Equifax Hacked

News broke yesterday of a massive hack at credit monitoring company Equifax, and the number of people affected is huge. Their estimate is that 143,000,000 people in general are affected, with sensitive information such as social security numbers, and even driver license numbers in some cases being gathered. Of that huge number, 209,000 people had credit card numbers stolen, and another 182,000 had "sensitive information" stolen.

You need to check as soon as possible to see if you were affected in this giant breach. Equifax has a quick check web site set up. You will need to provide your last name and the last 6 digits of your social security number. The link is here.

If you are affected, you will want to monitor your credit very closely, and depending on how much of your information was exposed, cancel credit cards, etc., all the things you need to do to protect yourself and your hard-earned money and reputation. If you have any questions regarding this process, please know we are here to help.

Windows 10 Is Installing On My Computer!

Many of you have run into this scenario already: you come in to your (home, work, travel) computer running reliably in Windows 7, wiggle that mouse around, or swipe the touchpad, and you're jolted awake. Because you're greeted with a screen that tells you Windows 10 is now 95% installed, with just a few words, and a hollow circle that's almost all lit up.

And you're stuck until it completes. Depending on the age of your computer, this may go on for 15 minutes, or may last up to a couple of hours. And the frustration mounts. All you wanted to do was to get some actual work done. Eventually it gets you to the point where you will need to either Accept or Decline their license. At last! We can tell Microsoft (affectionately known to me as M$) where to get off. All it takes is clicking Decline, and it will back out, until the next time it decides to upgrade you.

But wait! I know that we love to hate anything that gets in the way of work (we always work when on our computer, yes?), and M$ is one we love to hate here. However, this might actually turn out to be a good thing.

Let me give you just a little history. M$ has a habit of being hit or miss, literally. Windows 98 was a good operating system; Windows ME was definitely not. Windows XP was a great OS; Vista definitely bad. Then came Windows 7; very good software, and then Windows 8, not a good update. So, with the every-other-OS-being-a-good-one track record, Windows 10 (they skipped 9--who knows why exactly) should be a good one. And, in almost every way, it is a very good operating system.

So, even though I really dislike how Micro$oft is pushing this out to everyone, it might be worth taking it for a tour and seeing if your programs work, and if everything is operating smoothly. They certainly made many improvements under the hood to things like security, so it's a good upgrade on that basis alone. And, once the free upgrade ceases to be available on July 29 of this year, they will stop nagging and pushing this on every compatible machine.

All that being said, if you don't like it, don't want it, it doesn't work right, or it breaks some software you have to use, you can go back. Quick note, though; if you created or edited any files or documents while in Windows 10, this process will wipe those out. Make sure you back up those new or changed files before rolling back. Here are the steps to roll back:

Click on the Start button, and go to Settings. From here, pick Update & Security. About half-way down on the left, you will see Recovery; click on this. On the right, you should see "Go back to a previous version of Windows". Click the "Get started" button, and follow the directions. This should take between 15 and 30 minutes to complete, depending on the speed of your computer.

So, hate the delivery system as I do, the software itself is good. Give it a try, or not. But at least you now know you have some control of the situation. Coming soon, how to prevent it installing at all!

Replace A Laptop With A Tablet?

This is something that gets brought up in the technology press all the time.  Can I take the challenge to replace my work computer, usually a laptop, with a tablet, and be just as productive?

At this point, the answer appears to be no in most cases.  

Tablets are really great at a couple of things; if you need a quick way to check your email, look something up on the Internet, or view a document, a tablet is the a simple way to do all of these. If you need to display a picture or group of pictures, grab that slate. Even the occasional slide show or presentation, with the right support equipment, a tablet is a workable solution.

But, when it comes time to actually create something, that's where tablets lag behind. Can you create some documents with a tablet? Sure. But, if you have anything of any length to type, the on-screen keyboards really don't cut it. Even the bluetooth ones that come in covers leave something to be desired.  And, if you need to do anything with numbers, nothing beats a full-size keyboard with a number pad. Tablets can't do that.

Has anyone made an exception to these "rules?" We can find a couple, but by the time you get the high-powered tablet, add the special keyboard and docking station, you've spent as much as, or more than you would have on a really good laptop.

Of course, this will all change; technology continues to improve. And, as new technologies become available, like true dictation software, as the Siris and Cortanas become more refined, we may be able to truly command all functions of the device with our voices. But we're not there yet.

Password Managers

Passwords.

Everybody hates 'em. Everybody needs 'em. The need for them is getting close to "death or taxes" status.

Because the bad guys are breaking into everything these days; banks, email servers, retail giants (Target, anyone? A name just a little too appropriate?). If you do anything anywhere online, you need to use passwords. And so, we hate them even more. So what are we to do? That's where password managers come in.

The idea behind these gems is that you only have to remember one really good password, and all the rest are kept inside the software.  They have ways to hook into your browsers, so that when you visit a web site, they can fill in the information for you. They can even create ridiculously hard and long passwords that you will never type, because they will do the work for you, automatically filling it in at your command.

I like them; I use one of them all the time. There are several different ones out there, and most appear to do a good job. One that has been around for a very long time is RoboForm. They have a free version, and a purchased version that will work across all your devices.

The one I use, called LastPass, has pretty much the same bullet-point list of features, and I have the paid version, and use it on my phone as well as my computers (yes, I have multiple computers).

Another highly rated program is called KeePass, which is part of a movement called Free and Open Source Software (or FOSS. What's a tech article without an acronym in it somewhere?). This means that it is free to download and use.

And there are others.  They do the same thing, but get to what they do with different interfaces and different settings, so what works for me may not work for you.

I won't bore you with the installation process. Whether you start from a phone or tablet (the installer is available in whichever app store is available on your mobile device), the process is very simple.  Install the software, create a login with a password, and then begin using it. For me, when I log into a web site, I am given low-key clues (asterisks at the right end of the input fields) to use the program. Clicking on one of those brings up a password generator, and the opportunity to type in the user name there. Hit save, and the fields are filled in for me, and I don't have to remember it any more! And, if I check the AutoFill box when setting it up, the next time I navigate to that site, it's all filled in for me; no typing, or, more often in my case, mis-typing user names and passwords.

If I need to look one up, or the password gets out of sync (I haven't found a perfect system yet), it is very easy to get into the vault, and view and change user names and passwords, or delete them if I need to. And, I can add secure notes, group them, sort them, search them... all the features we expect when handling a list like this. I use mine every day, a good part of my day.

Check out a couple of these, and see which one will fit your bill, because you will find one that works for you, and you will be ecstatically happy using your computer. Well, maybe just a little less frustrated.

Malware Is On The Rise

Malicious Software, or Malware, is one of the major banes of my existence. As I work with clients and co-workers and friends, I am constantly dealing with, and removing, these programs. They're evil, and the people who create them are evil.

And they keep getting better at it. It used to be that it was the hacker trying to make a name for him- or herself, creating an attack that would give them notoriety in their own circle, and even the world. But it has morphed into a multi-billion-dollar industry now, and so is attracting people into a more business-like atmosphere, and is able to draw top (if unscrupulous) talent.

But the means by which they attack hasn't changed a lot. Let's take the example of a particularly nasty version called CryptoWall. This attack, once it gets into your computer, as fast as it can go, encrypts all of your Word documents, spreadsheets, pictures, PDFs—any data of this type becomes encrypted. The wonderful thing about encryption is that no one can read encrypted data until it is decrypted, for which you will need the encryption key. But you don't have it.

CryptoWall then drops a file in every directory it encrypted, and your desktop too, that will lead to a web page similar to the photo above, where you can pay to have them send you the key (hopefully). No money, no key. And you're not getting your files back. Unless you were a good boy or girl and have a backup of all your important files. You are backing up, yes?

So, how does one get this nasty infection? The ones I have seen came in from a seemingly normal email; a Fedex notice of something being shipped, or you have an electronic fax to download, or a copy of an invoice is available. Just click here!

And away it goes, merrily making your files impossible to open. Most all of the good virus scanners will now catch this infection, but it cannot undo what it has encrypted to that point. After all, you OK'd the program to run; then the scanners caught it. And, it's pretty simple to remove; no major effort is necessary to remove it. But by that time, it's already too late.

So, to deal with this denizen of the Internet deeps, have a good anti-virus, have good backups, and don't open emails you don't expect, or that come from folks you don't know.