Passwords, Passwords, Passwords!

Every day it seems like there are more and more accounts that you need and every single one of them requires a unique password that is more than ten characters long and contains upper- and lower-case letters, special characters, and numbers but you can’t have any double characters. It gets harder and harder to keep track of all of these passwords and then on top of that some accounts require that you change your passwords every 30, 60 or 90 days. 

I know many people use a password book and they are constantly trying to scratch out one password to add the new one. Every time they get a new account they have to figure out where to write it down since there is no room where it should go alphabetically in their book. They add the date to try to help them keep track of which is the current password. Others use a spreadsheet and make handwritten changes and then go into the digital document occasionally to update it and reprint it.

Maybe you just use your browser’s password manager to keep track of all of those passwords. This is fine until someone gets into your browser and has access to all of your accounts. These are great for remembering your passwords, but they are not very secure. If your computer is unlocked these can be used without any further authorization.

So, what can you do to make sure your passwords are secure and also that you can access them and use them on all of your devices when you need to? You basically have two options. First you can try to remember all of those passwords, which is mostly impossible since they all need to be unique, and you might have more than one email address, so you also have to remember which email goes with which account. The other more realistic option is to deploy a password manager and use it on all of your devices.

Password managers offer the security of having long, unique passwords for all of your accounts while giving you the convenience of only having to remember one password. The next time an account tells you that you need to change your password, your password manager can handle everything for you. It will come up with a new unique password and change the entry in your password manager so it will be correct the next time that you use this account. Most password managers will even sync this change across all of your devices.

I know the initial setup can be daunting, but just think about having to recover all of your accounts if your current book, sheet, or browser gets compromised. The recovery time on that mess would be much worse and you could possibly have information or money stolen in the process.

There are a few different ways to set up your password manager:

  1. Most will allow you to import your information into them. You just need to find out what the format needs to be and copy from your current document, or browser into that format.
  2. Make a day of it. Not much fun, but if you have the time, just sit down with all of your accounts and login to one after another.
  3. Set up as you go. In this scenario you would use your old system and your password manager simultaneously. Each time you need a password, open your password manager and if that account isn’t there you can add it. The downside to doing this is that eventually you will probably have to have a session to do the rest that you hardly ever use.

Once you have all of your passwords in the manager, accessing them and even adding new ones will be much easier. Not to mention how much easier it will be to set up a new device since all you will have to do is add your password manager to the device and all of your accounts will be there automatically.

I know all of us have been dreading this and putting off the inevitable, me included. But it isn’t going to get any easier so the sooner we make the change the better it will be. As always, I am available to help with finding the right product and even helping to import information into it if you need.

I did some research and the password manager that I like and use is Keeper.

How to ensure you never lose access to your email accounts.

Every few weeks, I get a call from someone that can’t access their email address and they don’t know what to do. In most cases, I can help them gain control of their account by using their phone, other email account or information in the emails they have sent to others. This can be a long process and sometimes this just won’t work, and you might lose access for good.

When you rely on your email for communication with friends and family, and to receive your bills and other correspondence from companies it is very important that you can always access this account. For most people this isn’t a concern because they use a password manager and have their account tied to other email addresses and also their cell phone.

If you don’t have your email connected to another email account and your cell phone, you might want to consider doing this. I know some people believe this is just another way for Google or Microsoft or whoever your email supplier is to gather more information on you but there is also a very good reason to accept these connected accounts.

When you have email through your internet supplier like Comcast or CenturyLink, you have an account number with this company, and you pay a monthly fee to them for your internet. Since you have this type of relationship with them, they will gladly help you reset your email account password if you lose track of it. The phone call to make this happen might take an hour or more, but it is possible to do.

When you have a free email account you really do not have a relationship with the company and they do not offer any type of customer service to you. So, if you cannot access your account, you can get completely locked out unless you have other ways to verify your ownership of the email account. This ownership is proven by accounts that are linked to the original account. They may be other accounts that you own or a friend or family members’ account.

It is also very important to make sure this information is always up to date. If you no longer have the phone number or email account listed as your backup information you need to change this information now. Also, if you used your landline make sure the account recovery can call the number and not just send a text message.

I know keeping up with all of this stuff can be a hassle, but not keeping up with this stuff could cause a lot more pain later if you lose access to your email. I have helped many people with this, and it sometimes takes a couple hours to fix it if we can. Save yourself time and money by adding/updating your alternate information on your email accounts. If you are not sure how to do it, I can help. It is a little different for each email provider.

Here is a video about alternate information:

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Ink Subscription Plans

Here is a question that I get often. Should I do the ink plan when I buy a new printer? If you are not familiar, most printer manufacturers now offer a plan to keep you supplied with their ink. They will monitor your printer and automatically send new cartridges when your current cartridges are running low. They typically charge you an amount monthly like $3, or something similar to cover the cost based on your usage. 

This can be helpful since you can actually budget your ink usage and not have to shell out close to $100 when your ink finally runs out. It is also nice not to have to worry about ink and it just shows up at your door. But there are a few things to consider before you actually go down this road.

 Once you sign up for these plans, you CAN’T just go to the store and purchase ink if your supply doesn’t arrive in time or if you get a defective cartridge. You can only use the ink that they supply. I had a customer that had this happen. His current cartridges dried up because he hadn’t printed anything in a while, so he decided to just run to the store and buy some ink. His printer would not accept the store-bought ink even though it was made by the printer manufacturer. He had to wait for his shipment from the manufacturer.

You must keep your printer connected to the internet to use the ink plans. If you disconnect from the internet and use the USB connection your printer will not work.

If you cancel your plan, the cartridges you currently have will not work. You have to go to the store and buy ink. All ink plan cartridges belong to the manufacturer and the empties must be returned to them.

There are a lot of pros and a lot of cons to these plans. If you do a lot of printing, you should buy a laser printer. The cartridges for laser printers last a lot longer so you will run out less often and you should have plenty of time to purchase more when your printer notifies you that the cartridges are low.

Another newer option is the “tank” printers that don’t use cartridges. Instead, they have a tank for each color ink, and you just fill the tanks from ink bottles which are a lot less expensive. This seems like an efficient way to do this. I have seen a few instances where the tank gets clogged and this can be a hard thing to fix, but this is not a common problem. 

If you need a new printer and just have questions about what brand or what type of printer to buy, call me and we can discuss it. There is no single answer. It depends on your needs and your usage.

Desktop Dos and Don’ts

I have talked a lot about how to keep your laptop running great, but I haven’t spent much time talking about things to keep your desktop running smoothly. Here is a list of items to consider when placing and working with your desktop. I recently did a video about this.

One of the most important considerations for desktop longevity is the location of your desktop. Many desks come with a cabinet for your tower, so you don’t have to look at all of the wires that are connected to it. If you have a cabinet like this in your desk, make sure it has some openings for air flow. Even though desktops usually have a lot of room inside the tower they can still get very hot and start to damage the components. There are fans in the tower to move air and keep the computer cool but if it is sitting in a closed cabinet that air has nowhere to go.

Some people have their computer tower sitting next to their desk. This solves the airflow issue but opens you up to other possible issues. Make sure it isn’t sitting in direct sunlight all day. This can also cause overheating.

 Make sure your computer tower is not right under an open window. If it rains the computer could short out due to the moisture. Being right below a house plant can also be a problem if the water leaks out of the plant.

Regardless of where you keep it, make sure the area is free of dust and dirt. This is especially important if you have pets that shed. The holes in the computer tower are there for airflow and your computer could overheat if they get clogged. Inspect the tower occasionally for excess dirt in the airflow holes. If the holes look clogged up you should disconnect everything from the computer, take it outside and use a can of air to clean it up. You can even take the cover off and blow out the inside. As always, I am more than happy to help with this if you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself. Doing this every few months can keep your desktop computer running smoothly for years.

Lastly, make sure that regardless of where it is located that it is plugged into a surge protected power strip. This is one of the biggest issues with computers. If there is a power surge due to lightning your computer could be destroyed if there isn’t a surge protector in the way.

Is My Internet Down?

How can you tell what is really going on with your internet? Is it the router? Is it just your computer? I get these questions a lot, so I decided to break down exactly what you need to do to get the answers and get your internet working again.

Is it your Router? – To determine this, you need to do some homework before your internet goes down. Whether you have a modem/router that was supplied by your internet service provider (ISP), or you purchased your own equipment, it is important to know what it looks like when it is working correctly so you can easily know when it isn’t working.

When your equipment is working correctly, look at the lights and maybe even write down what lights are lit up and what color they are or even take a picture with your cell phone. With this information, you can easily look at your equipment and know that there is a problem because the one light on your Comcast router is orange instead of white for instance.

This is the first question I ask when someone calls with internet issues. What lights are lit up and what color are they? If the lights look different, your first step is to restart your equipment. This is usually done by pulling the power cord out and then plugging it back in. Just know that it will take a few minutes to completely boot back up, just like your computer. Many times, this will fix the issue. If the lights are still not correct, now is the time to contact your ISP for help.

Is it just my computer? – If you check your router and it seems like it is working properly after a restart, it might be a problem with your computer. If you have other devices connected to the internet, are they working properly? This is the easiest way to tell if it is a computer problem. Maybe your computer just lost its connection to the internet. 

Here are the icons that show internet connectivity. Look in the bottom right corner on the taskbar:

Descriptive graphic of internet signal icons

Based on this picture, if you should be on wifi and you are not, just reconnect it. If you should have an ethernet connection, check both ends of the cable. Many times, these simple things will solve your problem. If it still won’t work, call me and I will help you troubleshoot further.

Does Unsubscribe Really Do Anything and Should I Use It?

I get these questions a lot and my answer is always the same. It depends on the actual email. I know this isn’t the straightforward answer people are looking for, but it is the best answer. Here are a few situations and whether or not to use the unsubscribe button.

If you are receiving multiple emails from a real company, and by that, I mean the email address matches the company name (the email says it is from Target and the email ends with then you can use the unsubscribe button and hopefully within a couple days you will no longer receive email from this company. According to The New York Times: “Marketers have 10 business days to honor your unsubscribe request. After that, it’s a violation of the CAN-SPAM Act for a sender to continue emailing you. If the emails keep coming, you’re well within your rights to mark them as spam using your email client’s built-in Spam button.”

If you know the email is not from a real company, meaning the email address does not match the company name, you should not click on the unsubscribe button. When you receive an email that is a phishing scam or some other type of scam there is no point in clicking on unsubscribe. Here are the reasons that you do not want to click unsubscribe in a scam email.

  1. Many scam emails come from stolen email accounts. Since they keep stealing new email accounts, unsubscribe will have no effect. It is a waste of time.
  2. Many times, the unsubscribe link will be the same link as any other link in the email. Clicking on it could cause damage to your computer or install malware. I suggest you never click any link in an email that could possibly be a scam.
  3. By clicking on a link in a scam email you are letting the scammers know that your email is a valid email, and you can end up on even more lists.
  4. Scammers don’t follow the rules.

How do you stop scammers from sending you email? You really can’t stop them if they have your email address, but you can reduce the number of scams that hit your inbox. Always mark scams as “junk” or “spam.” These filters learn over time what you don’t want to see and eventually most of the scams will go there instead of your inbox. This can also cause the email address they use to be flagged and blacklisted. This can slow them down but since they usually steal accounts or make fake accounts this will not stop them.

So, if your inbox keeps filling up with emails that you don’t want, you can unsubscribe to a couple real emails per day and your inbox will eventually look cleaner. You can also mark the scams as spam/junk and over time your inbox will receive less of those emails also.

If you are not sure if an email is real or not. Contact me and I can teach you how to tell the real from the fakes. I have also made a few videos about this, check out this playlist:

While you are there please subscribe to my channel!

How Scammers Can Use Your Email Rules, sometimes called Filters, Against You.

This is something that I have seen many times. A scammer will somehow get access to your email and then they can send emails from your account without you even being aware of it. In fact, they hide it from you. They can carry on conversations with others right from your email and you will never see it.

First let me explain what rules are in email accounts. These are instructions to help you manage your email. You can set up a rule for instance, to move any email from “John” to the folder “John.” These rules can be very helpful if you receive a lot of email and there are some that you need for future references but don’t necessarily need to see them when they arrive. I always get an emailed receipt when I buy anything from my computer supplier. I don’t need to look at these emails, I just need them for documentation if I am ever audited. So, I set up a rule that anytime I receive an email from Micro Center those emails will be moved to my Micro Center folder.

Scammers can do the same thing in your email. They can send an email to your employee that says “Please pay this invoice” in the subject line. In this email they will tell you to follow this link and pay this invoice for them. They can set up a rule that says any email that has “Please pay this invoice” in the subject line, delete the email. They can go into the trash and keep corresponding with your employee about this and you will never know about it.
This is a basic description of how they do it, but you get the idea about how they can steal from companies by using this tactic.

So, how can you protect yourself from this type of scam that has cost many companies a lot of money? The first thing is to make sure your email password is complex and not similar to other passwords that you have and use 2 factor authentication. If you can keep the scammers out of your email you don’t even have to worry about this.

But it is still a good idea to check your rules occasionally to make sure there are not any new rules that can be used against you. I had a customer that was one of the recipients along with others in their company on an email from one of their customers. Suddenly she was not receiving these emails any longer while everyone else was still getting them and they could see that she was listed as a recipient in the emails.

We verified that there was no issue with her email, she was receiving emails from everyone else except this one person. Then we checked her rules in Outlook on her computer and finally logged in online to her email and checked the rules there. When we checked online there were some new rules set up that she was not aware of and didn’t set up.

The scammers were using her account to try to divert payments to another bank. Luckily, we caught it, and no money was sent to the wrong bank. We then deleted these rules, changed her email password, and forced a sign out on all devices. We also made sure there were no rules in anybody else’s email account in the company and we instituted 2 factor authentication to ensure their email accounts remain safe.

If you are familiar with email rules, you should immediately check to ensure there are no extra rules in your email accounts. If you do not know anything about rules and don’t know how to check for fake rules, here is a video where I walk through how to view your rules in Outlook, Outlook online, and Gmail, most other web-based email accounts work similar to these. Check with the company that supplies your email or contact me.

If you would like to receive the Email Scambusters Monthly Report, sign up at the link below. It is a two-step process. Sign up and then click the payment link. The cost is $49.99 per year which is less than one cup of coffee per month. If you need more information give me a call.

Which box is my router and what are those other boxes in my IT room?

I get questions like this a lot. Usually when someone calls me because their internet is down or there is some other problem with the systems in their small business. When this happens, I try to explain what their router might look like, and I ask for a description of the other boxes so I can help them solve their problem over the phone.

When my regular customers call me with these types of issues, I can easily tell them to restart this or that box. The reason for this is that I usually label all boxes in their IT room the first time I am there. This is a big help regardless of who calls me from that company.

Many times, these issues happen when the “boss” is not there and so they instruct their employees to call me for assistance. Since everything is labeled, I can quickly diagnose the issue with their help. This can save the company a lot of down time and money since I can help them fix their issue remotely instead of having to go on site.

I have even had customers send me pictures so I can tell them what the boxes are. This works sometimes, but I might need to know what the wires are connected to and how they are connected so dealing with this before there is an issue is very important.

If you have a business and you don’t know what every box in your IT room does, let me know and I will explain each to you and even label them so you will be ahead of the issue next time the internet goes down. I can also help homeowners with this, but they usually don’t have as many boxes, so it is usually easier to diagnose things.

Many times, when people move into a brand-new home, they will find that it is partially wired for internet connections in some rooms. The wires might be in the basement and connected to each bedroom and even the kitchen and living room. The problem is that they don’t know what they need to get all of these wires connected to their router. This is also something that I can help with. I can even label each connection so they will know in the future which wire connects to which room in the house.

This is something I really don’t talk about much, but it is an important service that I offer. If you need this type of help let me know.

Parental Controls

The school year will be ending soon, and it got me thinking about all of the parents that still have to work while their kids are home alone. I am sure most parents leave a list of chores or other things that must be accomplished during the day, but many kids will just end up on the computer wasting their time; However, there is a tool that most of us have in our homes that can help keep the computer time to a manageable amount.

What I am referring to is your router. Just about every router sold has some type of parental controls built in just waiting to be enabled and set up. These parental controls can help you limit the amount of time your kids spend on the internet, limit where they can go by blocking certain sites and also certain types of sites, and also set up schedules for when they can use the internet.

I have had customers that used the scheduling function to make sure their kids are not on their tablets after bedtime, you can even set it up to allow more time on the weekend. Some have blocked Facebook or any other social media site until after dinner time to allow time for homework. Most routers have built in filters to restrict any sites that have certain adult content on them. Many have a list of categories that can be checked off to restrict certain content.

If you are not sure of the capabilities of your router, you can google the model number and parental controls and you will probably find a list and instructions. If you don’t know how to access your router, these instructions should cover that also. Even though they are called “Parental Controls”, small businesses can use these to limit and protect their employees and guests while they surf the internet in their businesses.

Most people don’t take full advantage of these high-tech machines. By spending a few minutes setting up your parental controls, you can gain some peace of mind when you are away, and your children are surfing unsupervised.

These controls are not foolproof and might not be perfect fits, but they can help in many situations. If you need more controls than what your router might offer, or you need help implementing this kind of control, please contact me. I have helped many people gain control over when their children go on the internet and what they are able to see.

Urgent Public Service Announcement!!

In the past few weeks, I have had many people call me because “Microsoft popped up on my computer and told me to call them because I have multiple instances of pornographic malware on my computer.”  If they try to click away from the popup, it starts yelling the warning at them and threatening them that if they shut off their computer, they will lose all of their documents and pictures.

Here are a few things you should know and share with anyone who is in danger of believing these pop ups.

  1.  Microsoft will never popup on your computer and tell you to call them.  Neither will Dell, HP, Apple or any other tech company. 
  2. These popups are cookies that are hidden on the internet waiting to scam anyone that happens to click on the wrong item.
  3. They work off of fear and they hack your browser which seems to lock your computer.  Sometimes you can go to the task manager and quit your browser.  If you can’t quit your browser, you need to do a hard reset. (Press and hold the power button for at least 15 seconds until all lights and sounds turn off) Once you turn your computer back on, open your browser but don’t allow it to restore your tabs; this will only bring back the browser hacker.
  4. They are trying to get you to let them on your computer.  They can only do this if you call them.  Once on your computer they can do any number of things; Plant a keylogger, steal your passwords, add a pre-windows password which will disable your computer unless you pay hundreds of dollars to them, or they might add a few free tools and try to charge hundreds of dollars to clean up the malware.

I have checked out many computers after getting this popup and none of them received any damaging viruses from the initial popup.  The only time there was damaging viruses and malware was after they called the number and allowed them on their computer.   

Here is my video about this. It includes a video of the pop-up.