Compu-Home Blog

These articles by Malcolm and John Harding address current issues in the world of personal computing. We hope you find them helpful! If you have any questions or comments, please let us know.

Ransomware – It Makes You Wanna Cry!

Posted Jun 29, 2017 | 1 Comment

This column was originally written in early June 2016.  Since that time there has been a reincarnation of the WannaCry virus that is apparently more sophisticated than the earlier version.
Thank goodness the ransomware scare of mid-May is receding into memory.  In this particular case we are of mixed feelings about the media frenzy on this subject.  On the one hand, we don’t think that the news reports clarified adequately that the vast majority of ordinary users were not in jeopardy from this particular attack.   On the other hand, it’s never a bad thing to remind people of their vulnerability and make them learn how to protect themselves.
Here is a link to the best article we have seen on this subject, and we have pulled out some of the best ideas (black) and added in some of our own thoughts (red) as well.
There are also steps that can be taken to protect against ransomware more generally. These include:
  • Make sure your anti-virus is up-to-date and updating all software  It is extremely important for us all to take the time to become familiar with our anti-virus software – when it is turned on, or off; when it is updating regularly, and how to respond if it ever gives warnings.
  • Back up copies of data  If you are backing up data to an external device like a USB flash drive or an external hard disk, you should disconnect the device when it is not actually in the process of backing up, so that it cannot be infected if your computer is attacked.
  • Scrutinize links and files contained in emails  This is the single most important thing that you must do.  NEVER click on a link in an email if you are not absolutely certain that it is legitimate.  In the case of the link that we included above, for example… the link is detailed and is directly related to our detailed description of what the link is about.  That should assure you that it is not dangerous.  Without that kind of legitimization, you should NOT have clicked on it if you received it in a message.
  • Only download software from trusted sources See our recent column and blog post titled “Have I Reached the Party to Whom I Am Speaking?” which goes into detail on the subject of bogus web sites and software sources.

By now we are all familiar with the messages from our “friends” that didn’t really come from them, because hacking of address books is as common as this year’s flu.  The bogus messages always contain a link to bad stuff.  There is one simple little thing that we believe could be very helpful in the fight against this kind of spam: You should take the time to create a distinctive signature that appears at the end of all of your email messages. If your regular correspondents get used to seeing that signature (and perhaps you might mention this to them) then they will be rightly suspicious of a message supposedly sent by you that does not contain it. Make your signature eye-catching and distinctive, and your friends will eventually  learn that if they ever got a message from you that didn’t contain it, they should suspect that it is spam and immediately delete it.

My signature at the end of this posting might seem like overkill, but my friends have mentioned it to me, which means that they have noticed it and might also take note if I got hacked and it were missing.

Talos, the digital threat division of Cisco Systems reported in January that more than 86% of all email is spam, and we can be extremely grateful that the email providers are now successfully blocking over 99% of it.  All the same, fraudulent email carries the most significant threats to  our computer use.  Even if we could just avoid clicking on those spurious links in the spam messages, we would be making a huge step in avoiding malware.

My example of a “distinctive signature”:

ALWAYS LOOK FOR MY SIGNATURE BELOW IN MY EMAIL.  IF A MESSAGE DOESN’T HAVE THAT SIGNATURE, IT DIDN’T COME FROM ME AND YOU SHOULD DELETE IT WITHOUT CLICKING ON ANY LINKS IT MIGHT CONTAIN.
John Harding / Compu-Home
Compu-Home Business Phone  613-731-5954
info@compu-home.com
www.compu-home.com

Compu-Home Has Moved (Just a Bit)

Posted May 23, 2017

Just a brief heads-up to our loyal Compu-Home customers in the neighbourhood, that our computer workshop has moved, to 3841 Albion Road South.  This move was long overdue and now we have a more suitable space and facilities to work on equipment when it cannot be fixed at your premises.  Our telephone number, website and email address have not changed, and the new workshop is actually only a few minutes away from our old address.

 

Hope to see you soon,

Malcolm, Cory, Dan, Frances and John

3841 Albion Road South (Corner of Kingsdale)

Gloucester (Ottawa)

613-731-5954

info@compu-home.com

Have I reached the Party to Whom I Am Speaking?

Posted May 23, 2017

With the old “Phone Book” gone the way of the Polar Ice Cap, you often turn instead to the computer when you need the telephone number of a business to call for help.  On the surface, this would seem to be a quick, convenient and up-to-date way to access a number and sometimes you can even save some time by distinguishing the various departments or locations that you might need to reach.  Another time you look up a site is when you want to download some little utility that you need, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, or maybe the free version of an anti-virus utility.

Google or other search sites are quick and efficient for these purposes, but you must be wary of a couple of complications. First is the possibility of clicking on a link that is not the genuine site that it appears to be.  If you want to talk to Rogers, or Bell, or Hewlett Packard, or Microsoft, etc., it is very easy to be waylaid into an imposter site that looks just like the real thing, but is in fact a call centre run by crooks who will offer worthless advice and charge an arm and a leg for it.  Always be sure that the web address (the http://www.etc.) is the real company, and while you are at it, give yourself a head start by seeing if there is a Canadian (.ca instead of .com) version.

Next is when you are looking for a website that offers a download of something that you need (Adobe Acrobat Reader, for example again) and you find what appears to be your source, but it turns out not to be owned and operated by the actual publisher of that software.  Adobe is a long-established and reputable company and you are quite safe in downloading software from the real Adobe website.  The problem is that if you search for “Adobe Acrobat Reader Download” you will find pages upon pages of alternate locations from which you can download Reader and many of them may not be legitimate, because they will lead you to the same old scams, or fly-by-night “alternatives” to the software you really want.

Another time to be careful is when you are downloading and installing the program.  Lots of very handy little utilities are out there, available at no charge.  (One example that we recommend constantly is “Irfanview” which is a free program for very simple editing of photos.)  These publishers have to pay the rent and so instead of charging for their program, they sometimes enter into agreements with one another, and there will be an unobtrusive little checkbox during installation that bundles in another program that might have been useful to you in some circumstances, but perhaps not right now.  A common example might be an anti-virus program and you certainly don’t want that if you already have one working on your computer – and so you have to watch out for those little boxes!

Terrific Tech Travel Tips

Posted May 19, 2017

The Internet and mobile devices have made a huge contribution to the convenience of the modern traveller.  Whether you travel for business or pleasure, the ability to make, confirm and change reservations and other arrangements, check routes on Google Maps and keep in touch with folks (and banks) back home all leave you with more time to be productive and enjoy your time away.

 

Essential checklist:

Passport

:  Losing a passport or other identification and cards is probably right up there with most travellers’ worst nightmares.  Having photos of the front and back of everything – both paper copies and also saved on a tablet or phone – will not likely allow you to stroll right through security, but they certainly will help while you are jumping through the hoops and making the frantic phone calls.

:  Hands up real quickly everyone who has all of their passwords memorized!  Most of us have some sort of system, whether it’s online, notebook, scraps of paper or fatalistic hoping-for-the-best, but you can be 100% sure that when you are far from home is the very moment that you will urgently need the password for your bank, credit card, or some other vital website.  How you make that information available while you are away will depend on your personal system; just make sure you have something that you can rely on.  Allowing the browser on your laptop to save the password for a site is certainly dangerous, but it sure is handy.

heavy backpack:  Most airlines allow for a “personal bag” in addition to a carry-on suitcase.  In our case, that bag has nothing but electronics.  Our personal criterion for what must be kept at hand and in sight at all times is simply how expensive and time-consuming it would be to have to replace something quickly and conveniently, if it didn’t survive the trip.  A camera is a no-brainer; nobody wants to have to be without their camera or go out and buy a replacement for the one that was stolen from a checked bag.  What might not seem like such an obvious example is that it is probably going to be impossible to buy the charger for your specific camera batteries if yours goes walkabout, and so chargers go into the backpack too.  All too soon that backpack gets pretty heavy but fortunately, airlines don’t usually weigh that personal bag.

:  Install the Skype app on your laptop, tablet or smartphone, with your User ID and Password easily available.  A nifty feature of skypeSkype is that you can purchase “Skypeout” credit, which allows you to call from your computer to telephone numbers anywhere in the world for pennies.  (A call from Canada to Thailand costs less than 5 cents per minute.)  You can Skypeout from the Internet available in hotels, restaurants, airports or even trains and in the end this may mean that you do not need a roaming package for your phone if you are traveling in a country with widespread wifi hotspots.  (Unexpectedly, lots of other countries seem to be better than the USA and Canada, for some reason.  You simply hand your phone to a waiter in any hole-in-the-wall café and ask him to get you onto the network.)

:  If you are going to rent a car, do that in advance from home using one of the sites that compares rates and choices, whenever possible.  Even then, check extremely carefully what will and will not be included.  If you can choose and stick with the loss leader, you will save a huge pot of money; add-ons will quickly at least double the charges.  Call your own auto insurance broker before leaving, to nail down whether or not you need the rental company’s insurance.

GPS2

GPS

:  Take your own GPS, if you intend to rent a car.  This will allow you to update in advance the GPS maps for the area where you will be driving.  A rental GPS is very expensive and may not be updated, especially if it is one of the models built into the dashboard.

 

 

 

:  An external (USB) wireless adapter, with an extra-long USB cable can be a big help, at a very modest cost.  Sometimes it’s simply not possible to position your laptop or tablet in a location to “see” the wifi router in a resort, hotel or apartment.  It is usually a simple matter to disable the internal wireless antenna and substitute the external one, which you can then dangle from a window, around a corner, or find another strategic location.  An adapter with extended range because it has a foldout antenna will cost about $30.00.

:  A “Mobile Wifi Dongle” might be a consideration for travel to some places.  In Canada we are familiar with devices that provide Internet over the cellularDongle network like Rogers’ “Rocket Stick” and Bell’s “Turbo Stick”. These are pretty expensive and usually available only on contract and so they tend to be attractive only when you urgently need to be connected from a cottage or some other location where traditional Internet is not available.  On the other hand, in lots of countries you can drop into a store on the street or an airport kiosk and pick up an equivalent device at a very attractive short-term price that gives you quite good speed and coverage, and pretty decent download capacity, and no contract.  Furthermore, if you exceed your original plan you can very easily “top up” your device at a reasonable rate.  https://www.uswitch.com/broadband/mobile_broadband/ is a British site that compares some of the companies and plans for mobile dongles in England, and service and prices are quite similar in the rest of Europe.

:  A USB adapter (or the proprietary equivalent for iPads) allows you to upload the day’s photos from your camera card.  First, it is fun to see the results of the day’s excursions on a full-sized screen.  Second, seeing a blown-up version of recent shots will help you to notice that piece of lint on the camera lens that will ruin all of your photos for the rest of your holiday, unless you clean it.

battery

 

:  A spare battery for your camera doesn’t take up much room in a pocket, and an extra memory card can be quickly swapped in if the one you are using is full, and not having to make room on the card by deleting photos means that you always have a backup.

 

 

 

Adapter

 

 

:  Check your devices and chargers to see their range of voltages.  (If you’re over 20, you will probably need a magnifying glass for this job.) It may surprise you to find how many of them will work in both 120V and 240V countries, which means that you will be able to get away with just the adapter for the plug and you won’t need a heavy and expensive voltage transformer.

 

 

:  So far, we have not yet taken the time to learn how to display tickets and reservations on a phone or tablet, but we sure envy the people who can flash a screen at a conductor or a ticket counter, without having to fumble through endless piles of paper.  Mastering that is our next project.

Trivago

:  Signing up for an account with Expedia.ca, Hotwire.ca, TripAdvisor.ca and maybe some other travel sites costs nothing, and offers quite a few advantages.  First is the obvious fact that they quickly collect a lot of information for you and allow you to make choices based on price, location, availability, features and so on, in the language of your choice.  Booking can be as simple as a couple of clicks, and cancellation policies are clearly spelled out, and are the best you are going to get.  Next is the uniformity of how transactions are recorded and displayed when they are emailed to you.  Everything can be dragged to a folder and the information is quickly available later.  So far we have never accumulated enough points at any of the sites to earn us some goodies, but maybe someday. . .

What the Heck Is a Range Extender?

Posted Feb 21, 2017 | 1 Comment

It may come as a shock to our readers, but one of our bloggers is “of a certain age” and can remember back into pre-historic times when homes had NO computers at all. These days multiple computers, tablets, smartphones, television connections, and high-speed Internet, usually operating wirelessly, are not uncommon. Even folks who have only one computer might enjoy the convenience of being able to access the Internet in various parts of the house without dragging wires behind them. The advantage of portability first became apparent back in the early 2000s when laptops began to outsell desktops, and the computer became liberated from the office desk. Now almost all devices, including desktops, have wireless capability. Alas, sometimes there are dead spots in the wifi coverage in our houses, and it is uncanny how often that dead spot is precisely the place where we would like to be connected. This could be a job for a range extender.

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