Client Story 02 – iMac 27″ hinge

iMac 27" 2012-2014
iMac 27″ 2012-2014 is known to have a faulty hinge which can break.

A client recently gave me his iMac because “it was slow.” Standard hard disk replacement issue. Easily diagnosed, easily remedied.

When I picked up the iMac, the client told me “The hinge is broken. It broke shortly after I bought it. I just prop it up and it’s fine.” OK, good to know.

While doing the disk replacement, I looked online to see if I could also fix the hinge. Turns out, the hinge is a factory defect and Apple had stated they would reimburse people who had already paid for repairs and would do the repair for free for those like my client who just ignored the problem.

I contacted the client and asked if he’d like me to have the hinge repaired. He did.

Today, I took it to an authorized Apple dealer (same day appointment vs. waiting until next week. Also, better parking!) who initially said that the offer had run out. “It was an offer for four years,” but I pointed out that the offer was made in 2016, so there should still be time left. He looked it up online and saw that the offer was still valid, but only through 11 January 2019.

Please, if you or anyone you know has a 27″ iMac, check if the hinge is broken. If it is, walk – do not run – and get the free repair before it expires in two months.

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Client Story 01 – Bank Fraud

This week, a client (Company MM) called me because of fraudulent banking activity.

The Synopsis

The client is a matchmaker between their clients (Company C) and their service providers (Company SP). In this case, there was a pressing time element – payment needed to happen within five days in order to make a certain deadline. Company SP sent the invoice for their services to Company MM who forwarded it immediately to Company C. Shortly thereafter came a second email correcting a mistake with the original invoice. Same letterhead, same writing style, same bank, etc. But a different bank account. This invoice was also immediately forwarded to Company C, who proceeded to make the payment.

Company MM clicked “reply to all” on the second invoice, sending proof of payment, so that things could keep moving, even if payment wouldn’t be received for another day or two. Emails came from all sides during the next few days, during which time it became clear that the second “correct” invoice had been a fraudulent one and the payment had been made to some criminal’s account. Five figures stolen. Yikes.

Still collecting all the details, but the criminal somehow got hold of the email conversation and created email addresses that were similar to the real ones. The real ones were, say, person1@client.com, person2@matchmaker.com and person3@serviceprovider.com. The fake addresses were person1@cliennt.com, person2@matchmakerr.com and person3@serviccprovider.com. Just one letter different. Barely noticeable. So, devious person sent the “corrected” invoice from the fake service provider email address, which was sent on to the client. It took a day or two before the three realized they’d been duped.

The Phone Call

As soon as MM realized that money had been stolen, they called me. They thought that their email had been hacked. I assured them that it hadn’t been hacked. I know this because last time I did some work for them, we turned on two-factor authentication after having changed their email passwords. Even if someone guessed / figured out their email password, any attempt to use it on the computer or smartphone would generate an SMS to my client’s phone with a code.

“How can we prevent this in the future?”

After getting the details over the phone, after assuring them that their email hadn’t been hacked – at least as far as being able to say, no one got into their account to read/send emails using their account, inevitably the question came: “How can we prevent this in the future?” It’s not something I’ve come across before, but there were two things that I thought of immediately.

Option 1 – Save the relevant email addresses to the Address Book

First, I suggested creating an Address Book entry for every business contact. Instead of just seeing newcontact@newcompany.com in the From: field of your emails, you’ll instead see something like: John Smith <newcontact@newcompany.com> or maybe just John Smith. In any case, if someone sends an email from anything that’s not exactly that address, it will (possibly) be different than John Smith.

This is not fool-proof, but is a first step.

Option 2 – certificates

This is really the way to go. By creating a free certificate with an issuing authority like Comodo, you encrypt your emails. When you send an email to some one, it’s encrypted and the certificate is saved on the recipients computer. And the email client shows that the email has been encrypted.

For this to work, both parties must have their own certificate.

I just created a certificate for both of my primary email addresses – business and personal. Took about 2 minutes to create it, receive it, install it, and test it with by sending an email and then getting a reply. It’s worth it.

Security is up to you

A few years ago, these levels of security were a bit technical and you could be excused for not having the confidence to delve into it, instead thinking the risk was not that great or indeed not even being aware of the risk. But, these days, it’s just too easy and ignorance is no longer a reasonable excuse.

If you’d like help with this or any other matter, please feel free to contact me directly. I’d be happy to help.

 

iPhone Hint: Accessing the Camera from the Lock Screen

Recently, I was watching a performance and noticed a woman in the row in front of me taking photos from time to time with her iPhone. Each time she wanted to take a picture, she:

  1. Pressed the on/off button to show the Lock Screen.
  2. “Slide to unlock”
  3. Typed in her 4-digit code
  4. Found the screen with the Camera app (as it was not in the permanent bottom row)
  5. Clicked the Camera app
  6. Took her picture.

All of this took several seconds and I could tell that often she had missed the picture she wanted to takeIMG_4133. Some time ago, Apple recognized the benefit of quickly accessing the Camera app, so they have created a shortcut, starting from the Lock Screen:

  1. Press the on/off button to show the Lock Screen.
  2. Press and swipe up the Camera app icon in the bottom right corner. (see image)
  3. Take the picture.

This procedure takes only seconds because it does not require the passcode nor all those steps. This means that even someone who doesn’t know your passcode can take pictures, like at a family gathering and your phone is on the table in the kitchen but you’re outside playing and the perfect photo opportunity presents itself.

For the security minded, the iPhone will *not* let you look at the full Camera roll of the phone, only the pictures that were taking using this method, this time. This means, if you use this method and take two pictures and then the phone turns off again, when you use the method again, you will not have access to those two photos without the passcode.

Update 2018-10-28: Since I posted this article, Apple has made it even easier!

  1. Show Lock screen
  2. Swipe right-to-left
  3. Take picture

Coming Soon: Mac OS X Yosemite Beta Program

Apple’s current operating system is called Mac OS X Mavericks, also known as 10.9. But, they are working on the next version, code named Mac OS X Yosemite, which is due out this fall, according to Apple’s site.

They have just announced a Beta Program that people can participate in. They are looking for 1 million beta users to help shape the final product or to find problems.

Want to join the Beta Program? I did.

 

iMac internal microphone problems – another solution

I’ve replaced the hard disk in numerous iMacs over the years. It’s a fairly straight-forward repair, although not for everyone. But, in 2-3 cases recently, I would replace the disk, re-install the Mac OS X, restore all user data from the old disk (or a Time Machine backup), and return the computer to the user only to have them call me back in the following days, saying “The microphone doesn’t work.”

I would think to myself, “Oh, I must have missed a cable when I was mucking about inside” and I’d tell the client the same. But, time and time again, that wasn’t it.

Google to the rescue. I found many people with the same problem. And many “this worked for me” replies. Some people said, “Hit it like the Fonz.” Others suggested resetting the PRAM. I tried every suggestion I could find, but to no end. I did learn that people couldn’t be heard on Skype when speaking with a normal voice, but if they spoke REALLY LOUDLY, the other party could barely hear what was being said.

Now, I was really anxious, nervous and worried about the work I had done. Had I done something that broke the microphone? Was the design of the iMac such that merely opening the case could damage the microphone?

I realized at one point that the LED flashlight that I would use to prop up the screen from the case had a magnet on the bottom. Did that come into contact with the microphone and damage it?

I tried and tried and tried to find a solution, but could find none. So, I had to give back the computer with no working microphone and apologise profusely and promise to keep looking.

This happened last year. And again this year. And then with an iMac that a client let me keep since they had moved to a MacBook Pro. I was getting to the point that I was nervous whenever someone called me with an iMac problem, just in case I had to replace the disk.

Well, it happened again. But, this time, I was paying attention. Before doing any work, I turned it on, using my own boot disk, logged in and verified that the internal microphone did work. Check.

I went through the repair: turn it off, unplug everything, carefully disassemble the iMac, replace the hard disk, re-assemble, boot (“standard Apple chime” – yay!), install Mac OS X (while waiting, I put little labels with the client’s name on the old disk and on the top of the iMac), log-in, test the webcam and microphone, and ….no sound. Same damn result.

But…. I was so careful! I painstakingly went over every step. Took it apart again. Confirmed that the cables that I touched/detached were 1) not related to the microphone and 2) reattached. I look closer at the webcam/microphone assembly. Found out they were separate. I removed the webcam assembly and saw the microphone attached behind it. A little round metal piece firmly secured to the top and with two thin wires snaking around and behind other bigger devices in the iMac case. In other words, in order to damage this, you’d really have to make an effort. Which left me really dumbfounded.

I’m not sure why I did it, but I looked up the original (“Welcome to your new iMac”) documentation that Apple included with the iMac I was working on. I found it out there somewhere. The manual pointed very specifically to the various devices: iSight camera, iSight camera “On Air” indicator, ambient light sensor were behind the front panel. The microphone was on the top. Not facing the user, but facing up like the audio version of a Hollywood Klieg light. So, I looked there, to see what I could see.

I saw the little label that I had affixed there to identify whose computer it was, but…. I had put it dead center. Right on top of the microphone. I let out a barbaric yawp and wondered if it could really be this simple. Surely, a little piece of tape would not block the microphone so completely and utterly….would it?

Yes, it did.

I removed the label, turned on the computer, and the microphone was perfect. I did the same on my iMac and its microphone works great, too. Still waiting to hear back from the two clients I had left hanging. But, I’m sure that’s all it is.

If you are dealing with a similar problem with the microphone, please check to make sure that there is no tape, sticky-note, or anything else on the top of the iMac case blocking the microphone. You should be able to easily see where the microphone is.

 

PC Vendors and Windows Gripes: Part 01

This is the first in what will surely be a an ongoing series. Yes, I am a big Apple fan. I have been using their products since 1986. While I have some issues with some of their products and software, the list in no way compares to my list of grievances on the PC/Windows side of things. In many cases, the reason I find it necessary to comment is because at least one other manufacturer does it better/right/smarter, etc.

So, here goes:

1. Incomplete or Useless Information provided

I’m sitting here looking at a client’s HP/Compaq laptop and I’d like to know the size of the hard disk – which failed the internal Hard Disk Diagnostic – so I can tell the client prices for a replacement. I need the size so that I can make sure the replacement is at least as big as the failing one.

I’ve looked in the BIOS information, the 2-3 various Diagnostics screens, and the “System Information” screen available at startup. That information is simply not to be found. I do know the Model Name, the Product Number, Serial Number, Warranty Start Date, Product Configuration ID, BIOS Version, Total Memory, Processor Type and Speed and even the Battery Serial Number (really?!) but nothing at all about the hard disk. Useless!!! The only options are to either actually start Windows and find out there, or to open the system and look at the disk. Incredible!

Many PC and BIOS manufacturers do provide this information, so it’s quite frustrating when one model doesn’t. And I can’t understand why they would omit something so basic, especially since it’s one of the things in a computer which can be replaced so easily.

2. There are no Standard Keys during boot up

Every time I look at a client’s computer, I want to first look at the BIOS. So, what hot key do I use? Delete? Escape? F2? F9? F10? F11? F12? Something with Alt? That IBM/Lenovo blue button? Something else? On many computers, it used to be that during the first few seconds of startup, the various hot keys would be listed, but these days it’s not shown by default.

It would be so nice if all manufacturers could just agree to use the Escape key to interrupt the normal boot sequence and provide an on-screen, textual menu of options (BIOS Setup, System Diagnostics, Boot Device Menu, Create Recovery Disks, etc.). Even better would be that each of those options would have a standard F-key default so those who knew could go straight to the desired menu option without needing the Escape key first.

3. Windows Drive Letters

The fact that Windows continues to use letters to access drives/disks continues to astound me. I don’t care about backwards compatibility with 1985. It used to be that accessing anything beyond F: was not possible without modifying the CONFIG.SYS file (remember that?!), but that self-made problem has apparently been rectified.

But, what about A: and B:? What, you don’t have two floppy drives in your system? Why not? Your BIOS certainly gives you the option to have floppy drives. Wow. So, that’s two wasted drive letters.

Now, I don’t know anyone who will actually use the remaining 24 letters for disk volumes, but that artificial barrier is only there because our alphabet has 26 letters. What if we spoke Rotokas? We’d only have 12 letters, i.e. disk volumes, available.

But, here’s a real world scenario which illustrates the idiocy of this letter-based naming scheme: I had a client call me saying he didn’t think his automatic backup system was working. I had a look and saw that the Backup Job was defined to synchronize files from a directory on C: to a directory on his 1.0 TB external disk E:. It had worked before, but no longer.

So I looked at E:. It was an 8 GB USB key. Oops. Order matters. And that’s just stupid.

It seems that at some point, the client had disconnected the external disk and before reconnecting, he had connected a USB key, which means it was now E: and the external disk was F: So, the backup system failed, because the external drive was no longer E: as previous defined/assumed.

That’s it for now. But, I’m sure I’ll be back with more.

Post Finance: “Bitte Warten”

A client called me recently saying that she couldn’t load web pages, and she couldn’t access the Post Finance e-banking page to make some payments. She told me that she entered the login information on the first page, she would this:

Bitte Warten
Bitte Warten…

And then the browser would redirect to the Google home page after about 3 seconds (not three minutes).

This is a trojan horse/virus/whatever that was trying to gain access to the bank account, do whatever it wanted for three minutes and then would “fail”.

Luckily, PostFinance (and most other banks) have a two-step login process, so the criminals didn’t gain access to the bank account.

I scanned the computer with an anti-virus program (found 3-4 infections) and an anti-malware program (4-5 infections) and tried it again, but this “Bitte Warten” (“Please Wait”) message was still there. I told the client the best/fastest/surest way of cleaning out the problem would be to re-install Windows after backing up all data.

I also contacted the Post Finance people with a description of the problem, and a screen shot. They actually called me back within 30 minutes and told me they know about this trojan and they have been recommending to their clients to re-install Windows.

So, today, the system is clean, the data was saved/restored and the bank account was verified to be untouched.

Prevention

As I’ve said many times before, there are 2-3 things that can be done to mitigate / avoid this kind of problem.

  1. Don’t use an Admin account every day for personal accounts.
  2. Make sure the Admin password is very secure
  3. Scan the computer regularly with both an anti-virus (AVG, Avast and Avira are great and free) and an anti-malware program (I use MBAM or Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware) to be safe on all fronts.

If you do this, you should feel good about the security of your system and the minimal likelihood that your computer will be compromised from afar.

 

Microsoft will *never* call you.

Amazon will never call you. Facebook will never call you. Apple will never call you. Samsung will never call you. Google all never call you.

Simply put, no company that makes products related to your computer will ever call you.

The other day, I got a slightly panicked call from someone. She had received a call from “Microsoft” (see their laughable site) about security issues with her computer. They were very professional, very kind, had very good manners. And with that, they were able to lead my client through several steps, including a step to download TeamViewer which is used to remotely control a computer.

Once this software was installed, the “Microsoft” rep browsed the computer. Looked at emails. Tried to see Facebook connections, but client doesn’t use Facebook, so nothing there.

I don’t know what else was done, but when I checked the computer, there were no viruses, no malware, no hidden software, history had been erased. Teamviewer had been removed. etc. It appeared clean. In and out.

But, it’s impossible to say it enough:

No computer company will ever call you. Never. Ever.

Prey Project: Increase your chances of recovering your stolen laptop

prey-vertical-smallLast night, I gave a ride to two volleyball teammates while returning from our match (we lost 1-3, grrr). J told me that his laptop had recently been stolen. I hate hearing these kinds of stories, because it’s too late, but there is something helpful to say for the replacement computer…

Prey Project is something I’ve written about before but it bears repeating and spreading the word.

It’s a free service that helps you gather information *after* your computer has been stolen. As soon as you think it’s gone, you log into your account on their website and mark it as stolen. When next the computer is used, the software will take pictures of the user with the webcam, will geo-locate the computer, will collect the names of nearby wireless networks, will log any documents or websites that are accessed and send you the information.

With this you can go to the police or the insurance company, and at least they have some information to go on.

If you have a laptop (also works for desktops!), then do yourself a favor and install this. It’s worth the time.