Category Archives: News

Email Trackers and How to Block Them

If you’ve ever signed up for an email newsletter or added your email address to a website’s mailing list, your emails from that sender are probably being tracked. Mailing services like MailChimp and Postmark automatically gather some information from the emails they send, such as whether the message was opened, if any links were clicked, and sometimes even what device was used or what time zone it was in.
Many websites use this information to keep their email lists up to date. When they see that someone hasn’t opened any emails from their site in a few months, they remove that email address from their mailing list. Marketing departments and sales teams may also use email tracking software to see when a prospective client has read their emails so that they can send a follow-up email soon after to encourage the sale.
Email tracking software works by including a small bit of code, often in a single-pixel image, in the body of the message. There may also be code included in the clickable links within the email. That code relays all that information back to the sender so that they know who has been interacting with their emails or ignoring them.
If you’d prefer not to let your email-viewing habits get out, don’t worry! There are ways to block these email trackers. The easiest way is to go into your account settings and set your account to ask before displaying images or external content. This will block any hidden images that contain tracking code, but you can still allow images for the emails you choose on a case-by-case basis. Another way to block email tracking software is to use a browser extension, such as Ugly Email. Ugly Email is an extension for Firefox and Chrome which blocks many of the most common trackers. It marks tracked emails with an eyeball icon next to the subject line in your inbox to warn you, but it also blocks the tracking software when you open the message, so your privacy is protected.
Email trackers have been around almost as long as email newsletters, and most senders don’t use them maliciously. Trying to avoid all tracked emails is probably impossible, but you have every right to protect your privacy with all the tools available to you.
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Optimize Your Streaming Experience

Streaming video has become the primary online activity for many people.  Whether you’ve cut the cord on your cable or you just really love Netflix and cute cat videos, odds are that you stream a lot of video over your Internet connection.  How can you make sure you’re getting the best streaming experience possible?

Check your speed

Make sure you have enough speed for the service you’re using.  Netflix recommends 3 Mbps for SD, 5 Mbps for HD, and 25 Mbps for Ultra HD.  SlingTV requires the same numbers for mobile devices, single stream to a computer or tv, and multiple devices, respectively.  YouTube’s minimums are 2.5 Mbps for 720p, 4 Mbps for 1080p, and 15 Mbps for 4k Ultra HD.  Hulu has the lowest bandwidth requirements at 1.5 Mbps for SD, 3 Mbps for 720p, 6 Mbps for 1080p, and 13 Mbps for 4k Ultra HD.

Check your settings

Adjust your playback settings to match your bandwidth speed and limit your data usage.  In a Netflix account, these settings can be set for each profile separately under My Profile.  For SlingTV, playback settings have to be set on each device by going to Settings, and then Connection.  YouTube playback can be changed on mobile devices to limit mobile data under Settings.  Hulu has not released any information about changing playback settings.

Use common sense

Remember a few things:

  1. Your stream can only be as good as your hardware. If you don’t have an HD TV, you won’t get any benefit from streaming in HD, so don’t bother using all that bandwidth and data.
  2. Using multiple devices at once changes your available bandwidth speed. If your Internet connection is 25 Mbps and 2 people are streaming on separate devices, both streams are getting about 12.5 Mbps.
  3. If your Internet connection has a data limit, even a high one, it pays to keep track of it. Most ISP’s that use data limits offer alerts by email or text at certain milestones like 50%, 75%, or 90%.


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Deleting Your Search History

We’ve all become very aware of privacy concerns and the need to protect our information online in recent years. We’ve learned to create stronger passwords, to ignore phishing scam emails, and to clear our browsing history regularly. But there’s another layer to online privacy that you may not have thought of yet: your search history. If you’ve ever noticed that after you’ve searched for some product you suddenly see ads for that product or similar things on every page you visit, you know what this is about. Every time you Google anything, that information is collected and used to target advertising from various retailers, among other things.
That thought may be discomforting, but don’t worry! According to a tutorial from The Next Web, there are two ways that you can clear your Google search history.
1. Go to and make sure you’re signed in with your Google account.
2. Choose “Delete activity by” from the left-hand sidebar.
3. In the form provided, first choose your date range, then go to the drop-down menu labeled “All Products” and choose “search”.
4. Click “delete”.
You can also delete your search history directly from the Google search page.
1. Go to the Google homepage while you’re logged into your Google account.
2. Click on “Settings”, then “Your data in search”.
3. Choose either to review your search history, delete your search history from the last hour, or delete all your search history all the way back to 2005.
Deleting your search history will keep you from getting so many search-based ads and prevent Google from building a profile of you for targeted advertising. It’s just another way to keep your information and activity private, which is more important than ever as so much of our lives happen online.
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A New Way to Monitor Your Passwords

We all know the importance of keeping your passwords secure and changing them regularly. We also know that you shouldn’t use the same password for multiple sites, but with every website requiring a login, using a different password for everything can seem impossible. Unfortunately, more and more, it seems to be a question of when a site may be breached, rather than if it will be. So how can you know if your passwords have been compromised?
Mozilla has recently launched a new service called Firefox Monitor. All you need to do is enter your email address and it will check for possible breaches using the trusted Have I Been Pwned database. You can also sign up for notifications in case your email address ever turns up in the future. In addition, Firefox users will receive notifications when they visit a site that has been breached in the past.
An important feature of this service is the fact that your email address is not shared even with the Monitor’s partner database. Each request is encrypted on Firefox’s side, and only part of the encrypted entry is sent. HIBP replies with all its entries that include that part, and then Firefox matches up those responses to your information. Nothing ever passes through any third parties. For a more in depth look at this new service, check out this report at Engadget.

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Decoding Internet Error Messages

We’ve all grown so used to information at our fingertips that it can be disorienting when we try to pull up a website only to be greeted with an error message. Is it our Internet connection? Is the site down? Has the site disappeared from the Internet? Who knows?
Don’t worry. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common error messages you might find.
1. HTTP Error 404 – Not Found
This is probably the most common error message you’ll see, and it means that the page you’re looking for just isn’t there. This could be a glitch in the website, or the page may have been permanently removed from the Internet. No need to worry about your connection if you can still reach other sites.
2. HTTP Error 400 – Bad Request
Another common error message, this one means that your request for the webpage didn’t make sense somehow. Check your typing for mistakes, and maybe check your Internet connection just to make sure you can reach other sites.
3. HTTP Error 403 – Forbidden
This one is a bit less common, but you may find it occasionally if you click on a part of a site that isn’t supposed to be open to the public. It’s not dangerous – it won’t give you a virus or malware – it’s just telling you that you can’t go through that particular door.
4. HTTP Error 401 – Unauthorized
Again, this doesn’t mean anything dangerous. This error means that you don’t have the right login credentials (or you’ve tried several times and now you’re locked out).
5. HTTP Error 500 – Internal Server Error
This error always means the problem is on the website’s side, not yours. The site’s server is overwhelmed, or misconfigured, or down for maintenance, or something else. No need to worry, just try again later.
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How To Clean Your Laptop

If you’ve recently been spring cleaning, why not add your laptop to the list before you stop for the summer? Studies have shown that keyboards can house as many germs as a toilet seat, while trackpads can be as germ-ridden as paper money. But how do you safely clean such an expensive and sensitive device?
First, make sure everything is turned off and unplugged. Disconnect any externals, like a mouse, separate keyboard, or speakers.
Let’s start with the outside of your laptop. Using a very diluted solution of water and dish soap, wipe down the exterior of your laptop with a damp sponge or cloth. Make sure you wring it out well and use as little water as possible! Then go back over everything with a dry microfiber cloth to make sure you leave no moisture behind.
Next, you’ll want to clean your screen. Because it’s more delicate, start with a dry microfiber cloth. If that doesn’t do the trick, dampen the cloth with water only. If that still isn’t enough, try that diluted soap solution, or you can buy commercial screen wipes. Again, keep everything as dry as possible, and follow with a dry cloth.
Now for the keyboard. Here you won’t use any water at all. First, use a vacuum brush or a can of compressed air to remove debris and dust, tilting your keyboard to get the most crumbs, etc. to fall out. Then, dampen a cloth with rubbing alcohol, which evaporates faster than water, and wipe down the whole thing. You can use cotton swabs and alcohol to get into any small areas, but don’t get anything into the keys. Remember – keep it dry!
Lastly, clean the trackpad with a damp cloth. You can use alcohol or water, whichever works best for you to break up the accumulated oils. Follow with a dry microfiber cloth, and enjoy your sparkling clean laptop!
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Unexpected Often-Hacked Passwords

We all have to keep so many passwords these days, it’s little wonder we tend to default to simple, easy-to-remember terms. Unfortunately, this is what makes so many passwords vulnerable. Every year, lists of frequently compromised passwords are put out, and more people find that their favorite passwords are neither as secure nor as unique as they thought.
According to a list of the worst passwords of 2017, the top 50 weakest passwords included some interesting terms. There were, of course, usual culprits like 12345678, password, letmein, login, and welcome, all in the top 15. Starting in 16th place, however, things got more fun with starwars, and dragon came in at number 18, showing that even geeky fandoms don’t necessarily make for strong passwords.
In spots 20 through 25, we found master, freedom, and trustno1, which would seem to indicate that even patriotism is fairly easily hacked. After that, the list goes into a series of names: robert, daniel, andrea, matthew, and several others, including joshua, which is likely used frequently as a reference to the movie War Games. A bit further on, the list goes into cars, sports, city names, and even a few profanities.
The surest way to create a strong password is to use a phrase instead of a single word, because the more characters involved, the harder it is to hack. And make sure to use numbers and special characters in your passwords, as well. Password managers are a great way to make sure all your passwords are strong, without the stress of having to remember them. It’s worth it to keep your personal data safe.
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Living In a Post Net Neutrality World

The FCC’s net neutrality rules are set to expire on April 23.
For many people, that’s a very scary statement. The biggest fear is that, with the net neutrality restraints removed, ISPs will now be free to throttle any content they wish. This could lead to higher costs for streaming services, slower access to content, or even lack of access to content by smaller or individual creators.
While all of this is possible, it’s helpful to remember that none of those things were a problem before net neutrality was introduced. And it isn’t as if the FCC is turning the Internet into the Wild West. There are still some regulations in place, designed to keep the ISPs honest.
One such order, called the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, requires ISPs to make their network management practices and commercial terms of service public. The intent is that this level of transparency will make it easier for consumers to understand what any ISP is offering. This would be a welcome change from the current state of affairs, where it can be difficult to get even a solid price from some providers.
Eighteen providers, including Comcast and Charter, have already pledged not to throttle or block connections that aren’t engaged in illegal activity (like piracy). Moreover, ISPs will have to answer to the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice. While there’s no guarantee that consumers won’t see any changes to their service, the regulations that remain may be enough to keep ISPs on their toes.
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Read This Before You Change Your Password

Everyone knows that strong passwords are the surest way to keep your accounts and data secure online, but re-using passwords can be dangerous, and even a unique, hard-to-crack password can be compromised through other means.  How do you make sure your passwords are strong and secure?

While no password is hack-proof, there is a way you can find out if the password you’re considering has already been compromised.  Pwned Passwords is the brainchild of Troy Hunt, and its purpose is to make sure you don’t use a password that’s already no good.  Simply type in the password you’re thinking of using, and the database will tell you if that password has been seen in a data breach.

Please do not try to check any current passwords through this site, though!  Giving a password that is still in use to any third-party site is not a good idea, even a site like this one.

Other services on Hunt’s site include Have I Been Pwned, where you can check to see if your email address has been caught in a data breach.  There is even an option to sign up to have the site notify you any time your account turns up in a future breach.  Of course, the service isn’t bullet-proof, but when large companies can take over a year, or even longer, to alert customers to a loss of security, this site could help you get a jump on anything affecting your accounts.  The sooner you take action, the safer your data is.

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Three Online Habits That Leave You Vulnerable

By now, everyone knows that you should never shop over public Wi-Fi, or enter financial information on any website that does not begin with “https”. But there are other ways to create problems for yourself online, and they’re very easy habits to fall into.
1. Using Autofill
Autofill makes filling in forms online so much faster and easier. Whether it’s your name and address, bank information, credit card numbers, or passwords, you don’t have to remember anything, your browser remembers the information and fills it in for you! Isn’t it great living in the future? Well, maybe not, since autofill also makes it easier to steal your identity and money or gain access to your accounts. Typing everything in yourself takes longer, but it’s worth the little extra hassle.
2. Accepting All Friend Requests and Oversharing
These are two of the most dangerous things you can do on social media. Sure, everyone wants lots of friends, but if you accept just any request without verifying them first, you may unwittingly add an ill-intentioned person to your feed, where they may learn enough about you to do damage. Secondly, watch what you post that might give away sensitive details. It’s great to let your friends and family know about the beautiful sunset you saw from your hotel balcony, but keep in mind that would also tell potential thieves that you’re not at home. Maybe don’t document every moment in real time, just to be safe.
3. Using the Same Password
Pretty much everyone is guilty of this. It gets hard to remember all these passwords when you’ve got login credentials for everything under the sun! At the very least, never use the same password for your credit card or bank, your email, and your social media. Keep them separate and change them every few months. Another alternative is to use a password manager, which keeps all your passwords secure for you, while you only have to remember one login to get into them, but you’d still need to change that one regularly.

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