A Parent’s Guide To Protecting Your Kids Online

kidsIt’s hard to protect kids online, because parents and educators often have a hard time finding resources that can help them understand the latest risks and recommendations. I’ve gathered a variety of information in one place so you can learn about antivirus, parental controls, and protecting your kids while using mobile devices and video games.

Kids’ computers are among the most vulnerable to security threats. That’s not to say your kids are doing anything wrong. On the contrary, they’re the victims. Not only do virus-writers like to booby-trap kids with malicious web sites, they also like to infiltrate legitimate ones. Kids are also at much at risk of identity theft as any Internet user. More so, because cyberbullying has become such a deadly and devastating menace.

These are resources every parent needs to know about how computer viruses and Internet threats work. If you have questions, please feel free to comment. You can also subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

Antivirus And Security

Mobile Devices

Video Games

Cyberbullying And Harassment

 

How To Prepare Your Computer For Recycling Or Donation

computer-recycleIf you have old computers and cell phones lying around, you’re not alone. Many of us hang onto old devices because we don’t know what to do with them. Sure, we want to donate or recycle, but what about the data?

Here’s how to erase your computers, cell phones, and tablets prior to donation or recycling. Don’t forget printers, copiers, and fax machines too! You can find more details on e-waste and e-cycling on the EPA’s web site.

Warning: This article presumes that you’ve either backed up or don’t need the data on the device. Make sure you have everything you need before you do this!

Computers

If you’re recycling you can simply format the drive. Try DBAN for Windows to erase your hard drive thoroughly. Mac users can use their Apple system software utilities.

If you’re donating, presumably you want to present a usable computer with an operating system on it. In that case you’ll want to do a factory reinstall from the original disks or hard drive partition. Check your manufacturer’s instructions for details on how to restore to the original factory software. This turns your computer back into what it was when you bought it, without your personal data.

When in doubt, you can always remove the hard drive and smash it to pieces.

Smart phones and tablets

First, delete all contact, calendar, and other private data. For both tablets and smart phones, perform a factory reset to zap any remaining data. If it’s a phone, remove the SIM card (check your manufacturer’s instructions).

Printers, scanners, copiers, and fax machines

Computers and phones aren’t the only devices that keep a record of your data. Fax machines and copiers do too, and even some printers and scanners (usually the big fancy ones). Check the manufacturer’s instructions on how to perform a power reset or factory reset. Afterwards go into the printer’s configuration settings and make sure no private data remains.

Where can I donate or recycle?

The EPA has a web site with information on where you can recycle or donate your used equipment. Check with your local schools, libraries, and charitable organizations. You never know if your used computer might fill a need right in your own community.

Bear in mind that these techniques may still result in recoverable data, if someone tries hard enough. It’s always best to double-check. You can also reformat multiple times to reduce this risk.

Do you have questions about how to recycle or donate your computer? Ask in the comments, and subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Holiday Tech Gadgets: How To Choose A Mobile Device Platform

It’s an exciting time in mobile technology as three major vendors vie for our holiday shopping dollars. In this month’s The Northwest Herald I’m discussing the season’s hottest gadgets. From the article:

Mobile technology is hot this holiday season, and you’ll find gadgets to fit every interest and budget. I visited AT&T and Verizon to get the latest news. (read more)

Smart phones and tablets are this year’s top sellers, which begs the question: What’s the difference between the Big Three mobile platforms, iOS, Android, and Windows?

Apple iOS
Runs on: iPhone, iPad, iPod
You may not know iOS by name, but if you’re familiar with an iPhone screen, you know what it looks like. iOS is Apple’s proprietary system for its iDevices. iOS is known for its ease of use and its seamless compatibility across all your iPhones, iPads, and iPods.

Google Android
Runs on: Tablets and smart phones
When it comes to Android, Google makes the software and other manufacturers like Samsung make the hardware. Android is a powerful and flexible platform but may be too complex for the beginner. There’s also a rampant malware problem on Android because of lax standards in Google’s Marketplace plus a rash of lookalike app stores.

Windows Phone / Windows 8 / Windows RT
Runs on: Tablets and smart phones
If you don’t know what to call Windows on mobile devices, you’re not alone. Windows Phone is simple enough; it’s Windows on a phone. Windows RT is Windows 8 on ARM-based tablets, notably Microsoft’s own Surface. However, WinRT is not as flexible as the full Windows 8 on a PC.

How do you know which mobile platform is right for you? It depends on what you’re currently using. If you have a Windows Phone and love it, then it makes sense to stay with Windows for your mobile devices. If you adore your Samsung Galaxy, you’re an Android fan. All platforms offer similar features as far as email, web, and social media. As far as ease of use, I would say iOS is the easiest, followed closely by Windows 8 with Android last because of its complexity

What about other mobile platforms like Blackberry or Symbian? At this point, Blackberry manufacturer RIM is having so many problems they can barely compete – they released Blackberry 10, but the universe barely blinked. Symbian is still around but has been largely supplanted by Windows Phone.

What tech gadgets are you considering for the holidays? Find anything fun and exciting? Share in the comments and don’t forget to subscribe to Tech Tips by email and follow on Facebook. You can also follow @trionaguidry on Twitter.

 

 

Tools To Protect Your Smartphone From Malware

Do you run antivirus on your smartphone? This month in The Northwest Herald, I talk about the exponential increase in malware on smartphones and what you can do to protect yourself. From the article:

Yet if I were to ask if you run antivirus on your phone, you would probably say no. Nobody mentions malware when you buy a phone, they’re too busy extolling the fancy features. All those cool apps are fine until you realize some virus has been silently snooping on your activities.

Here are links to the latest options for mobile antivirus. The available options are changing all the time as new devices and systems are introduced. I’ve also included links to some of my previous Tech Tips articles which can help you secure your smartphone.

Tech Tips articles on smartphone security

 Mobile Antivirus Options

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How To Avoid Malware On Mobile Devices

Android malware rose 1,200% last year. Android represents 59% of smartphones shipped in 2012 Q1. This does not bode well.

Mobile device security is not on the average person’s radar, yet we’re toting these devices everywhere and using them for just about everything. Clearly we can’t afford to be lax.

Here is an easy primer on how you can protect your mobile devices from malware, whether you use an Android, iPhone, iPad, or other device.

Only buy apps from approved stores
Android users in particular are getting kicked in the butt over installing apps from non-Google marketplaces. Perhaps you think you’d never do that, but poisoned search engine results and malicious web pages can trick you into thinking you’re using Google’s marketplace when you’re not. Be careful when installing apps.

Don’t jailbreak your phone
Jailbreaking means working around the manufacturer’s lockouts so you can have more freedom to play with the configuration. It also can brick your phone – as in, turn it into a useless brick – and opens a greater possibility of malware infection. So unless you are a professional geek, don’t do it.

Install antivirus
Mobile antivirus may be rudimentary, but you still want it. Here are some choices:

Apply computer security to mobile devices
You know all those things I keep saying about not clicking links in email, avoiding Facebook scams, and so forth? They apply to your mobile devices, too. That’s the other way mobile malware is spreading, via social media and drive-by download.

Tell your friends
Let the people around you know about the importance of securing their mobile devices. Why not start by forwarding them a link to this article?

How are you protecting your mobile devices? Share in the comments!

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How To Remove A Virus From Your Mac

With the Flashback virus and its variants on the loose, there’s been a welcome focus on Mac security. But most of the instructions you’ll find for removing a virus are written for Windows. Here is how to remove a virus from a Mac.

First, you’ll want to read this article I wrote on What To Do If Your Computer Is Hacked, because much of the same advice applies here. Then…

Step 0: Install Mac Antivirus
The best protection is prevention, and antivirus software is as mandatory for Macs as it is for PCs. Apple’s built-in defenses are not enough. Here are my recommendations on Mac antivirus. My two favorites are Sophos and Intego. The freebies are fine but honestly, a solid security software suite is one of the best investments you can make for your computer.

Freebies:

Paid:

Step 1: Scan For Viruses
Use your antivirus program to scan your Mac for viruses. Be sure to include any external hard drives or other volumes. If you are sharing drives from other Macs, it’s much faster to scan on the local Mac than scanning across the network.

Remember, it’s not just Mac viruses you’re worried about. Macs can’t be infected by PC viruses, but they can and will transmit them, to the displeasure of your Windows friends. Please be a kind neighbor and make sure your own house is tidy.

Step 2: Do A Second Scan
It’s always a good idea to get a second opinion by scanning with a different program. Select an alternate from above, but don’t try to run both at the same time or they’ll step on each other’s toes.

Step 3: Remove Viruses
In What To Do If Your Computer Is Hacked I wrote:

Your computer could have been infiltrated by a virus, a worm, a Trojan horse, a keylogger, a rootkit, scareware, malware, adware… These are all different types of attacks with different purposes, meaning there are greater and lesser degrees of infection.

Same thing applies to your Mac. Some viruses are just junky adware and easily removed. Others are nefarious keyloggers that embed themselves deep down in your system where no one will find them. Of course you don’t want any viruses on your computer, but some are worse than others.

Use your antivirus tool(s) for removal. Macs tend to clean up quite a bit better than PCs after infection, so in my experience reinstall isn’t required nearly as often. But be careful if you do a Web search for removal tools for specific viruses. Thanks to poisoned search engine results, a search for “Flashback removal tool” returns links to the virus itself!

Step 4: Secure Your Mac
If you’ve gotten this far, in all likelihood the viruses are gone. However, there’s no way to guarantee that. As I wrote in the same article

There is no way to confirm if a computer is free of viruses. I don’t care what any virus removal tool says. You can be 99% confident, but not 100%. When in doubt, reformat. It’s a pain but better than having a computer that keeps reinfecting itself. Remember, a virus can regenerate if even the tiniest portion of itself is left behind.

Assuming you’d rather not go through all that again, go back to Step 0 and make sure your Mac has proper antivirus installed. Then move on to Step 5…

Step 5: Follow Good Security Rules
The best software in the world won’t protect you if a wily cybercriminal can trick you into clicking something you shouldn’t. All that good advice about Windows security applies just as much to you, so watch out for Facebook scams, phishing emails, phony login pages and all the rest of it. If the idea of that daunts you, don’t worry. Just follow Tech Tips via email, Web and Twitter, and I’ll keep you in the know.

Some related Tech Tips articles you might find useful:

Questions about Mac security? Ask in the comments!

Is Your Security Software Everything It Should Be?

Security software isn’t just antivirus anymore, and it’s not just for your computer. Today’s security solutions encompass the ever-changing ways in which we use technology. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize the importance of upgrading.

One subscription to rule them all
Companies like Symantec, McAfee, BitDefender and Kaspersky are recognizing consumers’ need to protect their mobile devices by offering subscription-based options. This is the future of security for consumers, in which one subscription covers everything including computers, smart phones and tablets. It’s especially convenient for busy people on the go and families with multiple devices.

Social media support
Integrated support for social media like Facebook and Twitter has become standard. Even so, we still live in a world in which removal tools aren’t crafted until after viruses are already in the wild. To fight that, we’re seeing better detection capabilities and heuristics.

Consumers should replace old versions
Unfortunately, security vendors have made it so easy for consumers to continue the subscriptions for their old programs that people aren’t encouraged to upgrade to the latest versions. The idea was to make sure people didn’t let their antivirus expire, and at the time that made sense. In retrospect I’m wondering if we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

The difference between renewal and replacement
If you renew your security software you keep the version you have for another year. When you upgrade or replace, you purchase the latest version of the software for a year. Usually the upgrade is slightly more expensive, which is why many people opt for renewal instead. And it’s not always clear why the fifty-dollar antivirus is cheaper than the eighty-dollar antivirus.

It’s confusing because most people look at their subscription date rather than the version date of the program. They see their subscription ends in 2013… but the program itself is dated 2009, and that means it’s not current.

Security vendors need to improve purchase process
I understand why vendors offer the option of renewal. The thought is that basic antivirus is better than nothing, and there’s something to be said for that. But I see a majority of people going for renewal because the purchase process is vague and because renewal is cheaper.

I take security vendors to task for not altering their sales strategy. They need to explain WHY upgrading is so much better than renewal. Maybe we need to discontinue renewal entirely.

If nothing else, make the purchase process crystal-clear. People deserve to know what they’re buying, and I think they will pay the additional cost for an upgrade if they realize the cheapest option is also the least effective.

Subscribe free to Tech Tips, and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @trionaguidry for breaking computer news and other geeky stuff.

Mobility And Social Media: 2012 Tech Trends Signal Major Changes For Businesses

If you’re not familiar with iPads and Facebook, 2012 may be the year you join the crowd. In my Tech Trends column in this month’s McHenry County Business Journal (digital edition here) I talk about how this may be the year everything changes:

Mobility, social media, and cloud computing are taking the world by storm. Consumer IT is affecting everyone from enterprise-level organizations to small businesses, and back to the consumers themselves. It’s a rapid and sometimes vicious cycle in which failure to follow the trend could cost companies much-needed momentum.

Here are five ways you can stay on top of these emerging trends.

1. Make a mission statement
Everyone should have a mission statement for online marketing, businesses and individuals alike. What are you trying to accomplish? Do you want people to buy products, sign up for your email newsletter, visit your blog? Explain how you are uniquely qualified to help. If you’re marketing yourself rather than a business, your mission is to demonstrate to employers how you are uniquely qualified.

2. Contribute value
You get out of social media what you put into it. Follow people with valuable content and contribute valuable content of your own. Note that the converse is also true: you can and should stop following people if they do not provide you with information you find useful.

3. Seek balance
If you’re not posting often enough, people will lose interest. If you post too often they’ll be overwhelmed. Find the right frequency for you based on your mission and target audience. This is where mobility and social media go hand in hand. If you think of a good LinkedIn status, use your smartphone and post it. It takes far less time to actually do it than to write “Update LinkedIn Status” on a to-do list.

4. Delve in
Don’t be afraid to experiment! Sign up for Facebook, add some apps to your iPad, and most of all read, read, read about these emerging technologies.

5. Subscribe to Tech Tips by email, RSS, and Twitter
And here’s a good place to start. Follow Tech Tips and get your feet wet with someone who isn’t going to laugh if you make mistakes. Email subscribers receive bonus tips and product reviews. Be sure to follow me @trionaguidry on Twitter for breaking tech news and other geek goodies. If you’re not on Twitter you can visit my blog where you’ll find my Twitter feed in the right sidebar. Don’t know how to RSS? Check out my info on RSS here.

How are you planning to use mobility and social media in the new year? Comment and share your thoughts!

 

Mobile Security Is A Growing Threat

In today’s Northwest Herald I talk about how mobile security is a growing threat to businesses and consumers alike. Here are additional resources that can help.

First, the basics: recommendations on security software. These are all reliable vendors in the security arena and have mobile products available for a variety of platforms.

Next, I wanted to expand on what I said about using mobile technology to keep up with the latest threats. One of the best ways to do this is to subscribe to technology-related RSS feeds. I’ve talked about RSS before. It’s like getting regular headlines automatically updated to your computer or mobile device. There are a wide variety of RSS apps, but you’ll find most of them will require you to use either Google Reader or their own cloud-based technology to sync your feeds. And speaking of feeds, here are some to try.

One last piece of advice. Go into the settings of your mobile device and turn off any sharing that you’re not using. Periodically monitor your privacy settings on mobile devices and online sites, because they won’t necessarily stay the way you set them (thanks a lot, Facebook).

 

Lamenting The Loss Of Trial Software

I never thought I’d be nostalgic for the days when installing software meant stuffing disk after disk into a floppy drive. Today’s fast Internet installs make the old days look positively antiquated. I’m delighted with the convenience of being able to install a new game utility at a moment’s notice. And one thing I find that I miss about the old days is the ability to try software before I buy it.

Case in point: I recently evaluated RSS readers for iPad. Leaving aside my annoyance that almost all of them require Google Reader (what if I don’t want to put my feeds in the cloud?), it wasn’t possible to test the apps without buying them. I ended up buying a couple of apps that couldn’t do what I wanted, which is great for the developers (and Apple) but not so good for a budget-conscious citizen.

I don’t expect something for nothing. Developers put valuable time and skill into creating these programs and they should be compensated. But I don’t want to buy software I can’t use, either. Even if its only $0.99 (and most of these apps were in the $5-10 range), the cost adds up. Some developers offer “lite” versions which is great. I’d like to see more of that.

While I’m on the subject, developers need to create decent Web sites that describes their apps’ features in full detail. Check out the site for Reeder, which is an excellent RSS app, not that you’d know it from the site. There’s a whole lot of design without much substance. For pity’s sake, could we have a feature list, a support page, maybe even some frequently asked questions? There’s some information here, but not enough and it’s hard to find. You need to tell people at a glance what they’re getting for their $0.99 or $5 or $10, or whatever.

In other words, today’s developers could stand to grab some nostalgia from the old days, when software came in a box that told you everything you needed to know.