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How To Write A Good Password

by LaptopMD Posted August 10, 2017 in Newsletter, Tips for Devices

15 years later, the leading authority on password advice changes his mind

Earlier this week Bill Burr told the Wall Street Journal that he regretted much of the password advice he gave almost 15 years ago. Who’s Bill Burr? He’s the reason you’re required to come up with a new password every 90 days on some sites. And the one who suggested things like this: p@$$w0rD123!

Turns out, changing your password every 90 days makes passwords less secure. And replacing a=@ o=0 s=$ may not be as clever as you think. See, hackers and hacking algorithms are very aware of this trick and it’s very easy for them to bust these passwords.

So what should we do???

Making a complex (but easy to remember) password

Whenever a customer drops off their computer or phone at one of our stores, we ask for the password. We do this for testing purposes, to ensure device functionality both before and after the repair. However, collecting passwords from tens of thousands of different people has led me to notice something.

Almost everyone uses a weak password.

It’s understandable. Complex passwords are hard to remember and who has enough energy to commit a random number/letter combination to memory? Instead, almost every password I see is some version of a word, often with a number or two, and maybe an exclamation mark. Bunny21 or Timothy1986! – something like that. These passwords are fairly simple and easy to crack and we all know that.

We also know what a complex password looks like. It’s something like sO#tO32bEgO or LiTi7An&Be. These passwords avoid full words and look like keyboard gibberish so the common perception is they are difficult to memorize. But they don’t have to be.

Here’s the trick. Start with a phrase that means something to you. Now choose a number (one or multiple digits) and your favorite special character. Something like below:

Soon to be Gone – 32 – #

or

Lions Tigers and Bears – 7 – &

Now, take the first two letters from each word and combine them to make a single 8 character “word”. Then put the number and the special character in-between any of the two letter segments. So…

Soon to be Gone becomes sotobego and then so#to32bego

Lions Tigers and Bears becomes litianbe and then liti7an&be

Lastly, capitalize one letter from every two-letter segment. You can choose to capitalize either the first or last letter each time, or make it a bit more random which letters you capitalize. In my case, I chose to capitalize the second letter each time for the first password, and the first letter each time in the second password. The end result is:

sO#tO32bEgO and LiTi7An&Be

Both of these seem entirely random but are actually fairly easy to remember since they are based on a phrase with personal meaning. It can be a bit tricky to type at first, but you’ll remember this password more easily than you’d expect since you’ll remember how you created it. And you’ll also be surprised how quickly your fingers will develop muscle memory and learn to type the new password.

Another method

If you can use a longer password, another common technique is to create a phrase password. Something like:

Agavehorsecloudpooltoasterdrive

As it turns out, creating a long password adds hacking difficulty even if it’s made up of common English words (which typically makes a password less secure). Because the password is adequately long and the hackers can’t predict the length of any individual word, it’s pretty hard to crack.

The key is just to not use a phrase that means anything to you this time. Nothing from literature especially. Try this method to create your password using only a dice and a cheat sheet. The random roll of a dice will make your password nearly impenetrable!

Give it a try. Did this method work for you? We’d love to hear your feedback!


What’s the best way to prevent viruses?

by LaptopMD Posted July 27, 2017 in Blog Categories, Computer Advice, Newsletter

As a computer repair shop, we’ve seen our fair share of viruses.  And when our CEO asked everyone what we all personally believed to be the best way to protect yourself from malware and viruses in general, the answer was pretty one-sided.  Common sense.

Common Sense

More than anything else, the best way to protect yourself online is by using common sense. Be careful what you’re clicking on, what attachments you’re opening, what you’re downloading, and who you’re trusting.  Common sense is a really ambiguous term though, so here are some specific tips to help you out.

Browse with caution

Browsing with caution doesn’t necessarily mean being afraid to open up Yahoo or CNBC, but if you think a website or email looks sketchy or out-of-place, maybe skip it.  Phishing can take many forms: a Nigerian prince asking for money is obviously a ploy – but “Well’s Fargo” sending you an email saying you need to verify your information in the next 24 hours or they’ll close your account isn’t quite as obvious.  When in doubt, look for ways to verify the email is legitimate, such as a phone number or contact information at the bottom of the email and verify that it matches with Wells Fargo’s actual number.

Make sure you’re on the right website

Take a quick look at a website’s domain to make sure you’re on the correct site before you submit personal information or download anything.  If you’re going to download Microsoft Office, make sure you’re on Microsoft.com, not Microsftoff.com.  It’s a small detail, but that’s exactly how people get malicious software.

Check for an SSL certificate

An additional security measure on websites is having an SSL Certificate (Secure Sockets Layer).  That’s the little lock next to the website’s name:

It essentially just means that any information sent to or from that website will be encrypted and is therefore much harder to access for any 3rd party.

Don’t click sketchy ads

If you’re going to websites to illegally stream your favorite shows or sports, you should probably be cautious, use an adblocker, and don’t click the ads you DO see on the page.  But if you’re the type of person to go to those websites, you probably know that already.

When all else fails: use your common sense.  If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Our favorite antivirus = Windows Defender

Windows Defender is a program that comes on every Windows computer with Windows 8 or newer (also called Microsoft Security Essentials ) and it does a pretty decent job.  It’s downloadable for all Windows computers with older operating systems as well.

Why paid antivirus solutions come up short

Besides using common sense, you still need an antivirus. But that doesn’t mean you need a paid antivirus.

Essentially, many of those common “big” antivirus programs do exactly what you want to prevent: slow down your computer.  They often force bloatware onto your computer or make you download extensions that make your browser slow and clunky.  It’s pretty ironic that the programs you’re downloading to STOP your computer from slowing down/having pop-ups will have the opposite effect.  If you don’t want to be constantly pestered by your antivirus your best bet is to just stick with the security your computer came with, because it’s definitely good enough.

Why Windows Defender is the best

How to Geek says it caught 99.9% of all “widespread and prevalent” malware.  According to them, it may not hit quite as many benchmarks as some paid options but it’s good enough.  Frankly, you won’t notice any difference in protection between Windows Defender and Norton/AVG/McAfee.  What you WILL notice though, is how annoying that paid antivirus program is.

Windows Defender is smooth and runs in the background while it does its job.  It will give you the rare notification that isn’t invasive or distracting, but that’s how you know it’s working.  Plus it’s free.  And unless you really feel like financially supporting the antivirus community, free is better.

Now that DOESN’T mean that you’re 100% protected all the time. Viruses and malware are persistent and you are always at risk of being infected – whether you have an additional antivirus program or not.  You should still be careful (see section on common sense).

Even more protection: monthly Malware Scans

If you really want to double down and cover all of your bases, you can use a malware scanner once a month (or once every few months) to ensure that you haven’t picked up any malicious software.  Malwarebytes has developed a good reputation for routine malware scanning, and they have both free and paid versions.

If you go with a scanner that is manually controlled – which we would recommend since you are already running Windows Defender in the background – just remember to use it.  It’s not helping you if the icon is just sitting on your desktop. Make sure to run it every now and then!

Conclusion

These suggestions are for the average user for their personal computer.  Large and medium businesses are obviously at more risk and will require more layers of protection for their network, because they have more to lose and attackers have more to gain.  However, for personal use, most paid anti-viruses hurt more than they help and you just shouldn’t worry about it too much.  Browse with common sense and stick with the basics.

Worst case scenario: a virus removal from a computer repair shop just like us is always an option.  If that doesn’t do the trick, a system reinstall will cure your sick computer and have it back up to speed in no time.


Top 5 Gadgets of 2017

by LaptopMD Posted July 20, 2017 in Newsletter, TechBuzz

We’re obviously a big proponent of NOT getting the latest gadgets, and instead upgrading your old ones.  However, some things can’t really get upgraded (for phones we can fix it, but we can’t make it BETTER than it was new) or sometimes it’s just not worth it.  Also, given the nature of our work, we’re all pretty geeky and like the latest and greatest in tech – this is where we get to share that. In order to help you keep up with some of the newer trends in technology, we have put together a list of the top new gadgets that have debuted in 2017.

 

  1. Samsung Galaxy S8

Where else would we start besides the brand new mobile phone?  The next iPhone isn’t out yet, and the Samsung Galaxy S8 is the latest Android model to be released. While its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, was disappointing to most people, the S8 is an improvement in many ways. With a larger, sleeker screen, the S8 has created an immersive platform for those who enjoy using phones for videos and gaming. It also has an improved camera, which has become one of the most important features of a smartphone. The improved pixel quality of the S8 makes for sharper, more realistic photos.While it still has its flaws, such as the occasional slow processing, many agree that the display and visuals are some of the best to ever come from a smartphone.

 

  1. Here One Earbuds

A terrific complementary piece to a brand new smartphone is a set of ear buds that match in quality. The latest gadget that guarantees to “drown out the noise”, is the set of Here One earbuds from Doppler Labs. These wireless earbuds allow the user to manipulate the sound around them using built in microphones and sound processors; the goal being to be able to eliminate specific sounds around you. While Doppler Labs has not necessarily perfected this, it is still a far step in being able to completely manipulate the sound with your own earbuds. Occasionally the battery can be insufficient, but the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to the Here One earbuds.

 

 

  1. Microsoft Surface Laptop

For the past few years, Microsoft has been presenting consumers with a tablet that can do basically everything a regular laptop can. The Microsoft Surface Pro has been marketed as a 2 in 1 device, giving people all the advantages of a tablet and a laptop. Well, now they have finally come out with just a regular laptop. The Microsoft Surface Laptop is a more efficient, standard-type laptop that appeals to those who do not need the tools that come with a tablet.

The sleek design is reminiscent of the Macbook Pro, except it has fabric all around the keyboard (for those of you who value fabric with your computers). The Surface Laptop allows the user to run only Windows programs, but this prevents the system from slowing down or running into malware from other programs. Overall, the Microsoft Surface Laptop is a successful addition to the market of traditional laptop computers.

However, a negative that we know since we are a repair shop: you better not hurt it.  If something goes wrong with your computer, or you spill water in it, etc. it is near impossible to open up, so it’s not ideal

 

  1. LG Signature Series Wallpaper Television

For televisions consumers are always searching for the perfect balance between the quality of the picture resolution and the overall size and sleekness of the television. LG has presented consumers with a new television that contains Organic LED technology that provides for more picture depth and contrast. However, it gets its “wallpaper” name from the fact that it is only .15 inches thick and weighs just 16 pounds. This helps the television to blend seamlessly into the wall, and with a screen size of 65 inches, it does not sacrifice any picture size for the smaller size of the entire device.

  1. Amazon Echo Dot

Voice-command devices are gadgets that are becoming increasingly popular. The Amazon Echo is one of the more popular voice-command devices, but Amazon has released a smaller, cheaper version for those who only require the more basic needs provided by the Echo. The Amazon Echo Dot, is a smaller, sleeker version that does not have the high-quality sound system of the regular Echo, but it provides many of the same services. The Dot is recommended for those who don’t require a top-notch sounds system from their device. However, if you are not satisfied with the basic sound system it provides, the Echo Dot is able to connect to another sound system nearby. The Echo Dot is recommended for those looking for a smart assistant device, but aren’t necessarily sure about making the full investment.

 

These are just a few of the new gadgets that are sweeping the technology market so far in 2017, and while more will come out in the coming months, the ones listed above are recommended for anyone looking to improve their current devices.


The Future of Virtual Reality

by LaptopMD Posted in News, Newsletter

At one point not that long ago, the concept of virtual reality was just something that seemed cool, but not in the immediate future. Well time has passed and we have arrived where virtual reality is not only possible, but is becoming increasingly popular in the technological mainstream. Virtual reality, or VR, has been around for some time, but it has just recently reached the height of its popularity. Companies are releasing brand new and sophisticated forms of VR, such as The Oculus Rift, Sony’s Playstation VR, and Samsung VR Gear. In video games, movies, sports, or any kind of entertainment, people are searching for the most immersive and realistic experience they can find, and this is where virtual reality can step in.

We have reached the current peak of virtual reality technology, but the real questions are how much can it improve, and what impact will virtual reality ultimately have on our society.

To start with the first question, virtual reality certainly has room to improve. Yes, it is already an immersive experience like no other, but who’s to say it won’t get better? The current crop of virtual reality headsets is the best we have ever had, but you can say that about any developing technology.  There’s a reason we get the latest phones/laptops/TVs etc.

Currently it can be difficult to set up the virtual reality sets, especially when trying to eliminate any blurriness or disorientation. They still provide for an immersive experience, but it is not always as clear as it should be. Also, there are limitations to the amount of tasks you can do with a VR headset. The virtual reality aspect of video games tends to sell you on the fact that you are in the world itself, except they often lack the story or substance of regular video games.

Also, while video games have made a huge step in the world of VR, film has yet to catch up in terms of providing the general public with a readily available, high quality VR film experience. In other words, we still have a very, very long way to go before all of our gaming, movies, and sports are consumed through virtual reality – if that ever does happen.  All of these concerns are without mentioning the bottom line – price and availability. So yes, while we may be blown away by the VR headsets that are out now, they are really just the tip of the iceberg going forward.

The more pressing question is what impact it will have on society in the future. Most tend to think of VR as simply a way to make entertainment more exciting and realistic, but the use of VR is going to extend far beyond that. Already, VR has proved to have certain medical and psychological benefits.

People who suffer from anxiety and depression have been able to find relief using virtual reality, as it provides an outlet for those to work through their real-life issues in a controlled environment. It has also been proven to provide relief for those suffering from physical pain, maybe just because it is a strong and distracting experience. Another interesting benefit, some VR experiences allow the user to see what they would look like at the age of 65. Those people who were not happy with how their future looked were more likely to make positive changes to their lifestyle. The applications of VR are endless, so while the immediate future promises of better video games and movies, we really don’t know what some of the final products might end up being.

However, although virtual reality should be beneficial overall, there are still questions. Prolonged use of virtual reality could lead to people being susceptible to motion sickness and sight damage. Yet, the non-physical damages may be more severe. It remains to be seen if VR can cause any permanent psychological damage, but most concern tends to stem from the fact that people may get too engrossed in the experience and prefer virtual reality over their real lives.  There are plenty of books and movies about this (Ready Player One is coming out soon) and who knows how accurate those might be, but it is a concern.  Current video games can already damage a person’s ability to have strong, intimate relationships in real life. Virtual realities can be fun, but can be detrimental to a person’s growth.

Like most things, VR will bring its fair share of disadvantages. But as long as it is used properly, virtual reality should be one of the more exciting and innovative uses of technology that we have ever experienced.


by LaptopMD Posted July 13, 2017 in News, Newsletter, TechBuzz

net neutrality

Net Neutrality means that ordinary people get to use their internet access however they want.  Facebook, Reddit, Amazon, Netflix, whatever – nobody’s going to stop you or charge you extra on top of your subscriptions.

It seems like a pretty good thing, that essentially EVERYONE is in favor of right?  But who would be against a relatively free internet?  Somebody must be against net neutrality, or else we wouldn’t have a designated day (July 12th) to remind the world that the current way the internet works is GOOD, and that we shouldn’t roll back the Net Neutrality regulations that are currently in place.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are opponents of the free internet – the internet we have today – and I’m sure you didn’t need another reason to dislike them.  ISPs (Comcast, Verizon etc.) want to be able to control the content in their services as a way to charge customers more for specific, premium services (streaming, gaming, uploading etc.)

Essentially, some things that you use the internet for are more resource-intensive than others. Streaming content on Netflix or Hulu is harder than going through your email or browsing Facebook.  Streaming services are a perfect example of what ISPs hate, because it requires a lot of resources from them while Netflix just needs to keep updating their library to rake in their monthly subscriptions.

 

With that in mind, it makes sense that Comcast might want to charge you extra for streaming Hulu too often since it’s resource-intensive for them.  However, the customer should get to use their internet subscription however they want to.  If you’re paying for a certain internet speed, they can’t tell you that you can’t use that to binge-watch The Office.  That’s for the customer to decide, because you are literally paying for that right.

Essentially, these big companies want to roll back the current net neutrality agreement so that they can charge premiums for access to certain content.  Facebook, Reddit, Amazon, Netflix, Yahoo, etc… you might need to pay more to get what you want!  Right now you pay your internet bill, and your Netflix/Hulu subscription or your Amazon Prime, and that’s it.  But if we get rid of the regulations in place, you might get hit with a paywall before you can access some of your favorite websites.  Or they might just cap your download speed if you’re streaming something too long – which leads to buffering which leads to headaches.  But you’re paying for a high enough download speed that you shouldn’t have to buffer to watch Game of Thrones and they shouldn’t be allowed to throttle your download speed just because they don’t like what you’re using it for.

A customer is entitled to receive what they pay for.  You can’t tell somebody who is paying their bills that it’s suddenly not good enough.  The internet access that we have today gives us the freedom to use our internet access for whatever we want.  We don’t need to pay extra to the cable/internet companies because we’re going to a website they deem “premium”.

At the end of the day, the current regulations are what we need.  It’s what we currently have, but we need to make sure that it stays.  Once we cross that line, it’s hard to go back.

Please visit https://www.battleforthenet.com/ to make your voice heard, or to learn more about the current Net Neutrality rules in place.