Tis’ the Season for Holiday Security

It’s the holidays and that means taking online security seriously and making sure that you protect yourself. There are almost daily news stories of security breaches and account hacks. What makes this a great time for security tips is that many of you will be shopping online even more then normal.

It’s an unfortunate fact that as you email friends and family, or buy gifts from online retailers, you can also unintentionally expose your sensitive information and  devices to hackers and scammers.  Here are 10 internet security tips that you can use to ensure you have a happy holiday season, free from bad things like:

  • Viruses
  • Identity Theft
  • Fraud
  • And more

1. Always Check For a Secure Connection Before Entering Payment

You should never enter details like your credit card, social security number, or anything beyond your name or email if the connection is not secured. If you are ever prompted for sensitive details including credit card numbers or your address, simply check the address of the page. If it is secure, you will see the URL preceded by “HTTPS://” with the “S” indicating “Secure”. Your browser may also use a shield or lock symbol in the same address bar. If the page does not appear to be a secured connection, do not enter your information.

2. Never Enter Information In A Popup

This can be confusing, given that many sites use what are called “modal windows” for prompting users. For instance, you may come across sites that activate a modal window asking you to log in. These are not popups. Why? because they are a part of the site, with the same (root) domain. Popups, however, are injected in either the site or your browser. In other words, they are not a part of the site. These can be used to track behavior, steal personal information, and are generally never to be trusted by entering any personal information in. The best way to identify a popup is to look for it’s URL. A popup will always appear as a new window or tab. Usually, it will have an address bar that you can use to compare it with the site you were on. If it does not match, be very cautious about entering any information. If it does not have an address bar, it is usually better to error on the side of caution and close it.

3. Use Unique Passwords & Change Them Often

Don’t make it easy for them! Birthdays, nicknames, kids names… These are wonderful, cute, precious things. But, they make for terribly insecure passwords that are constantly exploited by even the most amateur of hackers. But, how can you keep track of them all as the number of sites and services you use increases? Who can remember all those shifting passwords? That’s why we recommend using a password service like Last pass. You can use it to generate ultra-secure passwords for every site and tool you use. Best of all, you can manage them across every device you own!

4. Log Out When You Are Done

It’s not just something we need to worry about at internet cafes or at the library computer. WiFi, Bluetooth, and network technology have advanced far enough that people accessing your devices is a real concern. That’s why it’s always a good idea to log out of any account if you have finished using it, or if you will be away from the device for an extended period of time.

5. Don’t Access Your Bank Through a Public Network

Public Wifi networks and Hotspots are always vulnerable to attacks or infiltration by hackers. In fact, data sent out over public networks can easily be intercepted by “sniffers” that can then parse out personal data. Even if the connection is secure, it is never a good idea to trust these public access points with your login credentials, bank details, or other sensitive information.

6. Use An Anti-Virus Program On All Your Devices

One of the easiest ways you can protect your computer and your information is to install an antivirus program.  While most computers come pre-installed with one, many users don’t realize that it is equally important that you keep the antivirus program updated with the latest version. New viruses appear all the time and unless your antivirus program has been kept up to date they cannot effectively protect you against them. Most anti virus programs will also include the option of turning on, or bolstering your firewall. This is something that you should always have selected in order to prevent malicious hackers and data thieves from accessing your network and getting information directly off your computer.

7. Turn On Aggressive Spam Filtering

Most email clients and providers include variable spam filtering options. Since your spam folder in your email inbox prevents emails from auto loading images and other malicious script it’s always a good idea to send any questionable or unrecognized emails to the spam folder first. That way you still receive every email, but you can keep them in a “quarantined” area until you have time to check them. By setting your client or account spam filtering settings to “aggressive” or “full”, you can ensure that every email of questionable or unrecognized source sends to the spam folder first, thereby offering you the greatest amount of protection from spam phishing.

8. Avoid Sending Sensitive Information Over Email

Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to avoid sending any sensitive information via email. In fact many services and vendors expressly discourage users from ever sharing their information by email. Instead, most of them suggest you call or live chat with an agent directly. Unfortunately, even if the recipient is a close personal friend or family member, it is still never a good idea to send them things like credit card numbers, bank details, passwords, and so on. While you may be sure they would never willingly share your information, the fact remains your critical information sits waiting in their inbox or archives waiting for the day it is accidentally forwarded, phished, or stolen.

9. Check Any Link Before Clicking It

Even if an email looks like it is from a credible source there is nothing guaranteeing that the links or buttons it contains lead back to that source. It’s important that you know where a link is going to take you before you click it. Otherwise, you may unintentionally reveal sensitive information or expose your computer to identity thieves and hackers.

If an email asks you to click on a link, button, or other hyperlink elements, you should first hover over (or preview) that link to see it’s address. Make sure that the URL it will send you to is credible and leads where you are trying to go.

10. Never Download Something In An Email From An Unknown Sender

It’s common for hackers to use attachments and downloads in emails to inject malicious script and programs on user’s devices. Often times, the user remains completely unaware that they have downloaded these scripts which can do anything from slowing their devices performance to stealing their sensitive information. That is why you should never open or download anything inside a email from a sender you don’t recognize or know.

I hope you find these tips helpful, and keep them in mind as you shop and communicate with loved ones this holiday season. If you have any tips you’d like to share with us, please leave them in the comments below!

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Amazon’s Password Reset Leads to Security Reminder

Some  Amazon account holders have been receiving e-mails from the company letting them know that their passwords have been reset because of a recent vulnerability it discovered.

amazon password

The e-mail message told recipients that their passwords “may have been improperly stored on your device or transmitted to Amazon in a way that could potentially expose it to a third party,” according to a report at ZDNet today. The e-mail also stated that Amazon had reset those users’ passwords out of an “abundance of caution.”

It is not yet clear how many users may have been affected, what caused the vulnerability, or how Amazon discovered it.

The reported password issue comes less than a week after Amazon quietly rolled out a new option for two-factor authentication for customers (which I greatly encourage) who want to boost the security of their accounts. The new security feature, which is optional for users, is now generally available to users in the United States.

Online Security Reminder This Holiday Season

holiday shopping infographic

Some 135.8 million U.S. shoppers are expected to hit stores both online and brick and mortal between Thanksgiving Day and the following Sunday, according to the National Retail Federation’s predictions for the holiday shopping season.

The National Cyber Security Alliance, which represents companies including Intel, Microsoft, PayPal and Visa, has issued a guide on how to “Be a Cybersmart Holiday Shopper.” The guide includes such recommendations as discarding suspicious texts and e-mails, limiting activity on public Wi-Fi networks while out shopping and activating two-step authentication for online banking and messaging.

You can check out their most excellent – common sense guide here.

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Microsoft’s Botched Windows Update

If who have updated to the latest Windows 10 update you should double-check your settings. This is because Microsoft revealed Tuesday that it took the previous update (which was released on November 12) down from the Internet the day before because of a problem that reset some users’ privacy settings when installed.

The bug reset settings on affected devices to make it easier for advertisers to track users across applications, and allow devices to share users’ information with wireless gizmos like Bluetooth beacons that don’t explicitly pair with a PC, tablet or phone.

Microsoft released a fix on Tuesday, so anyone installing the update now shouldn’t be affected by the bug. What’s more, the company said in an emailed statement, that those people who had their settings changed will have them restored to the correct configuration over the coming days. However, Microsoft won’t say how it plans to do that yet.

Microsoft reported in its statement that the problem affected “an extremely small number of people who had already installed Windows 10 and applied the November update.” It’s not clear what triggered the bug, however.

The good news in all this is that Microsoft has fixed the problem after it became apparent. The bad news is that the company released an update that changed settings that users rely on to maintain their privacy.

This is all comes at a time when some users have reported concerns about what data Windows 10 collects on users and shares with Microsoft. Windows offers settings to stop this collection (except for telemetry data that it thinks isn’t a privacy issue), but all those settings do not work if this bug is left in place.

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Windows 10 Marches Towards World Dominance

With last week’s bad news about Windows Phone here is some good news for Microsoft.

Windows 10 is on pace to be the most widely installed Windows version on this planet. We knew that this was likely to occur, however what is a bit surprising is the speed in which users are moving from Windows XP, 7 and 8 to 10.

Specifically, Gartner Inc is predicting half of enterprises will have at least started deploying Windows 10 by January 2017.

“In the consumer market, a free upgrade coupled with broad legacy device support and automatic over-the-air upgrades ensures that there will be tens of millions of users familiar with the operating system before the end of 2015,” said Steve Kleynhans, research vice president at Gartner, in a statement. “For enterprises, we expect that implementation will be significantly more rapid than that seen with Windows 7 six years ago.”

Key Predictions

Why is Windows 10 so popular? Gartner pointed out several factors, including a stark awareness of the fact that Microsoft is ending Windows 7 support in January 2020, as well as compatibility with Windows 7 apps and devices and a pent-up demand for 2-in-1 devices and tablets in the enterprise.

The net effect: Many enterprises are planning to launch Windows 10 pilot programs in the first half of 2016. With at least half of enterprises starting some production deployments in 2017, Windows 10 could become the new standard by 2019.

Gartner also made three more predictions on the endpoint technology front. For starters, the firm said by 2019, organizations will deliver twice as many remote applications as in 2015.

The Touchscreen Adoption Trend Continues

By 2018, one-third of all notebooks will be touchscreen, according to Gartner. And in that same year, 30 percent of enterprises will spend more on display screens than on PCs thanks to the user demand in the digital workplace, the company said.

“All of these trends portend a new employee workspace that is more mobile, more capable of working more naturally with humans, and, overall, more productive and secure. Endpoint support staff must rethink the workspace and work with suppliers to re-architect and re-cost standards,” said Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney in the statement.

“From an IT perspective, Windows 10 and the move of applications to the back end will dramatically change how those applications are delivered to employees. Updates will be more frequent, more incremental and less obvious to the end user,” he said. “Software vendors and internal IT have much to do to adapt to this new model and to move away from the image management model for PCs of today.”

The move to Windows 10 which addresses the problems with Windows 8 coupled with the huge number of firms that stalled on Windows XP, provides the opportunity for a a very large – across the board upgrade.

The familiarity with touchscreens on tablets and the increased focus on designing Web sites and applications for touch use is obviously driving the massive move to touchscreens. Ironically, Apple, which actually started this movement, appears to have missed the boat this time by not embracing touchscreen capabilities on MacBooks and iMacs.

2016 looks to be a big year for Windows 10 as it marches towards world dominance.

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More Troubles for Windows Phone Emerge

This news saddens me on a technology level. If you are a dedicated reader of this fine blog you will recall that many times in the past I have praised the merits of Microsoft’s Windows Phone. Although I abandoned my Windows Phone about a year ago I had hoped it would bounce back and actually gain a little market share. Recently it has been indicated that Microsoft was providing a development tool to Android developers so that they could easily port (move) their apps over to the Windows Phone ecosystem. Sadly this has apparently been delayed and now it appears Windows Phone is in very serious danger of becoming extinct leaving users with only 2 choices.

Windows phone shipments took a nose-dive in the third quarter, plummeting 35% from the same period in 2014, researcher Gartner said today.

To make this turn of events even worse, by comparison, total global smartphone shipments climbed 15% in the third quarter.

Of the 353 million smartphones shipped in the September quarter worldwide, less than 6 million were powered by Microsoft’s Windows, making Windows’ share 1.7%, Gartner estimated, down from 3% in the same quarter of 2014.

he September quarter was the first full period since Microsoft announced a major retrenchment of its smartphone business and the strategy that had guided it. In July, even though it had written off billions former CEO Steve Ballmer sunk into acquiring Nokia’s handset business the year before, Microsoft said it would continue to manufacture devices and push other OEMs to use Windows.

CEO Satya Nadella repudiated Ballmer’s plans, but he denied that the company was exiting the business. Instead, he spelled out a strategy that would tightly focus on Windows loyalists, value-oriented consumers, and business workers.

From all evidence, that’s not worked.

windows' share of all smartphone shipments

Some in the technology industry, including this blogger believe that there is still a place for Windows phones, even with Microsoft’s downsized goals. For example enterprises are better suited to Windows 10 Mobile and Microsoft’s revamped strategy then either iOS or Android.

Enterprises and government for example want to actually support Windows 10 across all devices. Microsoft’s ideal customer is a professional already deep in the Windows ecosystem, having invested, say, in a Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book, or companies that are strictly Windows-only shops.

That’s not much of a market but these markets could save Windows Phone. I for one hope that this happens.

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Finding Your Device with Windows 10

Windows 10 takes a new take on mobile computing in many ways and begins to truly merge smartphones, tablets and laptops. As an example of this is that Windows 10 integrates some technologies that used to be available only to our smartphones and tablets. Key among these features is Find My Device, which can help you locate your PC if its lost or stolen.

If you have a Windows 10 device give this a whirl.

Find My Device is located in Settings (WINKEY + I), Update & Security, Find My Device.

find-my-device-main2

It is actually “off” by default. So if you think you may want to use Find My Device, click the Change button to enable it. When you do so, the location of your device is saved to OneDrive from time to time.

You can view the location of this and your other devices on the Microsoft Accounts web site at account.microsoft.com/devices.

Maybe someday this will help you thwart a thief or at least help you find you missing device.

find-web

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Windows 10 Gets Polish

The first major update to Windows 10, Microsoft’s new operating system, was released last week. The new set of features, tagged November Update by Microsoft and code named Threshold 2, includes a number of updates to Cortana, Microsoft’s Edge browser, and other Windows 10 interface elements.

Screenshot (3)

The update also includes support for the Windows 10 Store for Business and most of the management pieces required by business users who want to take advantage of Microsoft’s Windows Update for Business. Build 10586, the update’s designated name, is considered a test build for PCs and tablets, and was released to Windows Insider testers last week. I have been using this for about a week and this major update really does put the finishing touches on Windows 10, except perhaps with their new browser, Edge which still needs some work, like extensions.

The update was made available to existing Windows 10 users as a Cumulative Update via Windows Update today as well as to Windows 7 and 8.1 customers who have not yet upgraded to Windows 10.

Some new features that will especially interest business users include tab previews in Edge and inking in Cortana, the new Business Store and more elements in Windows Update for Business. The latter feature allows IT admins to set internal rings for their users, enabling them to automatically set timetables for when those users will get new feature updates. Also included in today’s update is mobile device management for Windows 10 devices, apps and data, including integration with System Center Configuration Manager and WSUS (Windows Server Update Services).

Future Enhancements Planned

Microsoft has reported that it is working to get Windows Insiders a preview of its enterprise data protection technology before the end of the year, but that feature will not be generally available to all Windows 10 users until next year. The data loss prevention technology for Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise and Education users had been promised earlier. Since I am a “Windows Insider” I will keep you posed on this one.

Microsoft has been updating and refreshing Windows 10 periodically with security patches and fixes since late July. The company said it plans to send out bundles of new Windows 10 features at a rate of about every four to six months.

For now, the same Windows 10 core is running on numerous devices, including PCs, tablets, the Xbox One gaming system and various Internet of Things devices. The next month or so is anticipated as the release date for Windows 10 Mobile, the version for Windows Phones and small ARM-based and Intel-based tablets.

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Do You Have What it Takes to Be a Office Insider?

Much like the Windows Insider program that has vaulted Windows 10 into a popular beta operating system, Microsoft is now taking the wraps off a similar program for Office.

office_insider

This ongoing program is for consumer Office subscribers and includes Office 365 Home, Office 365 Personal and Office 365 University editions. By joining the program you get first access to the latest Office innovations.

If you already have one of these editions installed and want to join, use the following link:

https://products.office.com/en-us/office-insider

When you visit the link you can choose to install the latest Office Insider build and gain links to participate in the Office community. This offer is currently only for Windows users. Insider builds are for Mac are expected soon.

Business users (Office 365 business, enterprise, or 365 Pro Plus) already have access to the First Release program.

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Upgrading to Windows 10

If you can’t wait for your Windows 10 upgrade Microsoft just made it a bit easier to get it.

Microsoft this week posted links to disk image files in .iso format for Windows 10’s first upgrade, giving users a way to install the latest version of the OS without waiting for the company to push the code via Windows Update. I have already completed a couple of Windows 10 upgraded in this manner and each time the process was very easy to complete.

Screenshot (2)

With a disk image, users can create installation media — such as a flash drive or DVD — for one-off or multiple-device migrations to Windows 10, or to reinstall the operating system over a corrupted copy.

The .iso files — which for the English edition were sized at 2.8GB for the 32-bit version, 3.7GB for the 64-bit version — can also be used to boost Windows 10 from July’s original RTM (release to manufacturing) to November’s 1511, the in-OS label Microsoft has applied using its new yymm release dating identifier.

Others suggested that he use the Media Creation Tool to build a USB drive or DVD, then use the media to upgrade an existing copy of Windows 10.

Not all Windows 10 devices will immediately retrieve the 1511 upgrade because, as it did in July with RTM, Microsoft is staggering the availability of 1511. “The update is rolling out in waves, starting yesterday,” a Microsoft spokesman confirmed Friday.

Other systems haven’t been offered the 1511 upgrade for different reasons. The most common is if the machine was recently upgraded from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 to Windows 10. “If it’s been less than 31 days since you upgraded to Windows 10, you won’t get the November update right away; this will allow you to go back to your previous version of Windows if you choose,” according to a FAQ about the November upgrade. “After the 31 days have passed, your PC will automatically download the November update.”

The upgrade — which Microsoft insists on calling the “November Update” — will reach current Windows 10 customers automatically, as do all interim updates, such as those issued each month to fix security flaws.

Windows 10 1511 disk images can also be downloaded from the Microsoft website from non-Windows 10 devices as well, to upgrade existing virtual machines on other platforms, such as Apple‘s OS X.

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Microsoft’s OneNote Gains New Features

Microsoft is doubling down on its OneNote note-taking app. This past week Microsoft announced a major new upgrade for the app. The latest versions contain a number of new features for a variety of devices, including iOS and Android updates, that will begin rolling out in the next couple weeks. Among the new features is the ability to add audio and attach files to your notes.

Screenshot (1)

The increased functionality should help OneNote keep pace with the features available in other popular note-taking programs, such as Evernote and Apple Notes. Although Microsoft seems to be positioning the upgrades as particularly valuable for students and educators, some of the new functionality should also go a long way toward making business users happy as well.

This recent upgrade also brings audio recording to the Web, iPhone, and iPad versions of the app, with additional updates and more features on the way.

Additional OneNote Features Added

OneNote-in-November-1 OneNote gets better audio recording, more cool featuresAndroid devices, meanwhile, are getting an upgrade in the form of a new Android badge. The badge, which can be placed anywhere on the screen, can float even when other apps are being used. The update makes it easier for users to copy and paste notes from other applications or jot down ideas without disrupting their workflows. The OneNote badge will be rolling out in phases over the next three weeks, the company said.

The iOS version is also getting special treatment. The latest version for Apple devices is getting Force Touch support, which will allow users to create new notes or navigate to their recent notes by changing the amount of pressure they apply with their fingers. The iOS is also getting some display optimization to take advantage of the iPad Pro’s new screen resolution.

The Web app and mobile devices aren’t the only versions getting upgrades. OneNote 2016 for Windows desktop is also getting some new features, such as the ability to embed online videos directly into its desktop canvas environment. The new feature allows users to embed YouTube, Vimeo, and content from other online video platforms directly into their notes.

I know that I use OneNote almost every day for meetings and collaborating so these feature additions are welcome to an already great app.

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