How To Prepare Your Computer For Reuse, Recycling, Or Donation

ttt-logoWe all need to take responsibility for disposing of our old computers properly. Instead of throwing out old electronics, please consider reusing, donating, or recycling them.

Old computers can have a lot of life left, especially if the hardware is good. However, if the computer can’t run current antivirus or software updates, it’s not suitable for reuse. Many people assume that if they never connect the computer to a network, it will never become infected. But I have seen plenty of “offline” computers that became infected anyway. One quick little login or infected flash drive and it’s all over. Don’t say it won’t happen because it certainly can.

Today’s viruses are so aggressive, it’s not worth the risk to use old computers that can’t be adequately protected. See my Tech Tips article on ransomware to learn more about the increased risks posed by modern viruses.

Before donating your computer, either wipe the drive or reset it to factory defaults following the instructions on your manufacturer’s website. Microsoft and Apple have advice on how to prepare your computer for donation.

Although recycling is far better than throwing your computer in the garbage, the e-waste recycling industry itself has its downsides (see these articles by National Geographic here and here for examples). When recycling your equipment, ask the recycler for more information about where and how they recycle.

Check your local city, village, or county for information on local electronics recycling events. Some manufacturers and resellers also accept old computers for recycling.

Thanks for doing your part to help minimize the problem of electronics waste!

Ways To Improve Your Wireless Network Signal

ttt-logoIf you’ve ever suffered from slow WiFi, you’re not alone. But there are a number of easy things you can do to try to speed up your wireless network.

The most common wireless problem I encounter is poor access point placement. Wireless access points should be placed as high as possible, such as on a bookshelf, and away from sources of interference like speakers and landline phones.

Building construction is also a factor. Try moving your computer in relation to the access point. If possible, line-of-sight gives best performance.

If you have an older wireless router, consider replacing it. The newer devices have improved speeds and are better at resisting interference. Similarly, older computers will be slower on wireless networks.

Make sure it’s a wireless problem and not an overall network problem. If you’re still experiencing slowness when you plug in your computer manually, it’s not just the wireless. Try rebooting your router and/or modem according to your Internet provider’s instructions. Using a surge protector will prevent equipment damage due to brownouts or blackouts.

If there is a virus infestation on your network, this can also cause a slowdown as the virus tries to call home to its command servers. Run antivirus scans on all computers, and be especially wary of ransomware.

 

Why You Need To Delete Your Old Accounts

ttt-logoMost people let old accounts languish. But abandoned accounts are filled with information that can be used to send spam, spread malvertising, and commit cybercrimes.

For example, I frequently get email messages from people I know, but haven’t talked to in a while. Invariably the email subject is blank or says nothing but, “Re:”. Sometimes the email includes a suspicious attachment. And I sigh and delete the message, because I know these unused accounts have been hijacked from their unsuspecting owners and are now controlled by hackers.

But hijacked accounts go beyond mere annoyance. They are often used to hack other, juicier targets, making it more difficult for such electronic attacks to be traced back to the perpetrator. They can also be used in online financial scams, such as the “I’m stuck overseas and need you to wire me money” scam. Such scams appear far more realistic when they come from a seemingly-legitimate source like a friend’s email address rather than some random account, and many people fall for the trick.

Hijacked accounts can also be used to hijack other accounts like Facebook, Twitter, or even your bank account, if it’s been linked to them. It’s like a stepping stone to the rest of your stuff.

For these reasons, you should always delete old accounts if you are no longer using them. If you’re concerned that someone will take your old username, I recommend maintaining your old accounts by logging into them every few months and using strong passwords that have not been used on any other site.

You will need your username and password for the account you wish to delete. If you don’t have it, you typically need to follow the site’s procedures to recover a forgotten password before you can continue the deletion or deactivation process. Don’t forget to remove the deleted address from other accounts if it’s been linked to them, such as an old email address linked to your Facebook account.

You should note, however, that just because a site claims your account has been deleted, it may not necessarily have been. Many sites retain old accounts in case you want to reactivate them later. Also, your data may not be deleted even if you request it. Over the years any information you’ve stored online has doubtless been copied to untold backups and mirror servers. In reality, once your data is on the Internet, it’s out there forever. But at least by deactivating or deleting your accounts, you can help keep them (and the data they contain) from being used for nefarious purposes.

Here’s how to delete or deactivate your accounts on a variety of popular sites, old and new.

 

Quick Internet Safety Tips For Kids, Parents, And Teachers

ttt-logoTalking with your child about Internet safety can seem overwhelming, but there are some excellent resources available to help. Here are some of the tools I use when teaching kids, parents, and schools about online safety.

Basic Internet Safety

For Kids (up to age 12)

For Tweens And Teens (ages 12-18)

For Parents

For Teachers And Educators

 

Clean Up Your Computer With These Utilities

ttt-logoEvery computer needs a tune-up now and then. Unfortunately computer viruses often disguise themselves as cleaning programs and other utilities. You think you’re downloading a legitimate program, but you end up infecting your computer instead.

Here are some of my favorite bona fide utilities to help you keep your computer in top condition. I’ve included the full address for each product as a reminder that links, even on a benevolent site like this one, can be hijacked by hackers in order to lead you to malware-infected sites. Always visit the manufacturer’s site or app store directly to download programs, and remember that you use these utilities at your own risk.

Also make sure you are running a reliable antivirus program, that you have current updates for your system installed, and that you have a recent backup. See each utility’s site for more information and support.

Useful Utilities For Windows

  • CCleaner from Piriform
    https://www.piriform.com/ccleaner/download
    This program offers an easy way to clean out temporary files and other cached data. It also has options for optimizing your computer.
  • Malwarebytes
    https://www.malwarebytes.com/
    One of the top products for virus and malware removal. Your regular antivirus program offers routine protection, but Malwarebytes can help you remove the sneakies that manage to infiltrate those defenses.
  • Personal Software Inspector from Flexera Software (formerly Secunia)
    http://www.flexerasoftware.com/enterprise/products/software-vulnerability-management/personal-software-inspector/
    If you’ve been looking for a convenient way to make sure all of your Windows programs are up to date, look no further. PSI scans your system and lets you know which programs need updates or are obsolete. No more wondering if you have the latest versions!

Useful Utilities For Mac

  • El Capitan Cache Cleaner from Northern Softworks
    http://www.northernsoftworks.com/elcapitancachecleaner.html
    This little gem lets Mac users clear out caches and other miscellaneous junk. You can also use it to repair permissions, which can help to mitigate problems, as well as run other optimization routines. Despite the name it also works with previous versions of Mac OS.
  • Apple Diagnostics (Apple Hardware Test) from Apple
    https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202731
    This hardware testing program is built into your Mac. Restart your Mac, then hold down the D key until the Apple Diagnostics window appears.
  • Disk Utility from Apple
    https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201639
    This is another built-in tool that helps you diagnose and repair hard drive problems. You’ll find it in the Utilities folder in the Applications folder on your Macintosh HD.

 

How To Prevent Or Remove The Windows 10 Upgrade

Just when you think Microsoft won’t stoop any lower in forcing Windows 10 upgrades on its customers, now they’ve started changing the way your computer behaves in order to trick you into accepting the upgrade.

I’m referring to the X or close box in the upper corner of a computer’s dialog window, which is used in many operating systems (not just Windows) to indicate “close” or “cancel”. Until now, that is. Microsoft doesn’t want people to exit out of its overly-persistent Windows 10 upgrade reminder, so it has changed the X in the corner to indicate “accept” instead of “cancel”. You’ll find more details in this article from PC Magazine and this one from Computerworld, and more about Microsoft’s aggressive stance on Windows 10 in Tech Tips posts here and here.

In effect, Microsoft has made it next to impossible for the average nontechnical user to avoid Windows 10.

Please Don’t Turn Off Automatic Updates
As a tech professional I’m appalled that Microsoft would change such a fundamental part of a long-established interface in order to foist its latest operating system onto an unsuspecting public. It goes against all principles of information technology, not to mention customer service.

However, I’m equally concerned that people are turning off automatic updates to avoid Windows 10. I understand why – no one likes having their computer upgraded unexpectedly, without even the chance to make a backup. But turning off your updates also turns off necessary security updates that you need to prevent computer viruses. And, given Microsoft’s tactics, this may not hold Win10 at bay anyhow.

Tools To Prevent Windows 10 From Installing
Fortunately there are tools that can help keep Windows 10 off your computer. The two most popular are GWX Control Panel and Never 10. As always, use any third-party utility at your own risk, and make sure you have a full backup on an external hard drive (not the cloud) before you proceed.

GWX Control Panel offers a wide variety of features including disabling the Windows 10 upgrade notice, preventing the Win10 install, and removing downloaded installer files. Never 10 is ideal for the novice user, providing an easy-to-use interface that uses Microsoft’s own tools to prevent Windows 10 from installing.

Please don’t use some random utility you find in a web search. There are plenty of viruses out there that would love to trick you into downloading them by pretending to be something useful. Always be cautious of malicious lookalike apps!

What To Do If Your Computer Has Already Upgraded To Windows 10
If you find yourself already upgraded to Windows 10, Microsoft offers a one-month window during which you may revert back to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. You’ll find their instructions here. Again, I recommend making a backup before trying to make any major changes to your computer – you may not want Windows 10, but you probably want your data back if something goes wrong with the downgrade.

If you’re outside that one-month window, you could back up your computer, restore it to its Win7 or Win8.1 factory defaults according to your manufacturer’s instructions, and then install one of the Win10 blockers so it doesn’t try to upgrade again. This may be best done with the help of a tech professional who can guide you through the process or offer other solutions for your specific situation.

This Is Only Delaying The Inevitable
Bear in mind, if you choose to live in a Windows universe, you’ll have to upgrade to the latest version eventually. After a Windows version reaches end of life, it can no longer receive security or antivirus updates and therefore cannot be protected from viruses and Internet threats. Microsoft has information on their end-of-life cycle for Windows here.

More Information On Windows 10 From Tech Tips

What You Need To Know About Windows 10

How To Prepare For A Windows 10 Upgrade

Microsoft Alienates Customers With Forced Windows 10 Upgrades

Security Basics For Windows Users

How To Prepare For A Windows 10 Upgrade

win10Microsoft’s expiration of their free Windows 10 upgrade has PC users asking: Is it time to upgrade?

Many people have delayed upgrading. That is to say, they’ve tried to delay upgrading… but Microsoft’s aggressive marketing tactics have gone from displaying incessant reminders, to downloading gigabytes worth of upgrade files without the user’s consent, to performing upgrades in the middle of users’ workdays.

Recently I was sitting in a waiting room when I realized the computer in the office across from me had switched to Windows 10’s “Upgrading… 1%….” window. The woman in the office told me it suddenly began the upgrade while she was in the middle of another task, despite repeatedly answering “no” to Microsoft’s continual upgrade reminders. When I left an hour later, it was at 72% and she and her co-worker were attempting to run business from a single machine… which had autoupgraded itself to Windows 10 a few days earlier. (You can read more tales of Win10 autoupgrade woes in this article on The Register.)

If you rely on a Windows world, you’ll be faced with Windows 10 sooner or later. Windows XP and Vista users can no longer run current antivirus, so it’s past time for you to make the move. Win7 and Win8 are currently still supported but will eventually face the same fate. But you should learn more about Windows 10’s shortcomings and what you’ll need to do before you upgrade, or before it upgrades itself.

First, I recommend you review Windows 10’s notorious privacy issues, so that you know what configuration changes you’ll need to make. Here’s more information on how to change Win10’s security settings as well as other information to help with your upgrade.

Next, you’ll want to check your existing computer against Microsoft’s Win10 system requirements. If you’re already on Win7 or Win8, it’s likely your hardware is compatible.

And, of course, you should back up your computer before upgrading. Don’t just rely on a cloud-based backup; take the opportunity to protect yourself from ransomware by creating an offline backup to an external hard drive.

Here are additional articles about Windows 10 that may help with your upgrade.

How To Protect Your Mobile Devices From Malware

ttt-logoMobile malware is on the rise, but few people maintain the same precautions on their tablets and phones that they do on their computers. Here’s what you need to do to stay protected.

Mobile devices need antivirus software just like any other computer, but watch for malware masquerading as antivirus. In general the same security rules we use for computers also apply to phones and tablets:

  • Use the latest version of your device’s software
  • Install all software updates
  • Back up your data
  • Install only well-known apps from known developers
  • Be wary of malware disguised as legitimate apps
  • When in doubt, don’t click

It’s a good idea to configure a passcode for your mobile device. You should also enable any “Find My Device” features your phone or tablet may have. You can configure most devices to erase any data after a certain number of incorrect login attempts, which will keep your information safe should your device become lost or stolen.

Remember that some threats are universal. A fake website that attempts to harvest your username and password can affect you whether you are viewing it on Windows, Mac, or any mobile device. You also need to use strong, secure passwords that are unique for every site, and enable two-factor authentication where possible.

Here are links to antivirus for mobile devices and more.

iOS Antivirus (iPad / iPhone)

iOS Security Tips (iPad / iPhone)

Android Antivirus

Android Security Tips

Tech Tips Articles

How To Create Strong Passwords (2016 Edition)

How To Configure Security Settings For Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android

Security Basics For Windows Users

Windows81With Windows malware on the rise, now seems like a good time for a refresher on basic security advice for Windows users.

First, the bad news. If you are using Windows XP or Windows Vista, you need to upgrade as soon as possible for your own safety. Your computer can no longer run current antivirus software, nor does it receive security updates. Even longstanding programs like Google Chrome now consider WinXP and Vista obsolete. Below you’ll find resources on how to plan your upgrade.

As with any computer, the best defense for Windows users is prevention, including reliable backups and solid security software. Equally important, you also need to know how to recognize and avoid common Internet threats.

If you’d like to know more about Windows security, stay tuned to Tech Tips via Facebook and RSS, or subscribe by email.

Windows Antivirus Programs
Good security starts with a quality antivirus program. You can use the freebies, but I strongly recommend that you invest in a commercial security suite. It’s money well spent.

Upgrading From Windows XP and Windows Vista

Tech Tips – Recommended Advice For Windows Users

 

Ransomware: A Dangerous Threat To Your Computer

Computer SecurityRansomware is a particularly nasty form of computer virus that encrypts your data, then demands an electronic ransom for the encryption key. Why is ransomware so hazardous, and how can you remove it?

Ransomware is vicious because it doesn’t just render your computer unusable. It encrypts all of your files, including those on networked computers, removable drives, and server volumes. To get the key to unlock the encryption, cyber-criminals demand that you pay. Ransomware has decimated businesses and consumers alike. It’s been around on Windows for ages (see my writeup of Cryptolocker from a few years ago), but recently the first Mac-based ransomware has appeared in the wild.

Should You Pay?
There’s some debate amongst computer security experts as to whether it is better to pay the ransom or not. Sophos’ Naked Security blog has a good overview of the discussion. They also have an excellent article on what you can do if you are infected by ransomware.

How To Avoid Ransomware
You are far better off avoiding ransomware in the first place. Start by making sure you have multiple sets of known good backups. A clean backup is one of your best protections against ransomware and other viruses. Below you’ll find my guide on backup options for Windows and Mac, including how to test your backups to make sure they work when you need them.

All of my usual security recommendations apply as well. Use a top-quality antivirus program, and keep your computer up to date. If you’re on an obsolete version of Windows or Mac, now’s the time to upgrade. Check your default security settings, and use strong, unique passwords on every site.

Here are some Tech Tips articles to help. You can also sign up to receive Tech Tips by email and follow Tech Tips on Facebook for the latest tech support advice for Windows and Mac.

How To Back Up Your Computer (For Windows And Mac)

How To Create Strong Passwords (2016 Edition)

How To Configure Security Settings For Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android

Security Basics For Mac Users

How To Protect Your Web Browser