If there is one thing that the holiday seasons are known for, it’s the broken-record playlists we are subjected to wherever fine background music is played, but rather than torturing your ears with “All I want for Christmas” for the 50th time today, I’ll sing another familiar tune that starts like this, “Protect yourself before you wreck yourself.” Not quite as catchy as Mariah, and definitely not as earwormy, but you probably already know the words, because I sing this song all year long. Digital crime is up, and more and more people are falling victim to scams and the scumbags who run them.
Here’s your list, you should check it twice
- Back up your data. Preferably to a cloud-based platform that you don’t even have to remember to run. Most self-managed services come as little as $7 a month. Some of us spend more than that on coffee in a single day. Don’t want the cloud? Grab a small, portable hard drive in the multi-terabyte range and set up backups to that device. Most come with a free, downloadable backup app that will handle rudimentary backups. Not as good as cloud-based automatic backups, but better than nothing.
- Turn on 2-factor authentication for your email. This probably won’t cost you anything – even most of the free email platforms offer some form of multi-factor authentication. Yes, having multi-factor is a pain, but you know what hurts even more? Having your email account hacked and used to con friends, family and clients. Don’t be that Grinch this season!
- Keep your work and personal stuff separate. Thanks to Covid, everything is all mixed together. Working from home is great if you are fortunate enough to have that “privilege”, but it also means that it’s harder to keep the two worlds from colliding constantly, especially from a security standpoint. If it looks like you are going to be working from home for the long run, perhaps it’s time to make sure the computer and devices you use for work are dedicated to just that, and not moonlighting as a homework/videogaming platform after hours. Working parents, you know what I’m talking about!
- Keep track of those pesky passwords. Let’s face it, Santa ain’t bringing us the gift of freedom from passwords this year, so treat yourself to a real password manager. Again, the good ones aren’t that expensive, as little as $3 a month! You can even get a family plan that allows you to share passwords – might be useful for multi-generational households and the multitude of streaming services they are guaranteed to be watching!
- Get a “mask” for your computer. Let’s face it, long before the pandemic darkened our doorways, the internet was polluted enough that the smart computer users were masking up with malware protection. The pollution has gotten worse, and shows no signs of abating. Having your computer go out in public without a mask is just asking for an infection and unfortunately monoclonal antibodies won’t save your data.
Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay
The end of 2016 is nearly upon us, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I hope 2017 will bring more optimism and compassion for everyone. That being said, we at C2 are going to put our game faces on and finish out 2016 as if it was the best year yet (as far as C2 is concerned, it was, thanks to you!), but I will be taking a break for the next two weeks from scaring the spirit of security into you, so the next newsletter after this one will be in 2017. I don’t want to leave you hanging like a stocking on the chimney, so here are some technology gift ideas that I hope will inspire the spirit of giving in you.
- If you spend time in the outdoors trying to get away from all that big-city tech, but can’t put down that mobile device, how about a solar-powered charger? These things are great when paired with a portable battery pack (a 2015 recommendation). Set up the charger in the sun and attach your battery pack while you’re out enjoying nature. You can come back, grab your battery pack and keep going with your USB-powered smartphone, tablet or action camera without having to hunt for a non-existent AC outlet. Repeat until you are tanned, relaxed and chockful of wonderful memories captured on your favorite mobile device, of course!
- Speaking of action cameras, it seems like everyone has one, and why not? They’re very affordable, and when you can capture ridiculously adorable and amusing videos, how can you not afford get one? The GoPro HERO+ is the titular company’s entry-level model and it still shoots awesome video in a highly durable, portable and dare-I-say wearable fashion. GoPro videos will become this generation’s family vacation “slideshow”, minus the boring!
- Cordless headphones seem to be the hotness this year (another 2015 recommendation), but I still see a lot of folks rocking corded earbuds. As simple as they are, they get tangled if you look at them funny, so why not store them in style with a key chain fob designed to tame those unruly earbuds? The simplicity of this thing is hard to beat: your neatly wrapped earbuds will always be nearby, because you never misplace your keys, right?
- Did someone say lost keys? Tile Mate has you covered, fam! Attach one of these babies to your keys (or whatever you seem to misplace frequently) and your phone can lead you to them. And if you are one of those people who misplace your phone, all I got to say is this: Find my iPhone or Android Device Manager.
- Want to really give a gift that can keep on giving, months or even years later? How about the gift of data backup? It’s not whimsical and definitely not romantic, but buying a family member a year’s subscription to CrashPlan, Carbonite or BackBlaze and setting it up for them can mean the difference between “Oh no!” and “Oh well, thank goodness I’ve got a backup.” Bonus gift: you get to be the hero!
To finish out this list, here are a couple of things you might want to avoid:
- Virtual Reality is definitely the hot new entertainment trend, and there are a ton of knock-offs, wannabes and straight up con-artists looking to exploit the hype. Quality VR headsets that are approaching the fiction sold by Hollywood will currently set you back well over $500, and require dedicated systems such as a Playstation 4 or a high-end (+$700) Windows gaming computer, some degree of technical proficiency, and a strong stomach. Make sure you try before you buy, especially something that isn’t an Occulus, Vive or Playstation device.
- Nintendo released a retro-gaming console called the Nintendo “Classic Edition” for $60, featuring a slew of games from many of our childhoods’, and promptly sold out of them, well before the shopping season had even picked up steam. The lack of stock coinciding with the holidays has created a huge gray and black market for these devices, which are being sold for 3 to 4 times their actual cost. Unless you or a loved one are really into retro-gaming, you may want to let the hysteria subside and pick one up for normal price (or even on sale) in 2017.
Image courtesy of Master Isolated Images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Looking for a small gift for the technophile in your life? These are my recommendations for this holiday season:
- Portable Battery Charger: At least one person on your gift list spends their day on the move, whether at work or play, and probably spends the back third of that day babying their mobile device’s dwindling battery while desperately looking for a convenient AC outlet. Give them one of these chargers for their daily carry and they can work or play into the wee hours of the next day without being tethered to a wall socket. They are small, light enough to carry in a jacket pocket and will quickly charge just about any USB powered device and then some.
- Brightly colored, extra-long Lightning charging cable: Everyone and their mother’s brother has an iSomething at home, and you can bet their one power cord is one tug away from an electrical disaster. Why not get them something that is hard to miss and long enough to use comfortably while being plugged into an inconvenient power source? If they have an older model iPad or iPhone with the older connector, this will work for them. Sadly, the color choices aren’t nearly as festive. If they hail from the Android side of the fence, these swanky cables will work for micro-USB devices, and these will work for the ones that come with the new-fangled Type-C connectors (the new Nexus phones, for example).
- Portable 4-port Wall Charger: The best holidays are spent with friends and family, and you can bet a full house will have its share of dying mobile devices looking for a charger. These handy devices are compact with a folding plug for easy storage and portage, and can provide a quick, safe charge for up to 4 devices and with minimal wall-wart eruptions.
- Chromecast TV: Small enough and cheap enough to put one on every HDMI TV in the house, and capable of playing content from both Android and iOS devices. Small warning, they will need Wi-Fi, and cat videos are even more awesome on a big screen in your living room. If you are more into music, they make an audio-only version as well.
- I call this the “Gadget Hound Night Stand Sanity Saver“: Some of us keep our phones and tablets on the night stand by our bed. Every single one of us has at least one charging cable dangling on or about our work space. This handy gadget provides charging for up to 4 USB devices, two AC outlets and a convenient stand that works perfectly for phones or small tablets, and is right at home by the bed or on your desk. Why not have one for every night stand in the house, so your family and guests can charge up right where their devices work and sleep?
- Waterproof Bluetooth Earbuds: While perhaps a little steep for a stocking-stuffer, these might be the perfect gift for that special, active person in your life. I personally find music, audio books and podcasts to be great motivators while engaged in labor-intensive but otherwise mindless endeavors (exercise, yard work, house work, etc), but I hate getting tangled in the cord running to my smartphone. Bluetooth headphones allow you to cut the cord without sacrificing quality audio, and they can double as a headset when the inevitable call comes in right while you are in the middle of your activities.
In the US, Thanksgiving traditionally marks the start of the holiday season, and most of us will open our hearts and minds (and wallets) just a bit more than we do during the rest of the year, and we let down our guard to enjoy the holiday spirit. Sadly, criminals and other malicious agents are also in the holiday mood, and count on the distractions of the season to really suck the joy out of the holidays. Here are some things you can do to make sure your holidays aren’t marred by the cyber Grinches:
- Stop opening email attachments
This is how the dreaded Cryptolocker virus gets onto your computer. If you receive an email from someone with an attachment that you weren’t expecting, pick up the phone and call that person to confirm that the attachment is legitimate. Hey, it’s holidays. Shouldn’t you be reaching out and touching someone anyways?
- Stop clicking links in emails
Just because you received an email from someone you know that has a link to the world’s funniest/scariest/cutest video does not mean you should click that link. At minimum, hover over the link to read where it’s really going to take you. Or pick up the phone and call that person to verify they sent the email in the first place, especially if the email seems to be out of character for the sender. Sensing a trend here? Wouldn’t you rather be on the phone catching up with an old friend rather than explaining to a bunch of angry relatives why you sent them a virus via email?
- Beware of fake Holiday Greeting cards, donation solicitations and other holiday-related spam
Hackers will be taking advantage of the increased volume of these types of emails. Observe rules #1 and #2, and watch out for poor grammar and out-of-character emails. Just received an X-mas ecard from someone you haven’t talked to recently? You guessed it…pick up the phone!
- Be careful with your personal data
Let’s say you knuckled under the pressure and clicked a link. The website you landed on is asking you for some personal information that seems relatively harmless: Birthdate, ZIP Code, last four of your Social Security number. Unless you are at the website with which you already do business (and have verified its that company’s actual website and not a fake one!), stop what you are doing and back away from the computer. Even these bits of data can be used as a digital wedge to get at other data from your personal life, which can lead to theft of both your money and identity.
- Put a password or pin on your phone
See last week’s article on why this is important, and how to do it. Don’t ask why, just do it. Trust me.
- Be less conspicuous about using your smartphone
Thieves are targeting smartphone users, especially iPhone users, because the devices are in high demand on the blackmarket, especially overseas where the phones can be reactivated without fear of being tracked. A protective case can help disguise your phone, but if you really want to blend in better, choose one that isn’t blinged out and brightly colored. That case that really helps you stand out in a crowd also paints a big target on you for thieves. Keep it in a deep pocket or a bag/purse that zips or latches shut so it will be less likely to accidentally fall out and picked up by someone looks for a free smartphone.
- Keep an eye on your laptop and/or tablet
A lot of us will be traveling during this time of year, and it’s becoming increasingly common to drag along our work laptop so we don’t get too far behind while visiting with family. You’d be surprised at the number of laptops lost/stolen in airports and rental car terminals, primarily because the owners are distracted and overburdened. Having to call your boss to tell them you lost your work laptop and all the data on it will make for a very stressful holiday. It’ll be even worse if you have to call clients to tell them you have lost their sensitive data or may have exposed them to a security risk.
- Where possible, don’t let online vendors store your credit card information
Up until very recently, most online stores assumed you wanted to keep your credit card “on file” with them for convenience on future purchases. While this is still the case, many now offer the option to remove that information, or to not store it in the first place. Given how many websites are being hacked these days, you may be better off not keeping that number on file, especially if it’s with a store you don’t frequent. Having to enter your credit card information once or twice is a trivial inconvenience as compared to having to replace all your credit cards because a website you bought something from years ago got hacked.
- Beware deals on technology “too low to be believed”
With technology, you get what you pay for 99% of the time, which is to say that if you got it cheap, it’s likely that it is cheap. That knock-off iPhone charger might have been a steal, but if it burns up your battery due to an electrical short, your $5 charger just cost you $500.
- Give yourself a gift this year: Back up your data
All hard drives fail eventually. Phones break, get lost or stolen. Viruses happen. If your data is important enough to save to a disk, it’s important enough to back up. There are online subscriptions that can take care of your most precious digital assets for pennies a day and are so simple to use that anyone who knows how to click a link can set up an account. You might not be able to keep the cyber Grinches at bay forever, but a good backup can take most of the sting out of worst virus infections or hardware failures.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Holidays usually bring out the best in people, especially those who truly are kind-hearted and enthusiastic about the season, but it’s also an opportunity for the Grinches among us to take advantage of everyone around them. E-cards aren’t new to the internet, and may have actually waned in overall popularity since their inception many years ago, but the winter holidays usually see a spike in their usage. Internet blackhats know this trend, and ironically, it’s like Christmas for them, because they know they can trick more than the usual number of people into opening fake greeting cards that instead of delivering cheer and love, drop a big helping of malware coal in your digital stocking.
What this means for you:
Frankly, I verge on the side of paranoia, and and don’t open any digital greeting card these days unless I recognize the URL (and confirm it’s not a counterfeit). This makes me feel vaguely Scroogish, but I’d rather not spend the holidays disinfecting my computer. If you get a E-card from someone that you weren’t expecting, especially if it’s from someone you know wouldn’t send one (or they already sent you an actual physical greeting card), take a moment to contact that person to verify they actually sent it, especially if you don’t recognize the URL. Heck, it could be your opportunity to reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in awhile, and there’s no better time like the holidays to reconnect with acquaintances, right?
If you do decide to open that virtual card, make sure your antimalware is up to date, your operating system fully patched, and you have C2 Technology on speed dial!
Image courtesy of “mrpuen” / FreeDigitalPhotos.net