It’s Easy To Protect Your Data!

Another slow technology week, other then Apple’s new (but kinda the same) iPhone and Microsoft’s new (but kinda the same) Surface tablets have me revisiting the importance of securing your data and providing some easy steps for accomplishing it.

Computers today almost always store more than just files. We use our computers, laptops and tablets to store our photos, music, videos and much more. With everything being stored on our computers, it is no wonder that we all want to make sure that our data is fully protected from all eventualities.

Remember that you can always reinstall any programs or software but your data could be lost forever. I have been asked countless times to “please just save my pictures” when someone’s computer has “crashed”. There are many ways that you can protect your data from being lost, as well as being compromised by people who do not have access.

Below are 5 useful steps you can take to protect your data.

  1. Backing Up – Using an external device to back your files up with is a great way of protecting them. You can use discs, USB sticks or even an external hard drive to copy all of your data to. If this is done on a regular basis then if anything should happen to your PC or tablet you will always have a full back up of your data that can be loaded back onto any device.
  2. Security & Anti Virus Software – Antivirus software or security is paramount to protecting your data. Your data is under constant threat from hackers and viruses. In order to help protect your data it is advisable to install some kind of antivirus software or security. This software will repair any attacks on your data and alert you to any threats including suspicious and dangerous websites.
  3. Passwords – If you have data on your laptop or PC that needs to be kept private and never shared then you should protect that data with a password or security key that only you know. You can also zip files to protect them from being opened. Never share any passwords with anyone because you never know who may store that password.
  4. Internet Protocol Security – Internet protocol security or IP security as it is also known is vital if you are sending private or important data over the web as this is when it can be most easily hacked.
  5. Secure Networks – Always ensure that any network that you may use is a secure one. Unsecured networks put your data at risk as anyone maybe able to access the data on your laptop and PC and share that data. Never use a network where you don’t have to enter a pass key or security key.

By following these handy steps you can protect your data and it will be less likely to be exposed to the wrong people.

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Apple Fixes Security Flaw

I reported on this iOS 7 flaw earlier this week and Apple has just released a update to correct the flaw. I guess Apple is a dedicated reader of this fine technology blog.

I applied this fix this evening and it corrected the problem as promised. You can force the update by opening the settings menu.


Apple has released iOS 7.0.2 over-the-air for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This is a bug fix release that focuses on rectifying an issue that could allow users to bypass the passcode unlock on the Lock screen. 

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SkyDrive Boosts Storage

Microsoft’s SkyDrive in many ways has surpassed it’s cloud storage competitors during the past year.  Other then the ridiculous requirement of Microsoft to change the name of their cloud storage service, it has been a great year for SkyDrive. Earlier in May, it hit the 250 million customer mark, which is very impressive.
Things got even better in Microsoft’s cloud this week, when it was announced that anyone who buys a Surface 2 or Surface Pro 2 will get 200GB of SkyDrive storage for two years. That 200GB option has been extended to everyone with a new pricing tier on SkyDrive.


SkyDrive already comes with 7GB of free storage, which is 5GB more then Dropbox. If 7GB is not enough for you,  you can pay a yearly subscription fee to add more storage. Another great advantage for SkyDrive is that it is connected to your Microsoft accounts and comes in various increments.

There is a new option of an extra 200GB for $100 per year. According to Microsoft, that’s enough storage to take a photo, every hour, from the moment someone is born to the day they graduate.

Here’s the new breakdown.

  • 20GB – $10 / year
  • 50GB – $25 / year
  • 100GB – $50 / year
  • 200GB – $100 / year

You can learn more at www.skydrive.com.

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Vinyl 101

Oh What To Spin Now?

Technology sometimes, if rarely, does shift backward. This does not occur very often because in most cases technology changes improve on what has occurred before. There are a few examples of when looking backward can actually be a good thing.

Growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s was a wonderful time, especially if you had an ear for music, which I did. Classic Rock was all around me and consumed much of my time, both in listening, collecting and enjoying the sheer awesomeness of the artwork. Like most people in my age group, let’s just say the late 40’s most of my vinyl was eventually sold or given away when CDs burst onto the scene in the 90’s.

What a mistake that was! During the past couple of years I have rediscovered vinyl and a new hobby was born. And I am not the only one to rediscover vinyl. Vinyl sales have been steadily growing during the past few years and most artists are now actually releasing vinyl versions of their new material. Because of these factors vinyl is one of the few exceptions where technology takes a step into the past.

Why Buy Vinyl?

There are two basic reasons for this: You are an audiophile, and appreciate the sound of analog recordings, or you simply like the sound of vinyl records, packaging, and turntables. And it usually is both! But the aesthetics, the physical aspect of it, is pretty key to its appeal. These records are more beautiful and substantial than CDs, which mostly have the look of office supplies, and they are the best way to make purchasing music feel like something. Vinyl allows you to have a sentimentality about albums — there’s a tactile quality, a ritual to pulling a record out of a sleeve and putting it on and focusing your attention on the act of listening for one side at a time. Even if you still mainly listen to music on your computer or iPod, it gives you the option of having a more special experience with your favorite albums, and an object you can display in your home.


Is Buying Vinyl A Smart thing To Do?

In my opinion buying vinyl records today is the truly only way to purchase music that is likely to give you a return on your investment. You can’t resell a digital file, and in most cases, CDs have almost no value on the secondary market. Vinyl records — new or old — retain a lot of value, and so long as your copy is in decent condition and there is some demand for the title, you can often make a profit if you choose to sell. You probably shouldn’t get into buying vinyl as a way to make money — there are much easier ways to do that — but it’s definitely nice to know that if you had to, you could sell your collection.  But I of course have no intention of selling mine.

What Does Analog Mean?

Analog means that there is a continuous signal in which the varying part of the signal is a representation of another time-varying quantity. So, when it comes to sound recordings, the instantaneous voltage of the signal varies continuously with the pressure of the sound waves. Basically, the groove of a vinyl record is like a drawing of the sound wave in a single continuous line through the entire side. Your turntable essentially reads that and decodes it in real time, which results in the sound you hear from the speakers.

How Is Vinyl Different Then Digital?

Digital signals are not continuous. They are discrete, which means that they send a series of samples of an audio signal’s power at precise intervals. Sound does not naturally break down, so a digital system subdivides it into bits, the smallest possible form of information. This is binary code, so everything is broken down into one of two directives, which is typically described as 0 and 1. The benefit of binary code is that by breaking down information to its smallest possible form, it can represent virtually anything with only two elements.

Does Vinyl Actually Sound Better Then Digital?

Sometimes. It depends on a lot of factors, and most of them have to do with the quality of your turntable, amplifier, and speakers, and I will get to that in a future post. If you’re listening to a vinyl record, CD, or high-quality digital file of the same song on a good stereo system, you probably won’t notice a lot of difference between what you’re hearing unless there is a problem with the actual physical media — scratches, dust, defects. There have been many studies that show that the untrained ear can’t discern these differences, and that those who favor one format have a confirmation bias based on their preferences or values going into the test.

Why Do I Like Vinyl Sound So Much Better then Digital Sound?

There are aspects of vinyl records and analog recordings in general that you definitely can notice beyond the pops and crackles of surface noise. This sound is actually a result of analog’s limitations in capturing and reproducing sound, particularly on the low end of the mix. Digital recordings are far more accurate than analog recordings and can capture a much broader dynamic range. Analog recording is much less detailed, and the gaps in data result in a slight abstraction of sound that is often very pleasing to the ear. You get a very similar difference between images captured on film as opposed to digital cameras – purely digital recording can feel too precise, cold, and clinical, and lose the “warmth” and humanity many people associate with analog technology.

Do You Need a Stereo Receiver to Enjoy Vinyl?

Yes. If you are buying a stand-alone turntable, you will need the receiver – or just an amplifier – to process the signal from the turntable and line out to your speakers. This is where the volume and audio control knobs for your system will be. Some receivers will have a radio built in, and you can line other things into the receiver too, like CD players and televisions.

 
 
 
Setting Up the Receiver
 
If you have a turntable with a built-in pre-amp, it’s as simple as connecting everything with the appropriate RCA cables and stereo wire. If your turntable has no pre-amp, it will be a bit more complicated because you will need to “ground” the system so that electricity flows properly or you will hear a constant low-pitched hum through your speakers.
 
Buying Vinyl
 
Anywhere they sell it, really. If you don’t live near a record store, you can’t go wrong with Amazon since it stocks a wide range of new vinyl at reasonable prices and will ship anywhere. There are other good online shops such as my personal favorite Discogs. You can buy vinyl from the official websites of many artists and most independent labels. Buying used records this way, or at record fairs or garage sales, is a great way to build up a solid collection without spending a lot of money. Probably the most fun way to purchase vinyl is to find a local record shop, like the Electric Avenue Music at 323 East Gay Street in West Chester PA where you can simply browse until you find something that catches your eye… and ear. This is also the best way to meet really cool people who also have a love of vinyl.
 
 
 
 
What Is The deal with 180 Vinyl?
 
Most new albums will be very well made and sound great on even an average stereo system. A lot of new records will have some sticker announcing that it’s on “180 gram” vinyl, and that’s a good thing, especially if you’re an audiophile. The thicker, heavier vinyl will degrade more slowly than a thinner pressing and the records will stand up to repeat play a little better. That said, all vinyl degrades a tiny bit every time you play it. Not to worry though I still enjoy a lot of vinyl that was pressed in the 1950s and 1960s.
 
 
What About Old Albums Released on 180?
 
You should be cautious of new reissues of old albums on vinyl. In many cases, the master is made from the most recent CD of the title because the record label does not have access to the original analog master. If you are into the “warmth” factor, like me this totally defeats the point of having the recording in this format because you are basically just buying a lesser, imperfect version of a CD. If you’re unsure about whether a new reissue is sourced from CD, take the time to do some research beforehand. If you have the option of finding an original vinyl pressing of the album, you should just do that. 
 
Buying Old Vinyl (My Favorite Part)
 
If you are planning to acquire vinyl copies of your favorite albums, you should know that many records either were never released in the format, or were released in very small numbers and are now out of print. The latter is especially true of vinyl produced in the ’90s through the early ’00s, when vinyl sales were at their lowest and CDs completely dominated the market. Vinyl pressings for major-label albums released in this era can be incredibly difficult to find and very expensive to buy on the secondary market. Searching sources like Discogs is probably your best bet here.


Storing Your Vinyl

You should always store your records in a cool, dry place, and have them standing up vertically. If you stack them on top of one another, you run a high risk of warping the vinyl. If your records are warped, they will never sound right again, and you can’t fix it. It can be a challenge to find just the right way to store your vinyl that works in your home. Customized “LP Browsers” like the one pictured above is the best way to go. You can learn more about the amazing “LP Browser” here.

There is so much to cover regarding vinyl that I will post a second article soon….

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Surface 2 & Surface 2 Pro Details Emerge

This week Microsoft announced the release of their next generation of the Surface tablet family. There is a little confusion here regarding the two – very different tablets so here are some details to consider.

The Surface 2 & Surface Pro 2 – side by side.

The Surface 2 is built around an Nvidia Tegra 4 processor, which increases battery life to up to 10 hours and makes apps run faster and more smoothly, according to Microsoft.

It has a 10.6-inch ClearType Full HD display.

Both the Surface 2’s 3.5-MP front camera and the rear 5-MP camera can capture 1080p HD video; both have improved low-light performance.

Surface 2 will ship with Windows 8 RT 8.1, which offers improved personalization, search, and multitasking; built-in apps; and cloud connectivity.

The Surface 2 will include Xbox Music for streaming songs and an updated video app, and it will come preloaded with Microsoft Office RT, including Outlook RT.

Be aware that the Surface 1 and 2 tablets cannot run Windows applications, only apps written specifically for the “RT” software. This is the software (apps) available directly in the Microsoft store. Think of the iPad. This is exactly the same limitation.

The one I am really excited about it the Surface Pro 2 which is built around an Intel Core i5 Haswell processor.

It has a 512-GB flash hard drive.

Users can snap apps side by side, and open as many windows as they need.

The Surface Pro 2 has a pressure-sensitive Surface Pen with palm-blocking technology. It has a 1080p HD screen.

Both tablets have a full-size USB 3.0 port, an HD Video Out port, and a microSD reader.

Both tablets come with one year of free calling to landlines in more than 60 countries; free Skype WiFi at more than 2 million hotspots worldwide; and two years’ free access to 200 GB of additional storage on SkyDrive.

Surface Details

With the Surface family knowing the details is critical before making a purchase. Theerefore consumers should examine their specifications and limitations before purchasing either tablet.

Although Microsoft Office is include with the Surface 2 there is some functionality limitations.

Microsoft Office for the Surface Pro 2 will be sold separately, so factor that into your calculations, however you will be able to install any Windows application on the tablet, which is a huge plus. Think of an iPad with any Windows program you would like available on the tablet.

Surface Details

The Surface 2 will be offered in 32-GB and 64-GB configurations. Pricing will begin at $450.

The Surface Pro 2 will be available in 64-GB and 128-GB configurations with 4 GB of RAM, and 256-GB and 512-GB versions with 8 GB of RAM. Prices begin at $900.

Accessories are not included of course in this pricing and there are many new accessories being offered with these new tablets, which were previously unavailable before. two of the new accessories I am most excited about is a “charging keyboard” and “docking station” (above).

 

Surface Consideration

The Surface 2 (RT) is still priced a little higher than it should be, especially if Microsoft is hoping to steal some of the Android  market share on the consumer side of tablet sales. The Surface Pro 2 is an improvement on the already great hardware from the initial Surface Pro tablet however it is a couple of hundred dollars more then the RT version.

I don’t believe you can think of the Surface Pro 2 as a tablet. It is much closer to a really good ultrabook or small laptop. If you travel or if you simply want to get work done on the smallest form factor possible without giving up power, the Surface Pro 1 and 2 are excellent options.

You can learn more about the Surface family here.

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Apple’s iOS7 Lock Screen Bug

A bug has been discovered in Apple’s new iOS 7 Lock screen and Control Center implementation that could allow a person to bypass the device’s passcode and access the photo library. This bug is more of a potential security issue as it requires users to both be running their camera app (so it shows up in multitasking) and have Control Center activated for the Lock screen.

Here are the steps (which I have re-produced):

1) Swipe up from the bottom of the Lock screen to open Control Center
2) Launch the Clock app
3) Open the Alarm Clock section of the Clock app
4) Hold down the power button
5) Quickly tap Cancel the immediately double-click the Home button
6) Hold down for a bit longer on the second click

With access to the photos, users could also share the images to social networks and via email (which could be worrisome). Of course, disabling Control Center access from the Lock screen will completely rid you of this potential security breach, but, either way, Apple will likely get a fix out in the coming weeks.

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Windows Phone Security Gets Certified

Ok in my earlier post I kind of praised the new iOS7 for Apple devices so I had to also counter with a little positive Microsoft news.

If you look around at the mindless lemmings staring at their phones as they walk down the street, it might seem like the mobile platform market is a two-horse race between Apple and Google. Although that may be so that is not the case in Washington, DC and in government organizations around the nation.

Government workers are famous, if sometimes reluctant Blackberry users. Did you notice that in the Netflix series House of Cards all the characters connected to the government used them? People who work for courts, the military, or any sensitive government agency have almost always been issued BlackBerrys for security reasons. The Canadian company’s biggest asset is its much-touted security and encryption algorithms. Apple’s iOS 6 devices were only approved for Department of Defense use in May. This week, Windows Phone 8 joined the list of government-approved devices, giving Microsoft thousands of potential customers.

Today, Windows Phone 8 was granted what is called FIPS 140-2 accreditation, which is used to evaluate the level of a device’s security and the cryptographic algorithms it uses to protect the secrets locked in its guts. It still isn’t approved for Department of Defense-level clearance, but it does pave the way for it to join BlackBerry, Apple, and a few Samsung devices as ready for basic sensitive information.

This could improve Windows Phone adoption for enterprise and even give Microsoft a marketing angle. If it’s secure enough for government, you can rest assured that proprietary company data and such will stay safe on them. Also, with Office software built in, it could cement Microsoft’s enterprise focus. Companies that have a bring-your-own-device policy might nudge employees to pick a Windows Phone.

This isn’t good news for BlackBerry at all. With this crypto certification, Windows Phones can even be issued to government employees on their home turf in Canada.

Enterprise adoption could help boost Window Phone’s market share, making the problem of weak reception — a current complaint among consumers – less of a issue. Despite some sleek designs and quality specs, Microsoft’s phone is still a distant third to the Android and iPhone platforms but considering this new certification and built in Office applications, I believe that Microsoft is in place to continue improving market share.

All of this is reason for considering moving your organization to one platform for mobile devices. I have not done this yet, but Microsoft has me thinking about it….

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iOS7 Lands on Apple

After months of hearing about it, iOS7  7 download links are now live for iPhone 5, 4s, 4, iPad mini, iPad, and iPod touch. Although I have really grown attached to the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet I do use an iPad for some tasks so I was looking forward to checking this much talked new Apple OS. Y have some mixed opinions about Apple’s new software. However a few things are for obvious including that iOS 7 is an incredibly huge change from iO6. Many who update their device will be  unaware of what is about to happen on their device.

The screen presentation difference is only the beginning of the change.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of the new software. I think it’s different enough that it has recaptured some of my interest – which has been significantly drifting towards the Microsoft camp.

If you haven’t yet installed iOS 7 on your device, I will try to walk you through the steps. Depending on your situation, you may want to update over the air (OTA) or via a tethered connection to a computer using iTunes, either will work fine.

There are a few things you’ll need, depending on the route you choose. If you plan to update over the air, you should need nothing more than your device and a good Wi-Fi connection. This is how I updated my iPad. Simply navigate to Settings > General > Software Update and you’ll be good to go. If, however, you’re updating via your computer, then you’ll need the most up to date version of iTunes, which is iTunes 11.1, and your device connected via USB. Apple’s servers are still currently having issues, so I would recommend directly downloading the IPSW for your specific device and using that to update. Once you have everything, simply follow the on screen steps as described.

If you’ve never tried it before, iOS 7 will be a shock. Just take comfort in the recommendation that your usability of the software will improve with time, and I think most users will eventually appreciate this new update. It’s certainly improved my overall productivity with my device. Tools like Control Center and the new multitasking experience have actually sped up how I interact with my iPad.

All this being said, I will not be getting rid of my Windows phone or Surface tablet anytime soon. As a consumer device the iPad, iPhone and the new iOS7 is a winner, however I continue to believe that the Microsoft world is a better place to be if trying to getting work done is your primary goal while still having a little fun on the side.

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Avoiding Malware 101

Here is yet another article about the increasing problems surrounding malware. Take a few moments to learn about some of the new attack methods hackers are using so you can avoid having to pay the IT guy (hopefully me) to fix your broken PC.

1. USB malware

A great number of the cyber security threats companies face come from the Internet and reach the network through users’ web-facing machines. That’s why a lot of the security tools companies use are focused on blocking those web-based security threats.

However, the Internet isn’t the only place malware can come from. In fact, among the companies surveyed by Bit9 who had been stung by a malware attack, 25% said the threat got onto the network from a USB device that a user plugged into a PC.

Those USB-based attacks are becoming more common, according to a report released earlier this year by McAfee.

Often, problems occur when employees use free USB drives they receive as promotional items — or when they use lost drives they pick up from the street.

Some of the steps being considered by IT staffs everywhere (including me) to help keep malware from moving off of a USB drive onto the company’s network:

  • Disable USB ports for users who don’t need them
  • Disable auto-play for USB drives
  • Require storage devices to be approved by IT before they’re used, and
  • Train users not to use drives if they don’t know where they came from, and not to open unknown files contained on drives.

2. Attacks against remote users

Many companies rely on perimeter defenses designed to keep threats away from the internal network.
But as more work is being done remotely on laptops, smartphones and other devices, that means a lot of endpoints aren’t being protected.

According to Bit9′s report, 17% of malware infections occurred while an employee was using a device outside of the company’s network. Another 8% of respondents said an attack originated from an employee’s mobile phone.

Those attacks might give hackers access to sensitive data stored on the remote device, and the malware may spread once the employee returns to office and connects the device to the network.
What it means for IT: It’s important to make sure that all of the devices employees use are being protected regardless of their physical location. That includes both company-issued and employee-owned devices.

3. Malware antivirus programs can’t catch

Close to half (40%) of the companies surveyed that had been hit with malware attacks said the threats simply bypassed the antivirus systems the organization was using.

Recent tests have found that antivirus software is unable to detect many of the threats out there. The main issue is that those programs rely mostly on malware signatures for detection — that means a virus has to be labeled as dangerous before the software will be able to catch it.

Even when virus definition files are updated, there’s typically a lag between when a threat appears and when those signatures are created.

On top of that, cyber criminals are turning more toward sophisticated methods to avoid detection, such as creating specific malware meant to target a single organization.

As I always say, “never ever click on links that your are not familiar with and do not download attachments unless your are 100% sure of where it came from!

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Internet Explorer Security Alert

Earlier this week Microsoft unexpectedly released a security advisory warning users about instances of active exploitation of a vulnerability found in all supported versions of Internet Explorer (6-11).

The remote code execution vulnerability “may corrupt memory in a way that could allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code in the context of the current user within Internet Explorer,” and can be exploited by the attacker hosting a specially crafted website that is designed to do so and then convincing a user to view the website with IE.

Microsoft says that the targeted attacks that have been detected in the wild are currently attempting to exploit this vulnerability in IE 8 and 9, and that it remains vigilant and works with partners to detect and take action against malicious sites that attempt to exploit this flaw.

In order to protect their customers as much as possible until a definitive security update fixing the flaw is released, the company has made available a Fix it solution, and has also recommended to users to:

  • Set Internet and local intranet security zone settings to “High” to block ActiveX Controls and Active Scripting in these zones, and
  • Configure Internet Explorer to prompt before running Active Scripting or to disable Active Scripting in the Internet and local intranet security zones

The Fix it must be downloaded and run by the users themselves, and the other two actions might affect the usability of the system, but this last possibility can be mitigated by adding trusted sites to the Internet Explorer Trusted Sites zone to minimize disruption.

“In a web-based attack scenario, an attacker could host a website that contains a webpage that is used to exploit this vulnerability. In addition, compromised websites and websites that accept or host user-provided content or advertisements could contain specially crafted content that could exploit this vulnerability,” Microsoft warned in the advisory.

“In all cases, however, an attacker would have no way to force users to visit these websites. Instead, an attacker would have to convince users to visit the website, typically by getting them to click a link in an email message or Instant Messenger message that takes users to the attacker’s website.”

So, IE users, beware of unsolicited messages and suspicious links – now and forever – and implement the Fix it.

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