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It's Time To Come Up With Better Passwords

bad passwordArg. Another password.

You have a password on your email account, your online banking app, and every website you shop on. Every time you sign up for an online service or social network you’ve got to come up with a something memorable that will keep your account and personal information secure.

Passwords are meant to keep you safe while you surf, but hackers are getting savvier. Some of the most ironclad systems have been breached and thieves have gained access to millions of people’s personal and financial data. But, even while the threat of getting hacked looms, an astounding number of people continue to use extremely weak, easily guessable passwords.

The Wall Street Journal analyzed over 200,000 hacked passwords, and found that by far the most popular password was “123456,” followed closely by “password” and “12345678.” What’s worse, is that most people use the exact same password for every web page they visit. What is this telling us? Apparently, many internet users still have not heeded years of tips and warnings about password security.

So, as a refresher and an update on tools you can use to generate and remember strong passwords, here are a few tips.

1. Don’t use ANY of these

  • Your name, your spouse or kids’ names, or pet names - even if you put a number after it.

  • The last four digits of your social security number

  • Any consecutive sequence of numbers

  • “password’

  • The name of any school you went to or mascot of that school

  • The name of the city you live in

  • Any date of birth - yours, your spouse’ or your children’s.

  • “letmein”

  • “love”

  • “money”

2. Never use the same password for multiple logins, especially when it comes to your email account. You may think your email isn’t super important to keep secure because “there’s nothing in there.” But, once someone cracks your email password they can go over to your bank app, click “forgot password” and have the key to your finances emailed to you (them) instantly. Regular hacker practice is to break into any web page you use just to figure out your standard password, then compromise everything else.

3. Substitute letters for numbers that look similar and throw in random capital letters. You can put a zero in place of an ‘o’, a three in place of an ‘e’, or even better, an @ in place of an ‘a’. Example: @ppleCid3R

4. Come up with something nostalgic that you’ll remember, but don’t use a person’s name. Every name or word in the dictionary will fail under a simple brute force attack.

5. Because it would be difficult to remember so many different passwords, consider using Roboform for Windows or 1Password for Mac users. It can store all of your passwords in an encrypted format and let you use one master password to access them all. It will also fill in the forms on Web pages for you automatically, and allow you to take your password list with you on your tablet, phone or a USB key. Other such programs include KeePass and LastPass.

6. Whenever you come up with a new password, use Microsoft's password strength checker to see how secure it is.

Now that you understand the risk of using weak passwords, and have the tools to strengthen and diversify them, it's time to improve your online security!

If one of your accounts has been hacked, there’s a good chance your other accounts using the same password aren’t safe! Now would be a great time to update your accounts with individually unique passwords.

 

Things To Consider When Shopping For A Used Computer

used computersNo one wants to get burned when buying a used computer. Deciding on a used system is a lot like picking out a new model: you’ve got to think about what you’ll be using it for, what computer parts you'll have to buy to make the system work for you, and how long you’ll expect it to last. Think about how these things stack up against the price of a new computer.

What Will You Need This Computer For?

Before you buy any computer, no matter if it’s used or new, ask yourself what you plan on doing with it. If your regular computer use involves tons of apps and web services, a lightweight system will probably work for you. If you need more desktop horsepower for gaming, design, or video editing, make sure any used system you consider is up to the challenge. Here are a few other key issues to keep in mind:

  • Portability: Are you looking for a laptop that you can take with you wherever you go? Size and weight will be a concern, then. Look for a machine that is small enough that you can transport it comfortably. However, remember that portability often presents a tradeoff in features and power.

  • Power: When buying any laptop, especially a used one, find out how much it will cost to replace the battery or AC adapter. Depending on how the system was previously used, its battery might no longer hold a decent charge or it might be through its recharge cycles altogether. This is definitely a concern if you plan to use the computer in multiple locations.

Make Sure You Wouldn’t Be Better Off Buying New

Taking a “gently used” system off the hands of a well-meaning friend or seemingly decent Craigslist contact may make for a great deal, but make sure you do your homework before you hand over the cash.

Included Software and Peripherals: An original equipment manufacturer (OEM) will include an operating system (OS) and at least a 1 year warranty. If you're buying refurbished system or from an authorized reseller, they will likely include the OEM license for the OS, and offer a service plan or warranty. Be aware of what is offered with yours, or how much it would cost you to get what you need. The same can be applied to peripherals.

Competitive Pricing: Buying used certainly does not always equal a bargain, even if the seller is tossing in  pre-installed software or an external hard drive. Evaluate at the price of the used system, and compare it to the price of a comparable, new model. Would you spend the same amount buying new or refurbished, perhaps with that warranty?

Price of Upgrades: People often buy used systems and underestimate how much they'll end up spending on upgrades. A $300 used laptop is a great deal...until you buy a $100 external hard drive, a $90 software license, and any other programs you need. Heaven forbid you have to upgrade the hardware anytime soon. The cost of a new solid-state drive alone, on top of the purchase price, could make buying a new computer a more attractive option.

Take It For A Test Drive

If you're buying from a private seller, see if you can test out the system for a while. It could be pretty difficult to negotiate, but being able to use the system first, even for just a few hours, can provide you with valuable information and save you from buyer’s remorse. If the seller isn’t willing to offer you a free trial, at least take a moment to turn it on and give it a good inspection. Here are a few things to check on:

  • Look over the frame and body for cracks and surface damage.

  • Check the screen for dead pixels, haze, or discoloration.

  • Check for any broken or malfunctioning inputs and ports. Bring your preferred peripherals with you.

  • Assess the included software. If anything licensed is included, make sure you will have access to the necessary keys or media.

Buyer Beware

There are many bargains to be had by working with a private seller, just make sure you're not throwing your hard-earned money out the window. Be cautious when shopping, do your homework, and be absolutely sure you wouldn't actually get a better deal if you bought a new or refurbished system.

Are My Music And Pictures Slowing My Computer Down?

It’s unlikely, but there’s a chance all those photos and songs you’re storing could be making your computer slower than normal. It all depends on your computer. The pictures and music themselves aren’t actually slowing the system down. However, if you’ve collected so many files that you’ve filled up your hard drive, this could definitely be the cause.

How do you find out?

Click START on your PC (or on your file folder icon if you have Windows 8). Select “My Computer,” or just “Computer” depending on what version of Windows you have, and click on it to display the different drives in your computer. Find the section that says “Local Drives” or “Hard Disk Drives” and look for one that is named “(C:)”. This is the default location where most computers store photos and music, as well as your “My Documents” folder and other files that run your computer’s programs.

Now, hover your cursor over the (C:) drive and RIGHT CLICK.  A menu will pop up, and you’ll want to LEFT CLICK on “Properties,” which will display a window with a pie chart like the one below.

 C drive usage pie chart

Pink is GOOD, Blue is BAD

The pink piece of the pie chart represents free space in the drive, which is good. The blue section of the pie isn’t “bad” so much as it shows how much of your (C:) drive is full.  Here’s something to keep in mind: Computers need space in the (C:) drive to “think” and to run your programs. So, if there isn’t a ton of space your PC slows down.

How much space does the computer need?

If at all possible, you want for there to be more pink than blue. But, if you have a lot of used space, make sure there is at least 15% free “thinking” space. When you dip below 15%, you’re asking for trouble.  At that point, your computer won’t have enough space to function and will begin to get slower. This is when your PC can start generating errors and crashing.  

Should I click this “Disk Cleanup” button?

Please be careful when cleaning out your (C:) Drive. If you delete or move the wrong files and/or folders, you could create even more problems. We don’t recommend using the “Disk Cleanup” button unless you know exactly what you are deleting. Within this tool there are actually a couple of ways you could make your computer even slower.

What if I have plenty of free space, but my computer is still slow?

If you have more pink than blue in your (C:) drive but your computer is still sluggish, something else is causing the problem and you’ll need to have a professional take a look at it.

Frequently, like a car, PCs just need a tune up. Contact A+D Computers today about your computer’s slow performance, freezing, crashing and other problems.

5 Ways To Secure Your Computer

secure your computerWhat’s the best way to protect your computer? The answer is layered security.

At home, you protect your family and your possessions with locks, deadbolts and even bars on the doors and windows. Maybe you have a tall fence or live in a gated community. Many homeowners also have alarm systems installed to prevent break-ins.

This is the kind of overlapping security you should also have in place on your computer to protect all of the valuable information you have stored, like your social security number, bank account information and work related files. Here are five layers of security you can use to protect your computer and your identity.

1. Make sure your desktop is password protected.

When you turn on your computer does it prompt you for a password to login? If it doesn’t and your computer is stolen, the thief has an all access pass to everything on it. Prevent others from logging in by creating a decently long password with letters, number and symbols.

2. Install antivirus software and keep it updated.

When was the last time you updated your antivirus software? Even if it was Yesterday, your machine may be vulnerable to a myriad of threats as malware is constantly evolving to avoid detection. Make sure your software is always up to date with the current definitions of malware.

3. Do not click on pop-ups for antivirus software.

While they may be offering to help you protect your computer, these pop-up ads are usually a ruse aimed at your financial information. Don’t ever enter any of your personal information on pop-ups or unsolicited websites.

4. Install a web reputation browser plug-in.

Scammers and hackers are getting more and more clever, making it difficult sometimes to know if a website is malicious or not. There are browser plug-ins out there that will alert you if you click on a link to a questionable website.

5. Use a spam filter on your email.

Emails containing viruses and damaging software are sent to you and millions of others everyday. You may recognize them as spam, but they can also masquerade as people you know— even your family members. Keep these emails out of your inbox by setting up a spam filter on your email account. Also, apply your common sense and never open any emails that even hint at being spammy.

If you think your computer is infected with a virus, bring it by A + D Computers ASAP and we’ll have a look at it.

Take Control Of Windows 8 By Invoking The Power Of God Mode

Just seven months ago, Microsoft released its newest version of Windows, which is a huge departure from the previous version we’ve become accustomed to. In Windows 8, the start menu is gone, the settings and configurations are scattered all over the place, and the new interface can be a bit overwhelming. Windows users are frustrated and taking to their favored forums and social networks to vent and get advice. Lots of people have come to us wanting to set up Win7 instead, but if you’re sticking to your guns and wanting to learn how to make this version work for you, we have a tip that will make your power computing life much easier.  

Windows 8 God ModeWithin the new Windows 8 OS, there is a handy folder option called God Mode. It puts links to all the control panel and configuration settings back in one place so you can stop banging your head against your screen. Here’s how to invoke God Mode:

1. Open your file explorer and click on the ‘view’ tab. Check the boxes at the top-right that say “File name extensions” and “Hidden items.” Then you can close your file explorer.

2. Right click anywhere on the Windows 8 desktop and create a new folder. Do this by hovering over ‘new’ and clicking ‘folder’ in the drop down menu.

3. Once you have the new folder on your desktop, you’ll need to replace the name ‘New Folder’ with a special code. Cut and paste the following into the name of the folder: GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

4. When you hit enter the folder will change into “God Mode.” When you open it, you will find a long list of control panel settings and wizards, separated into convenient sections.

5. You can leave this heavenly new folder on your desktop, or by right clicking on it and selecting ‘Pin to Start,’ you can pin it to the start page where it will have its own tile.

We hope this makes your transition to Windows 8 a little smoother!