West Chester Connect – Free Training

West Chester Connect is our new free Citizen Engagement Smartphone App which allows citizens to report public safety, environmental and quality of life issues directly from their smartphones.
 
The Borough is offering free “West Chester Connect” training to anyone from the community who would like to learn more about our new service. The free training is being offered on August 28, 2013 at 6:30 PM in the municipal building located at 401 East gay Street, west Chester PA 19380.
 
If you would like to sign up or if you have any questions about the training please contact the Chief Information Officer, William Mann here.
 
West Chester Connect
Through the new exciting service, “West Chester Connect” any citizen who downloads the free “West Chester Connect” app will be able to quickly and easily report environmental, quality of life and public safety concerns directly to the appropriate government staff.
 
The work orders can include photographs and exact GPS information which will help the staff make decisions quicker and more efficiently then every before.
 
“West Chester Connect” is available in the Android, Apple, Blackberry and Windows smartphone stores.   
 
You can read more here.

 

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Office 365 Subscriptions Hit a Million

We all know that Microsoft has been having some problems with its latest OS, Windows 8.  However, things are not all bad for Microsoft, as its latest product, the subscription version of Microsoft Office (Office 365) has reached one million subscribers. It only took Microsoft about 3 months to reach this milestone.

Most people probably think of Microsoft Office being that expensive software you only really only see in schools or in the office.  You probably have never used Microsoft Access, or OneNote both of which are amazing applications on their own.

The price of their online subscription is considerably cheaper than the boxed counterpart.  For example a boxed version is going to cost you $400, and can only be used on just a single computer.  On the other hand a subscription can be used on up to 5 computers and costs about $99.99 per year or $9.99 monthly.  So for multiple computer households, which is now commonplace, going with a monthly subscription is a no brainer.  What is more, you get access to all their upgrades for free. I really wish I had this when my children were young and in school. Oh well.

Microsoft is not the only company that is moving to subscription based models. Adobe also recently announced its change.  For many the cost of expensive software can be prohibitive, but when affordable monthly options are presented, the user base increases.  Another benefit to the software companies is that subscription services help to cut down on piracy!

You can subscription to MS Office here.

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Office 2010 – Service Pack 2 Released

Microsoft is moving towards a subscription based service with their new Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Office 2013 product line. However there are more Office 2010 users out there then 2013 and it’s bound to be that way for quite a while. Microsoft is obviously aware of this and recently released a new service pack for Office 2010.

It is important to upgrade to new service packs because security improvements and application enhancements are addressed with these important updates.

In the case of Microsoft Office 2010 both the 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x64) editions of Service Pack 2 are available for download. Currently SP2 can be downloaded from Microsoft Download Center and Microsoft Update as a manual download only. But after 90 days, it’ll be also available as an automatic update through Windows Update.

Service Pack 2 improves the compatibility of Microsoft Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 programs with Windows 8, Internet Explorer 10, Office 2013 and SharePoint 2013 programs. It also improves security, stability and performance of Office 2010 products.

SP2 contains many unreleased fixes along with all Office Updates that have been released since Service Pack 1 release.

Following are a few important fixes offered by Office 2010 SP2 which are worth to mention:

  • Fixes the issue regarding the message size of certain long email messages in Outlook
  • Fixes an issue that occurs when you perform a spell check before you send an email message in Outlook
  • Fixes issues regarding bookmarks, fields, track changes, templates, tables, object wrapping, autocorrect options and email addresses in Word
  • Fixes an issue in which Mozilla Firefox crashes when you try to view a presentation in PowerPoint Web App on a Mac computer
  • Improves the quality of videos in a presentation after the videos are optimized or compressed by PowerPoint
  • Fixes issues that occur when you co-author a presentation with other users at the same time in PowerPoint
  • Fixes general reliability issues that occur when you post a blog entry on Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 and Microsoft Office 365 blogs
  • Fixes issues in which the performance of Excel decreases and Excel file sizes become larger
  • Fixes an issue in which data validation lists that contain comma signs (,) are broken in an .xlsx or .xlsb file
  • Fixes an issue in which an .xlsx file created in Microsoft Office 2013 that contains an App bound to a table is corrupted on save
  • Fixes an issue in which all Agave formulas in the workbook sheet are removed from the file

You can download Service Pack 2 for Office 2010 and other products using following links:
Download Microsoft Office 2010 Service Pack 2 (SP2) 32-bit Edition (638 MB)
Download Microsoft Office 2010 Service Pack 2 (SP2) 64-bit Edition (730 MB)

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The Amazing History of Windows

I don’t know and it’s probably just me but I have NEVER bought into all the Apple hype. Don’t get me wrong. Because I love me some music I have always been a fan of the iPod, and I admit that I use a iPad from time to time. However beyond that Apple devices have really never truly helped me get real work done. At my age of let’s just say the late 40’s Microsoft has been there all the way. From the mid 80’s with MS-DOS and then Windows, Microsoft was often beat up and complained about, but it was always the OS (operating system) that was being used at home and the office. Software developers from the start wrote their solutions on top of Microsoft’s language and many made boat loads of money along the way. Sure it has always been easy to complain along the way as blue screens of death often seemed to haunt us. However if there was no Microsoft Windows for the past 28 years (yes 28) would we really have been as productive as we were?

To give you an idea of what I am talking about, and in the defense of Microsoft’s Windows check out this short history.

 
 
What I am basically saying here it that Windows has been around for 28 years and during that time has continued to dominate in both the home and professional market. Apple took off in about 2002 with first it’s iPod, then it’s iPhone and finally the iPad. All of these are amazing devices that is for sure, but even all of these combined pale in comparison with Microsoft’s Windows operating system in respect to helping us get work done. 

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Staff Tech Training – Session #10

Today was the 10th technology training session provided for our staff at the Borough of West Chester. Here is the presentation for those who missed it and wished they could have been there. We covered many cool topics including mobile device security, SIM card Troubles, Facebook, Spyware 101, CitySourced and much, much more.

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SIM Card Security Flaw Discovered

It took a long time but the humble SIM card that sits within your phone, along with at least seven billion others, has finally been hacked. Of the seven billion modern SIM cards in circulation, it is suspected that hundreds of millions (yes, hundreds of millions) are susceptible. What does this mean? The hacks allow a would-be attacker to infect your SIM with a virus that sends premium text messages, or records your phone calls — and, in some cases, access the secure, sandboxed details stored on your SIM by mobile payment apps, giving a hacker access to your bank and credit card details.

SIM cards are not merely a piece of laminated memory that stores the data that your phone needs to connect to a cellular network. In actuality, the SIM card in your phone is actually a small computer, with memory, a processor, and even an operating system. As you can see in the diagram below, there is a chip beneath those gold contacts, and on that chip there is a processor, ROM (firmware that stores the OS and SIM apps), EEPROM (which stores your phone book, settings, patches), and RAM (for use by the SIM’s OS and apps). In the photo below of a disassembled SIM card, you can clearly see that this is quite a complex computer chip.

 
 
 

Unfortunately, like any computer chip that runs an operating system and apps, a SIM card can be hacked. In this case, modern SIM cards run a very simple OS that loads up Java Card — a version of the Java virtual machine for smart cards (of which SIMs are a variety of). Java Card essentially runs small Java applets, and each applet is encapsulated and firewalled (sandboxed) by the Java VM, preventing sensitive data from leaking to other apps. Your phone interacts with these apps via the SIM Application Toolkit (STK) to display information on your screen, and to interact with the outside world. To load apps onto the SIM or to update them, hidden text messages are sent by the carrier, containing over-the-air (OTA) programming in binary form. These messages are signed with a cryptographic key, so that the SIM knows that these messages have originated from a trusted source.

Now, German security researcher Karsten Nohl has discovered a way of finding out that all-important cryptographic key. By sending his own OTA (over the air) SMS’s that aren’t signed with the correct key, he discovered that some phones pop up an error message that contains a cryptographic signature. Then, using rainbow tables (a list of plaintext keys/passwords and their encrypted equivalent), Nohl found he could discover the SIM card’s cryptographic key in about one minute. Once he had this key, he could send apps and viruses to the SIM card that can send premium text messages (racking up huge bills), re-route or record calls, collect location data — you name it, with access to the SIM, you can do just about anything.

And if that was not enough Nohl also found a separate bug in Java Card, essentially an out-of-bounds error (asking for the sixth item in a list when the list only contains five items), that can give an app/virus full root access to your SIM card — effectively breaking out of the sandboxing provided by the Java Card VM. With root access, these malicious apps could then obtain any data stored on your SIM, including your address book, or sensitive banking details stored by mobile payment apps.

According to Nohl, he estimates that out of 100 mobile phones, he could gain root access to the SIM card on 13 of them. SIM cards that use newer, stronger encryption (Triple DES), don’t appear to be susceptible to these attack vectors. Verizon and AT&T say they are not vulnerable to the vulnerabilities exposed by Nohl. In essence, mitigation of this attack comes down to the encryption standard used by your SIM card — so if you use a SIM that’s more than a few years old, you should probably get a new one. Most carriers will provide a new SIM if you ask and I would bet especially if you mentioned your knowledge of this new problem.

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Spyware 101

This week I had to “clean up” another work mate’s personal PC because of spyware (and a troublesome Trojan horse). This threat obviously is not taken seriously by many computer users and I am not sure why. This got me thinking that a little education was in order. I have covered this before, but I decided to take a little time to talk “Spyware 101”.

Basically, What is Spyware?
Spyware is software that’s installed without your consent, whether it be a traditional computer, an application in your web-browser, or a mobile application residing on your device. In short, spyware communicates personal, confidential information about you to an attacker. The information might be reports about your online browsing habits or purchases, but it can also be modified to record things like keystrokes on the keyboard, credit card information, passwords, or login credentials.

This software normally gets onto a computer by attaching itself to some other program that the user intentionally downloads and installs. Sometimes this is done completely discreetly, but other times the desired software will include information in the license agreement actually describing the spyware — without using the term “spyware” — and forcing the user to agree to install it in order to install the desired program. Alternatively, spyware can get into a computer through all the avenues that other malware takes, such as when the user visits a compromised website or opens a malicious attachment in an email.

What is the Harm Anyway?
Spyware can cause you two main problems. First, and perhaps most importantly, it can steal personal information that can be used for identity theft. If the malicious software has access to every piece of information on your computer, including browsing history, email accounts, saved passwords used for online banking and shopping in addition to social networks, it can harvest more than enough information to create a profile imitating your identity. In addition, if you’ve visited online banking sites, spyware can siphon your bank account information or credit card accounts and sell it to third-parties or use them directly.

The second, and more common, problem is the damage spyware can do to your computer. This is where I usually get the phone call. Spyware can take up an enormous amount of your computer’s resources, making it run slowly, lag in between applications or while online, frequent system crashes or freezes and even overheat your computer causing permanent damage. It can also manipulate search engine results and deliver unwanted websites in your browser, which can lead to potentially harmful websites or fraudulent ones. It can also cause your home page to change and can even alter some of your computer’s settings.

Controlling Spyware
The best way to control spyware is by preventing it from getting on your computer in the first place. However not downloading programs and never clicking on email attachments isn’t always an option. Sometimes, even a trusted website can become compromised and infect your computer — even if you’ve done nothing wrong.

Many people are turning to internet security solutions with reliable antivirus detection capabilities and proactive protection. If your computer is already infected, many security providers offer spyware removal utilities to assist in identifying and removing spyware. There are a number of free antivirus solutions available, such as Microsoft’s Security Essentials which promises unlimited protection at no cost. There are also excellent paid options as well to protect your PC, and yourself which I have covered many times in the past.

Spyware, and its associated malicious programs like malware and viruses, will always be a danger as long as you use an Internet connected device. As a result everyone who uses computing devices from PCs to tablets and even smartphones needs to take a little time and become aware of the real dangers of spyware.

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Summertime Security

Summer Tip #6

Well I just returned from my annual trip to the shore and boy was it hot. Other then the time my MyFi took a dip in the pool with me I know I was summertime safe. Here are more tips for those of your about to embark on a summer vacation.

Don’t Tell People When Your House is EmptyYes, I know. Everyone does it, including me. Just before people leave, they check in from the airport, post about how they are on their way to “four days on the beach!” or a similar message. Avoid doing this unless you are very confident that only your friends read your posts…. and that your home is secure.

If you must post updates of all the fun you are having every day on Facebook, then please, make sure you are using the privacy controls. Make sure only your real friends and trusted contacts can see your posts. We will be discussing this specifically during our next technology training class!

Be Alert for Rogue WirelessDon’t just hop on and off free public wireless networks without thinking. You may think the wireless network belongs to the hotel or the airport but it may easily be a rogue network. If you need to get online while you are out and about, invest in a 3G dongle for mobile broadband, or use your smartphone’s tethering capabilities. This is what I had, that took a swim with me!

3G and 4G is not perfect, but it’s much more secure than wireless.

Backup Your DeviceIf you are taking a laptop or mobile device on your vacation, back it up first. You don’t want to lose all your contacts, photos, and files just because you accidentally lost it or left it on the plane. It’s also a good idea to have your photos automatically uploaded to the cloud through services such as iCloud & Skydrive.

Don’t Let Your Device Out of SightTry to keep your device with you. If you have your laptop with you, consider using the room safe instead of leaving it on the desk while you are out. You don’t want to take the chance of it being stolen or have someone use it without your knowledge. Also make sure to at least lock the screen and have a strong password if your computer/mobile device is not going to be in the hotel safe.

Install Device Protection
For smartphones and tablets, install anti-theft and mobile device management before you leave for your trip. Find My iPhone and its Android counterparts help you find the device if you lose it. And if you don’t think you will get it back, then you can send the command to remotely wipe the data.
You can also install similar software on laptops.

Update EverythingUpdate your software, operating system, and security tools before you leave. You don’t want to be hit with a malware attack while you are on the road.

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Keeping Your Charge On vacation

Summer Tip # 5

One of the things you have to be very careful of when you use your iPad is the battery. Unlike mobile phones and laptops that have detachable power units that can be replaced quite easily, the battery of your tablet is built in. This means that when something happens to it, the technicians at Apple have to open it up and then replace the battery. Your device’s insides get exposed and may get further damage because it’s been opened.

Even if your battery giving out is inevitable, you can delay it from happening. Here are some tricks for you to save your battery juice and prolong its life:

1.Download a battery management app

Apps like Battery Doctor monitor your charging process and give you tips on how to charge your battery in the best way. These apps should be run when you’re charging your battery so it can protect your iPad from wrong charging habits. Some really great apps let you see how long your battery lasts with services like 3G, Wifi, reading, music and video running. You don’t have to get a paid app since the free ones usually do the trick. Just get one and make sure to follow its instructions.

2.Take your iPad out of the case when you’re charging

Since you’re charging the iPad heats up, and this heat can slowly damage the components inside the device over time. If you leave it in the case, more heat builds up. Taking it out of the case while you’re charging lessens the heat and can help the components inside last longer. If you don’t have a case for your device, make sure you set it down on a cool, flat surface when you charge and you don’t leave it on the bed where cloth can trap the heat in it anyway.

3.Close resource-heavy apps when you aren’t using them

Essentially, saving energy means closing the apps that you don’t use. Allowing notifications also means that some apps are always on standby mode and receive data regularly. Determine which apps are essential and should always be on, such as VoIP phone services with RingCentral and your email client with Google or Yahoo. But for apps that aren’t needed all the time such as games and writing or reading apps, make sure you close them. Double-press the Home button and a bar appears at the bottom where all the running apps are displayed. Press and hold then close the app icon by tapping on the red badge. Do this regularly so only the essential apps are open. Disable notifications through the Settings app as well.

4.Manage your brightness and volume

One of the battery-draining practices is full brightness all the time on your device. If your iPad has Retina Display, you usually don’t need the full setting since the screen is so sharp, especially if you use a clear screen protector. You can make your device last longer if you put the setting to the medium range.

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Reviewing Your PC Security

It seems dozens of times a year a friend or co-worker asks me to “fix” their PC. This is because generally users of personal computers do not care about how secure their home computers (and laptops) actually are. I believe that this is because the majority of home computer users are unaware of how vulnerable they are to hackers, or how their personal information can be misused. It is, widely and mistakenly, believed that if a mere antivirus is installed, computers are secure. People assume their Antivirus can protect them against all forms of malware, be it a virus, worm, or a Trojan horse. This, however, is far from the reality. Antivirus programs cannot be relied on solely to protect your data and information from hackers.

Here is the Basic Question. Why is it so important to keep your PC secure?

An ordinary person may have no reason to believe why his computer and data may be hacked into, and no knowledge whatsoever of how his personal information might be misused. An unsecured computer over the internet is immensely risky. Your personal information can be altered and abused if your PC security is compromised. Your personal details, such as your Social Security number, credit card numbers, bank and utility account numbers can all be used to access your savings or to open new bank accounts under your name which, consequently may be used for serious crimes such as money laundering or fraud, or simply for stealing your money.

There are some very basic & long standing things you can do. What are they?

There are a number of ways to make sure your PC, and as a result your personal information, is protected properly. First and foremost, reliable anti-virus software must be installed and regularly updated. These are compared to “flu shots,” because they only protect you to a certain extent. Then, you must refrain from opening emails or attachments from people or sources you do not know personally. Take care while opening attachments even from people you know if it is unexpected.

If you want to take same extra steps to protect your PC, Try This.

You must use firewalls to ensure that the ports you are not using are closed off and cannot be used unless you need them. The security updates and ‘patches’ on your operating system and all other software must be kept up to date. All your passwords should be strong, at least eight characters long, and preferably an amalgam of upper and lower case letters and numbers. Keep your PC disconnected from the internet when you are not using it, and keep from sharing access to your computer with people you do not know- sharing files on online servers is very risky. To be even safer, make regular backups of all your data on disks or CDs.

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