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How To Secure Your Online Accounts From Hackers

What do your online banking website, your email account, and Facebook all have in common?

They all require you to log in. You’re prompted to enter your username and password to gain access.

As cybercriminals desperately seek to steal your personal information, they’ve gotten really good at cracking usernames and passwords.

Unfortunately, this basic level of security is no longer effective on its own to prevent others from accessing your personal online accounts. This leaves you at serious risk for identity theft, fraud, and other scams.

In today’s column, I would like to briefly show you a foolproof way to keep hackers from breaking into your online accounts – even if they know your password.

2 is the magic number

Two-factor authentication is an advanced method of website security. It forces someone trying to gain access to a website to prove they have the right to enter.

Two-factor authentication requires two different forms of identification, both of which must be correct, to successfully be allowed entry.

Compare it to completing a transaction at the license branch. You’re often required to provide two documents to prove your identity – such as a birth certificate proving you are who you say you are and a utility bill proving your mailing address.

What you know & what you have

Tech expert Leo Notenboom describes two-factor authentication like this:

“Authentication has almost always been in the form of something you know – for example, a password. … Two-factor authentication adds something you have to the requirements to prove you are you. … You must possess something specific that is completely unique to you and only you.”

Google What?

The Google Authenticator app makes setting up two-factor authentication extremely easy.

1. Install the app on your smartphone.
2. Enable two-factor authentication on the website you wish to secure, such as Facebook or your online bank account.
3. Associate the Google Authenticator app with your account by either typing in a code or scanning a QR image.

Once you complete this process, the Google Authenticator app will begin displaying a random six-digit number every 30 seconds. These numbers are completely unique to your account and your cell phone.

Now when you (or anyone) attempts to log in to that particular website, it will prompt for the username/password AND the random number displayed in the Google Authenticator app on your phone at that time to be entered.

Without both correct pieces of information, access will be denied.

Other Methods

You can also use simple text messaging to set up two-factor authentication, if you don’t have a smartphone or don’t wish to use Google Authenticator.

Most websites offer you the option to configure your cell phone number as a verification method.

When you (or anyone) attempts to log in, a text message with a random code is sent to your cell phone. You enter that code, along with your password, to prove you’re authorized to access the site.

Securing your important online accounts with more than just a username and password is critical. Security breaches happen every day, even with “secure” websites.

Two-factor authentication provides the best way to keep unwanted intruders out of your personal accounts.

If you’d like more information about or assistance with setting up your accounts with two-factor authentication, feel free to call my office at (812) 386-8919 or email me at scott@calibre-cs.com.

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How Not To Get Locked Out Of Facebook And Other Online Accounts

“Hi, Scott.  I need your help,” the voice on the other end of the line greets.

“I’m locked out of my Facebook account and can’t get back in because I don’t remember my password.  Can you help me?”

While I happily try to assist, I know the chances for success are extremely low.

Facebook, Google and most other online services do not have a phone number you can call, speak to a live person, and have them reset your password.

Instead, your only option is to rummage through their web-based help documentation, submit an online form, and hope the requested information you provided is sufficient for someone to eventually send you instructions on how to get back into your account.

The majority of the time, this fails.

Why Account Recovery Fails

All online services provide you an easy way to recover lost passwords or regain access to your account.  The account recovery process typically involves sending an email to your email address or a text message to your cell phone.

So what’s the problem?

Most people never set up their recovery information in Facebook, Gmail, Pinterest, eBay, Amazon, and other commonly used websites.

Those who did when they first created their account seldom update their recovery information when their email address or phone numbers change.

How To Set Up Recovery Information

Each platform differs slightly in how to set up your account recovery information.  Here are links to instructions on how to do so on some of the most common websites:

Don’t Wait!

Avoid the frustration of forever losing access to your online accounts.  Invest a few minutes right now to take these important steps:

  • If you don’t already have a second email address, set up an alternate email address with Gmail (www.gmail.com).
  • Log in to each of your online accounts (Facebook, Gmail, Pinterest, eBay, etc.).  Configure your recovery options in each of them.
  • Associate your cell phone number, if you have one, with the account.
  • Set periodic reminders to make sure your account recover information is kept current.

 

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How You Can Avoid The “I Wish I Would Have” Lament I Hear Frequently From Clients

“I’ve not talked to one person who has had anything good to say about Windows 10,” Barbara expressed when she picked her laptop up Friday after having us perform our recommend bi-annual Windows 10 Check-Up Service.

“I figured Windows 10 wouldn’t be a bad operating system, but boy was I wrong!  I wish I would have gotten a computer with Windows 7 instead,” she lamented.

Oops!

I hear regrets like this from clients almost every week.

They didn’t know any better when they were shopping for a new PC.  They just bought what they saw on the store shelf or mistakenly took advice from a big box store sales geek and came home with a Windows 10 computer.

Only to quickly realize it was a mistake.

YOU don’t need to suffer like these unaware clients.  But you DO need to make a decision quickly to avoid that same fate.

Take a moment to answer these four questions:

  • Is your current computer more than five years old?
  • Is it running slow?
  • Are you having constant problems with it?
  • Have you been thinking about upgrading to a newer computer, but just haven’t bought one yet?

If you answered yes to one or more of those questions, it’s important you finish reading this column.

You Already Know This

Regular readers of this column know I strongly encourage you to stay with the Windows 7 operating system.  It’s time-tested, proven reliable, and easy-to use.

You’re familiar with it.  You know how to use it.  Your software programs and hardware devices work with it.  It’s a solid, mostly problem-free operating system.

The Dilemma

But effective October 31, 2017, Microsoft is forcing all PC manufacturers to stop selling new computers with Windows 7.

All new computers after that date – no matter where you buy one – will come with the problematic Windows 10.

(If you visit any of the big retail stores now – like Walmart, Best Buy, Staples, Office Depot, you will only find Windows 10 computers.  They only sell Windows 10 machines because they take their marching orders from Microsoft in the form of spiffs and other monetary kickbacks.)

Whether you buy a new desktop or laptop now at a big box store or wait until after October 31 to buy one anywhere is a bad decision – because of Windows 10.

The Raw Truth

When you buy a Windows 10 computer, you’re buying a PC that’s suffering from a terminal illness.

I’m sorry to use such a crude comparison, but I’m telling it like it is.

The way Windows 10 is configured right out of the box and with each forced update, Microsoft creates frustrating problems and errors on your computer requiring frequent, costly repairs and regular check-ups just to make sure your PC runs the way it’s supposed to.

I’ve written extensively in the past about the major issues with Windows 10 and don’t have room to explain them in-depth in this article.

I encourage you to download my free report “7 Frighteningly Dark Secrets Microsoft Desperately Doesn’t Want You to Know About Windows 10.”  It outlines many things that should concern you about Windows 10.

Visit http://www.caliibreforhome.com/windows10secrets.

What Choice Will You Make?

If you’ve been considering buying a new (or refurbished) desktop or laptop, you need to do so before the end of October.

I don’t want to see you, like Barbara, buy a computer you’ll hate – because it’s hard to use, requires regular visits to the PC doctor, and seriously invades your privacy without your knowledge or consent.

Independent computer companies – like Calibre Computer Solutions – can still order new and some refurbished computers with Windows 7.  But the absolute deadline is October 31.

I invite you to call me today to discuss your options.

Maybe you don’t need a new computer – just a good tune-up and upgrade of your existing one might make it last longer.

But if you do need a new one, you don’t want to wait until it’s too late and you’re stuck with only getting Windows 10.  It will be a purchase you’ll regret for years to come.

 

 

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How To Determine If A Website Is Safe

Scrolling through your Facebook news feed, you see a friend shared a link to an interesting story.  It’s obvious it will take you to a different website if you click on it.

Or maybe you’re a recipient of one of those emails a friend sent to everyone in her address list.  You’re encouraged to click on the link to watch a funny video clip.

Because you’re a faithful reader of this tech column, you know you’ve got to be careful on the Internet.  Viruses and malware lie in wait to infect your computer.

So how can you tell if a website is safe to visit or not – before you browse to it?  How can you be sure your PC won’t become infected?

The bad news

Unfortunately, there’s no guaranteed way to assure a website is completely safe or virus and malware free.

The good news

But there are some fairly reliable tools you can use to help gauge the safety of a website before you visit it.

First, you can use online web-based scanners to examine the web address.

·      Norton SafeWeb – https://safeweb.norton.com/

Security vendor Symantec offers this website to provide you an analysis of a website’s reputation.  Most of its information comes from the general public who submit reviews based on their interactions with the websites.  So you must still use caution because these reviews are not necessarily legitimate.

·      Comodo Site Inspector – http://app.webinspector.com/

Comodo Site Inspector, a free service by the popular cybersecurity vendor, will scan a URL for twelve potentially harmful components that could damage your computer.  The scan can take several minutes to complete.

·      ScanURL – https://scanurl.net/

Similar to Norton SafeWeb, ScanURL.net checks multiple databases such as Google SafeBrowsing, Web of Trust, and PhishTank to see if a site has been reported as a potentially malicious site.

Second, you can implement DNS filtering on your router.

DNS can be considered the phone book of the Internet.  Each website address (like www.calibreforhome.com) points to a specific server address comprised of numbers where the site is hosted, known as an IP address.

OpenDNS offers a free service for home users, allowing you to filter all your Internet traffic through their DNS servers, which are programmed to block known harmful websites.  It can also speed up your web browsing, compared to using your Internet Service Provider’s default DNS servers.

You can check out their packages at https://www.opendns.com/home-internet-security.

Finally, you can install a web filtering software program on your computer.

The Managed Web Protection we offer prevents you from visiting websites known contain malware, spyware, adware, and other infections.  It also functions as a parental control tool – keeping your kids and grandkids from visiting inappropriate websites.

Of course, the safest method of all – don’t click!

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Windows 10 Users: What You Need To Know About the Creators Update

Get ready Windows 10 users! Microsoft’s forcing another major update to your PCs.

This update, called the Windows 10 Creators Update, began being rolled out to users in mid-April. But because it’s a massive update, it’s been a relatively slow process.

It’s not been until recently that many of my clients using Windows 10 (despite all my ranting and raving about how horrible it is) have received their notification to install the update.

While the Windows 10 Creators Update brings new features and functionality to your computer, it also presents its own set of problems that could cause you frustration and a trip to your computer doctor.

Here’s a brief rundown of what you need to know.

What’s New?

Paint 3D.

Gone is the old Microsoft Paint program, which allowed you to crudely draw images reminiscent of elementary school artwork.

With Paint 3D, you can draw, import and create pictures of all types – yes, including 3D images. If you have a touch screen computer, you can even use a stylus to perfect your masterpiece.

Night Light.

Sleep experts warn against using computers, tablets and TVs an hour prior to bed. The blue light emitted from those devices can negatively affect your ability to fall asleep.

With Night Light, you can now have your PC automatically reduce the amount of blue light at sunset or at a specific time at night. Allowing you to use your computer till you’re ready to doze off.

Although third-party programs, like F.lux, have offered this functionality previously, Microsoft now incorporates it directly in the operating system.

Better Control Over Updates

One of my biggest complaints about Windows 10 – aside from its horrific invasion of privacy as it records nearly every single thing you do on your computer – is the lack of control over choosing and installing Windows Updates.

While Microsoft still forces every update on your PC, the Creators Update gives you the ability to postpone updates for up to a week.

It also now allows you to set longer active hours, so your computer doesn’t automatically install an update and reboot right in the middle of when you’re using it.

Beware of These Problems

Features in the Creators Update can be beneficial if you’re using a Windows 10 computer. So I encourage users to install it (not like you have a choice, since Microsoft will force it on your computer soon anyway).

But you should be aware of these two issues:

  1. The Windows 10 Creators Update is a massive download.  It can take several hours for your computer to download and complete the install.You shouldn’t use anything other than a high-speed cable Internet connection to download the update to your computer.

    One of my clients recently got hit with a massive overage fee on his cellular data plan when Microsoft decided it was his time to receive the update download.  Other clients using slower Internet providers, like Frontier DSL, have experienced problems with the Creators Update installing because of a corrupted download.

    I’ve also heard reports of computers being completely unusable after a failed Creators Update installation.  The only remedy in such cases is a complete wipe and reload to the original factory settings – which could mean loss of all your pictures, documents and music and a hefty repair bill.

  2. Installing the Windows 10 Creators Update reverses most of the privacy changes made on your computer.Several of our safety conscientious clients with Windows 10 PCs have had us perform our Windows 10 Optimization Service.  We modify a large number of settings to reduce the snooping Microsoft does as you use your computer and to improve the speed and performance of your computer.

    After the Creators Update is successfully installed, many of those settings must be modified once again so Microsoft can’t track your every move.

Final Words of Wisdom

Avoid Windows 10 at all costs. If you’re thinking of purchasing a new computer, be sure to buy one with Windows 7. You won’t find them at the big box stores, but computer companies like Calibre Computer Solutions can still order them – but only until October 31.

If you already use a Windows 10 computer, you’ll be wiser to let a trusted computer professional well-versed in Windows 10 to install the Creators Update and make sure your privacy settings are configured to protect you.

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Cryptocurrencies: Not Just For the Black Market

Cryptocurrency

Bitcoin.  Cryptocurrency.

You may recognize those terms being associated with cybercriminals holding your personal information hostage.  Often you’re instructed to pay the ransom using Bitcoin, if you want your files decrypted.

Despite the negative connotation, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are becoming a popular alternative form of payment and potentially profitable investment vehicles.

What are cryptocurrencies?

Cryptocurrencies basically are digital assets designed to work as a medium of exchange, according to Wikipedia. 

Even though many of them have the term “coin” in their name, they usually don’t come in physical form.

The website blockgeeks.com provides a great summary:

 “Cryptocurrencies are digital gold.  Sound money that is secure from political influence.  Cryptocurrencies are a fast and comfortable means of payment with a worldwide scope, and they are private and anonymous.”

They also highlight five attractive qualities of using cryptocurrency either as a method of payment or investment vehicle:

“1.) Irreversible: After confirmation, a transaction can‘t be reversed. By nobody. And nobody means nobody. Not you, not your bank, not the president of the United States, not Satoshi, not your miner. Nobody. If you send money, you send it. Period. No one can help you, if you sent your funds to a scammer or if a hacker stole them from your computer. There is no safety net.

“2.) Pseudonymous: Neither transactions nor accounts are connected to real world identities. You receive Bitcoins on so-called addresses, which are randomly seeming chains of around 30 characters. While it is usually possible to analyze the transaction flow, it is not necessarily possible to connect the real world identity of users with those addresses.

“3.) Fast and global: Transaction are propagated nearly instantly in the network and are confirmed in a couple of minutes. Since they happen in a global network of computers they are completely indifferent of your physical location. It doesn‘t matter if I send Bitcoin to my neighbor or to someone on the other side of the world.

“4.) Secure: Cryptocurrency funds are locked in a public key cryptography system. Only the owner of the private key can send cryptocurrency. Strong cryptography and the magic of big numbers makes it impossible to break this scheme. A Bitcoin address is more secure than Fort Knox.

“5.) Permissionless: You don‘t have to ask anybody to use cryptocurrency. It‘s just a software that everybody can download for free. After you installed it, you can receive and send Bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies. No one can prevent you. There is no gatekeeper.”

Big-name stores accept it

Bitcoin, the most popular cryptocurrency developed in 2009, is accepted as a valid form of payment by a growing number of retailers.

Overstock.com, Expedia.com, Target, Subway, Whole Foods, Dell, Dish Network, and dozens of others will allow you to buy products or services and pay with Bitcoin.

Better returns than the stock market

Teeka Tiwari, editor of the Palm Beach Letter, encourages his investors to purchase Bitcoin and other select cryptocurrencies for investing.

His research shows investing in cryptocurrencies outperforms the stock market by huge percentages.  He admits, of course, it is more volatile and risky and no one should put their entire nest egg into it.

How do you get it

The easiest way to obtain Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is by buying them through an exchange service.  Coinbase is one of the most popular and easiest to use.

For more details on cryptocurrencies and step-by-step instructions on how to obtain them, visit http://bit.ly/cryptocurrencyguide.

NOTE:  Information provided in this column is not intended to provide any form of financial or investment advice or counseling.  Seek assistance from a qualified investment advisor before purchasing or investing in any cryptocurrencies.

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7 Common PC Problems – And How To Fix Them (Part 2)

Benjamin Franklin wisely wrote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

This holds true in all areas of life, including with your technological gadgets.  My clients who observe good computing habits year-round typically don’t experience many problems between their regularly scheduled PC Tune-Up appointments.

In my last column, I shared with you the first three of seven common PC problems that I and my techs deal with daily.  Today, I’d like to share with you the final four and offer helpful tips in how to avoid them.

 

Forgetting to Install Windows Updates

Cybercriminals and hackers attack your computer by taking advantage of security holes in your PC’s operating system. 

The two latest ransomware infections – Petya and WannaCry – rendered hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide inoperable.

Those computers wouldn’t have been affected had those PCs been kept up-to-date with the latest Windows Updates.

PREVENTION TIP:  Regularly install Windows Updates on your computer or set your computer to automatically do so. 

 

Forgetting to Install Updates for Software Programs

Just as important as installing Windows Updates is installing updates for common software programs.

The critical ones to keep current are Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, Adobe Shockwave, and Java.  Most of these programs run in the background when you’re browsing various websites, so you may not even know about them.

If you don’t keep these updated, your computer is highly exposed to viruses and malware – because hackers commonly exploit these programs.

PREVENTION TIP:  Regularly install updates for Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, Adobe Shockwave, and Java.  Be warned, tho, some pop-ups you receive prompting you to update these programs may be fake.  It’s best to go to www.adobe.com and www.java.com to manually update these programs.

 

Downloading Programs From Unreliable Sources

You desire to use your PC for fun and games.  A quick Internet search reveals an exciting new game you can download for free.  So you do.

Moments later, your computer becomes infected with all sorts of extra programs and new toolbars fill the top of your web browser window.  Your PC begins running slower.  You’re greeted with pop-ups every time you try to access the Internet.

It’s extremely important to only download and install programs from reputable websites.  Many websites offering free software contain malware, which can range from annoying to causing serious computer problems.

PREVENTION TIP:  Only download software from websites you know and trust.  Carefully read each screen during the installation process to make sure you’re not installing any unwanted or malicious add-ons.

 

Using Unsecured Wifi Connections

Unsecured wifi connections allow you to connect your laptop, mobile phone, or tablet without requiring a password. 

While it makes accessing the Internet easy, it also exposes your personal information and files to others who are connected to the same wifi connection. 

If it’s your own home wireless network that doesn’t require a password, you’re allowing anyone who’s near your home the ability to access your Internet connection and even your files.  You could be held legally liable if they conduct illicit activity while connected to your Internet.

PREVENTION TIP:  Secure your home wireless network with a password.  Use caution when connecting to public wireless networks; avoid accessing banking and other personal websites on these connections.

When you apply these recommendations, I guarantee you’ll see your PC doctor less often.

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7 Common PC Problems – And How to Fix Them (Part 1)

Early this spring, I visited Dr. Kocher for my annual physical.

“It looks like you’ve lost some weight,” he smiles, noting that I dropped to 154 pounds this year from 178 last year.

“Yea,” I cheerfully reply.  “I’ve been regularly working out at the gym since January.  I’m feeling a lot better.”

He listened to my heart and lungs, tapped on each knee, and asked a handful of other questions.  Then he sent me out the door with well wishes till I visit again next spring.

I remain mostly healthy throughout the year – by exercising and eating (mostly) right.  Which is why I only need to visit Dr. Kocher for my annual checkup.

The story is similar for 37 of my clients with their computers.

They bring their PC in twice a year for a Comprehensive PC Tune-Up Service.  This allows us to perform the thorough diagnostics, deep cleaning and optimizations designed to detect and prevent major computer problems.

Because these clients also observe good computing habits year-round, they typically don’t experience any problems between appointments.

In this two-part series, I’ll share with you seven common PC problems I see affecting many of my clients’ computers and give you helpful tips in how to avoid them.

Relying on Free (or No) Antivirus Protection

Of all the virus-infected computers clients bring into Calibre, I’d estimate 90 percent of them are “protected” by a free antivirus program – like AVG, Avast, Avira, or Microsoft Security Essentials.  Sadly, some don’t even have antivirus protection at all.

Hackers and cybercriminals use viruses and malware to break into your computer, steal your personal information, and damage your files.

Malicious attacks, such as the WannaCry ransomware outbreak in May, are becoming more and more prevalent and destructive.

Purchasing and installing a strong antivirus program designed to protect against the newest type of viruses and malware is one step in avoiding major, costly PC problems.

 

Neglecting to Back Up Important Files

Early Monday morning, a business client called seeking assistance in restoring a critical spreadsheet an employee had mistakenly deleted overnight.

Because they wisely implemented our data backup solution two years ago, I restored the Excel document in less than five minutes.

But most PC owners – home and businesses – neglect this essential protection for their computers.  Many assume nothing bad will ever happen to the files stored on their PCs.

Yet, hard drives fail, viruses infect, people delete, and natural disasters happen.  All of which can cause all your pictures, documents, and music to be forever lost.

You can back up your files in many different ways.  Some are better than others.  But if you don’t have a back-up system in place, you need to get one today.

 

Using the Same Weak Passwords

 

Think about your most common password.

Is it a really easy one – maybe using an ordinary word followed by some numbers?

Do you use that same password for multiple websites?

Weak and predictable passwords make it incredibly simple for hackers to gain access to your email and online banking accounts.  Using the same password for everything opens your entire online world to unscrupulous people.

Two steps you should take:

1) Create stronger passwords.  Choose one with a variety of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols.

2)  Safely store your passwords in a password management program, like LastPass (www.lastpass.com).  This allows you to easily retrieve and remember them.

Join me next time for the remaining four common PC problems and how to avoid them.

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3 iPhone Apps That Will Make Your Summer Vacation More Enjoyable

Venturing out on a summer getaway? Summer is a great time to pack your bags and escape your mundane everyday life for something more adventurous.

Planning your excursion can sometimes be a stressful experience. These three mobile apps can help you find fun and interesting things to do, stay within your budget, and even include pets in the excitement.

LocalScope

LocalScope is an iPhone app that scours the web for information and presents it all to you in a neat, convenient fashion. For just $2.99, you can easily search for local food, museums, hotels, gas stations, coffee shops, shopping centers, and anything else that may pique your interest.

After searching, you’ll be presented with nearly every bit of information you need – pictures and reviews to restaurant menus, contact information, and even maps.

What makes LocalScope unique is that it pulls information from all your favorite websites, and some you may not have even heard of, including Google Maps, Facebook, Yelp, Instagram, Foursquare, Twitter, Wikipedia, and Garmin.

You’ll also be able to navigate to your destination of choice from within the app. Once you’ve enjoyed your local attraction, you can easily post reviews and pictures and share your experience with your friends from within LocalScope.

Trail Wallet

When you’re relaxing on vacation, it’s easy to spend more money than you planned. That’s why Trail Wallet is here to help.

Once you set your daily budget for either your trip or the whole month, Trail Wallet lets you enter in all your purchases and define tags and categories to help you organize them. You’re allowed 25 items per trip in the free version; after that you must pay $4.99 to unlock unlimited items.

You can create your own tags and categories, and then use them to narrow your search results to make finding what you’re looking for easier.

Trail Wallet boasts a very intuitive interface, making it easy for you to navigate your purchases and get an overview of your trip expenses. It is a joy to use, with several themes and interactive avatars to choose from. You can view very detailed charts of your spending data, with plenty of filtering options so you only see what you want to see.

If you happen to be visiting another country, Trail Wallet will even automatically convert your money to the local exchange rate of over 200 countries.

Power users can also export trip data from the app into their favorite accounting software.

BringFido

If you’re like most pet owners, you want to take your furry friend everywhere you go. With BringFido, you can easily find pet-friendly hotels, outdoor restaurants, parks, and beaches near you. Most entries contain detailed photos and reviews, which you can also submit yourself.

BringFido includes a built-in map, displaying nearby pet-friendly attractions and how to get to them. You can then contact the destination you’re interested in with the information provided in the app.

Booking pet-friendly hotel rooms through BringFido is incredibly convenient. You can enter the size of your pets and how many you have, then be given detailed pricing and booking for your desired destination. However, it is worth noting that some users have complained about the reliability of booking within the app, but regardless, it is a great start to your hotel search.

If you don’t have an iPhone, BringFido also offers a website with all the convenience of the free app.

I’d love to see and hear about your summer excursions. Email me your stories and photos at christian@calibre-cs.com.

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What You Should Learn From “The Day The Earth Was Hacked”

Europol, the intelligence agency of the European Union, called it a “cyberattack of an unprecedented level.”

Starting early Friday, May 12, a massive ransomware infection called WannaCry quickly spread to hundreds of thousands of computers in over 150 countries.

It crippled entire hospitals, car manufacturers, telecom companies, and even affected U.S.-based FedEx, demanding a $300 ransom to be paid in Bitcoin for the data files it held hostage.

Failure To Do This Leaves The Door Wide Open

Why did this ransomware inflict so much damage when it could have been easily prevented?

First, companies and individuals failed to keep their computers updated with the latest security patches.

Microsoft discovered the vulnerability exploited by WannaCry and issued a patch back in March. Computers with the update installed were not affected.

Yet, an enormous number of PCs obviously weren’t updated, providing an open door for the cyberattack.

In my experience, most small business and home users neglect to regularly install the ever-important Windows Updates. They either don’t know how or never think about installing them.

Worse yet, many refuse to allow a knowledgeable IT provider to take care of these tasks for them at a minimal cost.

The Antivirus Myth

Second, most of the affected PCs used ineffective or no antivirus protection.

The first question I always get asked after a client’s machine becomes infected is, “Well, I have [insert name of a popular antivirus program, usually a free one]. Shouldn’t it have prevented this?”

Truth is most antivirus programs sold today use ancient, 25-year-old technology. They simply don’t protect against how today’s threats attack and infect computers.

In the previous column two weeks ago, my Director of Service Operations, Christian Hinojosa, warned about the inadequacies of free antivirus programs – like AVG, Avast, and Avira. These are some of the worst protection when it comes to ransomware like WannaCry.

But even many of the paid antivirus programs fail to block deadly viruses and malware.

Only a slim handful of paid antivirus software effectively blocks many of the behavior-based, zero-day threats regularly attacking your computer. And they’re not ones you find on the shelf at Walmart or Best Buy.

The Worst Is Yet To Come

While WannaCry’s reach rapidly extended throughout the entire civilized world, it only lasted a few days before it was stopped in its tracks.

The purchase of a simple $11 domain name by an observant security expert broke the criminals’ code.

Those thieves know exactly what they did wrong. You can bet they’re already working on a version 2.0 that won’t be stopped as easily.

At Home or At Work – You’re At Risk

Are you a home user who only checks email and browses Facebook?

Are you a small business owner with one or more computers critical to running your daily operations?

Do you work in an office, warehouse, or other organization with computers?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you have computers at risk for the next big attack.

It would be wise to make sure you’re well-protected before disaster strikes. Keep in mind these six tips:

1. Regularly update all your computers with the latest patches.
2. Install antivirus software designed for today’s threats.
3. Implement edge protection to build a wall around your home or business network that will keep unwanted hackers out.
4. Provide on-going training to family members and/or employees that helps them identify phishing email, scams, fake websites, and other malicious attempts to infect your PC or steal personal information.
5. Maintain regular, automated, OFF-SITE backups of all important documents and data on your computer.
6. Consult with a knowledgeable IT professional to provide these five solutions for you. If they can’t, find an expert who is educated and able to offer complete security. It really is cheaper than the alternative.