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:
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.
As I’ve said many times before, there are 2-3 things that can be done to mitigate / avoid this kind of problem.
- Don’t use an Admin account every day for personal accounts.
- Make sure the Admin password is very secure
- 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.
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.
Last 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…
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.
My iPhone is the 16 GB model. My iTunes library is over 100 GB. Clearly, I have to pick and choose what music is on my iPhone at any given time. During the season, I sync’d all my Christmas music to the phone. And I go through phases of listening to new music by new artists and listening to old favorites (recently, Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”, The Eagles, Cock Robin, or some comedy).
But, I recently noticed that when I looked at my iPhone’s music library, I didn’t just see a selection of my library, I saw the entire library. But, since I knew it couldn’t all be there, I knew there must be something else to it, namely that little picture of a cloud to the right with a downward-pointing arrow: “Download from the Cloud”
This is actually pretty cool. If you are ever on the go and decide that you suddenly have to listen to Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue,” well, you can find it in your list of songs, download it and listen to it. Yay!
But, if I just want to open the Music app and play a random shuffle of what’s available, it’s harder (well, without Siri it is….), because I have to first find something that’s already been downloaded, play it and then make sure shuffle is on.
Today, I found out there is a way to hide the items that are not actually on the device, and it’s really easy.
Settings > Music > Show All Music > Off (the last button in the image)
That’s it. Now, when you look at your music, you’ll only see what’s on the device.
Disks Will (Likely) Fail…Eventually
I’ve been repairing and upgrading computers for years now and one thing I do a lot is replace the internal hard disk. It could be for any number of reasons: the laptop was dropped and the disk is damaged, the disk is getting full, the disk is simply old (4+ years) and showing signs of deterioration.
Deterioration of older disks is not uncommon. It might happen after 2-3 years. It might not happen for 5-6 years. But, with a high degree of probability, it will happen. The reason is because a hard disk is a mechanical device, with a metal platter (or platters) that spin at least 5400 rpm. Whenever the computer is on and actively being used, the disk is spinning, spinning, spinning. Over time, it will take its toll.
After I’d done this for a few years, I had a stack of old hard disks, so I decided to group them by brand. There are roughly six manufacturers of hard disks: Hitachi/IBM, Fujitsu, Samsung, Seagate, Toshiba, and Western Digital. And, while not at all scientific, what I found was pretty interesting.
Brands: Good, Worse, Worst
By a factor of 4 or 5, I had replaced significantly more Hitachi and Fujitsu disks than any other brand. Toshiba disks were also a significantly sized group, but only 2-3 times more than the other three brands. I had far fewer Samsung, Seagate, and Western Digital disks that I had replaced.
Now, when I visit a client I always check the brand of the disk and I tell them what I’ve experienced and, especially if their computer’s disk is made by Fujuitsu, Hitachi or Toshiba, I make sure they are backing up their computer’s data regularly, preferably with something like Apple’s Time Machine.
Disks in Apple Computers
But, the most surprising thing about my little study was that many of the bad disks came from Apple computers. As much as I like Apple computers, as much as I think they are excellent computers (hardware and software), I’m quite disappointed that they use inferior hard disks. What’s worse, I’ve had several cases of clients with Apple computers who took their computer to the Apple store to deal with disk issues and they always replace a bad disk with a refurbished one by the same brand. Invariably, these don’t last very long.
What Do I Have?
There are numerous ways to find out what brand hard disk you have.
With Mac OS X, use Disk Utility. When you select a disk, you’ll see the Disk Description near the bottom of the screen.
With Windows, you can use programs such as Speccy, or Disk Management (Start > Run… > diskmgmt.msc > select a disk > Right-click > Properties).
Once you have information for the disk displayed, you need to look at the Disk Description or Disk ID. You’ll see letters and numbers, but usually the first few letters will be the brand.
WDC is Western Digital. HTS is Hitachi. ST is Seagate. Fujitsu, Samsung and Toshiba appear to use their full name.
The Good News
Replacing a hard disk is not terribly expensive, if your computer is relatively modern. You see, hard disks have what’s called an interface, which is how it is connected to the computer itself. For the last decade (?), SATA has been the common interface. This was preceded by IDE.
SATA is still quite common and is readily available in computer stores; IDE is being phased out of stores, but can still be found online at places like Amazon or NewEgg.
If your computer is taking forever to startup or to launch programs, or you get spinning wheels of death, or you dropped the laptop and it won’t start, or if your disk is just getting full – consider replacing your internal hard disk. Chances are excellent that you can replace it with a bigger one (laptops go to 1 TB now, desktops can have 3 TB) to have more room for your photos, music, videos, downloads, etc.
Recently, a client of mine called me because he had just come back from a 3-week vacation during which he had taken many, many pictures with his point-and-shoot camera and could not see, much less download, any of the pictures. Yikes! I arrived with extra cables, extra media readers, and my own Apple laptop (he was using Windows XP).
I verified that the pictures were indeed on the media card by viewing them on the camera. I connected the camera with the appropriate cable to his computer. No good. I tried a different cable. No good. I tried a media reader. No good. So, then I tried connecting his camera to my computer. Success! I tried all variations with my computer and they all worked. Interesting.
A short time later, I discovered that the media card was formatted using the ExFAT file system. Mac OS X (10.6.5 and above) and Windows (Vista Service Pack 1 and above) support it natively. Luckily for him, all we had to do is download the Windows XP ExFAT driver and we were golden.
So, what is a file system? Why did the camera manufacturer format the media card as ExFAT and not something else?
A file system is a system for formatting disks so that data can be saved (written) and retrieved (read). Essentially, a file system tells a blank disk how/where to put files on the disk and how to find them later on.
The most common file systems these days are FAT (from the old DOS days), NTFS (standard on Windows since XP), and HFS+ (standard on Mac OS X).
Natively, Mac OS X can read files from Windows NTFS disks, Windows cannot read Mac HFS disks, but both operating systems can both read and write FAT disks. This is why USB flash drives are often (always?) formatted using the FAT file system – both Windows and Mac OS X can user them. But, there’s a problem. It can only support files up to a certain size. If you take a video on a camera with a media card, it might stop all by itself not because it runs out of space, but because the video file can only be so big.
ExFAT solves this problem. The maximum file size is much, much, MUCH bigger than with FAT, and both Windows and Mac can fully use the disks.
Chances are, when you add someone to your Contact List, you don’t have all their contact details. Besides their (first) name, you may only have a phone number or only an email address. But, while texting or emailing that person, you might get more contact details over time.
Well, this is what happens to me, at least. A client calls me, I speak to them and then when the conversation is over, I save the new number to my Contacts. At this point, I usually only know a first name and the phone number.
Later, I’ll get a text message with their email address. Great! Let’s just add that to an existing contact. Let’s see, how do I do that?
1. Hold down the email address link until the pop-up menu appears and select “Add to Contacts”.
2. Now I have two options: “Create New Contact” – nope, not that one – and “Add to Existing Contact.” I click that.
3. Now, find an existing contact…..WHAT!?!
But, but, but….. I want to add it to *this* existing contact, not some *other* existing contact. I mean, in my experience, over 90% of the time, I get contact details directly from the contact, not via a third-person.
This behavior has been present on the iPhone as long as I can remember, but I wish it weren’t so.
Am I missing something?
Several times in the last few years, including earlier this year, criminals have broken into companies’ (Adobe, Yahoo, Sony to name a few) websites and stolen their user databases and then posted them online for others to see, download, browse, etc The databases contain email addresses and corresponding passwords, although these are encrypted. But, with faster and faster computers, with distributed computing (many computers working together on the same task) and with published lists of encrypted passwords, these encrypted passwords are not as safe as you’d like them to be.
A new website (www.haveibeenpwned.com) has launched to help you know if you’re account with these six companies is among the list of compromised accounts. It has a very simple interface: load the home page, enter your email address that you use with any of the six services, click the “pwned?” button and you’ll get a Yes or No response.
Bookmark this site for future reference. I’m sure other sites will be compromised in a similar fashion in the coming years. <sigh>
Note Bene: if you log in to Adobe.com with your gmail.com email address, being on this list does *not* mean you need to change/reset the password you use to read your email. It means that you need to change/reset the Adobe.com password that is associated with it.
I’ve been doing some work for a client in Divonne who uses Orange for home internet.
In September, I told her to upgrade her subscription because the quality and speed had improved since she had signed up and that the price was more or less equivalent. So, she upgraded to Livebox Zen.
A new box was sent. I came over and configured it – took about 5-10 minutes.
But, she told me that, though the speed *is* somewhat faster, she and her family must reboot the router 2-3 times a day because it keeps getting disconnected.
I went to check, and the wireless and wired connections are indeed established, but the connection from the Orange box to the internet is down.
We called Orange and spoke to them. They tested the line and said, “It must be the box. We’ll change it out for you.” Great! But, also: great.
I went to the store. My friend who has the same problem, also came with me with her Livebox. There were 2-3 other people in line with us asking to replace their Livebox.
I made a comment along the lines of “It’s surprising that the box is defective; we’ve only had it for 1-2 months! It’s brand new!”
Imagine my surprise, when the service rep replied “Oh, they’re not new! They get returned to us, refurbished or “repaired” and then we give them out again.”
Could have knocked me over with a feather.
Indeed, when someone came for a replacement, they would go to the back room (5 steps away), and instantly emerge with a black box, hand it to you and say, “There you go.” They must exchange dozens if not hundreds a day.
So, if your Orange internet connection is intermittent or disconnects randomly, unplug the wires, take the box and the power supply to the Orange shop in Ferney-Voltaire and get a new one.
Yesterday, I got a call from someone who had purchased a new Samsung laptop with Windows 8. They were having trouble connecting wirelessly to their Livebox (Orange, France) even though all other devices in the house (Mac and Windows laptops, Apple TV, several smartphones, etc.) were connected.
First, for those who don’t know or remember, the Livebox has a security feature for wireless clients. You are required to push a button on the Livebox prior to connecting with a new device. When you do, the wireless LED will blink for about 60-120 seconds, providing a limited time to connect. While it’s flashing, you can connect a new device.
It seems however, that this was not the problem, and so I was called in to troubleshoot. I was certain that I’d be able to connect them quickly. When I got there, I used my own (Apple) laptop and a cable. Success. Then, I tried to connect wirelessly – no luck, until I realized that the password printed on the Livebox was not the correct one. Once I used the correct password, which I found from the Livebox configuration page (http://192.168.1.1), connecting was immediate.
OK, so time to trouble shoot this new operating system. I was able to see the network, provide the password while the LED was blinking, but it would either not connect at all or report only a “Limited” network connection. The times that it didn’t connect, there was nothing to do but try again. I disabled/re-enabled the Wireless device. I looked at (but didn’t change any) of the devices properties.
Finally, one time when I was able to “connect” in a “Limited” fashion, I was able to right-click and get the properties of the connection. And there was the answer.
Windows 8 and the Livebox tried to negotiate a connection and agreed on WPA2-Personal and AES encryption. In my experience, I’ve usually seen/used WPA-Personal and TKIP. I selected those settings, saved and tried again. Success!
1. Push the Wireless button on the Livebox before connecting a new device wirelessly.
2. Connect to the Livebox using the correct password.
3. If connection is listed as “Limited,” right-click the connection and view the Properties.
4. Change the Properties to list: WPA-Personal and TKIP.
5. Apply, Save and try again.
6. Reboot and verify still connect, for good measure.