote-controlling a Mac or PC.
Remote Utilities for PC's.
Currently, my software of choice for remote access to PC's is Remote Utilities. You can setup a system with host-based software, so you can get in any time you need to, or you can have someone download an agent-version that allows for a one-off remote-control of their system to help them out with a support issue. The host-mode might be more useful for assisting aging relatives who look to you as their defacto tech support; while the agent-version would be something where you get a call from a friend who has a virus scare.
Remote Utilities has their own Youtube channel with a number of videos, but this is a simple install video that will help you get familiar with what it looks like and how it might work for you.
TeamViewer for PC's and Mac's.
When it comes to Mac's, the product that many have come to use is called TeamViewer. Much like Remote Utilities, it has a host-based software so you can leave it running on a computer at home to get back to. Plus it also has what they call a QuickSupport version that you can have your friend or relative download to do one-off support.
This video by JAGTutorials demonstrates how you can get in and setup TeamViewer, as well as how to use it to remote control another computer. This demonstration is done on a PC, but works very similarly on the Mac.
While both tutorials may be a version old, their functionality hasn't changed noticeably, mostly just the website look.
Monday, January 25, 2016
Cleaning up your home PC (or Mac) with Piriform's CCleaner.
From time to time, you feel like your home computer is running slow and you'd like to tune things up to regain some of your lost feeling of quickness. One of the tools useful for doing that is Piriform's CCleaner.
CCleaner is a utility that's good for going through your home PC to look through your system and remove any temporary files, cookies, and so forth that you no longer need but may now be dragging your system down a little. Removing this 'cruff' will free up some space, and give your computer less to do when looking through it's temporary storage space, making you feel like you're regaining some of your speed.
Malware Doctor has done a very in-depth tutorial that covers far more than the regular home user needs to know about, but it's very good at showing you the first two key sections that you'll want to know about and see how to use: Cleaner and Registry.
Cleaner is the primary section that removes old data, temporary files, things your computer no longer needs and frees up space that isn't really in use any longer. There are a few things you may decide you want to un-check from the defaults, such as browser history, cookies, recently typed URL's; but that's up to you to decide.
The secondary section is the Registry. It's debated back and forth if this really helps or not. I believe that it does, but remember you really only see this help out mostly a boot time. It may not be something you need or want to clean up regularly, but it's generally not something that will hurt you to do; as long as you backup the things you're removing. (Which is covered in the tutorial.)
Tech Coach Albert also has a more basic tutorial about CCleaner, including download and installation instructions. (Both tutorials are on an older version of the application, but they still apply to the current version.) He doesn't cover more than the Cleaner section, but it's again, the primary section you want to know how to comfortably get around in.
As a final word, this application is also available for the Macintosh, and the instructions in Tech Coach Albert's tutorial will apply to that version too.
Software to help fight Malware
If you've got your antivirus running, but from time to time you feel like you might have something 'funny' going on, there are tools out there I've talked about before to use to help double-check and make sure you're squeaky-clean. One of those tools is Malwarebytes.
They have a paid version that adds some real-time protections for you for $25/year. I'm not against the paid version, but I typically leave the active defenses to the antivirus and use the free-for-home-use version as a double-check and more in depth cleaner. The free version doesn't run any scheduled scans, but it's an on-demand version only. You have to tell it to run a scan. However, if it does find things, it will work to remove them if that's what you tell it to do.
I'm including a video clip here from Tech Coach Albert that's a beginners guide to Malwarebytes Anti-Malware software. This video should walk you through installing and running the application, as well as what to do when it finds things you should have removed.
Just remember: If Malwarebytes finds a problem, unless you're 100% sure, it's probably something you want to let it remove.
Backing your Mac up at Home - Advanced Edition
So you've bought into the idea that you really do need to backup your data at home. Good. But you want a little more details on just how this is done? Or maybe you want to have more than just your 3 copies of data from the "3-2-1 backup" rule, because you're running a little home-business and you want to not be down while you wait on getting your Mac back up and running. This is the place to get that figured out.
First thing, let's make sure you're using your built-in Time Machine backup that came with your Mac to get your regular, daily backups. This video from Tech Talk America gives a good demonstration on how to setup your Time Machine backup:
Bootable Clone Drive
Now that you've got your base backup running, let's talk about that extra layer, the 4th backup set that you won't likely do every night, but something you might do once a week. This is a cloned backup. For making this, I recommend the software by Bombich: Carbon Copy Cloner.
You can use this as free software, in manual mode. However, for $40, you can get the extra features, including scheduling your backups. If this is for a home-business, I highly recommend buying the full software.
Once again, I'm going to refer you to David A. Cox for a video tutorial about how to setup making a bootable, cloned copy of your Macintosh HD.